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Tue June 19, 2012
Board Member Resigns After U.Va. President Fired
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block at NPR West, in California.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel, in Washington. One of the key players in the firing of the president of the University of Virginia has resigned. Mark Kington was vice rector of the state-appointed Board of Visitors. The board sent the campus into an uproar last week, when it unexpectedly fired the president, Teresa Sullivan. Faculty and students have rallied behind Sullivan, calling the firing a coup by the board. [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: The Board of Visitors did not vote on whether to fire Sullivan. Sullivan resigned after Kington and the rector, Helen Dragas, told her they had the votes needed to remove her.]
Anita Kumar has been covering the story for the Washington Post. She joins us now from Richmond, Virginia. Welcome to the program.
ANITA KUMAR: Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: And first of all, lay out briefly how and why this firing came about last week.
KUMAR: The Board of Visitors, as you mentioned, abruptly announced that the president was going to leave last Sunday, but they actually didn't give very many - very much of an explanation for it. And so that's been one of the issues - been going on the last week, is trying to figure out what, exactly, happened.
It turns out that - they say she, the president - President Teresa Sullivan wasn't moving fast enough, wasn't treating the university more like a business, wasn't willing to make cuts in areas like the classics department and the German department.
SIEGEL: Now, President Sullivan addressed the board yesterday. What has she said about this?
KUMAR: She's actually said very little. Yesterday afternoon was her first public comments. And she basically did not criticize the board. But she talked about her tenure, and what she's done in the last two years. But she did acknowledge, yes, I am an incrementalist. And yes, I do take time, and I'm very cautious. But that doesn't mean the university wasn't moving forward.
SIEGEL: Now, today, a new development - the resignation of the vice chair of the Board of Visitors, Mark Kington. How significant is that?
KUMAR: It's pretty significant. His term was not up for another two years. And a lot of people had called for his resignation, but I'm not sure that anyone really thought it was going to happen. The rector of the board - so, sort of the chairman of the board - her term is up in two weeks. And so everybody sort of focused their energies on her, and would the governor - Governor Robert McDonnell - would he reappoint her? So Mr. Kington was out there, and people were talking about him. But it was sort of unexpected that he would resign. It's sort of unclear - is, what's going to happen now. The governor has this opportunity to appoint someone new, and it's unclear as to how the board will be made up now.
SIEGEL: U.Va - University of Virginia - is a public university. It's not just the flagship of the university system in Virginia, but it really is one of the prestige public universities in the country. And the Board of Visitors is appointed by the state. It would seem to be a recipe for continued conflict here, given the scarcity of funds.
KUMAR: Yes, it is. I mean, actually, the University of Virginia, and some of the other public universities here, get very little money from the state anymore. They do a lot of fundraising; they raise millions of dollars; they get grants, and other things. So funding across the nation, but also in Virginia, has gone down. This governor, Governor McDonnell, has tried to increase funding in the last two years, and they have slowly gotten back up a little bit. But it's still a huge problem on campuses across the state.
SIEGEL: Then there's another dimension, which is the university is so dependent on alumni donations that if something happens which makes people less likely to give, that also hurts the finances of the university.
KUMAR: It's a huge issue. I've talked to three multimillion-dollar donors this week. Two said they were very, very concerned. And one, who - she and her husband have given $60 million, which is quite a bit of money - has said she's not going to give any more donations until the rector and the vice rector are gone. And of course, now, one of them is gone.
SIEGEL: Once again, the news today: The vice chair of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia who was involved in the firing of the university's president, has resigned. Anita Kumar, a Virginia government and political reporter in Richmond, Virginia, thanks for talking with us.
KUMAR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.