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Rector Helen Dragas' opening statement of the special Board of Visitors meeting

June 18, 2012 — On behalf of the Board of Visitors, I’d like to speak directly to the extended U.Va. family – to our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. We reach out to you today as fellow sons and daughters of this University, who studied here, matured into adulthood here, made friends here, met spouses here, and walked the hallowed Lawn.

We share your love of this institution and its core values of honor, integrity, and trust. Like you, we have given our energy, commitment, and resources to the University. And, like you, we are inspired by the magic of U.Va. every time we speak with students and faculty. Through service to the University, we have had the true honor of witnessing up close all that the University community does so well.

This has been a difficult week for the University. It is never easy to announce a change in leadership, particularly after a relatively short period of time since the last selection.

While our actions in this matter were firmly grounded in what we believe to be in the very best and long-term interests of the University, and our students, faculty, staff and alumni, we want to express our sincere regret for the pain, anger and confusion they have caused among many in our U.Va. family. We certainly never wished nor intended to ignite such a reaction from the community of trust and honor that we all love so dearly. We recognize that, while genuinely well-intended to protect the dignity of all parties, our actions too readily lent themselves to perceptions of being opaque and not in keeping with the honored traditions of this University. For that reason, let me state clearly and unequivocally: you – our U.Va. family – deserved better from this Board, and we have heard your concerns loud and clear.

The Board of Visitors exists to make these kinds of judgments on behalf of all the constituencies of the University. While the broader U.Va. community – our students, faculty, alumni, and donors, among others – have varied and important interactions and touch-points with our University leadership, the Board is the one entity that has a unique vantage point that enables us to oversee the big picture of those interactions, and how the leadership shapes the strategic trajectory of the University. Simply put, we have the responsibility, on behalf of the entire community, to make these important and often difficult calls.

I want to make clear that the Board had a formalized communications process with the President, involving ongoing discussions for an extended period of time on progress toward mutually agreed-upon strategic goals for the University. And we took this action only as a result of there being an overwhelming consensus of the Board to do so, and after all Board members were thoughtfully and individually engaged.

We have heard your demands for a fuller explanation of this action. And while our answers may seem insufficient and poorly communicated, we have responded with the best we have to offer – the truth.

As Visitors, we have the very highest aspirations for the University of Virginia: for it to reach its fullest potential as a 21st century Academical Village, always rooted firmly in our enduring values of honor, integrity and trust. We crave to deliver the finest education and the most cutting-edge health care possible. Achievement of this singular goal is only possible through focused, specific, and well-funded institutional direction and vision, created not by the Board of Visitors, but by those who own the academic content and who steward the financial and physical resources of the University – the President, Provost, Chief Operating Officer, and the faculty. And, to set the record straight on an important point, the Board has never, nor will we ever, direct that particular programs or courses be eliminated or reduced. These matters belong to the faculty.

Simply put, we want the University to be a leader in fulfilling its mission, not a follower. We want the very best caliber education and experience delivered to the 21,000 students for whom we are responsible. We crave the highest quality care for the almost 900,000 patient visits attended to by the exceptional doctors, nurses, and staff members in the U.Va. Medical Center. We seek to elevate access, affordability, quality and diversity for every student and each patient. And in our push for excellence we seek to be responsive to families and taxpayers who foot our bills and to legislators who demand accountability.

This is all to say that there is not one single person on earth whose interests we would ever put above those of the thousands of stakeholders entrusted to our care. Not one President, not one administrator, not one faculty member, and certainly not one donor.

Yes, we require external philanthropy to operate. We believe that it should be solicited according to the University’s articulated priorities – in particular, on raising resources to reverse the slide in faculty compensation to combat the increasingly intensive raid on our talented faculty. We absolutely must find ways to provide for the recruitment of our next generation of eminent scholars and researchers.

As we look forward to the transition to new leadership at the University – a process that begins today with our deliberation over the selection of an interim President – the U.Va. family can rest assured that it will have a great deal of input. We have already met with student and faculty leadership, and we agreed to broaden and deepen our interaction and engagement going forward. For selection of the next president, our Board Manual calls for setting up a special committee, which, in addition to some Board members, will have representation from students, faculty alumni and staff. We look forward to your participation in this important process.

On a personal note, I want to say something about our outgoing President, Terry Sullivan. Dr. Sullivan has put all of her considerable energies – and then some – into her work as President, and we owe her a great deal of gratitude for her service, her enthusiasm for improving U.Va., and for always keeping the best interests of this University foremost in mind. We hope that Dr. Sullivan will remain an important contributing member of our U.Va. family in the coming years, and we are very fortunate to have had the benefit of her service.

I want to thank the U.Va. family for enduring the tumult of this difficult week. It has been exceptionally trying for all of us, and we accept our great share of responsibility for that. Going forward, the Board of Visitors pledges to work closely with you as we all pull together to restore the foundational unity of Mr. Jefferson’s University for current and future generations.

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