Post: Sullivan Canned for Not Cutting Spending

Just a week after Teresa Sullivan abruptly announced her resignation, details are tumbling out now. The latest dump of information comes from Daniel de Vise and Anita Kumar at the Washington Post, from which we learn:

  • Rector Helen Dragas wanted to see Sullivan make big cuts, eliminating some programs entirely, which Sullivan would not do. In the big-picture sense, Dragas thinks UVA needs a president who is more like a Fortune 500 CEO.
  • Dragas’ campaign to push out Sullivan began last October, working with vice rector Mark Kington and Darden’s Peter Kiernan.
  • Sullivan was given a verbal performance evaluation by Dragas and Kington in November, in which she was told that she was doing a good job, but needed to do better.
  • When Sullivan was forced to quit, a week ago Friday, it was by Dragas and Kington making a surprise visit to Madison Hall, where they told her that they had fifteen votes (all but one member of the Board of Visitors) to remove her; Sullivan was speechless.
  • Dragas instructed Sullivan to move out of Carr’s Hill by the end of July, rather than by her last day, August 15.
  • Sullivan has lawyered up.
  • Sullivan will be addressing the BOV on Monday, but they’re only willing to hear from her if the meeting is private.

Many people (myself included) assumed that Sullivan was being brought in precisely for the purpose of cutting spending. That, in the face of a bad economy, her role would be to eliminate departments, lay people off, and generally make enemies for the sake of financial stability. Then, after a few years went by and the economy rebounded, she’d move on, and the BOV could hire a long-term president. Obviously, that proved to be the opposite of Sullivan’s plan.

28 thoughts on “Post: Sullivan Canned for Not Cutting Spending”

  1. How’s this for an interim UVA president?

    John Casteen.

    He’s apparently interested in righting this mess, and at this point I suspect faculty would welcome him back for a year or so until things can be straightened out.

    Personally, I would prefer Governor Baliles. But there is some sense in considering Casteen.

    Other than Casteen and Baliles, I simply don’t know of anybody else who can be above the fray, respected by both sides, present no threat of becoming the permanent president, and who is sufficiently overqualified to be able to take the bull by the horns.

  2. Great idea, but doubt the BOV wants to hire merely the less frequently quoted of two retired presidents out there criticizing them….

  3. Well, what the BOV wants may be immaterial, in the sense that they’ve gotten the thing that they want—Sullivan gone—and that’s going really quite badly for them. If they want to prevent faculty from storming their next meeting and dragging them out, pitchforks a’waving, then they’ll need to throw a bone to faculty. I think that Baliles is a choice that makes all parties involved say “well, that seems OK,” while Casteen is a choice that makes (most but not all) faculty say “now that’s more like it.”

    Something yet to emerge in this interaction is dissent among the BOV. This was clearly a project of just a couple of members, and I’ll bet that a majority of the board was just going along. What we aren’t privy to is all of the BOV members (I speculate) who are calling each other up and saying “good Lord, I thought Dragas knew what she was doing!” They might have allowed this to happen, but that doesn’t mean that they want to live with the results.

  4. I agree, and am very curious about BOV internal dynamics (if that word can be used non-ironically!) at the moment. But dollars to donuts, the PR experts Dragas hired will be calling the shots for the next few moves that the BOV makes, and as a whole, they’ll be too terrified to buck their advice in terms of major moves, despite what they might think privately or express behind closed doors.

    Side note, wonder if Sullivan’s lawyer will be allowed to attend the BOV closed session where she delivers her remarks.

  5. I’m generally a great fan of Governor Baliles. In this instance, however, his very close ties to Eva Teig are troubling. I very much like Eva as well, but she’s on the wrong end of this horse.

    Casteen would be a unifying choice, as would be Heywood Fralin or Buford Scott.

  6. Senator Mark Warner could be president, but I suspect he may harbor ambitions to preside over something greater than UVA.

  7. Almost certainly, Sullivan was brought in to fix the finances. That was primary, demonstrated experience and strength she brought to the job. I think this recent reporting on cuts shows what the “incremental approach” she was criticized for means: some members of the BOV wanted immediate savings by cutting departments, and she (widely reported as having extraordinary command of university finances) was saying, in effect, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, there is a lot that can be fixed here without simply making huge cuts, but it’s going to take a little time.” In effect, she was too competent for their impatience.

  8. Why would we want more of the Neoliberal politicians that got us into the ultimate mess in the first place to be President. As a Faculty member I want a professional academic educator.

    I am still hoping the BOV changes its direction tomorrow and a) takes a full vote, b) reverses its decision on Sullivan, and c) resigns itself or at least has the three cabal leaders resign.

    Warner or Baliles may be good people, but they are Politicians not Higher education academic professionals.

  9. The choice of alumnus Jones to post his screed in the Progress (hard copy!) tells me he’s not thinking dynamically strategic.

  10. Up until now I’ve been pretty horrified by the Sullivan coup. But if what I’ve just read ( really written by UVA billionaire donor Paul Jones, I’m going to channel my inner Mencken. (The Sage would never denounce skullduggery; he celebrated it and reveled in it.)

    Beginning today I’m all for ceding control of Mr. Jefferson’s university to Donor Jones, his former fashion model spouse, and his Smartest Guys in the Room hedge-fund and developer buddies. After all, they “would sooner fail than not be among the greatest.” UVA’s professoriate should be in awe of these alpha males and females.

    The Joneses’ foisting of a Contemplative Sciences Center on Mr. Jefferson’s University is an absolute scream ( “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,” Mrs. Jones pronounces ( Heck, let’s make yoga a required course for incoming students! I’m certain they will have the “same great experience” with Ashtanga yoga as Mr. and Mrs. Jones ( Poor Dr. Sullivan sure put up with a lot.

    You couldn’t make this stuff up. The Chronicle of Higher Education puts it all into perspective here:

  11. “Individually, each of us has a larger role to play than we used to if Virginia is to continue to occupy its historical place as one of the elite universities in the United States.”

    Actually, many of us will apparently have a much smaller role to play.

  12. The role we play depends on what people do. Come to the Faculty Senate Meeting today at Darden at 5 pm. Come to the Rally on the Lawn at 2:30 Monday!!!!! If no one shows they automatically win.

    Even, if they appoint an interim, it will time to strategize what to do with him or her. It took a while to throw the rascals out of Tunisia, Libiya, and Eygpt.

    What the BOV does is only half the picture, what we do as a faculty and a community of Citizens is the other half.

    While I respect Gov. Balailes, What would he have to say about raising corporate and millionaire taxes to support the University of VA at 100% of its operating budget? What would have to say about changing the legislation that enables the appointment of corporate fat cats to the BOV? What would he say if Faculty wanted to strike or join AAUP?

  13. As a C-ville transplant with no connections to the University, I am most struck by the seeming vindictiveness of telling Sullivan to vacate the premises in less than 60 days.

    Also, the press reports that Dragas began the drive to oust Sullivan last October don’t correspond with the more recent explanations related to differences over financial matters. Surely, no one taking over the helm of such a large organization is given less than a year to right problems that have been decades in the making. And by all accounts, Sullivan excels in administrative matters.

    Something is still missing from all of these explanations. How much of it is a perceived cultural fit between Sullivan, and the good ole boy mentality that is still pervasive through most parts of Commonwealth outside of NOVA?

  14. “dynamically strategic”?

    “personally diagnostic”?

    “forensically diagnostic”?

    No, my vote is for pathologically diagnostic as evidenced by Jones’ last phrase “…we should all be elated”.

  15. Thank you WaPo, Waldo, and Hook for digging into this story. Here in New Orleans, we just lost our fourth estate – The Times Picayune staff has been gutted – and I worry about how much of these kinds of things we will miss in the future.

    Keep on ’em you guys!

  16. Finding a quality replacement for Dr Sullivan may be difficult given that an employment contract with BoV apparently is not worth the paper upon which it is written.

  17. The University will be in dire straits for the next few years, however this plays out tomorrow. If Dragas wins, vast numbers of regular donors will close their checkbooks. A hit to the reputation of the U is the one thing middle-of-the road Virginia alumni cannot brook. That is sensitive matter, we are still the also-ran South. On the other hand, if Dragas loses, a few fatcat donors will pull up their 100 million drops. Call that one a Wall Street Donor Bubble. They blew up a big bubble, it blew up in their faces, and they will happily blame everyone else. A diminished University would nonetheless keep some dignity. The market-based radicalism Dragas had in mind, but was too clumsy to execute, would likely & thankfully be forestalled for a generation. But cutbacks would be severe. The legislature would be in no mood to make it up.

    This is a bad situation either way.

    How about a double bubble blow out. Any billionaires out there want to contribute to a Teresa Sullivan Honorary Fund at the University of Virginia? All proceeds to academic departments & scholarships to offset the approaching massive tuition hikes? Or is there a chance the average alumni could make this thing right?

    A truly strong BOV would put a moratorium on new institutes and centers. That money is needed in academics, and the donors will have to be effectively disciplined. A craven BOV would continue to pursue quick fixes, and as the extreme case of Dragasgate shows, stampeding destruction.

  18. I can’t even keep up with the developments in the story at this point—they’re coming too fast. (I’m at a conference at MIT on, ironically, civic media, so my days are pretty packed.)

    One quick thought, though. If the BOV does not reverse themselves tomorrow—and I quite doubt that they will—then this is now Governor McDonnell’s problem. Public sentiment is running overwhelmingly against the BOV now—surely north of 95% of people oppose their actions. McDonnell is going to own this problem, and I’m dubious that he recognizes that.

  19. Regarding this morning’s Washington Post LOCAL page, on which they’re posting “live tweets” from today’s 9 AM closed-doors meeting of governing Board with leaders of Faculty Senate.

    Caption under photo reads as follows: “University of Virginia Rector Helen Dragas answers questions from the media after the recent announcement that she would step down”.

    Is this a mistake on WashPo’s part? No info available elsewhere that Dragas has stepped down.

  20. That photo and caption is from the day that Dragas announced that SULLIVAN would step down. Misattributed pronoun.

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