Monday, August 27, 2012

From The Hook: Mending fences: Sullivan tells all

Mending fences: And losing weight, Sullivan tells all

In her first press conference since her triumphant June 26 reinstatement as the University of Virginia president, Teresa Sullivan met with reporters in Carr's Hill, the presidential mansion, to herald the new academic year and take questions about the recent turmoil. The August 22 get-together touched on such big topics as governance, professor replacement, and even the burning question of the president's appearance, part of a recent Hookstory on the potential of appearance-based bullying.
In contrast to her foil, Rector Helen Dragas– who, after giving the media just three minutes one Sunday afternoon, began relying on statements from Hill & Knowlton word-crafters– the president replied to all questions, even commenting on the search for a new chief operating officer. The last one, Michael Strine, resigned in early August after the release of emails showing him to be currying favor with the Rector.
"It's been quite clear that, contractually, that person reports to the president," said Sullivan. "I'll make it even more clear if it needs to be."
The president launched her press conference, however, with an exaltation of the arriving class of 2016.
"Every new class gets to enjoy being the strongest class in school history for exactly one year," said a smiling Sullivan. "That's until the next class arrives with stronger credentials."
In response to a question, she remarked that Governor Bob McDonnell called her the Friday before reinstatement to say he'd been told that the ouster decision had been "unanimous," a further blow to the credibility of Rector Dragas, who although having engineered the president's removal, went on to win the governor's blessing for a second term on the governing board.
"What happened here was unique, but the issues that surfaced during the controversy are not unique," said Sullivan. "They're the same issues that face every university in America but particularly public universities.
"Our progress over the next two years," she continued, "will be a bellwether for all of public higher education in America, and it's a mistake not to think everyone's watching."
How much convincing did she need to resume the reins? 
"I was not very hard to persuade. I felt that I had a lot of work to do."

Does she now feel "bullet-proof"? 
"No one should ever feel bullet-proof."
How were donations after reinstatement?
"After June 26, there was a remarkable boost."
On the recently-announced Coursera online partnership:
"That's an experiment, not a business plan." 
On her newfound rock-star status: 
"I will be going to New York City the first week in September, and we sent out an email, and all the seats filled in 10 minutes. We had to get a second venue, and there will be live-streaming."
Is she losing weight?
"Summer is a wonderful time for health– there are lots of good healthy fruits and vegetables, especially here. We've been blessed here at the University with several gymnasia where I am known to work out."
Why did her prepared remarks at the June 26 BOV meeting presume reinstatement?
"I had two speeches with me."
This story is a part of the President Sullivan retakes the reins special.

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