Sullivan, Dragas call for unity following reinstatement

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President Sullivan addressed hundreds of supporters on the Lawn Tuesday after UVA’s Board of Visitors unanimously voted for her reinstatement. Photo by Graelyn Brashear.

After more than two weeks of protests, speculation, and angst in the UVA community, the University’s Board of Visitors unanimously voted Tuesday afternoon to reinstate Teresa Sullivan as president.

A week and a day after the Board spent nearly 12 hours in deliberations over the naming of an interim president, it gathered again in the same Rotunda meeting room to address a resolution rescinding that appointment and reaffirming Sullivan’s status as top administrator.

The first signal that the Board was initiating a do-over at the emergency meeting came when Sullivan and Rector Helen Dragas—the embattled Board leader who orchestrated the behind-the-scenes ouster announced just over two weeks ago—walked in a back-door entrance to the building side by side and smiling.

 

UVA President Teresa Sullivan and Rector Helen Dragas eneter the Rotunda side by side before Tuesday’s meeting. Photo by Laura Ingles.

 

Heywood Fralin, the only Board member who voted against installing an interim president last week, introduced the Board’s resolution reinstating Sullivan, and before the room voted, Dragas made it clear she had changed her mind.

It had been a difficult two weeks for the University, she said, reiterating her apology for the secretiveness surrounding Sullivan’s forced resignation and acknowledging that the process should have taken place in the open. But good things have come of the turmoil on Grounds, she said.

"I believe real progress is more possible than ever now, because there’s absolutely no denying that all of the wonderful people who make up this community are as awake and egaged as ever," she said. "It is unfortunate that we had to have a near-death experience to get here, but the University should not waste the enormous opportunity at hand."

But not all the discussion had been constructive, she said. The Board members "have been the target of at times vitriolic and dishonorable communication based on a mob mentality that has been created by rumor and too little accountability from anonymous sources of information," she said. "This is plainly not the UVA way."

The role call around the table saw each Board member falling into step behind Dragas. Along with the affirmative votes, several offered brief statements of support. “With high honor and great pleasure, yes,” said Hunter Craig, one of the three members who requested the emergency meeting to reinstate the president.

Many in the crowd of several hundred Sullivan supporters gathered outside were following reporters’ tweets, and began cheering immediately after the unanimous vote, and over their muffled shouts, Sullivan herself addressed the Board. 

“I do not ask that we sweep any differences under the rug,” she said. “All of us want only one thing: what’s best for the University. I believe that we can continue in this task. We know now that we are joined by thousands of others who care passionately about this institution."

Outside, with the Board and many UVA deans surrounding her, Sullivan directed her words to a crowd that welcomed back its president with loud cheers and supportive signs.

“My family and I could not have imagined the events of recent weeks when we moved here 22 months ago,” she said. “I am not good enough, I am not wise enough, and I am not strong enough to do everything that needs doing at UVA on my own. But you have shown me beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am not alone.”

Suzie McCarthy, a PhD student studying politics has been driving back and forth from her home in northern Virginia for the last two weeks, attending protests and vigils and moderating the “Students, family and friends to reinstate President Sullivan” Facebook group. She said she thought the UVA community had surpirsed itself in its ability to come together.

“If I know our community, we’ll stand strong together, and we’ll look to our president," she said. "She has already given us an idea of how we should act.” 

Ricardo Padron, associate professor of Spanish, and a UVA alumnus, commended Dragas and the Board for "finding a dignified and honorable" way out of a crisis.

But UVA needs to learn from the last two weeks, he said

“One of the things we’ve learned from this is the necessity of diversifying the Board by having representatives from other constituencies," said Padron. "Had we had those representatives on this Board, this never would have happened, because the people in charge would have had a better sense of what the consequences of their actions were going to be.”—Graelyn Brashear and Laura Ingles

 

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