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Posted on Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 11:52 a.m.

Teresa Sullivan ouster causes turmoil at University of Virginia

By Kellie Woodhouse

The ouster of former University of Michigan provost Teresa Sullivan as current University of Virginia president has caused widespread criticism of the school's governing board, prompting some donors to threaten to withhold funds and faculty to resign.


Teresa Sullivan

Teresa Sullivan

Despite stern words from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on the handling of the case, the Board of Visitors in a split vote stuck to the decision to boot Sullivan and appointed Carl P. Zeithaml, long-serving dean of the undergraduate business school, interim president. He will begin after Sullivan's last day on Aug. 15.

Board leader Helen Dragas has said in statements that Sullivan was not enacting change quickly enough for U-Va. to remain a leader. Reports suggest the board wanted Sullivan to increase the school's focus on online education and cut academic programs seen as unpopular.

"We are all aware that the UVA needs to change and for the past 2 years I have been working to do just that," Sullivan said in a statement earlier this week. "Apparently, the area of disagreement appears to be just how that change should occur and at what pace."

Sullivan called herself an "incrementalist."

The Washington Post reported that some millionaire donors have expressed unease with the turmoil at U-Va and threatened to withhold funds.

Meanwhile, the vice rector of the Board of Visitors, Mark Kington, resigned Tuesday from the board, saying in a statement that he wants to start the process of healing at U-Va.

Prominent computer science professor William Wulf, former president of the National Academy of Engineering, resigned earlier this week, saying in his resignation letter that he wants "no part of this ongoing fiasco."

In her statement, Sullivan warned that the unfolding drama at U-Va could cause some faculty to leave.

"The current reaction by the faculty, staff, and students on and off Grounds, and among the donors and alumni to my impending departure, is not something I have stirred up. I have made no public statement," Sullivan said in the statement. "I did not cause this reaction in the last ten days, but perhaps the reaction speaks to the depth of the connections I have made in the last 22 months. Through all of the last ten days, my overriding concern has been the welfare of the University of Virginia."

Additionally, The Cavalier Daily obtained emails between Board of Visitor members and university staff that support reports that Dragas had been discontented with Sullivan for months.

Reports indicate that Sullivan has hired Raymond Cotton, a prominent higher-education attorney.



Fri, Jun 22, 2012 : 12:09 a.m.

It's not Chinese checkers, where the board is a 6-pointed star, like Star of David. This is "marble solitaire". It's a bit surprising that this game is part of the image she likes to project. I'm glad she has a nice marble solitaire game to fill her time.

say it plain

Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 8:32 p.m.

Wow, does this speak to the "bubble status" of higher education right now, or what?! We're seeing UVA feel the need to address "competition" from on-line universities? Or is it that since truly prestigious universities are offering online courses now, the whole notion that one should fork over $100K to a school for the 'valuable knowledge' they impart, unattainable elsewhere winkwink, we've pulled back the curtain a little and seen what lies behind it? And it's none too pretty? And education isn't its goal? Yikes! They probably hired her *because* of her "toughness"...she'd keep those humanities professors in line and let them know it's time to go in favor of more, say, business program courses. But then she didn't toe *their* line, uh-oh! I love watching power struggles between CEO-"academics" and CEO-donors/ will hold the interest of NPR-listeners for sure, and should be of interest even to those who listen to the right-wing noise machine, but the anti-intellectualism so central to its success would prevent it lol...


Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 7:36 p.m.

It's not her fault...that's just the way she was trained at U of M...everything moves slow but when it starts moving, watch out!

David Frye

Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 12:34 p.m.

The url for the Slate article keeps getting cut off. But you can just go to Slate ( and search for "teresa sullivan fired" -- it's the top result.


Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 12:11 p.m. Link that was mentioned in another comment. One of Slates "Hey Wait a Minute" columns


Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

PAGE NOT FOUND is the result I got twice.


Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 4:14 a.m.

FWIW, here's another perspective on the brouhaha, by a UVA faculty member: (The article, incidentally, uses the same stock photo with the Chinese checkers board.)


Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 4:18 a.m.

The article's link got garbled somehow. Here it is again, hopefully:

Tex Treeder

Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 1:24 a.m.

I still blame her for "Quick ET."

Somewhat Concerned

Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 12:28 a.m.

During her time as Provost at UM, she undid the successful formula of allowing the school a lot of autonomy, a formula based on the idea that the schools have expertise that no small group of central administrators could match, and moved the power to make changes into her office in Fleming. It hasn't been a very good idea, but she was as stubborn as a mule. Apparently still is.


Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 12:46 a.m.

Hmm. If you read a bit more on this, you'd know the first thing she did at UVA was to change the budget model - to devolve spending to the colleges/deans very much for the reasons you describe. She was axed because she was making incremental changes - not axing the classics or German language department that these business-oriented folks wanted to have happen. They also wanted to get on the electronic teaching bandwagon, but developing something like Stanford has costs more money than the Board of Visitors would want to spend. I expect they wanted an adjunct teaching on-line classes to siphon away some University of Phoenix students. She comes out looking pretty good.


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 10:26 p.m.

Reading these nasty small-minded posts is not a pleasant activity. There is much that we do not know because the board that ushered Dr. Sullivan out has not really justified its decision, but from what little is available, it seems that the President did not want to dumb down the school. She should be congratulated.


Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 7:49 p.m.

I'm with Ron. A public tax supported university should be open about reasons why they do things like this. Otherwise it looks scandalous and as reported here, an attorney is hired.

Ron Granger

Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 1:28 p.m.

@Michigan Man: You seem not to understand how a public university functions. It is not a private corporation.

Michigan Man

Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 10:39 p.m.

X - You seem to not understand how a Board functions. They owe you no explanation. It is the other way around. You owe them an explanation as to why you did not activate the Board mission/direction. Really very simple, straightforward and uncomplicated.


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 9:08 p.m.

YpsiLivin - best post on the thread!


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 6:49 p.m.

Rush Limbaugh has not talked about this. I read that NPR has so, I guess this is a liberal/Progressive issue. After all, NPR cannot talk about President Obama 's job performance, Fast and Furious or President Obama Fictional (Yes, Fictional) Biographies so this must be the best they can do!


Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 7:46 p.m.

Rush haters sure like to pile it on. But like him or not, college drop out or not, he is successful. You don't have to like him but a lot of folks do. Don't confuse me as a supporter, I have trouble listening to him too. I switch from WJR to WAAM to listen to Laura Ingraham.


Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 3:08 a.m.

a2citizen: I think you mean that it's the lips of every Republican candidate (save Ron Paul), since none seem to be capable of sparring with a talk radio host.


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 9:55 p.m.

That's not his nose....that's obama's nose.

Mike S

Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 9:38 p.m.

That's no cyst, that's his nose.


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 9:31 p.m.

a2citizen..the cyst on Limbaugh's 'but' ( sic) certainly didn't prevent him from making a living talking out of it.


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 9:30 p.m.

@a2citizen. I will give you exactly what his mother said about Rush in college: " Because of his parents' desire to see him attend college, he enrolled in Southeast Missouri State University but left the school after two semesters and one summer. According to his mother, "he flunked everything", and "he just didn't seem interested in anything except radio" I think that is like saying he quit just before they fired him. He was a FAILURE in becoming educated beyond high school. His fame is on par with Kim Kardashian, in that he is famous for being an over hyped wind bag. The fact that HE is the face of the republican party says all I need to know about him.


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 8:51 p.m.

johnny, don't make me defend bush, limbaugh, obama, clinton,... Limbaugh was 4f (cyst on his but) There is a difference between dropping out and flunking out.

Michigan Man

Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 8:36 p.m.

xmo - Sounds like this was not one of the smartest people in the nation, like so many other Ann Arborites. Lasting less than two years in your new job suggests many, many things. Smarts not being one of them!


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 8:24 p.m.

@ johnny... maybe he was too busy scoring illegal meds


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 8:10 p.m.

You are correct. Education and being intelligent is most certainly a liberal progressive issue. It is something that Rush, a guy who flunked out of college, would know nothing about. Of course, this is the same Limbaugh who is pro military as long as it is somebody else fighting the war. He had a chance to serve and "defend" the country, but made the CHOICE not to.


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 7:56 p.m.

LOL..( at you; not with you)

Ron Granger

Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 6:34 p.m.

What's up with the books in the picture. Maybe she loves books and will not take a picture without them.

Michigan Man

Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 5:51 p.m.

This is a rather simple story = Piss off the Board, refuse to accept Board supervision and tell the Board that you will act in a manner you so choose = rather immediate termination. End of story!


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 8:31 p.m.

Looks like you called it out correctly Michigan Man. Even her "statement" strongly demonstrates a certain hubris.


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 5:05 p.m.

I heard that John Fallon is interested. I'm sure Sue Martin or Mary Sue will have some sweet deal ready in the fall...


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 5:03 p.m.

"...Reports suggest the board wanted Sullivan to increase the school's focus on online education..." The board apparently views the University of Phoenix as a bigger competitor than Virginia Tech or any other ACC school. Maybe competition for online education will, in the long term, lower tuition costs to students.


Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 7:42 p.m.

At EMU I paid the same tuition rate for online and in class.


Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 1:31 a.m.

Not quite the full story. Washington Post reported dissatisfaction by the board on the progress or lack thereof of closing or reducing certain programs (German was cited as an example) and moving to more in-demand and marketable programs - and moving online. Severely upsetting to the status quo in Ivory Tower Land.


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 5 p.m.

I listen to the Washington DC NPR station pretty frequently, and this has been a hot topic on there for a little while now. Quite the scandal apparently


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 4:59 p.m.

What's up with the game of chinese checkers in the picture. Maybe she loves that game and will not take a picture without it.


Thu, Jun 21, 2012 : 12:41 a.m.

The image is a UM stock image:


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 8:32 p.m.

Perhaps she just wanted to assure the U-Va community that she had all of her marbles...

West of Main

Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 6:47 p.m.

Relax folks, it's a desk prop.


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 6:13 p.m.

Nobility? Yes, those in the ivory towers often think and act as if they are better than the bourgeois.


Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

Chinese checkers is a sign of nobility in ancient egypt