Sullivan speaks with press on Carr’s Hill

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UVA President Teresa Sullivan speaks with reporters on August 21. Photo: Graelyn Brashear. UVA President Teresa Sullivan speaks with reporters on August 21. Photo: Graelyn Brashear.

It was hard not to draw comparisons yesterday when UVA President Teresa Sullivan met with reporters on Carr’s Hill—her first press conference since she was forced out and then reinstated this summer.

Back in June, managing a press corps swollen with TV and print journalists from Washington and beyond became several staffers’ full-time jobs. There were days when a new statement seemed to come every hour, and the tension, technology, and overflow crowd that enabled live coverage of that final June 26 meeting possible made the Rotunda basement feel like the White House briefing room.

Yesterday’s gathering—a relaxed affair in the president’s own home, attended by about a dozen reporters—was a palate-cleanser, of sorts. Come. Have a seat in my foyer. Let’s talk, and get the summer out of our systems, shall we?

Which isn’t to say there weren’t serious topics on the table. Sullivan’s relationship with the Rector and Board members who tried to force her out (they’re “working hard to have a productive relationship,” said the president), Board governance (there’s some courageous examining of process going on, she said), and Chief Operating Officer Michael Strine’s sudden departure (no more specifics there, but the committee that hired him has been reconvened) all came up.

When asked about the questions raised over Strine’s loyalty and the administrative chain of command during his brief tenure, Sullivan made it clear that his replacement will report directly to her. “And I’ll make it clearer if need be,” she said.

In the meantime, there’s been a reshuffling to fill the gap he’s left. The three University Vice Presidents who previously reported to Strine report to Sullivan, and the staff who were under him report to Vice President for Management and Budget Colette Sheehy.

More shakeups are afoot.

“I’d say the biggest long-term issue as we roll out the strategic plan for the University Medical Center, the way in which the governance of the Medical Center may be affected,” Sullivan said. “I can’t tell you what that may be, because I don’t know myself.”

The University knows all eyes are on it, and on its president. Not just the students, who Sullivan said have figured out which exercise machines she favors at the gym, and would probably notice if she jaywalked on the Corner. Not just alumni, who helped push recent fundraising efforts past targets with gifts, including many offered in the president’s name. And not just the local press, dutifully assembled in folding chairs, recorders and cameras at the ready.

UVA’s troubles—and its efforts to rise above them—are reflective of challenges all of higher education is facing today, Sullivan said. More than ever, the University is a bellwether, “and it’s a mistake not to think that everyone’s watching.”

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