I followed with great fascination over the last two weeks the events that led to the reinstatement of Teresa Sullivan as president of the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson.
President Sullivan was forced 16 days earlier to resign her position, in a behind-the scene maneuver, by three members of the university governing board. The reason given for her dismissal was that she resisted budget cuts and moved too slowly to cut programs and eliminate faculty and staff positions. President Sullivan’s approach was to bring enduring change to the university from the ground up through a process of building consensus and empowering individual academic units.
While no two universities are alike and the circumstances are never identical, the underlying philosophical reasons for her dismissal bear resemblance to LSU’s dismissal of President John Lombardi and the announced departure of Chancellor Michael Martin. It is instructive to observe the contrast in the response to the two dismissals.
The mass protests for 16 consecutive days by the Faculty Senate and the entire student body at the University of Virginia, together with the no-confidence votes and talk of mass faculty defections, forced the governing board to reinstate the much-respected President Sullivan. The LSU response to the departure of the esteemed Lombardi and Martin has been at best muted if not nonexistent.
The Washington Post has covered the events at the University of Virginia daily on its front page for the last 16 days. The Lombardi and Martin departures were at best one- or two-day stories at The Advocate. Radio personality Jim Engster was the only voice who has provided adequate coverage.
Perhaps the most contrast was in Virginia’s Republican governor, Robert F. McDonnell’s, handling of the controversy. He stated at the onset and unequivocally that he would not instruct members of the governing board how to vote nor would he consider it appropriate. He viewed his role as governor is to appoint qualified people to the board and trust them to make the right decision.
Further to his credit, he let it be known that should the board fail to timely resolve the issue, he would replace the entire board. This is perhaps the nonmeddling and wise leadership that we can one day aspire to in Louisiana.