CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia remained in turmoil Tuesday, with the resignations of a governing board member and a star professor as well as the naming of an interim president to succeed the popular Teresa A. Sullivan.
The widening controversy over the university leadership claimed Mark Kington, the vice rector of U-Va.’s embattled Board of Visitors and an architect of Sullivan’s ouster who stepped down in a gesture of conciliation.
Some faculty members said they would not work with the interim president and criticized him for accepting the post.
Leaders of the 16-member governing board have labored to present a united front in the decision to remove Sullivan, who resigned June 10 in the face of seemingly overwhelming opposition on the panel.
But board members have found few public supporters, and an 11-hour session to name Sullivan’s successor exposed internal rifts. Carl P. Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce, was named to the interim post early Tuesday on a 12-1 vote, with two members abstaining and one absent.
On Tuesday, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said for the first time that the board made a mistake by not being open with the community, leading to a week of mounting protest on the usually tranquil Grounds.
“There are absolutely things they should have done differently,’’ McDonnell said in a conference call with reporters as he was traveling in Sweden. “There’s been a lot of heartache and crisis and grief on that campus.’’
McDonnell, whose twin sons attend U-Va., said he was closely monitoring the situation in Charlottesville and would weigh recent events as he makes appointments to the board in the coming weeks.
In a marathon session, which began Monday afternoon and stretched past 2 a.m. Tuesday, an uncharacteristically divided board pressed ahead with the transition.
The negotiations pitted Sullivan’s supporters against her opponents. Rector Helen E. Dragas, who led the campaign to remove her, has repeatedly claimed near-unanimous approval for replacing Sullivan. But within the oval board room in the Rotunda, the rector’s majority appeared to wear thin. At one point, the pro-Sullivan faction had eight votes, or half the board, according to several people briefed on the meeting.
The anti-Sullivan faction won the day, and 12 of 16 members cast votes for Zeithaml in the public portion of an almost completely closed meeting. But when it was over, two board members spoke out in Sullivan’s defense for the first time.
“I have not been presented with evidence that I believe merits asking for her resignation, nor have I ever indicated that I would be willing to support such an effort,’’ said W. Heywood Fralin, a medical executive who cast the only vote against Zeithaml. “Given an opportunity I would have also voted to support her reinstatement. It is my opinion that the process leading to her resignation was flawed.”
Board members Robert D. Hardie and A. Macdonald Caputo abstained, and Glynn D. Key left before the vote..
Board member Hunter E. Craig, who supported the Zeithaml appointment, said he had nonetheless hoped to undo Sullivan’s resignation and had worked “to reaffirm her status as president of the University of Virginia.’’
The board’s vote capped an extraordinary 10 days in which the board leaders, Dragas and Kington, worked behind the scenes to collect the votes to remove Sullivan. The move drew instant outrage from many administrators, faculty, staff and students, culminating in a protest on the Lawn on Monday that drew more than 2,000 people to the depopulated campus.
Kington, an Alexandria businessman whom McDonnell had appointed, resigned two years before his term was to end. He wrote the governor that he hoped to “begin a needed healing process at the university.”
Some prominent faculty members began lobbying one another to reject Zeithaml’s appointment as part of a broader campaign to expel the board leaders and reinstate Sullivan.
In a note to colleagues, politics professor James Ceaser termed Zeithaml a board “puppet” and urged deans to refuse to recognize the new chain of command, to sustain a mood of crisis on the Grounds that might “force the governor and others to find a solution different than the one the board is now pursuing.”
“Why should it be over?” Ceaser said in an interview. “There are maybe 16 people in the state of Virginia who favor the board, and they’re all on it.”
But leaders of the Faculty Senate said they would work with Zeithaml.
“We want to give him a chance to reach out to us, to meet with us,” said George Cohen, a law professor who chairs the faculty group. The senate has called for the board’s leaders to resign, but Cohen said its fight is not “with him personally.”