RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The University of Virginia's interim president says he agreed to take the job out of love for the university and the desire to rebuild trust after the Board of Visitors' handling of President Teresa Sullivan's ouster.
Carl P. Zeithaml said Wednesday that after lengthy deliberations about whether to step in to the job during such a contentious time, he decided he had no other option, even though he was aware that some would question his legitimacy.
"The reason I felt I had no choice is because I love this university," Zeithaml said at a news conference. "In many respects, the reason I did it was I wanted to build on the tremendous work I believe President Sullivan has done in the last two years."
Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce, said he opposed the board's decision to remove Sullivan, calling it a "flawed process." He said he has exchanged several emails with Sullivan since being named Tuesday as her interim replacement and he would only take the job if John Simon stayed on as provost. He said he has no desire to apply for the permanent position, and expects the interim job to last about a year.
His main goal is to initiate conversations with faculty, students, alumni and donors in "moving the university forward" in the upcoming school year, Zeithaml said.
The Faculty Senate continued its efforts to get the Board of Visitors to reinstate the popular Sullivan, and hundreds gathered for a vigil outside the school's historic Rotunda shortly after Zeithaml's appearance. The faculty group plans to meet with Zeithaml on Thursday.
"We have already made a difference and we will not back down from fighting for our principles and for the university we love," Faculty Senate chairman George Cohen said in a note to colleagues. "We have work to do. Let's get to it."
Despite the strong support for Sullivan — and about 2,000 showing up outside the Rotunda on Monday to protest her removal — it's unlikely that the Board of Visitors would reinstate her after naming Zeithaml to the interim post.
Sullivan's severance agreement, which she signed Monday, puts her on a year's sabbatical with her annual base salary of $485,000 as well as a $50,000 allowance for office and staff support. She and her husband, U.Va. law professor Douglas Laycock, must move out of the presidential home by July 31. The agreement also gives her the option to become a faculty member in the Department of Sociology after her sabbatical.
Meanwhile, emails released by U.Va. provide a glimpse into the strategy of the top two Board of Visitors members in the weeks leading up to Sullivan's ouster.
Rector Helen Dragas and Vice Rector Mark Kington discussed the importance of online learning, a May 31 pricing proposal from a public relations firm about a "strategic communication project" and a draft of a news release announcing Sullivan's resignation more than a week before it was announced.
The emails, first obtained by U.Va.'s Cavalier Daily student newspaper, also included discussions of developing a plan for online education at U.Va. and cited reports about universities turning to online delivery. Dragas cited online education in her first public statement on June 10 after the announcement of Sullivan's removal. The two board members also traded news articles that addressed the departure of a Cornell University leader, a hospital merger and a private university dropping its policy of admitting students regardless of their need for financial assistance.
The Faculty Senate and other groups pressed for the resignations of Dragas and Kington for their handling of Sullivan's dismissal. Kington stepped down Tuesday.
Zinie Chen Sampson can be reached on Twitter: https://twitter.com/zinie