Home Education McDonnell Deserves Credit for Unanimous Vote to Reinstate Sullivan

McDonnell Deserves Credit for Unanimous Vote to Reinstate Sullivan


by Paul Goldman

Having previously chastised Governor McDonnell for his silly “not my job” mantra on the UVA mess while traveling overseas, fair is fair. So, let me now praise him for having helped shock the UVA Board back to reality by telling them to either fix the problem today, or resign.

When a trial jury is deadlocked, a judge sometimes gives what is known as the “Allen Charge,” telling them go back into the jury room and come back with a verdict. So I suppose this will be forever known as the “McDonnell charge,” to be delivered to a Board of Visitors when it is about to make a total fool not only of itself but of the University it’s entrusted to help protect.

Facts are facts: Unless McDonnell issued his demand, there was little chance the UVA Board would have voted, without a dissenting voice, to reinstate Teresa Sullivan.

Having given the governor his due, let it also be said that this is an astounding turnaround: a faculty-student-alumna led “campaign” to get Ms. Sullivan her job back without her ever asking for it publicly. It is doubtful this has not ever happened in the annals of education in this state or any other.

Indeed, in the famed student/faculty protest days of the 1960’s and 1970’s, they were protesting to get rid of the President of the University, not bring him or her back! It is amazing.


It is also necessary to give Ms. Dragas her due here: In the end, she did the right thing, voting for reconciliation instead of continued confrontation. Having been in a few tough spots myself, I can tell you this is a hard thing to do. In that regard, Dragas may have planted a seed to save her reputation. Indeed, Dragas came within one vote of forever ending her public career. But, in the end, she put the interests of UVA ahead of any personal feelings, indeed knowing that she was in effect admitting many mistakes over the last few weeks.

It is easy to say she did it because there was no other option. Perhaps so. But she made the right choice; there is plenty of evidence of others in similar spots refusing.

Right now, Ms. Teresa Sullivan is likely the most powerful University President in Virginia’s history, and one of the most powerful in the country. She is supported by an unprecedented, in my memory, campus and alumni coalition, at a very critical time in higher education.

The Dragas vs Sullivan battles of the last weeks gave most in the public their first look at a very fundamental debate in American life, one at the heart of our educational system. The countries that out-educate us today will eat our economic lunch tomorrow.

The debate over how to avoid this fate is fundamental debate, indeed fundamental enough to cause a great university to have to essentially it’s dirty laundry in public. It has been a lesson for all us with an open mind.

Still, one day at time: and for today, we have to say Governor McDonnell deserves credit for the 15-0 vote.  He had no actual legal authority to threaten the UVA Board with being fired. But, as Governor, he did have the moral authority given to the leader of our state. He used it wisely in this instance, albeit belatedly.

No one is asking for McDonnell to micro-manage anything. But, if he can spend a year trying to privatize the ABC Board, then surely it is fair for Virginians to ask that he put as much energy and thought into more important policy matters.

Congrats to President Sullivan and her amazing supporters: Wow! But as JFK said: To whom much is given, much is asked. President Sullivan now has a unique opportunity in higher education. Around the country, not just in Virginia, many will be rooting for her to be all she can be.

So should we all.    

  • Statement of Governor Bob McDonnell on the University of Virginia Presidency

    ASHBURN – Governor Bob McDonnell issued the following statement, following the unanimous vote by the University of Virginia Board of Visitors to reinstate Teresa Sullivan as University President.

    “I want to thank the members of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia for their conclusive action today to bring the issue of the Presidency of the school to a close, as I directed last Friday. Since its founding in 1819, the University of Virginia has not only been the Commonwealth’s educational flagship; it has been one of America’s as well. An academical village dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. A school built on honor and excellence. A school with renowned and dedicated faculty and students that I trumpet around the world.

    The past few weeks have not been easy for the University, and all those who love it. There has been too little transparency; too much vitriol. Too little discussion; too much blame. Now, with today’s Board action, the time has come for Mr. Jefferson’s University to move forward. The statements made today by Board members and President Sullivan were poignant and gracious and set the right tone for collaboration ahead.

    I congratulate Dr. Teresa Sullivan on her reappointment to the post of President. Dr. Sullivan, and other presidents, have been valuable partners with our Administration in advancing important higher education initiatives. In Charlottesville, Dr. Sullivan’s leadership has added nearly 1000 new slots for in-state students at the University, while reducing this year’s tuition growth to the lowest increase in a decade. She cares deeply about the University. It is evident she is well-regarded in the University community. She steps back into the President’s office with the best wishes of this Administration and the University community. The Commonwealth of Virginia must have a strong and vibrant University of Virginia that is a global academic leader.

    Members of the Board have faced much criticism over the past two weeks. Specifically, much of that criticism has been directed at the first woman to serve as Rector of the Board of Visitors. This has been very unfortunate and counterproductive. It has not been in keeping with traits long associated with the University such as civility in discourse and open dialogue. The Board itself admittedly made mistakes and did not act with the procedural transparency that should be accorded such a significant decision. The Board did lay out, in subsequent days, pressing concerns that led members to believe changes at the University were necessary. The General Assembly and I, with great input from Dr. Sullivan, and other university presidents and boards, have set in place a road map for reform in the Top Jobs legislation unanimously passed last year, and we have put significant new dollars behind those goals this year.  The objectives of expanding access to education, reducing tuition increases and student debt, facilitating more innovation and research in an atmosphere of academic freedom, are embraced by all. Now, I ask that Dr. Sullivan and the Board work closely together to address those issues and set in motion the strategy and tactics to tackle these challenges. The University of Virginia did not become a top-ranked University by avoiding challenges, nor did it become one of America’s preeminent institutions of higher learning by failing to embrace change in the pursuit of excellence.

    Today, in settling this disagreement within the family, the University of Virginia has taken another step forward towards reconciliation and the pursuit of excellence. I ask all concerned Virginians, no matter which side they may have taken over the past few weeks, to now take that step forward as well. The Board has appointed Dr. Sullivan as President of the University of Virginia. Now, the Board and Dr. Sullivan must, and will, work together to ensure that the University of Virginia continues to be one of the world’s foremost institutions of learning  and discovery in improving the human condition. That accomplishment is critical to the future welfare and prosperity of our beloved Commonwealth; the further diffusion of knowledge to the benefit of all; and greater access to the American Dream for generations of Virginians to come.”

  • Tom

    Not one the BOV members ever intended to resign if they had failed to actually reinstate Sullivan, and thereby extend the crisis for another year while they searched in vain for a top-tier candidate with no assurance that person would not also be fired for no good reason – certainly not just because they feared the  governor would order them to resign, since they would have simply ignored his order.

    And not one BOV member believed McD. had any legal authority to fire them if they had refused to resign. They all know that the only way he could legally fire any one or more would be “for cause”, and he would have to state specific “cause for dismissal” for each one individually; and failure for the board to reach unanamous consent is not legal basis to support a “for cause” claim. They all knew McD. was bluffing. What caused Dragas to say and do what she did, including to preparare a gracious and repeatedly apologetic “swan song” concession of defeat statement was that she knew by last evening she didn’t have the votes. Her support of the resolution to restore Dr. Sullivan to her position as President was entirely because of the strong support Sullivan had. Dragas,like all the other BOV members, was very well aware of the fact that McD. had no power to force them to resign and less power to remove them “for cause”.

    I think the real hero in today’s events is Fralin. As a former Rector, he knew exactly how to state his Resolution Preamble and was the perfect choice to deliver the preamble and the resolution.

  • pontoon

    is deserved.  Dragas knew she was underwater, and the only hope of her survival was to bow to the pressure being applied by the faculty, students and alum of UVA.  Some credit will be earned by McDonnell if he kicks Dragas to the curb….but I’m not sure he has the guts to even do it.

  • aznew

    I do think McDonnell deserves some credit for how this played out, in that he forced the BoV to essentially reach a unanimous decision.

    Had McDonnell not issued his edict, Sullivan would have had her job back, but it might have come about by a divided vote. Clearly the BoV had decided beforehand that, in order to placate McDonnell, whichever side had the votes, all other BoV members would go along to make it unanimous.

    As I noted on Sunday, however, the key to a peaceful resolution was for the BoV to vote for reinstatement. That allowed Dragas to save face by a BoV vote supporting her. That these votes were unanimous let both sides put their conflict behind them.

    But Mr. Goldman is wrong that Dragas deserves any credit for this result., IMHO. She went along because she had no choice — that is as plain as can be. She mismanaged the whole affair badly enough that, at the end, she really had no power to influence events. The vote may have given her some measure of official redemption, but anyone who has paid attention to this matter knows she did not earn this — it was afforded to her because the pro-Sullivan forces cared more for UVA than they wanted a pound of flesh from Dragas.

    But her reputation for competence, at least in the realm of public affairs, is deservedly in tatters.

  • jwsevert

    I want to thank Heywood Fralin profusely for the character he displayed and his efforts over the course of this episode. The reticence and humility he displayed today are characteristic; but it is my strong impression that, without his actions, today’s meeting would never have occurred.

    The term “Virginia Gentleman” is antiquated to some and, deservedly, carries both positive and negative connotations. Mr. Fralin has pulled those two words into the 21st Century in a manner that should make us all proud.

  • The Richmonder

    A few days ago Mr. Goldman was praising Dragas’ toughness, now he’s kissing up to McDonnell?

    Look, the simple reality is that the backlash to to Dragas’ actions was OVERWHELMING.  McDonnell, Dragas, and the BOV simply bowed to the inevitable.  To hold off much longer would have invited tar and feathering.

    If McDonnell is smart–or perhaps a better word is “canny”–he will jettison Mr. Goldman’s pal Ms. Dragas.  Mr. Goldman can share Ms. Dragas’ foxhole as long as he wants, just so long as Dragas departs.

  • Dan Sullivan

    is to be commended for his technique with a fire extinguisher?