By Kathryn Watson | Virginia Statehouse News
ALEXANDRIA — University of Virginia faculty and students will not get a clear answer as to who has the authority to oust the very UVA Board of Visitors that ousted President Teresa Sullivan.
Perhaps it is the governor, perhaps only the visiting members themselves or perhaps another body entirely.
But judging by the overwhelming support for Sullivan and outrage at BOV Rector Helen Dragas Monday afternoon, this UVA saga is far from over.
Students and the public tweeted Sullivan’s first public remarks outside a closed-session BOV meeting in Charlottesville.
“Corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great university,” she said in remarks read by a colleague, alluding to the reason for her departure. “Sustained change with buy-in does work.”
The special BOV meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday was under way at 6:20 p.m.
Dragas’ second two-year term on the BOV ends next month, although Gov. Bob McDonnell could reappoint her. McDonnell’s office did not respond Monday to a request for comment.
While governors appoint visitors, experts could not say whether the governors also can revoke those roles.
“There is legislative concurrence” on BOV appointments, said Robert O’Neill, former president of UVA. “That being the case, my assumption has always been that only the governor could actually initiative the removal of a sitting board member.”
Other experts said the governor isn’t the decider.
“I don’t think (BOV members) serve at the pleasure of a governor,” said A. Lee Fritschler, professor of public policy, who specializes in higher education philosophy and practices, at George Mason University in Fairfax.
And “it would be troubling if governors had the right to step in at any time when they chose to do so when a board makes a decision that a governor does not like,” said Robert Kreiser, senior program officer at the American Association of University Professors, which advocates for academic freedom and shared governance.
The association has has issued a statement criticizing the BOV’s handling of the situation.
However, sitting board members — who in this case, voted for Sullivan’s resignation unanimously — can cast each other out.
“If you’re interested in getting rid of one specific person, I believe that is up to the Board of Visitors themselves,” said Kirsten Nelson, director of government relations and communications at the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, a state agency for colleges and universities.
McDonnell has said he is leaving the decision to the board members and has “great confidence” they will find the “right individual for this prestigious and pivotal post” in his initial statement on the resignation announcement.
The pressure for the resignation of Dragas and other board leaders isn’t only mounting internally. The Washington Post reported that dependable donors have threatened to hold back donations to the university until its governing board is removed.