The Return of President Sullivan

After two weeks of sustained activism by faculty, students, and alumni at the University of Virginia, the Board of Visitors reinstated President Teresa Sullivan by unanimous vote. As I wrote last week, she had resigned after the Rector of the Board—Helen Dragas—covertly gathered votes to force a resignation. This sparked a backlash that consumed the U.Va community, and forced Dragas to back down from her previous position–as evidenced by the fact that she also voted to reinstate Sullivan.

The takeaway, for U.Va at least, is that Teresa Sullivan has far more power and support than she did at the beginning of this debacle. If she wants to take the University in a new direction, she has—for now at least—the necessary political capital. By contrast, the Board of Visitors has taken a tremendous political hit. Even after Dragas leaves her rectorship (it ends on July 1), the Board will have to work with students, faculty, and donors to rebuild its position and authority.

One last thing. For as much as this is good news for the University, it’s important to remember the extent to which this was representative of a national drive to corporatize higher education. At a rally for Sullivan this past Sunday, I saw a sign that listed other Virginia schools—William & Mary, James Madison University, Old Dominion University, etc.—and asked if they were next. The fact of the matter is that they are, along with many others. The problems and challenges in higher education still exist, and there are still many people who want to make privatization the norm for public schooling.