Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
For those who may not have heard, President Teresa Sullivan was reinstated today by the Board of Visitors, hopefully closing this difficult chapter. Many voices were heard, many people pulled together, and the community showed that it can make an impact on the powerful and the political.
Here is the official statement from the University:
Here is the official statement from the University:
Monday, June 25, 2012
A group of pilgrims from Charlottesville, including our former associate rector, Ann Willms, are in Tanzania on a mission trip under the auspices of "Carpenter's Kids" and the Diocese of Virginia. Most of the families on the pilgrimage are from St. Paul's Ivy but there is at least one family from St. Paul's Memoiral. Many of you contributed so that they could go. Ann is posting on a blog and I highly recommend it. You can read her reflection and see photos (including the one above) by clicking HERE.
HERE. There is every hope that President Sullivan will be reinstated. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “It is more honorable to repair a wrong than to persist in it.”
I've added a photo from the Washington Post showing Sunday's "Rally for Honor" on the UVA Lawn. Note the orange sign from United Ministries, which is the organization of campus chaplains to which we belong.
Friday, June 22, 2012
But let me suggest that this controversy is really more than about a single university or a single president. It is about critical issues facing public higher education and its mission for public good and the education of the middle class.
I have a personal stake in this: I am the beneficiary of low-cost public higher education through the University of California system, as were my parents, my sister, and all of my aunts and two of my three uncles (the one uncle who went to Stanford being the exception).
The name of this four-year-old blog, Fiat Lux -- Let there be Light -- is the same as the motto and mission statement of the University of California. That is no accident.
There are tremendous pressures on public higher education, from declining state support and rising tuition, to the very structure of universities and how education is delivered in our diverse and complex world. The financial pressures are pushing to the forefront the mission of public higher education: Is it for the equipping of a thinking citizenry, or is it for job training? Or both? How to make that balance and pay the bills? Is higher education for everyone who qualifies, or is it only for the elites? These issues have been with us for a very long time and are only getting more difficult for educators, governing boards and political leaders.
There is a good commentary this morning on this this topic by Marie Griffith, a professor of religious studies at Harvard who earned her undergraduate degree in that subject at UVA. She points out the value of subjects like religious studies in a broad education, yet it is liberal arts that are the most in danger of being on the chopping block. UVA's religious studies program is among the most distinguished in the country, but it is will never generate enormous alumni or corporate donations like those produced by the alumni of the Darden business school or the law school. You can read her commentary HERE.
Helen Dragas, the chair ("Rector") of the board of trustees ("Visitors") for the University of Virginia, who is now roundly disparaged for her inept machinations in the firing of President Sullivan, on Thursday issued her third statement defending her board's actions. Although it is a self-serving apology, she nonetheless identifies ten crucial issues that confront UVA and public higher education -- issues that must be engaged by all of us. You can read her statement HERE.
I must wonder what would have happened if instead of panicking and firing their president of only two years, Dragas and her board had instead engaged the University community in a dialogue about these issues. She and the board could have invited some very smart people -- who care at least as much as she does -- into a process of developing the strategic plan that she says is sorely lacking. They are at her doorstep.
To have pinned all of that onto a president was to not only misunderstand the role of university presidents, but to dismiss the tremendous intellectual resources at the doorstep of the board. Unfortunately, the trust that is required for that dialogue between the board and the university it governs is now destroyed, and that is a setback in confronting with the issues that Dragas identifies. It is also a cautionary tale to other governing boards across the country.
Let me also add this: This issue is not about partisan politics, as much as commentators from the Left and Right have tried to make it so. The UVA governing board is equally split between appointees of Republican and Democratic governors, and Dragas was appointed by Tim Kaine, who is now the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate. Nor is this controversy only about big donor to the University and campaign donors who get appointed to governing boards (though that certainly must be examined). The issue that must be confronted is the future of higher education itself, and that should matter to all of us. Perhaps it is only fitting that this firestorm erupted at the first public university to be founded. It was a brave, noble and innovative experiment that Thomas Jefferson came up with, and it still is.
We are told that the UVA Board of Visitors will meet Tuesday, and that there may be enough votes to reinstate Sullivan as president. That is right and fair, and I would urge the board to do so.
But no one should be under the mistaken notion that the issues confronting public higher education will go away. Perhaps this sorry episode will galvanize those who care the most into saving public higher education for the purpose it was established by Jefferson -- to create an informed and enlightened citizenry.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
|Photo by the Washington Post|
To the University Community,
As religious leaders at the University, we offer our voices to the many who are speaking out regarding the events of the past week. We are deeply saddened by the forced resignation of President Teresa Sullivan, a leader we warmly welcomed only two years ago and one who has placed a high value on our role within the University community. We were encouraged by her inclusion of An Interfaith Vigil of Blessing during her inaugural week in the spring of 2011 and her recognition of religious life as an important aspect of a well-balanced student life for those who wish to take part. We have been inspired by her vision, her character, and her genuine engagement with the many diverse sectors of the University community, including our own.
Though we understand that there are times that the Board of Visitors must make difficult decisions including the hiring and firing of presidents, we are concerned about the way in which this action was carried out. Regardless of “philosophical differences” the duties of the Board must be carried out in a manner worthy of the public trust. As religious leaders we push our students to act ethically and with integrity, and we hope that the Board will do the same moving forward.
Lastly, we offer our assistance to the University and to any who are struggling with the ongoing fallout from these events with which we are all now coming to terms. We are available for conversation, listening, and in any other ways we can offer help or perspective from our religious traditions. We are praying for President Sullivan, the Board of Visitors, the faculty, staff, students, and all those in the University community, near and far.
Fr. Stephen Alcott, O.P.,
Catholic Campus Ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish
Saad Arrabi, Islamic Society of Central Virginia
The Rev. Nick Forti, Canterbury Student Ministry
Evan Hansen, Eunoia
Rabbi Shlomo and Channa Mayer, Chabad
Derek Mondeau, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
The Rev. Deborah Lewis, The Wesley Foundation at UVa
The Very Rev. James Richardson, St. Paul's Memorial Church
Rabbi Jake Rubin, Brody Jewish Center at UVa
The Rev. Dr. Laura S. Sugg, Westminster Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Dr. Laura S. Sugg, Westminster Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Sandra J. Wisco, St. Mark Lutheran Church
For questions or further comment, please contact United Ministries President Rabbi Jake Rubin at 434-249-5724.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
The Board of Visitors, the trustees who govern the University of Virginia and who have so ineptly governed themselves over the last 10 days, finished its meeting at 3 am early this morning with the announcement of the appointment of an interim president which you can read HERE.
Teresa Sullivan, who has been a class act throughout this sorry episode, will finish her time with us very soon. She walked through the crowds yesterday with her head high, and the board of visitors who fired her slinked out of town in the wee hours of the night. It was a very sorry and sad day for this iconic and historic university founded by Thomas Jefferson.
The trust between the governing board and those they govern will not be easily regained. Star faculty will leave, and life will go on. Budget cuts at UVA will be made, and those who live closest to the economic margin in our community will be hit the hardest. Those who can speak must continue to speak out, especially now. The issues are far deeper than about a single leader of a single university.
Recently, IMPACT, our coalition of 28 faith communities has worked on job creation for low income people in Charlottesville. We've focused closely on the UVA Medical system, the biggest employment driver in our community. President Sullivan's dismissal is a definite set back to this work.
But our work must continue.
I pray that the commitment shown by thousands in our community in recent days in supporting President Sullivan will remain. And I pray it will be channeled not just toward academic performance, but also for the most vulnerable in our community. Terry Sullivan implored us to "create a caring community," and included everyone in this community, especially those who are the most vulnerable: the sick, the poor, the non-white.
And let me repeat once again: God bless President Sullivan.
Monday, June 18, 2012
|Photo by Bill Bergen|
Mid-afternoon, President Sullivan crossed the Lawn to enter the Rotunda and address the Board of Visitors, the secretive governing board that fired her a week ago with scant explanation.
We applauded and cheered as she walked through the crowd. Inside, President Sullivan gave a statement, and then left. An hour later or so the statement was released and read to the crowd. Her statement speaks for itself, and I am posting it below in full:
+ + +
Sunday, June 17, 2012
Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This morning I must begin by mentioning the most significant event in our community of the last week – and which I know is weighing on many of you: The dismissal of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan.
Even if you are not connected directly to the University of Virginia, you and I are affected daily by this huge institution across the street. It is no exaggeration to say that the most important public official in our community is the president of the University.
I certainly have no more information than any of you, and no doubt a good deal less than some of you. And I am in no position to comment on the actions of the Board of Visitors, nor should I.
But I would be remiss in not expressing the gratitude of our congregation, and my personal appreciation, to President Sullivan for the care and friendship she has shown to the Charlottesville community, and in particular, to this the parish church to the University of Virginia.
I first met Dr. Sullivan in a snowstorm, in the great blizzard of January 2010, when she was still president-elect.
Like many of you, she braved the elements to attend our Centennial banquet, and it was our great honor to seat her next to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
As it turned out, the only two guests at the UVA Colonnade Club that snowy weekend were Dr. Sullivan, the first woman to head the University of Virginia, and Bishop Katharine, the first woman to head the Episcopal Church of the United States, and the first woman primate of an Anglican province in the world.
I’ve wondered since what these two intellectually powerful, historically groundbreaking women talked about over breakfast in the middle of a blizzard.
As President, Dr. Sullivan gave her first public address here in this pulpit on August 29, 2010 at our University Convocation Sunday. The backdrop to that sermon, and it is not so long ago, was the death of student Yeardley Love.
President Sullivan eloquently spoke to us about how we cannot be bystanders as others suffer.
She said this to us:
“Care for those around you, especially those who are most in need. This is one of the foundations of a strong community based on caring and shared responsibility for one another’s well-being. The Kingdom of God has many bridges, but not so many fences.”
I don’t know – none of us can know – what will happen next week, or next month or next year, as this struggle over the leadership of this great university unfolds.
But I do know this – we can show our gratitude for Terry Sullivan and what she has stood for by continuing the work of building a caring community.
And I would point out, the president of this very secular University put the building of a caring community in terms of her own faith and the building God’s kingdom.
What she spoke of is far bigger than any of us, bigger than a university or its president, or any single leader.
And bigger than any fence.
Today, in the Gospel lesson from Mark, Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as a place without fences. But get that, you have to hear what he is describing as something of an inside joke. Follow me here.
We’ve domesticated the mustard seed story into a platitude about how big things can grow from small things, and that is certainly true. Giant Sequoia redwoods do start with a seed from a very small cone.
But it’s not just about the seed. It is about what grows from the seed.
Jesus uses the story of the mustard seed to make fun of the pomposity of the Temple authorities, who compare the glory of the Temple to the majesty of the cedars of Lebanon, which as the Old Testament says, are so large birds nest in them.
Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to not a majestic cedar, but to a scraggly, weedy, unruly mustard shrub.
|Mustard bush in the Middle East|
In the Mediterranean world, mustard is not a condiment for hotdogs. It is a weed that grew as big as a house, and it took over the grain fields.
It starts as a tiny seed no bigger than the period on a printed page. It is truly the tiniest of seeds, and when it grows, watch out. It is the Kudzu of the Middle East.
It take over everything in its path. It is unpredictable, no respecter of fences, no respecter of neat rows of grain. It growns everywhere, no stopping it.
The Kingdom of God is “like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
No doubt the Temple authorities were infuriated by this pithy little story – Jesus was, indeed, mocking them. And the people got the mocking tone, and they repeated his story over and over and they wrote it down. It appears in three of the gospels and in documents about Jesus that did not get into the New Testament.
The Kingdom of God is like a mustard weed. It starts small, and it grows where it will and no fence – no institution – can stop it.
The community we are called to build in God’s kingdom – the community of caring people who heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, put bread on the table, educate the young and old, and work to change the social structures that cause suffering – that community is like a mustard bush that will grown everywhere.
It is unpredictable; fences cannot contain it, and it will bring heaven to earth in those places of need and suffering. That is the true Kingdom God.
All of us are a part of this great work – all of us have a role – and no fence can keep you or I out.
Please allow me to end this morning by reading to you the concluding words of President Sullivan in her remarkable sermon to us nearly two years ago. I quote:
“Ask yourself this question: If you happened to encounter an angel unawares, how would you treat him or her? What if this angel-in-disguise were a stranger, or someone who looks different from you, or someone who is on the low end of the socio-economic ladder, or someone suffering from physical or mental distress?
“This morning, let’s affirm our commitment to caring for every member of this community every day. Let’s make this promise to ourselves and to each other. Let’s promise not to stand by when someone else needs help. Let’s promise to take responsibility for each other. Let’s promise to show hospitality and kindness to everyone around us — even the strangers, who, for all we know, might be angels.
“Your neighbors might not exalt you for taking such responsibility. Your friends might criticize you. But building a community of caring is a very positive long-term investment.”
Let me to add that it remains our task to carry on this work of building a caring community – work that is truly all of ours to share, no matter our age, our social status, our educational status, or our affiliation with the University of Virginia.
Teresa Sullivan ended her sermon by saying “God bless the University of Virginia,” and I would add, God bless President Sullivan. Amen
By James Richardson, Fiat Lux
Thursday, June 14, 2012
There are links to all of the news stories on a Faculty Senate website which can find HERE. The story, safe to say, is not going away soon.
I do want to draw your attention to an item that few may have noticed. Even as the Board of Visitors was preparing to announce her "resignation," President Sullivan preached last Sunday at Mount Zion First African Baptist Church, where my friend Alvin Edwards is the pastor.
Our church has many long standing ties to Mount Zion, and I was aware that President Sullivan was to be the guest preacher. Although her ouster had happened by the time she took the pulpit, no one at the church knew it. She went through with her sermon, and touched many people with her faithfulness and heart. A member of the congregation, Erika James Hayes, who is also a professor at the UVA Darden Business School, wrote this report on her blog, and I post it here in full:
A SUDDEN DEPARTURE
I am a member of the Mount Zion First African Baptist Church in Charlottesville, and a faculty member of the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia. Both affiliations are relevant to a set of unusual circumstances I experienced this weekend. On Sunday I enthusiastically attended church service. On this day my enthusiasm was in large part because our church was welcoming Theresa Sullivan, President of the University of Virginia. As a UVA faculty member I was looking forward to hearing her speak to a constituency often peripheral to the academic community. President Sullivan was invited by our pastor to be a guest speaker with the purpose of ministering to the congregation in honor of the high school and college graduates from our church. As I’ve seen her do on numerous occasions at the university, she delivered eloquent, humorous, thoughtful, personal, and deliberate remarks. Her message centered on staying true to one’s convictions, and leading with a purpose. Referencing bible verses from the book of Romans she spoke of not allowing one’s self to conform to the inevitable trials and tribulations life will present, but to betransformed by them. She used stories to illustrate her point that one does not need to hold a particular title or position to lead, but that true leaders lead with integrity and from the heart. True leaders lead in accordance with their values and they are not side-tracked by people who question or doubt those values.
In my professional life, I view things from a standpoint of crisis leadership and diversity, the nature of my work. But this day, I listened as a parent and member of the congregation. And I was moved by her comments. This is precisely the message I would want my own children to hear when it is time for their graduations. As a fellow university professor I felt affirmed by President Sullivan’s remarks because they are consistent with the message that I try to instill in the MBA students I teach. I left the church service filled with pride for the African American graduates who were honored in our service, and proud of our President who chose to spend her Sunday morning at a predominately African American Church ministering to our young people. I had not expected what was to come next.
When I arrived home from church I checked my email and was shocked to see a message from the University of Virginia Rector announcing that the UVA Board of Visitors and President Sullivan had mutually agreed over the weekend to part ways. Effective August 2012, Sullivan’s two year tenure into her presidency would end, well short of the original contract term. The message went on to identify differences in philosophical approaches for UVA’s future as the primary reason for the abrupt departure. I suspect there is truth in the rationale provided to the university community, and I suspect that there is more to the story that we may never know.
Like most others in the UVA community I was stunned by the turn of events. I am also saddened by her pending departure. I’ve had the opportunity to meet Sullivan on a number of occasions and was pleased to have served on her inauguration committee. She is an impressive woman. Yet, what I have been reflecting on are her comments during the church service, as they relate to confronting challenges. Reciting verses from Romans chapter 12, Sullivan communicated: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
At the time that she was so graciously delivering her remarks to our church graduates, President Sullivan must have been experiencing tremendous internal turmoil as the decision to end her presidency had likely occurred within the previous 24 hours. I suspect her charge to our graduates to be transformed by (not conform to) the challenges of life, were drawn from her own immediate need to lead in such a manner at this particular juncture in her career.
President Sullivan concluded her remarks with the following verses from Romans 12: We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
I am keenly aware of the gifts in others; but have often questioned the gifts I offer to the world. I have no obvious or extra-ordinary gifts in things society generally rewards (e.g., music, art, athletics, and oration) yet I have found it curious how I’ve been able to lead a rather extra-ordinary life. President Sullivan’s remarks helped broaden my understanding of “gifts” and as I listened to the gifts she recited from Romans my own gifts began to crystallize. Furthermore, I have a better understanding and appreciation for the true gifts in others.
President Sullivan’s choice to deliver these particular remarks takes on new meaning in light of her personal changing circumstances at UVA. She has many gifts, and they are well recognized within the UVA community and will be well received beyond it. I am confident that she will be positively transformed by recent challenges.
Tags: crisis leadership, facing adversity, life challenges, personal crisis, Theresa Sullivan, University of Virginia, UVA