For Release March 14, 2013:
For more information, please contact Jordan Kurland.
Washington, DC-The American Association of University Professors today released the report of its investigation into the University of Virginia’s attempt last June to remove Dr. Teresa Sullivan from the university presidency. The report documents a major breakdown in governance at UVA, focusing on the role of the board of visitors and its rector, Helen Dragas, who initiated the effort to force the president’s resignation. It finds that the events at the university resulted from “a failure by those charged with institutional oversight to understand the institution over which they presided and to engage with the administration and the faculty in an effort to be well informed.”
The resignation and subsequent reinstatement of President Sullivan received extensive coverage in local and national media last summer. The board’s action to remove the president, taken without explanation of the specific reasons for its displeasure with her performance, incurred prompt objections from the UVA academic community and the AAUP. With the board holding fast despite growing public opposition, the AAUP authorized a formal investigation of governance issues raised by the action. After the board withdrew its demand in the face of continuing protests and President Sullivan agreed to stay on, the AAUP announced that it would proceed with its investigation but would focus on the vital issues aired by the crisis at UVA that confront all our major universities. The investigating committee was chaired by Professor Matthew W. Finkin (Law, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). Professor Joan Wallach Scott (History, Institute for Advanced Study) was also a member, and Professor Lawrence S. Poston (English, University of Illinois at Chicago) served as consultant.
The investigating committee’s report provides new details on last June’s events. Key findings include the following:
“The rector and the board made no effort to engage with the president or the faculty on the underlying issues the rector claimed to be at stake.”
"The events of last June might be reasonably explained in this way: A headstrong rector, imbued with a belief in ‘engaged trusteeship,’ strove to remove a president who failed to conform to her image of bold academic captaincy. She did so with single-minded zeal: without informing herself of the essentials in the underlying matters she claimed to give rise to that drive, even without perceiving the relevance of the evaluation process the board had adopted a mere seven months before.”
“There is no reason why, in the exercise of its authority to remove a president, the board would not wish to be well informed: to have before it the considered judgment of those most intimately involved in the actual conduct of the university’s teaching, research, and service missions, especially when the board’s stated concerns involve the president’s oversight of these very functions. Indeed, had the board consulted the faculty in this instance, it is at least arguable that it would not have acted as it did.”
“Unaccountably, the board leadership and the rest of the board do not seem to have followed the prescribed standards for presidential evaluation they had adopted the previous fall, nor did they ever conduct the kind of intensive evaluation of President Sullivan’s overall performance one would have expected them to undertake prior to reaching a decision to remove her from office. Furthermore, the board members had never explicitly, or apparently even implicitly, conveyed to the president their concerns about her allegedly unsatisfactory administration of her office or given her an opportunity to respond to and correct any shortcomings they might have noted. . . . What is more, the full board never met together as a body to deliberate over the concerns raised by the rector and others, nor did the board ever conduct a formal vote before taking the action that it did.”
“The decision to remove President Sullivan was, taking the reasons given by Rector Dragas at face value, procedurally and substantively arbitrary.”
The investigating committee concluded that the faculty senate was right not to lift a vote of no confidence in the board of visitors and that the university’s accrediting body was correct in placing the university on warning. In February, Virginia’s General Assembly confirmed Governor Robert McDonnell’s reappointment of Rector Dragas. Events that have occurred since that time and since the AAUP report was submitted for publication suggest that major issues addressed in the report are far from resolution. The committee intends to provide an update later this spring to the AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance for its report to the Association’s 2013 annual meeting in June.
The complete report is available on the AAUP’s website at http://www.aaup.org/report/college-and-university-governance-university-virginia-governing-board. For more information, please contact Jordan Kurland at 202-737-5900, ext. 3647.
The American Association of University Professors is a nonprofit charitable and educational organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process, and standards of quality in higher education. The AAUP has approximately 47,000 members at colleges and universities throughout the United States.