THE BLOG
06/19/2012 09:26 am ET Updated Aug 18, 2012

UVA Board Blunder: What Would Jefferson Do?

The decision to force University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan's resignation has rightfully been met with anger and dismay, especially coming from a university that prides itself on trust and honor. As a proud alumnus (CLAS '02), it's clear that the only possible resolution to this matter includes the reinstatement of President Sullivan, an immediate and heartfelt apology by the Board of Visitors, and the resignation of those on the Board who lack the know-how to govern a top-tier university.

When Thomas Jefferson founded UVA in 1819, he envisioned a new kind of university, one dedicated to practical teaching and learning, not an environment of entitlement that defined most of 19th Century higher education. Anyone who has visited the grounds in Charlottesville knows that Jefferson's legacy still defines the university's culture and spirit, so it's fitting to ask what he would do in a situation like this one.

Here's my best guess:

1) Demand Sullivan's Immediate Reinstatement: The Board has shown little to no sound reasoning for Sullivan's removal, except to note a "difference of opinion." As someone who fought against tyranny in all shapes and forms, it's highly likely that Jefferson would side with a popular educator over a tyrannical Board. Jefferson wasn't necessarily a powerful orator, but it never stopped him from speaking his mind (in this case, he would be front and center).

2) Dissolve the Board: The decision to communicate via a short e-mail on a Sunday morning flies in the face of UVA's community of trust. I highly doubt Jefferson would have endorsed this approach, never mind put his name behind it. As such, I'd imagine Jefferson losing confidence in the Board.

3) Host an Open Dialogue: To calm nerves among the university community, Jefferson would bring all sides together for a spirited discussion on how best to move forward. From his days studying at William & Mary to late-night dinners at Monticello, he was known for inviting discussion and debate on major issues of the day. An open forum, not awkward secrecy, is what's needed to restore confidence among students, faculty and staff that a new Board has the university's best interests at heart.

Every student who walks the Lawn and counts his/her blessings for the opportunity to attend a school like UVA can't avoid Jefferson's legacy. Now is the time to recognize what it means, why it's important and how to apply it to the present day. Allowing this dishonorable deed to go unresolved directly contradicts everything I learned during my time at Mr. Jefferson's University.

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