1,500 rally on UVa. campus for reinstatement of ousted president

Teresa Sullivan. Photo: Miller Center, U.Va.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - Supporters of ousted University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan called Sunday for her reinstatement and for greater transparency by the school's Board of Visitors.

About 1,500 people gathered for the "Rally for Honor" on the lawn adjacent to the Rotunda on the Charlottesville campus, two days before the school's board is scheduled to meet to reconsider its decision.

"We are united in asking for our president to return," Dorothy K. Fontaine, dean of the school of nursing, told the crowd to a rousing applause. Other speakers included professors, students and community members.

On Friday Gov. Bob McDonnell threatened to replace the entire board if it fails to resolve the furor. Also on Friday, Carl Ziethaml, the university dean appointed as Sullivan's interim replacement, said he won't do anything related to the job until after the board meeting.

Students, faculty, university deans and alumni have rallied in support of Sullivan in demonstrations, statements and letters, and have criticized the board's executive committee for a lack of transparency in reaching a decision that shocked the campus.

"On January the 11th 2010, the Board of Visitors unanimously elected Dr. Teresa A. Sullivan our president. The following two years demonstrated the wisdom of their judgment and the proof lies among you in the unwavering support you and thousands of others have given to her," assistant professor Peter Norton told the crowd Sunday, speaking on behalf of Faculty Senate. "The Board of Visitors have the opportunity now to prove that it was right in 2010 and can make allies out of thousands of dedicated champions of our university."

Sullivan, the first female president of the prestigious public university founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, was forced out during a closed-door session of the Board of Visitors in which no official vote was taken.

The June 10 announcement that she would resign blindsided Sullivan and ignited wide outrage and protests.

The 62-year-old eminent scholar of labor-force demography took office in August 2010 after serving as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, another top public university. Her appointment in Virginia drew national attention.

Ten of the university's 11 school deans, as well as the Faculty Senate, have demanded Sullivan's reinstatement amid wide condemnations of the board's abrupt firing of the popular president.

Those opposed to Sullivan's removal likened her ouster to a coup d'etat that went against the stately Charlottesville university's longstanding principles of honor, respect and transparency. In calling for the board to explain its actions some repeated Jefferson's 1820 pledge that the school should "follow truth wherever it may lead."

Rector Helen Dragas publicly disclosed Thursday more detailed reasoning behind Sullivan's ouster. A six-page statement said Sullivan wasn't acting quickly enough to address financial pressures facing higher education, the role of online learning, changes in the health care environment, the increased student-faculty ratio, fundraising and other strategic challenges. The university lacks long-range plans on several of those fronts, it added.

In comments to the panel last week, Sullivan defended her performance since taking office, outlining aspects of her strategy of measured change, including implementing a new budgeting model that decentralizes financial planning.