Alums decry lack of leadership at UVA as sexual assault issue boils

Protestors march in November in Charlottesville in response to the Rolling Stone story alleging a brutal rape and lack of action at UVA. Photo: Martyn Kyle. Protestors march in November in Charlottesville in response to the Rolling Stone story alleging a brutal rape and lack of action at UVA. Photo: Martyn Kyle.

As the controversy over UVA’s handling of sexual assault cases continues to build, some alums are expressing their frustration over what they see as a lack of leadership at the school and even calling publicly for the resignation of President Teresa Sullivan and replacement of the Board of Visitors.

“If the BOV felt strong enough about online learning to fire Teresa Sullivan, they certainly should feel strong enough about student safety that this would warrant her firing,” said developer Mark Brown, referring to the June 2012 firing and subsequent rehiring of UVA’s first female president. In the wake of the recent Rolling Stone article detailing a brutal frat house gang rape, Brown, a 2003 UVA grad who owns the Main Street Arena and the Charlottesville Parking Center, wrote a letter to Delegate David Toscano asking for action against the BOV.

“The legislature and governor need to step in and find new BOV [members] who know what they’re doing,” he said. “Every person’s job down there ought to be on the line from the BOV to the president on down.”

Local attorney Cheri Lewis, who graduated from UVA in 1984, has also called for Sullivan’s resignation or firing.

“I write to respectfully suggest that [the] only way for the University community to begin to address the panoply of issues brought to light by the Rolling Stone article of November 19 is to ask for the immediate resignation of President Teresa Sullivan and other members of her administration,” wrote Lewis in a November 25 letter sent to each member of the Board of Visitors. At presstime, she said she had received no response.

Both Brown and Lewis cite Sullivan’s initial letter to the UVA community in response to the Rolling Stone article—and her decision to head to a conference in the Netherlands just as the story was breaking—as leadership failures that were also mentioned in a recent op-ed in The Daily Progress.

In a phone interview, Lewis said she feels Sullivan and other members of the administration are not communicating clearly enough with the community, and her letter criticizes the focus on fraternities as a way to deflect blame.

“In interviews with local media on the eve of your meeting on Tuesday the 25th,” she wrote to the board, “both President Sullivan and her deputy Dean of Students Allen Groves point fingers at the fraternity system, stating that the Greek system needs to change. This comports with many demands from the public and University alumni for abolition of the Greek System heard in the days after the publication of the article. Is this leadership or management for self-survival in the face of your meeting tomorrow?”

Going forward, she wants to see more transparency and more public discussion.

“As members of the Charlottesville community, alumni, students, faculty, staff, parents of students, we all want to know what’s going on. What are they doing? There’s utter silence,” said Lewis. “Utter and complete silence is not leadership. The students did not come back from Thanksgiving thinking wow, we feel better, rape won’t be tolerated.”

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