Leadership & Governance

Top Executive at U. of Virginia Resigns in Wake of Leadership Crisis

Dan Addison, U. of Virginia

Michael Strine, executive vice president and chief operating officer, was hired by Teresa A. Sullivan, UVa's president, in 2011, but his back-channel communications with board members this spring led to questions about his loyalty to her.
August 07, 2012

The fallout from the leadership crisis at the University of Virginia continued on Tuesday with the resignation of Michael Strine, Virginia's executive vice president and chief operating officer.

In the weeks since Teresa A. Sullivan was reinstated as Virginia's president, Mr. Strine's status has been the subject of much speculation. While he denied playing any direct role in Ms. Sullivan's ouster, Mr. Strine's back-channel communications with board members, as demonstrated in e-mails that have been made public, led some to question his loyalty to Ms. Sullivan.

Mr. Strine made no formal statement on Tuesday, but Ms. Sullivan recounted a conversation with him in her own statement.

"As Michael expressed to me: 'In all of my work here, I focused on working with our leadership across the university to help serve students, patients, faculty, and communities across the commonwealth,'" the statement reads. "'Though it is hard to step aside, I am confident that this step helps the university and those it serves by allowing this board and president the opportunity to pursue changes aimed at ensuring communication, accountability, and shared governance.'"

Ms. Sullivan said Mr. Strine's resignation would allow her to move forward with unspecified "internal restructuring." She expressed "gratitude for his contributions and dedication," adding that a national search would be conducted to replace him.

Mr. Strine and Ms. Sullivan were not made available for interviews on Tuesday.

Dual Obligations

Mr. Strine was handpicked by Ms. Sullivan in 2011. He came to Virginia from the Johns Hopkins University, where he served as vice president for finance, chief financial officer, and treasurer.

As the controversy surrounding Ms. Sullivan's ouster began to boil over, Mr. Strine's relationships with board members came under scrutiny. He had regular communication with board members, sometimes when Ms. Sullivan seemed not to be in the loop, e-mails obtained in June by The Cavalier Daily demonstrated.

In a statement released in June to The Cavalier Daily, Mr. Strine stressed that he had dual obligations, to the president and to the board.

"It is my role to work on behalf of both the president and the Board of Visitors," the statement read. "It is also my role to regularly meet with the Board of Visitors at their request on a variety of issues. I was made aware of the board's dissatisfaction with the president's progress on certain goals in group meetings that included the president and others, and I worked very hard and consistently on her behalf to close that gap."

Virginia's chief operating officer and its provost are both considered officers of the Board of Visitors, but they report to the president, not the board, a university spokesperson said on Tuesday.

Mr. Strine's wife, Sharon Strine, also resigned on Tuesday as senior director of marketing in Virginia's office of development and public affairs.

Tensions With Provost

Mr. Strine had big shoes to fill at Virginia. His predecessor, Leonard W. Sandridge, served the university for more than 40 years.

Mr. Strine joined the university at a time when Virginia was beginning a transition to a new budget model that would change the role of the chief operating officer. The new financial structure, which is still being put in place, is designed to give more authority and responsibility to individual academic units, which will be responsible for generating their own revenues. Under the model, the provost would theoretically gain power, and the chief operating officer stands to lose some influence.

According to two administrators who spoke with The Chronicle in June, the transition to the new budget model created tensions between Mr. Strine and John D. Simon, executive vice president and provost.

In the days after Ms. Sullivan's resignation, the two men issued a joint statement calling the board's action "resolute and authoritative." E-mails that have since been made public show Mr. Strine as putting forward the idea of such a statement.

Days after the statement was released, Mr. Simon seemed to distance himself from the remarks, questioning "whether my own beliefs about the values of higher education are consistent with our board."

Mr. Simon did not respond to an interview request sent by e-mail from The Chronicle on Tuesday.