I'm taking a little break here from blogging about UVA alumnus Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia cemeteries, and my work on University, Court, and Slave -- in which UVA, William and Mary, Washington College, Randolph Macon College, and VMI figure prominently -- to inquire about Governor McDonnell's letter telling the UVA Board of Visitors to, in essence, settle everything on Tuesday. I'm guessing that's his way of saying "rehire President Sullivan," because that's the only way to settle everything on Tuesday. They can't possibly hire someone else (though I guess they could decide not to rehire her and say that's a permanent decision regarding her). And I'm also guessing Sullivan's going to be rehired -- will be very surprised if she's not. But I -- like everyone else -- am confused by the letter. As Valerie Strauss writing at the Washington Post blog says:
You can say this for McDonnell: He sounds decisive — or at least, as decisive as he can sound after waiting nearly two weeks for things to get completely out of hand, with protests, resignations and the interim president tapped to replace Sullivan saying he doesn’t want to prepare for the job quite yet.
I want to talk now about McDonnell's threat to fire the entire BOV. His letter includes this statement: "Let me be absolutely clear: I want final action by the board on Tuesday. If you fail to do so, I will ask for the resignation of the entire board on Wednesday. Regardless of your decision, I expect you to make a clear, detailed and unified statement on the future leadership of the university."
Is this a serious threat about firing/"resignation"? I guess asking for a resignation and firing are two separate (though closely related) issues. But that seems like a very thinly vieled threat to fire the BOV members. How would that work? That led to me the Virginia Code to see what, exactly, it says about the Governor's power to remove members of the Board of Visitors. As I was searching the Code, one of the first pieces of it that I saw relates to subjects that shall be taught at UVA. Wasn't one of the supposed strikes against President Sullivan that she wasn't moving fast enough to can departments like classics and German? This part of the Virginia code is relevant to that discussion:
The following branches of learning shall be taught at the University: the Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Anglo-Saxon languages; the different branches of mathematics, pure and physical; natural philosophy, chemistry, mineralogy, including geology; the principles of agriculture; botany, anatomy, surgery, and medicine; zoology, history, ideology, general grammar, ethics, rhetoric, and belles lettres; civil government, political economy, the law of nature and of nations and municipal law.
While I know that it's McDonnell who's threatening action right now, I suppose that the General Assembly is familiar with this provision of the Virginia Code: "The rector and visitors of the University of Virginia shall be at all times subject to the control of the General Assembly."
The part of the Virginia Code that McDonnell would rely upon to fire the board is this:
the Governor may remove from office for malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence, or gross neglect of duty any member of the board of any public institution of higher education or other educational institution in Virginia, and fill the vacancy resulting from the removal. Each appointment to fill a vacancy shall be subject to confirmation by the General Assembly.
No one wants to see this drag out any further. There's no way that Governor McDonnell's going to want to use his AG's office's energies to remove the BOV. Can you imagine a hearing regarding whether there's been "malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence, or gross neglect of duty"? Perhaps we could all use a little less talk of firing and decisive action. Isn't that how we got into this situation in the first place? (Though I must say that if the decisive action is putting Sullivan back in the President's office, I'm 100% behind that.)
Ok--back to work on antebellum legal thought....