Sullivan stripped: V-P Simon hints at quit if no BOV change
Despite an officially-announced departure date in August, ousted University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan has already been stripped of her authority, but one of her two top deputies revealed Sunday that he may not stand for further indignities.
Dressed in running shoes, and a not-quite-matching tan golf shirt and shorts, Vice-President and Provost John D. Simon, who earlier in the week had put his name on what was seen as a shut-up-and-get-back to work letter, took a break from weekend recreation to electrify a capacity crowd of outraged faculty Sunday evening, as the fallout from the presidential ouster continues.
New revelations about the way Sullivan was booted– just two years into a planned five-year term– include allegations that the Rector of the Board of Visitors intentionally tried to circumvent open-meeting rules and that big donors played a role in the dismissal.
"I am now wondering whether my own beliefs about the values of higher education are consistent with our Board," Simon said at the June 17 meeting of the Faculty Senate. "The Board actions over the next few days will inform me as to whether the University of Virginia remains the type of institution I am willing to dedicate my efforts to help lead."
Simon's tousle-haired Father's Day appearance on the grounds of the Darden School seemed to leave little question in the minds of the capacity crowd that filled the 472-seat Abbott Hall Auditorium. They twice gave him a standing ovation.
"He's putting them on notice," economics professor Leora Friedberg said afterwards. "He was saying he's gonna resign if they don't act within the principles of the University."
Speaking of principles, the meeting came less than an hour after the UVA Honor Committee released a statement that, while respectful of the Board, assailed the group for a "troubling" lack of candor and declared that the University cannot "fully move forward until the foundation of trust that sustains our community is renewed."
Simon, who took no questions and departed after his remarks, told the crowd that he felt inspired by an email he received earlier in the day from Jason Ally. No stranger to attack, Ally is the former student-editor of the Cavalier Daily who recently endured judiciary charges for publishing an editorial revealing that the student newspaper discovered that it had a plagiarist on its staff.
"Don't hesitate to do what you think is right," Ally urged Simon. "And don't hesitate to be a leader, especially now when there's quite a leadership vacuum at the University."
Leadership vacuum indeed. University spokesperson Carol Wood confirmed after the meeting, in response to a reporter's questions, that the president has already been relieved of all organizational authority.
"There is nobody reporting to the president right now," Wood said. "Right now, we're in a transition period."
Even though UVA has indicated that President Sullivan would remain in office until August 15, a transition memo that Wood shared indicates that Wood herself no longer reports to the president– but instead to the Rector and Vice-Rector, Helen Dragas and Mark Kington. They're two of the three people who axed the president in an emergency Board of Visitors Executive Committee meeting held on the afternoon of Sunday, June 10.
Wood says Sullivan's two top deputies, Provost Simon and Chief Operating Officer Michael Strine, the latter who was conspicuously absent from the open event, also now report to Dragas and Kington. Even the president's chief of staff, Nancy Rivers, no longer reports to Sullivan but directly to the Rector and Vice-Rector.
"It's clear to me that the Rector has assumed complete control of the University administration without consideration for process, for propriety," says UVA Media Studies Department Chair Siva Vaidhyanathan. "Assuming complete control of the administration is completely consistent with her personality and the temperament she has demonstrated over the past two weeks."
"She's still the president," says Wood of Sullivan and stressing that the Rector's control will end as soon as an interim president takes office, but Vaidhyanathan calls the situation unbearable.
"This means I am working for someone with no academic credentials, no respect for academic values, and no interest in the needs of students and the needs of scholarship."
Wood said Dragas has asked the COO and the Provost to "work jointly in the running of the daily operations of the University until the interim president could be appointed," says Wood. "They were asked to come up with a plan as to how to divide the president's current reports— and to keep the University moving forward."
Delegate David Toscano, the Democratic minority leader in the General Assembly, attended the meeting and released a statement calling for the governor to force Dragas and Kington to resign if the Board does not reverse itself.
In the main policy action of the meeting, a nearly unanimous vote from the Faculty Senate– 50 in-person and 18 proxy votes– outnumbered the two nays and one abstention that arrived by proxy to confirm the group's earlier executive committee no-confidence vote in the Rector, Vice-Rector, and Board of Visitors.This story is a part of the The ousting of a president special.