Home Education Why Was UVA President Teresa Sullivan Fired? The For-Profit “Education” Theory

Why Was UVA President Teresa Sullivan Fired? The For-Profit “Education” Theory


To date, the firing of UVA President Teresa Sullivan remains mysterious, not to mention shady, with Board of Visitors members basically hush-hush about the sudden, surprise, even bizarre move. What, everyone’s wondering, is going on here? Personally, my view is that “follow the money” is not a bad rule to follow in situations like these. Which is exactly what UVA Alum Anne-Marie Angelo has done:

I’ve poked around the internet and have come up with a theory about what I think may have been happening in Charlottesville to force Sullivan to leave.  Some parts of it may turn out to be a bit off, time will tell, but I’m confident enough in what I’ve found to present it as plausible. I am neither a journalist, nor a lawyer or a higher education administrator, and I am sure there are elements here that would benefit from the input of those professionals’ expertise.

All of this is information freely accessible to the public. I am sharing it in hopes that others may form their opinions and offer their insights, so that we might build a fuller picture of what has happened.

The theory I have is that Goldman Sachs’s Education Management Corporation, a for-profit education provider, wanted to make or made a bid to offer online education through UVA. From this endeavor, EMC would invest profits back into the University, helping to heal some of the University’s fiscal woes.  When Sullivan was reluctant or refused to agree to the venture, key members of the Board threatened litigation related to her performance as a fundraiser for the University.

What is the Education Management Corporation?  Ms. Angelo provides a link within her article to a Huffington Post story, which is a bit long but well worth reading, particularly tidbits like the following:

*”[F]ive years ago, the Pittsburgh company’s executives agreed to sell its portfolio of more than 70 colleges to a trio of investment partnerships for $3.4 billion, securing the needed capital for an aggressive national expansion.”

*Among those investment partners was Goldman Sachs.

*Not surprisingly, given that this industry is about as scummy as you can get, “a recent complaint from the U.S. Justice Department detailed a business bent on recruiting students at all costs…a cutthroat sales culture that rewarded employees who regularly bent the truth and took advantage of underprivileged and unsuspecting consumers,” with new recruits “viewed simply as a conduit for federal student assistance dollars…and pressure mounted from management to enroll anyone at any cost.”

Lovely, huh” What an industry.

Meanwhile, UVA alum Anne-Marie Angelo has cleverly, even brilliantly, pieced together a few more relevant facts. For instance:

*”[A]n article from Charlottesville’s The Hook raised questions about the potential role of Peter Kiernan, the chair of the Trustees at the Darden Foundation, the Board of UVA’s Graduate Business School, in the circumstances leading to Sullivan’s ouster.  The article noted in particular Kiernan’s role as a former partner at Goldman Sachs and that Goldman Sachs ‘recently took a major ownership position in a group of online universities.’” Hmmmm.

*”It also turns out that EMC’s General Counsel is a two-time University of Virginia alumnus.”

So, Ms. Angelo concludes:

the theory is that EMC approached the University with the potential of offering the “online education” component to which Dragas has referred, as a subsidiary of UVA’s educational offerings, one that would have healed a lot of fiscal woes for the University. As an independent entity who invested its profits back into the University, EMC’s involvement wouldn’t have made the University in and of itself private. Essentially it would have been selling the UVA ‘brand name’ for the opportunity to receive major gifts for the University. When Sullivan resisted this venture, the Board found fault with her performance as a fundraiser and made moves to oust her.

Now, I’m not one who’s normally (ever, actually) into conspiracy theories. In this case, though, the strange and sudden nature of Teresa Sullivan’s firing raises suspicions, and the near silence of the people who fired her raises even more. Add in the scumbag, for-profit “education” industry angle, and the huge amount of money at stake, and I’m actually starting to feel a bit conspiratorially-minded for once. How about you? Any better theories than this one?

  • Jim B

    From what I am reading, it seems this Dragas character practically made the decision by herself. There was an emergency meeting on the phone consisting of herself and two others and they made the decision. Apparently the board members supporting the president were not even consulted. The Post describes Dragas as a developer. Is there a possibility that she may enrich herself from this deal? Supposedly she was appointed to the board by Kaine. Not a very wise move as it now stands.

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    Peter Kiernan and Helen Dragas are the ones I suspected would be hand-picking the next president of the university for some ulterior motive. Now, I’m convinced that this post is on to something. According to The Hook, Kiernan has now resigned as chair of the Darden Foundation Board, following his sending out an email that stated, “As many of you know no major decision of this kind can be made at Virginia without the support and assent of the Governor,” thus implying that McDonnell pre-approved this mess, while praising Dragas at the same time.

    We all can figure out that “something is rotten” at Mr. Jefferson’s university. Now, the search begins to find out just what that is…

    Either way, McDonnell comes out looking very bad. Either he has no influence with the 9 members of the 16-member board that he appointed, or he did approve this debacle in advance.

  • mrg.uva

    calling attention to this, Lowell.  Personally, I completely buy into Anne-Marie’s theory.  I know there are a lot of alumni who would seriously stop giving if UVa decided to get into the online for-profit education racket.  I was really happy when Teresa Sullivan was brought onboard, but it’s not surprising that somebody who tried to make seriously needed reforms (especially living wages for all University employees) was pushed out by the Board of Visitors.