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University of Virginia board reinstates Sullivan as president

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Photo - University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan , center background, listens as board of visitors member, W. Haywood Fralin, left, addresses the board and Rector Helen Dragas, right, listens during the board of visitors at the rotunda at the school Tuesday, June 26, 2012 in Charlottesville, Va.  The board voted to reinstate Sullivan.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan , center background, listens as board of visitors member, W. Haywood Fralin, left, addresses the board and Rector Helen Dragas, right, listens during the board of visitors at the rotunda at the school Tuesday, June 26, 2012 in Charlottesville, Va. The board voted to reinstate Sullivan. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Local,Virginia,Education,Steve Contorno

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The University of Virginia's governing body voted unanimously Tuesday to reinstate ousted President Teresa Sullivan, projecting a united front it hoped would end a divisive 16 days on the state's flagship campus.

"There is no time for residual hostility toward anyone perceived to be on the other side of recent disagreements," Sullivan told an adoring crowd of hundreds on the school's historic Lawn. "We can go forward with what is best for the university only if we go forward together."

The vote reversed the board's June 10 decision to force out Sullivan as the school's top administrator. The brief meeting began with Sullivan and Rector Helen Dragas entering the Rotunda Board Room together, an early signal that the day would be free of the drama that dominated the past two weeks.

The turmoil at U.Va.
Aug. 1, 2010 -- Teresa Sullivan takes over as first female president of the University of Virginia.
June 10, 2012 -- Sullivan agrees to resign after meeting with the Board of Visitors, effective Aug. 15. Board blames "philosophical difference of opinion."
June 11 -- U.Va. Faculty Senate objects to Sullivan's ouster.
June 12 -- Carl Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce, agrees to become interim president at request of Rector Helen Dragas and Vice Rector Mark Kington.
June 14 -- The Faculty Senate declares support for Sullivan, denounces Dragas.
June 18 -- The Faculty Senate calls on Dragas and Kington to resign and for Sullivan to be reinstated.
June 19 -- In a marathon session that extends into the wee hours of the morning, Zeithaml is confirmed as interim president. School releases emails exchanged by Dragas and Kington while plotting Sullivan's ouster. Kington resigns.
June 21 -- The board announces it will meet to reconsider Sullivan's ouster. Dragas says the board "did the right thing the wrong way."
June 22 -- Gov. Bob McDonnell threatens to remove the entire board if it doesn't settle the issue.
June 24 -- Thousands of Sullivan supporters gather on the U.Va. Lawn.
June 26 -- The board votes unanimously to reinstate Sullivan.

When the 15-member board sequestered in a second-floor boardroom finally voted to reverse itself, a thundering cheer could be heard from the crowd outside.

Moments later, one of the darkest episodes in the school's storied history ended with the sun shining on Thomas Jefferson's university as Sullivan, the board and the crowd burst into a rendition of the school song, "The Good Old Song."

Dragas, who worked secretly behind the scenes to orchestrate Sullivan's ouster, publicly apologized for it Tuesday.

The board offered a unanimous, though symbolic, vote of confidence in Dragas, whose term expires Sunday. Gov. Bob McDonnell, who ordered the board to settle Sullivan's status Tuesday or resign, will decide whether Dragas is reappointed.

But even as Sullivan preached togetherness, some in the university community doubted the scars would heal quickly.

"If the governor reappoints [Dragas], it would be harder for the university to move forward," said Lindsay Frazier, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. "There's a trust issue."

There were other casualties during the divisive dispute. Vice Rector Mark Kington, who helped Dragas plan Sullivan's ouster, resigned amid the ensuing turmoil. Faculty members threatened to leave, and wealthy alumni pledged to withhold funding.

School administrators worried prospective students would be turned off by the campus chaos.

"It was very turbulent and at times embarrassing," said Mark Sarti, a Curry School of Education graduate student. "But in the end I think everyone got what they wanted."

Dragas said the concerns she raised in pushing Sullivan out, including declining state funding and an outdated strategic plan, remain and still must be addressed.

"The university needs to be on the forefront of that change, whether it wants to or not," Dragas said.

Faculty and administrators say the tumultuous period united factions of the university that rarely see eye to eye. In the well-liked Sullivan, groups long at odds with each other found a common cause that they say will make the hurdles the school faces easier to address.

"We seek the answer to a simple question," law professor George Cohen said. "What will the future of the University of Virginia look like?"

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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