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UVA Board Defends President's Ouster

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Protesters crowded the Rotunda at the University of Virginia to support university president Teresa Sullivan, who will soon be stepping down.
Zach Stern: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zachstern/2979579333/
Protesters crowded the Rotunda at the University of Virginia to support university president Teresa Sullivan, who will soon be stepping down.

More than 1,000 people rallied on the lawn outside the Rotunda at the University of Virginia Monday, as the Board of Visitors met to hear from President Teresa Sullivan, who is stepping down Aug. 15, and to choose a temporary successor.

Board defends decision to remove Sullivan

Rector Helen Dragas has been at the heart of efforts to remove President Teresa Sullivan, and before beginning a closed door meeting with the Board of Visitors, she read a statement to the university community, expressing regret for the pain and confusion the board caused by failing to communicate well.

"You, our UVA family, deserved better from this board," said Dragas. "We have heard your demands for a fuller explanation of this action. And while our actions may seem insufficient and poorly communicated, we have responded with the best we have to offer: the truth."

Earlier in the day, the faculty senate asked Dragas to step down and reinstate Sullivan, but Dragas clearly signaled that she would not comply: "As visitors, we have the very highest aspirations for the University of Virginia. For it to reach its fullest potential as a 21st century academical village, always firmly rooted in our enduring values of honor, integrity and trust."

In the absence of a detailed explanation for Sullivan’s ouster, rumors had circulated that the board wanted to eliminate programs that didn’t pay for themselves, like German or classics. Dragas said that was not true.

"This board has never, nor will we ever, direct that particular programs or courses be eliminated or reduced," said Dragas. "These matters belong to the faculty."

She added that the board would never make decisions to favor any particular donor — perhaps a reference to Peter Kiernan, a wealthy hedge fund manager and UVA alum who appears to have worked with Dragas to push Sullivan out. He may have ties to the online learning industry. Dragas had earlier complained that Sullivan was not moving quickly enough to launch a distance learning program.

She concluded by reminding the public that the board of visitors serves many masters. "We want the very best caliber education and experience delivered to the 21,000 students for whom we are responsible," said Dragas. "We crave the highest quality healthcare for the almost 900,000 patient visits attended to by the exceptional doctors, nurses and staff members in the UVA Medical Center. And in our push for excellence, we seek also to be responsive to the families and taxpayers who foot our bills and to legislators who demand accountability."

Sullivan finds support on campus

As the board went into closed session, Teresa Sullivan entered the Rotunda to wild cheers from the crowd outside.  Some carried signs calling for her re-instatement, among them James Patterson, who just got his PhD in political science:

"It says Dragas failed her Machiavellian final," said Patterson. Regardless of what happens, he called for the state to provide more funding for higher education. By his side was Julia Patterson, the woman he married just yesterday.

"Instead of looking at pictures of my wedding on Facebook, this actually sounded more fun and was more important to us. That's why we’re here," she said.

The faculty president addressed the crowd, sharing remarks Dragas had made. Many protesters laughed at her claims.

Earlier in the day, maintenance crews had removed a word spray-painted on columns of the Rotunda: Greed.

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