When University of Virginia Rector Helen Dragas and former Vice Rector Mark Kington first addressed the community in a June 10 press conference, Kington did not say a word. Dragas has said even less in her series of cryptic, public statements. The two instead conferred with each other in a vault of emails whose doors they thought had been closed after the ouster of our University's president. Whether Kington's resignation Tuesday came from moral acknowledgement of wrongdoing or a panicked response to public frustration, his stepping down has been the only true statement he's made.
That Kington and Dragas' removal of Sullivan was a dumb plan and a poor execution is a truth held as self-evident. Faculty, alumni, students, former University President John T. Casteen III, former Board of Visitors members as well as Monday's crowd of 2000-plus have united in protesting the Board's actions. In doing so they have displayed that the defenders of Jefferson's ideals are a transpartisan cohort across generations and disciplines. These parties have called for more information with no word of anything from the Board. The growing suspicion is that transparency would only reveal a presidential transition without substance or thought behind it.
Several figures early on had the ability to make incredibly direct and noble moves -- Dragas, Kington or any other knowing person could have stepped down or stepped forward with info. Instead, because of an inept Board a growing number of disparate players such as Gov. Bob McDonnell, Commerce School Dean and future interim President Carl Zeithaml, as well as University students and faculty, are now left in a moral checkmate. In July, McDonnell must appoint five Board members while others in Charlottesville may have to desert either this University or possibly their self-interest by staying. There is loss on all sides as these are genuine tragedies.
The resignation of Dragas and reinstatement of Sullivan, the latter perhaps depending on the former according to the Washington Post, are possibilities not lost to the faithful. Yet in spite of condemnation and evidence of duplicity growing against her, Dragas has shown little openness or remorse, at least publicly. And the return of Sullivan would require not only the Board agreeing to backtrack and do things right this time around, but also the approval of Sullivan. The community, however, is certainly behind it -- and if the pieces come in place, so are we.
We should acknowledge our own limits of power; as we've learned, Board members are the arbiters of the University. And the most decisive action they could take has nothing to do with a vote.
Several Board members had little knowledge of Sullivan's removal and several would have wanted for her to return. But in the most important meeting of their lives they voted 12-1 for an interim, with two useless abstentions and the flight of member Glynn Key from the scene. For a group of leaders, most were followers, kept in the dark and seemingly deceived.
Board members, you embarrass yourselves. Your statements and abstentions are symbolic and forgettable, and you were powerless yet complicit in advancing procedures which have destroyed this community, and put everyone -- including your interim selection -- in a terrible position. We agree with former Board member Austin Ligon: If you want to set an example of leadership, step down from your positions. Kington has resigned but that's not enough.
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