Provost John Simon's address to the Faculty Senate
Today is father’s day. This is for my sons, so that they have personal examples of courage during a crisis.
This morning, I got the following email:
Dear Provost Simon,
As someone who walked the Lawn and received a degree from the College four weeks ago, I’ve been closely following the news regarding President Sullivan’s resignation. I’ve seen how this situation has quickly escalated into one capable of inflicting great harm upon the University, perhaps even the most harm the University has seen in recent memory. I can also imagine how all of this has put you in a tough position both professionally and personally.
While I don’t know what the next couple of days will entail, I just wanted to send a quick message of appreciation. You’re an important figure on Grounds, someone who both faculty and the greater community is looking to for support in these uncertain circumstances. Don’t hesitate to do what you think is right, and don’t hesitate to be a leader, especially now when there’s quite the leadership vacuum at the University.
Finally, I hope our paths may cross sometime soon; I believe this is the first time I’ve tried to directly contact you.
What struck me in this email was the phrase “Don’t hesitate to do what you think is right, and don’t hesitate to be a leader.” I have been trying to do this, with talking at the town hall meeting with the Darden community, meeting with the chairs of the College, and other faculty meetings. But you, the faculty, are the University, and as the Chief Academic Office, I would be running away from my responsibilities if I did not address you. So here it is.
In 2001, then President Casteen established a University-wide committee to explore the concept of honor at the University. The committee was chaired by Patricia Werhane, Ruffin Professor of Business Ethics. Their report entitled, “Envisioning Integrity at the University of Virginia: Invigorating a Community of Trust,” stated in the executive summary, “The revised aim of the Envisioning Integrity Team is to expose the entire University community to sets of experiences in which they confront, question, and reflect on honor, comprised of integrity and trust, as a core value underpinning all University life.”
I came to the University of Virginia because I was convinced this was the right time and the right opportunity to be part of a leadership team at one of America’s greatest universities. Economic and political challenges are placing higher education at risk at precisely the time when higher education is needed most to provide the ideas and people to guide our nation and world into the future. I saw the opportunity to work with outstanding faculty, staff and students and through partnership with the loyal alumni and other supporters of this great institution, the University of Virginia had the opportunity to be a beacon for the value of public education, especially given its legacy as Thomas Jefferson’s University. I am a firm believer that at the core of the University of Virginia is, and needs to be, a strong and broad liberal arts education. It is a liberal arts education that provides students with the tools to become the lifelong learners as they must be, and to develop the skills and self-confidence needed to take on the challenges that they will face in their lives.
I now find myself at a defining moment, confronting and questioning whether honor, integrity, and trust are truly the foundational pillars of life at the University of Virginia. I find myself at a moment when the future of the University is at risk and what our political leadership value in the University is no longer clear. Much has appeared in the press over the last week, and the reputational consequences will be with us for many years to come. But I am now wondering whether my own beliefs about the values of higher education are consistent with our Board.
The Board actions over the next few days will inform me as to whether the University of Virginia remains the type of institution I am willing to dedicate my efforts to help lead.