Teresa Sullivan, who has served as president of the University of Virginia for the past two years, was forced to resign this week. As Brian Leiter notes, this has relevance for legal academics in part because Sullivan is married to Douglas Laycock. He also articulates the broader concern for the law school and every other part of the university - that Sullivan was too academically oriented for the Board of Visitors' taste. Interesting stories from the Richmond Times-Dispatch are here, here, and here.
The story is plainly complex, but the Board is plainly guilty of engaging in an opaque process that failed to garner input from all the important academic stakeholders. Whenever events like this occur, I wonder whether the Board members have considered both the potential reputational damage and the potential recruiting challenge generated by these decisions. Whatever their risk assessment, the widespread opposition to the decision - which appears to be unifying academics of very different world views - has made this a deep embarrassment for the Board. At the same time, it is possible that these eruptions may become more frequent as resources shrink and the cost of education rises. As boards press for cheaper means to deliver education - whether that be reducing the size of research faculty, increasing teaching loads, or putting pressure on tenure itself - faculty can be expected to push back.
UVa presents a particularly interesting case. The university is a cusp super-elite. All community members - faculty and students alike - have a huge stake in maintaining the (costly) choice of staying on the high side of that divide. But Virginia taxpayers may not share that same passion. For the law school, the answer was easy: raise prices and privatize. Now UVa may be forced to decide whether the entire institution should follow suit. In-state undergraduate tuition at UVa is undert $12,000. Plainly, that price point cannot sustain a super-elite university in the absence of massive state subsidy.