There is a way out of the mess created by the firing of Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture Director Forrest Rodgers.
Just undo it.
That’s how the University of Virginia Board of Visitors (directors) ended an eruption of demonstrations opposing the forced resignation of President Teresa Sullivan. The crisis at UVa, which was founded by Thomas Jefferson, has many parallels to that now gripping the MAC.
Both Rodgers and Sullivan had held their positions for a relatively short time: eight months for Rodgers, two years for Sullivan.
Both were caught off-guard by their ousters, which did not follow procedure. In the case of Rodgers, the executive board acted without the consent of the full board. There was a complete lack of transparency.
Rodgers was faulted for some non-board-approved spending of about $50,000 and for not undertaking a fundraising campaign that would alleviate the financial pressures on the MAC. Sullivan, too, was not raising additional funds needed by the university. Nor, according to the board, was she moving forward fast enough to institute reforms that would introduce new technology and control costs.
Expectations apparently were not well-defined in either case – until after the fact. But in neither case were stakeholders buying board explanations that did not square with the experience or observations of those who care about the institutions.
Significant minorities of the UVa and MAC boards opposed the ousters, as did every member of the board of the MAC foundation charged with raising private money to supplement shrinking state appropriations.
But the students, faculty and other constituencies at UVa were vocal enough to attract the attention of Gov. Robert McDonnell, who wanted nothing to do with managing the university but was not going to allow a bungling board to keep one of the nation’s most storied universities in an uproar.
Decide between Sullivan and an already designated interim appointee and explain yourselves, he wrote. If the board did not comply, he would fire the lot.
The board unanimously reinstated Sullivan.
The whole affair took only two weeks. The board chairman, a developer who had engineered the ouster, apologized. Sullivan is back in her office.
It isn’t over, of course. Boards do not fire and rehire a president at a prestigious university without repercussions. But the university moves on.
Meanwhile, two months after dismissing Rodgers, the MAC board is still looking for a way out. There have been minor changes in membership, a change in chairman and some recognition that dissing supporters is no way to restore goodwill. A task force has been appointed to work on a resolution of Rodgers’ status. A meager settlement has been offered.
The board meets again Tuesday. Members might want to take a look at how UVa leadership came to terms with its own errors and walked them back. A reset of the relationship with Rodgers, on a probationary footing, with clear goals and deadlines, would help repair the fragile MAC.