University of Virginia community acts to reinstate ousted president, US, 2012


Reinstatement of ousted university president Teresa Sullivan.

Time period

10 June, 2012 to 26 June, 2012


United States

Location City/State/Province

Charlottesville, Virginia

Location Description

Campus of the University of Virginia
Jump to case narrative


University of Virginia Faculty Senate, other faculty members, University of Virginia students, University of Virginia Honor Committee


Not known

External allies

State legislators who called for an investigation of the Board of Visitors, American Association of University Professors, University of Virginia alumni

Involvement of social elites

Virginia governor Robert "Bob" McDonnell issued an ultimatum to the Board of Visitors to resolve the situation by June 26, 2012 or he would force the entire board to resign.


Helen Dragas and Mark Kington, respectively Rector and Vice Rector of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Not known

Campaigner violence

None known

Repressive Violence

None known





Group characterization

and supporters of the University of Virginia

Groups in 3rd Segment

American Association of University Professors
University of Virginia Honor Committee
University of Virginia Student Council
University of Virginia alumni
Virginia state legislators

Groups in 4th Segment

Governor Robert McDonnell

Segment Length

Approximately 2 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

6 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

10 out of 10 points

Database Narrative

Teresa Sullivan took the position of President of the University of Virginia prior to the 2010-2011 school year. The Rector of the Board of Visitors (BOV), Helen Dragas, began in October 2011 to carry out a plan to remove Sullivan from office. 

In May and June 2012, Dragas and Vice Rector Mark Kington approached other board members about Sullivan’s removal, accusing her of inadequate action on financial reform issues. Dragas and Kington eventually secured the majority of Board votes necessary to vote her out. On 8 June 2012, Dragas and Kington informed the president of the Board’s decision and told her that she could either resign or be formally fired. Sullivan chose to resign. Her resignation was announced to the campus community through email on 10 June, citing a “philosophical difference” with the BOV. This announcement came as a complete surprise to most of the university community, including professors, students, and alumni.

Between 11 June and 16 June, many groups spoke out against the BOV’s decision and unannounced action. The Faculty Senate, the student council, alumni (through a website with a comment and question submission feature), the American Association of University Professors, state legislators and many notable alumni all issued statements expressing surprise and concern about the secrecy and sudden nature of the ouster, many calling for the BOV to reconsider its decision. Governor Bob McDonnell expressed surprise at the BOV’s decision but stated that he would not intervene. On 12 June, thirty-three department chairs and program directors signed a letter addressed to Dragas and the BOV asking for “clarification” about the circumstances of Sullivan’s resignation. On 14 June, to protest the BOV’s lack of transparency and unwillingness to answer the public’s questions about the ouster, the Faculty Senate adopted a “no confidence” resolution against the BOV and the Rector.

In different statements throughout this period, Rector Dragas explained that Sullivan was not taking the action that she and other board members felt was necessary to make the university competitive in the current economy. Dragas highlighted Sullivan’s failure to implement online education programs like the University of Phoenix’s program, which Dragas considered a crucial development for the university to make. On 17 June Dragas wrote to the university’s faculty addressing the transparency complaints against the BOV and claimed that “We can, and we will, recruit a stellar new president.”

However, an email from Darden School of Business Foundation Board of Trustees chair Peter Kiernan to other program directors, sent 10 June, had been leaked to a local newspaper on 12 June. In the email, Kiernan admitted he had known about the plan to oust Sullivan. This detracted from claims that the BOV had acted appropriately during the ouster.  Faculty, students and other university community members continued to decry the BOV’s conduct. 

800 faculty members attended an emergency Faculty Senate meeting on the night of 17 June, again voting in favor of the “no confidence” resolution. University Provost John Simon made a statement at the meeting, dwelling on the university’s liberal arts tradition and his and the university’s high valuation of honor and integrity. He closed by saying “I am now wondering whether my own beliefs about the values of higher education are consistent with our Board.” 

He did not end up resigning, but his speech garnered a lot of attention from the university community. The university’s Honor Committee also issued a statement condemning the actions of the BOV.

On the morning of 18 June, the Faculty Senate met with Dragas to ask questions about the BOV’s actions surrounding Sullivan’s ousting, which had become a nationally reported story. After the meeting, the Senate released four demands in a statement: “1) That the Board delay the naming of any interim president to provide an opportunity for shared governance; 2) That President Sullivan be reinstated; 3) That the Board recommend representation by UVA faculty on the Board as voting members; and 4) That the Rector and Vice Rector resign in the best interests of the University.”

The BOV held a meeting the same day to name an interim president, which Sullivan also attended to speak on her behalf and to discuss the terms of what was then considered her inevitable firing. 2,000 to 3,000 protestors including faculty and students gathered outside the meeting, holding signs protesting Sullivan’s resignation, cheering for Sullivan when she entered the meeting. Sullivan left the meeting as it continued, and the meeting did not end until around 3 the next morning. The protesters stayed late into the night. 

In the course of the Board’s meeting the dean of the School of Commerce, Carl Zeithaml, was named the interim president of the university. One board member, Hunter Craig, called for Sullivan’s reinstatement. One member left the meeting before it was over, two abstained from the vote, and one opposed the motion to hold an election.

Later that same day, 19 June, computer science professor Bill Wulf, one of around 30 people who held the university’s most prestigious title, “university professor,” resigned in a strongly worded letter addressed to interim president Zeithaml, stating “I do not wish to be associated with an institution being as badly run as the current U Va.” 

The Vice Rector of the BOV, Mark Kington, announced his resignation on this day as well. The university’s student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, published emails between Dragas and Kington discussing their problems with Sullivan’s leadership and articles that Dragas used as evidence for her proposed methods of conducting the university’s programs.

On 20 June, 600 people convened at the Rotunda, a central building on campus, to protest the BOV’s decision and to call for Sullivan’s reinstatement. The Faculty Senate continued their call for Dragas to resign. The Faculty Senate chair, George Cohen, asked the Board again to explain the reasons behind Sullivan’s ouster, saying that the community was without answers about an issue that affected all of them. 

The newly instated interim president, Zeithaml, declared that he did not support Sullivan’s ouster and would not permanently fill the position.

On 21 June, 10 of 11 deans of the university’s colleges called for Sullivan’s reinstatement. The other dean was Zeithaml, who was not asked to take a position. The growing media buzz around Sullivan’s resignation began to draw the attention of the university’s accreditation agency. Finally, three members of the BOV called for a meeting to vote on the reinstatement of Sullivan as president. 

The next day, 22 June, Zeithaml suspended all his presidential activity and returned to his deanship position, citing the massive support for Sullivan as the reason. Governor McDonnell issued an ultimatum to the Board members: if they were unable to resolve the matter in a meeting on the upcoming Tuesday, 26 June, he would fire the entire board.

On Sunday, 24 June, a student-organized “Rally for Honor” featured music, slogans, signs, and two dozen speakers supporting the reinstatement of Sullivan. People gathered on the campus Lawn, eventually numbering around 3,000, calling for Sullivan to be reinstated and condemning the BOV’s actions.

After the pressure from demonstrations, Governor Bob McDonnell’s ultimatum, and public scrutiny, the BOV held a meeting on 26 June to discuss how to proceed. The meeting was monitored by 2,000 students, faculty, and other interested parties on the university’s lawn who watched a live feed. 

After a short period of deliberation, the board voted unanimously to reinstate Sullivan to the university presidency.


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Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Lekey Leidecker, 04/11/2012