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Why did the board ask the president of U.Va. to leave?
AT the University of Virginia, tra-
The president of U.Va. serves at the pleasure of the board, which now consists of 13 men and three women appointed by the governor to four-year terms. The board had every right to fire Mrs. Sullivan. But legal isn't always wise. Booting the popular president has created an uproar on and off campus.
Inaugurated just two years ago in a pomp-and-circumstance ceremony worthy of the commonwealth's flagship university, Mrs. Sullivan was just hitting her stride when, for reasons that remain murky, the ax fell. Helen Dragas, who heads the board, implied that Mrs. Sullivan was moving too slowly to make changes at U.Va. In a statement, the rector, citing the need for "bold and proactive leadership," wrote, "We do not believe we can even maintain our current standard under a model of incremental, marginal change."
But can a university that calls its campus "The Grounds," that cheers for "Cavaliers," and that invokes Thomas Jefferson, its beloved founder, on everything from building columns to curricula really be expected to change direction on a dime?
Besides, the ship wasn't exactly off course. Mrs. Sullivan's predecessor, John Casteen, had been at U.Va. for 20 years. When he left, its endowment was well over $5 billion, its outreach to minorities was humming, and its ranking was at or near the top for public universities in the United States.
What about Mrs. Sullivan's two years on the job was so threatening to the school that the board acted at super-speed? Her dismissal shocked students, the Faculty Senate--it complained of being "blindsided"--and even Gov. McDonnell, who said Wednesday he was "surprised" at the move. Now everyone is demanding answers.
The board should have anticipated the dustup. Members have been called to a special meeting today. It's high time they tried to right this lurching ship.