BOV Coup Against Dragas is Under Way

Several members of the UVA Board of Visitors are plotting a coup, the Washington Post reports. Sullivan is said to have indicated that she’d resume her presidency if the Rector Helen Dragas were sacked, and with the resignation of Vice Rector Mark Kington, there appear to be enough votes to restore Sullivan. (During the late-night BOV session on the 18th and 19th, at one point there was an even split to restore Sullivan, which somehow turned into a 12–1 vote in support of making Carl Zeithaml the interim president. That seems to explain why the meeting went on for so many hours.)

Procedurally, there’s a deadline of 5 PM today for a call for a BOV meeting to be held on June 27. Only three BOV members need to agree to hold such a meeting in order to make it happen, though presumably they wouldn’t bother to do so unless they either had those eight votes, or believed that they could get them in the next six days.

20 thoughts on “BOV Coup Against Dragas is Under Way”

  1. Waldo, as I understood it, the vote for Zeithaml was 12-1 with 2 abstentions and 1 not voting.

  2. Reinstating Sullivan before the BOV appointments would be the thing to end this but it still seems problematic. There would be little room for error. However, it would take the pressure off the Governor and the current BOV. It would also make it all but impossible for the next BOV to fire Sullivan before her contract expires.

    One wonders if Sullivan would take it until she knows if Dragas will be reappointed (I think the Governor could fix this with ease) and would Sullivan make additional demands for her return? Could she get the Governor to make certain types of BOV appointments? I think Sullivan is more than savvy enough to realize that she would never have more negotiating power than at this moment.

  3. The new board comes in July 1. The governor has said he will announce his appointees sometime before then, the timing of which is interesting but doesn’t change the makeup of the board.

  4. Waldo, as I understood it, the vote for Zeithaml was 12-1 with 2 abstentions and 1 not voting.

    You’re absolutely right, Greg. Well, at least, I’m absolutely wrong in having written that it was 15–1, but as I recall how things went down, your tally seems right. I’ve corrected that to read “12–1,” and although it’s been widely described as an “8–8” split on the board that night, I’ve changed it to read “an even split,” just in case there were actually unreported abstentions. Thank you for that correction!

    Why does the meeting need to be held on June 27?

    This was something I couldn’t figure out, so I just repeated the assertion here, trusting that smarter and more informed people had some reason to throw out that date. Seems to me it’d just need to happen before July 1.

  5. It’s important to step up the pressure today, before the 5 PM deadline that Waldo refers to above.

    1) Call Governor McDonnell’s office at 804-786-2211.

    2) E-mail the Board of Visitors, urging them to call the emergency meeting on the 27th (again, see above). Include the words “Board of Visitors” in the subject line, and send it to Susan Harris, Secretary to the BoV, and K. Ann Witkower, Administrative Assistant to the Faculty Senate. Their e-mails: and

  6. If the Board of Visitors were to vote to reinstate Theresa Sullivan, I would assume that would immediately be followed by Helen Dragas’ resignation. I suppose that, if the rest of the board demonstrated to Rector Dragas that they had the votes to reinstate, she (Dragas) may resign before the vote actually takes place. It would be such a repudiation of her leadership that I don’t see how she could do otherwise.

  7. While I hope these reports are accurate and the counter-coup comes off, it remains the case that this is no way to run a university. There needs to be serious reform of the BOV. One suggestion I’ve heard is for the Governor to appoint an interim board consisting of Casteen, O’Neil and former rectors (minus one!) while a new structure is put in place. That sounds pretty good to me. Of course, the current Board would have to resign for that to happen.

  8. I think we have learned that when the 1% attacks the next 20%, people react swiftly. The other 80% are still left out in the cold while the squabble continues…

  9. I figured y’all could handle some rounding to make my point. What’s that line about lies, damn lies and statistics?

  10. BOV scheduled to meet Tuesday 6/26 at 3pm in rotunda to discuss possible amendments to President Sullivan’s employment contract.

    I’d say she’s back

  11. Can’t imagine they’d schedule the meeting without having the votes to reinstate. Wonder if Dragas will resign before or during that meeting?

  12. Waldo – Thanks for your excellent coverage of this issue. You and your “online prognosticators’ are a credit to the Commonwealth. After reading these articles, I cannot stay on the sidelines. I hope others feel the same. I hope that this issue will be resolved shortly, but if not, I will see you all on Sunday and for as long as it takes thereafter to see this through to its rightful conclusion. FWIW, here is my letter to Governor McDonnell, Dean Zeithaml and BOV members. Thanks for the info on the FIOA provisions, which I cribbed in my letter. Best – Kevin

    Dear Governor McDonnell, Dean Zeithaml and BOV members,

    As a UVA alumni (Electrical Engineering, 1985), longtime donor, and as a Citizen of our Commonwealth, the behavior of the BOV that we have all seen unfold over the past two weeks disgusts and sickens me.

    For the sake of Mr Jefferson’s University, Ms. Dragas must resign immediately, before any further damage and embarrassment occurs to this great institution. By her actions she has dishonored herself, the University and the Commonwealth. If she is still too myopic to see the damage that she has caused and take this action for herself, then the adults in the room must take action for her. If the adults in the room cannot summon the conviction to do the honorable thing, then it will be up to the adults outside the room. That would not end well for anyone, and the longer this drags out, the more damage could ultimately occur. Surely Mr Kington is not the only one who can see this. For all of our sakes, please consider your actions over the past two weeks and head the writing on the wall that is now plain to see. History is not kind to unfit tyrants who overstay their time, and even less kind to their enablers.

    It is now irrefutable that Dragas, Kington and Craig broke State law by holding an illegal “emergency” executive meeting on Friday June 8th, when the three of them forced the resignation of President Sullivan. According to § 2.2-3701 of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, an “emergency” is “an unforeseen circumstance rendering the notice required by this chapter impossible or impracticable and which circumstance requires immediate action.” We now know that this ill conceived putsch was planned for months and discussed with members outside of the board, hence no legitimate emergency could possibly have existed. The meeting was illegal. Furthermore we now know the truth of why Dragas, Kington and Craig acted with such urgency and secrecy. It was not for any “emergency”, but simply to hide the truth of their actions and to leave no time for honest assessment. That is reprehensible. To his credit, Kington has resigned already. The other perpetrators must face justice if they do not resign at once.

    While the meeting itself was illegal, what transpired in that meeting was truly despicable and in clear violation of the University’s Honor system. Put simply, Dragas, Kington and Craig grossly mislead, if not outright lied to President Sullivan. They told her that this scheme which the three of them had concocted was in fact supported by all but one member the Board. We now know that this was at best a huge stretch of the truth, and at worst an outright lie. Dragas, Kington and Craig, while purporting to act on behalf of a great institution where Word is Bond, betrayed President Sullivan’s trust, as well as the trust that students, alumni, faculty and Citizens of the Commonwealth place in each member of the BOV to behave honorably.

    Hunter Craig, you were quoted as saying that you had hoped to be able to vote on a motion to reinstate the president. You indicated that you would be willing to give up your place on the Board in order to seat a faculty member. I salute your sentiment, but talk is cheap. If you are a truly a man of your word, then it is time for you to man up and resign. A resignation letter to the governor in which you explicitly ask him to appoint the head of the faculty senate might be a bitter pill to swallow for a few hours, but would improve your stature immeasurably in this community.

    Dean Zeithaml, you also need to man up and resign. You acknowledged that the process to undermine President Sullivan was ‘deeply flawed’ and say that you don’t support the Board’s decision to remove her. Well then, what are you waiting for? Are you a leader or an appeaser?

    Governor McDonnell, you and I don’t agree on a lot of issues, but I still respect you. Under normal circumstances, I would never do this, but for the sake of my alma mater, I will offer you some friendly advice: Trust me, you really need to make sure this mess gets cleaned up well before your new board appointments are seated. If not, the stain will surely spread.

    Fellow UVA alumni and Citizens of this Commonwealth, we cannot sit idly by and silently witness this blatant transgression against Mr Jefferson’s University. Nor can we abide by such a clear demonstration of incompetent governance of any public institution. We ARE the public. These are OUR dollars and OUR reputations that these incompetent self-styled aristocrats have squandered. If democracy means anything than it is time to draw a line against the forces of incompetency and mendacity.

    Yours – Kevin Lynch

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