UVA alumni discuss firing

Published 12:23 pm Saturday, June 23, 2012

FRANKLIN—Should ousted University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan be reinstated Tuesday, Franklin’s Asa Johnson questions her effectiveness.

“Once you’ve been asked to leave, it would seem it would be difficult to come back in there, and everything be peaches and cream,” said Johnson, who graduated from UVA in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in education.

Retired from the human resources department at Union Camp, Johnson was among five UVA alumni from Western Tidewater who shared their feelings on Sullivan’s controversial firing after two years at the helm.

The University of Virginia’s governing board on Tuesday will consider reinstating Sullivan, the first female president of the prestigious public university founded in 1819 in Charlottesville by Thomas Jefferson.

Ten of the university’s 11 school deans and Faculty Senate have asked for Sullivan’s reinstatement after the Board of Visitors fired the 62-year-old on June 10. The news ignited outrage and protests.

Rector Helen Dragas on Thursday released a statement, claiming that Sullivan was fired because she wasn’t acting quickly enough to address financial pressures facing higher education, the role of online learning, changes in the health care environment, the increased student-faculty ratio and fundraising, according to a published report.

Franklin Attorney Elliott Cobb believes Sullivan’s firing was handled poorly.

“I can’t imagine a decision of that magnitude being made without the full board being assembled,” said Cobb, who received his bachelor’s degree in commerce in 1960 and his law degree in 1966, both from UVA. “I don’t know if the decision was right or wrong.

He doesn’t have a good feeling as to how the board will vote on Tuesday.

“I don’t believe you would have a special meeting unless they had the votes to reinstate her,” Cobb said.

He too has mixed feelings about Sullivan being reinstated.

“Now that the decision has been made, it would be in their best interest to get a new president and start fresh,” Cobb said. “If they reinstate her, they know more than I do, and I would give her my full support.”

Courtland Attorney Richard Railey, who has been following the saga, called Sullivan an “exceptional lady.”

“She’s certainly a lady I’m proud of to be president,” said Railey, a 1971 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs. “She’s a smart lady.”

He believes Sullivan will be reinstated, but wonders if she will still want the job.

“She could be a full-time, tenured professor making $300,000 to $400,000 a year,” Railey said. “That looks to me to be a better job than having a divided house.”

“Like the president of the United States, it’s a great honor and great responsibility,” he continued. “These are trying times when it comes to raising money.”

Sedley’s Anne Bryant is concerned about the turmoil at her alma mater.

“It creates opportunity for other universities to come after our faculty if things are in a state of unrest,” said Bryant, who received an English degree in 1975 and a master’s in business education from UVA’s Darden School of Business. “It makes sense for a university to be stable.”

A 1953 engineering graduate, Mac Coker of Franklin is disappointed with the publicity that followed Sullivan’s firing and isn’t sure what will happen Tuesday.

A retired sales manager for Union Camp, Coker understands that the school’s finances are a serious problem.

“If the major goal was to reduce costs, then the board has reason to go along with (firing Sullivan),” Coker said.