President Sullivan: Still getting bullied by Dragas

By J. Anderson Thomson

University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan has broken her silence on the controversy that consumed most of June and which continues to pervade the institution. She may have thought that her recent interview with the Washington Post, published August 14 and the next day in the Daily Progress, would quell the controversy. However, her statements offer further evidence of what I said in a Hook article published around the time of her reinstatement: that Sullivan was bullied out of office.

In explaining her decision to resign, Sullivan said, “I didn’t really want to put the university through a difficult period.”

This can also be understood as, "I didn't really want to put myself through a difficult period." Why not– why not push back?

Asked whether Dragas ever apologized to her, Sullivan said, “I don’t think I want to go there."

Clearly, Dragas has not apologized. One cannot truly work with someone who has done significant harm until the perpetrator makes a genuine apology and takes credible reparative action. Has she demanded any such gesture from Dragas? It sounds like she has not, and that does not bode well.

"She was blindsided by the depth of the board opposition Dragas depicted on June 8. Later, Sullivan would learn that her support was broader than she had been told."

In other words Dragas lied to her.

“In retrospect, I wish I had communicated more frequently with more members of the board,” she said.

In other words: "I wish I had known so I could have called Dragas on her lie at that moment on Friday the 8th."

“I think we do learn things about ourselves and about our institution– not things you necessarily had planned to learn or wanted to learn, because none of us wants to head into a difficult time,” she said.

Did she learn Dragas hates her and that she passively allowed herself to be bullied?

In discussing the outpouring of support she received from alumni, students, faculty, and staff, Sullivan described herself as "astonished."

She had no idea we liked and appreciated her? Sad.

"During the 70-minute interview, Sullivan talked about how she has changed as a leader by reciting a quote from Shakespeare: 'Sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel.'"

Where is the jewel here? Sullivan is stuck working with someone who dislikes her and was not held accountable. Dragas may now be reinforced in her entitlement to continue, behind closed doors, to oppose and badmouth the President.

“And, you know, I just hope that I learned the right lessons.”

It sounds like she has doubts that she has learned the right lessons. We can speculate that at some level she knows she has allowed herself to be bullied and failed to set adequate terms for her reinstatement.

Asked about demands for the resignation of Dragas, Sullivan said, "I don’t get to pick my boss."

She was in a situation where it appeared possible to make her return contingent upon Dragas's exit. Why did she not make that demand when in a position of strength?

Asked if she, personally, had feelings on the issue of her boss, Sullivan replied, "Not that I want to share with you.”

In other words, she damn well does have feelings about Dragas. And, she should.

Dragas notes that she voted with the board to reinstate Sullivan. “I have extended my sincere apologies,” Dragas said.

That contradicts Sullivan's I-don't-want-to-go-there answer. I suspect Dragas said something bland about being sorry for the uproar. One can understand why there has been no genuine apology to Sullivan personally: Dragas feels no need, and that should worry us all.

“It’s time to move forward and, as demonstrated by this retreat and our agenda, we are doing so guided by a spirit of constructive leadership...," said Dragas.

Dragas is saying, "Let's ignore what happened and my role at all costs."

"Last week, 14 prominent alumni wrote an open letter insisting that 'a painstakingly fair and civil' review be done, suggesting that the crisis would not end until 'board members finally explain candidly, to satisfy common sense, what really motivated them to act so precipitously.'"

That is reasonable, as everyone knows there is more to this story.

"She paused at the question of whether she personally needed to know. 'Not really,' she said. 'I think it would be very easy to get psychologically stuck on an episode like that.'"

Sounds like she is understandably stuck on what happened, as well she should be. Her principal assassin is still in the room, and the shooter has the Governor's support.

"I think moving forward right now is probably the best thing we can do...”

She is lamely trying to convince herself and us it is best not to know the truth.

"At the same time, Sullivan said she encounters alumni who ask her for explanations she can’t fully provide. 'They’re wondering, "What’s happened at the university? What just went on?"' she said. Still, she maintained, 'I think they would much rather see us have a plan for where we’re going and not just kind of dwell on what happened, and I think I can give them that.'"

Rationalization. People want to know what happened and why the assassin is still within striking distance.

"The way Sullivan describes it, the original wording in the June 10 announcement of her departure remains the best summation of her understanding of the conflict. 'We formulated it as a philosophical difference of opinion,’ she said. 'I’m not sure I can improve on that.'"

Does she not want to know the truth?

"I can’t point to anything that suggests there were other forces..."

Sullivan cannot point anywhere but Dragas.

"Asked whether she trusts Dragas, Sullivan replied: 'I think we are both committed to making it work... I completely believe that she cares about the future of the University of Virginia. And so do I.'”

She dodges the question because she doesn't trust Dragas. Has she deluded herself into thinking this is a workable solution? It is just a matter of time before the illogic of this solution manifests itself. When Helen strikes next, she'll likely disguise it better.
J. Anderson Thomson is a psychiatrist at UVA Student Health Services and the author of "Why They Kill," a Hook cover story of religion/testosterone fueled murder as well as the author of the 2011 book Why We Believe in God(s).

This story is a part of the President Sullivan retakes the reins special.


We have all appreciated The Hook's great reporting on this whole debacle, but seriously, the navel gazing aspect has now gone a bit far with this "psychological analysis" which presents no new information, just someone's tea-leaf reading


@ J. Anderson Thomson
".....Sounds like she is understandably stuck on what happened, as well she should be. Her principle assassin is still in the room, and the shooter has the Governor's support."

Keen observations and thank you for the well-written article.

Yes, BOV member and RECTOR Dragas is a perfect example of a bully. Bullies are easy to spot, especially if you have been a victim, on and off the job.

Although, I'm not the direct target of Dragas, I, as a former UVA staff member, FEEL as if I'm being bullied, once again. AND not one person cared enough to step in! I Fortunately, I have a forgiving heart and I hope that one-day, Dragas will step forward and apologize to President Sullivan.

As much as I want President Sullivan to stay and continue improving UVA for ALL OF US, that bulling behavior will take a toll on President Sullivan physically, emotionally and mentally. It's just a matter of time!

Dragas MUST go or we will lose President Sullivan.

I appeal to the UVA students, faculty, staff, alumni, family and friends, AND all our University communities, this fight is NOT over. Please write and call members of the General Assembly TODAY and EVERYDAY until they meet in January.

Bullying is unacceptable on ANY level!

One question to start: Is Hill and Knowlton still maintaining their propaganda effort and generating billable hours on behalf of Dragas in this matter?

Let's face it: there's no chain around Sullivan's ankle holding her here. She reportedly had other offers when Dragas dropped the hammer. She's still here, so one might conclude the situation is okay with her. If it's okay with her, why can't everyone else leave it alone and move on?
(And just as an aside, "her principle assassin" makes no sense on several levels since she wasn't assassinated and neither, apparently, were her principles.)

Workplace bullies should always be called out. Stand up to them. No shame in leaving a job to avoid one, but make sure everyone knows why you're leaving. Bullies always end up getting theirs. Always.

The University of Virginia "community" is no stranger to bullying, from supervisory personnel to non-supervisory "higher-ups" who create hostile working conditions. The Virginia Quarterly Review situation resulting in an employee's suicide is another high-profile example of this behavior, and I know of more than one instance which occurred at the UVA Hospital where employees were bullied into quitting. Until the entire "holier-than-thou" mindset is adjusted this sort of behavior will continue, to the ongoing detriment of the University as well as the entire community.

This is exactly what I would expect from a UVA psychiatrist .

This is Business. Dragas made a power play and lost the batle but lives to fight another day. This goes on in millions of jobs everyday. Even the assistant to the assistant manager at McDonalds tries to get the grench fry guy fired because he doesn't like him. The manager steps in and settles it and nobody loses their job. This just happened to be very public with much higher stakes.

While I did not spend years in school being professonally trained I have lived and worked in the real world. Mrs Sullivan is doing the exact right thing by taking the high road and not pushing back. Like you profess it appears that Ms Dragas has the passive support of the Governmer and Mrs Sullivan does not get to "pick her boss" This is politics. Mrs Sullivan KNOWS that there are others who are waiting for Ms Dragas to make a mistake and they will take her down when the time comes. Meanwhile Mrs, Sullivan is doing what she does best and runs UVA. She indoubtedly learned who she is actually dealing with and has made adjustments (hence her "communication" comment) Despite the outpouring of support Mrs. Sullivan had no need to go into the gutter and make her own power play. She has risen from the ashes and although to you it may seem too passive she has garnered the respect she needs to go forward with thousands of allumni watching her back. The Governmer saw what happened and may already be doing things behind the scenes to solve the Dragas issue as we speak.

Mrs Sullivan WAS bullied. But just like in the real world good people came to her rescue and challenged Ms. Dragas to "pick on somebody her own size" When that happened she backed down.

I am quite confident that two years from now Mrs Sulivan will be where she is today and Mrs dragas will either still be around but with clipped wings or resigned for the typical "family/business." reasons.

Mrs Sullivan will always serve at the pleasure of the BOV and it is not her job to Police them. It is the Allumnus , the Governmers, and the PRESS for keeping us informed whos job it is to make sure they don't get away with things like this.

She deserves and has the respect of thousands for her behavior and this fluff piece is travesty.

Try living in the real world for a change you might learn something....

I think we all live in the real world. You are expected to cover your bosses back. And he is expected to cover yours. The farther you get away from trust and integrity the more dysfunctional the organization becomes.

I keep getting more and more impressed with Dr. Sullivan

@Bill Marshall Thank you. President Sullivan was bullied and she has acted with personal integrity. I completely agree that it is not her responsibility to call out Dragas as a bully. Dragas does that well enough herself. It is the community's responsibility to voice that they will not accept a bully as the Rector. I don't really care for the tone of this piece. It's quite sanctimonious.

Thanks, Bill Marshall. You saved me some typing time. Clearly most of the comments regarding this soap opera are coming from folks who haven't had a responsible job and don't understand that this is how things play out in the world outside academe.

BULLY for DRAGAS! bumper stickers ordered.

"I keep getting more and more impressed with Dr. Sullivan"

True but the more articles I see like this reinforces my thinking that academia should not have full control of business decisions or any decision that requires a truely open mind.

I think Bill nailed it.

Well done Bill. This more than makes up for all your "get out of my yard" posts. But if you really want to see venom, daggers, court intrigue, and life and death in workplace go *inside* an academic department. The joke is that it's so cutthroat because the stakes are so low.

@Eagle-eye August 21st, 2012 | 8:42am
“Let's face it: there's no chain around Sullivan's ankle holding her here. She reportedly had other offers when Dragas dropped the hammer. She's still here, so one might conclude the situation is okay with her. If it's okay with her, why can't everyone else leave it alone and move on?”

I doubt that it’s ok with her but she’s is “taking the high road” and trying to continue with what she set out to do upon her appointment. Unfortunately, Dragas and company were still steaming on the selection of Sullivan, and set out from the get-go, to get rid of the “project” BEFORE the students and faculty returned.

President Sullivan is quite capable of dealing with the likes of Dragas and company but is it worth it! We certainly will know the answer when the students and faculty return to our community.

As for me leaving it alone, it will NEVER happen. The University of Virginia is a PUBLIC institution and I, as a member of the public, have a role as a steward of the academic mission of higher education. The process, by which Dragas and Company attempted to ouster President Sullivan, is deeply flawed and we, the public, are asking for the process to be reviewed and corrected. Of course, Dragas and Company should apologize but that too WILL NEVER HAPPEN.


Guthrie August 21st, 2012 | 8:50am
“Workplace bullies should always be called out. Stand up to them. No shame in leaving a job to avoid one, but make sure everyone knows why you're leaving. Bullies always end up getting theirs. Always.”

Yes, I agree that “bullies” should be called out, however, as the one being bullied, I should not have to quit my hard earned job when family members are depending on me for food and shelter.

Bullies do NOT get what’s coming to them; they are promoted. It’s the real world, my friend, and either you suck it up or move on. That’s life on ANY level!

On a lighter note, my dog bullies me into throwing his tennis ball WHATEVER the weather.

I got bullied right out of a prominent C'ville job. No recourse. Right before the Bush Recession hit. The bully has since run off most of the board, and driven the organization into a deep financial hole, and I've not been replaced. It was pretty public. So I claimed a moral victory and moved on.

@Guthrie..."Bush recession." Nice touch. Who's recession is it now?

"I ran the deficit to record levels and kept unemployment at over 8 percent for well over three years. I tried, so I can claim a moral victory. Oh, and if you want to think Romney's a buffoon, take a look at my second-in-command."

R.I.P.: Jules White

Dragas must go, if only because she claimed the work of Hill & Knowlton as her own. That's enough to kiss her past goodbye.

Diagnosing someone from a distance? Tabloid stuff all the way.
Also odd to note that both Charlottesville weekly papers seem to have blow-hard writers with pretentious J period Something first names.

J.une, are you implying the author is not legit? If not, what is your point?

I love the Hook but this piece is not one I admire. I don't like the tone, and I don't like Ms. Sullivan being dragged through pop psychology jargon. Shame on you, Andy Thomson. And shame on you, Hook, for publishing it. Great damage has been done by Helen Dragas and the BOV, no question, but this article does nothing to really shed light on what happened, IMHO.

@Bill Marshall - How come your "real world" theory didn't apply to Michael Strine? or do you get to pick where to apply your theory?

The problem with all you UVA hacks is that you are not consistent. No principles and no values! Real world would apply if you were Goldman Sachs but UVA is not. It's supposed to be a Jeffersonian Academical Village with ideals and higher standards with honor and dignity. Perhaps in all the lies and deceit that has been at the core of UVA's Administration that notion is just the BS churned out for the students and "ya all" forgot the mission. I've said it several times but just in case you missed it you are a heart beat away from being Penn State. It's now a matter of getting caught for all the crap that goes on behind the facade. We all now know it's a facade as this was established last June. Wahoowa, I feel terrible for all those that think the institution is in good hands.

@Bill Marshall August 21st, 2012 | 9:19am
“She deserves and has the respect of thousands for her behavior and this fluff piece is travesty. Try living in the real world for a change you might learn something.”

Bill, I agree that President Sullivan “deserves and has the respect of thousands for her behavior” but I don’t find the piece a “travesty”. Did I misread the posting? President Sullivan has been taking the high road and I respect her for that behavior.

I found Thomsom’s posting to be another interested party’s perspective but it’s JUST that. I’m still trying to understand why the secrecy, why did Dragas mislead President Sullivan and the expediency in which it occurred. The posting, as yours, gives me additional food for thought. Let’s not discourage each other from posting our thoughts; after all, they are OUR thoughts.

As for me, I often hesitate posting, thinking that I may have missed a point, misspelled a word or two, the comma is in the wrong place or missing, etc. BUT, I do think and learn with every posting! Nothing like being in a University Community; their egos often put me in my place! AND.....that's ok too!

Waal, MY respect for Terry Sullivan keeps going up. She has played her hand quite well so far, and her supporters should be pleased The main issues remain: 1. Shall members of the Board of Visitors be subject to the University's Honor Code in the future? ... (as it seems they are not subject to the Honor Code now); and 2. Shall members of the Board of Visitors be permitted to hire outside agencies like Hill & Knowlton? ... without disclosing that relationship to the University at large. Another question interests me: who could bring charges against Ms. Dragas under the University's Honor Code? A student? A professor? A dean? An administrator? What would be the appropriate composition of the Honor Court that will consider The Case of Helen Dragas?
I remind you: She's Gotta Go! Before she does any more damage.
As a side note, her political career may not be over; does anyone think it is possible that Helen Dragas will become Virginia's first female governor. Would she be the first Lieutenant Governor? I mean -- IF anyone would vote for her after she blew up this mess in our faces.

Helen Dragas would have been thrown under the bus already except that she knows to much to go quietly.

Hopefully she will be caught up in some other scandal (her personal life or business) and quietly move on to play out her power trip fantasies somewhere else.

Perhaps she could try a stint as a domanitrix in DC, I am sure Joe biden needs a good spanking after his gaff in danville....

So did Strine. So they paid Strine $850k to go away (now officially a 1%er). What you are actually saying is that they can't afford to pay Dragas?

Wouldn't it be cheaper, easier and more honorable to be open and transparent? This skullduggery is a very costly MO. What has become of our institutions of higher learning? They're behaving like organized crime. It's basically racketeering! Student Loan "sharking"? Cover ups, pay offs, booze, drugs etc. Think about it!!!!!

Redefining members of the Board of Visitors as part of the University community, and thus subject to the University's honor code would be the simplest and most effective way to deal with the problem. Requiring publication of the official minutes and papers of the BOV after a suitable lapse of time might seem to help but would probably just increase the propensity toward covert machinations. Covert machinations are what will usually happen when you let "successful" businessmen and financiers onto the BOV without requiring them to adhere to the University's Honor Code, which I believe, by the way, applies to private and personal actions that might bring discredit or dishonor upon the University. The effect of the Honor Code is not limited to "Don't cheat on the test and don't plagiarize or claim another's work as your own." It's much more than that.

moi.... I think my theories do apply to Strine... it is a business like it or not and that is what goes on... payoffs, power plays, back stabbing etc... It should NOT be but the University has a greed that must be satiated somehow.

UVA. Invisible... The reason I call this a travesty is because the author puts his credentials out there and expects the reader to believe the marlarky because he wrote a book.

If he were just an average joe with an opinon I would simlpy disagree but he is the one who claims to be an expert and I think people like him are the kind of THErapists who tell clients that the reason nobody likes them is never their fault and they just need a pill to get them through until people realize what a wonderful person they really are. In this case he ignores the logistical reality andf expects Dr Sullivan yo sit on the floor in the grocery store until she gets her way. Ridiculous.



"Yo sit on the floor" yourself, Bill Marshall. The key is applying the Honor Code to members of the BOV. They can at least swear to abide by it in their oath of office. Do the BOV members actually take an oath of office? Does anyone know? If so, what is it? If not -- WHY NOT?

Helen Dragas must go .... !!!!

Clearly she's nothing -- less than zero? -- unless she lets her friends at Hill & Knowlton do her thinking for her.



I have no problem with expanding the Honor Code to the BOV... but not retroactivily, THAT would be dishonorable.

Dragas will get hers... but these things take time. The chain of command needs to be respected. If they tossed her then they would have to worry about what that does to the power curve of future UVA Presidents. Dragas has her hands tied right now and will do no harm. Retribution serves no purpose.

The best revenge is living well.

If Sullivan succeeds with Dragas in place then she will prove her worth despite having an enemy in her midst.

There is no need for Sullivan to do anything other than what she is doing.

There is no need for the outside community to try and force Dragas to leave. She will get hers. I don't know when. I don't know how, but she will not survive this if for no other reason than she is as reminder of something the UVA wants put behind them...(you notice the bully at Virginia Quarterly is gone)

Thanks, Bill, I needed that. Seems like some folks just want to let bullies be bullies, and those that get bullied must deserve it somehow. Living well is indeed the best revenge. My old tormentor is now a fat, reviled object of scorn.


One would think that the honor code is automatically subsumed!!!!

Duh, in the real world of business people lie cheat and steal all the time but when they get caught they get fired. That's the real world. Politicians are the only exception to that rule.

"Duh, in the real world of business people lie cheat and steal all the time but when they get caught they get fired. That's the real world. Politicians are the only exception to that rule."

I guess that is why all the bankers are in jail.....

UVA is not pizza hut.... it is a very sophisticated place with all kinds of different agendas

"I wish I had communicated more frequently with more members of the board."

Frankly, this is a problem. A competent president would not have let this happen to him or her. Do your job Teresa.

That said, dragas resign.

Ms. Dragas seems to have demonstrated to 'most everybody's satisfaction that the University of Virginia can do very well without her possibly well-intentioned but ultimately misguided efforts at cabal-building.

Right now - before the new academic year gets under way -- would be an ideal time for Ms. Dragas to take a 3 month vacation on an island in the Aegean. She can return for the Messiah Sing-In -- and we'll all give her a standing ovation.

@Ponce De leon

"I guess that is why all the bankers are in jail....." Touche!

Joking aside, the bankers own the politicians. Its been their best ROI.

"UVA is not pizza hut.... it is a very sophisticated place with all kinds of different agendas"

All those other agendas besides education. No wonder our business world is so corrupt. We churn out students from our Colleges with massive amounts of debt, who go on to be our business leaders and lawyers. Now it all makes sense!

If there are no true ideals in US Colleges, the one place in our society where ideals should be respected and encouraged, what differentiates us from countries like Nigeria and India where corruption is rampant?

We've totally lost the plot. Slipping and sliding into third world status. It seems the behavior of Dragas, the BoV and Sullivan's u-turn have become common place and acceptable. How sad that corruption is considered normal and excused as a real world matter of fact, instead of being reviled as a cancer and treated accordingly. Once upon a time we were looked at by the rest of the world as the country that set high standards and ideals. We've not only lost our industries but we have lost our moral compass.

Isn't Thomson the same person who wrote or was interviewed and said the fact that Sullivan was "fat" would make thin people, like Dragas, unconsciously resent and dislike her?

Revenge is a dish best served cold!

I live in the real world and I think that fixing the problem by seeing justice realized is better than avoiding conflict by 'moving on' prematurely. Organizations traumatized by scandal and misbehavior tend to reactively seek to regain stability by rushing to some lowest-common denominator settlement that minimally satisfies the parties involved, all in hopes of getting things 'back on track' as quickly as possible. This is error in many cases, sort of like a quicky operation that doesn't resolve the root-cause of the problem.

My emotional understanding of the article is that the author objects to the failure of this half-hearted process to fully restore justice because it has not adequately investigated, exposed, and corrected the root-cause of the incident. And it seems that most of us agree that it is unsatisfying. In fact, no one seems satisfied that the matter has been fully understood and successfully resolved. Instead, it has been papered over, which is what you'd expect from the mediocre, the 'realistic,' the weak, the cowardly or the foolish.

So, it seems like most everyone agrees that Dragas behaved in a harmful way that was inconsistent with organizational values and that she should be dismissed. So, why hasn't she been? What is the strength required for such a move and why is it lacking? Look to the decision-maker(s), not the victim.

I'd probably like to see Ms. Dragas depart for the obloquy she may deserve, but on the other hand, the resolution seemed so astoundingly pat that I have to wonder if the end result that two of the smartest, most successful women in Virginia actually achieved wasn't exactly what they had planned all along.

How do you see that anything positive was achieved? Only possible outcome that I can see viewed as positive would be Strine's if he cared nothing about his reputation and managed to quickly land another position equal to his position at UVA.

The jury is still not out on Strine. We still don't really know why they fired him. Wait a little longer.........