Friday, June 15, 2012

an open letter to helen dragas, rector of the board of visitors of the university of virginia

Dear Rector,


Your weeks - perhaps months - of hard work have paid off.  You have succeeded in removing President Teresa Sullivan from office, and soon the search will begin for a new president, one that matches your "bold and visionary" outlook for our esteemed University.  It may or may not have occurred to you that the faculty and students at the core of the University's mission - that of educating young minds - might resist this change; nevertheless, your "bold and visionary" actions have borne fruit.  Like a general in the army of a banana republic, you gathered your cohorts and lackeys, corralled as much support as you could through whatever means necessary, and swiftly commenced your coup d'etat.

In doing so, you, from your unelected position, have succeeded in placing yourself above the faculty, students, and administration of the University that you are charged with governing.  The congratulations that I offer, therefore, should ring cold and hollow, if you have the sensitivity to criticism that you claim.

It seems, however, that you do not.  You "hear," but do not listen.  Though the faculty has called for transparency in this matter - a reasonable request considering the momentousness of the decision - you have deliberately turned a deaf ear, hiding behind reasons of decorum and "sound employment practices" - your words.  As if it were sound employment practice to suddenly and shockingly demand a popular and effective president step down without offering a reason for your behavior.

As if it were also sound employment practice not to fully vet a candidate before hiring her.  For, whatever our opinions of Teresa Sullivan, it appears that, less than two years after taking the position, she did not meet your standards.  Why, then, was she hired in the first place?  And why should we, as you've asked, wait to judge this decision until a new hire is found, when by your own standards your hiring practices are suspect?  We, the alums, do not think you bungled that hire, but apparently, you do; why, then, should we believe you'll do better this time around?

In short, your conduct and the conduct of the BOV has been disgraceful.  You have been asked for clarity by the people you serve: the faculty, the students, the alumni, and you have rejected all.  You have placed your politics and yourself above those you serve.  It is my understanding that your term ends on July 1 and it is my fervent hope that your appointment will not be renewed.  In fact I expect that it will not, as the governor cannot possibly be so politically blind as to endorse such a politically poisonous action as you have taken.  Nevertheless, your resignation would be greatly appreciated.  The BOV will meet on Monday, June 18, at 3:00 to discuss candidates for an interim president; the purpose of this letter is to request your resignation as rector and your appointment to the board before that time.  You owe it to the next president, for there will be a natural distrust of any hire you make; they will of course be seen by some as the product of a tainted process at best, and at worst, the puppet of a board that could not tolerate backbone from those it hires.  I admit that it is a short-notice request, but you must also admit that it is more time than you gave President Sullivan.




Commence commentary.  Obviously, Helen Dragas is unfit to lead or even participate in the search for a new president; even if she had good reasons, like catching Teresa Sullivan streaking the Lawn yelling "fuck this place" in a bath-salt-addled zombie binge, she has mishandled the process from Day 1.  The people who actually constitute the university deserve better than what she has offered.  It has already rolled one head; the head of the Darden School Board of Trustees, Peter Kiernan, resigned his position over his role in the firing, which largely involved gathering support towards the coup d'etat and keeping it all a secret.  Like the old joke about a thousand lawyers at the bottom of the sea, it's a good start.

It shouldn't stop there.  Dragas and her assistant rector, Mark Kington, should be next to go.  Neither should be involved in any way in naming the next school president.  If their actions thus far haven't been bad enough, the mere fact that they badly underestimated the reaction should be enough to prove how out of tune they are with their constituency.  (Perhaps "subjects" would be a better term, as none of us ever elected them.)  We can't throw the whole BOV overboard, of course, but the removal of the generals should send enough of a message to the rest of the board as to the acceptability of their actions.

This theory about the ouster suggests that it boiled down to Sullivan's resistance to allowing Goldman Sachs to offer online education programs through the University.  This was also alluded to by the Hook in a brilliantly titled article named Cabal Hall.  I have no idea if this is true; I have no idea if even Goldman Sachs has anything to do with anything.  If there is any truth to it, it'd be eerily reminiscent of Pixar's film Ratatouille, in which the nasty bad-guy chef wanted to use the name of the elite Parisian restaurant to serve TV dinners.

I might finally add that the following sentences are as disgraceful as anything:
Mr. Caputo will be participating from 340 Lake Avenue, Greenwich, CT 06830. Mr. Fralin will be participating from 2917 Penn Forest Boulevard, Roanoke, VA 24018. Mr. Kirk will be participating from Third Security LLC, 735 Market Street – 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103.
That's the list of members of the BOV that will participate in the Monday meeting via teleconference.  I fervently hope none of these three were among those who joined Helen Dragas in her coup.  To fire our president and then not even be bothered to be there in person to name a replacement would be absolutely appalling.  Especially if you only have to drive in from Roanoke.


Anonymous said...

Well done. Rector and Vice Rector should resign effective immediately. Board should decline to accept President's resignation.

Anonymous said...


Word word.

Word word word.


Anonymous said...

Seriously though, I'm not sure whether this should make me feel better about the state of college football or not.

Because college football is a disgrace right now. It's a great game, has passionate fans, in fantastic small town venues, etc., etc. And is also in a multi-year (decade?) long process of being wrung out of every potential dollar by the suits. No consideration has gone into the well-being of the sport or the players or students or, let's face it, me. The classic idea that what's best for the dollars is what's best for all has been in play for so long I've forgotten what it's like to have a different structure.

Oh wait! There's the non-revenue sports. Thank God. Seriously, thank God.

Because I used to think the University was not in the dollars fray. That some consideration as to quality of life, quality of education, quality of mission was paramount. Well, thanks for disillusioning me of that notion.

The point: Does this make me feel better about college football? That the money-grubbing and damn-all attitude is not as noxious as I had thought? That's it is, in fact, par for the course in all aspects of the college environment?

I suppose my answer is no, I don't feel better for the disillusionment. Is there a professor in Darden (ha!) who would say that true laissez-faire capitalism serves everyone's needs best? If so, ARE THEY A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN? I'm just tired of this.

I don't communism on campus, I want qualtitarianism. I want a salubrious environment for students and faculty and athletes and administrators. Why is that such a bad goal?

Anyway, I shall continue supporting my Hoos, and rue the day dear Somalia State sells out.


Anonymous said...

As an alumna of The University, which I hold dear to my heart and wallet, I could not agree more. I can't quite get the words out of my mouth, because disappointment and UVa don't usually come in the same sentence. We need a lot of names on a petition to the board to decline Dr. Sullivan's resignation. And throw Helen Dragus to the wolves.