The University of Virginia's newly appointed interim president on Wednesday said the school's governing body was wrong to oust President Teresa Sullivan and promised that he had no interest in permanently replacing Sullivan.
Carl Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce who was named Sullivan's temporary replacement on Tuesday, will step into a heavily scrutinized role on a campus still reeling from the abrupt ouster of Sullivan by the Board of Visitors after just two years at the helm.
"I am very aware that there is a breakdown in trust between many people in our community and the Board of Visitors," Zeithaml said in his first public appearance as interim president. "I realize that some of you don't trust me. There probably are division among the faculty and the staff. I want to really emphasize right now that the most important thing that I want to try to do is rebuild that trust."
Zeithaml criticized the board for its lack of transparency and told reporters: "I don't support the board's decision to remove [Sullivan]."
Still, Zeithaml worked behind the scenes as the board maneuvered to remove Sullivan, meeting with Rector Helen Dragas and Vice Rector Mark Kington last week to discuss an eventual replacement. Kington resigned amid the fallout over Sullivan's removal.
Dragas and Kington asked Zeithaml twice if he was interested in succeeding Sullivan, but he told them no. When they offered him a chance to serve temporarily until a replacement was found, Zeithaml said, "I felt like I had no choice."
With questions swirling about why Sullivan was ousted, the university released emails exchanged by Dragas and Kington showing that the board had been working for at least a week to move Sullivan out, in part, because they felt the president wasn't focused enough on expanding U.Va.'s online offerings.
Zeithaml said he agrees that U.Va. should provide more web-based learning opportunities.
"Obviously, some of our competitors have made major moves in that area," Zeithaml said. "We have a commitment to really seriously explore how we're going to get into that."
Zeithaml said he hopes to be back to his old job within a year.
"I really want to come back to the McIntire school," Zeithaml said.