Leadership fitness: Did Dragas engage in plus-sized bullying?

Given the lack of specific, convincing reasons that Rector Helen Dragas has given for forcing the resignation of UVA President Teresa Sullivan, what really motivated the decision has become a mystery. What if a visceral, even unconscious, prejudice against Sullivan's physical appearance, manner, or gender contributed to the undignified way in which her firing was handled?

"The problem here," says UVA Faculty Senate chair George Cohen, "is I haven't seen any evidence that President Sullivan wasn't capable of addressing the University's challenges or problems."

UVA's Larry Sabato has called the process leading up to the decision "absolutely outrageous."

"There wasn't a scintilla of transparency in it," he told Richmond Station NBC12 in a rare interview. "This has given us the worst two weeks of publicity since I've been associated with the University, and that was 42 years ago. I'm sick at heart."

Sabato likened the ouster to a military "command and control" operation, and said that the only cure for the blunder was to reinstate President Sullivan.

For many, however, the question remains: What on earth were Dragas and company thinking? According to one source, Dragas assured UVA ‪Provost John Simon‬ that the fall-out from the firing would blow over in a "couple of days." What might have lead to such short-sighted, foolish thinking?

The answer may be that they were not thinking.

One UVA psychiatrist suspects a "visceral antipathy" toward President Sullivan might have been behind the BOV's actions.

"The reasons they are giving for Sullivan's firing hold no water," says J. Anderson Thomson, a psychiatrist at UVA Student Health Services. "Maybe Helen Dragas, donor Paul Tudor Jones, and others on the Board simply dislike President Sullivan because she is fat."

Now, that may seem like a rude stretch, but into the vacuum of insufficiently explained reasons for Sullivan's abrupt dismissal, all manner of speculation flows when the stated reasons for something simply don't add up.

"The sheer absence of information from the Board of Visitors about their motivations and processes has fueled a torrent of speculation," writes Darden Dean Robert Bruner in a June 25 statement. "In the absence of the facts, people will create their own realities."

However, Thomson says he didn't actually have to reach to make this assertion, as several recent studies have shown "weight-based discrimination" runs rampant, particularly in the corporate world.

"All the reasons they offer are sincere rationalizations of that visceral antipathy," says Thomson. "That helps explain the vagueness of the reasons they offer and the reasons' contradiction by facts."

A study by Michigan State University professor Mark Roehling, a professor of human resource management who analyzed 30 studies examining weight-based discrimination in the workplace, uncovered a "mountain of evidence" that overweight people are less likely to get hired and promoted to positions of authority. As for the corporate ladder, the research showed that overweight executives are rarely tapped for top leadership roles– and that overweight white women face the most severe prejudice.

Thomson points out that while most people would not publicly comment on someone's weight, there's little doubt that it crossed minds when Sullivan was appointed President.

"Everyone I know commented or talked about her weight when we first saw her," says one female UVA third year, who likes and supports Sullivan. "It was kind of hard to ignore. " 

Indeed, as UVA professor of English and women's studies Susan Fraiman points out– while declining to comment specifically about Sullivan– appearance matters as a factor in social relations, especially for women.

"Appearance– in particular, conformity to a certain body ideal– matters more for women than for men," says Fraiman. "In our culture, the body ideal for women is specifically white and unrealistically thin and youthful."

According to one UVA alum, at a party recently, the alum, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she actually overheard a man say, "I'm humiliated that UVA should have a fat woman as president."

In addition, as Fraiman points out, just because a message is delivered or an action performed by a woman doesn't necessarily preclude an element of gender discrimination.  In fact, she notes, it may sometimes be the case that having a woman out front is a more or less conscious strategy for avoiding the appearance of discrimination.

Thompson thinks that Sullivan's insecurities in this regard might have caused her, at first, to go along with the demands of Dragas. Indeed, if she would now accept being reinstated, one has to wonder why Sullivan agreed to resign in the first place. Was she bullied into it? As initially reported, Dragas told Sullivan that the decision to oust her had the full support of the BOV, something later contradicted in subsequent accounts. So why did she cave so quickly?

Asked if there might have been any possible bullying and discrimination based on psychical appearance, perceived performance, and strategic approach in the dismissal of UVA President Teresa Sullivan, former Vice Rector Mark Kington, who resigned from his post following the ouster, says that "any claims such as you describe are not true to my knowledge or action.

"Please know that I would consider claims as you describe to be slander," writes Kington in an email, "and I would be compelled to take any steps necessary to protect my reputation."


Ironically, it was Sullivan who launched the Respect@UVA program earlier this year, a response, in large part, to the death of Virginia Quarterly Review managing editor Kevin Morrissey, whose suicide in August 2010, just as Sullivan was taking office, followed evidence of alleged abuse from his boss and feckless responses by UVA officials. It was trial by fire for Sullivan, as the story launched a national discussion on workplace bullying.

Sullivan's Respect@UVA program provides resources and information for fostering civility and respect in the workplace, reporting problems, and settling conflicts. On the program website, the guidelines encourage "open and cooperative approach in dealings with employees" and also recognizing and embracing individual differences." Those in leadership positions should be "models of civility" and are "responsive to complaints." Leaders are also asked not to engage in any kind of "pattern of disruptive behavior or interaction" that could "adversely impact the quality of services" at the University.

Given the way Sullivan was treated, she appears to have been a victim of the behavior her program was meant to curb.

Under tips for managers, there's a set of questions they can ask themselves to determine if they might be bullies, such as "Do you think your standards are high and wonder why others seem to not care as much as you?" and "At meetings, are your ideas never met with dissenting views?"

According to statements from Dragas, none of the typical procedures for dismissing an employee were followed: no evidence of a poor post-firing performance review or a failure to meet any agreed upon benchmarks; no strong or controversial public or University-wide criticisms; and no on-going communication with Sullivan that her job was in jeopardy.

In contrast, when former College of William & Mary president Gene Nichol was forced out by that school's board in 2008 after only three years, the action  followed months of public controversy. In 2006, Nichol removed a cross from the altar of a chapel because he said it might make students of other denominations feel uncomfortable. In 2008, controversy again found Nichol when, in the name of free expression, he declined to censor a student-funded burlesque performance called the Sex Workers' Art Show.

Some conservative alumni were outraged, and accused Nichol of tarnishing the school's legacy. They demanded that he resign, and abuse was heaped upon him for being, as one critic put it, "an overweight and unkempt college president."

Still, the Board allowed Nichol's three-year contract to expire before making the decision not to renew his services.

When asked what he thought about what was unfolding at UVA, Nichol, now teaching law at the University of North Carolina, got to the point.

"I'm glad I live in North Carolina," he said.


"She doesn't look like a University president..."

According to the above referenced research, people with Sullivan's physical characteristics could find it especially difficult, if not impossible, to ascend the executive ladder. 

"Our general findings were that when one reaches the obesity level, there’s very little likelihood that you are going to make it to the highest levels of being an executive," Roehling concludes.

Thompon asks us to try to name a single overweight female CEO, and according to Roehling's study, only five percent of male and female CEOs are obese, compared to 36 percent of men and 38 percent of women nationally in the CEO age range. However, 45 to 61 percent of male CEOs were found to be overweight (not obese), while only 5 to 22 percent of female CEOs were overweight.

Indeed, another recent study by the University of Manchester found that discrimination against overweight people occurs in the hiring, firing, and advancement of employees.

“Our findings show that there is a clear need to address obesity discrimination, particularly against females who tend to bear the brunt of anti-fat prejudice," said the researchers.

During a gathering at Cville Coffee with former Gov. Tim Kaine, who was questioned about the Sullivan fiasco (he has since called for her reinstatement), attendee Phylissa Mitchell raised the appearance issue.

"She doesn't look like a University president, she looks like someone's grandmother," Mitchell of Sullivan. "Women are always concerned about how they look."

"It's an issue I think about myself," said the plus-sized Mitchell. "It bothers me if that was the reason."

Physical appearance has become such a key expectation of executives that UVA's graduate business school, Darden, makes fitness part of the executive training program.  

“We believe healthy and fit executives are more effective leaders, and so we offer a highly integrated program that looks at the connections among physical, mental, and emotional capabilities,” Jolene Bodily, director of Darden’s executive education wellness program, told BizEd Magazine.

The 'Project'

Since claiming on June 10 that Sullivan's resignation was a "mutual agreement" between the President and the Board of Visitors, Dragas has presented a litany of reasons defending her actions that have either been demonstratively false or thrown into question by a lack of specificity.

For instance, we now know that the agreement was not truly mutual. And as emails obtained by the Cavalier Daily revealed, one reason was a frenzied desire to implement online education programs– in the form of simply placing web cams in front of teachers and charging students across the globe to take the classes.

As revealed in a year 2000 interview with UVA mega-donor Paul Tudor Jones, whom sources say was involved in the "project" to get rid of Sullivan, Jones expressed as his sole business regret not having climbed aboard the internet boom on the ground floor. In this he shares a similarity with Dragas and former Vice Rector Kington, who resigned June 19, shortly before the release of his emails.

As if on cue, Jones penned an op-ed for the Daily Progress supporting Sullivan's ouster, saying that UVA needed "proactive leadership" in a rapidly changing world. (And in a statement he might live to regret, Jones said that the "spirit of Thomas Jefferson, the first rector of the University of Virginia, is cheering this bold action by the Board of Visitors.")

In her latest statement, penned in consultation with high-powered New York PR firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies (the same PR firm that helped sell the first Iraq war to the American people), Dragas frantically lists the University's many failings as proof of a need for a change in leadership, saying the school was "adrift in yesterday."

However, various faculty quickly point out that UVA's Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning is a national leader in developing distance learning programs, and that the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities has been developing information technology tools for scholarly research since 1993.

Sullivan's supposedly lethargic fundraising was also cited as a reason, but as Sullivan herself pointed out, philanthropic donations have gone up 15 percent, during a recession no less, and she is already presiding over a $3-plus billion dollar endowment that places UVA among the most well funded schools in the nation.

While UVA's rank as 25th best university in U.S. News & World Report– and 2nd best public school– might seem pretty good to some, both Jones and Dragas characterized UVA as an institution facing rapid decline.

So how does one explain these seemingly vague generalizations for the dismissal? And in such an unceremonious fashion? And what is one to make of the logic Dragas later used to defend: "In my view, we did the right thing, the wrong way."

Peter Norton, a professor in the Department of Science, Technology & Society, told the recent Rally for Honor on the Lawn that Dragas followed a procedure that no researcher at UVA would ever condone. "If the process if flawed," said Norton, "the results are unreliable."

Chaos theory

Okay, back to not thinking. One of those highly ranked departments at UVA is the Psychology Department. Research done by faculty there just might help us understand what happened.

"One of the biggest changes in psychology in the last couple of decades has been our discovery that most of what we do is guided unconsciously," says Gerald Clore, a psychology professor at UVA." The reasons we give for our choices, even when accurate, are not so much insights as after-the-fact constructions. This idea, only now commonly accepted in psychology, was shown experimentally by Tim Wilson over thirty years ago."

That would be UVA psychology professor Tim Wilson, whose 2004 book Strangers to Ourselves brought together the research of which Clore speaks. To be fair, Clore and Wilson, who sits on the Faculty Senate, were not interviewed for this story, but for an upcoming one on Wilson's work. Still, it's worth noting how Wilson's discoveries might give us a window of understanding into the events at UVA.

Strangers to Ourselves debunks the popular notion that we can understand and master ourselves, that we are rational. Instead, Wilson revealed the ways in which we are influenced and guided by a mishmash of subconscious impulses and immediate emotions that we don't always completely understand.

Indeed, in trying to understand the motivations of Dragas and Company, might it be worth trying to read between the lines? Might the "visceral antipathy" noted by Thomson lie somewhere in the murky depths of their reasoning?

"This is but a partial list," says Dragas in her statement, as if the long list of alleged failures were just the tip of the iceberg. "Put together, these challenges represent an extremely steep climb, even if the University were lean and on top of its game."

A steep climb? Requiring a lean leader? Talk amongst yourselves.

And what of Paul Tudor Jones and his wife Sonia, a former model? The two devotees of ashtanga yoga (a recent photo in Vanity Fair shows Sonia bent like a pretzel) have started a chain of yoga studios, the first one in their hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut, where musician Sting and other celebrities attended the grand opening. The Joneses spent $12 million funding something called the UVA Contemplative Sciences Center, what Sonia Jones has called a center for "yogic studies."  As Sullivan has said, the concept for the Center has been expanded beyond the "original vision of the donor" to include a variety of disciplines, and perhaps to address the impression that donors were purchasing a kind of academic legitimacy for their private yoga studio business.

Might Paul and Sonia Jones have disapproved of these changes? Might they have had a problem with Sullivan being the image of UVA, and of the Center they funded?

Thomson theorizes that comments that question Sullivan's fundraising abilities, her capacity for bold action, her stamina to deal with challenges, the clarity of her vision for the future of UVA, and her "incremental" approach to solving problem and achieving goals, all serve as proxies for the view that Sullivan simply looks and acts unfit to lead.

"How else," Thomson asks, "can we explain their reasoning?"

As Sullivan has said, she and the Board had "philosophical differences," something that has oft been repeated by those justifying her removal. But as philosophy professor Mitchell Green pointed out at the recent Rally for Honor, Dragas and the BOV haven't so much expressed a compelling philosophy as they have lapsed into a "dogmatic slumber."


The main point Malcolm Gladwell made in his best-selling Blink– which lavishly credits Wilson– was the power of rapid and unconscious judgments. "Consciously," Gladwell wrote, "we listen to facts and political discussion. Unconsciously we respond to stereotypes and looks."

One source tells the Hook that some female faculty members at UVA have taken to characterizing the fiasco as the "sorority girl against the fat girl" story, alluding to the aggressive and slim Dragas working behind the scenes and then confronting the overweight Sullivan in her office. One infamous sorority scandal at DePauw University comes immediately to mind. In 2007, officials from Delta Zeta, hoping to increase recruitment, kicked 23 women out of the sorority house for not "representing" the sorority well. All 23 were overweight.

Others have pointed to the political ambitions of the governor, who has already taken $100,000 from Paul Tudor Jones, to suggest even more sinister motives, that this "project" was orchestrated from the highest levels of Virginia state government in an effort to replace Sullivan with someone more amenable to the business community. Until a more convincing explanation for what Sabato called "an outrageous process" to unseat a University president emerges, it's unlikely such speculation will stop.

Ironically, if indeed Sullivan's ousting was motivated by an unconscious antipathy for her physical image, of simply not liking her for personal or ideological reasons, actually firing her may have inadvertently transformed that image in the eyes of the public.

Oddly enough, given the attention and support she has received, Sullivan may now embody the kind of dynamism that Dragas and Company claimed to be seeking. In purely visual terms, no one can deny that those photographs of Sullivan (who has indeed lost weight since taking office) entering the Rotunda through a crowd of supporters show a woman looking confident, kind, and beautiful.


Note: a few hours after this story went to press on June 26, Rector Dragas responded to questions about the possibility that Sullivan dismissal was done in a bullying fashion, motivated by a prejudice against her demeanor and physical appearance.

"Your assertion is ridiculous," she responded via an assistant, "and the question is highly inappropriate and offensive."

This story is a part of the The ousting of a president special.
Read more on: Teresa Sullivan


This is ridiculous.

Hey remember when Hawes said on Coy Barefoot's show that The Hook only reports facts, and never gossip, etc.? So, uh, yea...

Or maybe - as Petey "China's Beeyotch" Kiernan suggested in his "oops" email (right before he tucked himself between his legs and stepped down as chair of the Darden Foundation) - they were doing this because the Governor wanted them to.

I am also a fat woman in a leadership role (a much smaller one than Dr. Sullivan, as I am a parish priest in the Episcopal Church). Having encountered similar prejudice from the church (not so much at the parish but definitely at the diocesan level), I have no doubt that Dr. Sullivan's appearance was offensive to the small-minded donors and leaders who created the failed coup attempt. I am very grateful that the U.Va. community has risen up to support Dr. Sullivan, recognizing that while she does not have the "lean and hungry look" so prized by buisiness types, she does have intellect, leadership, vision, empathy, humor, wisdom, and on and on.

If Dr. Sullivan were a thin woman, or a thin man, she might be President of the World by now.

Oh, and P.S.: I think Dr. Sullivan is a very attractive woman and I'm sure I'm not alone.

You guys should not dilute the good will you have engendered by your hard work about Sullivan's ouster by publishing stuff like this. Up to this point your articles have been informative and helpful. This is pure speculation. It's time to heal, and this might also be hurtful and insulting to President Sullivan.

A couple of observations:

1.) The table in most churches is called an altar, not an "alter."

2.) This article seems to be overthinking the issue. As Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." People do things for strange reasons. If there is one issue that stands out in this entire saga, it is the issue of on line courses. Much has been written about this topic and it is clear that the supporters of this idea hadn't a clue about the cost or profit. Darden types, including a former professional associate of mine, see the bottom line. Likely the bottom line was the real issue here. As has been said before, follow the money!

I don't consider this gossip at all. It is an extremely uncomfortable conversation that is necessary. I am of the opinion that being fat is our last great prejudice. The fact that anorexia is an industrialized nation's disorder speaks volumes.

overweight executives are rarely tapped for top leadership rolls–

just as well - they don't need the extra calories

I admit this article, even if it remotely had some merit, is offensive and inappropriate. I sometimes am guilty of harboring overweight prejudice myself. Without an explanation from the source, all we can do is speculate the reasons. If this is about the war between higher education and Wall Street, then time will show that. My sense is that this war isn't over against education as we know it.

and in response as to possible causes Dragas attempted this deplorable act, we should look into her age and what may be going on with her own body. peri menapausal episodes have been responsible for far worse than removing university presidents. i wouldn't overlook the possibility that Dragas went on some hormonal binge. its as valid as the overweight theory for sure.

Everyone I know is scratching their heads and asking why were Kington and Dragus
In such a hurry to get rid of Sullivan ? Why did all they must have learned at Darden not inform their decision making ? For lack of any reasonable explanation for their actions, unconscious motivations are most likely.
I find this to be a well thought out, highly viable thesis, and one that deserves serious consideration .
I am proud of Mr. McNair for this fine piece of journalism and for the Hook in living up to their motto- " You can handle the truth".

Mr. Spencer, what you've just published is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever read. At no point in your rambling, incoherent article were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone who has read this is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.


Thanks for pointing that out. It has been corrected.

For the first time in this entire UVA fiasco, I must say that I agree wholeheartedly with Rector Dragas: the very premise of this Hook story is ridiculous. The Hook had heretofore been such a key journalistic resource during this controversy. Why are you now publishing such drivel?

A better angle to pursue about possible biases which may have affected the decision to remove the President might be to examine how Sullivan's "outsider" other-than-Virginia pedigree may have handicapped her leadership, or at least some people's perceptions of the same. There are so many more worthwhile stories to write than this one. You embarrass yourselves.

Absurd story and hurtful to Sullivan. If the Board didn't like how she looked, and the Malcolm Gladwell reference is to be believed, why was she hired in the first place? She's not even obese! She looks great!

What gossip! Not a news article at all. This is the stupidest bunch of words put together on the subject so far. What idiocy for publishing it. Michelle Obama is the one with an issue regarding fat people and nobody seems to care about that. Bunch of hypocrites.

Look, I think Dragas (etc) were totally wrong in ousting Sullivan without transparent reasons. But this article is just irresponsible journalism.

To quote the article:

""This is but a partial list," says Dragas in her statement, as if the long list of alleged failures were just the tip of the iceberg. "Put together, these challenges represent an extremely steep climb, even if the University were lean and on top of its game."

A steep climb? Requiring a lean leader? Talk amongst yourselves."

I mean... really? I think this article should be taken down. You all should be ashamed.

It starts.

Matter of fact, I don't really think Teresa is "fat." Plump? Sure. Fat? Not to my mind. Regardless of where she tips the scales, she is also well groomed and evidently possessed of a sunny disposition and a winning smile, to say nothing of staggering intelligence. Based on her many images on Google she evidently was heavier at some point in the past, so perhaps she is owed some respect for whatever weight loss she has achieved. But, good grief, to ponder the reasons for her dismissal based on some incipient bias against heavy people, as opposed to the more evident psychosis of Helen Dragas, and the apathy of many board members, appears to be unfruitful, to say the least.

It remains to be seen exactly what motivated Dragas and her minions to attempt the dismissal, but Helen's crippled personality and thought process were certainly enough to fan flames from the smallest spark. And, as we have seen from the previous comments, the published reasons were vague generalizations, lacking in factual support. So, let's rule out weight, and let's rule out a rapidly accelerating downward spiral of the institution. Let's look instead for personal agendas and background connections. I hope the press will be as eager to tease out these factors as they were to cover the turmoil surrounding the whole sordid affair.

I don't usually jump twice into a comment thread, but I agree with @Katie H above: remove this article. It's speculation, not journalism; it's hurtful gossip, not reporting.

Well, I can't claim to be slim but I was talking with a friend at the vigil awaiting the announcement and an interesting point came up.

My friend is a yoga enthusiast of many years. She told me that Mrs. Jones is notorious in the Yoga world. When I asked why, my friend explained that in the yoga world there are different methods or schools. Mrs. Jones promotes the founder of one school and has a business involving yoga schools of this founder.

My friend said that Mrs. Jones backs fancy glitzy yoga studios for this founder and the single-owner small mom and pop old fashioned yoga studios of different schools are taking a hit as they are displaced by Mrs. Jones' friend's studios.

Learning this, IMO it is perfectly logical for Mr. Jones to give a "gift" of $12 million for a yoga based contemplative center which would feature his wife's favorite and business partners. Link the UVA "brand" to this founder or yoga school and then you add value to your wife's businesses. Your gift can be deducted from taxes but it is really a multiplier for advertising for your wife's business and her profits given the UVA brand, links to the Hospital and so on.

Anent Jone's wife and yoga business I found:

Not being thin, some may say that is somewhat speculative on my part. But my friend has been into yoga for forty years and knows the scene pretty well. She is quite thin.

OT -- so if Education Management Corporation made a local presentation about online back in February or March, would any financial officer from UVA have been present? Just curious....

Note the original headline in the URL: "Mean Girls."

Could The Hook is revealing a little subconscious bias of its own with this article? Would The Hook really speculate about the role the relative physical appearance of the rector and president in this fiasco had they been men?

Talk amongst yourselves.

While the Hook's reporting on the Sullivan issue has been consistently fabulous, this article is appalling and gross. The fact that some people still reduce all of women's accomplishments/disagreements/battles/issues in the public sphere to her appearance and or the titillation of a 'cat fight' does not give legitimacy to a respected news organization to do the same. It's true that women are continually judged by their appearance in ways that men are not--would the Hook have reported this story if it was about the physical appearance of two men, I don't think so--but a feature article that is based on basically mindless speculation, gossip, and quotes from sources not directly responding to this situation, is despicable. It gives an aura of legitimacy to blatant prejudice and demeans the quality of reporting that the Hook is known for in the Charlottesville community.

I am surprised that readers of the Hook are unaware of the science behind unconscious motivation as a catalyst for action. Until I see a better explanation for the speed and stealth with which President Sullivan was fired this thesis has merit and does not deserve to be left unspoken . Another mainstay of human nature - never mention the elephant in the room. Many of lfe's problems would evaporate if we would be willing to consider unconscious motivations on par with conscious . Jung has written extensively on "the shadow" side of human nature. Please approach this subject with an open mind and read Gladwell,, Wilson, Freud and Jing's commentary on this subject.

Your right, Dave McNair -- in the absence of information, all manner of speculation does start to flow. But from a publication that calls itself a newspaper, and under the cliched quip of "You *can* handle the truth!" no less, pure speculation is a true disappointment.

Workplace discrimination against women is very serious, very real and deserves journalism, not off-handed water-cooler talk. You've trivialized a serious topic by grounded absolutely none of it in fact, and only served to muddy the important conversation that needs to be had about both of these issues: Sullivan's dismissal and gender discrimination. There are already many who don't even believe such discrimination exists, and now you've just fed them their next argument. Congratulations.

It's a very good article, well thought out and argued. We may not yet know the real truth, but something truly evil propelled Dragas et al to work behind the scenes.

I hope Mr. Jones' hold over Gov. McDonnell is not so great that the Governor fails to do the right thing when Helen Dragas' term expires. For UVA's sake, she must not be reappointed. That would be rewarding her misconduct and gross dishonesty. I am sure Gov. McDonnell can find someone of good character to appoint in her place.

Sorry for the typo - Carl Jung

No matter how potentially offensive this premise might be to some, a friend (female) and I discussed this very theory shortly after the firing. Glad to see we weren't the only ones. And the way the "choice" of resigning wqs presented to Ms Sullivan clearly smacks of bullying

As much as it pains me to say it, I agree with Helen Dragas here. "The question is highly inappropriate and offensive."

I agree with the other commenters that this should come down. It is highly speculative. And I find it interesting that a MALE psychiatrist is giving his opinion about female bullying. I have been an amateur student of female bullying all my life LOL, not because I've wanted to be, but because any woman trying to make it in this world cannot avoid running into bossy, unkind women. I have found women bullies to come in all shapes and sizes, and those whom they seek to bully come in all shapes and sizes. I have never been heavy, but I think that some women "who must be obeyed" have a radar to detect those of us who, while competent, are more sensitive and cooperative than they are. I think this is the key rather than the body type of the bully's target. Nonetheless, while this might be an interesting conversation to have over drinks or on a blog, this is certainly not news as we are all only guessing what forces might be at play.

Inferring that even a small part President Sullivan's ouster was based on her size is really digging deep to the scum at the bottom of the barrel. I will admit however that if Rector Dragas were a "larger" woman, the comments would have been rampant. President Sullivan appears to be the very embodiment of grace and dignity. The manner in which she has conducted herself not only during this crisis but in her time here has president, is nothing short of professional, honorable and the very embodiment of the UVA culture. A lovely woman in every respect. Shame on you Hook!

RE: "This is ridiculous."

and voluminous.

Wow, The Hook fumbles at the goal line. I had been really impressed with the reporting they've done - much of the best - but this is more than a little embarrassing. I find some of its ideas interesting, the "visceral antipathy" that's mentioned, for example. But this is tripe, and emblematic of why alternative newspapers are looked down upon.

The Hook may feel obliged to stand by their reporting, but I wonder how this is any different than goofy supermarket tabloidism.

Will there be a similar article looking at whether the groundswell of Sullivan support was buoyed by people feeling sorry for the fat lady ?

Why is this any more speculative than any of the other reasons given for the firing ?
To date none of the other reasons warrant the urgency with which this all came down or the secrecy.

Yesterday UVA Board of Visitors member Heywood Fralin reconsidered and reversed his prior action--something President Sullivan graciously characterized as "not a sign of weakness, but..a good example to all of us." The Hook should recognize its mistake and take down this article.

I suppose we now ask The Hook the same question we've been asking Dragas; What were you thinking?

I am merely an interested observer of what has gone on at one of the most respected educational institutions in the world. I continue to wonder what the real motivations were behind the attempted dismissal of the University President. I attribute that to the absence of any announcement of evidence of presidential failings and to the reinstatement that seems to suggest that the motivation might have been visceral. But to my point. Mr. McNair's article should be appreciated as an another attempt to give possible explanations for this otherwise unexplained and secretive deposing of an honorable official. One is certainly free to disagree or reject what Mr. McNair wrote, but it was based on what he was told by learned individuals. I am disappointed that people in this period of time are so hostile and critical (hateful?) of those they happen to disagree with. I believe the article is food for thought.

I'm really disappointed in the Hook for publishing this, after all
the splendid work of the past two weeks. There are certainly
issues herein everyone knows about, but what's the point?
Pres. Sullivan is strongly supported by most of us at UVa;
let's move on.

Mr. McNair and Mr. Spencer, your version of "journalism" is unfortunate. You have not acted professionally in your covering of the events at UVA. I question your integrity and your commitment to our local community.

Jim Clark and others,

This article is JUNK food for thought. When hundreds of millions of dollars, power, prestige, conflicting ideologies, and more are at stake, for The Hook to grossly speculate like this is startling. It's like the staff was sitting around, and someone said, "I got it - it's because she's FAT," and the editor credulously replied, "Get on it!"

The writer reveals, and through publication The Hook endorses, an unseemly, illogical focus on Sullivan's body. So cheap, so disappointing. I have lost a lot of respect for The Hook.

The French word outre describes this article--beyond the bounds of what is considered
proper; bizarre... Hook management: what are you thinking?

I have to admit that both my husband and I came up with this as a reason for the firing.
Looking at the pictures of those involved I don't find this surprising .

Although there may be some small measure of merit in this theory I think that Dragas is more motivated by what she can gain in a situation rather than how she can put someone down. If she were bothered by Dr. Sullivan's weight I see that as a minor influence in her actions. She's highly ambitious and she had power in her position as Rector and she was going to wield it. I am reminded more of Ron Blagojevich by her actions rather than "mean girls".

grasping as straws. I cant believe this is the feature story going to print. d-baggery at it's finest, hook. way to go

Drop this stupid analysis. It's a huge disservice to women.

One story too many. Should have quit while you were ahead.

"What might have lead to such short-sighted, foolish thinking?"

Answer seems simple to me - ARROGANCE. I am not kidding or being a smart 'you know what'. What else explains it?

*I meant "you're" above. Well-played, auto-correct.

This seems like projection on the part of a lot of people. For God's sake, the woman is perfectly normal. UVA girls would think anyone but a fox terrier was fat. Theresa Sullivan is not some kind of freak and though I realize that overweight people are marginalized in our society, I think you are making too much of this. Pure greed is the answer. Follow the money and you will find it.

The Hook just embarrassed itself. BIGTIME.

Besides, I think President Sullivan is kinda hot.

Hawes, David - WTF? This is the cover story? What are you thinking? Look, I'm fairly sure that you guys have too much integrity to be bought, but seriously, if Hill and Knowlton wanted to make Ms Dragas' detractors look ridiculous, they could not have have paid to place a better story for this. What's next? Speculation that Dragas tried to knife President Sullivan in the back because she hated the color purple?

Sure, its possible that the crowd who attempted this putsch is vain enough that they hate anyone who doesnt look good in yoga pants, but even if that were true, it would rank as about number 20 in the list of various despicable motivations that were at play here.

This is really disappointing because friends of mine have been asking about the back story to the recent event, and I have been referring them to read the Hook.

The BOV made a relatively mature decision when they rescinded their decision to accept President Sullivan's resignation. You should do the same re: your decision to put this article on the front page

I've got to say, that in the absence of any believable reasons as to why the Rector went after President Sullivan with such vengeance, this theory ... BASED UPON SCIENTIFIC STUDIES ... deserves some calm, rational debate.

I will readily admit that, two years ago, when Teresa Sullivan was introduced as the next president of the University, the first thing I thought when I saw her photo was, "Gad, she's a little frumpy; she dresses like my grandmother and, well, a little on the portly side."

Look at the photo of her standing next to the Dragon Rector, who is exactly what society pictures a Power Woman as looking like. Svelte, the modern hair style, the fashionable clothes. Standing next to her is my grandmother from 40 years ago.

Look at John Casteen. The same age as Sullivan, a little on the portly side now as am I, graying ... but we see "gravitas." And who did the Dragon Rector twice ask to consider becoming the ninth president of the University before finally getting him to agree to the interim presidency? Carl Zeithaml. And the same can be said of Dean Z's image ... gravitas.

Society -- and me, before all this began -- looks at older men and we see gravitas and authority, but we look at older women and see our frumpy, dowdy grandmothers. It's not right, but it's true.

That is not a dig at President Sullivan ... not in the least ... but I think it is reasonable to speculate if this could not have been in the back of the Dragon Rector's mind, as well as the minds of her co-conspirators.

you know.... she has just had probabaly the most harrowing week in her career and was, I am sure profoundly grateful to the hook for staying on the story. Then less than 24 hours after being vindicated you call her fat? What the hell is wrong with you? Were you so overheated that the story was over, that you need to engage in some sordid underlying reason that is based on a subconscience prejudice?

Maybe dragas is just a diva with an attitude and if thomas jeffersons ghost was doing things the way Ms Sullivan was doing them she would have disliked it and gotten him fired too.

You are like the quarterback who throws three touchdowns in a row to pull ahead by 5 points and then thows an interception on the last play of the game and loses it because he couldn't just sit on the ball for a down or two and run out the clock.

You really should pull this story and apologise. No one is benefitting from your idle speculation especially this papers reputation.

And a note to Hawes Spencer re: the grief you're getting here for writing this analysis, much less publishing it ... I think you've hit on something not one of us wants to admit: that sexism, ageism, figureism -- whatever you want to call it -- is very much alive.

The only negative comment I have is that, as editor, you really needed an editor who could mercilessly hit the delete button when giving a first read to the copy. It goes on WAY too long.

"The Joneses' initial inspiration for funding the center came as a result of their devotion to their Ashtanga yoga teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and a desire to honor his life and legacy, she said."

UVA "brand" to support Sonia's yoga center business? Just curious.

Seems to me the rush to judge the Hook is a bit misplaced, here. The article appears to flow from the speculation by a psychiatrist and professor or women's studies, who cite who cite studies and informed opinions of various researchers to lend some authenticity to the appearance issue. This, of course, tells us nothing we don't already know. Many people are nervous about others who don't fit a mold of what is regarded as normal or desirable. Likewise, we don't really need surveys to tell us that reactions to race are present in most of us who have grown up in a society which deployed racial discrimination through much of its history. That doesn't mean people of all races are avowed racists - it simply means many of us harbor some deeply embedded sensitivities and prejudices. We might just as well be a bit uncomfortable with the anorexic appearance of Helen Dragas. At least one person, Phylissa Mitchell, has said Teresa doesn't fit the Presidential profile because she looks like a grandmother. There must be some truth to all this thinking; however, were it substantive, we might pardonably assume that Teresa would not have been hired in the first place. Should we believe that the board has suddenly come to the conclusion that Teresa is really too big for the job - and that this escaped their attention until just recently? I doubt it.

Even so, there is no question in my mind that Teresa's appearance may have evoked some instinctive reaction in Helen's reptilian brain; a sense of an easy, soft, target. If there is any truth to this idea, it would serve as an example of Gerald Clore's and Tim Wilson's ideas about the hidden nature of what drives our decisions. Curiously, these theories about individual brain processing are not terribly different than the underlying mysteries which have characterized the behavior of the BOV itself.

All that said, the Hook is working with the concept that Helen's and the Board's actions are based not on what they WERE thinking, but rather on the premise of NOT thinking. Perhaps the piece should have been styled more as an op-ed kind of thing or otherwise characterized to separate it from the hard news.

Psychiatrist Thompson has wondered if Teresa's insecurities about her appearance may have prompted her to immediately agree to Helen's dismissal. It is here, perhaps, where the Hook article may run off the rails, a bit. First of all, we don't know (and I assume Dr. Thompson does not know) if Teresa is even possessed of any insecurities. But, even assuming that she did, how can we know these caused her to cave in, with no protest or argument? We can't know that. We don't even know, yet, if she did collapse as quickly as it appears. But what we CAN know is that Teresa was an employee, who, like any other, may be dismissed by the employer, rank be damned. And, had she made a fuss, especially in public, it would hardly have served her interest in the event that cooler heads might prevail -as they ultimately did. Bottom line: Teresa was a lady. She was a class act when hired, when fired, and when hired again. THAT is exactly the kind of character the University needs.

And of course Helen's corrupt thought and behavior became so overwhelmingly self evident that Teresa could simply stand aside and let the whole debacle resolve itself. Absent evidence to the contrary, Teresa really did not -and did not need to- get into a contest with a skunk. Even though Helen had obviously invested much time and energy in her mission, the aroma of her game was its own undoing. The simple fact of the matter is that Teresa "out thunk" her.

Finally, for those who are so troubled by the Hook article, which does have its defects, I suggest you read again the last paragraph, which I believe treats the situation fairly and compassionately:

"Oddly enough, given the attention and support she has received, Sullivan may now embody the kind of dynamism that Dragas and Company claimed to be seeking. In purely visual terms, no one can deny that those photographs of Sullivan (who has indeed lost weight since taking office) entering the Rotunda through a crowd of supporters show a woman looking confident, kind, and beautiful."



Mr. Geare, writing at 504 p.m., has said it 1,000 times, nay, a million times better than I ever could have.

I honestly do believe this played a much bigger role -- at least, subconsciously -- in the Dragon Rector's and Darth Kington's minds than even they would want to admit.

Your article is well researched and entirely justifiable as serious journalism--whether your sources conclusions about this situation are correct or not. Last week, at dinner with a thoughtful, open-minded, and decidedly non-prejudiced graduate school alum in Northern Virginia last week, this possibility came up. Both of us hated to believe it, but we do. Certainly the culprits cited only other reasons for their desire to get rid of Terry Sullivan. But underneath it all is this pervasive prejudice that I believe most of the world shares; even if they get past it, certain characteristics--height, weight, skin color, masculine or feminine behavior, regional accent, speech issues such as a lisp, physical handicaps, and more--crosses most people's minds as a negative trait. In a world where the uniform is blue oxford cloth button-down, navy blazer, khakis and a UVa tie on the outside, and a tall white man in boxers underneath (yes, I've taken a survey), Terry Sullivan may have struck our heavy hitter fundraisers and donors as a poor fit. Again, I hate to think about that. But I believe it was at least a deeply unconscious factor. Happily, we also recognize consciously that honor, integrity, accountability, and grace are the most important parts of any package--qualities the instigators of this horrible blight on UVa's reputation clearly lack, vote of confidence in the Rector or not...

Logan Anderson,

Society (and history and culture and time itself, presumably) thanks you for speaking for all of it.

Actually, your remarks are faintly ridiculous, so you may be unaware. When it comes to gravitas (and what a loaded, bunk term that is), Teresa Sullivan has it in spades, as evidenced by her calm, classy reaction to the wrong she was done by a handful of out-of-touch and arrogant blowhards who thought they had their little caper in the bag. We all know who came out on top of that, with enormous, worldwide support. That's real gravitas.

Sorry for my error in subject-verb agreement.

"And so I imagine that an exchange between Jones and Guruji might have gone like this:

Jones: “Guruji, you and Ashtanga have saved me. I want to spread the practice to as many people as I can. I want to build Ashtanga studios throughout the world, to help others and to honor you.”

Guruji: “You do.”

However, in “You do,” Jones heard, “Yes, build studios for me.” But what he really meant was: “Yes, go build those studios for you, because it is what you need to do.”

That exchange seems more consistent with the Guruji I know, second-hand, through many, many people."


"Ashtanga is next to get the McYoga treatment. Are we doomed? Or just trying to survive? Welcome to the new Jois Yoga, the Ashtanga-branded studio chain and clothing line. Was it inevitable....
Sonia Jones, a devoted Ashtangi with an enterprising spirit has the money and the connections to bring Ashtanga to new heights on a global scale with Jois Yoga, a new studio chain taking the teachings of Pattabhi Jois and stepping away from the typical “stinky incense and smelly” environment to one with “space, light, and a stylish boutique.” There are already Jois Yoga outposts in Islamorada, FL, Encinitas, CA and Sydney, Australia with a fourth ready to open in Greenwich, CT. (NY is on hold for now.)...
Jois Yoga, however, is viewed as a combination of Lululemon and Yogaworks (CA-based chain of yoga studios) with the glaze of “no expense spared” that some critics say came on too fast and too strong with commercial appeal.

“I believe it’s about power, and I don’t want to be part of it,” says Lino Miele, a senior teacher, about the Jois Yoga project."....

Ashtanga Jois chic clothes for sale at UVA yet?

And Amy Lemley, at 512 p.m., thank you, too, for recognizing the validity of this theory.

Personally, I think it is HIGHLY likely this was the driving force for the personality conflict and "deep philosophical differences" between the Dragon Rector and Sullivan. Did Dragas even know it was going on in her own subconscious? Debatable, but there is no way it didn't come in to play.

@Clifford Kiracofe UVA "brand" to support Sonia's yoga center business? Just curious.

Well sure, that was a small part of it as well. Another small (but not insignificant) motivation was to make sure that new UVA students learn the important life lesson taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: "When The Great One bends you over and fondles your crotch, its best not to complain too much about it." This lesson can be carried from the yoga mat all the way to the board room!

@Clifford Kiracofe June 27th, 2012 | 12:26pm
"There are a few points that perhaps some could help clarify for me:
1) who were the two no votes and the one abstention at the Faculty Senate reinstatement vote?
2.) Was Kiernan asked to resign or did he do it on his own volition?
3.) What was the involvement in this affair, if any, of Strine?
4.) What are other questions about the affair we should be asking?
5.) What kind of specific information and evidence would help us have a better understanding of what took place?
6.) Did the Kiernan-Jones-Dragas-Kington cabal have someone in mind to replace Sullivan? Name? Evidence or data?”

Yes, I would like those points clarified as well. I’ve posted on several occasions; we should be digging deeper and WIDER. I suspect that whoever orchestrated this attempt to overthrow President Sullivan, is scrabbling back into the manure pile licking his/her wounds, regrouping and will return for another round. I agree that there’s MORE to this “affair” than has surfaced to date.

As for the “fat” theory, that’s could be over the top but then again, look what happen on June 10th.

I think the main good thing about this story is that it once again highlights that there has never been any reason given for the whole thing. A list of supposed problems at the University, all of which existed before Sullivan are not a reason. Nature abhors a vacuum.

How long before the clever students at the U start writing papers and thesis on this episode ? I'd love to read some.

I’ve got it! Here’s my theory:

At the time of Teresa Sullivan’s dismissal, Helen Dragas was possessed by Zuul, the demi-god worshipped around 6000 BC by the Hittites, the Mesopotamians and the Sumerians and who acts as the gate keeper of Gozar the Gozarian. When not displacing the souls of sentient beings, Zuul often takes the shape of a large demonic dog and is the counter part to Vinz Clortho, the keymaster.

So, Teresa Sullivan was not really fired by Helen Dragas. She was fired by Zuul. There is no Helen, only Zuul!

And since “all manner of speculation flows when the stated reasons for something simply don't add up,” my theory of demon possession is about as credible as the drivel posited above.

This is offensive, ridiculous, beneath your journalistic integrity, speculative and only adds to the offenses of the past few weeks. Yes, there is appearance and gender bias in our world, could it have played some part here? Perhaps, but this is not an article based on any factual knowledge, and only serves to harm those involved further. For the first time ever I am in agreement with Mrs. Dragas, and let me tell you, that takes some doing. Poor form Hook.

Say what we might about outward appearances, and allowing for the fact that first impressions are important, we must also remember that second, third, and yet more impressions are also important, and so is reputation. Thus it is that our instinctive reactions to appearance are tested against reputation, performance, rhetoric and personality of those whom we judge -consciously, and otherwise. On the assumption that people on the BOV have learned this about people, their appointment of Teresa Sullivan makes some sense. And as to substantial donors who might be uneasy with a matronly character running the university, one presumes that actual exposure to the person will replace doubt with firm assurance. The alternative is to select people whose appearance meets all cultural tests of acceptance, regardless of their ability to actually accomplish anything. I doubt that this idea would gain much traction with responsible people.

The exception to this are those individuals who are so totally driven at a gut level, and so capable of or endowed with presenting a culturally positive image that their opinions and pronouncements are taken as writ. This describes Helen. Her power was expressed in the manipulation of Board members. But in the end, people understood what had happened and order has been restored.

This kind of thing happens all the time, although not always with the same positive outcome. That the outcome in this case has been positive speaks volumes to the incumbent president's character and capacity, and to the constituencies' understanding that she is the right person, at the right place, at the right time.

Wasn't Winston Churchill a little "full figured" also? Every time I think the Hook has it together you step in it. A really uncalled for story about a beautiful and gracious lady.

The problem with this article is that it conflates two issues of vital personal, local and national interests--the issues at stake in contemporary higher public education, and gender discrimination--without any substantial reporting to back up this theory beyond speculation and gossip. There has been absolutely no evidence linking these issues, and speculation on unconscious motivation is not the same as fact-based reporting. The result trivializes and distracts from both these important issues and leads readers to publicly and privately discuss the physical characteristics of two women as if women's bodies are matters of public comment, thus replicating the gender discrimination.

UVA's Larry Sabato has called the process leading up to the decision "absolutely outrageous."

"There wasn't a scintilla of transparency in it," he told Richmond Station NBC12 in a rare interview. "

This article lost all credibility with this statement alone. You can't turn on a TV without a Sabato comment.

This story is one of the most seriosly offensive pieces of crap I've ever read anywhere anytime. I'm going to write Ted Weschler, one of the primary financial backers of the hook and tell him to yank his money or be associated with this stuff. You have crossed many lines with your articles, but this time you are targeting someone's physical appearance which transcends not only any sense of integrity but is downright disgusting.

1) It's all about the money. That is not a bad thing when you need some. And, UVa is going to need it. It has nothing to do with appearance, or any other thing.
2) NancyDrew - Don't tell me people are still reading that quack Freud???!?

People, just stop to READ and COMPREHEND the article -- admittedly, it's way too long -- before denying the validity of the theory.

And also, just recall psychologist Kenneth Clark's famous doll test in the consolidated Brown v. Board of Education case. Black children were asked to pick which dolls were "nice," "like them," "were the ones they wanted to play with" and so on. Each time, when asked to pick the doll with the positive attribute, the black child picked the white doll. On negative attributes, it was the black doll.

Society has conditioned us -- almost from the moment of birth -- to associate thin, svelte and willowy with what is good and desirable.

I still contend that, at a VERY subconscious level and as John Geare has argued here much more cogently as I, this is part of what was going through the reptilian brains of the Dragon Rector and Darth Kington.

And those of you who read this analysis as an attack, don't ... open you minds to a possible explanation of this tragedy and to the hope that, by being honest about, we may be able to change it.

And a personal response to UVA prof June 27th, 2012 | 5:13pm who said "Logan Anderson,

Society (and history and culture and time itself, presumably) thanks you for speaking for all of it.

Actually, your remarks are faintly ridiculous, so you may be unaware. When it comes to gravitas (and what a loaded, bunk term that is), Teresa Sullivan has it in spades, as evidenced by her calm, classy reaction to the wrong she was done by a handful of out-of-touch and arrogant blowhards who thought they had their little caper in the bag. We all know who came out on top of that, with enormous, worldwide support. That's real gravitas."

Lay off the ad hominem attacks.

I merely made an observation, based on an admission of my own past prejudices, as to what could have been going through the minds of Dragas, Kington and the other conspirators.

And then ... how about actually READING my comment to which you were responding. You will find I was NOT disparaging the president at all, but speaking to my own and society's prejudices and how this incident has likely caused many of us to confront and try to overcome them.

Arrogant twit.

Not so much because of the article itself, but rather because of the responses in this thread, I'm checking out of here.

Maybe in a couple of weeks the focus will be on whatever efforts have taken place in the meantime to "follow the money," and to learn more about the roles of Kiernan, Jones, McDonnell, et al.

I hope y'all get over whatever's making you so mean-spirited and pissy all of a sudden. I mean, it's not a great article, but these responses are demeaning of us all.

@Nick Payne ... ditto.


Snoop. Yes we agree that more investigation and research is needed.

Now we need to get into the "After Action" report stage. This requires understanding what happened to the best of our abilities. From this we can get into the "Lessons Learned" stage. This is roughly a government /military approach but it seems logical in this case of the attack on our University by the promoters of culture wars.

Psychological profiling is certainly part of collecting information on foreign leaders in peacetime and most certainly in wartime. Law enforcement forensics are also standard here at home.

The psychological profile I am interested in at the moment is that of John Tudor Jones for the reason that he appears to have instigated the attack with the help of one other "wealthy donor". I am not clear on who that second person is. Dragas is merely a tool in the bigger picture according to what has appeared in the press which fingers Jones as the capo.

The yoga connection is interesting and looking at a number of articles about Jones and his wife, one does see they are way deep into a particular school of yoga including its philosophy. The $12 million center is to spread this philosophy, values, and what not at UVA and to promote the yoga business of Sonia.

In esoteric yoga circles, are people such as myself who are a bit on the heavy side considered spiritually impure? Don't know but quite obviously according to published statements by the two Jones, they are very very deep into esotericism of some kind. Is Kiernan their buddy into this yoga scene also?

How does that play out and influence their power plays such as the power play against our President Sullivan who is a lovely and gracious lady we can all be very proud of.

Jones was fingered as the leader of this, not Dragas. She is apparently is the instrument of "others" visible and invisible.

All of this thread to so far from what I am familiar with that all I can do is to attempt to draw attention to the Jones yoga thing which is linked to the health and fitness theme of this thread.

Is UVa really going to hire faculty and pay adjuncts and students to teach Ashtanga Yoga?

Do the instructors get liability protections from injuries suffered and from allegations of impropriety during "adjustments" of students?



The Center will offer a range of programming over the coming years, and in its inaugural year of 2012-13 the Center plans to offer the following programs:

Contemplative Science Research Grants for UVa initiatives

New course in Buddhism Contemplation with [?sic]
New traditional Ashtanga Yoga program
Expanded Mindfulness Center training opportunitie
Contemplative in Residence
Online Encyclopedia of Contemplation
And more…


See also here on speculation about hiring:


Logan Anderson,

I meant to post again but was unable to until just now. My apologies for ranting all over you! I still find the word 'gravitas' to be loaded, but after doing some other business I realized my frustrations with the BOV actions, and my annoyance with the article, came out in response to your post. That was wrong, and not even related to you. Mea culpa. I hope you'll forgive.

I understood you weren't disparaging Sullivan. The article bothered me because it diminishes actual, very serious threats to higher education by corporate-minded types by suggesting it was all due to physical appearance. In truth, this fiasco was a problem all universities are facing. See problems at universities in California, Texas, Wisconsin, and elsewhere where presidents were forced out by impatient boards.

So, again, my bad. I just can't agree that this equates to anti-fat issues when hundreds of millions of dollars are involved.

Take care.

@UVa Prof ... apology accepted.

I totally agree with you that the most important factor driving this entire tragedy was money ... BIG money ... HUMONGOUS gobs of money. We're seeing it all over the country at public higher ed institutions because legislatures are just too damned averse to taxes and people simply do not want to pay for what they want government to give them, in this case affordable world-class education.

But in trying to get some tiny insight into what may have been smoldering in the back of the reptile minds of Dragas, Jones, Kington and others, I think this analysis, while in need of a lot copy trimming and word massaging, does provide an intriguing possibility.

Take care.

If anyone thinks the assertions in this story are even in the top 50 reasons why all this went down then they are very sad and ignorant individuals indeed.

First you help save her job.. then you insult her with this dribble...

Walter Cronkite is spinning in his grave right now.

I recently lost 130 pounds and even though it was a bit of a stretch for this article to be published, (and really uncomfortable to read because I didn't expect an article to focus on this aspect) I have to say that I can identify with the story. Plus size women are prejudged and any of us who disagree are just not being honest with ourselves.

i commend you for laying this out there. I said this exactly 2 wks ago; that Sullivan simply did not fit the profile of what Dragas, kiernan an jones thought a leader should look and act like. so this was not entirely based on her appearance, but appearance played a signficant role, combined with here personal style; she seeked consensus, they wanted top down leadership. Ultimately, their brains could not process that she could be talented and right for the job if she did not look and speak like they do.

the strange thing about this is Dragas may be fit and slim, but not a good looking women at all.

Has anyone researched more about the resignation of Peter Kiernan III from Darden Foundation, and how this may affect donors?

Kiernan, author of "Becoming China's B#@%$"; past partner for Goldman Sachs; one of the founders of the Robin Hood Foundation along with John Tudor Jones. I sure hope he continues to support UVA and helps UVA locate an equally qualified person to fill his shoes. After all, he made a mistake and did the right thing by stepping down...just hope he continues on that path.

It is true, I believe, that Helen was used as a tool by others. But I also believe she saw her capacity in this regard as a means to advance her own agenda. If she is a "good" tool, she gets an edge, a competitive advantage, plus the approval and affirmation of people whom she regards as powerful and important. This all presumes an enormous psychological component, but so far it appears to me to be a logical explanation, if not a necessary condition, for what transpired.

And let's put the shoe on the other foot, for a moment. We've spilled some ink, here, on the questionable "fit" of Teresa's appearance with respect to her role. But if we did the same for Helen, would we not also wonder how a builder of cheap houses with precious few other credentials (that I know about) becomes the Rector of the BOV? Why not some more patrician personality, one who presents wisdom, with a public and unblemished record of many accomplishments. Helen may occupy her position, in part, because she is a woman. How many others on the BOV are women? Precious few. And, what is their appearance?

Facially, Helen presents as a "perfect storm," one who is ready and willing to do the bidding of others whom she esteems. In a larger sense, Helen may ultimately be classified as a clue, or as evidence, of a darker agenda. But that's all she is, in my opinion. In time, maybe, we will learn who the prime movers were. And in time, perhaps, Helen, herself, will tell us.

Other arguments aside, the most cogent proof that President Sullivan was a victim of bullying behavior would appear to be here:

from the article:

"Under tips for managers, there's a set of questions they can ask themselves to determine if they might be bullies, such as "Do you think your standards are high and wonder why others seem to not care as much as you?" and "At meetings, are your ideas never met with dissenting views?"

According to statements from Dragas, none of the typical procedures for dismissing an employee were followed: no evidence of a poor post-firing performance review or a failure to meet any agreed upon benchmarks; no strong or controversial public or University-wide criticisms; and no on-going communication with Sullivan that her job was in jeopardy.

Perhaps we can all agree that the behavior that Dragas and others exhibited on the board was certainly unbecoming their station, and for that they should be ashamed, and not allowed to occupy their positions on the Board.
I thank Mr. Kington for realizing this and for resigning and the others, who know who they are should do that same, that would be honorable.

One would hope that at the level of CEOs and University Presidents, people would look beyond the book's cover......

As another poster has said, all this speculation is fueled by the total lack of transparency and understanding of what the board was and is up to . I disagree with what Saboto is saying now, that we should just turn the page, because, unless changes are made --history tends to repeat itself.

Is there any way to bring the conversation back to the facts instead of propaganda?

Maybe this article is a PR move by Rector Dragas in order to redirect your attention from the facts?

I don't understand how discussing bullying and physical features will remedy the UVA problems. It's quite laughable...Google 'Images of University Presidents'. I really believe this dribble is off track. This Hook article projects "Enquirer" mentality.

UVA has moles. And the more you focus on these hypos - less time is spent on who was behind this behemoth mess.

Sidney, the only facts we have right now is that Dragas and Kington cooked up " the project " to oust Sullivan, with 2 important Virginia alums and the help of Peter Kiernan. One of the alums alledged to be Paul Tudor Jones. Why these people wanted her gone pronto is not yet known, and I too hope that FOIA's are still coming in to glean more of what went on behind the scenes. There may have been philosophical reasons, or there may have been personal reasons, until more is known it looks like a toss-up to me. But, I do think that the work of Gladwell and Wilson is very important when assessing behavior.

I think somebody's hedge fund may be going down the tubes, hence the need for urgency. You can be sure the Kiernan-Jones-Kington-Dragas cabal is still ongoing, but they may just be trying to salvage their reputations now. Good luck with that. Hope the school's multi-billion dollar endowment is isolated from these fools.

@ NancyDrew

I am very familiar with Gladwell's books; and I have read & own all of them. Yet, I want facts, figures and references.

This is clearly about money and donors. Money is traceable, not "thin slicing" or perceptions. Dragas did not want Dr. Sullivan to begin with; and obviously nothing has changed. As of yesterday, they have put a good face forward for the public and the Governor. That's it.

Rector Dragas only remains to keep an eye on things at UVA since Kiernan quit.

@ Dr. Kiracofe

Thank you for the link. Excellent information.

Can we discuss more about the Goldman Sachs angle to UVA online education and how it may be the single most important reason why Dr. Sulllivan was fired & of course, rehired? This is great information.

After reading links provided by Dr. Kiracofe @ 8:26 PM, I believe UVA PhD. student, Ann Marie Angelo's thesis holds a lot of information worth investigating...particularly since it pounces on the online education at UVA. Goldman Sachs online ed is a "for profit education provider"? Really? At a public institution?

So what ties are there with Goldman Sachs online education and President Sullivan's ouster? What ties are there with Goldman Sachs and Kiernan/Jones?


i wanted to share this latest bit of fallout with those following the story.

many people have questions about the actions of Ms. Dragas, and we all want to know what was really going on and why. It now appears that the accreditor has some questions, too, about compliance. Seems like they may appoint a Special Committee to look into this.

I certainly hope that among the other problems caused by Ms. Dragas and her close associates on the board responsible for the forced resignation of President Sullivan, loss of accreditation is not one of them. Bad enough that this appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education, but it will certainly be more than just another embarrassment if this investigtion
threatens our accreditation.

Dave, this is your best piece of work ever.

@Dr. Kiracofe

Can you please post this link/information on UVA facebook page? And, Friends of Academical Village link on FB as well?

thank you

Looks like everything at the Hook is back to normal now: juvenile sensationalist reporting. Editors: have you shown this article to your mothers, wives, and/or daughters? You should be embarassed.

Cliff is also correct about Madame Sullivan not have a "yoga tight" bod, hence not cool in the world of Mrs. Jones

Call me old fashioned, but I would rather have an overweight academic run a university than a yoga tight financial engineer

She's not that fat.

Hell, walk down the street in some southern states and she would be downright average.

President Sullivan is a lovely, radiant and graceful woman of surpassing dignity
and poise whom I admire more and more every time I see her speak before a public

Read Dr. Sullivan's Curriculum Vitae on UOV website. You will see why she should be President.

No one asked her to do the tree pose or look great in lululemon yoga wear

This article is ridiculous. While i know discrimination against large people exists, you put this theory out there with absolutely nothing to suggest there is any fact to it, just rampant speculation on your part. President Sullivan is an attractive, intelligent, well--spoken woman who represents the University well and this article feels like it is trying to lessen her accomplishments because she does not look like some airbrushed, malnourished woman we see in the magazines. She looks the same as when they hired her and she is incredibly accomplished and you should be ashamed of yourself for writing this drivel.

A friend of mine, a senior administrator at UVA, when I told her Sullivan was fired, her very first words were: "she did not belong at UVA anyway. She is too fat."

@Dan Friedman

...and that is why Dr. Sullivan is President of UOV and your friend - just an administrator who lacks good judgement...and you are bragging that she's your friend? doesn't say much for either of you...

When I first read this article, I confess it made me unseeingly angry, because the whole premise seemed so trivial. If physical attributes played in any way into this, then Dragas and her cohorts must be even more petty and trifling than I thought. Certainly there are many more Serious Matters involved here.

But after a second reading, it occurs to me, what if David's right? Who am I to dismiss this avenue of inquiry? Many sincere people assure me that these biases exist. I have seen them in other situations and maybe its time that they are the topic for more open and frank discussion. If I dont see any body type bias at work here, could it be because this bias is in fact working on my own subconscious? Could I be so blind to my own base motivations? Could Hawes be such a diabolical genius to expose this? Or maybe this just his way of reminding everyone that its his paper, he's doing most of the work, and the narrative today is whatever he damn well wants it to be.

Then I realized: Wait a minute! I've been struggling to eat healthier for the past two years and I still need to lose a good 10 pounds. When I first heard about President Sullivan's resignation, at first it didnt even register. It was only when her face was on the front page of the paper and I looked into eyes and I could feel it. I dont know exactly what I saw, but I had this feeling in my soul that I knew - regardless of whether it was true - that like myself, Theresa Sullivan needs to watch her cholesterol.

There. I admit it. And at that exact time, somewhere deep in my subconscious, I swore to myself, "I will not let these godforsaken, low cholesterol stick people do this to you Theresa! They do not know the pain with which we look at a softly ripened piece of cheese on a sliced baguette. Oh the pain!

Yes, they plotted in secret against the University President, broke a bunch of State laws on meetings, and badly misrepresented the views of other BOV members to said President and the Public. Yes, it appears that every action they have taken in the past two weeks has its own shady money trail and Yes, they more or less confessed to everything with their accidental emails and clumsy PR attempts. Yes, they threw just about everything that Jefferson stood for under the bus, and are now claiming victimhood and begging healing for themselves. But none of that really gets to the emotional nut of the conflict for me. These bastards eat whatever they want and it doesnt matter to them. This aggression shall not stand!

Sidney I'm not bragging. Just saying it's plausible, as Dave writes in this piece, that she was discriminated against.

Dragas should perhaps have just required Sullivan to take some yoga classes and drop a few pounds, and that would have been that,

Looking at our newly reinstated president clapping in the photo you provided I also see a confident, kind, and beautiful person. Beautiful cheekbones, but cheekbones aside, the picture of her hugging the rector showed a beauty that filled my heart as much as any photo I've ever seen. Her words at graduation I now believe came from her heart. Everyone replay the last part of graduation.. her wish for the graduates. I can't find the video of the speech she gave to the church the day after she was asked to resign but the message to those graduates was the same. Powerful words that will never lose their meaning. I wanted to believe I could trust her words when she spoke them. Now I know I can. A beautiful, beautiful person, President Sullivan is.

i must say i think tig has it right.

i also think it's time to let this part of the thread come to an end.

St. Teresa does not deserve to be discussed in such earthly terms.

There is no Helen, only Zuul!

my brother just wrote to me to tell me that I made a big mistake in saying that
this part of the thread should come to an end and that it was not up to me to say
something like that and that i should NEVER call for a thread to come to an end, and that this is open communication and some people might take real offense.

To him and to anyone else to whom I gave offense I do aplogize.

To be clear, my intention was to express my belief that some of the comments in the line of discussion related to characterizations of President' Sullivan's appearance were approaching the edge of decency, and for no apparent reason other than the amusement of some of the commentors. Or so it seemed and seems to me

and since this is open communication, I felt free to say that I thought that this part of the thread, that is to say these unhelpful and rather too personal characterizations at President's Sullivan's expense, should come to an end. And I certainly have no regrets about saying it again for greater clarity and emphasis because the fact of the matter is i still feel this way and really don't mind if you or my brother know it..

Perhaps the discrimination argument may be laid to rest by realizing, very simply, that discrimination exists among all people, for all time, and everywhere. I refer here to innate predispositions which cause us to be attracted or repelled by appearance or other factors which are not substantive with respect to a choice made on the basis of thought, facts, and applied logic. Discrimination just IS. The more important issue, perhaps, is whether Sullivan's dismissal was based entirely, or mainly, on discrimination with respect to her appearance. I'll stipulate that such may have been the case with one or two members of the board who, for whatever reason, are given to "go with their gut." But I doubt that the 9 or 10 others who presumably supported the dismissal were as given to such instinctive reactions, and will allow that there may have been a few who found the president to be especially attractive.

Which leaves us with the substantive questions, answers and issues at hand. Unless someone has a real bomb shell in terms of direct proof of what really went down, none of this will be resolved here. However, we may certainly clamor for whatever appropriate investigation by the education committees of the General Assembly will yield actionable information. It is the house and senate, after all, who have control of the BoV, as specified in Virginia law.

for saint elizabeth,

It seems to me, and I just speaking for myself here, that it is fair and appropriate for citizens and taxpayers to discuss and offer opinion on the actions and decisions of public officials who deal with public funds and resources, so that would include President Sullivan and members of the Board of Vistors, among many others. And i think such public discussions, open to all points of view, are valuable and serve a valuable purpose and ought to be encouraged, even if some of the views expressed are opposed to our own.

And for this reason I am grateful to this publication for so generously hosting these discussion boards.

But I do not think it is appropriate or helpful to include in these discussions comments about or evaluations of the appearance of public officials. Rather, it seems to me, that comments like this can abuse and diminish the opportunity for discussion of things that do matter. If the discussion was among owners or stockhlders of a modeling agency or fashion design company displaying their products then, yes, a candid discussion of personal appearance or grooming might be quite relevant and important. But in this case don't think, and this is nothing more than my opinion, that it helps to make comments like some have in this thread that have no relationship to professional performance, but that might be unnecessarily hurtful while serving no positive purpose. I suppose, for me, it has more to do with courtesy than anything else.

President Sullivan was enthusiastically hired by the Board of Visitors, who made a wise decision in hiring her in the first place, not because they were looking for a fashion model to promote sea-side fashions to teenagers or titlate aging alumni, but because they were looking for and found a distinguished educator and administrator much appreciated by her peers, who happens also to be a lovely human being.

Barry, I was only responding to your brother's inspired notion that UVA was being converted to a big astanga yoga studio

I think everyone here agrees that the decision to hire President Sullivan in 2010 was made for the right reasons and those reason still stand.

What most of us also agree on is that her firing was unjustified. I continue to believe that this well written, well researched article adds an important, and up until now overlooked reason for what we also agree was an irrational act.

@Nancy at 1103 a.m.: Totally agree with you. And I think this aspect, while overlooked, also was unspoken because we just don't want to admit it about ourselves or society.

@ Dr. Kiracofe,

I have been reading Friends of the AV, "Private Online Universities Hustle Students"...I did not realize online schools can legally receive up to 90% of its' funding from the Federal Government? Phoenix receives 86% of its funding from the federal tax payer. I don't understand how Phoenix can call itself private. Further, I can't imagine all students are from the USA. Are these federally funded private online schools doling out degrees across the world on the backs of the United States taxpayer? It just looks like another reallocation of federal educational funding that should be going to top public universities.

UVA receives 6% from the state. How much federal funding does UVA receive?

Another post, "VA Governor' Higher Ed Commission" lists Dominion Resources CEO, Chairman, and President, Tom Farrell as former Rector of University of Virginia. So, is Dominion Resources the breeding ground for new rectors at the UOV? I only ask because Rector Dragas is on the Dominion Res. board along with past Vice Rector Kingdon.

This article would be laughed out of an introductory journalism course. Deservedly. It is based *entirely* on conjecture - there isn't a single piece of evidence that actually supports the claim. There just isn't. Just because you happened to have a discussion over drinks, or at work, or wherever, that involved the same speculations here, it is meaningless, *because you were not involved in this matter at all.* At all. You had no agency in the blunder whatsoever.

If I were watching the space shuttle Challenger disaster back in 1986, and I said to my girlfriend, "This was caused by defective O-rings due to problems with their manufacture," it would be only a lucky guess, and certainly not proof or evidence. I could have said, "I bet they hit a flock of geese," and be equally informed.

The key word is *could.* Well, yeah, it could be anything. It's what's called a "weasel word" - it allows the writer to get away with lazy reporting. It COULD be this. It MIGHT be that. MAYBE it was this. The writer can say anything this way.

When reams of the emails between Dragas and Kington have been released, in which they openly discuss their poorly thought out motives, in which there is never a single mention of Sullivan's appearance, it just seems kind of kooky to say, yeah, all that stuff about money and power and influence is interesting, but, you know, I bet it was because she's fat. I don't see how anyone can defend that in seriousness.

I'm surprised by how amateurish this article is.

My initial suspicion on the day of the tragedy in 86 was that it was caused by severly cold weather. I still believe that had they waited for moderate temps the system would have performed.

Some data points for conspiracy hunters and "bias" experts to consider:

The FOIA emails effuse enthusiasm from Jeff Walker for that Sebastian Thrun video on "Higher Education 2.0":

Maria Furtwängler introduces. She's one of the celebrity faces of yoga in Germany. Married to a much older and very wealthy man. (Easier to research her if you've been lucky enough to study German at UVa.)

Sponsors the Chopra foundation along with some others.


It is a testament to both the power of Ashtanga Yoga and to Guruji as a teacher that so many in the Jois Family have chosen to take on the responsibility of its continued transmission.

Hubert Burda on behalf of Dr. Maria Furtwängler

I don't think her size bothers them as much as her gender (see Governor McDonnell's woman-bashing thesis at Regent University). Ms. Sullivan also co-authored a book with the nefarious Elizabeth Warren, a known plagiarist who defrauded the government by pretending to be a Native American (says Fox News). But her most egregious offense was humiliating Attorney General Cuccinelli in his effort to expose the phony climate science at UVa. On top of that, she's probably a Democrat. She certainly acts like one. No wonder they hate her.

Here's Kington--"Please know that I would consider claims as you describe to be slander and I would be compelled to take any steps necessary to protect my reputation." A bit late for saving your reputation, Mark.


You are kidding me about Kington quote? Mark Kington knows better. He received his MBA from Darden. He is a marketing executive. I must be thinking of another Mark Kington.

@Mark Kington

Bring it on! If you had been correct in your actions, you would not have resigned. Right or wrong? Sorry, this post doesn't have room for the gray area thoughts. We actually know what is right and wrong!


Bring it on! Mark is soley responsible for this mess. Read all emails thoroughly FOIA, and that is why he's attempting to protect what little remains of his reputation.

Mark Kington, that is MARK KINGTON, THE mARK kINGTON THAT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR the demise of Dr. Sullivan.

The more negative remarks attributed to Mark Kington, the better the Google seach results! He made that happen as well. Go figure?!

So, Mark Kington was one of the biggest players in the University of Virginia's attempt to eliminate Dr. Sullivan?

According to all available data and FOIA, absolutely. Mark Kington is a loser!

True, Mark Kington did attempt to have President Sullivan removed from her office at University of Virginia.

Mark Kington does not want any affiliation with the downfall of Dr. Sullivan. True. Google Mark Kington.

Mark Kington you were wrong to attempt ousting Dr. Sullivan. Correct. Yes, Mark Kington was terribly wrong.

Mark Kington was very wrong in instigating the downfall of President Sullivan at UVA. Mark Kington is so concerned about his image that he has threatened to sue anyone associated with his remarks.

Maybe, Mark Kington should sue himself?


Kington does not care. He can protect his reputation by default. His money speaks, and our free speech is only a blip in the screen. No one cares anymore. Kington and his marketing team have researched all the outcomes and angles to this marketing nightmare. Bottomline: Kington wins if UVA rests on their laurels.


I don't think the faculty or staff cares anymore because Dr Sullivan was reinstated. Old News travels fast.

In today's world nothing matters that is not immediate. Dr. Sullivan's reappointment to the Presidency only made her more vulnerable. The faculty and staff have proven to be complacent and that is what Rector Dragas is banking her reputation on. That said, Rector Dragas should be gloating by now. Complacency in a University is business as usual,and if UVA sits on its laurels and allows Gov. McDonnell to appoint as usual, shame on the UVA!

That said, if it happens, i don't want to be associated with UVA. I will throw in the towel myself. Why would I endure this mess and promote an inactive staff from the UVA? I would NOT. Good luck with your future.

Sullivan IS absolutely gorgeous in those Rally pictures.

Thanks for this slightly wacky and original angle on the story. If you're right, it links up with the class drama (Waldo Jaquith satirized Helen Dragas's letter to students with a spoof letter beginning "Dear Proles .."). If you're overweight you're more likely to be middle class or lower.

Yet another reason for people to sneer. We can be horrible, can't we?

This is total and complete nonsense. It's dawning on me and I suspect many others that this kind of trash characterizes both sides of this drama, in which case Charlottesville and UVa are getting what they deserve regardless of who is president or rector. The reputation gap rears its ugly head again.

Now excuse me while I visit my phychiatrist at student health services to examine my motives -- no doubt the foolish pre-modernist desire for rigor and excellence is the product of my dark Jungian shadow.

Hey, we all deserve an award for being special individuals, even journalists!

I must admit. When I saw Rector Dragas' age, 50, I thought she was having some perimenopausal mayhem which clouded her judgement. This comment is not meant to be disrespectful as I, myself, was taken by a hormonal storm in the past year. Despite my healthcare knowledge and healthy lifestyle, this phase shook my foundation.

Yes it is horrible, and bigoted . . . but we all knew right from the very beginning this was all about the "ewwwww" factor and probably nothing else. Open your eyes people, she just wasn't the sleek "image" they wanted out there glad handing for those dollars! All the protesting to the contrary is just too, too telling. And the code words . . ."unenergentic" puhleeze. Although why they picked a jolly, dumpy looking, female academic type if they didn't want one is beyond me.

Sean Hood, and others:

The last sentence of your comment proves this angle is pointless: "They fired for being fat. She was fat when they hired her. Doesn't make sense."

I'm paraphrasing, but it's the truth: this line of reasoning doesn't make one lick of sense. It's preposterous.

I have no real dog in the race, if you will, but I was really bothered by the dumbness of this article.

And, please, academia requires "sleek" types? Have you been to a faculty gathering? God bless them, but they ain't sleek.

Thinness is not a virtue, nor is having the coolest new clothes or the biggest house (complete with horses). Judging others based on appearances is all about not feeling good about oneself unless feeling superior in some way to others.