Norfolk, Va. • Donors to the University of Virginia signaled with their checkbooks what they thought of the temporary ouster of its popular president, with donations dropping in half after her forced resignation and then doubling upon her return, figures obtained by The Associated Press show.
The public university’s governing board unexpectedly announced the resignation of Teresa A. Sullivan June 10 in a secretive move that caused uproar on the Charlottesville campus while most students were away on summer break. Sullivan, the first woman to head the university founded by Thomas Jefferson, was reinstated June 26 after large-scale protests, online petitions and angry calls by faculty, students, donors and alumni from across the country.
Bob Sweeney, the university’s senior vice president for development and public affairs, told AP that the end result of the drama was that the university had its best June for fundraising since 2008, receiving $44.4 million in cash and pledges.
“When Sullivan resigned our giving dropped in half and when she was reinstated our giving doubled,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney said at least two benefactors removed the university from their wills after Sullivan’s resignation and then called to say the school had been added back following Sullivan’s reinstatement. He also reported a significant uptick in small cash contributions of $100 or less following her reinstatement.
“There was a real galvanizing effect that happened during that period,” Sweeney said.
Sullivan, 62, is an eminent scholar of labor-force demography who came highly regarded to U.Va., one of the nation’s top universities. Previously, she had served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan. But those on U.Va.’s 15-member governing board who led attempts to oust her said she wasn’t moving swiftly enough to address diminished funding, online education and other challenges.
In 2004, the university set a $3 billion fundraising goal. Following June’s pledges and donations, the school has raised more than $2.75 billion.
“The increase in donations upon President Sullivan’s return certainly provides strong evidence of support for her leadership from alumni and other friends of the University. It also helps confirm our judgment that fighting for President Sullivan’s reinstatement was in the best interests of the university and that we will emerge from the recent crisis stronger than ever,” Faculty Senate Chairman and U.Va. law professor George Cohen said in an email to the AP on Friday.
The university was already on pace to exceed last year’s fundraising totals for June when Sullivan resigned, raising $5.4 million in cash versus $3 million the previous year. That follows a trend in fundraising increases since Sullivan’s arrival on campus in 2010, which coincided with an improving economy. Fundraising pledges have increased by an average of $6.4 million a month since Sullivan’s arrival.
But in the days following Sullivan’s ouster, the opposite happened. The university raised $5.2 million compared with $10.5 million the year before. As word began to spread that Sullivan might be reinstated, the money began to flow again. The university raised $11.7 million in the days leading up to her reinstatement compared with $4.8 million the year before. After she finally got her job back, the remaining five days of June were a cash bonanza for the school. The university raised $14 million over the last week, compared with $7.2 million the previous year.
“After her reinstatement, development officers on the road were able to get verbal commitments, two in excess of $1 million in New York,” Sweeney said. “They said, ‘I talked to the president about this, now’s the time to do it to show support.’”
Raising new funds in a time of dwindling federal and state support for the flagship Virginia university is a critical mission for Sullivan as she moves forward.
U.Va. expects to get about 10 percent of its operating budget from the state of Virginia this fiscal year. Public funding per in-state student has fallen to an estimated $8,310 in 2012-13, down from $15,274 per in-state student in 2000-01, according to the university.
It’s unclear how long the temporary boost following Sullivan’s reinstatement will last. Fundraising totals for July are not available yet and Sweeney said July and August are typically slow months.