I speak as one of the tens of thousands of University of Virginia alumni and faculty working to undo the damage of the current rector and a few other board members: We are facing a time in which we can limit our ambitions to restoration in university governance, or we can expand our vision to seek a lasting transformation in university governance.
There have been at least two times in the past, a past of racial segregation and of gender segregation, when leadership of the Board of Visitors — and, unfortunately, faculty and students — failed completely. But lessons of history help us understand how that did not stop justice and honor from prevailing. Due to the enduring commitment of so many who showed real “bold leadership,” both inside and outside of the university, a university without African-Americans and a university without women is now unimaginable, and we are a far better place because of it.
At some point in the not too distant future, we need to be able to look back at the governing structure of the university and ask ourselves: How did we ever tolerate such an antiquated, politicized, dysfunctional and feudal system? This is no disrespect to many who have served honorably on that board, and the changes that must come should include insights from their experience.
Our efforts at restoration require leadership, energy, creativity and hard work. A successful transformation requires all of that and a sustained effort to remain at it for the long haul. In the interests of those who fought so hard for justice and honor before us, and for those who will come after us, we must not stop today, this week, this month or this year.
It is right to seek the return of President Sullivan. It is right to seek the replacement of those members of the board who have created this harm. But even if these do not occur, we need to commit to support the formation of a transparent, accountable, democratic and effective leadership structure that will not only return us to what we have been, but help us become what we need to be.