"Strategic Dynamism" at UVa

« previous post | next post »

"Rector Dragas' Remarks to VPs and Deans", 6/10/2012
"Teresa Sullivan's statement to the U.Va. Board of Visitors", 6/18/2012

Scott Jaschik, "Early Exit at U. of Virginia", Inside Higher Ed 6/11/2012
Scott Jaschik, "Fired for Protecting Languages?", Inside Higher Ed 6/18/2012
Susan Resneck Pierce, "Lessons from Virginia", Inside Higher Ed 6/18/2012
Scott Jaschik, "The E-Mail Trail at UVa", Inside Higher Ed 6/20/2012
Kevin Kiley, "Going Another Round? UVa board poised to reappoint ousted president, but not without objection", Inside Higher Ed 6/22/2012
Johann Neem, "Disruptive Innovation: Rhetoric or Reality", Inside Higher Ed 6/26/2012
Kevin Kiley, "U.Va. Board Reinstates Sullivan", Inside Higher Ed 6/26/2012

Christopher Shea, "Inside the turmoil at the University of Virginia", WSJ 6/18/2012
Valerie Bauerlein, "Ruckus at the Rotunda", WSJ 6/21/2012
"The Virginia Fracas" WSJ Editorial 6/25/2012

Kieran Healey, "The More or Less Unanimous Declaration of the Board of Visitors", Crooked Timber 6/20/2012

Karin Kapsidelis, Michael Phillips, "UPDATE: U.Va. board reverses decision, brings back Sullivan", Richmond Times-Dispatch 6/26/2012
Richard , "University of Virginia Reinstates Ousted President", New York TImes 6/26/2012

Daniel de Vise and Anita Kumar, "Teresa Sullivan ouster: 33 faculty leaders protest her dismissal from University of Virginia presidency", Washington Post 6/13/2012
Daniel de Vise and Anita Kumar, "U-Va. board: President Teresa Sullivan’s removal came after ‘extended’ talks over school’s health", Washington Post 6/13/2012
Daniel de Vise and Anita Kumar, "U-Va. Faculty Senate to meet in emergency session Sunday over Teresa Sullivan’s ouster", Washington Post 6/17/2012
Anita Kumar and Daniel de Vise, "U-Va. donors threaten to withhold funds over ouster of president", Washington Post 6/17/2012
Valerie Strauss, "Is University of Virginia's 'reputation gap' growing?", Washington Post 6/17/2012
Editorial, "U-Va. board has an obligation to community", Washington Post 6/18/2012
Daniel de Vise and Anita Kumar, "Leadership drama consumes U-Va.; board names Zeithaml interim president", Washington Post 6/19/2012
Anita Kumar and Daniel de Vise, "U-Va. board appoints interim leader; McDonnell to talk with reporters", Washington Post 6/19/2012
Anita Kumar and Daniel de Vise, "U-Va. vice rector resigns amid uproar over Teresa Sullivan’s ouster", Washington Post 6/19/2012
"University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan's ouster: The key players", Washington Post 6/19/2012
Valerie Strauss, "The U-Va. mess: Sign of the (bad) times", Washington Post 6/19/2012
Jena McGregor, "University of Virginia's difficult leadership transition", Washington Post 6/19/2012
Daniel de Vise and Anita Kumar, "E-mails show U-Va. board leaders planning Teresa Sullivan’s exit", Washington Post 6/19/2012
Anita Kumar and Daniel de Vise, "Sullivan supporters plot to reinstate her as U-Va. president", Washington Post 6/20/2012
Daniel Willingham, "Why governing board gets an ‘F’ for Sullivan ‘project’", Washington Post 6/21/2012
Anita Kumar and Daniel de Vise, "U-Va. dean tapped for interim president suspends preparations for new job", Washington Post 6/22/2012
Daniel de Vise, Jenna Johnson and Donna St. George, "Teresa Sullivan: The ousted U-Va. leader who may regain the post", Washington Post 6/26/2012
Petula Dvorak, "The U-Va. president drama: Is it the Queen Bee scenario?", Washington Post 6/26/2012
Valerie Strauss, "The real U-Va. story: The 99% win", Washington Post 6/26/2012

Richard Pérez-Peña,, "Anger Builds Over Dismissal of University of Virginia President", New York Times 6/18/2012
Richard Pérez-Peña, "University of Virginia Names Interim President", New York Times 6/19/2012
Tamar Levin and Richard Pérez-Peña, "2 New Resignations Rock the University of Virginia", New York Times 6/20/2012
Tamar Levin, "Public Universities See Familiar Fight at Virginia",  New York Times 6/25/2012

Karin Kapseidelis, "McIntyre dean named interim U.Va. president after marathon meeting", Richmond Times-Dispatch 6/19/2012
Michael Paul Williams, "U.Va. situation requires intervention", Richmond Times-Dispatch 6/19/2012
Olympia Meola, "U.Va. vice rector Mark Kington resigns", Richmond Times-Dispatch 6/19/2012
"U.Va. soap opera", Richmond Times-Dispatch 6/20/2012

Charlie Tyson, "@RectorDrago, in 140 characters or less", The Cavalier Daily 6/14/2012
"Comp. Sci. Prof. William Wulf's resignation letter", The Cavalier Daily 6/19/2012
"Midnight Judges", The Cavalier Daily 6/20/2012
Charlie Tyson, "Sullivan resignation spotlights long-running debate about online education", The Cavalier Daily 6/21/2012
"Statement from the President and Former President of the Thomas Jefferson Society of Alumni", The Cavalier Daily 6/24/2012

Graham Moomaw, ""'Unimportant alum' parodies Dragas on Twitter", The Daily Progress 6/16/2012
Ted Strong, "Casteen, Toscano call for Sullivan's reinstatement", The Daily Progress 6/17/2012
Paul Tudor Jones II, "Aspiring to achieve greatness", The Daily Progress 6/17/2012
"Morrissey urges legislative inquiry into U.Va. turmoil", The Daily Progress 6/19/2012
Ted Strong and Aaron Richardson, "UVa board selects commerce dean as interim president", The Daily Progress 6/19/2012
Karin Kapsidelis, "U.Va. interim president does not support Sullivan ouster",  The Daily Progress 6/19/2012
Ted Strong, "UVA board set to meet, could well reinstate Sullivan", The Daily Progress 6/21/2012
"Statement from UVa rector Helen Dragas", 6/21/2012
Graham Moomaw, "Governor tells UVa board to resolve crisis Tuesday – or else", The Daily Progress 6/22/2012
Ted Strong, "Lawn rally  precedes big BOV meeting", The Daily Progress 6/25/2012

John Lauerman and Oliver Staley, "Jefferson's Virginia in Turmoil as Board Replaces Ousted Leader", Bloomberg News 6/19/2012

Sandy Hausman, "Finger-Pointing Follows Ousting of U.Va. President", All Things Considered (NPR) 6/19/2012

Neil Vigdor, "Did Greenwich tycoons take down a major university president?", Greenwich Time 6/19/2012

Rob Graham, "Lone Visitor Who Voted Against Zeithaml Releases Statement", WINA Newsradio 6/19/2012

David Karpf, "UVA Board's Lazy Business Sense", Huffington Post 6/20/2012

"U.Va.'s Rector should resign", Virginian-Pilot 6/20/2012

Hawes Spencer, "Zeithaml in charge? Dragas pick embraces Simon, pans Sulli-sack", The Hook 6/20/2012
Hawes Spencer, "Dragas to Kington: 'Why we can't afford to wait'", The Hook 6/20/2012
Hawes Spencer, "Sullivan Oustermath:  A timeline of UVa in Tumult", The Hook 6/25/2012

Siva Vaidhyanathan, "Strategic Mumblespeak", Slate 6/15/2012

"Governing Board's Ouster of University of Virginia President", AAUP 6/16/2012

An interesting speculation from early in the process:

Anne-Marie Angelo, "A theory of what led to Sullivan's ouster", 6/13/2012

With yesterday's release of FOIA-based emails, which "show that one reason board leaders wanted to move quickly was the belief that UVa needed to get involved in a serious way with online education", this speculation gains some support. As far as I know, however, there is still no concrete evidence that "Goldman Sachs’s Education Management Corporation, a for-profit education provider, wanted to make or made a bid to offer online education through UVA" and that Sullivan's reluctance to go along triggered the decision to remove her.

A very different conspiracy theory, connecting a different set of dots to form a very different picture, has been put forward by Anthony Watts, a leading climate-change denier — see here, here, here. Watts suggests that Sullivan's firing was orchestrated by Mark Kington to prevent Michael Mann from becoming the "Joe D and Helen J Kington Professor in Environmental Change".

Some more UVa BOV humor:



  1. John Lawler said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 11:52 am

    One more link, quite partisan and satiric, that's currenty making the rounds: "Rector Dragas' Statement, Translated into Plain English".

  2. cbs said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 11:57 am

    bonus primary source: sullivan's strategic planning memo for the university in may [theoretically, something contained or omitted here is the reason she was axed] http://www2.dailyprogress.com/mgmedia/file/782/sullivan-strategy-memo/

    thank you for sharing this.

  3. Sally Thomason said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

    Terry Sullivan was Provost at the University of Michigan for several years, and was very popular here too. I met her several times and was greatly impressed — she is smart, savvy, extremely competent, and in touch with the campus community and with the wider academic world. From all I've read, it sounds as if Rector Dragas and her henchperson lack all these qualities.

  4. Andy Averill said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

    Dragas's statement is full of choice gobbledygook. For example:

    We see no bright lights on the financial horizon as we face limits on tuition increases, an environment of declining federal support, state support that will be flat at best, and pressures on health care payors. This means that as an institution, we have to be able to prioritize and reallocate the resources we do have, and that our best avenue for increasing resources will be through passionate articulation of a vision and effective development efforts to support it.

    If anybody knows what the part in bold means in English, I'd be much obliged.

  5. lukys said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

    Andy Averill,
    It's slightly fuzzy language, but it makes sense. It means in Simple English, "The best way to acquire resources (money, I suppose) is to have goals and express them clearly in a plan, and then carry out that plan effectively".
    At least that's what I understand from it.

  6. Andy Averill said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 12:50 pm

    @lukys, sure, but what's the plan? Seems like an awfully vague reason to fire a president who everybody agreed was doing a great job.

  7. Vance Maverick said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

    Also see the op-ed making the case for the change by Paul Tudor Jones, one of the board members.

  8. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 1:34 pm

    @Andy Averill: The statement doesn't mention a specific plan, but I understand it to say that some more drastic plan than Sullivan's was necessary, as there's no hope if change is relatively slow.

  9. Nick Lamb said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

    Sullivan's rhetorical thrust certainly resonates with me. These are not low-paid staff. "I could get paid slightly more if you fired some of my colleagues" is not the thought process at work here.

    It seems that the other side of the debate has realised that research (though not IMO teaching) is mostly a superstar field. The best people are very, very good, and having several not-so-great people is no substitute. But the next step in their thought process is erroneous. In most superstar fields salary is not an issue. Conditions are an issue, location, facilities, work colleagues, the exact area of work to be undertaken, but salary is not a big deal. Obviously you're going to pay the superstar adequately, and beyond that why should they care if it's less than they could have by putting up with worse conditions? So for this reason it is not primarily important to compete with the top 10 institutions on salary, especially if money is tight — and for a public university anywhere in the world, money is always tight.

    [(myl) For many people, stable and semi-intelligent governance is also an issue. Quoting from today's resignation letter from William Wulf, president emeritus of the American Academy of Engineering:

    By this email I am submitting my resignation, effective immediately. I do not wish to be associated with an institution being as badly run as the current UVa. A BOV that so poorly understands UVa, and academic culture more generally, is going to make a lot more dumb decisions, so the University is headed for disaster, and I don’t want to be any part of that.

    Needless to say, I will not be teaching the course that I was scheduled to teach this Fall.

    I urge my fellow faculty to join me. The BOV needs to understand that there are real and immediate consequences to their actions.

    Since you probably don’t know me from Adam, I’ve included below a very quick synopsis of my bio and that of my wife (included here since our experiences are shared ones). My wife (Anita Jones) and I are in Computer Science and we both hold the title University Professor — the highest rank at UVa. Of the 3300 faculty at UVa, roughly 13 hold that title.

    [… bio sketch omitted …]

    In short we have extensive experience that spans academia, executive positions in the private sector, government, and board memberships. So we deeply understand the proper conduct of academic administration and the proper oversight of that administration by a board, In my opinion the BOV has perpetrated the worst example of corporate governance I have ever seen.

    Based on more limited experience, I agree that the BOV's actions in this case seem pretty egregious. The only faintly comparable things I've seen, in industry or in academia, have been the desperate flailings of organizations (or managers) in deep trouble. Perhaps this sort of thing is a routine part of the process of dismembering a company being cut up for parts after a leveraged buy-out, but I've never seen that from the inside. Anyhow, before this manufactured crisis, UVa was not an organization in especially deep trouble; and the hostile-takeover analogy doesn't really apply, since there's no way to sell off the pieces of a public university.]

  10. Jon Weinberg said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

    Speaking as someone who had great respect for Sullivan when she was at Michigan, this is a fiasco of unparalleled proportions. @Andy Averill, lukys: no. The key is that "development" means fund-raising. In development-speak, the bolded sentence means, "the way to get the money we need is to increase private donations, and the way to increase private donations is by articulating and presenting the sort of vision that will excite private donors". Presumably, for Dragas, dismembering the university is such a vision.

  11. D.O. said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

    Unrelated to the topic, but linguistic-like observation. From Paul Tudor Jones II "Aspiring to achieve greatness" (by way of Vance Maverick above). The first point of doom

    UVa's U.S. News and World Report ranking has fallen steadily since 1988– from No. 15 to No. 25, with a ding from No. 24 taking place as early as last year.

    It should be, of course, "as recent as" instead of "as early as". What is it? A mistake (always my first choice) or some interesting timeline inversion process whereby the measurement begins from now either forward or backword. Inquiring minds etc.

  12. Stephen R. Anderson said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

    A rather nice analysis of what's at stake here, I think: http://utotherescue.blogspot.com.es/2012/06/all-hell-breaks-loose-at-professional.html
    I've been following this rather closely (my daughter and her husband are UVa Ph.D's in English), and I was surprised to see very little coverage of it until today.
    The latest news, by the way, is that the vice-rector of the BoV (Mark Kigton) has resigned.

  13. Suzanne Kemmer said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

    There is also Susan Resneck Pierce, "Lessons from Virginia" (Inside Higher Education), which is a list of 'lessons' that universities could learn from the UVA governance fiasco.

    Included in one of the lessons is the following comment, which is pragmatically interesting. It illustrates a technique I have seen used by administrators looking to attack or find fault without giving substantive reasons:

    "In both her [Rector Dragas'] written and oral comments, she implied that President Sullivan was not advancing an agenda on key issues facing the university. For example, in her June 10, 2012 email to the campus announcing the change, she wrote: "The board feels strongly and overwhelmingly that we need bold and proactive leadership on tackling the difficult issues that we face. The pace of change in higher education and in health care has accelerated greatly in the last two years. The board believes this environment calls for a much faster pace of change in administrative structure, in governance, in financial resource development and in resource prioritization and allocation. We do not believe we can even maintain our current standard under a model of incremental, marginal change. The world is simply moving too fast.” Yet, President Sullivan’s lengthy memorandum to the board in May provides considerable evidence to the contrary, specifically that she was in fact moving forward on a significant number of key issues.

    (Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2012/06/18/essay-how-boards-should-deal-firing-president#ixzz1yHSWe4st )

    The technique: When expressing or explaining a negative evaluation of someone, state general desiderata of your organization in an emphatic way. The implication of your statements, applying Gricean maxims, is that the person being criticized has NOT fulfilled these desiderata (otherwise why would you be insisting on them?) But no specifics are given on how the desiderata have not been fulfilled, what the person should have done instead, etc. The result is that there is no explicit criticism at all–the criticism is evoked entirely in the mind of the addressee. An uncritical addressee is left with the feeling that the person criticized has failed to fulfill the fundamental desiderata or needs of the organization- some or all of which may even be things everyone agrees on, even the criticized party.

    Maybe there's a name for this rhetorical technique for convincing-sounding but indirect and substance-free criticism. In case not, I'll call it: Evaluation by negative implicatures from general statements.

  14. Mark said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

    "Strategic dynamism" reminds me so much of the slogans of the Cultural Revolution. "Dare to think, dare to act". "Innovative workers improve industrial production." All that stuff about creative chaos and upending the hegemony of the intellectuals.

  15. D.O. said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

    @Suzanne Kemmer. You are probably misundersanding rector Dragas. She is saying that the pace of change is so large that the university cannot keep the same president for more than two years. Administrators should be changed like gloves.

  16. John said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 6:44 pm

    Just out of curiosity, does anyone know the ratio of administrators to faculty? Or how by much the administrative staff (broadly defined) has increased over the past ten years?

  17. Barry B said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 7:04 pm

    "Maybe there's a name for this rhetorical technique for convincing-sounding but indirect and substance-free criticism. In case not, I'll call it: Evaluation by negative implicatures from general statements."

    I may be incorrect, but I believe the jargon-free phrase that defines this is "throwing shit at a wall to see if anything sticks."

  18. GeorgeW said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 7:24 pm

    @DO: I knew nothing about the UVA situation but drew the same conclusion as that explained by Suzanne Kemmer. I got no sense that they were explaining a new rotation policy.

  19. MJ said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 8:20 pm

    We have a theory down the road here at William and Mary that Dragas et al. saw how easy it was to remove a president without a fuss and so decided to try it themselves.

  20. Victor Mair said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 9:11 pm

    I've heard through the grapevine that the new President of UVa is Carl Zeithaml, the Dean of the Undergrad Biz School. Running him through Google reveals that he is on the Board of just one company, "The Dollar Tree", basically a chain of box stores full of cheap Chinese goods.

  21. Barry B said,

    June 19, 2012 @ 11:27 pm

    McIntyre School of Commerce at U of V states:

    Dean Zeithaml specializes in the field of strategic management, with an emphasis on global and competitive strategy. He conducts research on international expansion strategies, knowledge-based sources of competitive advantage, corporate political activity, strategic decision making, the strategic role of the board of directors, the implementation of acquisition and diversification strategies, and organizational transformation. He focuses much of his research agenda on global firms, high-technology industries, the energy industry, and the health care industry.

    All of which leads me to believe that Helen Dragas' speechwriter was once employed to write Zeithaml's resumes.

  22. Chris Waigl said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 1:08 am

    This is fascinating and worrying. Thank you for posting about it. (If it wasn't too serious for flippancy one might consider that business school as a department to scrutinise: it is putting out dreadful graduates.)

    On a side note, some commenters on the post containing Prof. Wulf's resignation letter misread and bash his plain style (which I think is extremely effective here) as bad writing.

  23. Bill Benzon said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 4:50 am

    This is a cluster-f*** of enormous proportions. Dragas and Co. is right up there with the war-mongers who thought the Iraqi people would hail the American invaders and liberators. Independently of whether or not Sullivan was good, superb, or not up to the mark, could these people not see that taking THAT action in THIS way would blow up in their face? Are these captains of industry that out of touch that they were blind to the public relations of their move? Did they think that the faculty of UVa, across the nation and around the world, would see this as the work of Enlightened Oligarchs going Boldly where None have Gone Before and fall over one another to line up behind the Strategic Dynamism of it all? It seems that a taste for strategic dynamism goes hand in hand with an utter lack of imagination.

  24. Jumper Protests Human Folly « Truth and Traditions Party said,

    June 20, 2012 @ 6:40 am

    […] stated that the Amphibian Protection Association is investigating rumors that members of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia have been licking frog backs in late night sessions in the gardens at Monticello. "If these […]

  25. Victoria Simmons said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

    What is especially worrying is the BoV's desire to head into online education and other newfangled approaches without any apparent understanding of those innovations, and their relationship both to pedagogy and to revenue production. They are also following the now-common strategy of targeting Classics and modern languages, without any apparent understanding of how important those departments are for supplying support for other disciplines, including–if we're to discount the humanities as useless–business and law.

  26. Victoria Simmons said,

    June 21, 2012 @ 6:23 pm

    My interpretation of Dragas: "The pace of change in higher ed has accelerated, so we must appear to dance faster and faster, even if it is for no particular purpose. We also must appear to be pulling rabbits out of hats and miracles out of asses, although we have no idea what this 'rabbit' thing is, or the 'miracle' thing, either."

    It is like the relationship of Homeland Security's policies to actual safety: what matters is what you appear to do, not the efficacy of what you really do in achieving the desired results.

  27. GeorgeW said,

    June 22, 2012 @ 5:41 am

    It seems the BOV is reconsidering: http://www.roanoke.com/news/breaking/wb/310486

  28. Barry B said,

    June 26, 2012 @ 12:37 am

    That recent WSJ piece is a rather nasty conflation of half-truths and nonsense to make Sullivan appear the hero of a counterculture revolt.

  29. Barry B said,

    June 27, 2012 @ 9:43 am

    "University of Virginia reinstates Teresa Sullivan as president after outcry", http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/26/university-virginia-reinstates-teresa-sullivan

    It's very much a mainstream news, superficial piece that leaves a horde of questions unanswered.

RSS feed for comments on this post