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Email from Engineering Dean James Aylor

June 10, 2012 — As I am sure that you by now, the BOV and President Sullivan have come to a mutual agreement that she will step down as our President after only two years in that position.  I was at the meeting this morning where the Rector and Vice Rector let the senior administrators know of this decision.  I would like to give you my “take’ on the message and some insight on how this change will affect the School of Engineering.

To say the least, the announcement was a big surprise to all of us.  I felt that she was very popular on Grounds and the senior administrators felt that she was making some significant changes to better the University.   Most of us felt that she had made some excellent hires in the key leadership position.  She was a good friend of the School of Engineering and was working with her new hires to address some of the issues that were facing the School.  She was much more visible in Richmond and was working on issues associated with start-up packages and differential tuition.  She believed that we needed to be more involved at the Federal level and I accompanied her to visits with leaders in the Federal Government.  I trusted her as a leader and enjoyed an excellent relationship with her.

The "philosophical difference of opinion" to which the Rector's announcement refers has to do with the rate of change and progress in the face of long range challenges to the University--the Rector called these "existential threats" or challenges to the existence of the University.  Included among these threats are recruitment, compensation for faculty and staff, new technology, and financing.  The Rector explained that the Board of Visitors seeks "bold, not incremental change;" an approach that President Sullivan advocated.  Evidently, conversations about the rate of change have been ongoing for some time. The Rector said that this action is a call for the development of a compelling vision for the University, followed by the raising and allocation of resources toward that vision.  She also noted that prioritization of activities within the University will be key to the implementation of this vision.

I feel that all of us in the School of Engineering understand the critical nature of these and other issues facing higher education today.  Having just returned from the annual engineering deans meeting, I assure you that most of the engineering schools in the country are facing similar issues.  I feel that the School of Engineering is attempting to address these issues through its new strategic plan as best it can with the resources that it currently has.  I continue to believe that if we continue in the direction that is being outlined, we will be able to make significant improvements.

In that vein, one of the very clear messages during the meeting this morning was that we must continue in our efforts toward excellence and impact.  In terms of the present, John Simon and Michael Strine will provide leadership and as has always been the case, I will report to John.  As is mentioned in the announcement, the Board will appoint an interim president in the next few weeks, and then launch a search for a new president.

We'll get through this. The University is greater than any one person.  As Bob Bruner noted in his letter to the Darden faculty, what really matters in confronting change are values, strength of culture, and depth of leadership throughout an organization--the University has these in great quantity including in the ranks of the faculty. Having said that, I know that we all appreciate the very real contributions of President Sullivan and she will greatly missed at the helm of this great University.

I will be happy to talk to anyone as the change takes place.


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