Two days after Zeithaml met the press, a silent vigil calling for the reinstatement of President Sullivan drew about 1,000 people to the Lawn.
Zeithaml has been the dean of the undergraduate McIntire School of Commerce since 1997.
"I realize that some of you don't trust me," says Carl Zeithaml, the day following his selection by a deeply divided Board of Visitors that followed getting hand-picked to lead the University of Virginia by a person who has been called the most despised woman in the state and by the man who quit his post as Vice-Rector mere hours after helping the Board of Visitors spend over 11 hours to reach a split verdict to seat him.
Now, despite his credentials as a popular figure on Grounds as Dean of the undergraduate commerce school, some faculty are calling Zeithaml a puppet, the illegitimate spawn of a small cabal that bent or broke the usual rules after concluding that Sullivan wasn't leaping fast enough into online learning.
Despite the Faculty Senate call for the resignation of Rector Helen Dragas and the restoration of the presidency of Teresa Sullivan, Zeithaml stepped in because "I had no choice," he says when he meets with the press on Wednesday, June 20.
"The reason I felt like I had no choice was that I love this University," Zeithaml says. "I didn't assume this role lightly."
A surprise that emerged from the press conference was that Provost John Simon, who won a pair of standing ovations six days earlier by hinting at an emotionally charged public Faculty Senate meeting that he'd quit his job if the Board doesn't "do the right thing" has decided, instead, to stick around.
Simon said after the press conference that he enjoys working with Zeithaml and that seating a "corporate CEO" would have forced his hand. And outspoken Faculty Senate chair, George Cohen, said afterwards that he's fine with Simon.
"He's been very supportive of the issues we care most about," says Cohen, and if he thinks he can stay and help the University, we think that's great."
So what does Zeithaml say about various things. Read on.
How long would you hold the reins?
"Realistically, probably a year."
Would you stay longer?
"I have absolutely no intention of being a candidate for the permanent job."
What do you think about Provost John Simon?
"I wouldn't do this unless he stuck around, and I'm very glad that he will."
And about President Sullivan?
What's key right now?
"The most important thing we have to do right now is rebuild trust."
How is that done?
"Conversation, engagement, and an open dialogue."
What does he think about the ouster of the president?
"I think everybody recognizes that the process was deeply flawed, and I don't condone it."
But does he agree with the decision to replace her?
"I don't support the Board's decision to remove her."
Then why not make the Rector's resignation a condition of serving as interim president?
[Zeithamal dodges the question by talking about moving the University "forward in a positive way."]
But with your legitimacy in question, why not do that?
"Okay, I didn't do it. I view my responsibility as trying to work with my colleagues, students, and friends. The decision around the Board of Visitors and who's on it is a decision of the governor."
When were you asked to step in?
"A week ago yesterday [presumably, Tuesday, June 12], I came back from Asia and I received a phone call and an email message from the Rector. She asked me for input and secondly she said, 'Do you have any interest in the presidency, to which I said 'no.'" I'd rather work behind the scenes." [He later asserts that it was the Vice-Rector who asked if he would serve as president and then– after an "unequivocal no"– pleads for him at an evening meeting two days later to serve as the interim president.]
What's your view of Rector Dragas' insistent hold on to power?
"Whether the Rector resigns or not is up to the Rector."
How will you repair relations with donors?
"I think many of them, if not a majority of them, are saying this is not a time for us to walk away. In fact, I had conversations with two donors this morning saying they were planning to do even more than they were planning to do in the past. If you withhold donations, you're only hurting faculty, students, and staff."
What about the online education issue?
"Obviously, some of our competitors have made major moves in that area. We can't wait. We really need to dig into that."