Teresa Sullivan Reinstated at the University of Virginia
One remarkable development, just aired live on line, concerning the administrative turmoil at the University of Virginia: the university’s board has relented, admitted its procedural misstep in ousting President Teresa Sullivan, and unanimously voted to reinstate her. She will therefore retain her position as President of the University. Terry is known to many of us as an accomplished sociologist of work and a visionary administrator. She will now have the ability to continue on in her appointed role. As I type, Sullivan is making a statement about this whole series of events and her hopes for the university in the coming years.
Obviously, this whole episode has raised any number of issues about the future of higher education: the bearing of institutional traditions on administrative decision making; the right of various constituencies (students, faculty, deans) to participate in critical decisions about university strategy; and the relation between business thinking and the ideals of the liberal arts today. It also draws attention to the threats that higher education faces so frequently today, with Cassandra-like calls for urgent restructuring in ways that are sure to limit the space on which critical inquiry depends. Had UVA students, faculty, 33 department chairs, and 10 deans not formed common cause in support of their institution’s mission, an autocratic process would surely have prevailed. To my mind, the threats facing American universities would have grown that much more pronounced.
There will be much coverage and commentary about this event; see the Washington Post for further reporting. Feel free to post comments on this whole affair –and on the changes convulsing your own institution.
I am a graduate student in sociology at UVA and have attended all of the public events during this crisis. Dr. Vallas asked that I share my thoughts having seen things first hand. My sense from the side of faculty and students is that the board has backed down because of overwhelming popular support for Sullivan. It has been truly amazing to see so many people from all over the university who normally do not find themselves in the same room come together on a single issue. As of today, it feels like Sullivan has a bit of a mandate. She has become a figurehead and a symbol for a particular way of seeing the university that is not bottom-line driven. That said, I don’t have insight into how things will really shake out between the board and Sullivan going forward. I think it’s notable that Dragas (head of the Board of Visitors) did not resign and that the motion to keep her on the board was unanimous. Sullivan also basically publicly forgave Dragas in her speech right after the meeting (I’m sure this will be released soon if it hasn’t been already). This could just be a symbolic nod to compromise, though, which has been a theme of the struggle. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out once the cameras go away. If you ask me, the real story begins now.