Yesterday afternoon, the Deans of the various divisions of UVA issued the following statement to the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia and to the media. The statement itself identified none of the co-authors. I participated in preparing this statement and lend my support to it.
[If you are reading this from afar and are unacquainted with the context, please refer to media reports summarized here.]
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TO: Board of Visitors, University of Virginia
FROM: Deans of the Colleges, University of Virginia
DATE: June 21, 2012
RE: Reinstatement of Teresa Sullivan, PhD as President of the University of Virginia
We, the deans of the Colleges of the University of Virginia, respectfully request that the Board of Visitors (BOV) reconsider their decision of June 8, 2012 and restore Teresa A. Sullivan to the position of President of the University of Virginia.
The Deans do not make this suggestion lightly. We are aware of both the dedication and responsibility that the BOV has for the University, and the fact that the Board has acted in what they believe are the best interests of the University despite a substantial amount of discord evoked by the decision in the faculty, the student body, and many members of the staff.
Among the reasons for the BOV’s decision were concern for the fiscal status of the University and more rapid action on fiscal and other issues, such as the role of on-line learning in our educational models and proactive approaches to the demographic changes that will occur in the faculty (retirements, etc.) in the next 5-8 years.
Appointment of an interim President (Carl Zeithaml, the esteemed Dean of the highly rated McIntire School of Commerce) will clearly delay rapid action on the fiscal issues and other substantial changes that would await the installation of a permanent President. We recommend strongly that discussions begin immediately to reset the relationship with President Sullivan, reconstitute the team she had put together over that past year, and accelerate the important decisions to be made. The circumstances of the last two weeks have impressed on President Sullivan, the Vice Presidents, and the Deans the seriousness with which the BOV takes the challenges that face the University—and the need to address these issues rapidly, thoughtfully, and in a collegial but urgent fashion.
Open discourse with clear understanding of what the BOV feels must be accomplished as rapidly as possible will be the most efficacious way of accomplishing the plans for such strategic direction. Such a move will restore to the University faculty, students, and all of the Deans—who will be charged with developing and implementing such strategic plans—a sense of joint ownership and responsibility that will energize us and go a long way to assuaging the emotions of these groups—including alumni and donors—who currently feel upset and disenfranchised.
The determination of the BOV to stick to their plans for the stewardship of the University is extremely admirable, and speaks to a genuine and deep concern for the institution’s welfare and future—beyond the gifts of time and dedication you all give to UVA as part of your service. However, it is clear after nearly two weeks of outrage, indignation, upset, threats of withdrawal of support and loyalty, that the people of the University of Virginia, and their ideas, which together comprise the University much more than buildings or landscapes, regard the decision as a mistake made in the absence of open discourse and courtesy. A reconsideration of the actions by both the BOV and President Sullivan can change what will surely have long-term adverse effects on the University [and how it is viewed both inside and outside the walls], into an instructive lesson on the powers of thoughtfulness, reconsideration, fairness, and the powers of an open mind as advocated by our founder.
The deans are the administrators who hear directly from the BOV AND all of our other constituents on a regular basis [increasingly in the past two weeks, as we are sure you have as well]. We recognize that the BOV frequently must make decisions based on information to which not everyone can have access. Indeed, it is a position in which deans find themselves very frequently. As deans start out in their administrative positions [no matter how fine a scholar s/he have been prior to their administrative appointment] they learn from every decision they make. We ask that the BOV and President Sullivan be informed by the reaction of the students, faculty, and friends of the University, and consider the galvanization of the administration, faculty, students, alumni, donors and, dare we say, the BOV members yourselves, by restitution of the President and serious and focused attention to the issues that led to this dilemma in the first place.
We commit to working to address the issues with the BOV, the Vice Presidents, and President Sullivan immediately. We can accomplish this without the alternate but unavoidably slow pathway of another year-long presidential search, potential changes of some senior leadership that usually accompanies change at the top, and the scar that it is clear that will be with us, unavoidably, for a long time if we do not make a course alteration now.
We ask for your wisdom and reconsideration. We will respond as professionals no matter what the decision of the BOV is, but know that there will be excitement, rededication and a real sense of accomplishment and hope for the future among all of our constituents if we can work out a middle path. We stand ready to help with information, individual or group discussion, and all necessary discretion to help with the University that we all value so highly.
Finally, please know that we did not offer Dean Zeithaml the opportunity to join in this communication, as we felt it would put him in an extraordinarily difficult position even to be asked.