(AP) - The University of Virginia reinstated its popular president Tuesday less than three weeks after ousting her in a secretive move that infuriated students and faculty, had the governor threatening to fire the entire governing board and sparked a debate about the most effective way to operate public universities in an era of tight finances.
The 15-member Board of Visitors voted unanimously to reinstate Teresa Sullivan during a brief meeting held at the university's historic Rotunda. Shortly after the vote, Sullivan thanked the board members for their renewed confidence in her.
"I want to partner with you in bringing about what's best for the university," Sullivan said even as cheers erupted outside the Rotunda where her supporters had gathered.
Sullivan then headed outside where hundreds of faculty, students and others had organized a demonstration near the Rotunda to show support for the popular president.
Critics had compared how the board's executive committee handled Sullivan's abrupt firing to a coup d'etat, and said it violated U.Va. founder Thomas Jefferson's stated principles of honesty, respect and honor. The move triggered online protests, gatherings that packed the historic grounds' Lawn, and calls by deans, faculty, students and alumni for the board to return her to office.
Sullivan, who became U.Va.'s eighth president and its first female leader in August 2010, told the cheering crowd she couldn't continue her mission without the help of others. "I am not good enough or wise enough or strong enough to accomplish everything that needs to be done at U.Va. on my own," she declared.
She also thanked those who demonstrated for her reinstatement for backing her: "You have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am not alone. I believer that together we'll do great things for the university."
A majority of the 15-member board was needed to approve the reinstatement for Sullivan to remain in office. Rector Helen Dragas, who was central to the initial move to oust the president, opened the board meeting Tuesday by saying she believed the university would emerge stronger after the controversy. Dragas reiterated an apology for the way the matter was handled initially.
"The situation became enormously dramatized and emotionally charged," she said. "I sincerely apologize for the way this was presented and you deserve better.
But she said she looked forward to moving on in the best interests of the university community.
"I believe real progress is more possible than ever now," Dragas told the group shortly before the roll call vote was taken. "It is unfortunate that we had to have a near death experience to get here."
Gov. Bob McDonnell, who appointed half of the board members, had said Friday that he would seek the resignations of all the members if the group failed to resolve the controversy Tuesday. And Dragas said as the meeting opened that the board actions on Tuesday would be final in the matter.
Dragas and one other board member are up for reappointment and two others have terms that are expiring shortly. The governor must announce his decisions on all four appointments by July 1. U.Va. officials had announced June 10 that Sullivan would step down Aug. 15, surprising the university community and triggering an outcry over the lack of explanation about her forced resignation. Dragas since has said the university wasn't acting quickly enough to address state and federal funding reductions, online education delivery and other challenges, but didn't offer specific examples.
Sullivan had defended her performance at a board meeting June 18, outlining some of her initiatives since taking office, including hiring a new provost and chief operating officer and adopting a new budgeting model that decentralizes financial planning. She criticized the board's "corporate, top-down leadership" as not being in the university's best interests.
At last week's marathon session, the board named U.Va. undergraduate business school Dean Carl P. Zeithaml to become interim president after Sullivan's departure. But Zeithaml decided Friday to step aside until the resolution of Sullivan's employment status.
Sullivan, 62, is an eminent scholar of labor-force demography. Before coming to Charlottesville, she served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, another top public university.
After Tuesday's meeting of the U.Va. board, member W. Heywood Fralin acknowledged missteps were made. "
It is my opinion that everyone agrees the process was flawed. It can never be repeated when important decisions are being made by this board," Fralin said.
He also offered his apology, but added he didn't agree with asking for Sullivan's resignation in the first place.
CHARLOTTESVILLE-- Roanoke board member, Heywood Fralin moved to reinstate Teresa Sullivan at the Tuesday afternoon meeting. All 15 other board members agreed.
Sullivan has yet to accept. She is expected to speak shortly.
We have a crew on campus and will bring you more updates as they come in.