UPDATED: UVA announces Sullivan will step down

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The UVA community is reacting to the sudden resignation of University President Teresa Sullivan Sunday, expressing shock at the abrupt announcement that she would be stepping down August 15 after only two years in the position.

According to an e-mail sent to the UVA community Sunday by University Rector Helen E. Dragas, Sullivan’s departure was the result of a mutual agreement between her and the Board of Visitors. 

Sullivan, who was quoted in the e-mail, said that she and the Board of Visitors have “a philosophical difference of opinion,” and Dragas later implied a similar sentiment at a meeting with UVA Vice Presidents and Deans when she said that the University needs a “bold and proactive leadership on tackling the difficult issues that we face.”

A memo offering Dragas’ remarks from that meeting indicates the Board’s stated justification for ousting Sullivan lies in her inability to affect quick and sweeping changes to the University’s plans for financial stability.

"The Board feels the need for a bold leader who can help develop, articulate, and implement a concrete and achievable strategic plan to re-elevate the University to its highest potential," Dragas said. "We need a leader with a great willingness to adapt the way we deliver our teaching, research, and patient care to the realities of the external environment. We need a leader who is able to passionately convey a vision to our community, and effectively obtain gifts and buy-in towards our collective goals.

The Board believes this environment calls for a much faster pace of change in administrative structure, in governance, in financial resource development and in resource prioritization and allocation. We do not believe we can even maintain our current standard under a model of incremental, marginal change. The world is simply moving too fast."

Sullivan was the University’s eighth president, and the first female to take on the role. Her resignation will be effective August 15, two years after filling the position on August 1, 2010. Her predecessor, John Casteen, held the position for 20 years.

Students and faculty said the announcement was unexpected. 

Tanya Denckla Cobb, an associate professor and professional mediator, said the impression she and her colleagues got was of a president who was on track and generally well liked. She said she wondered how much effort Sullivan and the Board put into resolving their differences before making such a drastic decision. 

“As a mediator, I think one of the disappointments is that there doesn’t seem to have been any effort or desire to take some kind of conflict resolution,” Denckla Cobb said. “But, then again, without having any details, it’s hard to tell.” 

Dragas said Sunday that the Board of Supervisors is moving quickly to name an interim president and start the search for a new leader.—C-VILLE writers

What’s your take? Did the resignation announcement come as a surprise to you? Drop us a line to tell us what you’re thinking (e-mail news@c-ville.com) and leave a comment below.

To read Sullivan’s last interview with C-VILLE in our May 15 issue, click here!

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