UVA appoints interim president after day of protest on Grounds

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UVA Rector Helen Dragas addresses the Board of Visitors after a marathon meeting. (Photo by Graelyn Brashear)

After a day of angry demands and hopeful rallies, UVA’s Board of Visitors emerged from nearly 12 hours of discussion to offer up a decision, if not an explanation: Carl Zeithaml, head of UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce, will serve as interim president of the University beginning August 16.

The Board shut itself in a meeting room in the Rotunda shortly after 3 p.m. Monday for what most expected would be a few hours of deliberations on who would be appointed to temporarily fill the post of president—or whether the Board would bend to the demands of the Faculty Senate and reinstate the recently ousted Teresa Sullivan.

Click here for Rector Dragas’ full remarks. 

The meeting coincided with a massive show of support for Sullivan by faculty, students, alumni, and others, who gathered 2,000 strong on the lawn to cheer her on as she entered and then left a closed session with the Board. Before she left, the crowd parting like the Red Sea to let her pass, Sullivan spoke publicly for the first time since she was pushed out by the Board just over a week ago.

"You do great work every day," Sullivan said. "At the end of the day, that’s the important thing. The University of Virginia must remain a great university."

For Sullivan’s full remarks to the Board, click here

More than 11 hours went by before the Board reached a decision. Reporters from Charlottesville, Richmond, and Washington made a temporary camp in the Rotunda lobby as Sullivan supporters kept vigil on the portico outside, peering in the windows of the historic building for hours on end and munching on free pizza and chicken sent by sympathetic local restaurants.

It wasn’t until 2:30am that the meeting room doors opened, and a public session began. In a 12-to-1 vote, the members elected Ziethaml, who is currently serving his fourth term as McIntire’s Dean and the F.S. Cornell Professor of Free Enterprise, to serve as interim UVA president. Board members A. Macdonald Caputo and Robert D. Hardie abstained, and Glynn Key left well before the vote took place, slipping out without talking to reporters.

Heywood Fralin, a past rector and CEO of a nursing home corporation, was the only "no" vote. Pinned against a wall by a ring of reporters after the meeting ended, an exhausted-sounding Fralin said he had concerns over the process the Board used to orchestrate the power shift. Along with Caputo, Fralin was one of the three Board members said to have been kept in the dark about Rector Helen Dragas’ plan to oust Sullivan, according to a report last week in the Washington Post.

But Fralin wasn’t the only Board member who said he was unsatisfied. Hunter Craig—one of the three Board Executive Committee members who accepted Sullivan’s resignation just over a week ago—said he had originally planned to try to reinstate the president he’d just seen forced out.

"I came here today…hoping to vote for Terry Sullivan in two regards," Craig said. He’d hoped to reject her resignation, he said, and "reaffirm her status as president of the University of Virginia."

He said it was "with great heartburn" that he cast his vote instead for Ziethaml, apparently because there wasn’t enough support to carry his motion to put Sullivan back in the president’s office.

Craig said he wanted to see a faculty member appointed to the Board of Visitors in the future, adding he’d even step aside to make room for such an appointment.

In the moments after the six-minute public session ended—about half a minute for every hour the members had spent in private discussion, as one Cavalier Daily reporter noted—the Board members scattered. A small band of students and young alumni joined members of the press in chasing down Dragas as she headed for her car flanked by a police escort.

Dragas remained tight-lipped, even as students shouted for her resignation and reporters shouted questions like “Why were you afraid of Heywood Fralin?” and “Can you clarify your daily phone calls to Paul Tudor Jones?”

“Still no word to me as a student?” shouted one angry youth, who said his parents pay an inordinate amount of money for his out-of-state tuition. “What do you have to say?”

“I would say that it’s a Board decision,” Dragas responded, and any further words were drowned out by the crowd.

At 2:58am, nearly 12 hours after arriving late to the Board of Visitors’ meeting, the Rector made one final statement to the throng of press, students, and alumni before shutting her car door.

“I would just advise you not to believe everything you read in the papers,” she said.—Graelyn Brashear and Laura Ingles

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