U.Va. rector regrets campus turmoil but sticks by decision to oust president

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University of Virginia Rector Helen E. Dragas said Monday that she regrets “the pain, anger and confusion” caused by the Board of Visitors’ decision to oust U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan. Nonetheless, Dragas gave no indication of giving into faculty demands for her resignation and Sullivan’s reinstatement.

“While our actions in this matter were firmly grounded in what we believe to be in the very best and long-term interests of the University, and our students, faculty, staff and alumni, we want to express our sincere regret for the pain, anger and confusion they have caused among many in our U.Va. family.  We certainly never wished nor intended to ignite such a reaction from the community of trust and honor that we all love so dearly,” Dragas said in a statement.  “We recognize that, while genuinely well-intended to protect the dignity of all parties, our actions too readily lent themselves to perceptions of being opaque and not in keeping with the honored traditions of this University.  For that reason, let me state clearly and unequivocally:  you – our U.Va. family – deserved better from this Board, and we have heard your concerns loud and clear.”

The statement also attempted to knock down stories that Sullivan was blindsided by the decision and that the board was demanding elimination of some academic programs or was serving the interests of a few wealthy donors.

“I want to make clear that the Board had a formalized communications process with the President, involving ongoing discussions for an extended period of time on progress toward mutually agreed-upon strategic goals for the University.  And we took this action only as a result of there being an overwhelming consensus of the Board to do so, and after all Board members were thoughtfully and individually engaged,” she said. “We have heard your demands for a fuller explanation of this action.  And while our answers may seem insufficient and poorly communicated, we have responded with the best we have to offer – the truth.”

Previous statements by Dragas have said Sullivan and the board had “philosophical differences” on the rate of change needed at the university.

Dragas also insisted Monday that “the Board has never, nor will we ever, direct that particular programs or courses be eliminated or reduced.  These matters belong to the faculty.”

Saying “we want the University to be a leader in fulfilling its mission, not a follower,” Dragas said, “there is not one single person on earth whose interests we would ever put above those of the thousands of stakeholders entrusted to our care.  Not one president, not one administrator, not one faculty member, and certainly not one donor.”

Despite what it described as a “cordial” meeting with Dragas this morning, the U.Va Faculty Senate Executive Council released a statement Monday morning calling for her resignation and that of Vice Rector Mark J. Kington and the reinstatement of Sullivan.

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