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Email from Darden Dean Robert Bruner

June 10, 2012 — I have just come from a meeting with the Rector and Vice Rector of the University. In response to many emails, I want to give you my "take" on the Rector's message.

  1. The news is surprising to us all, given Terry Sullivan's popularity on Grounds and within the senior leadership of the University. She seemed to be grappling with the immediate managerial challenges that UVA faces. Terry Sullivan has been a good friend and supporter of the Darden School. I trusted her as a leader and enjoyed a cordial working relationship.
  2. 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." Evidently, conversations about the rate of change have been ongoing at least since last fall. 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.
  3. We at Darden understand the urgency of the issues because we have been grappling with them for several years. Many of our metrics suggest that Darden has good initiative on dealing with these issues. In fact, relative to most b-schools, Darden is in excellent shape. But this is a moment of unprecedented turmoil in higher education. I have just returned from a week of meetings with tech firms on the West Coast and can confidently assert that the technology coming at us will demand great effort, new skills, more talent, and lots of money in order for Darden to continue to fulfill its mission and to sustain a vision of "world-class impact and stature." [See my latest blog posting on new technology in b-schools.] Fortunately, we are on the way in dealing with the turmoil. But Darden is a microcosm of the challenges that the University faces. History will judge this particular action by the Board of Visitors, but the present context certainly affirms the urgency that Rector Dragas articulates.
  4. We'll get through this. The University is greater than any one person.

As numerous Darden case studies teach, 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. Certainly, the leadership, faculty, and staff at Darden are well-aligned around our mission and performing at a high level. During this period of transition, let's not lose focus on the things that matter: our mission, vision, and world-class performance to those we serve. As the Brits would say, "Keep calm and carry on." Don't spend your energy on rumors and speculation--let's give the Board of Visitors the space to make wise decisions and implement a good transition.

If you have questions or concerns, please look for me at morning coffee any day this week. I won't have much to add beyond what this note conveys but would be glad to chat.

Best regards,
Bob

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