The University of Virginia's governing board will decide Tuesday whether to reinstate ousted President Teresa Sullivan and end more than two weeks of uncertainty and conflict on the state's flagship campus.
The Board of Visitors' afternoon emergency meeting will be a showdown between Rector Helen Dragas, who orchestrated Sullivan's departure behind the scenes, and those on the board uncomfortable with how the popular school administrator was forced to resign after two years at the helm.
"It's very uncertain," said law professor George Cohen, chairman of the U.Va. Faculty Senate, which wants Sullivan reinstated. "When they called the meeting, we were very optimistic, and now we're just waiting to see what they do. I would say we are cautiously optimistic. No one knows for sure, but we're encouraged by what's happening."
Sullivan's backers, who will rally on the Lawn ahead of the board's meeting, last week urged the board to reconsider her ouster, saying they were close to having the eight votes they'd need on the 15-member board to reverse the decision.
Dragas has defended Sullivan's ouster, an indication that she would resist efforts to reinstate the president.
Dragas said Sullivan failed to address significant financial hurdles the school faced as state funding for higher education declined. A series of emails between Dragas and former Vice Rector Mark Kington, who resigned last week amid the turmoil, also showed that Dragas and Sullivan differed over moving the university into the online education market.
Sullivan has called for more measured change that includes input from many voices throughout the campus hierarchy.
Some have called for Dragas to resign. Gov. Bob McDonnell will decide whether to give Dragas another term when hers ends July 1.
McDonnell knew of the plan to oust Sullivan in advance but didn't directly intervene. But after two weeks of confusion and outrage on campus, McDonnell warned the board on Friday that if it failed to decide Sullivan's fate Tuesday, he would ask all of them to resign.
"Regardless of your decision," McDonnell wrote to the board, "I expect you to make a clear, detailed and unified statement on the future leadership of the university."