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UVa says reforms made in wake of leadership crisis

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Posted: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 10:24 pm

The University of Virginia has responded to a critical letter from its accrediting agency, pointing out governance reforms its made since the summer’s leadership crisis.

“You stated that ‘there is a lack of an identified procedure related to the removal of the institution’s President, ...’” the response reads. “However, there is an identified procedure in place which was followed, although as we stated in our initial response, removal by requested resignation is not explicitly spelled out.”

UVa argues that the manual, which sets the bylaws the board followed, required assent of two thirds of the board for the president’s removal, and that Rector Helen E. Dragas met that requirement by canvassing board members individually. She then convened an emergency meeting of the board’s executive committee to accept the resignation she demanded from Sullivan.

“We also understand the need for and believe in greater openness and accountability,” Dragas said in a news release.

The response points out that UVa’s board has since amended the manual to require a full meeting and vote to change a president’s employment status.

Belle S. Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, confirmed that accreditation officials received the information. It will be forwarded to the commissio, along with other information on UVa, for consideration at its December meeting. At that meeting, the board has the authority to take steps up to and including revoking UVa’s accreditation, though Wheelan has said it’s unlikely to go that far.

The official response also points out that UVa has updated its evaluations of the president to include quarterly reviews with benchmarks, including some related to the strategic plan.

The board wasn’t required to consult the Faculty Senate before firing the president, and the Senate would have a conflict of interest, since the president of the university serves as president of the Senate, according to the filing.

But, in the interest of increasing communication, the board has decided to have consulting faculty members advising its committees, the filing states.

The changes the filing describes all came up at recent committee meetings and were finalized at the board’s most recent meeting at the end of last week.

Dragas said in the release that the university doesn’t view its governance improvements as complete.

“We will continue gathering research and ideas from a variety of sources – including potentially tapping outside expert resources – so that the University may become a model for higher education governance in the commonwealth,” she said in the release. “We will be sure to clearly communicate this progress promptly to all interested entities, including SACS.”

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