Tuesday, June 26, 2012

President Sullivan resinstated

For those who may not have heard, President Teresa Sullivan was reinstated today by the Board of Visitors, hopefully closing this difficult chapter. Many voices were heard, many people pulled together, and the community showed that it can make an impact on the powerful and the political.

Here is the official statement from the University:

University of Virginia

June 26, 2012

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors today acted to reinstate Teresa A. Sullivan as president of the University.

"The past two weeks have been trying for all of us in the University community," Sullivan said. "While this period of uncertainty has been difficult, I believe that those with opposing viewpoints have been well-intentioned, acting only with the best interests of the University in mind."

"While many believe that the past two weeks have threatened our great institution, I believe that we have been strengthened by the experience. It has, in fact, propelled our academic community to a new place and made it ready to face a quickened pace of change.

"My goal is to harness the enthusiasm that has been generated and use it to the University's competitive advantage."

The board's decision follows 16 days of vigorous dialogue about the future of the University, which was sparked by the announcement on June 10 that Rector Helen E. Dragas and other board members had asked for Sullivan's resignation.

The resolution reinstating Sullivan reads as follows:

"The Board of Visitors rescinds the Second Amendment to the President's Employment Agreement, subject to the approval and acceptance of the President, thereby reinstating the President's initial Employment Agreement of January 11, 2010, as amended by the First Amendment to the Employment Agreement; and further

"The Board of Visitors rescinds the naming of Carl P. Zeithaml as Interim President of the University, and rescinds the authority previously granted to the Executive Committee to negotiate and execute a contract or employment agreement with the Interim President." 

Sullivan called on the University community to work together to craft solutions to the challenges facing U.Va. and higher education and to quickly move beyond philosophical differences that have emerged.

"I pledge to set aside any differences we might have, and to work hand-in-hand with Rector Dragas and all members of the Board of Visitors as we face the challenges that have been articulated - and find solutions that will further distinguish the University," Sullivan said.

Board of Visitors member and former Rector Heywood Fralin said the university is "united unlike ever before in my memory."

"The University community has been solid in its support of President Sullivan and has clearly communicated that to the rest of the state, the nation, and the world. Today, the board has made the right decision in reinstating President Sullivan," Fralin said.

"Speaking for myself, but probably with the agreement of every member of this Board of Visitors, I would like to thank the many students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends who have demonstrated their strong opinions and concerns for the University of Virginia during this tumultuous time. You deeply love this University and want it to remain one of the world's top institutions. The University community - working together - will make this happen."

Sullivan said she was eager to resume her job, including working with the board, faculty, administration, staff and students to fully develop and implement strategic plans to ensure the University's future.

"Today begins a new day at the University of Virginia, one in which we set aside any hurts that have been inflicted, build on the collaborative bonds that have been formed, and move as one. All eyes are on us; we must show the world that we are strong, but also forgiving, and that we live by the values of honor and integrity and civility," Sullivan said.

She also thanked those who provided support and encouraged her reinstatement.

"The support has been overwhelming and deeply touching," she said. "I will do all in my power not to disappoint."

She expressed particular gratitude to Carl P. Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce, who initially agreed to assume the role of interim president but later suspended that appointment to provide time for further discussion and to allow the Board of Visitors to resolve Sullivan's status.

"Carl has always been a devoted citizen of our community and his actions of the past week speak to that commitment," she said.

In January 2010, Sullivan was unanimously elected by the Board Visitors to become U.Va.'s eighth president - and its first woman president. She succeeded John T. Casteen III, who served as University president for 20 years.

She began her term on Aug. 1, 2010, after serving as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan. Her role there included serving as chief budget officer, overseeing $1.5 billion of Michigan's $5.4 billion annual budget.

Prior to Michigan, Sullivan spent 27 years at the University of Texas at Austin, where her roles included executive vice chancellor for academic affairs for the university's system.

At U.Va. Sullivan has worked to build rapport with the University community and beyond. Major initiatives of her presidency have included the introduction and early phase implementation of a new financial model designed to increase the University's efficiency, development of a fiscal year 2013 budget that holds tuition increases to their lowest level in a decade, and a trip to East and Southeast Asia to build partnerships and raise the University's global profile.

Sullivan also has worked with the leadership of the U.Va. Health System to begin a strategic review of the fast-growing medical center and to advance efforts to rapidly commercialize the University's intellectual property and inventions. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Charlottesville Carpenter's Kids in Tanzania

I am on the road in the Northeast for a few days, so forgive me for not posting quite so frequently. I thought today we'd take a break from the leadership crisis at UVA to bring you something else going on our world.

A group of pilgrims from Charlottesville, including our former associate rector, Ann Willms, are in Tanzania on a mission trip under the auspices of "Carpenter's Kids" and the Diocese of Virginia. Most of the families on the pilgrimage are from St. Paul's Ivy but there is at least one family from St. Paul's Memoiral. Many of you contributed so that they could go. Ann is posting on a blog and I highly recommend it. You can read her reflection and see photos (including the one above) by clicking HERE.

As for dear old UVA, the Board of Visitors meets tomorrow, and the governor has told them to resolve the leadership crisis or all of the members of the board will be replaced. There was a rally on the Lawn Sunday afternoon, and the Washington Post wrote a decent story about it that you can read HERE. There is every hope that President Sullivan will be reinstated. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “It is more honorable to repair a wrong than to persist in it.”

I've added a photo from the Washington Post showing Sunday's "Rally for Honor" on the UVA Lawn. Note the orange sign from United Ministries, which is the organization of campus chaplains to which we belong.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Why the mess at UVA matters

Those of you who are not in Charlottesville but who are faithful readers of this blog may be wondering what the controversy over the firing of Teresa Sullivan as president of the University of Virginia has to do with you. I have written on nothing else but that for the past ten days on this blog, and that is partly a reflection of the fact that St. Paul's Memorial Church, where I am rector, is the parish church to UVA.

But let me suggest that this controversy is really more than about a single university or a single president. It is about critical issues facing public higher education and its mission for public good and the education of the middle class.

I have a personal stake in this: I am the beneficiary of low-cost public higher education through the University of California system, as were my parents, my sister, and all of my aunts and two of my three uncles (the one uncle who went to Stanford being the exception).

The name of this four-year-old blog, Fiat Lux -- Let there be Light -- is the same as the motto and mission statement of the University of California. That is no accident.

There are tremendous pressures on public higher education, from declining state support and rising tuition, to the very structure of universities and how education is delivered in our diverse and complex world. The financial pressures are pushing to the forefront the mission of public higher education: Is it for the equipping of a thinking citizenry, or is it for job training? Or both? How to make that balance and pay the bills? Is higher education for everyone who qualifies, or is it only for the elites? These issues have been with us for a very long time and are only getting more difficult for educators, governing boards and political leaders.

There is a good commentary this morning on this this topic by Marie Griffith, a professor of religious studies at Harvard who earned her undergraduate degree in that subject at UVA. She points out the value of subjects like religious studies in a broad education, yet it is liberal arts that are the most in danger of being on the chopping block. UVA's religious studies program is among the most  distinguished in the country, but it is will never generate enormous alumni or corporate donations like those produced by the alumni of the Darden business school or the law school. You can read her commentary HERE.

Helen Dragas, the chair ("Rector") of the board of trustees ("Visitors") for the University of Virginia, who is now roundly disparaged for her inept machinations in the firing of President Sullivan, on Thursday issued her third statement defending her board's actions. Although it is a self-serving apology, she nonetheless identifies ten crucial issues that confront UVA and public higher education -- issues that must be engaged by all of us. You can read her statement HERE.

I must wonder what would have happened if instead of panicking and firing their president of only two years, Dragas and her board had instead engaged the University community in a dialogue about these issues. She and the board could have invited some very smart people -- who care at least as much as she does -- into a process of developing the strategic plan that she says is sorely lacking. They are at her doorstep.

To have pinned all of that onto a president was to not only misunderstand the role of university presidents, but to dismiss the tremendous intellectual resources at the doorstep of the board. Unfortunately, the trust that is required for that dialogue between the board and the university it governs is now destroyed, and that is a setback in confronting with the issues that Dragas identifies. It is also a cautionary tale to other governing boards across the country.

Let me also add this: This issue is not about partisan politics, as much as commentators from the Left and Right have tried to make it so. The UVA governing board is equally split between appointees of Republican and Democratic governors, and Dragas was appointed by Tim Kaine, who is now the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate. Nor is this controversy only about big donor to the University and campaign donors who get appointed to governing boards (though that certainly must be examined). The issue that must be confronted is the future of higher education itself, and that should matter to all of us. Perhaps it is only fitting that this firestorm erupted at the first public university to be founded. It was a brave, noble and innovative experiment that Thomas Jefferson came up with, and it still is.

We are told that the UVA Board of Visitors will meet Tuesday, and that there may be enough votes to reinstate Sullivan as president. That is right and fair, and I would urge the board to do so.

But no one should be under the mistaken notion that the issues confronting public higher education will go away. Perhaps this sorry episode will galvanize those who care the most into saving public higher education for the purpose it was established by Jefferson -- to create an informed and enlightened citizenry.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Statement by religious leaders at the University of Virginia

Photo by the Washington Post

To the University Community,

As religious leaders at the University, we offer our voices to the many who are speaking out regarding the events of the past week.  We are deeply saddened by the forced resignation of President Teresa Sullivan, a leader we warmly welcomed only two years ago and one who has placed a high value on our role within the University community.  We were encouraged by her inclusion of An Interfaith Vigil of Blessing during her inaugural week in the spring of 2011 and her recognition of religious life as an important aspect of a well-balanced student life for those who wish to take part.  We have been inspired by her vision, her character, and her genuine engagement with the many diverse sectors of the University community, including our own.

Though we understand that there are times that the Board of Visitors must make difficult decisions including the hiring and firing of presidents, we are concerned about the way in which this action was carried out.  Regardless of “philosophical differences” the duties of the Board must be carried out in a manner worthy of the public trust.  As religious leaders we push our students to act ethically and with integrity, and we hope that the Board will do the same moving forward. 

Lastly, we offer our assistance to the University and to any who are struggling with the ongoing fallout from these events with which we are all now coming to terms.  We are available for conversation, listening, and in any other ways we can offer help or perspective from our religious traditions.  We are praying for President Sullivan, the Board of Visitors, the faculty, staff, students, and all those in the University community, near and far. 

In peace,

Agape Christian Fellowship

Fr. Stephen Alcott, O.P., 
Catholic Campus Ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish

Saad Arrabi, Islamic Society of Central Virginia

The Rev. Nick Forti, Canterbury Student Ministry

Evan Hansen, Eunoia

Rabbi Shlomo and Channa Mayer, Chabad

Derek Mondeau, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship

The Rev. Deborah Lewis, The Wesley Foundation at UVa

The Very Rev. James Richardson, St. Paul's Memorial Church

Rabbi Jake Rubin, Brody Jewish Center at UVa

The Rev. Dr. Laura S. Sugg, Westminster Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Sandra J. Wisco, St. Mark Lutheran Church

For questions or further comment, please contact United Ministries President Rabbi Jake Rubin at 434-249-5724.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

God bless President Sullivan; we must not forget the most vulnerable

The Board of Visitors, the trustees who govern the University of Virginia and who have so ineptly governed themselves over the last 10 days, finished its meeting at 3 am early this morning with the announcement of the appointment of an interim president which you can read HERE.

Teresa Sullivan, who has been a class act throughout this sorry episode, will finish her time with us very soon. She walked through the crowds yesterday with her head high, and the board of visitors who fired her slinked out of town in the wee hours of the night. It was a very sorry and sad day for this iconic and historic university founded by Thomas Jefferson.

The trust between the governing board and those they govern will not be easily regained. Star faculty will leave, and life will go on. Budget cuts at UVA will be made, and those who live closest to the economic margin in our community will be hit the hardest. Those who can speak must continue to speak out, especially now. The issues are far deeper than about a single leader of a single university.

Recently, IMPACT, our coalition of 28 faith communities has worked on job creation for low income people in Charlottesville. We've focused closely on the UVA Medical system, the biggest employment driver in our community. President Sullivan's dismissal is a definite set back to this work.

But our work must continue.

I pray that the commitment shown by thousands in our community in recent days in supporting President Sullivan will remain. And I pray it will be channeled not just toward academic performance, but also for the most vulnerable in our community. Terry Sullivan implored us to "create a caring community," and included everyone in this community, especially those who are the most vulnerable: the sick, the poor, the non-white.

And let me repeat once again: God bless President Sullivan.

Monday, June 18, 2012

On the Lawn today: the right place to be

Photo by Bill Bergen
I stood on the Lawn today with thousands of others to show support for ousted University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan. I went because it was the right thing to do. The decent thing to do. Many people from St. Paul's Memorial Church were there.

Mid-afternoon, President Sullivan crossed the Lawn to enter the Rotunda and address the Board of Visitors, the secretive governing board that fired her a week ago with scant explanation.

We applauded and cheered as she walked through the crowd. Inside, President Sullivan gave a statement, and then left. An hour later or so the statement was released and read to the crowd. Her statement speaks for itself, and I am posting it below in full:

+ + +

In 1816, our founder Thomas Jefferson said, “as new discoveries are made, new truth discovered and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”
We are all aware that the UVA needs to change and for the past 2 years I have been working to do just that. Apparently, the area of disagreement appears to be just how that change should occur and at what pace.
I certainly want to take some time and talk about the many changes that I have made because they are significant. But first, I need to make one thing clear. The current reaction by the faculty, staff, and students on and off Grounds, and among the donors and alumni to my impending departure, is not something I have stirred up. I have made no public statement. I have done my best to keep the lowest possible profile. I have fulfilled previous commitments at the White House and elsewhere in Washington, and I have visited with friends in another state. I have not even responded to the innumerable people who have reached out to me personally and demonstrated their love for this great institution. I did not cause this reaction in the last ten days, but perhaps the reaction speaks to the depth of the connections I have made in the last 22 months. Through all of the last ten days, my overriding concern has been the welfare of the University of Virginia.
President Sullivan, center, in blue
crosses Lawn to enter the Rotunda
I have been described as an incrementalist. It is true. Sweeping action may be gratifying and may create the aura of strong leadership, but its unintended consequences may lead to costs that are too high to bear. There has been substantial change on Grounds in the past two years, and this change is laying the groundwork for greater change. But it has all been carefully planned and executed in collaboration with Vice Presidents and Deans and representatives of the faculty. This is the best, most constructive, most long lasting, and beneficial way to change a university. Until the last ten days, the change at UVA has not been disruptive change, and it has not been high-risk change.
Corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great university. Sustained change with buy-in does work. UVA is one of the world’s greatest universities.
Being an incrementalist does not mean that I lack vision. My vision was clearly outlined in my strategic vision statement. It encompasses the thoughts developed by me and my team as to what UVA can become in the 21st century and parts of it were incorporated into the budget narrative that you adopted last month.
Photo by Diane Wakat
(I am standing in the lower left)
FACULTY: One of the great strengths of UVA is our outstanding faculty. As a tenured member of faculty, I have tried to view the campus not only from the president’s chair, but from the faculty’s lectern and it has been an amazing and rewarding experience. Nearly every faculty member here has opportunity costs for staying and has attractive options elsewhere. The faculty we most need to keep have many options elsewhere. Most of the faculty could earn more in some other organization, academic or non-academic. They stay to participate with other faculty “of the highest grade” and to interact with students who will be the leaders of the next generation. Their financial sacrifices have their limits; of course the faculty must be appropriately compensated.
But at the end of the day, money alone is not enough. The faculty must also believe that they can do their best work here. They must believe in the future here. At any great university, the equilibrium – the pull between the desire to stay and the inducements to leave – is delicate. Rapid change rapidly upsets this delicate equilibrium.
Already in the last ten days we have lost faculty to other universities. Fortunately, we are well past the usual hiring season in most disciplines. But deans and provosts at every peer institution are setting aside funds now to raid the University of Virginia next year given the current turmoil on our campus.
Clearly we have financial challenges. Our net financing from the state has been steadily cut for two decades, despite the efforts of the Governor and General Assembly to modestly reverse that trend. Both political and market forces limit the tuition we can charge. We are addressing these challenges in multiple ways.
The academic mission is central and must be protected. Strategic cutting and large-scale cost savings have therefore been concentrated in non-academic areas, and these areas have become notably leaner and more efficient.
The historic practice at UVA was that any necessary budget cuts in the academic areas were directed by the central administration, often by a non-academic officer. And because that officer often, almost inevitably, lacks sufficient information to make detailed choices, these cuts were usually applied across-the-board, the most non-strategic approach to cutting. I undertook to change this approach.
In the last two years, we have been working to implement a new internal financial model. This is no technical accounting matter. The new model would empower deans, improve their financial incentives, and hold them accountable for the results. Each dean knows his or her own school far better than the central administration can ever know it. But the deans have had limited financial planning tools, and if they did find a way to cut costs, or a creative way to raise revenue without raising tuition, there was no assurance that they would keep the savings or the revenue. We expect better financial decisions, new cost savings, and where necessary, more strategic program cuts from the new internal financial model.
The budgeting changes we have already set in place this year have created transparency and accountability and dispelled the perception that politics drives the internal allocation of resources. The budget meetings that we initiated this year provide the opportunity for the provost to work with deans on priorities for strategic investment. And often he discovers that multiple deans have a similar idea, and that a co-investment strategy will produce greater gains at lower total cost. We are making a portfolio of these “small bets,” which cumulatively will build strength in important areas of teaching and research. This approach acknowledges that we are neither prescient nor omniscient. No single initiative will do serious damage if it doesn’t work out.
One example, already under way and being expanded, is the Quantitative Collaborative, which addresses simulation and predictive statistical models and the challenges of massive data sets that exceed the limits of our analytic tools.
Others that are well along in the planning and funding stages include:
The Contemplative Sciences Center, which has broadened considerably from the original donor proposal to an exciting synergy among faculty from the Medical School, the College of Nursing, Asian Studies, Religious Studies, and other departments.
Our international focus: We are broadening and deepening the connections among our international faculty, especially among those who study China and Africa. These are not areas that should be siloed within academic units, but there should be ways for scholars across Grounds to interact on them. My recent trip to China was used as a way to integrate these scholars’ expertise and help us chart a course for the future.
Environmental sustainability is a topic that excites faculty and students from nearly every school, including the College, Architecture, Engineering, and other. . A new partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, together with our widely heralded Bay Game, offer opportunities for study in species conservation and clean water, which will be one of the most important issues of this century. Many more ideas are bubbling up both from faculty and from students. These projects require new funding, typically from interested private donors, but they are also force multipliers. They enable our existing faculty to expand the reach of their teaching and research through structured collaboration with colleagues in other departments and other schools. They do not tear down departments, but instead they provide ways for faculty from different departments to interact, enriching the departments but also allowing new activities.
We have taken similar initiative with respect to faculty compensation. We found funds for a 2% faculty pay raise last year — not enough, but the first raise of any kind in four years. Equally important, we instructed deans not to give a 2% raise across the board, but to allocate all raise money on the basis of merit. This rewards our most valuable faculty and improves the incentive structure for all faculty.
A dramatic top-down reallocation in our general fund, simply to show that we are “changing,” or that we are not “incremental,” seems to me fiscally imprudent, highly alarming to faculty, and unfair to students who expect to get a broadly inclusive education here. I have chosen a lower-risk and more conservative strategy, because I am accountable to the taxpayers and the tuition payers.
If we were to embark on a course of deep top-down cuts, there would also be difficult questions regarding what to cut. A university that does not teach the full range of arts and sciences will no longer be a university. Certainly it will no longer be respected as such by its former peers.
Faculty collaborate both within disciplines and across disciplines. In the nature of things, many of these collaborations are not even known to the central administration. If we cut from the top down, without consulting the affected faculty, a cut in one department may have wholly unintended consequences in another department that we are trying to build up.
Nor can we always predict which kind of knowledge will be of greatest import in the future. Before September 11, few of us understood just how important Arabic and other Middle Eastern and Central Asian languages would become — to our students, to the nation, and to national security. Suppose we had eliminated some of those languages because of low enrollment or other fiscal considerations before 2001. We would be scrambling to recreate them now.
Beyond finances, there are many other innovations I have undertaken and about which you are regularly briefed.
We conducted national searches to fill our two executive vice presidencies with talented administrators. No president can act alone; filling these positions was essential to further progress.
We have increased the emphasis on the unglamorous but critical task of patient safety in our hospitals.
We are undertaking or evaluating strategic alliances with other health care providers, to strengthen our position in the face of a changing and more complex and difficult market for health care.
We have taken initiatives to improve student safety. This is obviously a matter of great concern to parents. These initiatives include the Day of Dialogue during my first month on Grounds, and the follow up from that day, and a new policy on sexual misconduct that is considered a national model.
We greatly expanded our MLK Day celebration, both as an additional educational activity for our students but also as a way to link with the community of Charlottesville. We have worked with the Governor, with the Higher Education Advisory Commission created by the Governor, and with the legislature to implement the Higher Education Opportunity Act.
We are gradually increasing enrollment, preserving the quality of instruction with the initiative pre-funded by the General Assembly, and we have implemented Early Action in admissions, increasing our ability to compete for the best students.
We have created the 4VA telepresence consortium with the state, Cisco, Virginia Tech, George Mason, and James Madison that uses sophisticated technology to share courses and other resources; examples are advanced Mandarin and national security policy. I would have become the consortium’s chair on July 1. There is room for carefully implemented online learning in selected fields, but online instruction is no panacea. It is surprisingly expensive, has limited revenue potential, and unless carefully managed, can undermine the quality of instruction.
We have initiated the Hoos Well program, which in the long run will save money on our employee health care plan.
In this very Rotunda in which you are sitting, I initiated and secured funding for the critical roof repair. Much more must be done to complete this, and we had a plan in preparation to raise the funds.
Fundraising takes time. A new President first has to meet donors and establish trust and rapport. Instability is as alarming to donors as it is to faculty and in the last few days you are already seeing the impact.
Fundraising during my tenure has been rebounding from the effects of the recession and the presidential transition. Since I came on board in 2010, philanthropic cash flow has increased by 15.6%. New campaign commitments to date averaged $17.1 million per month in FY 2010 and averaged $24.6 million through April 30th of FY 2012. A number you may not know yet is that we raised $44 million from our Reunions classes at Reunions Weekend.
Beyond fiduciary matters related to the budget model and fundraising, the University’s new administrative team has had a considerable human impact. If you want to know about the impact on the faculty, on its morale and energy and commitment to UVA, go outside and talk to them.
I want to turn to the issue of trust. The community of trust is not merely a term to describe a Code that applies to our students. We equally need a community of trust between faculty and administration and among our leadership teams. Trust does not mean an absence of disagreement. But it requires that disagreements be frankly discussed. No matter how accomplished he or she may be, a president cannot read minds. When you choose a new president, tell him or her what you are thinking.
Finally, I would like to thank you for the great honor of leading the University of Virginia. In only 22 months, Doug and I have felt warmly embraced by the University and by Charlottesville and Albemarle County. Whatever the problems this University may be facing, make no mistake: This is one of the world’s great universities. Every day on Grounds, great ideas are pursued; outstanding books are written; patients’ lives are saved, often after despair had set in. The products and industries of tomorrow are being crafted in our laboratories, and the leaders of the twenty-first century fill our classrooms and seminar rooms.
One of the greater duties of the president is to listen carefully to the needs and aspirations of the community. Only with that input have I been able to identify and analyze the issues that required action. I am proud of my service here, and I thank you for the opportunity.

The Beta Bridge last night (a block from St. Paul's)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

President Teresa Sullivan: No fences around the caring community

This morning's sermon is based on Mark 4:26-34.

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This morning I must begin by mentioning the most significant event in our community of the last week – and which I know is weighing on many of you: The dismissal of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan.

Even if you are not connected directly to the University of Virginia, you and I are affected daily by this huge institution across the street. It is no exaggeration to say that the most important public official in our community is the president of the University.

I certainly have no more information than any of you, and no doubt a good deal less than some of you. And I am in no position to comment on the actions of the Board of Visitors, nor should I.

But I would be remiss in not expressing the gratitude of our congregation, and my personal appreciation, to President Sullivan for the care and friendship she has shown to the Charlottesville community, and in particular, to this the parish church to the University of Virginia.

I first met Dr. Sullivan in a snowstorm, in the great blizzard of January 2010, when she was still president-elect.

Like many of you, she braved the elements to attend our Centennial banquet, and it was our great honor to seat her next to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

As it turned out, the only two guests at the UVA Colonnade Club that snowy weekend were Dr. Sullivan, the first woman to head the University of Virginia, and Bishop Katharine, the first woman to head the Episcopal Church of the United States, and the first woman primate of an Anglican province in the world.

I’ve wondered since what these two intellectually powerful, historically groundbreaking women talked about over breakfast in the middle of a blizzard.

As President, Dr. Sullivan gave her first public address here in this pulpit on August 29, 2010 at our University Convocation Sunday. The backdrop to that sermon, and it is not so long ago, was the death of student Yeardley Love.

President Sullivan eloquently spoke to us about how we cannot be bystanders as others suffer.

She said this to us: 

Care for those around you, especially those who are most in need. This is one of the foundations of a strong community based on caring and shared responsibility for one another’s well-being. The Kingdom of God has many bridges, but not so many fences.”

I don’t know – none of us can know – what will happen next week, or next month or next year, as this struggle over the leadership of this great university unfolds.

But I do know this – we can show our gratitude for Terry Sullivan and what she has stood for by continuing the work of building a caring community.

And I would point out, the president of this very secular University put the building of a caring community in terms of her own faith and the building God’s kingdom.

What she spoke of is far bigger than any of us, bigger than a university or its president, or any single leader.

And bigger than any fence.

Today, in the Gospel lesson from Mark, Jesus describes the Kingdom of God as a place without fences. But get that, you have to hear what he is describing as something of an inside joke. Follow me here.

We’ve domesticated the mustard seed story into a platitude about how big things can grow from small things, and that is certainly true. Giant Sequoia redwoods do start with a seed from a very small cone.

But it’s not just about the seed. It is about what grows from the seed.

Jesus uses the story of the mustard seed to make fun of the pomposity of the Temple authorities, who compare the glory of the Temple to the majesty of the cedars of Lebanon, which as the Old Testament says, are so large birds nest in them.

Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to not a majestic cedar, but to a scraggly, weedy, unruly mustard shrub.

Mustard bush in the Middle East
In the Mediterranean world, mustard is not a condiment for hotdogs. It is a weed that grew as big as a house, and it took over the grain fields.

It starts as a tiny seed no bigger than the period on a printed page. It is truly the tiniest of seeds, and when it grows, watch out. It is the Kudzu of the Middle East.

It take over everything in its path. It is unpredictable, no respecter of fences, no respecter of neat rows of grain. It growns everywhere, no stopping it.

The Kingdom of God is “like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

No doubt the Temple authorities were infuriated by this pithy little story – Jesus was, indeed, mocking them. And the people got the mocking tone, and they repeated his story over and over and they wrote it down. It appears in three of the gospels and in documents about Jesus that did not get into the New Testament.

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard weed. It starts small, and it grows where it will and no fence – no institution – can stop it.

The community we are called to build in God’s kingdom – the community of caring people who heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, put bread on the table, educate the young and old, and work to change the social structures that cause suffering – that community is like a mustard bush that will grown everywhere.

It is unpredictable; fences cannot contain it, and it will bring heaven to earth in those places of need and suffering. That is the true Kingdom God.

All of us are a part of this great work – all of us have a role – and no fence can keep you or I out.

Please allow me to end this morning by reading to you the concluding words of President Sullivan in her remarkable sermon to us nearly two years ago. I quote:

“Ask yourself this question: If you happened to encounter an angel unawares, how would you treat him or her? What if this angel-in-disguise were a stranger, or someone who looks different from you, or someone who is on the low end of the socio-economic ladder, or someone suffering from physical or mental distress?

“This morning, let’s affirm our commitment to caring for every member of this community every day. Let’s make this promise to ourselves and to each other. Let’s promise not to stand by when someone else needs help. Let’s promise to take responsibility for each other. Let’s promise to show hospitality and kindness to everyone around us — even the strangers, who, for all we know, might be angels.

“Your neighbors might not exalt you for taking such responsibility. Your friends might criticize you. But building a community of caring is a very positive long-term investment.”

Let me to add that it remains our task to carry on this work of building a caring community – work that is truly all of ours to share, no matter our age, our social status, our educational status, or our affiliation with the University of Virginia.

Teresa Sullivan ended her sermon by saying “God bless the University of Virginia,” and I would add, God bless President Sullivan. Amen
By James Richardson, Fiat Lux 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

UVA President Sullivan at Mount Zion First African Baptist Church

The ouster of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan is now truly a national story. There are so many stories now, I won't begin to summarize them.

There are links to all of the news stories on a Faculty Senate website which can find HERE. The story, safe to say, is not going away soon.

I do want to draw your attention to an item that few may have noticed. Even as the Board of Visitors was preparing to announce her "resignation," President Sullivan preached last Sunday at Mount Zion First African Baptist Church, where my friend Alvin Edwards is the pastor.

Our church has many long standing ties to Mount Zion, and I was aware that President Sullivan was to be the guest preacher. Although her ouster had happened by the time she took the pulpit, no one at the church knew it. She went through with her sermon, and touched many people with her faithfulness and heart. A member of the congregation, Erika James Hayes, who is also a professor at the UVA Darden Business School, wrote this report on her blog, and I post it here in full:


I am a member of the Mount Zion First African Baptist Church in Charlottesville, and a faculty member of the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia.  Both affiliations are relevant to a set of unusual circumstances I experienced this weekend.  On Sunday I enthusiastically attended church service.  On this day my enthusiasm was in large part because our church was welcoming Theresa Sullivan, President of the University of Virginia.  As a UVA faculty member I was looking forward to hearing her speak to a constituency often peripheral to the academic community. President Sullivan was invited by our pastor to be a guest speaker with the purpose of ministering to the congregation in honor of the high school and college graduates from our church.  As I’ve seen her do on numerous occasions at the university, she delivered eloquent, humorous, thoughtful, personal, and deliberate remarks.  Her message centered on staying true to one’s convictions, and leading with a purpose.  Referencing bible verses from the book of Romans she spoke of not allowing one’s self to conform to the inevitable trials and tribulations life will present, but to betransformed by them. She used stories to illustrate her point that one does not need to hold a particular title or position to lead, but that true leaders lead with integrity and from the heart.  True leaders lead in accordance with their values and they are not side-tracked by people who question or doubt those values.

In my professional life, I view things from a standpoint of crisis leadership and diversity, the nature of my work. But this day, I listened as a parent and member of the congregation. And I was moved by her comments.  This is precisely the message I would want my own children to hear when it is time for their graduations.   As a fellow university professor I felt affirmed by President Sullivan’s remarks because they are consistent with the message that I try to instill in the MBA students I teach.  I left the church service filled with pride for the African American graduates who were honored in our service, and proud of our President who chose to spend her Sunday morning at a predominately African American Church ministering to our young people.  I had not expected what was to come next.

When I arrived home from church I checked my email and was shocked to see a message from the University of Virginia Rector announcing that the UVA Board of Visitors and President Sullivan had mutually agreed over the weekend to part ways.  Effective August 2012, Sullivan’s two year tenure into her presidency would end, well short of the original contract term.  The message went on to identify differences in philosophical approaches for UVA’s future as the primary reason for the abrupt departure.  I suspect there is truth in the rationale provided to the university community, and I suspect that there is more to the story that we may never know.   

Like most others in the UVA community I was stunned by the turn of events.  I am also saddened by her pending departure.  I’ve had the opportunity to meet Sullivan on a number of occasions and was pleased to have served on her inauguration committee.  She is an impressive woman.  Yet, what I have been reflecting on are her comments during the church service, as they relate to confronting challenges.  Reciting verses from Romans chapter 12, Sullivan communicated: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.” 

At the time that she was so graciously delivering her remarks to our church graduates, President Sullivan must have been experiencing tremendous internal turmoil as the decision to end her presidency had likely occurred within the previous 24 hours.  I suspect her charge to our graduates to be transformed by (not conform to) the challenges of life, were drawn from her own immediate need to lead in such a manner at this particular juncture in her career. 

President Sullivan concluded her remarks with the following verses from Romans 12:  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach;  if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. 

I am keenly aware of the gifts in others; but have often questioned the gifts I offer to the world.  I have no obvious or extra-ordinary gifts in things society generally rewards (e.g., music, art, athletics, and oration) yet I have found it curious how I’ve been able to lead a rather extra-ordinary life.  President Sullivan’s remarks helped broaden my understanding of “gifts” and as I listened to the gifts she recited from Romans my own gifts began to crystallize.  Furthermore, I have a better understanding and appreciation for the true gifts in others.

President Sullivan’s choice to deliver these particular remarks takes on new meaning in light of her personal changing circumstances at UVA.  She has many gifts, and they are well recognized within the UVA community and will be well received beyond it.  I am confident that she will be positively transformed by recent challenges.