No one outside the University of Virginia’s board of trustees and a small group of high officials knows why the board moved last week to fire its president of two years, Teresa Sullivan.
But the thousands of protesters who lined up outside one of Thomas Jefferson’s revered buildings on the campus in Charlottesville don’t care. They just hate the idea. And now the board’s resolve is cracking, as four members started discussions with Sullivan for her to return.
Not our business to speculate why the board removed Sullivan [right]. The board isn’t talking. That’s usually the last, worst resort, as it is in this case. If it’s a matter of personal ethics, financial irregularities — any of those infidelities or peccadilloes boards tar and feather presidents with, the board should clear the air and limit the possibilities.
When the board president, [known at UVA as the “rector”] Helen E. Dragas, admitted to being opaque, the plot thickened, the crisis extended and the protesters grew in numbers.
“We want to express our sincere regret for the pain, anger and confusion” the board’s actions have caused, Ms. Dragas said, adding that “our actions too readily lent themselves to perceptions of being opaque.”
You might want to correct that, while you still have the job.
This is all so unnecessary. Critics attacked the board’s secrecy. Professors voted overwhelmingly for reconsideration. And, a top university’s president had her reputation destroyed in public without explanation, without even a list of what her sins were not. That’s unprofessional as well as unconscionable.
Say something. Eliminate as many possibilities as you can. Strive for transparency. I’ve worked with clients [boards] on similar moves and decisions. They are highly charged, emotional situations. Calm, clear, transparent actions are required, at a minimum. Or, in this case, a university’s reputation suffers.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.