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UVA rally brings the Sullivan Affair endgame into clearer focus

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I’m just back from today’s UVA rally on the Lawn.

I’d say there were between 1,500 to 2,000 people there (the rally organizer’s official count is 1,500). It was very hot. The crowd seemed to be quite a mix – a fair number of students, many older people, some of whom I know are either faculty or alumni of UVA, and at least two dozen dogs that I counted that, to a mutt, appeared to back Teresa Sullivan’s reinstatement.

First, here is the text of the organizers’ official statement (some observations and commentary about the rally, along with some photographs, follow the text of the statement):

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Rally for Honor Reaches 8,000 University of Virginia Supporters

More than 30 faculty and friends of U.Va. speak at demonstration for reinstatement of ousted President Teresa Sullivan

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (June 24, 2012) – The University of Virginia Lawn filled with more than 1,800 friends of the university seeking the reinstatement of ousted U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan, representation by U.Va. faculty as voting members on the Board of Visitors, and the resignation of Rector Dragas. An additional 6,500 tuned in to watch live video of the rally online. Thirty speakers addressed the midday crowd in support of the reinstatement of Sullivan, in advance of Tuesday’s Board of Visitors meeting to review her contract.

“The truth of the matter is that all of us regret the forced resignation of Terry Sullivan, all of us respectfully ask the board to atone for its action, and all of us are prepared to respond with gratitude, forgiveness, and renewed enthusiasm to be part of U.Va,” said speaker Kenneth Elzinga, Robert C. Taylor Professor of Economics at the University.

The rally was organized primarily through a Facebook group, Students, Family and Friends United to Reinstate President Sullivan (“United4Honor”), which has grown to more than 16,000 members in just 11 days.

Supporters will convene again on Tuesday, June 26 at 2:30 p.m. on the Lawn for a silent vigil during the meeting of the Board of Visitors at the Rotunda.

(continued on the flip)

The news release continues below:

Speakers at the rally included Kenneth G. Elzinga, Robert C. Taylor Professor of Economics; David W. Breneman, University Professor and former Dean of the Curry School and Director of the Batten School; and Dorothy K. Fontaine, Sadie Heath Cabaniss Professor Nursing and Dean, School of Nursing. Vice Mayor of Charlottesville Kristin Szakos spoke and read comments from Senator Creigh Deeds and Delegate David Toscano.

Full remarks for select speakers can be viewed on the Faculty Senate Blog.

“Today we gathered as a united community to rally behind our core principle-honor. We expect it of ourselves and we expect it of those who govern us,” said Suzie [McCarthy], the rally’s organizer. “The crowd was enthusiastic, passionate, and most importantly, honorable in their actions. Our hope is that the Board of Visitors heard us, and that on Tuesday, Terry Sullivan comes out of the doors of the Rotunda reinstated as our President.”

About United for Honor:

United for Honor is a Facebook group that was created on June 13 by University of Virginia graduate student, Suzie McCarthy.  In just eleven days, the group of U.Va. students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends and family mushroomed to more than 15,750 members. The page has been a rallying point for those who support the reinstatement of Teresa Sullivan.

As rallies go, I thought this one was a bit long – made longer by the heat – but that said, it never got boring. As you can see from the statement, above, there were a lot of speakers – mostly faculty, three students, and one politician — but no one droned on too long. And most of the professors were, unsurprisingly, engaging public speakers.

I’ll leave the substance of the rally to other news sources to describe (you’ve heard all the arguments about transparency, the need for consultation, the lack of explanation for the firing, etc., all before), beyond noting that many faculty members took the opportunity to defend the value of a classical liberal arts education, something with which I strongly agree. It was also interesting to listen to Elizabeth Powell, the sole Darden professor to speak, defend the role of Darden in the entire matter (Darden is UVA’s business school, and the anti-Sullivan cabal, at least its active members, seemed to be centered among Darden alum. Among other things, the matter has certainly put a focus on the validity of business school management principles, at least as applied to academia.) Powell asserted that Darden, like the rest of the university community, supported Sullivan’s reinstatement and did not approve of the BoV’s actions in this matter. She got a lukewarm reception from the crowd, I thought, though she deserves points for appearing and making the case.

Beyond that, I have little to add in the way of analysis of the situation. Anything I might have to say would pale in comparison to Paul Goldman’s coverage over the past two weeks.

But listening to speeches this afternoon, talking with students and alumni at today’s rally, and seeing 2,000 people willing to spend their Sunday sweltering on the Lawn because they are genuinely disturbed by events of the last several weeks and care deeply about the University, it is clear that any resolution of this issue now must begin with Sullivan’s reinstatement. Anything less will leave Grounds in a state of rebellion, at least through the summer, certainly into the fall semester when students return, and possibly beyond.

And that prospect would run contrary to the Governor’s edict in this matter.

The fact is that this sort of non-transparent, top-down approach to management is certainly common and even arguably effective in the corporate world of Rector Helen Dragas and her key co-conspirators in this whole affair. It might even be defensible in a private university setting, but in the end it can’t be either justified or sustained in the face of popular opposition in the context of a public university.

The resolution of other issues and grievances, such as representation on the BoV by faculty and university staff workers, and the negotiation of terms that let Dragas save face (does Sullivan really need to make Dragas’ resignation a condition of her return, for example?), all flow from that.

But will the BoV do both the smart and the right thing? That is hard to say, mainly because of the fact that the BoV as led by Dragas has shown itself to be, if nothing else, inept and oblivious, or perhaps simply indifferent, to the unique environment in which they operate.

Hopefully, however, the BoV will take to heart the following words of Thomas Jefferson contained on a flyer handed out by organizers of the rally:

It is more honorable to repair a wrong than to persist in it.

Some pics of the rally are below:

The crowd, as seen from the Rotunda

Speakers get ready up on the Rotunda before the Rally

Two UVA faculty members make last minute speech revisions

Signing a petition supporting Pres. Sullivan

Thunderstorms threatened, but didn’t come, although a few stray drops fell

Beta Bridge. Despite this expression of student sentiment, today’s rally was focused on reinstating Sullivan, not retribution against Dragas.

  • jwsevert

    I was there last Monday ’til the bitter end but wasn’t able to be there today.  Very much appreciate your report.

  • Jaykimage

    Good article-just got 2 names wrong, and they are important.  On June 13 Suzie McCARTHY not McCormick, started a Facebook page called

    Students, Family and Friends United to Reinstate President Sullivan, not

    United for Honor.  

    Everything else you wrote was fabulous.