Teresa Sullivan reinstated as UVA's president

Sullivan was voted back into the university's presidency in a unanimous vote by the Board of Visitors. (Photo: Ben Rice)

(ABC7, AP) - Teresa Sullivan, the ousted president of the University of Virginia, was reinstated as president of the school Tuesday after weeks of turmoil at Virginia’s flagship university.

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.

“Thank you for renewing your confidence in me,” Sullivan said after the board reinstated her. "I want to partner with you in bringing about what's best for the university."

The vote from the schools Board of Visitors was unanimous to reinstate Sullivan.

UVA student Adam Brochu said, "When she was let go, we were pretty upset about that, but we're glad to have her back."

Falls Church resident and UVA student William Haynes said Sullivan is very popular with students.

"She has a great focus on the academics here, which is the main reason why I chose to come here," Haynes added.

Rector Helen Dragas, who was central to the initial move to oust the president, opened the meeting with comments seeking to reunite the university community.

She said she was convinced the university would emerge stronger after the controversy and reiterated an apology for the way the matter was handled initially.

"The situation became enormously dramatized and emotionally charged," she said Tuesday. "I sincerely apologize for the way this was presented and you deserve better.

But she said she looked forward to moving on in the best interests of the university community.

"I believe real progress is more possible than ever now," Dragas told the group before the vote was taken. "It is unfortunate that we had to have a near death experience to get here."

UVA Professor Emeritus Peyton Taylor Jr. said, "I think it showed the university at its best: to admit an error, correct it and move on."

"I am relieved," UVA parent Liz Siebers said.

And she has reason to be. Siebers has triplets all starting at the university this fall. Like many, she worried what the controversy was doing to Virginia's reputation.

Siebers explained, "As a parent and hearing about what was going on I was concerned about the situation, and I really like Sullivanm so I'm thrilled that they voted to retain her."

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.

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.

On Tuesday, he issued a statement praising the board and Sullivan.

“The past few weeks have not been easy for the University, and all those who love it,” Governor Bob McDonnell said in a statement. “There has been too little transparency; too much vitriol. Too little discussion; too much blame. Now, with today’s Board action, the time has come for Mr. Jefferson’s University to move forward.”

Sullivan 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.

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."

Dragas, who was responsible for Sullivan’s ouster, stated 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, she added.

Sullivan had defended her performance since taking office, outlining aspects of her strategy of measured change, including implementing a new budgeting model that decentralizes financial planning.