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U.Va. Board Details Governance Improvements in SACS Response, Releases President’s Extended Contract

The University of Virginia on Tuesday released President Teresa A. Sullivan’s new contract, effective through July 2016. Its one-year extension was unanimously approved by the Board of Visitors on Nov. 9, along with three new policies designed to promote greater accountability and transparency.

Contract Extension: In Sullivan’s contract amendment, the Board of Visitors notes the president’s recent progress in many top priorities, including strategic planning, plans for the development of the next generation of exceptional faculty, and systems designed to better prioritize financial resources. The contract amendment also praises Sullivan for encouraging experimentation that could help position U.Va. as a leader in “the use of technology in academic delivery,” and for reorganization plans that will promote the growth of philanthropy and legislative support.

“The board is encouraged by and appreciative of the president’s recent activities in rigorously addressing the difficult issues facing all of public higher education,” Rector Helen E. Dragas said. “We sought to publicly affirm the president’s intensified leadership by affording her more time to achieve important, specific outcomes. The board is dedicated to working openly and cooperatively with her for the benefit of the commonwealth and U.Va.”

Governance Changes: The University shared three key improvements in governance in its latest response to an ongoing review by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – the University’s accrediting body – regarding the summer’s resignation and reinstatement of the president. The correspondence also was publicly released today.

In the response, the University again clarifies that it acted in compliance with established procedures this summer and affirms that more than two-thirds of the board favored the initial action. Further, the letter again notes that, while U.Va. was not required to notify faculty before taking executive action, the University is continuing to evaluate its policies to ensure the highest level of accountability and responsiveness to all those it serves.

Revisions to the Board of Visitors Manual provide clarity on procedures for electing and removing presidents. Resolutions passed by the board also set up comprehensive guidelines for evaluating a president’s performance and provide for more direct involvement by faculty in board deliberations.

  1. Presidential election, appointment and removal: The board’s manual now stipulates that actions related to the employment status of a president will require a publicly noticed board meeting and a vote of the full Board of Visitors.

The manual now states: “Appointment, removal, requested resignation, or amendment of the contract or terms of employment of the President may be accomplished only by vote of a majority (or, by statute, two-thirds in the case of removal) of the whole number of Visitors at a regular meeting, or special meeting called for this purpose.”

  1. Presidential evaluation process: The new memo to SACS also details the board’s vote to institute quarterly evaluation meetings. The meetings provide an opportunity to “review progress on goals and established benchmarks, and to advise the president on current priorities of the Board.” Those involved in the quarterly reviews will provide input to the annual presidential assessment committee and will measure specific progress made toward meeting benchmarks spelled out in the University’s strategic plan.
  2. Shared governance: The board on Nov. 9 also unanimously approved a resolution to more closely involve the faculty in its work. The resolution authorizes the rector to consult with the president to appoint one non-voting consulting member from the faculty to each standing committee that doesn’t already have faculty representation.

 “We also understand the need for and believe in greater openness and accountability,” Dragas said.

She added that these actions represent forward movement, not final considerations.

“We will continue gathering research and ideas from a variety of sources – including potentially tapping outside expert resources – so that the University may become a model for higher education governance in the commonwealth,” she said. “We will be sure to clearly communicate this progress promptly to all interested entities, including SACS.”

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