We are now nearly 48 hours into the Teresa-Sullivan-resignation news cycle but only a little closer to understanding why the University of Virginia president and Board of Visitors decided to part company. Rector Helen Dragas made some vague comments Sunday about disagreements over the university’s strategic direction, but otherwise the board has not been forthcoming.
Very possibly, the opacity is motivated by a desire to avoid getting into specifics that would embarrass the widely liked Sullivan or drag the university into an unseemly mud-slinging contest like the one that followed the eviction of Gene Nichol from the presidency of William & Mary. However, the proffered explanations of Sullivan’s ouster seem to satisfy nobody. The University of Virginia faculty is in shock, while many outsiders who knew Sullivan are surprised and dismayed.
With all due respect to Sullivan’s right to depart with quiet dignity, the board owes the public a better explanation. The University of Virginia is the commonwealth’s flagship educational institution and what happens there sets the tone for the rest of the public university system. The stakes are simply too high. Higher education is facing a crisis in the United States as parents and students rebel against runaway tuition hikes and new technologies threaten to disrupt the traditional model of providing education in isolated campus settings.
By all accounts, Sullivan was a popular and effective president — at least by traditional collegial standards. But if she was not displaying sufficient alacrity in adapting to the fiscal, economic and technological challenges to Mr. Jefferson’s University, the board needs to say so.