Sullivan to Board of Visitors: Trust requires frank discussion

UVA has released a statement made by ousted president Teresa Sullivan to the Board of Visitors this afternoon, a seven-plus page document read aloud by Faculty Senate member and drama professor Gweneth West on the Rotunda steps as the Board carried on a closed-session meeting.

In her statement, Sullivan detailed the changes she instituted during her 22 months in the president’s office. She also urged the Board members to avoid the pitfall of too much rapid change, and encouraged them to keep in mind the need for trust in their relationship with the rest of the University community.

"I have been described as an incrementalist," Sullivan said, directly addressing one of the criticisms UVA Rector Helen Dragas has made in justifying the board’s decision to oust her. "It is true. Sweeping action may be gratifying and may create the aura of strong leadership, but its unintended consequences may lead to costs that are too high to bear."

Sullivan said her kind of change—"carefully planned and executed in collaboration with Vice Presidents and Deans and representatives of the faculty"—was the way to move forward.

"Corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great University," she said. "Sustained change with buy-in does work."

She said the last 10 days have already taken a toll at UVA. Faculty have already left for other Universities. "Deans and provosts at every peer institution are setting aside funds now to raid the University of Virginia next year given the current turmoil on campus."

Sullivan defended her budget reforms, which included pushing responsibility for department finances to the respective deans. 

"A dramatic top-down reallocation in our general fund, simply to show that we are ‘changing,’ or that we are not ‘incremental,’ seems to me fiscally imprudent, highly alarming to faculty, and unfair to students who expect to get a broadly inclusive education here."

She also drove home the divide that has sprung up since the Board announced her surprise resignation.

"Beyond fiduciary matters related to the budget model and fundraising, the University’s new administrative team has had a considerable human impact," she said. "If you want to know about the impact on the faculty, on its morale and energy and commitment to UVA, go outside and talk to them." The remark drew loud cheers as West read it aloud to the crowd still assembled on the Lawn, as did her comments about trust:

"The community of trust is not merely a term to describe a Code that applies to our students," she said. "Trust does not mean an absence of disagreement. But it requires that disagreements be frankly discussed."

But Sullivan ended her remarks with an apparent acknowledgement that her days as president of the University were up.

"No matter how accomplished he or she may be, a president cannot read minds," she said toward the end of the statement. "When you choose a new president, tell him or her what you are thinking."

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