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Posted on Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 11:42 a.m.

Former U-M provost Teresa Sullivan abruptly resigns as University of Virginia president

By Kellie Woodhouse

University of Virginia Graduation.JPG

University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan, right, applauds as journalist and author Katie Couric returns to her seat after speaking at the University of Virginia commencement exercises Sunday, May 20, 2012, in Charlottesville, Va.

AP Photo

Former University of Michigan provost Teresa Sullivan abruptly resigned as president of the University of Virginia on Sunday.

Sullivan cited conflict with the university's governing board as the reason behind her departure, saying in a release "the board and I have a philosophical difference of opinion."

Sullivan served as U-M provost and vice president for academic affairs from 2006 to 2010.

U-M President Mary Sue Coleman spoke at her inauguration in 2011.

"Terry’s depth of knowledge infuses her with a calmness that conveys both confidence and experience, particularly in the face of chaos and pressure. She does not fluster easily, if ever," Coleman said then. "The University of Virginia is a jewel, and this new president will protect it, make it shine, and increase its value. She is an exceptional leader, for an exceptional institution, at an exceptional time."

Sullivan has been president of UVa for just two years. Her resignation is effective Aug. 15, 2012.

UVa Board of Visitors Rector Helen Dragas offered the following remark regarding Sullivan's resignation at a June 10 meeting with administrators:

"We know this news is a great shock to the institution. We deeply appreciate all that Terry has given to the University over the last two years. We like and respect Terry, and she has done many things well. Her broad engagement with all parts of the University community was refreshing to students, faculty, and staff, parents, and alumni. Her increased presence in Washington and abroad was commendable. Her administration's work with you on the initiation of the internal budget model has been a significant step towards creating an important tool for change. Nevertheless, the Board feels strongly and overwhelmingly that we need bold and proactive leadership on tackling the difficult issues that we face. The pace of change in higher education and in health care has accelerated greatly in the last two years. We have calls internally for resolution of tough financial issues that require hard decisions on resource allocation. The compensation of our valued faculty and staff has continued to decline in real terms, and we acknowledge the tremendous task ahead of making star hires to fill the many spots that will be vacated over the next few years as our eminent faculty members retire in great numbers. These challenges are truly an existential threat to the greatness of UVA."

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 1:43 a.m.

This is a difficult one to comment on, as the information available is still sketchy, but here is my take anyway: Terry Sullivan is highly respected by the UVA community, that is faculty, students and alumni, as she was here. She was the most accessible provost I have known at UM, and I hear she was equally accessible and happy to listen as president at UVA. The difficulties with the board seem to arise from the precieved need to make major changes to the budget model. As budgeting is a way to put a vision for the institution to work, it is safe to assume that the struggle is about the long-term vision for UVA. President Sullivan tried to give the deans and departments more power to manage their own budgets. This is contrary to what is happening in most of higher education, including UM, where centralization of budget authority and micromanagment of academic units is increasingly the norm. Case in point, the end of bottom-line budgeting in LSA and replacement by an activity-based formulaic budget model that leaves no room for innovation or academic prioritization. These two budget models represent very different visions for higher ed and the liberal arts in particular. Under the decentralized model, it is easier to cross-subsidize small departments that do not make the numbers but are intellectually important for the whole university, as such a department can simply be assigned a bottom-line budget according to its preceived overall value to the intellectual enterprise of the university. In the centralized activity-based numbers-driven budget, units that have a value beyond students graduated and grant dollars generated are hung out to dry, and eventually closed. UVA had a substantial turn over on their board, mostly because unlike our Regents, they are not elected, but appointed by the governor. And if you have followed VA politics lately, you can easily imagine what direction the board has taken, and why they would object to Sullivan's approach to budgeting.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 2:39 a.m.

UVA faculty senate released a statement, said they were blindsided, and thst the statement released by the board of visitors (regents) was "inadequate and unsatisfactory". Agree with Kafka and her being well liked. One other scenario comes to mind: migrating a "UM" model to UVA would probably not be popular in some circles. While UVA is often ranked as #2 in public universities, much more liberal arts and less research than UM (example: their university hospital employs only around a thousand). They also do not seem to be infected with the UM malady of trying to be Harvard. They recognize they are a state school (and cap the percentage of out-of-state students and report these numbers yearly to the legislature). So, there might have been some resistance on the board to " go blue"? Faculty senate has asked for more info and promises to investigate - more to come I suppose.

Marvin Face

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 2:25 a.m.

Kafkaland, I believe your analysis is likely correct. Good comment.

Michigan Man

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 2:12 a.m.

I favor the KISS approach - Keep it Simple Stupid. Sounds like Ms. Sullivan was unable to adapt at UVA and lost in a power struggle with the appointed Board. Typically, senior leadership will lose when fighting with governance. Happens all the time in countless organizations. Ms. Sullivan will probably be given a prestigious faulty position with generous benefits and a 6 figure salary. My level of sympathy is really not that high.

Michigan Man

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 1:42 a.m.

Acolytes of Mary Sue such as Ms. Sullivan, Joseph White, Bill Martin and Rich Rod not performing at a high level and tending to screw this up royally and then loses their jobs. I think the end of the Coleman tenure at U of M is nearing quickly. How about a little hope and change at U of M.

Marvin Face

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 2:21 a.m.

Joe White was at Michigan long before Coleman ever came from Iowa. He was interim president before she came! Additionally, Bill Martin was athletic director before Coleman came as well. Hardly Acolytes.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 12:59 a.m.

I think you'd get more clicks on this article if you had a poll: She was in over her head Something is rotten in the state of Denmark Who cares. This is Michigan fer god's sake, not Virginia


Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 10:34 p.m.

Maybe she learned her lessons too well in administration at UM. Look at the controversial careers of form UM top administrators, such as Former UM President White who became President at U of Illinois (fired for giving admissions in return for favors or donations), Linda Katehi was also involved in the U of Illinois scandal but escaped to become Chancellor at UC Davis only to be severely ciriticized for her handling of the pepper spraying of student protestors. Former UM provost and Syracuse President Nancy Cantor (accused of covering up sex abuse scandal by basketball coach, Controversy and scandal have followed former UM president Lee Bollinger to Columbia University (accused of rewarding someone for behind the scenes help in his case before the Supreme Court by giving her a faculty position). Now we have the former UM Provost and U of Virginia President Sullivan ( who tried to suppress SACUA's faculty hearing report on Andrei Borisov and who whitewashed a suicide of a UV faculty member who had been bullied) As usual it is hard to tell what caused her resignation. Was it a prinicpled stance or an unannounced scandal because, as has become custom in academia, no one is talking honestly.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 12:14 p.m.

It looks to me like you're cherry-picking. How many administrators total did you select these from?


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 1:46 a.m.

oh lord...give it a rest! we know you hate all things UM.

Dhurandar Bhatavdekar

Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 8:43 p.m.

Perhaps she found out the hard way that the fire she jumped into is hotter than the frying pan she was in.

Marvin Face

Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 6:22 p.m.

Kellie, I would appreciate a follow-up story about this. It is highly unusual at any university that the president last only two years regardless of a "conflict" with the board. Even more strange at UVA, a place ranked as high as the #2 public university in the nation. The previous president, John Casteen, was there for 20 years so UVA is not prone to consider removing a president lightly.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 9:43 p.m.

But while Sullivan, faculty and top administrators were blindsided by the action of the board of visitors, the chairman of the U.Va. business school's foundation said he knew of "this project" to oust her weeks ago. "The board's rector, Helen E. Dragas, and vice rector, Mark J. Kington, requested Sullivan's resignation late Friday afternoon with no prior warning or board action, three sources told the Richmond Times-Dispatch...Sources said that Dragas and Kington met with her late Friday afternoon and told her they had enough votes on the board to force her resignation. Sullivan agreed to step down rather than force a public vote, the sources said...A vote never was taken by the full board on Sullivan."

Marvin Face

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 12:05 p.m.

Hey rm1, easy tiger. Do you think this is the only place I get my news? Look around. The interwebz is a big place with lots of information.


Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 3:37 a.m.

Marvin Face says: >> She did not "remove herself". It was "mutually agreed". None of us are naïve enough to think "mutually agreed" means anything but that she was forcibly removed. << I don't see "mutually agreed" in the article. That does seem to weaken your scornful dismissal of the suggestion that she resigned out of principled disagreement.

Marvin Face

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 2:15 a.m.

Michigan Man, with all due respect, University of Illinois is not UVA. Also Joe white was at the end of his career after being longtime dean of the UM Business school and interim UM president. The fact that he survived for only a short time followed by a short tenured next President (ex UConn president Michael Hogan) says more about the systemic problems with the UIC board than a problem with Joe White.

Michigan Man

Tue, Jun 12, 2012 : 1:38 a.m.

Marvin - University of Illinois President, Joseph White, also from U of M last about two years at U of I in Champaign. His successor did not last even two years at U of I.


Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 10:45 p.m.

@bedrog, University presidents don't really quit. The board provides oversight but it's the president's show. If there's something the president really wants changed, but the board won't let them, then they aren't really president, ergo she was fired.


Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 9:33 p.m.

Marvin..i guess i am "naive' enough to believe that she initiated the severance ( despite 35 years of facultyhood in academia, including the UM) and also knowing something of Sullivan and her stellar administrative background.. but , yes, more detail would be interesting.

Marvin Face

Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 9:26 p.m.

She did not "remove herself". It was "mutually agreed". None of us are naïve enough to think "mutually agreed" means anything but that she was forcibly removed. I want to hear the rest of the story.


Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 7:16 p.m.

it sounds like she removed herself....seemingly over her refusal to to agree to certain financial stringencies, which in many cases could be a very principled stand for an academic administrator. ironically i remember attending a very interesting talk by her at the UM on the nuances of the sociological / historical aspects of bankruptcy and debt, which raised issues that were unexpected and intriguing and gave alot to think about. notably debt as stigma vs. debt as opportunity. She may have been practicing what she preached.