U.Va. Board's PR Efforts Failed To Sell President's Ouster (Opinion)

Ann McClure's picture
Thursday, October 11, 2012

The public message would be important. Helen Dragas understood that. Eight days before the leader of the University of Virginia's governing board stunned Charlottesville with a surprise move to oust the school's president, she was finessing a news release.

It was June 2, and U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan had no idea that her presidency was in peril. Several board members had only just been informed. Dragas was negotiating with a public relations firm.

Now she emailed Mark Kington, second in command on the Board of Visitors, a draft release that spoke ambiguously about finding a leader to "define and guide the strategic direction of the university while securing the support and resources that will be essential for U.Va.'s future."

Thus began behind-the-scenes efforts to put the best public face on a leadership clash that has become a case study in crisis management. Over 18 days of turmoil, Dragas sought help from three public relations firms, according to emails that The Washington Post obtained through a public records request.

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