U.Va. slapped with sanctions for summer turmoil

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Photo - FILE - A June 26, 2012 file photo shows University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan speaking after she was reinstated by the Board of Visitors in Charlottesville, Va.  The 15-member Board of Visitors voted unanimously to reinstate Sullivan less than three weeks after ousting her in a secretive move that infuriated students, faculty and alumni. (AP Photo/Steve Helber/file)
FILE - A June 26, 2012 file photo shows University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan speaking after she was reinstated by the Board of Visitors in Charlottesville, Va. The 15-member Board of Visitors voted unanimously to reinstate Sullivan less than three weeks after ousting her in a secretive move that infuriated students, faculty and alumni. (AP Photo/Steve Helber/file)
Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

A failed attempt this summer to oust University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan drew sanctions Tuesday from the accrediting body for Southern universities.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges put U.Va. on warning for the next 12 months and assigned a special committee for a further investigation six months after the university's Board of Visitors attempted to get rid of Sullivan.

The board charged that Sullivan failed to address the financial burdens facing the institution and was not welcoming suggestions to incorporate more online learning mechanisms into the curriculum.

The turmoil at Thomas Jefferson's University this June rocked the campus for weeks as faculty, students and alumni protested the popular Sullivan's ouster and eventually pressured the board to reinstate her just weeks later.

Sullivan and the board vowed to work together after the turbulence. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell re-appointed Rector Helen Dragas to a second term as head of the board despite her part in orchestrating the coup against Sullivan.

University Provost John Simon insisted the commission's actions reflected institutional concerns, not issues with the school's academic quality.

"While the decision is disappointing, the University of Virginia pledges to work diligently to address the concerns cited by the commission," Simon said in a letter addressed to the university community. "For the past several months and in the spirit of continuous improvement, the Board of Visitors and University leadership have been proactively working together to review governance practices and policies to ensure the highest level of transparency, accountability and responsiveness to all those it serves."

The commission, which held its annual meeting this week in Dallas, cited multiple faults with U.Va.'s action. It raised concerns about the lack of faculty representation on the Board of Visitors and accused the board of allowing a minority of members to control the body.

The commission's president, Belle Wheelan, told Bloomberg News that the ruling "tells the general public that the university has got a problem."

McDonnell, who refused to take sides during the battle between the board and Sullivan and her supporters, said he disagreed with the decision.

"I am concerned with SAC's statements during the investigation that 'much publicity' would be a factor in SAC's actions, and that a warning is an overly harsh remedy for the alleged board administrative policy violations," McDonnell said. "I have great confidence in the ability of the newly constituted University of Virginia Board of Visitors and President Teresa Sullivan to address all accreditation and governance issues facing the university."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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