“This institution will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”
- Thomas Jefferson to William Roscoe, 27 December 1820
This one’s for you, TJ.
I write this post as a proud UVA alumna (CLAS ’01), one who knows the devotion we alums share for the education we received at Virginia. UVA offers one of the best public educations in the nation, and it’s open to all who meet its rigorous standards. UVA is an institution with an incredible sense of groundedness, as well as a dynamic, thoughtful group of students, faculty, and administrators who care deeply about the place. For better and sometimes for worse, Mr. Jefferson’s University, The University, has not been easily moved by the fashions of the day. It’s a place where reason and truth are valued, and where students and faculty do not simply shrug off questionable actions as par for the course. It’s no surprise, then, that the lack of clarity and transparency over the sudden resignation of our President this past Sunday is eating away at many of us.
I am also a writer and historian, currently finishing up a Ph.D. in History at Duke University. The research skills I’ve learned at Duke and Virginia have enabled me to know where and how to find information quickly. When the news broke of President Sullivan’s sudden resignation from UVA, I became very curious. Sullivan arrived at UVA as a highly respected administrator of public higher education, one of the best in the business. Something must have gone very amiss for her to agree to resign in this way.
I’ve poked around the internet and have come up with a theory about what I think may have been happening in Charlottesville to force Sullivan to leave. Some parts of it may turn out to be a bit off, time will tell, but I’m confident enough in what I’ve found to present it as plausible. I am neither a journalist, nor a lawyer or a higher education administrator, and I am sure there are elements here that would benefit from the input of those professionals’ expertise.
All of this is information freely accessible to the public. I am sharing it in hopes that others may form their opinions and offer their insights, so that we might build a fuller picture of what has happened.
The theory I have is that Goldman Sachs’s Education Management Corporation, a for-profit education provider, wanted to make or made a bid to offer online education through UVA. From this endeavor, EMC would invest profits back into the University, helping to heal some of the University’s fiscal woes. When Sullivan was reluctant or refused to agree to the venture, key members of the Board threatened litigation related to her performance as a fundraiser for the University.
Here is how I’ve arrived at this theory:
1. On Sunday, the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported that Sullivan only learned that she was being forced to resign on Friday, and that the Chairman of the Darden School of Business’s Foundation knew of the “project” to oust her several weeks ago.
2. An examination of the minutes of the Board of Visitors meetings from 2011-12 reveals that Sullivan’s departure was discussed over several months and may have been related to fundraising:
- At the September meeting, Sullivan reported a 13% decrease from the previous fiscal year in giving to the University (p. 8534).
- In November, the BOV created and adopted a Presidential Performance Evaluation, with individual members of the Board writing reviews of Sullivan. Although this is a common professional practice and has obvious benefits for organizational health, it was an unprecedented action taken by the Board (p. 8615).
- In February, the BOV met in closed executive session with its General Counsel to discuss pending and threatened litigation and to discuss “personnel matters relating to the appointment and performance of University employees in connection with fundraising activities and potential gifts to the University related to the Capital Campaign” (p. 8656)
- The Board held a closed executive session at its May meeting in which it discussed personnel matters related to University officers, presumably Sullivan. In the executive session, they also consulted with the University’s General Counsel on a “privileged legal report” on “pending and anticipated litigation affecting the University.” (pgs. 8708-09)
From the site’s cache: “/PRNewswire/ — Education Management Corporation … to take for granted just how beautiful and historic the University of Virginia is, …”
So, the theory is that EMC approached the University with the potential of offering the “online education” component to which Dragas has referred, as a subsidiary of UVA’s educational offerings, one that would have healed a lot of fiscal woes for the University. As an independent entity who invested its profits back into the University, EMC’s involvement wouldn’t have made the University in and of itself private. Essentially it would have been selling the UVA ‘brand name’ for the opportunity to receive major gifts for the University. When Sullivan resisted this venture, the Board found fault with her performance as a fundraiser and made moves to oust her.
Given the heavy involvement of Darden in this scenario, I’d be curious to know more about the ways Darden has privatized over the years, and whether this model bears any resemblance to those processes.
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