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UVa Board Reverses Itself, Reinstates President


This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Renee Montagne. The University of Virginia, a storied institution founded by Thomas Jefferson, has ended weeks of turmoil sparked by a dispute that reflects the issues many colleges face across the country. After firing the university's president, U.Va.'s board voted unanimously to reinstate her. . [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: The Board of Visitors did not vote on whether to fire Sullivan. Sullivan resigned after meeting with the rector and vice rector, who told her they had the votes needed to remove her.]

And after yesterday's stunning reversal, board members apologized for failing to make their case for new leadership, and for throwing the campus community into an uproar. NPR's Claudio Sanchez was there.

CLAUDIO SANCHEZ, BYLINE: A small crowd of supporters - faculty and students - convened early, and anxiously waited for the news outside the Rotunda, where the school's governing board was meeting to decide President Teresa Sullivan's fate. Sullivan herself came out - and announced she had gotten her job back.

TERESA SULLIVAN: We can go forward with what is best for the university only if we go forward together.


SANCHEZ: Less clear is the future of the woman who orchestrated Sullivan's ouster - Helen Dragas. Her term as university rector ends on July 1st. She's unlikely to be re-appointed by Governor Robert McDonnell. Dragas declined to speak to reporters but during the board meeting, she sounded contrite about the manner in which she, and a handful of board members, had tried - and failed - to remove Sullivan.

HELEN DRAGAS: I'd like to reiterate an apology to the U.Va. community. Again, let me state that we never wished, nor intended, to ignite such a reaction from the community of trust and honor, that we love so dearly.

SANCHEZ: Dragas, a successful and influential business woman, however, insisted that board members had raised legitimate concerns about the university's future. Dragas, in particular, had grown impatient with Sullivan's leadership, and what Dragas called her incremental approach to the urgent problems the university faces; namely, the need to make up for the deep cuts in state funding, the future of the school's medical center, and the desire of board members to expand online courses as a more cost-effective means to deliver instruction.

It was Sullivan's reluctance to move quickly, though, that endeared her to most faculty and students, who welcomed her more deliberate management style and inclusiveness. Dragas clearly underestimated the support Sullivan had built in less than two years as president. Dragas and the board she's led had no choice but to rescind Sullivan's dismissal. Reverend Deborah Lewis, a United Methodist minister on campus, was relieved.

THE REV. DEBORAH LEWIS: We've been out here on the lawn several times in the last couple weeks, and it's a really emotional, amazing day. The right thing happened. It was great to be here for today.

SANCHEZ: For students like John Kubinski, entering his fourth year at the university, a unanimous vote to keep Sullivan as president sends an important message.

JOHN KUBINSKI: I think all of us - the faculty, the students - we made it really clear that they have to consult us about what we care about. And it's just incredible that we've been vindicated in this catharsis right now.

SANCHEZ: Sullivan had these parting words for reporters.

SULLIVAN: Virginia is strong and united, and we're in problem-solving mode at Virginia.

SANCHEZ: As the crowd subsided and Sullivan retreated from the media spotlight, those in attendance began to sing "The Good Old Song," the university's alma mater.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Let's all join hands and give a yell for dear old U.Va..


SANCHEZ: Claudio Sanchez, NPR News, Charlottesville, Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.