UVA's Teresa Sullivan draws lessons from failed attempt to oust her

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan says she has drawn lessons from a failed attempt by the school's governing board to oust her.

Sullivan tells The Washington Post that she should have communicated more frequently with members of the Board of Visitors besides the rector and vice rector.

"I would rather hear about the problem before it becomes a formal problem, and so I'm looking for ways, informally, to talk with board members about things they're concerned about," she said. "I can't always guess in advance. I can't guess, period, what might be the concerns that board members might have. So I've encouraged them: 'Don't believe that I'm a mind reader. I'm not.'?"

Sullivan also said she might have made a mistake when she did not ask for a hearing and a public vote after being told by the board's leaders in early June that there were enough votes to fire her.

She was concerned that a public airing might cause turmoil on campus. "I didn't really want to put the university through a difficult period," she said.

"As it turned out, I did not save the university from a difficult period at all." U.Va. officials announced June 10 that Sullivan would step down Aug. 15, surprising the university community and triggering an outcry over the lack of explanation about her forced resignation.

In defending the decision, board Rector Helen Dragas had said the university wasn't acting quickly enough to address state and federal funding reductions, online education delivery and other challenges.

Following large-scale protests and online petitions, Sullivan was reinstated June 26. Sullivan said she did not see any signs of problems. She does not know what prompted the effort to force her to leave.

One board member praised her at a spring board meeting for her work with alumni and community leaders and all of the members applauded her, she said.

"Possibly, I was overly lulled by what I saw as positive signals," she said. Sullivan was surprised by the outpouring of support she received from faculty, staff, alumni and students.

"I think we do learn things about ourselves and about our institution - not things you necessarily had planned to learn or wanted to learn, because none of us wants to head into a difficult time," she said. "It is certainly a sobering experience to go through something like this," she said. "And, you know, I just hope that I learned the right lessons."

Rector Helen Dragas said in a statement that she had extended her apologies and that it is time to move forward. She said the board is committed to full collaboration with Sullivan and focused on the university's future.

A group of University of Virginia alumni are calling on the board to candidly explain its attempted ouster of Sullivan, saying a failure to do so will hurt the university's reputation and its fundraising efforts.

In an open letter to the board sent Aug. 8, 14 alumni spanning three decades equated the board's forced ouster to a "boardroom coup" more in line with a corporation than an academic institution.

The eight-page letter calls for an "open and dispassionate analysis" of the university's governance. It was sent before the board's annual retreat, which began Wednesday and continues Thursday in Richmond.