By Claudia Guy
Dear Editor and a Message to the Board of Visitors,
How did University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan's ousting by the Board of Visitors become such a big news story? I understand that the UVA community wants a clear explanation as to why Sullivan was ousted. But in my mind the only meaningful issue is how the ouster became such a big news story.. I've seen plenty of other less-than-meaningful arguments (below) that I cannot begin to understand.
1. "Semper Sic Dragas." Do you honestly believe Dragas' actions were in any way tyrannical? The Board of Visitors has every right to oust a president if they have different goals and priorities for the school. That's part of their job, as a committee, to develop long-term goals for the university and work as best they can to make sure those goals are achieved. The Board of Visitors offers checks and balances to the University's system and I doubt very much that the Board of Visitors took such a bold step without first trying to find some middle ground.
2. "You can't run a university like a business." Of course you can - and should! In this economic crisis funds are drying up in all directions - from federal sources, state sources, and grass root (alumni) sources. Maybe the University's students will rack up debt like they've just gotten their first credit card (because that may, in fact, be the case for many) but in the long term debt is never a good solution. The school itself should have a budget and stick to it. If you can't afford all of your programs even after rigorous fundraising, you will simply have to cut your spending. Racking up debt is not the answer. Look at Greece. Or, if you prefer, just look across the Potomac for an example a little closer to home.
3. Similar to #2 above but more specific: "Corrupt business principles should not govern the University's budget. For example, it is corrupt to pay more to some professors simply because their graduates will go on to higher-paying fields and therefore be able to make bigger donations in the future." This is a lovely conspiracy theory, but I can tell you with 100% certainty that possibility of future donations is not a factor in professors' salaries. A professor's salary is based on two main factors: First, how much would the professor be paid at another university? Second, how much would the professor be paid working at a job in their field? There are a myriad of other lesser factors, but these are the governing principles. If professors are not reasonably paid according to these two factors, we will lose them either to other universities or other jobs. Yes, in the end the chemical engineering professor will probably be paid more than a liberal arts professor. But, it has nothing to do with the potential for future donations - or any other philosophy for that matter! This is not a conspiracy, people! It's simply economics.
4. "Two years wasn't a long enough time to know if Sullivan would do a good job. She was just getting her feet wet." First, I would like to say I don't think the issue is whether or not Sullivan was doing a good job. I believe the real issue here was whether or not the Board and Sullivan had insurmountable philosophical differences that neither party would compromise on. If that was the case, two years was plenty of time to determine that the board-president relationship would not work.
So, why the scandal, O Board of Visitors? If you were so definitely in the right when you acted, then why, do you appear so in the wrong now? I'll tell you why. Because the community asked for a cause of termination and you did not offer one. You were too concerned about the principle of the matter. "This is well within our right as Board of Visitors and this is supposed to be a private affair, so 'no!' community, you may not have your answers!" You were too busy thinking about principle to think about perception. And the perception was that if you're not telling us your reasons then whatever you're hiding must stink.
Now you are faced with a reality check, Board of Visitors! Things are out of control - donors are pulling money and faculty are resigning! Your community feels wronged! More importantly your community wants answers! Now that everyone's watching, vague answers will not do. Tell us clearly why President Sullivan was fired!!!!