Decision time: Zeithaml steps back, Cohen suggests reinstatement likely
Following a June 22 press conference called by Carl Zeithaml, the McIntire School of Commerce dean who was tapped by Rector Helen Dragas to be interim president after Teresa Sullivan's ouster, and who stepped down from the position just hours earlier, faculty senate chair George Cohen theorized that Sullivan would be reinstated following the Board of Visitors meeting scheduled for June 26. He said it would be unlikely that they would have called a meeting if they didn't have the votes to reinstate.
"We are optimistic that we will have the eight votes needed, and that the Board will do the right thing on Tuesday and reinstate President Sullivan," said Cohen, a UVA Law professor,.
Cohen would not speculate on what the senate would do should Sullivan not get her job back on Tuesday, but said they would be "strongly" behind the decision if she did return, and would be "ready to deal with the University's challenges."
As for Zeithaml, he said he had made his decision to step down after multiple conversations with friends and colleagues.
"I have a bias for action," said Zeithaml, "but in this case I realized I needed to step back. My role was premature, given the controversy."
Cohen praised Zeithaml, saying he had done a "wonderful job," and that they were in agreement on the majority of issues.
Zeithaml did not say which way he wanted the Board to vote on Tuesday, and said he would be happy to go back to teaching and deaning, or assuming the interim role as president, depending on which way the Board voted.
"There are many, many well-intentioned people here," he said, "and I thought it best to first step back and let the decision be made."
Asked if he thought Dragas and the BOV were well-intentioned when they decided to oust Sullivan with such little discussion, Zeithaml said he thought they were.
"Helen Dragas is not an evil person," he said, later describing a "great" conversation they recently had about making governance at UVA more inclusive. He also had high praise for Sullivan, and would welcome her reinstatement should the BOV vote that way.
As for the laundry list of problems with the University that Dragas outlined in her most recent statement, Zeithaml said he agreed there were serious problems that needed to be addressed quickly, but also pointed out that "UVA is UVA, and it's a great place."
Zeithaml bristled at the suggestion that the story here was about a battle between MBAs and PhDs for the soul of the University.
"We need everyone involved to solve our problems," he said.
Asked if he believed there had been a "mutual agreement" between Sullivan, Dragas, and the BOV for her to quietly step down, as Dragas claimed in her June 10 email announcing the decision, Zeithaml said that was something Dragas would have to address.
"I only wish the Board had consulted with Zeithaml before they did this," said Cohen, pointing out that he was a expert in strategic management. "But he made the right decision today. "
Zeithaml, who mentioned that he was leaving for Europe in several hours, later failed to respond to questions about who the large donors were who may have influenced the BOV, and why he had borrowed language from UVA medical dean Steven T. DeKosky in his communications to the public.This story is a part of the The ousting of a president special.