Semi-OT: Teresa Sullivan (fmr. UM Provost) removed as President of UVA.

Submitted by btjabrone on June 23rd, 2012 at 6:22 PM


This is actually a couple weeks old, I think, but I did not find out about it until today.  I searched MGoBlog and didn't see a previous post about it so I thought I would share.  I'm sure many of you, like me, remember when Teresa Sullivan left UM as provost to become President of UVA.  She has been removed despite opposition from students, faculty, and the larger academic community.  The outcry has been so significant there is even talk of reinstating her.  Now Virginia Governor McDonnell is threatening to fire the Board that fired her.


For what it is worth, while I always liked her as a provost and have a pretty low opinion of UVA after this, she DID go to State.



June 23rd, 2012 at 7:00 PM ^

It might just be me, but I think Ms. Dragas (enemy of the provost) looks like a first-rate See You Next Tuesday:

On appearances alone I'd be inclined to side with Theresa:


June 23rd, 2012 at 7:25 PM ^

When I first heard that she was removed a month or so ago, I wondered which side was "right".  After emails have been released, a world-famous CS professor resigned because he didn't want to be associated with their version of the Regents, and their faculty, students, and general public have fought for Teresa, it's pretty evident that she was in the right.


June 23rd, 2012 at 7:46 PM ^

Uber-Cliff Notes version: Their version of the Regents (well, mainly just their main 2 players) wanted a lot of changes to be made in a rather hastily fashion.  Their main goal was to have UVa start an online course system similar to Stanford's/MIT's.  Teresa said we have to make "incremental changes" and not jump in head over heels.  They complained that she was moving too slowly, and conspired to get her to resign.


June 23rd, 2012 at 7:50 PM ^

It seems as though the whole process of firing the president was poorly handled, but at the heart of the matter is a struggle that is going on in various forms at a lot of universities.  On the one hand are corporate types (who in this case seem to be political appointees to the board that fired Sullivan) and traditional academic powers (various faculty groups). They have different visions about the nature of universities and also of the role of the faculty. Sullivan's views were more in line with the way most academicians see the role of universities and how they should be run.


June 23rd, 2012 at 8:15 PM ^

There was an article in Forbes last week where several University presidents and prominent CEOs shared there views on the situation. Everyone single one said that the board errored in their actions and Sullivan should not have left. I think U of M trained her right. A very unfortunate situation for Sullivan, but she will do well somewhere else (or come back to U of M in a few years).


June 23rd, 2012 at 8:20 PM ^

I know Teresa Sullivan came from U-M, but I didn't know if there'd be any interest around here in the story, so I held off posting on it.  Besides, the last couple weeks of this have been a saga worthy of the CRex treatment, so I didn't figure the goings-on of essentially a random other school somewhere would be worthy of daily updates.  That said, since there seems to be some interest, here is the summary version, which isn't actually very short:

-- About two weeks ago, two weeks ago Sunday in fact, we alums got an email from Helen Dragas, rector, via the alumni association email, stating that Terry Sullivan had resigned.  It was phrased in the "mutual agreement to resign" way that suggests it was absolutely in no way Sullivan's idea.

-- It came out over the next couple of days that Dragas had basically spearheaded this, gathering one vote at a time from the 16-member Board of Visitors, and with the assistance of the vice-rector, Mark Kington.  A couple other folks were involved as well, one of whom unwisely sent a reply-all email that sort of detailed his role in the process.  The email referred to "a couple important alums" who wanted Sullivan gone, one of whom turned out to be Paul Tudor Jones, who donated most of the money for the new bball arena.  The email came from the Darden School (our graduate business school) chairman of the board of trustees....he has since resigned.

-- The faculty and deans were not involved in this, and when they heard the news, the faculty lost their shit.  They LOVE Teresa Sullivan.  The Faculty Senate met and issued a statement demanding Dragas explain herself.  Dragas issued another statement that could not have been less explanatory if she tried.  The faculty lost their shit again and the senate voted 80-0 on a no-confidence resolution in the BOV, which also called for the resignations of Dragas and Kington.  The student council and alumni association took similar action.  The original email came out Sunday, it's now Wednesday and all we know is that the BOV never actually met and never actually voted, the rector simply went up to Sullivan and forced her resignation, and has yet to actually say why.  The only thing we know is that there's some vague reference to a disagreement over online courses, which UVA does not offer.

-- Monday rolls around, a little over a week after the firing, and the BOV calls a meeting to discuss naming an interim president.  Torch and pitchforks are out in full force.  The meeting gathered anywhere from two to three thousand people on the Lawn, in front of the Rotunda where the BOV meets.  Not kidding.  HUGE protest.  Former president Casteen shows up.  Sullivan delivers a statement to the BOV, Dragas delivers yet another long-ass statement to the assembled masses that still says nothing.  People just get even more pissed off because she says things like "we have heard your concern" and never actually addresses said concern.  The meeting lasts from 3:00 PM to 3:30 AM.  They name an interim president: the dean of the Commerce School, Carl Zeithaml.  (At UVA, unlike at U-M, the graduate and undergraduate business schools are separate entities, lest anyone think there is a connection between Zeithaml and the Darden involvement in the original coup d'etat.)

-- One professor resigns the following day, having had his fill.  He's a big, big name professor, but in his 70s, three-quarters retired anyway, and he sends an email to the BOV that basically says "I'm too old to put up with this bullshit anymore, I quit."

-- The next day, Kington also resigns.  Big deal?  Big deal.  The BOV would have needed a two-thirds vote to fire the president but only a majority vote to reinstate.  Word has it that the Monday meeting found eight members in favor of or at least leaning toward reinstatement.  Would've taken nine to reinstate.  Now it only takes eight because we're down to 15 members.  There's a meeting Tuesday, at which it's rumored they will vote to reinstate Sullivan.  Sullivan has hinted she would be open to returning if Dragas goes.  Dragas's term on the Board is up on July 1, and she can be re-appointed for one more term by the governor.  (This is not like Michigan - in Virginia the board is governor-appointed, not elected.)  She hopefully won't be.  Two of UVA's biggest ever donors have expressed their pissed-off-ness over the way this went down, and that has a way of turning heads.

Please do not think less of our school over this: the really, really short version is that the Board, basically, went rogue and tried to fire a president that is wildly popular at UVA, and the "UVA community" almost unanimously thinks the Board fucked up big time.  Essentially it was spearheaded by the rector, Dragas Malfoy, who only needed a very small amount of prodding because she's never trusted Sullivan.  Sullivan unashamedly admits to being an "incrementalist," while Dragas wants BIG THINGS DONE NOW.

I do think, and I certainly hope, that the Tuesday meeting will result in the Board voting to reinstate Sullivan, and that the governor will decline to reappoint Dragas.

Sorry for the manifesto.  Hopefully it's been enlightening to those who might be interest in what Michigan's old provost is up to.  Teresa Sullivan jumped into UVA with both feet and not only, in my opinion, has done a very good job as president, she's also been a highly visible cheerleader for our athletic teams.  The faculty love her, her staff loves her, the students love her - word has it she's a terrific person to work for, and personally I've appreciated (among other things) that she shows up in Omaha when the baseball team is in the CWS, she was the first president that they've ever had attend the pre-events to the Peach Bowl this year, hell, when the club polo team won a national championship she was there cheering them on too.  CLUB POLO.  There might be some shortcomings in some areas, some "challenges" that UVA faces, but hell, she hasn't even been here two years.

This was long, but you wouldn't believe some of the stuff I left out, either.  Further (humorous) reading on the subject is here:  Some of the jokes are sort of "inside jokes" that you'd have to have voraciously read every shred of info on the affair to get (and I have) but it's still a very wins-the-Internet kind of piece.


June 23rd, 2012 at 8:56 PM ^

I appreciate the summarization MABW.  I know the faculty are upset by this, but have they threatened further action?  I know the one CS prof resigned and called for other faculty to resign -- do you think additional faculty will jump ship for other schools, and do you envision it being hard to recruit future faculty in the upcoming year because of this saga?  Do you think it'll take time for UVa to recover, or do you think that the resignation of Dragas and Kington will give UVA a blank slate and allow it to continue to be a top school without any hiccups?


June 23rd, 2012 at 9:14 PM ^

do you think additional faculty will jump ship for other schools, and do you envision it being hard to recruit future faculty in the upcoming year because of this saga? 

Yes and yes, unless Sullivan is reinstated.  If she comes back, then the faculty stays and basically we go on as before.  If not, all bets are off.  Ironically, faculty retention (though in the realm of compensation) was one of the concerns of the BOV.

Even if Dragas stays and Sullivan goes, UVA will continue to be a top school, but the waters will be somewhat poisoned for a little while and I can't imagine what person would want to work as president for Dragas after this.


June 23rd, 2012 at 9:55 PM ^

Thanks for this.  I actually went to an information session in which Darden reps were there.  I learned a great deal about it and am very interested in the program.  I had no idea this was going on in the background, although i met with them last weekend.  Great to see how folks around the community at UVA are fighting back, I think that speaks volumes about the University.  Just wondering how (if at all) this could impact Darden?


June 23rd, 2012 at 9:01 PM ^

MABW, thanks for a GREAT summary.

As a former student of the TS-Provost days, I can say somehow TS came across as an awesome leader through her emails alone.  I'm very happy to hear that this may be corrected.  Education should be left to educators and this Dragas woman clearly does not understand higher ed.


June 24th, 2012 at 9:27 AM ^

Thanks, MABW!  This was an excellent summary and a big help.  This controversy suddenly appeared on my twitter feed early last week, but I never got a complete explanation of the story and was still trying to piece it all together.  You provided a great journalistic service.  Thanks, and I hope UVA is able to hang on to Sullivan.

"Dragas Maloy."  Hahaha, LOL.


June 24th, 2012 at 11:46 PM ^

about everyobdy else, but the faculty senate's unanimous vote in support of Teresa probably speaks loudest to me.  That's an awfully large group of people, across a bunch of disciplines, that are probably pretty well aware of the inner-happenings of UVa, each and every one of whom supported, not just a bland support of Teresa, but what sounds like a pretty decisive document flat calling-out Dragas and Kington.  Maybe faculty senates in general are pretty cohesive, I don't know, but that surprised me quite a bit.

Thanks for the synopsis, I knew something was happening, not the whole story, this makes things a LOT more clear.  Also, I believe there was an article where Zeithaml (the named interim-President) basically said he wasn't going to do it, because Teresa was going to get her job back.  I hope she does, all my interactions with her were overwhelmingly positive and it surprises me very little that everyone except the BoV loved her.

EDIT:  I believe this is the letter of the retired, big-name computer science professor.  A big name, indeed.  And the letter is WELL worth reading.


June 23rd, 2012 at 8:29 PM ^

If Sullivan does comes back to Ann Arbor it'd be Michigan's gain but I'm getting the feeling Dragas is gone and Sullivan will be reinstated.

Canada loves S…

June 23rd, 2012 at 8:28 PM ^

Apparently she has multiple offers from prestigious schools. If UVA reinstates her I'll bet she tells them to take a long walk on a short pier. FWIW she was well liked by most of the faculty here. Never heard a disparaging word about her. We are so lucky that our board of reagents doesn't attempt political crap like UVA.


June 24th, 2012 at 1:33 AM ^

My first contact with her ever as a student at UM was when she personally returned my MCard (had fallen out of my pocket, she picked it up on the street) while walking her dog.  I was living off campus at the time.

No joke.  I'm saddened that she had to be shamed into such an ordeal, though it sounds like it is only a matter of time until things are rectified.




June 24th, 2012 at 12:05 PM ^

then you can be certain there's some other reason.

Hunter R. Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities and former president of Cornell University blasted the decision as "the most egregious case I have ever seen of mismanagement by a governing board... It’s secretive, it’s misguided, and based on the public statements, there’s no clear rationale.

If there's no clear rationale, follow the money.

The hilarious "Declaration of Independence" satire at Crooked Timber makes reference to private email discussions between Dragas and her co-conspirators about online education, which they make clear by inference and innuendo that Sullivan was opposed to.

But the question still remains: why would Dragas et al take the step of ousting an apparently very popular President, with no public discussion, over the issue of online education?

First, some critical background: at a September 2011 meeting, Sullivan reported a 13% decrease from the previous fiscal year in giving to the University. That's never a good thing for any university, and naturally creates all kinds of anxieties.

One of the inside players in this saga is Peter Kiernan, until last week the former chair of Trustees at the Darden Foundation (the governing board of the Darden School, UVA's graduate business school). Kiernan, a Darden alumnus, is an enormously successful billionaire who made his fortune in hedge funds and is a former partner at Goldman Sachs. Shortly after the resignation of Sullivan was announced and the shit was starting to hit the fan, Kiernan sent out an email to a large number of UVA people essentially claiming that he was involved in planning the ouster and that everybody should trust Dragas. It was this email that soon led to his resignation from chairmanship of the Darden Foundation board.

So who cares about Goldman Sachs? Education Management Corporation does, since in 2006 EDMC was purchased by Goldman Sachs and its partners. EDMC is one of the most prominent purveyors of online education today, and its new management team after the GS acquisition was from that other esteemed source of online diplomas, Phoenix University. Another tie between UVA and EDMC is that EDMC's general counsel is a UVA alumnus, Robert Kelley.

Apparently, earlier this year news station NBC 29, Charlottesville’s NBC affiliate, reported about an EMC investor presentation in the Charlottesville area in February and March. Conspicuously, the article has been taken down on NBC 29′s website, but the cached version on Google (from a search for the “Education Management Corporation and the University of Virginia”) mentions the University of Virginia. Adding UVA to EDMC's portfolio would be a prestigious move, and would promise to add a significant source of revenue, something that EDMC obviously wants.

So, you've got direct ties linking prominent, influential, wealthy players from Goldman Sachs, Educational Management Corporation, UVA, and Darden School. You've got concerns about donations to UVA, and you've got a business aggressively pushing online education with a lucrative plum dangling in front of them. And a university President who is, in their minds, standing in their way. Yes, it's circumstantial, but I think it's naive to think that this isn't a primary factor in Sullivan's ouster. The critical questions are what the extent of EDMC's interest in UVa online education is, and whether or not Dragas or any of her supporters in the Sullivan firing have any direct or indirect financial interest in EDMC. At the minimum it certainly would seem appear that a number of them have financial interests in GS. Whether this would constitute a conflict of interest is an interesting question.

Full disclosure: much of this is from the blog of Anne-Marie Angelo:  She's the one who has connected the dots in a direct way.

For an in-depth article about EDMC and the big bucks world of online education:…

For more on the story:………


June 24th, 2012 at 2:17 PM ^

Great summary, Don. This HuffPo article ties some of these themes and ideas together nicely.…

Summary: The UVA BOV consists of super wealthy business execs, and they embrace "strategic dynamism" as a management philosophy. The article underlines the tendency for people to fetishize business success and wealth, and the assumption that business success will lead to success in other roles (say, as an Athletic Director, for example). The Dragas Contingent basically wants to cut out unprofitable departments (including Classics!!!!!) and move to online education in pursuit of the Holy Dollar. Academics disagree, and resent the profit motive; this is emblematic of the growing conflict between for-profit and non-profit (traditional) education.


June 24th, 2012 at 10:11 AM ^

I'd read all the posts here and I have a conclusion to share:

Sullivan is an impractical egghead and Dragas is a virtuous businessperson whose knowledge of the REAL WORLD should always be trusted.



June 24th, 2012 at 4:53 PM ^

...(very) soon to be UVa alumna, I've watched these events unfold with great dismay. Dragas, Kington and a small group of billionaire alum donors engineered Sullivan's ouster in complete contravention to the principles of good management, transparency and honor.

A comprehensive collection of the events of the past few weeks is available here.

Photos by my daughter:

UVa's Beta Bridge last Thu:


Beta Bridge last Sun:


UVa flag signals distress at last Sunday's rally



June 24th, 2012 at 10:49 PM ^

but in this case Helen Dragas and Theresa Sullivan look exactly like I'd expect them to look, given their respective roles in the situation. Dragas looks like she'd eat your puppy just for the hell of it.