Mending fences: And losing weight, Sullivan tells all

In her first press conference since her triumphant June 26 reinstatement as the University of Virginia president, Teresa Sullivan met with reporters in Carr's Hill, the presidential mansion, to herald the new academic year and take questions about the recent turmoil. The August 22 get-together touched on such big topics as governance, professor replacement, and even the burning question of the president's appearance, part of a recent Hook story on the potential of appearance-based bullying.

In contrast to her foil, Rector Helen Dragas– who, after giving the media just three minutes one Sunday afternoon, began relying on statements from Hill & Knowlton word-crafters– the president replied to all questions, even commenting on the search for a new chief operating officer. The last one, Michael Strine, resigned in early August after the release of emails showing him to be currying favor with the Rector.

"It's been quite clear that, contractually, that person reports to the president," said Sullivan. "I'll make it even more clear if it needs to be."

The president launched her press conference, however, with an exaltation of the arriving class of 2016.

"Every new class gets to enjoy being the strongest class in school history for exactly one year," said a smiling Sullivan. "That's until the next class arrives with stronger credentials."

In response to a question, she remarked that Governor Bob McDonnell called her the Friday before reinstatement to say he'd been told that the ouster decision had been "unanimous," a further blow to the credibility of Rector Dragas, who although having engineered the president's removal, went on to win the governor's blessing for a second term on the governing board.

"What happened here was unique, but the issues that surfaced during the controversy are not unique," said Sullivan. "They're the same issues that face every university in America but particularly public universities.

"Our progress over the next two years," she continued, "will be a bellwether for all of public higher education in America, and it's a mistake not to think everyone's watching."

How much convincing did she need to resume the reins?
"I was not very hard to persuade. I felt that I had a lot of work to do."

Does she now feel "bullet-proof"?
"No one should ever feel bullet-proof."

How were donations after reinstatement?
"After June 26, there was a remarkable boost."

On the recently-announced Coursera online partnership:
"That's an experiment, not a business plan."

On her newfound rock-star status:
"I will be going to New York City the first week in September, and we sent out an email, and all the seats filled in 10 minutes. We had to get a second venue, and there will be live-streaming."

Is she losing weight?
"Summer is a wonderful time for health– there are lots of good healthy fruits and vegetables, especially here. We've been blessed here at the University with several gymnasia where I am known to work out."

Why did her prepared remarks at the June 26 BOV meeting presume reinstatement?
"I had two speeches with me."

This story is a part of the President Sullivan retakes the reins special.
Read more on: Teresa Sullivan


A class act.

Are you losing weight? Really? Were Sullivan male, a reporter ( presumably) would never have asked this irrelevant, degrading and insulting question. And the Hook shows bad form in including the exchange in this article. are spot on.

However, I like her use of words..."We have been blessed with several gymnasia.." As though God, with all the goings on in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere, found time from His busy day to contemplate the need for new gyms on Grounds.

But, in keeping with The Hook's lean towards Dr. Sullivan, she seems like a pleasant broad.

R.I.P.: Dan Rowan

The appearance issue is interesting and significant because I do feel it provided fuel for Dragas's dislike of Sullivan, and so to claim it was sexist one needs to make note that here we have the first woman rector trying to get rid of the first woman president of UVa. This would be an interesting case study on it's own.
I am glad several professors will have courses to study this disaster in decision making.

I still believe UVa will be dysfunctional as long as Helen Dragas is on the Board. And no one who supports her can be trusted, so at this point the entire BOV is suspect.

ND, agree!

@Nancy Drew -- anorexics don't like plush pillows?
No university with a commitment to its Honor Code can go forward with a Rector on its Board of Visitors who has so egregiously violated that Honor Code, first -- by claiming a PR agency's written work as her own, and second -- by lying to the other members of the Board of Visitors and to Terry Sullivan. Lying. So, as for Ms. Dragas:


Maybe we can get UVa to start The Jefferson School of Gastronomy?

For moral and intellectural reasons, Mrs. Dragas should go--just a manner of how and when.

..""It's been quite clear that, contractually, that person reports to the president," said Sullivan. "I'll make it even more clear if it needs to be.""

Love that line! She knows everyone knows the deal, yet stays understated and classy. I didn't know anything about this President before this incident, but I have grown to like and respect her.

you know, her understated style absolutely destroyed Dragas, Hill and Knowlton in the public relations battle. She really, really good at answering questions and knowing exactly how much to say and how to say it. Very impressive.

What a first class act! Dr. Sullivan has more class in her pinky than Ms. Dragas has in her whole body. As a older male who recently lost a lot of weight, I can tell you that it isn't easy to do and it is not an issue for discussion in this situation.

There are many in the Commonwealth who should be looking for other opportunities. The include the Governor and Ms. Dragas. Bobby boy destroyed his chances for national office or a cabinet post by making a very poor decision to reappoint Ms. Dragas. Not that Bobby would be appointed when the President wins a second term this November.

Goodbye Bobby, Helen, Mitt and Paul!

@Lawn...the prez prolly will do so but really the cult of personality thing, without actual results, makes one think of Stalin and Mao. Where is a short little farmer guy when you need him?

Keep up the GOOD WORK Statist big B!

Again Hawes and the Hook stoop to new lows asking the President about losing weight. Who else but the Hook would ask such a stupid, irrelevant question.

@WooHoo: Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention that it was an NPR-affiliated female radio reporter who asked the weight question.-hawes spencer

It looks like President Sullivan got a new hair cut, too. So what? How are her looks relevant? You should do an article on how Helen Dragas looks. She might be bulimic.

We can trust you not to be so gauche, Mr. Spencer .... Thanks very much for your reporting on this issue, which is very dear to my heart. I've had borrowing privileges at Alderman and the other UVA libraries since the late Sixties. I'd like to see the U begin video recording lectures in order to make them available to all citizens of the Commonwealth. I'd be particularly interested in encouraging Ms. Dragas to revisit her notion of what might constitute the difference between ethical behavior in the business world and ethical behavior in the academical world at Mr. Jefferson's University. However, I do think it was very good of her to replace the defective, toxic, poisonous Chinese drywall that her building company installed in a good many houses down at the Beach without waiting to see if an insurance company would foot the bill. Although Ms. Dragas has demonstrated that she is capable of organizing a cabal, I do not believe she is capable of leading an academical organization. Perhaps she will prove me wrong by offering her resignation: contingent upon a secret ballot vote by all of the Deans and tenured Professors - up or down, confidence or none -- shall she go or shall she stay? But I really think she lacks the courage for that. For Ms. Sullivan, my respect keeps going up -- I'd work for her as a personal chef and secretary any time.

@ Hawes - are you after ratings and hits to your online newsletter?

Very disturbing that you bring up a university president's weight; especially a female. Dr. Sullivan is a brilliant administrator, scholar and writer.

If you want to address weight in America...Go after the food industry for their gross mass production of hormone/antibiotic enhanced beef, chicken and turkey. PR firms for promoting safe food with addictive additives and hormones to food (schools in the USA consider pizza a vegetable). And, pharmaceutical companies for promoting the use of hormones, antibiotics and diet pills. Diet pills that offer false hope (pharmaceutical companies only have to demonstrate a statistical difference in efficacy and not harm humans; and they squash studies that don't prove statistical significance).

Dr. Sullivan is a brilliant President at a top research university.

Take a look at some of the male University Presidents like: Utah State, Penn State, Denison - these university presidents would not stand for this type of journalism. There are statistically far more overweight male university presidents than female.

Apply your journalistic 'talent' to the fact that Dragas is through, and does harm to the university the longer she stays. And, the only way to remove Dragas from UVA BoV is through the General Assembly (a bunch of men). That's it. There is no way out and the story is pretty much over.

Alternatively, Ms. Dragas could prove her fitness to lead the Board of Visitors by encouraging the Board to adopt new rules regarding ethical behavior by its members: in short, by subjecting herself and all of the visitors to the University's honor code, and also by prohibiting secret, off the record votes by members of the Board of Visitors: all votes to be tallied, and nailed to the wall if necessary. Such secrecy as we have seen recently is not good at an honor code school -- if only because it can foster duplicitous behavior and outright lies. Ms. Dragas might do well to take a six month vacation on a small no-telephones attached island in the Aegean. She probably needs a long period of very quiet contemplation. And just to even things up and show that there are no hard feelings at my house, I'll offer to work as her personal chef and secretary any time she needs one.

@WR if you listen to the tape of the Sullivan interview linked under the photo above, it was Sandy Hausman from NPR who asked the weight question. The Hook reporting it and Sullivan's response is news. It provides and example of her openness, honesty and willingness to not duck from the press as Dragas has done. This allows those of us not at the press conference to know what transpired.

I appreciate the coverage the Hook has given us throughout this ongoing affair.

I'd like to see the same reporter asking Ms. Dragas why she is so skinny -- anorexia? some other eating disorder? drugs? a fabulous diet? running five miles a day? nervous energy?
Clearly, henceforward, all members of the Board of Visitors should agree to be checked for drug use and/or even alcohol usage to a degree that might impair their ability to make the right kind of leadership decisions: decisions that build consensus in the wider community, NOT decisions that shame the University. Obloquy is the fate Ms. Dragas deserves -- and "she brought it on her ownself."

@NancyDrew - I just get tired of having Dr. Sullivan's image tarnished. I will look at the NPR piece, thank you.

@Anyone, prove that any male university president in this nation has had to undertake what President Sullivan has in her very short term.

Dragas is a plant from Governor McDonnell. She will not go away unless the General Assembly approves. The General Assembly is full of WHITE ANGLO SAXON MALES who only want what's best for their pocket books.

They are using Dragas as a pawn. I don't see how she can sleep at night. My daugher, 22, finds her actions vulgar and reprehensible. Dragas is not representing the majority. Dragas represents Governor McDonnell, who, until recently, applauded Todd Akin's positions.

For clarification the tape above isn't from NPR it is the actual press conference.
Definitely worth listening to in order to appreciate the full impact of President Sullivan's persona.

Well, BULLY for Governor McDonnell and his support of Todd Akin. They are both, with Representative Ryan and Mr. Send Jobs Overseas so I can make more money Romney, emblematic of what is so terribly wrong with what used to be the Grand Old Party. Is started out a Goldwater Republican and then moved farther to the right. But these guys want to steal the whole cake. I'd be curious to know if Ms. Dragas is a Republican stalwart -- has she condemned Mr. Akin's remarks?

...funny thing is that Dragas is a registered democrat who had hoped to sneak in as Lt. Governor for the State of VA some time soon.

According to my source at the Governor's office, all Dragas has to do is hold on at the BoV and not be removed my the General Assembly. The 'old' General Assembly won't act so -- we will be stuck with Dragas.

All these scenarios have been played out by Hill & Knowlton and the Govs office.

The majority do NOT have a voice.

It is clearly a put up and shut up governorship ruling Virginia.

mistake: "my" should be "BY"

@Nancy Drew - please post the NPR link. I cannot find it...thank you

Do you see the bar under the picture of Sullivan above ? You just click on the arrow and the tape starts rolling. Enjoy - a class act. Wouldn't surprise me if her next job is President of the United States of America. What a coup to hire someone of this caliber, and to think we almost lost her.

Dragas is a complete failure. She has proven to be GREAT HARM to UVA.

I am grateful that Dr. Sullivan agreed to stay with the UVA. She deserves better. We would love to have Dr. Sullivan on the West Coast.

Dr. Sullivan is clearly the leader of UVA. She is in the right position at the right time.

Dr. Sullivan is a professional, and Rector Dragas is a hindrance to the UVA.

President Sullivan is a keeper; and Helen Dragas must be removed. Dragas no longer serves a positive role in UVA BoV governance. Dragas is a complete failure and we have had enough.

I am no longer interested in Dragas' excuses and reasoning behind President Sullivan's June forced resignation. There MUST be a complete removal of Dragas' influence which have proven to be negative and a toll on UVA.

Dragas lacks leadership, educational expertise to guide UVA; she lacks the view of tenured professors; she is lacking in everything that a university requires. Helen Dragas proved to be of great harm to UVA.

Well, maybe Ms. Dragas could arrange an Aegean retreat for the Deans, the BoV and herself and Ms. Sullivan. Ms. Dragas might propose starting a new School of Leadership and Public Service at UVA. Getting that off the ground would be an interesting accomplishment. People who have good character are more likely to LEAD; people who have bad character are more likely to FORM CABALS. Perhaps more research is necessary to determine how much of good or bad character can be learned, and how much is innate. That means offers some hope: it's possible that Ms. Dragas may yet learn how to LEAD; the process might take several years of self improvement and real learning as she builds on the positive elements of her character. If she does manage to learn how to LEAD, there is a very strong chance that she'll be Virginia's first female governor. And starting the School of Leadership and Public Service would be a fantastic legacy. Ms. Dragas will probably have to dispense with the services of Hill & Knowlton, however -- the firm seems to have encouraged the worst kind of bad behavior, and its influence brought discredit and dishonor on the Board of Visitors and on the University. Plenty of smart minds at H&K, though -- so I'm willing to believe that whatever they proposed would sound good on paper. So often, the seductive attraction of power attracts small minds like a candle flame attracts moths. Let's hope Ms. Dragas can learn from this experience and that she will manage to do better next time.

Mr. Gehman, Multiple comments from people as part of ongoing discussions can be very interesting and add to the debate, but no one posts as frequently and at the length as you do. Moderation, please. The comments section of the Hook is not your personal blog.

I find Christian Gehman's entries interesting and appreciate them.

I appreciate his posts and his concern. He gets how important this issue is. Anyone can skip any post they choose.

So was it Sandy Hausman that asked if President Sullivan lost the weight? If so I can only imagine what woulod have happened if a male news reporter had asked the same question.

Seriously why isn't there more outrage on this.

@IC -- this is the most important series of events to have happened at UVA since I arrived in 1969; I was at Carr's Hill in -- 1974? ... The 5,000 words I have contributed to the several stories on this issue seem not that much to me ... but in fact my wonderful girl friend wishes I would spend a wee bit more time cleaning house for her sister's birthday party this Saturday. I'd give a party for all the commenters and contributors but doubt many will drive to far Bumpass -- however, someone should give the party When It's Over. I'll invite anyone contacts me to a party, either around my birthday or closer to Three Kings Day.
@ Ginger - I don't see any contributions from you on this issue; maybe I just missed them? Try writing more. I'm always glad when I write anything.

Brevity is the soul of wit.

R.I.P.: Big Pun

This from the Newsplex website story is the most exciting thing I have heard President Sullivan say since the reinstatement:

"I think at a time when higher education is certainly under attack that the University of Virginia is one of the bellwethers of public higher education. And I felt I still had work to do here," Sullivan said.

Sullivan says it's time for the university to be a national leader and model in higher education, adding that it would be a mistake to think nobody is watching."

The fact that the conservatives tried this at UVA the top public university dedicated to the production of critical thinking citizens is very important. The fact that it got stopped by a grassroots coalition of alums, donors, faculty, staff, students, parents, and citizens is very significant. While the plan may have succeeded in Wisconsin, Texas, and other places, the fact that a line was drawn on the sand here at the Rotunda is very significant.

Time to roll back the tide of attacks against public higher education. The roll back should start inside the rotunda and spread far and wide through the land. We should be a national leader in faculty shared governance, transparency, and education for a democratic nation, and citizen participation in policy.

I like Sullivan's thinking here!

@citizen party -- North Carolina already outspends Virginia on public education at its public universities. Is it possible that "the conservatives tried this at UVA" have a vested interest in encouraging the people to remain ill-educated?

@ Chris Gehman,

Exactly the argument Jefferson made in response to Lord Berkeley's reticence to spend money on public education. And yes at that time Lord Berkeley was a conservative and wanted political stability and the no rabble rousing.

Where does NC get its funds to outspend VA?

Whether anyone likes it or not, weight has become an issue in our society at all levels. The weight issue arose during the UVA travails this summer. And so, it was not off-the-wall to raise the issue at this point, particularly because it appears Sullivan has lost some weight over the summer. As a public figure, Sullivan avails herself of scrutiny of all types. particularly by the media, and she handled the issue with deftness at her news conference. For that, she should be applauded.

Just passed out BULLY for DRAGAS! stickers. Went like hotcakes.Here's the most common take I heard expressed. Students and parents think: Dragas tricked Dr. Sullivan into resigning by lying that she had the votes needed. What no one can understand is why would the Gov reappoint Dragas??? What is going on??? Second most common probably, no joke either, from female students, various versions of if Dragas crosses path she will be spat upon.

@did -- Ms. Sullivan's aplomb, we applaud. But my opinion is that the (female?) reporter from the other media outlet might be better off if she were reassigned to a first-hand investigative piece on chicken processing plants in Virginia.

Mr Gehman,

I applaud your most recent comment. Ms. Hausman should have known better. I doubt she would have wanted to be asked the same question.

Further to these thoughts: the whole fandango seems a bit too pat -- it would not surprise me all that much to discover, years down the road, that Ms. Dragas and Ms. Sullivan actually were on the same side all along. That's why I think the Aegean retreat for the BoV and the Deans would be the best plan. I'll volunteer to take care of the food and wine arrangements. The main issue is more money for UVA and Virginia's other public universities; it's worth pointing out that Governor Bob now has been given a very good stick to wave around in the House of Delegates when he asks for more money.

@ CG: You mean an orchestrated spectacle to create a crisis with which to ply the VA Leg. for more state support? Interesting theory but probably more about ideological differences and strategery.

Something tells me Gov. Bob is not really interested in waving the "more public money for UVa" stick with the HoD. With the efficiency in Govt. budgeting mission, not sure rearranging what we have to work with now does UVa or the other publics much good. To go from 8-9% state funding to full funding would require more than rearranging the deck chairs.

The main issue is where to get more money for UVA and other publics: More efficiencies and corporate-like money making schemes or tax support? The whole "Universities are bloated and inefficient" argument is just Hill and Knowlton speak. We shouldn't have to trade roads or social services for public university funding.

Who pays for it is who owns it. If its paid for by private interests its owned by private interests really. Do we really want the "Verizon" stretch of 64? Pretty soon there would be a toll road every 30 miles from cville to Richmond.

We can't use donor funds or the endowment for faculty and staff salaries because of earmarks and donor requests. I say we try an experiment: declare that all donations will go into the general UVA fund and will be used as the University sees fit. If donors don't want to give under those circumstances, we get the State to pay the residual. Philanthropy is good except when it isn't.

The only way to be rid of Ms. Dragas is to vote for a gubernatorial candidate in November 2013 who will dis-appoint her from the BoV (if the General Assembly does confirm her in January). Take your passion to the voting booth and elect leaders who will make more thoughtful and qualified appointments,whether to the BoV or the courts or as heads of state agencies. Remember that Tim Kaine initially appt'd Dragas, but Bob McDonnell didn't want to change horses midstream and hates to have anyone take him off message, which he likes to control, so he just took the course of least resistance and re-appointed her. Reporters should ask candidates who/what type of people they would appoint to positions of leadership in their administrations. Oh,I forgot, questions like that don't sell papers or boost ratings ;-)

I hope people will email, write, or call their delegate and senator prior to January about BOV appointments. Once they are confirmed there will probably be no going back.

With the General Assembly having the authority not to confirm, people wishing to have Mrs. Dragas removed should by all means contact their delegate and senator accordingly. A possible alternative would be to create enough pressure, e.g., signatures on a computer petition, for her to resign. In communicating with members of the General Assembly, one should not overlook the larger issue--standards for board appointments. Currently, big money and politics trump merit generally.

Maybe it's all been a really devious plot betwixt Ms. Dragas and Ms. Sullivan to get more funding for public universities in Virginia? Hasn't it seemed a bit too pat ... so far?

I see your point. The Gov was probably set up. Of course Paul Tudor Jones was in on the plan too. Made promises Gov couldn't refuse. Now that they have the goods on the Gov he'll be forced to give UVA whatever they demand. Explains everything. Too pat or genius? 

Waaal, I'd be willing to concede that (all things considered) those two might be, or might have the potential to be if they start working together -- the smartest and most capable team of high-powered women ever to bless the Commonwealth since Dolly Madison.

And that's ALL I'm opining about that possibility, though I will note that when Beauty and Genius combine, they usually achieve their goals.

@ C. Gehman & IC - Hill & Knowlton plants no doubt. Your comments are ludicrous.

Weekend reader, my post was meant to be  taken as friendly sarcasm. Part of the problem is the truth is so seemingly far fetched combined with the lack of transparency that it leads to all kinds of speculation which will continue until as stated in the Alumni Open Letter to BOV, " Board members finally explain candidly, to satisfy common sense, what really motivated them to act so precipitously." Until common sense is satisfied expect speculation to continue ranging from being appearance related to a power play from the rapper MC Blossom and more. Agree though, ludicrous that this situation has been allowed to continue.

As for H&K, I think I might much prefer working for Heckler & Koch; at least they create a functional product.

The NPR affiliated reporter really overstepped by commenting on President Sullivan's weight. The question, which was really a comment, was totally irrelevant and unprofessional. Questions about personal appearance are not acceptable in a professional setting. This is not a question this reporter would have asked President Casteen, Leonard Sandridge or any other male official. As usual President Sullivan handled it with perfect aplomb. I hope the reporter's news director and general manager will take a look at this. For some time this reporter has been coming across as pretty self important and I choose to no longer listen to her stories.

Before we start name calling, it might be worth knowing exactly what was said at Teresa Sullivan’s news conference. After asking a number of serious questions, reporter Sandy Hausman, who is about Sullivan’s age and herself battles the bulge, smiled and said:

“You look well, and I hope this is not construed as rude -- coming from someone who could stand to lose a few pounds.”

Sullivan, who was dressed in slimming black, chuckled – anticipating the question.

“Are you, in fact, losing weight, and did you take to heart any of the discussion of whether personal appearance was a factor in your ouster?”

Sullivan laughed again, then responded in a way that clearly signaled she did not.

“You know summer is a wonderful time for health. There are lots of good, healthy vegetables and fruits available, especially here. We’re blessed at the university with several wonderful gymnasia, where I am known to work out. I do think that taking care of your own health is an important thing for anybody in a job like this.”

We live in a culture that puts considerable emphasis on appearance, especially in the business world from which so many members of the board of visitors hail. The question was legitimate and could certainly have been asked of a man. Larry King's weight loss and Rudy Giuliani's comb over certainly got their share of ink.

What a ridiculous statement by the Hook. President Sullivan is a brilliant administrator, scholar, author and educator. We would love to have her at any of our University of California sites. We would pay handsomely for someone with Dr. Sullivan's credentials.

I hope Dr. Sullivan quits and she seeks a worthy University that would guarantee her position 7 years, as well as her husband, and pay off the UVA. UVA is so undeserving.

Rector Dragas treated Dr. Sullivan as if she were a puppet.

I would fire Dragas, hang on to Sullivan, and replace the entire BoV. Nau makes me ill. What a shame for a highly reputable public institution.

Nau should be audited by the IRS. The relationship between Nau and the Rector of UVA should be audited. This is clearly an anomaly. And, clearly illegal.

Anomalies do not work out well. Nau and Dragas were the instigators behind the demise of President Sullivan. Their actions were wrong, and the President survived.

FOIA should be revisited and audited, and UVA must account for their wrong-doings.

Nau and Dragas are behind the ouster of President Sullivan. Unless they prove otherwise, but they can't because their personal emails state and confirm otherwise.

Get rid of Nau and Dragas and let the University of Virginia move forward with credibility. Not 'Bankability'!

Thanks but NO THANKS Nau.

Seems we have hit a nerve! Nau is not protecting the UVA; he is protecting Dragas. Dragas must resign.

...good luck retaining faculty in this environment!

Watching from California,

Yes the whole episode gives the South a bad name like a back water little town and the University comes off like a plantation. At the University of Oregon this type of shenanigans led to a faculty union. We hope here in right to work land, the faculty maintain their nerve for political action rather than going back to the gentile plantation life now that the elites have made peace..

Still don't get why Sullivan didn't challenge Dragas at the front end of this and demand a public vote.

@ Citizen Party ... as things went along, it all began to seem a little too pat to me.

I love that Terry Sullivan said "gymnasia."