Jefferson’s Virginia in Turmoil as Board Replaces Leader

The University of Virginia’s board named an interim president after a week of turmoil caused by the ouster of President Teresa Sullivan, an event unprecedented in the history of the institution founded by Thomas Jefferson.

Carl Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce, will take over Aug. 16, the university in Charlottesville, Virginia, said today in an e-mailed statement. Sullivan, who led the college for less than two years before her forced resignation, said she will step down Aug. 15. Her tenure has been the shortest in the university’s 193-year history.

Sullivan yesterday defended her record while the faculty’s senate executive council asked Rector Helen Dragas, head of the Board of Visitors, to resign. As the board convened to name an interim president yesterday, Dragas expressed “regret” for the “pain, anger and confusion” involved in Sullivan’s departure.

“I want to thank the UVA family for enduring the tumult of this difficult week,” Dragas said in a statement. “It has been exceptionally trying for all of us, and we accept our great share of responsibility for that. As we look forward to the transition to new leadership at the university, our community can rest assured that it will have a great deal of input.”

Since June 10, when the university announced Sullivan’s resignation, at least three other top officials have been asked to resign or have said that they might.

Students Puzzled

About 2,000 students and faculty gathered in support of Sullivan outside an afternoon board meeting in the university’s Rotunda building yesterday, said John Casey, an English professor who wants Sullivan restored to her position. The crowd chanted “Reinstate Sullivan,” as she made her way into the meeting, and cheered her after she made her way out, Casey said.

Virginia students are puzzled as to why Sullivan is leaving, and many are angry, Hilary Hurd, the student representative to the board, said in a statement.

“The most common element of their concern is simply a desire for a better explanation,” she said in a statement to the board that was republished on the website of the Cavalier Daily student newspaper. “What is the reason for the actions taken by the board?”

Zeithaml was named interim leader early this morning after the board met for almost 12 hours. He is in his fourth term as dean of the McIntire School, which Bloomberg Businessweek ranked in March as the No. 2 undergraduate business program in the country. Zeithaml, who received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a masters in business administration from the University of Florida, joined Virginia in 1997.

Rector Dragas

Yesterday, the UVA faculty senate’s executive council called for the resignations of Dragas and Vice Rector Mark Kington. At an emergency meeting of about 500 faculty members June 17, university Provost John Simon questioned “the honor, integrity and trust” of the institution and suggested he might resign over Sullivan’s ouster.

Dragas, president and chief executive officer of Dragas Cos., a Virginia Beach-based homebuilder, was appointed to the board in 2008 by then-Governor Tim Kaine, a Democrat, and was named rector in 2011. She received a bachelor’s degree from the university in 1984, and a master’s degree in business in 1988.

In a March interview in Virginia Business magazine, she praised Sullivan as “very talented” and part of a new leadership team.

Fundraising Jeopardy

Sullivan told the board that she raised cash flow from philanthropy 16 percent since coming to the job and that commitments from donors were increasing. The university received $242.6 million in donations last year, according to its website.

Fundraising may be jeopardized by the removal of Sullivan, as donors have pledged to withhold gifts to protest her treatment, according to an article in the Washington Post. Hunter Smith, whose family has donated more than $60 million to the university, won’t give more until changes are made to the board, according to the newspaper.

Another donor, Paul Tudor Jones II, expressed support for the board’s move. Jones, who is chairman, chief executive officer and manager of Tudor Investment Corp., said in an opinion piece in the Daily Progress newspaper of Charlottesville that Sullivan’s departure is a “clarion call from the Board of Visitors that business as usual is not acceptable anymore.”

Jones, a 1976 graduate of the university, donated $35 million in 2003 for a basketball arena, named for his father, John Paul Jones.

Those concerns won’t affect the board’s decision, Dragas said in her statement yesterday.

“There is not one single person on Earth whose interests we would ever put above those of the thousands of stakeholders entrusted to our care,” she said in the statement. “Not one president, not one administrator, not one faculty member, and certainly not one donor.”

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