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Board Reinstates University Of Virginia's President


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. At the University of Virginia this afternoon, a resounding turnaround.

TERESA SULLIVAN: Today, the Board of Visitors has voted to reinstate me as the president of the university.


BLOCK: Teresa Sullivan has her job back. Just two weeks ago, she was forced out in a behind-the-scenes move by some board members. Students and faculty were infuriated, and the campus has been in turmoil.

NPR's Claudio Sanchez is at the University of Virginia. He joins me now from Charlottesville. And Claudio, this was a unanimous vote today by the board to reinstate President Sullivan. What caused them to change their minds?

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: Really, it all boiled down to the university faculty, students, alumni - which had been enraged and angry about President Teresa Sullivan's dismissal. And they just came together and said you, the board, are wrong. You have to reinstate her. And there had been so much anger over this that the board had no choice but to rethink its firing of Teresa Sullivan.

BLOCK: Originally, the board was pretty opaque in trying to explain why it did what it did; why it decided to fire President Sullivan. And they talked about a faster pace of change, but not much beyond that. What were the reasons, as you understand them?

SANCHEZ: The board - or at least, members of the board - at the time were very concerned that she wasn't moving fast enough to address problems like the deep cuts in state funding; the future of the medical center; the need to expand online courses that many other universities are now looking at, as a future of delivering instruction. President Sullivan was simply reluctant to go this way because she felt that it wasn't a panacea. You know, she didn't feel that it was going to be cost-effective. So she - again - was very, very adamant about not going the route that the board wanted her to go in.

Now, keep in mind that Helen Dragas, the person who orchestrated President Sullivan's resignation, is now in a bind, of sorts, because her term is coming up July 1st - the end of her first term. And it's not clear that the governor, who appoints members of the governing board, is going to keep her because many people blame Ms. Dragas for having created so much turmoil. And it's unclear whether she's going to remain.

BLOCK: Well, President Sullivan addressed the board today. And we heard her just a minute ago, speaking to her cheering supporters afterward. Describe the scene outside the Rotunda, there in Charlottesville.

SANCHEZ: It was very dramatic, Melissa, even though it was not a huge crowd - of maybe 2- to 300 people. But almost all of them are entirely supporters of President Sullivan. She, literally, stood at the top of the stairs of the Rotunda; looking out towards the vast, green field in front of her and the crowd that was just, you know, ecstatic about her reinstatement. The board members, many who had just - wanted to oust her just two weeks ago, were literally just behind her, all smiles; patting themselves on the back, patting her on the back and - literally - saying, we made a mistake. We want you to lead this university.

And it was dramatic because it was an emotional moment for her, in terms of how all this had affected her. But in the end, she felt she could reconcile much of this by saying that she was the right leader for the university, and that she was confident that everybody could go forward and make the best of it and again, get to the problems that many board members feel are still ahead.

BLOCK: Teresa Sullivan, we should say, has only been in the job for two years. What is the way forward? How do they resolve these differences that you were talking about?

SANCHEZ: Well, that's the big question, Melissa. We don't know how she's going to make amends - certainly, for many of the problems that the university faces. But again, remember, the University of Virginia is unique as a public institution in that it has a $5 billion endowment. It's not like it's - like many other institutions, that are really struggling in these economic hard times. She has a plan. She has, she says, a strategic vision for the university. She made it very clear, in her speech to the crowd, that - you know - she was willing to speak, and to come to some agreement on some of the major problems.

But again, it's unclear whether once you get into the details of how she's going to address these problems - are going to make sense to the board. The board is still somewhat divided on the direction of the university. But now, it seems that they think that President Sullivan may be the right person to lead them into the future where, again, there were so many uncertainties about the school's finances and the future of its curriculum; the future of its faculty and students.

BLOCK: Claudio, thanks so much.

SANCHEZ: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Claudio Sanchez at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville - where today, President Teresa Sullivan was reinstated by the board. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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