Independent board fires university president without consulting faculty.

6/19/2012: The NYT reports on Dragas’s firing of UVA Pres:

The board’s united front showed its first serious cracks, as four of the 15 voting members sent an emissary on Sunday night to the president, Teresa Sullivan, to discuss the terms on which she would stay, according to people briefed on the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Still, the board’s leader, Helen E. Dragas, the university rector, showed no sign of backing away from replacing Dr. Sullivan, saying at the outset of the Board of Visitors meeting that the decision was the product of “an overwhelming consensus of the board.” She acknowledged the widespread view that the board had failed to explain the dismissal, but offered no further rationale. 
“We want to express our sincere regret for the pain, anger and confusion” the board’s actions have caused, Ms. Dragas said, adding that “our actions too readily lent themselves to perceptions of being opaque.”

Their November report on Pernsteiner’s firing of Lariviere is here.

6/17-18/2012 updates: The parallels are astonishing:

More on protest and intrigue here, involving a donor. Meanwhile UVa Faculty Senate leadership demands board chair Dragas resign, faculty representation on board:

Statement of Faculty Senate Executive Council Concerning Meeting with Rector Dragas

June 18, 2012

This morning, the Faculty Senate Executive Council met with Rector Dragas to discuss the recent resignation of President Sullivan. We invited the Vice Rector, but he did not attend. The purpose of the meeting was to allow the Council to ask questions raised by the University faculty concerning recent events, and to hear the Board’s perspective.

We asked the Rector about the process and the reasons behind President Sullivan’s resignation; the principles of shared governance between the faculty, administration and the Board; the Board’s desire for a strategic plan; and the Board’s justification for the speedy and secretive nature of its actions.

We had a cordial discussion. Based on extensive input from our faculty constituents and the Rector’s responses to our questions, we made the following requests:

1. That the Board delay the naming of any interim president to provide an opportunity for shared governance;

2. That President Sullivan be reinstated;

3. That the Board recommend representation by UVA faculty on the Board as voting members; and

4. That the Rector and Vice Rector resign in the best interests of the University.

Channel 29 News has some video. (Full disclosure: I worked in the Channel 29 control room 35 years ago, as an FCC licensed first class radiotelephone operator.) The criticisms revolve around lack of transparency and shared governance. The UVa Faculty Senate met Sunday night, voting confidence in Sullivan, no confidence in the Rector, Board, etc. The Daily Progress reports UVa’s Provost John Simon is considering resigning. He says:

“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,” he said. “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. 

When the OUS Board fired Lariviere in November, UO’s Provost Jim Bean was enjoying a controversial and well paid administrative sabbatical. He immediately tried to get appointed to Lariviere’s job. The faculty stopped him. I’m trying to remember what Frohnmayer did and said when Lariviere was fired. Anyone? The Virginians are a bit tougher: former UVa President John Casteen said this at the meeting:

John T. Casteen III, the 20-year president of UVa before Sullivan was hired, said Sunday evening that the decision to remove Sullivan had been far too secretive.

“Obviously, I don’t know much about the ouster, because the board has not released very much information,” Casteen said. “And I’m not alone in thinking this, but I think there’s something flawed in the public process here. The assumption in Virginia law is that public business is done in view of the public, that people can see what’s going on, and it’s alarming to think that a decision this large was not made with the full time for discussion within the board and in particular not done within the appropriate view of the public.

“My situation is that I look for reasons and I don’t see them, and I look for information, evidence to show that the board has a formed philosophy that represents the future. And we haven’t heard what that philosophy is. Obviously, that need to be understood, and the president’s views of it need to be known and understood also. So the process is not what you’d want. It’s not the appropriate process.”

The secrecy is also at odds with the standards of sound university decision making, he said.

Casteen, who in earlier comments to the press had raised the idea of reconciliation between the board and Sullivan, said he’s “disappointed” if that conversation isn’t going on.

He also called for today’s meeting to be held entirely in open session.
“The cure for excessive secrecy is not more secrecy,” Casteen said. “It is open and responsible public discussions.”

UVA’s former President Teresa Sullivan has now hired Ray Cotton to represent her. Hope she got a cheaper rate than the $45,500 he charged Pernsteiner for a 12 page report cribbed from Chronicle data.

A commenter points us to this WaPo article, full of intrigue:

And in a frank 12-page strategic memo last month, Sullivan laid out the university’s fundamental academic weakness. U-Va. has a peerless reputation for undergraduate study, she wrote, but its graduate programs and research endeavors suffer from a “reputation gap.” Some vaunted doctoral programs don’t actually rank very high, and others are buoyed by a few star faculty.

Last month, the board adopted an operating budget that included substantial language culled from Sullivan’s strategy document, although most did not know it came from her memo. Yet, after Sullivan’s ouster, Dragas chided the president for lacking a “credible statement of strategic direction.”

One thing that strikes me is that as high-handed as Dragas appears – and it’s pretty amazing – at the root this seems to be actual dispute about how best to improve UVA. Compare this to the dispute that got Lariviere fired: he had a plan to improve UO, but the board and the governor did not want UO to get better, because they thought that would distract from the other state schools.

6/16/2012 update: Insidehighered has a *very* comprehensive piece on this by Chris Olds, here. Thanks to anonymous for the link. Michael Redding has used UVA as an example of how an independent board for UO might be structured. How to do this right certainly needs to be revisited now. One lesson, I think, is that a board must have more than token faculty representation – picked by the faculty, not the board or governor!

One story notes that the board may have broken VA’s public meetings law:

UVa is a public university, and any decision made about its leader should be made in public.

Dream on. I wonder if Virginia’s ethics enforcement is the same thin gruel that Ron Bersin and Oregon’s GEC serve up? Student protests, attacks on board:

“We’re not rabble-rousers here,” she said. “We’re simply calling for transparency.”
She called the invocation of Thomas Jefferson by the Board of Visitors “disgusting.”

6/15/2012 update: Faculty protests, resignations:

The gulf between University of Virginia officials and the school’s outraged faculty appeared to widen Thursday, as calls for unity from officials were met with a vote of no confidence from the Faculty Senate’s executive council. Late in the day, the author of a leaked email became the first casualty from the continuing scandal over the ouster of UVa President Teresa A. Sullivan.
In a resolution adopted by the body’s executive council during an emergency meeting, the faculty expressed “its lack of confidence in the Rector, the Vice Rector, and the Board of Visitors.”

(Older) More on UVA board’s firing of Teresa Sullivan in the Daily Progress here, and the Cavalier Daily here – including a complaint from the UVA faculty Senate. Been there, done that.

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20 Responses to Independent board fires university president without consulting faculty.

  1. Anonymous says:

    This UVa thing is so sad, and so reminiscent of what happened here. It makes me re-live my outrage over RL’s firing — on the very day we’re all supposed to be joining hands with Pernsteiner and the SBHE over Gottfredson’s hiring. I do wish Gottfredson well, and have nothing against him, and hope that he’s somehow a quiet visionary. But I’m going to approach the new regime with cold realism.

    FWIW, the UVa thing isn’t necessarily a story about independent boards, as UOMatters’s header implies. It could just as well be a story about MBAs vs. PhDs, corporate governance vs. shared governance, disruptive change vs. slow change, RCM budget models vs. non-RCM budget models, politicians vs. academics, or maybe just the desecration of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy.

    One thing seems clear at least: being a public university president is a dangerous job these days. As public higher education gets crunched in state after state, presidents have been paying with their jobs — whether for going too fast, as RL did, or too slow, as Teresa Sullivan apparently did. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. And faculty & students are helpless bystanders to it all.

    • Anonymous says:

      and if you think of it as MBAs vs PhDs then Sullivan is on the MBA side right? Because after all, she was a strong advocate of implementing an RCM budget model for the University, while the board apparently wanted more central control.

      Yeah, this is much more complicated, and interesting, than any journalist has discovered.

  2. uomatters says:

    I don’t mean that to imply this is about the evils of independent boards – just that they are not a panacea for the many problems universities face.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Maybe it’s not independent boards per se but the composition of such boards. If they end up being composed of corporate types with big money, we just exchange one power structure with certain incentives (not necessarily related to academic excellence as faculty would define it) with another power structure with different incentives. In either case, faculty governance as we would like it has a diminishing role. Maybe faculty need their own occupy movement. Or maybe our new prez will restore the academic integrity of our institution.

    • Anonymous says:

      “faculty governance as we would like it ” this isn’t an employee owned business – it’s a public institution.

    • Peter Keyes says:

      Read the Charter of the University of Oregon if you would like to understand the original intention for how the University would be governed. Maybe they had a better conception back in the 19th century as to which groups would best safeguard the interests of a public university.

    • UO Matters says:

      For the curious:

      University of Oregon Charter, 1876

      The President and professors constitute the faculty of the University, and, as such, shall have the immediate government and discipline of it and the students therein.

    • Anonymous says:

      More completely, from

      352.004 Presidents of public universities. The president of each public university within the Oregon University System is also president of the faculty. The president is also the executive and governing officer of the public university, except as otherwise provided by statute or action of the State Board of Higher Education. Subject to the supervision of the board, the president of the public university has authority to control and give general directions to the practical affairs of the public university. [Formerly 352.020; 2005 c.22 §249; 2011 c.637 §238]

      352.010 Status of faculty. The president and professors constitute the faculty of each of the public universities listed in ORS 352.002 and as such have the immediate government and discipline of the public university and the students therein, except as otherwise provided by statute or action of the State Board of Higher Education. The faculty may, subject to the supervision of the board under ORS 351.070, prescribe the course of study to be pursued in the public university and the textbooks to be used. [Amended by 1987 c.246 §4; 1989 c.492 §3; 2011 c.637 §59]

  4. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think reverting to a 19th-century governance structure is the remedy for the defects of our outmoded 20th-century one. References to the 1876 Charter in particular are more effective as rhetorical pieties rather than as guides to concrete action, and they lose force the more often the mantra is repeated.

    • Peter Keyes says:

      I’m a strict constructionist, so If you’ve got a problem with this approach, we’re gonna sic Scalia on you.

  5. Old Man says:

    Have any of you Anons read our UO Constitution? If you really want to find out if we have shared governance in a meaningful sense, I suggest you take it out for trial run. Make a constructive, substantive motion to the Senate, and see what happens.

    • Anonymous says:

      What happens will depend on the whims of the UO president. That’s a constitution?

  6. Old Man says:

    As long as State law confers veto power on Prexy, the best a Constitution can do is ensure that Prexy’s vetoes are very publicly visible and can occur only after opportunity for participation of the entire Statutory Faculty. I think that is the strongest Constitution you’ll find, at least in a public university. When Prexy makes too many vetoes, or one really bad one, his/her inability to work with the Faculty will be obvious, and a vote of No Confidence will follow. Whimsy is not free.
    So, if you want to establish a policy that will improve the University, bring it as a motion to the Senate and watch it work!

  7. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think such an adversarial approach toward shared governance is good for the UO — or good for its constitution, which is admirable in many ways but as yet young, fragile, and weak in practice. Courting a presidential veto — as almost happened this year with the IAC motion — is the *last* thing anyone should want.

    Let’s face it: the UO Constitution is a PDF file. And until leaders on both sides develop relationships of trust needed to sustain it, it will remain exactly that. Let’s hope Gottfredson will turn over a new leaf — I actually think he will. But the faculty leadership, for its part, will have to back down on its insistence in being an equal partner (much less a senior partner) in my view.


    • Old Man says:

      I could not disagree more respectfully or wholeheartedly. The Constitution honors the State mandate for shared governance. It is designed to facilitate that sharing by promoting open discussion, not warfare, between Prexy and the Senate. It assumes that these discussions will generally lead to an understanding. Consensus is expected on most matters (as it was on the IAC) because most will agree that calling an Assembly is a “last resort”. When consensus between Senate and Prexy fails to be reached, as may happen when the issue is perceived to be a vital one, the entire Faculty will be called upon to weigh in, exercising its mandate to oversee the Senate. If the Faculty perceives the Senate as having acted unwisely, that will usually conclude the debate. If the Faculty upholds the Senate, Prexy will understand that the Faculty has a heartfelt and well-reasoned position. This may persuade him/her to compromise or relent, and consensus will have been reached. If Prexy, in his/her wisdom, persists by issuing a veto that explains his/her positiion to the Faculty, the Faculty will at least know that they have been heard.
      You may think the Constitution is too frail and untested. And so it will remain until it is put to a test. The Committee that created it and the Statutory Faculty who endorsed it and the President who ratified it think it’s ready for service.

    • Anonymous says:

      The discussion between the Old Man and Anon exposes contrasting views of shared governance. Anon advises that the sharing is likely to be more effective if conducted in off the record, in trust-building interactions between “faculty leadership” and our new President. Anon writes “ …faculty leadership, for its part, will have to back down on its insistence in being an equal partner (much less a senior partner) …”. Old Man suggests that the Faculty, as equal partners to the President (distinguished by veto authority, of course), should take leadership on issues that are important to the UO academic mission. Resolution of controversial issues, especially, will be aided by open and respectful discussion in the Senate, the University’s governing body on matters of academic importance.
      Increased faculty participation in the Senate, however, will be key to successful shared governance. Those who were at President Gottfredson’s introduction to the UO community last week were cheered by his call for such participation.

  8. Anonymous says:

    WaPo has more scurrilous details on how to throw a popular university president under a bus – a roster of dirty tricks that is truly old-school. Meanwhile, our poor colleagues in Charlottesville may – or may not – be moving from “anger” to “bargaining.”

  9. Anonymous says:

    “as high-handed as Dragas appears – and it’s pretty amazing – at the root this seems to be actual dispute about how best to improve UVA. Compare this to the dispute that got Lariviere fired: he had a plan to improve UO, but the board and the governor did not want UO to get better, because they thought that would distract from the other state schools.”

    In controversies like this, everybody is going to say they are just trying to do their jobs. The OUS board’s job is to run the entire state university system, so they said they were trying to do what’s best for the system. Dragas’s job is to oversee UVa, so she’s going to say she’s trying to do what’s best for UVa. If you keep the “trying to”‘s in there, I might actually believe OUS more, which is really saying something.

  10. Anonymous says:

    “..but the board and the governor did not want UO to get better, because they thought that would distract from the other state schools.”

    Really? Sounds a lot like ‘who’s your daddy?’.

    With UVa. you’re cherry pickin’ a situation that doesn’t appear, from this presentation, similar once you get beyond media sound bites.


  11. Anonymous says:

    So Dragas’s PR firm contacted me about being a “transition consultant” — basically, faculty-to-faculty contact with some of my counterparts at UVa. “We’ve been there, grieved, healed, moved on, etc.” Nice package they’re offering — all-expenses-paid trip to a retreat in the Shenandoahs, plus a $5,000 consulting fee. Should I do it?

    The hitch is they want me to sign a statement that says, in part, “I am committed to helping the entire UVa community heal at this trying time of management transition and am confident that the Board of Visitors is committed to a consultative and inclusive process going forward, one that involves all stakeholders and upholds Mr. Jefferson’s highest principles…except, of course, the one that led him, round about 1776, to start a shooting war against disconnected numbskulls with nothing better to do than revel in their own illegitimate authority. Cuz we definitely don’t want to invite that comparison.”