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U.Va.'s lingering crisis
University of Virginia officials haven't finished dealing with repercussions from June's leadership controversy.

Date published: 11/4/2012

UNIVERSITY of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan is back at her desk, school officials have embraced a partnership with online education, and the colors of fall adorn the Charlottesville campus. Perhaps now this charter Public Ivy can resume its accustomed pursuit of academic excellence.

Well, not so fast.

It seems the region's higher-ed powers that be aren't ready just yet to let the school shake free of last June's leadership debacle. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools panel that grants accreditation is questioning whether U.Va., as the presidential coup unfolded, met standards for "integrity, governing boards, and the faculty's role in governance." Depending on its findings and its grading of U.Va.'s action plan, the panel could decide in December to let the school off the hook, impose probation, issue a warning, or, Heaven forbid, pull accreditation.

Since accreditation is basically a school's proof of legitimacy, any threat to it is mortal. One school now under threat of losing its accreditation is none other than sex-scandalized Penn State.

U.Va.'s apologies for its "embarrassing and regrettable" plan to remove Ms. Sullivan have been fulsome. It insists, of course, that the situation did not affect the school's academic mission. But as anyone paying the price for wrongdoing might admit, apologies don't undo the deed or erase its far-reaching effects.

The skullduggery preceding Ms. Sullivan's brief dismissal was ignoble. That Rector Helen Dragas, the insurrection's leader, was reappointed to her post by Gov. McDonnell shortly after the episode baffles. She strong-armed some board members into siding with her, then acted to exile Ms. Sullivan without a full board vote. U.Va.'s board is now reviewing a proposal to require full board attendance before accepting a president's resignation.

University officials can probably expect some sanction from the accrediting panel. Virginians must hope that despite this epic miscue, its flagship university has the strength to persevere and that the delivery of education to its students won't be compromised.

Of all the lessons taught on those historic grounds, this is one learning moment that must not be forgotten.