The Board of Visitors has reinstated Teresa A. Sullivan as president of the University of Virginia while also expressing support for Rector Helen E. Dragas, the university news service has reported. Dragas had taken a leading role in forcing her resignation, effective August, earlier this month.

Given the overwhelming support Sullivan enjoyed among faculty, staff and students as well as the negative national publicity the controversy had generated, the decision was undoubtedly the right thing. The question now is how Sullivan will tackle the list of pressing issues raised by Dragas in a statement last week.

The fact that the board expressed support for Dragas indicates that its concerns about the challenges facing the university have not evaporated. Dragas will continue to work with Sullivan in forging a strategic plan that deals with such issues as online learning, affordability, declining state financial support, faculty recruitment and retention, and the reallocation of internal resources.

My guess is that Sullivan, who had championed “incremental change,” has gotten the message and will be a little less incremental and a little more aggressive in the future. This may be the best of all outcomes.


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  1. larryg Avatar

    It was mentioned earlier about what the purpose of the BOV should be and what kind of people should be members.

    I still believe there needs to be more than “smart people” to include stakeholders and simple rules like if you don’t participate in meetings, discussions and votes – you get your behind out.

    I still also believe that UVA has to join the 21st century and provide a quality online curricula commensurate with the values and tradition of the University.

    There is value also in physical matriculation – and it should be a choice for those who may want to start out online and transition to a campus life.

    Want to widen your pool of potential applicants? Let them take some baby steps with online and if they like UVA and UVA likes them – good deal!

    UVA should cast a wide net (but not compromise it’s academic requirements) – and basically show what a “quality” online curricula can be and why it’s worth more than some of these fly-by-night outfits (that someone rightly pointed out are vampires of subsidized loans).

    What we need is a University that serves Virginians no matter where they live geographically and do not have to be wealthy to attend.

    That’s something that can be true even with change. UVA cannot stand still and cannot freeze itself in it’s current condition.. unless it literally wants to become a museum piece.

  2. larryg: “There is value also in physical matriculation.”

    Was this ever in doubt? I’d say given the complete lack of evidence that on-line education can come close to delivering what 1000 years of “physical matriculation” has achieved makes your “also” concession a little silly.

    I do not agree that this is the best outcome. Mark Kington got caught doing something dishonorable, and he resigned. The Rector of Jefferson’s university evidently has no clue as to why her friend resigned, because she evidently doesn’t understand that her actions (her “project”) in conspiring to circumvent ordinary procedures were dishonorable. She is biding her time until she can sack Sullivan and run the university like a “business,” which in her case would be like the Virginia Beach development company she inherited from her father. This is a very bad outcome.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    As a citizen, taxpayer, alumnus and potential UVA parent, I only care about six things:

    1. Is UVA advancing in the academic ratings? Preliminary grade: D. I am told that UVA was rated approximately #15 among US universities in the mid 1980s and is rated #25 today.

    2. Does UVA educate a higher percentage of Virginia’s youth now than it did in years past? Preliminary grade: F. Undergraduate admissions are lagging the overall population growth of Virginia.

    3. Are in-state tuition and fees growing more slowly than the national average (for well regarded public universities)? Preliminary grade: A. I understand that UVA has managed to keep tuition hikes under control despite evaporating financial support from the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond.

    4. Does UVA maintain an appropriate level of financial stability or does it move from one financial crisis to the next. Preliminary grade: B. The debate between the BoV and Ms. Sullivan over the necessity of cutting certain programs casts a slight doubt as to UVA’s ability to manage accurate financial projections.

    5. Does the Commonwealth of Virginia receive an appropriate level of economic development from UVA? Preliminary grade: F. The lack of outreach to Virginia’s centers of economic activity and relatively weak performance in STEM subjects are very serious problems.

    6. Will UVA Hospital advance the health and longevity of people from Central Virginia and around the state? Preliminary grade: A. By all accounts, UVA’s health system has developed into a “force to be reckoned with” over the last 30 years or so.

    I believe that’s a 2.0 or “C” average.

    Not an “existential crisis” but not exactly kicking ass either.

    Over the next 3 years of her employment contract, Ms. Sullivan should be held accountable to raising UVA’s GPA to 2.5.

    Standard Virginia disclaimer: Random, illogical and/or idiotic actions taken by the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond will be “factored into” Ms. Sullivan’s accountability with regard to raising UVA’s GPA.

    While anybody can argue about the key measurements or about the current “grades” – this is the right approach for the board to take in overseeing Ms. Sullivan:

    1. A manageable and measurable number of evaluation criteria.
    2. A baseline assessment of where UVA currently stands.
    3. Clear guidance on the overall improvement expected over a given period of time.

    A few notes:

    1. I don’t care whether Ms. Sullivan keeps German as a major or not. She has earned the latitude to make the proper trade-offs among cost, financial stability and quality of the university.

    2. I don’t care whether Ms. Sullivan implements computer based learing or not. Again, she’s the president and she needs to reach the board’s goals however she sees fit.

    3. Transparency. The University of Virginia is a public asset. The measurements and goals should be public. Ms Sullivan should publicize her plan to achieve the goals but should also be able to modify that plan as necessary over time.

  4. larryg Avatar

    well, it’s amazing to me the public support that Dragas has received for her “challenges” even as people more or less excuse the way she went about it which was less than honorable nor competent.

    I still believe that the BOV “challenges” should have been well promoted and well known and …accepted by those who accepted the Presidency as well as the major stakeholders – to included not just the faculty, but students, teachers, alumni, and taxpayers.

    the rationale for palace-coup tactics seems to be that events were moving too fast and that (some) of the BOV had lost confidence in Sullivan even though she appeared to remain the same person they originally hired.

    this is all water under the bridge for most except I do wonder if the BOV itself is capable as a group to move the UVA ship through the perceived “shoals” as all of this stuff did not suddenly appear and they had ample time prior to this to start digging into the challenges – and apparently just watched.

    I think UVA should offer QUALITY online courses that are available to every so-inclined child in Va no matter their geography nor financial status – as long as that child is academically qualified and demonstrates academic achievement.

    This is the ultimate economic development tool – more and better education for more citizens especially those who were born into economically stagnant/stranded geography.

    That’s the real mission of UVA. That OUGHT to be the TRADITION of Jeffersons Brilliance and he would be the first to dismiss snobbery and elitism.

    UVA can do this and take a leadership role in it or they can watch as other Universities do this and they gradually recline into a lesser institution.

  5. larryg Avatar

    Sullivans’ “incrementalism” vs Dragas/BOV …wait…wait..wait… NOW.. fix it all by sunset or we have to ……make a mockery of how UVA deals with change.

    and…. this is not just a UVA issue. It’s a higher ED issue in particular for Va Institutions of higher learning.

    I note that years ago that UVA and Va Tech and others began to offer satellite courses for continuing education – and continue to do so. So I’m not sure how such offerings “besmirch” the reputation of the University.

    Not well known perhaps but UVA plays a significant role in K-12 education in Va by not only offering continuing education but actual programs like PALs

    This is an existing significant non-campus outreach already in play and is benefiting from online access to data and tools.

    Someone at UVA “gets it” besides Dragas …. and has for some time.

    In my previous life UVA offered onsite courses to DOD installations in the various scientific and technical disciplines that comprised their work.

    And it worked in reverse. DOD employees who became experts in various disciplines of science and engineering then became professors – bringing with them real-world applications of the basic science and engineering skills.

    That’s the UVA I became most familiar with and most appreciative of.

    So if UVA has been already doing distance learning and continuing education for 20, 30 years with phones, faxes, emails… then it’s not like they eschewed non-campus education at all and actually did embrace it despite the many who might believe that such things are still up for debate.

  6. DJRippert:
    “2. Does UVA educate a higher percentage of Virginia’s youth now than it did in years past? Preliminary grade: F. Undergraduate admissions are lagging the overall population growth of Virginia.”

    As you probably know, UVa, VT, and W&M deliberately chose not to enlarge their undergraduate student bodies by jacking up class sizes in order to earn your “A” here. However VCU and George Mason did, with the promise that the General Assembly (aka Clown Show) would give them more money if they earned took in more students.

    They lost that bet. The students lost. VCU & Mason are stuck.

    1. Groveton Avatar

      UVA has a responsibility to educate Virginia’s youth. There is no reason why maintaining its undergraduate enrollment at a constant percentage of the state’s population would make it an “earn your A here” university.

      The question of class sizes is also unusual. If UVA has 10,000 undergraduates when I went there and 15,000 undergraduates 30 years later, wouldn’t UVA also have 50% more money (from tuition) to hire more professors to keep the class sizes stable?

      Moreover, in the mid 1980s I believe that UVA was rated the #15 overall university in America by US News & World Report. Today, it is rated #25. Even UVA’s process of growing its student body more slowly than Virginia’s population has failed to prevent a rather dramatic slide in ratings.

      In my opinion, UVA is broken. Terry Sullivan didn’t break it. John Casteen and a succession of governors and General Assembly hacks put UVA on a downward trajectory.

      However, it’s Ms. Sullivan’s baby now.

      Let’s hope she’s aggressive enough to stem the downward trend.

      Ms. Dragas doesn’t think she is sufficiently aggressive – no matter the recent reinstatement.

      We’ll see over the next three years.

      I am rooting for Terry Sullivan although I am a bit skeptical of her resolve to make needed changes quickly.

      It’s like when I watch a Redskins game. I want the ‘Skins to win even when I suspect they won’t.

      DJ Rippert.

  7. larryg Avatar

    Given the 10 “challenges”, I would posit that NO typical, normal, President will fix them in any quick fashion and I would further posit that if that “10” was put on the table as marching orders for ANY prospective leader than it would be considered such a mountain to climb that it would be slim pickings and the asking price for hiring would be high.

    So this was never really about Sullivan apparently. She showed up, stepped off the curb and was flattened by “the sky is falling” express bus.

    No one has mentioned Va Tech or William and Mary and others. Is UVA in a class by itself in terms of problems or is it just in a class by itself and not to be compared?

    DJ is using old/new states for UVA. My suspect is that the trend lines are “unremarkable” when compared to other Universities. I’m not justifying it but trying to put a context to it as to whether or not UVA itself is suffering an existential internal threat or has gotten fatter and more slothful as it’s counterparts.

    Finally, the “10”. Once again, this is about priorities. You cannot fix all 10 at once or or should. Rank the 10 then also recognize that no single President is going to implement this.

    And if UVA does not like the “online” idea then lets create one (instead of many across the state) Virginia Online University and let it partner with the Community Colleges and 4 year Institutions. In other words, pursue the innovation, allow the institutions that want to – to be part of it – and if UVA wants to gradually recede from the way the world of ed is headed, if that’s what the Students, Parents and Alumni really want then do those things.

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