1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

President Sullivan's Ouster: Anthropology & Linguistics Heads Join Campus-wide Outcry, Sign Letter of Protest

— from Dionisios Kavadias

The Department of Anthropology's Chairs Fred Damon (acting) and Susan McKinnon (incoming), and the LInguistics Program Director, Ellen Contini-Morava, participated in the camus-wide discussion with other faculty and staff leaders about the sudden dismissal of President Sullivan earlier this week. The resulting Letter of Concern and Protest, addressed to Rector Helen Dragas and reprinted below, bears their signatures.

12 June 2012

Dear Rector Dragas and members of the Board of Visitors:

The undersigned Department Chairs and Program Directors of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences write in support of the letter submitted by the Faculty Senate to protest the resignation of President Teresa Sullivan and to join in the university-wide request for clarification.  We understand the Board’s fiduciary responsibilities and believe they can be performed most effectively for the mission of the University in conversation with the faculty—the stewards of that mission of higher education.  As leaders of the University’s core academic unit, we think it crucial to understand better the rationale for this decision.

Our surprise and concern arise directly from the fact that we have been very pleased with the direction in which President Sullivan and her administrative team have been leading UVA and with her accomplishments thus far. She is an extraordinary academic leader, with superb administrative abilities, the heart of a faculty member, and evident strength of character. Her superlative judgment—the hallmark of any great leader—was seen most conspicuously in her filling the top two administrative vacancies with what everyone agrees are excellent choices in John Simon and Michael Strine. We were optimistic about her plans to retain as well as attract excellent faculty. We in Arts and Sciences are direct beneficiaries of important initiatives that she personally spearheaded, such as the new financial model, which promised to increase the transparency and effectiveness of resource allocation; the sizable grant recently won from the Mellon Foundation to hire new faculty; a sensible plan for accommodating increased enrollment; and cutting-edge innovations in science and technology.  We moreover admired her efforts to build community, to bring together the various, sometimes competing, segments of the university. One hears from colleagues elsewhere that Terry Sullivan was widely recognized as a rising star among university presidents.  We expect that her positive impact on the University of Virginia will be felt—and will be appreciated by all of us—for years to come.

The University of Virginia is first and foremost an institution devoted to the principles of open debate, discussion and deliberation.  The central purpose of the University as articulated in the University’s Faculty Handbook is the transmission of knowledge and skills, a fostering of “the habits of mind and character required to develop a generous receptivity to new ideas among our students” and a “desire to engage in a lifetime of learning.”  We stress the central role of faculty governance in matters of academic programming and curriculum.  Faculty are the leaders of the University’s intellectual and pedagogical life.  We would welcome any discussion regarding our teaching mission, the defining quality of the UVA experience, including issues of distance and digital learning. 

The entire university community would benefit from a full airing of the specific “philosophical differences” mentioned by you and President Sullivan in order to form a clear vision for the months and years ahead. We believe that this abrupt and, from our point of view, opaque decision will deeply threaten the way UVA is perceived by prospective as well as current faculty, students, and donors. We strongly urge the Board of Visitors to reopen discussion with President Sullivan and the faculty.

We share with you the urgent concern to ensure that this most distinctive of American universities can maintain the sources of excellence that have characterized it now for nearly two centuries.

Respectfully yours,

Cynthia Wall, English

David Leblang, Politics

Brian Owensby, History

Paul Halliday, History (incoming)

Charles Holt, Economics

Douglas Taylor, Biology

Siva Vaidhyanathan, Media Studies

Krishan Kumar, Sociology

Jon Mikalson, Classics

John Miller, Classics (incoming)

Fred Damon, Anthropology

Susan McKinnon, Anthropology (incoming)

Tom Bloom, Drama

Edmund Brodie, Mountain Lake Biological Station

Richard Will, Music

Farzaneh Milani, Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages & Cultures

Deborah Parker, Italian, Spanish & Portuguese

John Arras, Biomedical Ethics

Ellen Contini-Morava, Linguistics

Charlotte Patterson, Studies in Women & Gender

Deborah McDowell, Carter G. Woodson Institute

Gabriel Finder, Jewish Studies Program

Talbot Brewer, Philosophy

Anne Behnke Kinney, East Asian Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

David Herman, Slavic

Michael Suarez, Rare Book School

Patricia Wiberg, Environmental Sciences

Christopher Krentz, American Sign Language

Christopher Tilghman, Creative Writing

Deborah McGrady, French

Sandhya Shukla, American Studies

Kevin Hart, Religious Studies

Kurtis Schaeffer, Religious Studies (incoming)

Edward G. Lengel, Papers of George Washington

Colin Bird, Politics, Philosophy, & Law

Charles Laughlin, East Asia Center

Howard Singerman, Art and Art History

Valerie Larsen, Arts & Sciences Center for Instructional Technology

W. Dean Harmon, Chemistry


Wednesday, 13 June 2012