Alumni magazines are house organs, by and large, and nothing presents a challenge for editors and writers like the house in an uproar. Last June, the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia (apparently UVA’s version of a board of trustees) peremptorily fired university president Theresa Sullivan. (Technically, Sullivan resigned, but not because she wanted to.) Within days, pretty much everyone in the university community—faculty, staff, students, alumni—rose in revolt sufficient to force the board to reverse itself and reinstate Sullivan. As institutional messes go, this one does not rank with Penn State’s child sexual abuse scandal, but still it generated a lot of news coverage of the sort no university wants.
Many of us wondered what The University of Virginia Magazine would do with the story. The answer came with the magazine’s fall issue: Virginia did the right thing. The magazine devoted its entire feature well to “17 Days in June: From Resignation to Reinstatement,” and thoroughly reported what had ensued with integrity as well as laudable thoroughness, candor, and neutrality.
In 36 pages, Virginia recounted the events of June 10 to June 29 (OK, a day or two more than 17, but I think the editors were counting the days from Sullian’s resignation to the board’s reinstatement of her.) The magazine published a sampling of the protest signs, a photo spread of the turmoil, a page of analysis of the school’s financial situation (which played a role in the aborted dismissal of the president), a think piece on what public universities are struggling to cope with these days by former Chronicle of Higher Education staffer Elyse Ashburn, and an octet of essays by faculty members, the executive vice president and provost, a student, and an alum. (The Penn Stater and Virginia may now have established a spectrum of essays as the editorial method for dealing with big institutional controversies.) The magazine also gave the principal antagonists in this story, President Sullivan and Helen Dragas, rector of the board, two pages each for their statements; Sullivan penned a two-page perspective and Dragas submitted to a Q&A.
Like Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and other similar periodicals, Virginia takes a sober, earnest approach to making a magazine. So there’s not much here that conveys the emotional heat of those troubling days on the UVA campus. But that’s a quibble. I think the top of Virginia‘s masthead—Robert Viccellio, Sierra Bellows, and Molly Minturn—deserve credit for the magazine they put out.