Saturday, June 16, 2012

UVA Crisis Morphs Into a Political Issue

It's a great irony that two Democrats have created a growing problem for a Republican Governor.  Both the Rector and Vice Rector (translate to Chairman and Vice Chairman) of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors (i.e. Directors) were first placed on the Board by Democratic governors.  But Governor McDonnell has embraced both, reappointing one and quietly giving assurances of reappointing the other.  So McDonnell will now be widely seen as responsible for their actions, even as he makes every effort to distance himself.

The problem is that the Rector and the Vice Rector have led the charge to remove one of the most popular university presidents in the country -- Terry Sullivan, until last week, President of the University of Virginia.  Apparently, there is no constituency, outside of the Board of Visitors itself, that seems happy with Sullivan's dismissal.  And, the Armada is assembling.

Strongly worded petitions are garnering signatures expressing a "lack of confidence" in the University's board from faculty, students, alumni groups, and the broader University of Virginia community.

The problem for the Board is a relatively simple one.  No one outside the Board (and perhaps a wealthy citizen or two in Greenwich, Connecticut) seems to have any idea why the Rector and Vice Rector have taken the steps to remove President Sullivan -- and the Rector and Vice Rector aren't talking -- citing "confidentiality" issues that surround personnel decisions.

This bizarre situation permits discontented observers to dream up their own devil theory as to what happened, aided and abetted by strange emails from prominent donors claiming to be the devil themselves.  So, how does it end?  Well, it doesn't end.

Faculty and student groups live for opportunities like this and are licking their chops to begin the demonstrations, petitions, and calumny that will soon dominate the news output in Virginia.  Why study and do research, when you can carry a sign?

My sense is that the Board is underestimating the degree of disruption that their enemies are capable of.  I don't doubt the good intentions of both sides, but within a few days that won't matter anymore.  For McDonnell, his legacy will be that he will remembered forever as the Governor who orchestrated the removal of the first woman President in University of Virginia history.  Whatever McDonnell's true role may or may not have been in this drama, he will gradually be given the baton by those who write the history of this episode.