UVa President Teresa Sullivan Steps Down

Over the weekend, the news of President Teresa Sullivan’s resignation was announced by e-mail to the University community from Rector Helen Dragas. For further information, including the full text of the e-mail and a later statement from Dragas, see NBC29′s coverage.

This turn of events is surprising, given that Sullivan has served as UVa’s president for only two years. While the relationship between President Sullivan and the Living Wage Campaign has been strained at times, we recognize her as a leader who worked hard to make the University a more caring community. Though the goal of a Living Wage for all university employees was not achieved during her presidency, some positive steps were made, such as the recent wage increases for direct employees. We respect President Sullivan for her service and regret that her term as the University’s first female president has ended so abruptly.

President Sullivan has cited “a philosophical difference of opinion” with the Board of Visitors as the reason for her resignation. While it is unclear exactly what that “difference of opinion” might be, Rector Dragas spoke at length about budgetary concerns in her statement, saying that the University needs “resolution of tough financial issues that require hard decisions on resource allocation.”  We hope that the Board of Visitors will offer greater transparency on budget priorities and processes as the search for a new president gets underway. However, as the non-elected governing body of the University, the BOV is under no obligation to make themselves accountable to the University at large. This lack of transparency and accountability at the highest level of University administration has impeded past efforts toward achieving just wages and working conditions for the lowest-paid workers at UVa; now, it appears that even President Sullivan’s job security has been sacrificed to the Board’s budget priorities, with little clear explanation or accountability to the University at large. Conscientious members of the University community should ask themselves whether this opaque power structure is truly a model of governance that serves the University’s best interests.

We of the Living Wage Campaign hope that the Board of Visitor’s focus on budget efficiency will not preclude further consideration of the role and wages of the lowest-paid staff here. We further hope that Vice President Michael Strine’s promise of greater transparency regarding contract employees will be kept. As we have continuously emphasized, budgets are not merely shopping lists written in response to the exigencies of the immediate financial situation; they are documents which express moral priorities. As an institution which strives to be a “caring community,” as President Sullivan envisioned, the University  cannot accomplish its goals of education, research, healthcare, and service by continuing to exploit the low-wage workers, including contract workers, whose labor is essential to the daily functioning of the University. We will continue to urge the Board of Visitors and President Sullivan’s successor, whoever he or she may be, to rectify this injustice and institute a Living Wage for all employees at the University of Virginia.

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