Finally some defenses of the beleaguered University of Virginia Board of Visitors are beginning to appear. An editorial in the Washington Post half-heartedly and with notable lack of enthusiasm called for Teresa Sullivan’s reinstatement, but the next day it ran an OpEd piece by Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, noting that “[w]hile the university board’s opaque process in removing Sullivan is regrettable, the board is right to be concerned about the direction of the university” and that “[f]aculty and administrators are up in arms, but these same individuals have, for decades, resisted cutting costs and providing accountability.”
Also strongly supporting the Board is a powerful article on the Pope Center site, “Trustees Taking Their Job Seriously — Scandalous!,” and an editorial in the Wall Street Journal declaring that the cause of the “spectacle” is that “U.Va.’s trustees dared to fire a president who was working against the priorities that it is ostensibly their job to set. In a word, the convulsions of Athens and Madison have arrived in Charlottesville, writ academic: An attempt to modernize a public institution and protect taxpayers is met by a revolt on behalf of a status quo that can’t last.”
The Journal’s point about Madison is well taken. Helen Dragas, the Rector of the Board of Visitors (and dragon-lady to most of my friends and neighbors in Charlottesville), reminds me Scott Walker. Both did the right thing. Both admit they should have prepared their audience better before acting. But the UVa faculty is very much like the public employee union that it in some sense is, and it is unlikely that better communication from the Board would have made much difference. Now, determined like the White House (that most faculty support) not to let a good crisis go to waste, the faculty is taking advantage of the current mess by grabbing for more power. Ms. Sullivan has reportedly demanded the ouster of Rector Dragas as a condition for her return, but why? Dragas’s term ends in five days anyway, and she is unlikely to be reappointed.
Finally, it should be noted that the fact that a war is just doesn’t mean it should be fought, and especially not fought badly. I think it more likely than not that the University will be much worse off as a result of this fiasco no matter who prevails.