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McDonnell Deserves Credit for Unanimous Vote to Reinstate Sullivan

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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.