The U: UVA's top power players

The U
Charlottesville is a company town and UVA is the company. The relatively small size of the city, its longstanding relationship with the University, and the fact that UVA runs its biggest hospital, real estate business, and media team, in addition to accounting for 12,500 jobs and a budget footprint of $2.6 billion, means it’s not hard to figure out where the seat of power is. Right now the captain’s chair is empty. The Board of Visitors (some of them anyway) flexed its muscle in deposing President Teresa Sullivan, citing the need for an executive leader with a nous for confronting structurally fiscal challenges with immediate actions, not an “incrementalist.” The way the deed went down has created a massive backlash, in large part because of the secrecy with which a small group of people changed course on behalf of the state’s flagship university. To repair the breach with faculty and deans, the Board needs to find a president who’s a skilled negotiator with academic credibility; to settle down alumni whose feathers have been ruffled by the debacle, it needs a charismatic communicator with a track record of raising big money; and then to make the whole affair pay out, it’s got to find someone with the skills Rector Helen Dragas believes Sullivan didn’t have. Oh, and the person has to be willing to walk into a mess. Sound like anyone you know?

Teresa Sullivan (Photo by Dan Addison/UVA Public Affairs)

1. Teresa Sullivan?
UVA President
Some big names are being bandied about as Teresa Sullivan’s successor, including Teresa Sullivan’s. By the time this paper comes out, the Board will have met to settle the details of her terms of employment, which means she’ll either have been reinstated or she’ll have been cashiered. In the first scenario, the question of who’s steering the ship will be answered. In the second, it will be wide open.

Recently named interim president Carl Zeithaml (see No. 5) bowed out under pressure from his peers, adding fuel to a fire that’s burning hot on Grounds. Sullivan built up major credibility with the faculty by decentralizing control over department budgets, doing some serious listening, and creating a game plan for faculty recruitment and retention that involved making UVA a great place to be a teacher. She opened Pandora’s box purposefully in the belief that building a consensus-driven management system that empowers faculty and creates competition between departments could make up for the fact that UVA can’t pay as much as its competitors.

Dragas expressed her belief that solving the faculty recruitment problem was going to come down to dollars and cents. Kind of an interesting question for academia emerging here. Whether the Board will reinstate Sullivan, opt for star power (Bill Clinton anyone?), or choose somebody familiar but imbued with a finance mindset, like Ted Snyder, the former Darden dean now holding forth at Yale’s School of Management, is anybody’s best guess.

Helen Dragas (Photo by Cole Geddy/UVA Public Affairs)

2. Helen Dragas
Rector of the UVA Board of Visitors
Say what you want about Helen Dragas, but the Virginia Beach realtor won’t back down. A Tim Kaine appointment to the Board of Visitors and a Darden grad, Dragas unapologetically wielded the sword in Sullivan’s very sudden and private execution, even told her to get out of Carr’s Hill before her contract expired. Her term on the Board expires in July, and Governor Bob McDonnell hasn’t indicated one way or another whether she’ll stay or go. Let’s take a guess and say he’ll wait to see what happens Tuesday, when all the eyes in the commonwealth will be trained on the Rotunda.

Early last week, Vice Rector Mark Kington, who according to an e-mail strand recently made public, helped Dragas engineer Sullivan’s removal with a cool, and calculated hand, resigned with little explanation. It was the first sign that Dragas’ hold on the Board was crumbling. Then three Board members—A. Macdonald Caputo, Timothy Robertson, and Hunter Craig—called for a vote on Sullivan’s reinstatement. Hmmm. A day later Zeithaml abdicated his role, citing the groundswell of support for Sullivan and saying, “Trust, one of our core institutional values, has been compromised.”

We don’t remember trust being one of the core values in Game of Thrones. Oh wait, this is Mr. Jefferson’s University.

The Washington Post claims to have an inside source who says that Dragas’ opponents on the Board have the eight votes they need to bring Sullivan back. We’ve counted six. But if you saw Dragas on the way out of the 12-hour marathon meeting that resulted in Zeithaml’s temporary appointment, you’d realize she doesn’t intend to fold her cards without seeing what her opponents are holding. “Don’t believe everything you read in the newspapers,” she said. Dragas’ power at the University will dissipate very quickly if she loses this battle and doesn’t get reappointed next month, but the lasting effect of Dragas-gate will be felt for years to come.

3. George Cohen
UVA Faculty Senate Chair
We know, we know, the faculty never has any power. But don’t tell that to George Cohen, the UVA Law professor who has led the Faculty Senate’s opposition to Sullivan’s removal. As a key faculty spokesperson in the unfolding saga, Cohen and his colleagues took up a strong initial position by endorsing a document requesting that Dragas and Kington resign from the Board and demanding Sullivan’s reinstatement. When they managed to convince Carl Zeithaml to come back across the picket line, the Faculty Senate sent a serious message that it will be a force to be reckoned with as the process unfolds. Academia is famous for its divisive department politics, but the UVA faculty on Grounds last week showed remarkable solidarity and Cohen fulfilled the fantasies of thousands of disempowered professors across the land when he wrote to Governor Bob McDonnell and said, “We call upon Rector Helen Dragas to follow the Vice Rector’s lead and resign immediately.”
What makes Cohen’s position even more interesting is that Sullivan’s husband, Douglas Laycock, is a colleague at the UVA Law School. That human connection could have played a role in preventing this internal fight from playing out between the University’s well-endowed and highly prestigious graduate schools and its embattled undergraduate college.

R. Edward Howell (Photo Dan Addison/UVA Public Affairs)

4. R. Edward Howell
UVA Medical Center Vice President and CEO
With all of the focus on the way Darden grads (Dragas, Kington, Kiernan) engineered Sullivan’s removal, don’t forget about the power of the UVA Medical Center, which accounts for nearly half of the University’s budget footprint and employs 5,500 people. The hospital is the intersection between well-funded relatively autonomous private graduate schools, the operating budget controlled by the president’s office, and the declining stream of state and federal research money. Dragas used a whole bullet point to make it clear that dealing with the issues facing the hospital are a financial necessity, and Sullivan’s strategic plan notably lacked any mention of its operation.

R. Edward Howell, a quiet disciple of former UVA COO Leonard Sandridge, has been working hard to make the case that the hospital needs to remain a funding priority. Meanwhile, the hospital industry is continuing its rapid consolidation under regional health care provider models, placing added pressure on the cost structures of teaching hospitals. Howell recently oversaw the construction of the $74 million Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center and the $141 million Barry & Bill Battle Building, a major overhaul of the UVA Children’s Hospital. To capitalize on the expansion, Howell needs to cover another $100 million in expenses each year to cover the new operating costs. The furor on campus right now is about honor, public process, and respect, but the decision to remove Sullivan was based on solving problems of a “structural and long-term nature.” You can bet Howell will want the next president, even if it is Sullivan, to follow through on the investment in the UVA Medical Center by steering money his way.

Carl Zeithaml (Photo by Cole Geddy/UVA Public Affairs)

5. Carl Zeithaml
Former Interim President
“Some people disagree with my decision to serve in this role, and I understand their reasons. After profound deliberation, however, I felt that I had no choice. I am sorry if you disagree with my decision, but please join me in my efforts to move the University forward.” His opening e-mail to fellow administrators painted a pretty picture of Carl Zeithaml’s predicament as interim leader of UVA, and so it may not have been a total surprise to his colleagues when he reversed course a few days later, broke contact with the Board, and stood with the Faculty Senate in condemning the process used to oust Sullivan.

There is broad conjecture that most of the 12 hours the Board spent behind closed doors last Monday went into convincing someone to take a job that no one really wanted. Zeithaml has been dean of the McIntire School of Commerce for four terms and overseen its rise to the top of the list of undergraduate business schools. Since the 2006 introduction of the Bloomberg Businessweek ranking of undergraduate business programs, the School’s B.S. in Commerce Program is the only program in the nation to be ranked either first or second each year. Zeithaml also specializes in the field of strategic management, with an emphasis on global and competitive strategy, exactly what Dragas wanted from a leader. Zeithaml sent two powerful messages when he turned his back on her. First, that the Darden cabal didn’t include McIntire. And second, that faculty solidarity is important to upper management too.


Bonnie Gordon (Photo by John Robinson)

Bonnie Gordon

Professor at UVA McIntire Department of Music, age 43
“If I ran this university, I’d do much of what Terry Sullivan did: speak the truth that, while UVA may be great, it’s not as great as it thinks it is, and its greatness is precarious. I would put Mr. Jefferson to sleep once and for all; we need to stop using him to prove anything we want. Sure, he founded UVA, but he built it on the labor of enslaved blacks, didn’t let women come to his school, and had a nasty vindictive streak.

I would make sure the University’s administrators stopped acting like the Vatican, circa 1600, handing down secret decisions from on high. But first I’d canonize LEO (Library Express On-Grounds)—the service that delivers books from the library directly to faculty offices. After all, we still need books to teach our students.

I’d make race relations a top priority. I’d remind the state legislature that teaching and scholarship matter most. I’d remind everyone that without the undergraduates, we are all sunk. I’d make sure those precious gems do the following: 1) touch a book printed before 1800; 2) experiment and play with numbers; 3) create something; 4) vote; 5) learn something that can only be learned outdoors; 6) learn about and contribute to the Charlottesville community; 7) rebel.

I’d make its relationship with the community a priority of the University; our neighbors are not there solely as objects for study and photography, and our staff needs to make a living wage. I’d fire the people who come up with stupid and time-consuming online surveys. I’d abolish online sexual and racial harassment classes and quizzes; those who harass, assault, and rape are smart enough to pass them. I’d make sure we take ourselves less seriously; much of what we do as academics is somewhat ludicrous and universities are about playing with ideas, not drowning in them. I’d build a bar and spa just for women (all of them, not just faculty), financed with fines paid by the above-mentioned harassers.”

Walt Heinecke(Photo by John Robinson)

Walt Heinecke
Professor at UVA Curry School of Education, age 53
“I would ask all to adopt a creed established by Cicero: ‘Freedom means participation in power.’ I’d ask leaders to treat the public as allies, not as enemies or a problem to be managed. I’d demand that our leaders seek public input in substantive ways, not merely symbolic ones, and that they act in the public interest, not in the interests of wealthy individuals or corporations with venal agendas.

Dear leaders, some advice:

Be transparent to a fault.

Model your public organizations on the idea of democracy, not corporations, and give your employees a say in the operations. Reject the philosophy that says market forces and private self interests determine, define, or equate to the public good. Acknowledge that unbridled capitalism has corrupted our democracy and that public institutions have been compromised and that you will not tolerate it further.

Replace reading of management and leadership books penned by corporate CEOs and financiers and, instead, read Gandhi, King Jr., Dewey, Sinclair Lewis.

Create mechanisms for citizen/stakeholder input in ways that do not promote predetermined outcomes. Don’t stack your appointments to advisory bodies, let them be representative of the population (class, race, gender, etc.), not merely the wealthy. Encourage and facilitate, do not control, manipulate, or manage public input, discussion, and discourse. Democracy is slow and messy and not always efficient—allow for that.

And to my fellows:

‘Sic Semper Tyrannis’ means you will question your boards’ motives and provide them with feedback as to whether or not they are serving the public interest. Lead them to serve the public not private interests and protest if they fail to do so.

Demand that the Board of Supervisors, the City Council, the Board of Visitors, and the school boards provide full public funding of public services. Insist that they push back against those interests that have choked support for public institutions. Be political actors in this sense: Question the constitution of governing boards should they be dominated by and promote corporate/wealthy interests.

To all:

Question authority, even your own.”

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