Professors' group blasts UVa board over president's thwarted ouster
The American Association of University Professors supports the accreditation with warning label for UVa in citing a "crude" exercise of power by board rector.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE — A national university professor organization criticizes the University of Virginia’s governing board — and particularly Rector Helen Dragas — in a report released today on last summer’s attempt to oust President Teresa Sullivan.
The American Association of University Professors called the ouster attempt a “crude exercise of naked power” and said its investigation found no reasoning for it. Dragas orchestrated last summer’s surprise firing of Sullivan, igniting a firestorm of protests by faculty, students, alumni and the public. The Board of Visitors later reinstated Sullivan.
The report says Dragas and the board failed to follow the evaluation process adopted seven months earlier when it removed Sullivan without a vote. It calls for greater faculty involvement in governance and for governors to appoint board members based on expertise, rather than political patronage. It also calls for the Faculty Senate to select faculty members that advise the governing boards, rather than the administration, and says a faculty member should be on the board. Boards already contain a non-voting student member.
It supported the school’s accrediting agency’s decision to place the university on warning while it investigates what happened.
“We’d like to engage with the board and help the board figure out a way to re-engage with the faculty,” said professor Walter F. Heinecke, of the newly formed local chapter of the association.
The report is particularly critical of Dragas, who it describes as “imbued with a belief in ‘engaged trusteeship,’” acting with “single-minded zeal” while not informing herself of the “essentials in the underlying matters she claimed to give rise to that drive.”
Robert Kreiser, senior program officer for the group, said the investigative team met with Sullivan, former President John Casteen and Provost John Simon, as well as deans and faculty members. It also reviewed hundreds of pages of documents, he said.
Dragas refused to answer the group’s questions. But in a letter after reading a draft of the report, she said it contained “multiple errors of fact and comment” but to answer its questions “would rehash past events and repeat corrections that are part of the public record.”
She said the board has been “clear and consistent in our commitment to focus instead on the opportunities and challenges” facing the university. “President Sullivan is a full partner with the board of visitors in that commitment,” she wrote.