By Paula C. Squires
The University of Virginia’s new interim president said today he does not support the board of visitors’ decision to remove President Teresa Sullivan, and he is not interested in becoming the school’s next president.
Carl P. Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce, said during a press conference at the Charlottesville school that he agreed to assume the interim position out of his commitment and love for the university and because he wants to begin the process of rebuilding trust.
“I did not assume this role lightly. It took a profound amount of deliberation before I was willing to step into this job,” he said, in a reference to the turmoil that has swirled at Virginia’s flagship university since a small committee of the board accepted Sullivan’s resignation on June 10.
“In many respects, and this may sound odd, I did it because I want to build on the tremendous work that I think Sullivan has done over the last two years in beginning to change the university and change many of the ways we do things,” Zeithaml said. “I want to pick up where she will leave in August and do whatever I can in the interim period to continue to build this university.”
Zeithaml said he expects to serve as interim for a year. Asked when he was first approached about the job, he responded that Rector Helen Dragas called him last week on June 12 — two days after she announced the sudden ouster of Sullivan — and asked if he would be interested in being a candidate for the president’s job. “To which I responded, ‘No,’ ” he said. Dragas also asked for his input on the turmoil that has erupted since Sullivan was forced out. “The primary suggestion I made was to broadly engage the community.”
Later that week on Thursday, June 14, Zeithaml said he met with Dragas and former Vice Rector Mark Kington (who resigned yesterday in response to the controversy), and they asked again if he would be interested in the presidency. “I said, ‘No.’ Then the question of being an interim came up and honestly my reaction to that what that I would do whatever I could to help the university move forward.” There were no further conversations, he said, until he received a call in London early Tuesday morning of this week, asking if he would take on the job of interim president.
Zeithaml said one condition of his assuming the post on Aug. 16 — a day after Sullivan’s resignation takes effect — is that John Simon remains as provost. “He’s the chief academic officer and will be working with the deans, and I intend to work a lot with him.” Simon has publicly condemned the ouster, saying it puts the future of the university at risk.
Since he doesn’t support Sullivan’s removal after only two years on the job, Zeithaml was asked during the conference why he accepted the interim president’s post without first extracting an agreement from Dragas to resign. The university’s Faculty Senate has asked for her resignation, and calls for her to leave have come from other sectors as well.
“I think what the rector does, whether the rector resigns or not, is up to the rector,” he said. “I think she is facing an obviously difficult situation … I’m happy I’m not in her shoes. My shoes are hard enough at the moment.”
Zeithaml added later that “the decision around the board of visitors and who’s on it and who’s leading it is a decision for the governor. I really want to focus on the university.”
Dragas, appointed to the board in 2008, is eligible for a second, four-year appointment when her term expires July 1. Gov. Bob McDonnell has said that he will make board appointments by that time, but he has not indicated what action he will take in terms of Dragas’ possible reappointment.
Ziethaml termed the process to remove Sullivan, with her forced ouster and a vote to accept her recommendation from a three-member executive committee as opposed to the entire board, “deeply flawed. I don’t condone it ... I emphasize participation, engagement. I try to talk with everyone involved in an issue. I have a decision orientation. I can make a decision, but I try to get all the input I can up to that point. That didn’t happen,” he said.
In terms of working with the faculty, Zeithaml said he would move forward with engagement and interaction. “One of the things that recently started is to have members of the board visit individual schools for various kinds of interactions and events. I’d like to intensify that,” he said.
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