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.