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U.Va. dean suspends preparations to become interim president

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The man named interim president of the University of Virginia has stopped all preparations for that role until the status of embattled President Teresa Sullivan is resolved.

“There is an enormous groundswell of support for Terry Sullivan’s reinstatement as our president, and I understand that the [U.Va. Board of Visitors] will meet next week to consider this possibility,” Carl Zeithaml, dean of the U.Va. McIntire School of Commerce, said in a statement released Friday morning. “As a result, I am suspending any further negotiations with the Board regarding my status as interim president, as well as any activities associated with this role. In the meantime, I will return my focus to the McIntire School.  Trust cannot be restored in our community until the President Sullivan’s status is clarified and ultimately resolved.”

In a press conference Friday afternoon, Zeithaml said while he has a natural “bias toward action,” he felt the best thing to do is to step back and let process takes its course.

He added that, should the board reinstate Sullivan, he would be happy to “go back to McIntire and make out my syllabus for the fall semester.”

The dean characterized the controversy as a conflict of well-intentioned people who are very passionate about the university. “My hope is that we can leverage that passion” to address potential problems facing U.Va.

Meanwhile, Gov. Bob McDonnell showed he is losing patience with the situation at U.Va. “This needs to be brought to closure,” McDonnell said in Lynchburg, according to the News & Advance newspaper.

“We need finality,” McDonnell said. “We need to have settlement on the campus, and the future direction of leadership has got to be resolved immediately.”

The board of visitors is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday at he university’s iconic Rotunda building to reconsider Sullivan’s forced resignation. The June 10 announcement of Sullivan’s ouster less than two years into her tenure has thrown the university into turmoil.

The university’s other deans added their voice to the growing chorus of faculty, students, alumni and donors asking the board to reconsider its decision. A statement released by the deans noted “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…regard the decision as a mistake made in the absence of open discourse and courtesy.”

A reconsideration of Sullivan’s resignation “can change what will surely have long-term adverse effects on the university… into an instructive lesson on the powers of thoughtfulness, reconsideration, fairness, and the powers of an open mind as advocated by our founder,” the statement said.

The board of visitors named Zeithaml interim president early Tuesday morning after a marathon, 11-hour session that drew a huge crowd of Sullivan supporters to the university Lawn in front of the Rotunda.

Zeithaml was scheduled to take over as interim president on Aug. 16, the day after Sullivan’s resignation was to take effect.

The controversy already has caused the resignation of Vice Rector Mark Kington, who was one of three members of the board who asked Sullivan to step down.

His departure from the 16-member board could be a factor in Tuesday’s decision. Board members wanting to reinstate Sullivan would need only eight votes to gain a majority.

 


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