Response from Rector Helen Dragas to members of U.Va. Faculty
June 14, 2012 — Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding the events of this week. The Board of Visitors understands the serious concern and anxiety raised by the announcement of President Sullivan’s agreement to step down. We comprehend how deeply the entire University family feels a sense of loss and distress at what appeared to be an abrupt turn of events.
We have heard your concern that our deliberation on this matter was not inclusive of the faculty or transparent to the University community. The Board publicly and continuously provided support to President Sullivan in order to advance her success in all aspects of her job, and we continued to do so throughout her tenure. We admire President Sullivan’s broad popularity and acknowledge with much gratitude the many contributions she made to improve the University of Virginia.
Yet, consistent with sound employment practices, it is the policy of the Board to keep confidential matters of disagreement and those relating to evaluation of progress against mutually agreed upon goals. Nevertheless, the Board can assure you that there was ongoing dialogue with the President over an extended period of time, regarding matters for which we are responsible. These include ensuring the long-term health and well-being of the University through development of a credible statement of strategic direction and a long-term resource plan.
In considering the sustainable excellence of this University, the Board acknowledges the central role of faculty governance in matters of academic programming and curriculum. We are very clear on the scope of our fiduciary duties and the limits of our role. The Visitors should not, and will not, reach past or around a president to direct a specific strategic plan or manage its implementation. Rather, the president is expected to engage the academic enterprise in order to ensure a strategic and comprehensive charting of the organization’s future.
The Board has been especially insistent on responsiveness in light of the drumbeat of intense pressures facing the University of Virginia. Among the many challenges, we are especially concerned about the recruitment and retention of you, our esteemed faculty. In fact, recent correspondence to us from a large body of the faculty called for urgent and immediate action, a focus on long-term solutions, and a concrete strategy. It called for plans for raising or redirecting revenue. These calls should be answered by a renewed strategic plan for the University, guided by the president and provost, and created alongside the faculty and deans.
The University has had many longstanding presidents who have advanced its stature. We expect we will find another such successful leader through a thoughtful and deliberate process that will include faculty representation. This Board is not alone among institutions of higher education, public and private, non-profits and corporations that have faced such difficult transitions early in the tenure of a leader.
We can, and will, recruit a stellar new president. Of him or her, we will expect strong, inclusive faculty governance. We also expect that our next leader will help secure the resources and set clear priorities to incent and reward excellence through faculty salaries, support, and sustenance of an engaging and rewarding academic environment.
Collectively we can advance Mr. Jefferson’s University in a way that fulfills his original vision for it to be the most eminent in the United States. The Board of Visitors believes that the future – perhaps the survival – of our country is in the hearts and minds of our young ones. We must, without fail, inspire and lead them to their maximum potential.
We ask for your commitment to join us, the forthcoming interim leader, and our next long-standing president in partnership to create that bright future.
Helen E. Dragas, Rector
On Behalf of the Board of Visitors