About 800 people turned out Sunday afternoon, 17 June, at an emergency meeting of the University of Virginia Faculty Senate to voice their dismay at the announced resignation of President Teresa A. Sullivan.
The rare emergency meeting - none has been called in at least several decades - was held at the Abbott Center Auditorium at the Darden School of Business. About 500 faculty members watched the meeting unfold in the auditorium while at least another 300 viewed it on television from nearby classrooms.
One of the Faculty Senate members was Darden Professor Martin Davidson, who welcomed the Faculty Senate to Darden yesterday. Davidson said Darden faculty members are "strongly concerned about this."
The senate, the 82 voting members of which represent almost 3,000 University faculty members, voted almost unanimously to ratify a Faculty Senate Executive Council Resolution issued 14 June to protest President Sullivan's resignation. The crowd reacted with a standing ovation.
That resolution states: "Resolved that the Faculty Senate express its strong support of President Sullivan (and) express its lack of confidence in the Rector, the Vice Rector and the Board of Visitors. We offer this resolution mindful of the best interest of the University and the Commonwealth."
The one-hour meeting leading to the vote was punctuated throughout by cheers and applause for faculty senators who spoke against what they called the forced resignation of President Sullivan, the first female president of the University.
The Board of Visitors announced, via an e-mail to the University community, what it called a "mutual agreement" that President Sullivan would step down from the post she has held since 2010. The resignation is effective 15 August. The e-mail, sent on 10 June, was signed by Helen E. Dragas, rector, and Mark Kington, vice rector, on behalf of the Board of Visitors.
In the e-mail, Dragas and Kington alluded to the reason for the resignation after thanking President Sullivan for her service: "For the past year, the Board has had ongoing discussions about the importance of developing, articulating and acting on a clear and concrete strategic vision. The Board believes that in the rapidly changing and highly pressurized external environment in both health care and in academia, the University needs to remain at the forefront of change."
But the resignation surprised and angered many faculty members, in part because it was unexpected and occurred without discussion with the broader University community. Law Professor George Cohen, the chair of the Faculty Senate, said "there was a lack of due process. The justification offered so far has been insufficient, incomplete and not candid."
"I was shocked beyond belief, as was the rest of our community," said Drama Professor Gweneth West, past chair of the Faculty Senate, who broke down in tears several times in her speech to fellow faculty members.
Just before the vote of no confidence in the Board of Visitors was taken, Senate Faculty member Alfred Weaver praised the president. "President Sullivan has been the ultimate friend of faculty members. The board's action is egregious and must be overturned," he said.
A total of 53 of the 82 voting members of the Faculty Senate were present at the meeting and 50 voted in favor of the resolution condemning the Board of Visitors' actions. Of 21 proxy votes, 18 voted in favor of the resolution, two opposed it and one abstained.
After the vote, Faculty Senate members met informally with the faculty outside the Abbott Center.
Harry Gamble, a professor of religious studies, milled with the large crowd outside talking to Faculty Senators. He called the action leading to President Sullivan's resignation as "wrongheaded in the sense she had done everything well. The manner in which it was done was absolutely unacceptable."
Leaders of the Faculty Senate are scheduled to meet today (Monday) with the rector and vice rector to express their concerns.
President Sullivan has also requested to meet with Board of Visitors at the Monday meeting where the board is expected to discuss the hiring of an interim president. Faculty members will hold a rally during the board's meeting to show further support for President Sullivan.
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