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[Excerpt] For several weeks in the summer of 2012 the University of Virginia became the center of national media attention in America because of the forced resignation of the university’s first female president. Teresa Sullivan, a highly reputable academic administrator, had been hired as president in 2010 with a 5 year contract by the unanimous decision of the Board of Visitors, UVA’s formal leadership body. Yet on June 8, 2012 the Board of Visitors forced Sullivan to resign from her position as president by a vote of 15 to 1—without any warning or prior indication of dissatisfaction. The firing of an elite public university president without warning was unprecedented and the shock of this decision was exacerbated by the Board’s initial statement which failed to indicate any specific reasons other than “philosophical difference[s]”.1 In the weeks that followed, an intense backlash led by faculty and students demanded Sullivan’s reinstatement and led the Board to unanimously rehire Sullivan on June 26. The incredible speed of these events leads to a salient question: how and why did the Board so drastically change their minds on such an important decision in less than three weeks? I will analyze the events of the UVA presidential crisis through the lens of coalition theory to show how the interactions between core members, players, and tag-alongs in the Board, faculty, and students rapidly dissolved one set of coalitions to form a new one in response to the crisis.


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Conaton, S. (2014, November 30). Changing course to stay in power at the University of Virginia: a coalition theory perspective. Cornell HR Review. Retrieved [insert date] from Cornell University, ILR School site:

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