Major Donor Responsible for Sullivan’s Dismissal?

Further to the question of the identity of the “two important Virginia alums” who Darden’s Peter Kiernan says he worked with on the “project” of ousting President Teresa Sullivan, The Hook’s Courteney Stuart has done some digging. Her sources and the available evidence point to UVA donors and billionaires Paul and Sonia Jones as the two in question. You’ll know his name for the John Paul Jones Arena, for which he donated $35M. (Remember when UVA really wanted us to call the JPJ “the Jack”? I’m glad that didn’t pan out.) The university recently announced that Jones gave $12M to establish a “contemplative center”—which proposes to solving world problems through yoga, or some such new-age nonsense. With UVA’s capital campaign having fallen $400M of its $3B goal, Jones was seen as a potential $100M donor, money that he may well not have given as long as Sullivan remained at the helm.

There’s neither a confession nor a smoking gun at this point, but Stuart may well have broken through to the cause of Sullivan’s dismissal.

25 Responses to “Major Donor Responsible for Sullivan’s Dismissal?”

  • “. . . which proposes to solving world problems through yoga, or some such new-age nonsense.”


  • No, really. The official press release on the gift is hysterical. See the comments on reforming higher education. See also the Vanity Fair article on yoga.

  • Thanks RF. Now I know why this happened. Dr.Sullivan didn’t want to be in the Yoga Biz. Here’s the link read for yourselves.

  • Is this for real ? I read the Slate article linked at the Hook by a media professor, and watching this after reading that is truly scary !

  • Only it’s not a “contemplative center”, it’s a Contemplative *Sciences* Center. A bold linguistic move, not unlike one pioneered by Mary Baker Eddy a century and a half ago.

  • Wow, now that I’ve taken a look at the first photograph in the VF article, I am rethinking my position, so to speak.

    If Dragas or Jones can get me a ‘date’ with the guy in the background, I’ll support them if they name a rabid hedgehog as President.

  • OK, after watching that YouTube video of the Joneses announcing the establishment of the Center for Contemplative Sciences, I think this is actually more of a potential threat to the integrity of UVA than the BOV action to remove President Sullivan. Here’s Sonia Jones in the video:

    “It is our hope that the University will become a world center for nurturing contemplative and yogic practices, ideas and thoughts in ways that will transform higher education.”

    Now it may turn out that UVA is not going to tailor the Center to fit that vision 100%. But Sonia Jones is not talking about a center for the academic study of something: she is explicitly proposing a center for the *promulgation* of something, and that something is a specific brand of religio-physical practice, namely Ashtanga Yoga. In which the Joneses have a business interest as well as a philosophical one.

    I’m well aware that there lots of fully legitimate neuroscientific study of mediation and contemplative practice, and that it’s possible to believe in the value of contemplative practice without any supernatural or ideological underpinnings (cf. Sam Harris). But the Jones are very clear: they’re not talking about dispassionate, neutral study of a field of practice (as in a conventional religious studies department); they’re talking about, basically, proselytizing for a specific formulation of yogic practice, which will be legitimized by its association with Thomas Jefferson’s university.

    Am I the only one who finds that deeply disturbing?

  • That video is high-larious. I’ve got accent whiplash after watching it.

    Coincidentally, about a week ago a co-worker and I were talking about this bullshit yoga thing (that clearly exists solely because some donors wanted to pay for it, not because UVA said “hey, you know what we need…?”). The comparison that came to mind immediately, which I still think is apt, is to back when UVA studied woo-woo “science” with their paranormal psychology department. Officially, it was “The Division of Perceptual Studies.” It was finally shut down maybe fifteen years ago, although it appears to live on in some diminished capacity.

  • If even ten percent of this is true, it’s a profound humiliation for the University.

  • Aside to Waldo: correction, the Division of Perceptual Studies used to be named the Division of Personality Studies. I believe that it was originally endowed by a Xerox executive.

    Anyway, seems like in an ideal world, the BOV could be the best possible firewall against the influence that big givers want to wield. I hope Toscano and Deeds are considering a bill to rewrite the appointment process and makeup of the BOV. There may just be bipartisan support for such legislative reform….. at least, among us little people. Wish I was still a constituent.

  • “. . . which proposes to solving world problems through yoga, or some such new-age nonsense.”

    Actually they plan to do peer-reviewed empirical studies like the ones the NIH is already doing about the possible connections between yoga and health.

  • And not only proselytizing, but using this new center to legitimize and bolster their new pet business venture:

  • What I have heard is that UVa wanted more science and the Jones wanted more Yoga, and therefore their strategic vision was not being dynamically carried out.

  • From WP story:
    “Sullivan, who has made no public comment since her ouster, has asked to address the board. The board has agreed to hear her comments, provided the meeting happens behind closed doors.”
    No more closed doors!!! These proceedings need to be opened up.

  • Aside to Waldo: correction, the Division of Perceptual Studies used to be named the Division of Personality Studies.

    I stand corrected! Thank you, Anne.

    “. . . which proposes to solving world problems through yoga, or some such new-age nonsense.”

    Actually they plan to do peer-reviewed empirical studies like the ones the NIH is already doing about the possible connections between yoga and health.

    That might be the stated goal, but chalk me up as seriously dubious. This organization is being funded by a very, very wealthy woman—the target of a $100M funding request from the university—who is launching a chain of yoga studios. What do you think the odds are that they’re going to conclude that yoga does not have any health benefits? They’d be out of a job! It’s not like UVA is going to say “well, good job with that research—we’ll keep funding this organization even though the donors now despise us.” This puts everybody at the university who is involved with this in a terribly uncomfortable position.

    I have been caught between a major donor to the university and what is clearly the honest thing to do, and I’m here to tell you that, at UVA, the donor is going to win that dispute every time, and staff/faculty is going to lose.

  • Wasn’t the original mindfulness stress reduction program (aka yoga promotion) at the hospital funded by Kluge? Just digging back in my memory.

    The Maria T. Kluge Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Relaxation Program Fund was created by the Kluge Foundation. Mr. and Mrs. Kluge have a particular interest in health care that reaches all levels of the population and provides service to those who may not be able to afford quality health care. Mrs. Kluge has served as an instructor in the program.

  • I think you’re right to be dubious, I was just reacting to the scoffing of studying yoga at all. There is science and research to be done there, it’s already being done elsewhere.

  • So Sullivan got kicked out because she would not agree that UVa would become the leading provider of online yoga practice? :)That’s hlarious.

    Anything for a buck in the state-starvation of public higher education funding.

    But Let’s not lose sight of the issue here, major donors and corporate types buying their way into making personnel decisions and direction of the university. Private interests controlling public institutions.

    So its a cabal of outside corporate wealthy types working with an internal cabal inside the president’s office?

    So it is clear that this is ultimately a struggle between the forces of venal capitalism and the public good for control over a public resource:UVA. “Big things have small beginnings” as they say in the Prometheus movie. Big evil things have small immoral beginnings.

    Courtney Stuart’s Quote at the end of her article is so compelling as to be the new motto for UVA:

    “I hope we shall,” wrote Jefferson, “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and to bid defiance to the laws of their country.”

    Come to the Faculty Senate meeting Sunday at 5 at Darden, all are welcome not just faculty. Come to the rally at the Rotunda 2:30 on Monday and at 5 to the BOV meemting on Monday.

    This effort needs the support of citizens, faculty, students, parents, staff. Its a public university and it belongs to all of us. We are the Board of Visitors.

    There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear…There’s a BOV over there, telling me I got to beware…

  • JWS said:

    “(If Dragas or Jones can get me a ‘date’ with the guy in the background,) I’ll support them if they name a rabid hedgehog as President.”

    Thank you for the one moment of absolute hilarity that I have been able to enjoy during the last seven days of this debacle!

  • As a graduate student and lecturer in Tibetan Buddhism at UVa, and a possible employee of the Contemplative Sciences Center, I can assure you that you’re pretty off-base here. It’s a fair reaction to that video, and all the more understandable given the growing disdain for the Joneses, but the reality is that the Center is being led by very prominent and serious scholars with no agenda beyond the exploration of a perfectly viable and compelling field of inquiry. I encourage you to learn more about it before casting aspersions. None of which is to say that I’m not conflicted about the means by which the Center came to be, now that more details about the Sullivan disaster are coming to light…

  • I have no problem with studying yoga or contemplation in an academic setting. I do have a problem with wealth donors deciding how their money should be spent. Maybe the university needs something else, like better pay for faculty, hiring of new faculty, raising the wages of rank and file workers, books for the library, etc.

  • Exactly , In the Post article it was said that those who want Sullivan removed didn’t feel she was making deep cuts in academics fast enough?
    What is more important core academic subjects or Asthanga Yoga — with or without scientific research ? That may be appropriate for a private college but a public university. ?

  • @Betty, the upshot of this news is that the people who wanted her to make cuts are the same ones who funded the Contemplative Sciences Center (which is quite different from the Ashtanga Yoga you’re thinking of BTW).

  • @Enclave But my understanding from this video is that the Jones’s gift was made for Yoga, am I wrong ? And given what this donors gift is said to have done – brought down a president, would you support any research that was done at the CSC ?

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