You can say many things about the present of the University of Virginia – Teresa Sullivan – but you cannot say that her tenure has been uneventful. In fact you can say the opposite: her roughly four years in office have been punctuated by two major crises of confidence.
Sullivan became president of UVA in 2010. Two years later she was ousted by the Board of Trustees for what euphemistically were called “philosophical differences.” In response to her ouster were protests – by alumni, faculty, students, and other members of the campus community – so strong and widespread that she was reinstated.
And now, another two years on, there is this: an article in Rolling Stone about a single rape and culture of sexual violence on the UVA campus that is so damning it has ignited a national firestorm.
In response to the breaking story Sullivan scurried home from a conference in the Netherlands, took several remedial steps, and issued a strong statement, “A Message from President Sullivan Regarding Sexual Violence.” But, given she has been president of UVA for four years, did she do much too little much too late?
This weekend, Larry Summers, the esteemed economist and former president of Harvard University, chanced to weigh in on financial sector leaders who presided over wrongdoing. His observation is not new – that institutions have been held accountable, but individuals have not – but coming from him it carries special weight.
Summers writes: “Punishment of individuals who do wrong or who fail in their managerial duty to monitor the behavior of their subordinates is short changed…. The principle that leaders should resign to take responsibility for failure on their watch even when they did not directly do wrong is [not well] established in the US. This is probably an area where we have something to learn.” (Link below.)
Sullivan might contemplate Summers’s commentary. Once it is proven that crimes of violence went unpunished on her watch, she should resign effective immediately. Only her own voluntary abdication of authority will serve as an instruction on how honorably to behave in the event you fall shockingly short of leading wisely and well.