Terry’s track record: Five years in, how should we measure Sullivan’s success?

Teresa Sullivan's had a rough five years. Will she stay at UVA's helm? Photo: Ashley Twiggs Teresa Sullivan’s had a rough five years. Will she stay at UVA’s helm? Photo: Ashley Twiggs

As the class of 2015 prepares to walk away from UVA, the University’s Board of Visitors is weighing whether President Teresa Sullivan will stay. Sullivan’s current contract ends next summer, and Rector George K. Martin has said the governing board will likely determine whether to extend it by the end of next month.

Martin has said publicly he’s pleased with Sullivan’s performance, but there have been indications in recent weeks that the tenor on the board, which has 17 voting members appointed by the governor, is fractious. Former Rector Helen Dragas, who led a failed effort to force Sullivan’s resignation in 2012, slammed a plan orchestrated by a fellow board member to dramatically increase tuition over the next two years. Board member Edward D. Miller also criticized the hike when he announced he would resign June 30, a year before his term is up, pointing fingers not just at the governing body, but also at Sullivan’s administration.

Year after year, said Miller in a statement at the time, “I have implored the administration to put an end to tuition increases that mire Virginia’s students and families in a mountain of unnecessary debt. And no matter what anyone says, the latest decision to increase tuition by 23 percent over two years was not done in a transparent manner. To have such a colossal tuition hike and the plan behind it presented at the very last moment to the entire Board and the public was totally unacceptable.”

Then there’s the fact that the big stories of Sullivan’s first five years have been more about weathering storms than making strides. She arrived in 2010 on the heels of the murder of Yeardley Love by her former boyfriend, fellow fourth-year athlete George Huguely. Then came the dramatic attempted ouster in 2012. The academic year now winding down blew all that out of the water in terms of crises: It saw the disappearance and death of second-year student Hannah Graham, three student suicides, the firestorm that followed the now retracted Rolling Stone story on an alleged gang rape at UVA, the attention that story brought to the very real scrutiny of UVA’s sexual assault record by the Department of Education and the bloody arrest of African-American student leader Martese Johnson by ABC officials.

What, besides steadiness in turmoil, represents success for a university president? Here are six measures. Whether and how the board is weighing them is anybody’s guess; none of the 17 voting members responded to a request for comment. So we’re kicking it to you. Before we do, we’ll leave you with a thought from Sullivan herself. She didn’t share it with C-VILLE—she declined our interview—but with Fortune, which in a March profile called her “the unluckiest president in America.”

“It’s a mistake to see leadership as a function of the individual,” she told the magazine.

Long-term investment funds


UVA’s endowment is one of its brilliant success stories. Larry Kochard, CEO and CIO of the University of Virginia Investment Management Company, came to Grounds the same year Sullivan did, and has overseen a post-recession rise in both the size of the long-term investment pool (which includes the endowment) and the returns from those investments, which make up about 11 percent of UVA’s annual budget. The pool now sits at nearly $7 billion, a nest egg bigger than that of several schools in the famously rich Ivy League.

Undergraduate enrollment


Back in 2010, Sullivan announced plans to speed up enrollment growth, adding 1,400 undergraduates over the next five years. It was, she said at the time, the “right thing for the University and the right thing for the Commonwealth.” The numbers fell a little short of the mark: The increase from the 2010-11 academic year to the current one was 1,024.

Accepted student enrollment rate


Yield may not be a number prospective students agonize over when picking a college, but it matters to administrators. It represents the percentage of accepted students who ultimately choose to enroll (Harvard leads the pack at 81 percent, according to U.S. News and World Report). And even as the number of students applying to UVA and the school’s selectivity have shot up over the last decade, yield has been dropping.

Faculty salaries


Faculty compensation is a perennially contentious issue, but it’s one where UVA outperformed the national growth average last year. According to the American Association of University Professors, the current year-over-year change in salary for all ranks was 2.2 percent between 2013 and 2014; the average salary across all ranks at UVA increased by 6 percent for the same time period.

Fundraising success


Sullivan’s predecessor, John T. Casteen, retired with a legacy as a highly successful fundraiser; at his peak in 2007, just before the recession, he brought in $302 million. During Sullivan’s attempted ouster, at least one big donor raised concerns that she couldn’t keep up. Numbers from UVA indicate that her biggest year—incidentally, the same year as the attempted coup—fell well below that level.

Tuition and fees



The base cost of a UVA education has gone up 22 percent for in-state students (noted with the dotted black line) and 26 percent for non-Virginians on Sullivan’s watch. That’s more than three times the rate of undergraduate enrollment growth. It’s a controversial issue among students and UVA leaders alike, and those numbers don’t show what’s coming: By 2016, in-state tuition for incoming students will be another 22 percent higher.

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