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09 Aug 2017
Audio Overview
John Alexander

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Interview 1 Transcription

MDST 3559: Documenting UVa’s Future

October 16, 2012

Interviewer: Abby Mergenmeier

Interviewee: Greg Lewis

AM: My name is Abby Mergenmeier. A-B-B-Y M-E-R-G-E-N-M-E-I-E-R. And today is October 11th, 2012. It is approximately 3:50 [PM]. We are in the Cavalier Daily conference room and I’m interviewing Greg Lewis today. Greg, could you spell your name please?

GL: G-R-E-G L-E-W-I-S.

AM: We’re going to talk about, basically, the events that happened over the summer dealing with Sullivan’s “Ouster and Reinstatement.” First Greg, tell me, what is your affiliation with U.Va.?

GL: So I’m a student at U.Va. Media Studies, I think…I guess we’ll see; I have to apply for it so hopefully Media Studies and Sociology. I’m also on the Managing Board of The Cavalier Daily now so I’m the Operations Manager. So basically my job is to design the paper and put everything up online and oversee production, graphics, photo, online multimedia…stuff like that.

AM: So you’re pretty busy.

GL: Yeah, yeah I’m really busy. It’s about fifty hours per week.

 AM: Now you’re an RA [Resident Advisor] as well?

GL: Yes, I’m also an RA, so….

 AM: So you see a lot of the first years and everything?

GL: Yeah.

AM: Now where were you this summer?

GL: So this summer I was at an internship actually in New York. I worked for a documentary series called P.O.V., and so the whole summer I was kind of separated from U.Va. and I wasn’t really concentrating on anything that was happening until the whole Sullivan thing happened.

AM: How did you first hear about the whole Sullivan thing?

GL: So I guess that morning-I think it happened, I think it was a Sunday-so that Sunday, the email was sent at approximately ten or eleven A.M. and so I was just getting up. It was kind of like, my day off…

AM: A Sunday!

GL: A Sunday, yeah, you know it was kind of a lazy Sunday so I slept in a little bit, got up at about ten/ten thirty, checked my email, and the first thing that popped in my inbox, while the email was open, was the email from Helen Dragas saying that Sullivan had resigned. And so I think I got the email at about a minute after it was actually sent; …when I opened up my email it wasn’t there and when it popped up into my inbox while I was looking through my email.

AM: So it was very lucky…

GL: Yeah, so it was very lucky that I was able to look at it so soon, as soon as I did. And, right after I got the email, I kind of hesitated for a little bit; I wasn’t sure what my next step should be: whether I should tweet about it, whether I thought it was a hoax at first. I thought someone had hacked into the account-the Helen Dragas account-or something, or the Board of Visitors, and sent out this email as a joke. So I wasn’t sure what to do. So it took me about thirty seconds before I was like, okay I have to tweet this from my personal account, and then I was like, this is a big deal; I’m going to log onto the CavDaily account and tweet this. And so, as far as I know, I think I was the first person on Twitter to break it, and I think the CavDaily was the first media organization to break it as well. …If I had woken up an hour later, I wouldn’t have seen it; Matt Cameron, who is the Editor in Chief, was driving; Kaz [Komalafe, Managing Editor of The Cavalier Daily] was in Tibet, I think, or out of the country in China somewhere. So, I was pretty much the only one who was not doing anything that day or didn’t have any plans, so if I had woken up a little bit later, or if I’d checked my email a half hour earlier, I wouldn’t have gotten it and… we definitely wouldn’t have been the first ones to break it, and I think our coverage would have changed a lot because we wouldn’t have been the first person; we wouldn’t have been number one. So I thought that was something that was interesting.

AM: Did you kind of feel bad that you were away in New York, and you weren’t here-actually where it was happening? Did you feel kind of -I guess disconnected isn’t quite the word I’m searching for- but you thought you wish you could be here but there was just no possible way you could be here and cover it, and you were hoping that someone else would be able to step up and do what you’d been hoping to do if you were actually in Charlottesville and around while it was happening?

GL: Yeah, it was really tough because I had to fulfill my duties through my internship and at the same time, while I was at my internship doing stuff that I was supposed to be doing there, I was constantly checking Twitter; I was constantly checking the news and seeing if there was anything new that popped up. So that was frustrating that I wasn’t here when the rallies happened-I wasn’t here, so I wasn’t able to get the sense of the reaction or get a sense of what people were thinking and stuff like that. So that part was frustrating. But I did follow it through Twitter, and I think I provided a lot of the coverage that we did initially at least, because, when on the day that we got the email, I tweeted the first email, and then I tweeted as we started getting more and more information about it. So as the press conferences happened, as more people started to talk about it, I continued to tweet, I continued to get reactions, and I actually wrote up the first story that we posted on our website. So from ten o’clock in the morning or eleven o’clock, whenever it happened, up until probably about four or five, I didn’t move from my computer. I stayed at NYU, so I was in my dorm room at NYU from eleven to five, just tweeting, getting reactions, doing research: figuring out what had happened. Because, I knew it was a big story, and I got the reactions through people online as more and more people saw the email and called their friends or something like that. So, I guess I was a little bit limited because I couldn’t be here in person, but I think because of Twitter and because of calling up people and Googling stuff-research on my own, I was able to kind of continue to cover it, even as the events continued to unfold.

AM: Now you said you looked at Twitter and you probably got reactions from Facebook as well-so you got a lot of reactions. How about facts about the case, and whatnot; I mean, you have that original email but that first day, on that Sunday, were there any other news articles, Washington Post or anything, that you were able to read and, they had something up about the Sullivan…did you find any other facts like that out there?

GL: Initially we were the only ones covering it. So The Washington Post and The New York Times I don’t think… maybe a day or two afterwards they put a brief that said, ‘Oh, the president has resigned!’ [They] didn’t really go into any detail; they pretty much just gave the basics, I think-the national news coverage-they just said, ‘The University of Virginia just announced that Teresa Sullivan resigned. She was there for two years,” and then that was pretty much it. So I don’t think anyone was getting a lot of information from any of the national news organizations until it started to catch the interest of editors there, until there was more of a public outcry about it. So I would say, how I found out about it, I kind of just did my own research, and I kind of monitored Facebook and Twitter for reactions, and, so we started just doing that, and then we also started doing our own research: I called Carol Wood a bunch of times and media relations. I called people who were in Charlottesville. We had our executive editor, who was in Charlottesville, and a couple of our news reporters. So I was talking to them about it. So the first couple of days was hard, but I think we kind of had the most coverage initially, at least, and I think even farther on down the road, as more stuff started coming out. So I guess online and through telephone I got my information.

AM: Now, you talked a lot about [how] you immediately felt compelled to report to the rest of the University community and Charlottesville community-how did you, yourself, feel personally about your president stepping down and, you’d been at the University for one year and, did you know her very much or did you feel a connection to her? Were you just like, ‘oh that’s weird’? What did you personally feel about her stepping down?

GL: So I guess my position with the paper kind of ties into it because I knew a lot about her and I knew a lot about the rest of the University administration because I’d covered some of it. I’d seen it written in our paper: I put it up online so I knew what was going on. As far as my personal opinion about Teresa Sullivan…so when the whole Living Wage campaign got going last year, I thought that she didn’t do a good enough job of…she didn’t provide enough reception for them, she didn’t provide enough information to the rest of the community, and I thought that it was interesting that she’s a sociologist of labor and she wasn’t talking about the Living Wage, or she was trying to deflect some of that attention. And she didn’t really seem to be advocating for it. She seemed to be kind of defending herself and defending the University and making the University look good, as opposed to caring about its lowest paid workers. And so, that was probably the one issue that I really took offense with what Teresa Sullivan was doing. Besides that, I’s for everyone a little bit of mumbo-jumbo: no one really knows exactly what’s going on behind the University administration. We just know that things are going day-to-day. When this happened, my perception was, ‘oh I didn’t really like her because she was a little bit too-about the University-a little bit too kind of about the mainstream….’

AM: So you felt that she didn’t exactly care the most for the people who were working or…

GL: Yeah, exactly: she just cared about the donors and the University itself as opposed to the constituents, students, and the people who work here. So that was my impression of her when this happened. But, as it [the events of this summer] continued to progress I gained more and more respect for her, and so when I first saw the email I was like, ‘Oh well she did something bad; she did something wrong, and this is probably a good thing because maybe we can get a president who cares about Living Wage and is a little bit more receptive or something-or goes a little bit more with my ideological beliefs or something.’ And so, I initially saw it as a good thing, like this is good: it’s always exciting to get a new leader, to participate in that search. But, as more and more information started to come out or didn’t come out, so based on what we had to dig up, it seemed like Teresa Sullivan was actually doing a really good job. So I think that the whole thing was a little bit, in a way it was beneficial for the University because I think it exposed the inner workings of the administration, and what Teresa Sullivan herself was doing, to the University community. So we kind of got a new understanding of what they do and what Teresa Sullivan’s policies were and what she accomplished. I gained a lot more respect for her and saw kind of what she had to deal with, and going back to Living Wage, kind of the struggles she had to go through with the Board of Visitors and that approach, that whole interaction with that…and then the way that she conducted herself throughout the whole thing I thought was…she was very respectful, she took herself out of it, she said, ‘I’m not for or against the opinion; this is something that the Board of Visitors has decided,’ and she kept herself out of the spotlight which I thought was really good for her and it really built her image and her public support.

AM: Would you say that you’re pretty good/ pretty happy with the end result: that she was reinstated?

GL: Okay, so no, I’m not happy with the result.

AM: Really? Okay! What do you have to say about that?

GL: Yeah, I mean, I’m glad that she was reinstated, because as more and more information came out, as I keep saying, I developed kind of the understanding that she was the right person for the job and that she was irreplaceable: she has so much experience, she appeared to do a good job before…. So when she was fired, essentially, I thought that the University’s reputation was hurt, like we couldn’t find another replacement who was up to caliber because no one wanted to step up to the job and be under the influence of the Board of Visitors, again, be at their discretion. So I thought it was going to be tough to replace her then when she got reinstated I thought that was definitely a good thing because, we preserve some of her talents. But, as far as, like…

AM: How it looks on the University…?

GL: How it looks on the University, and, in terms of the Board of Visitors above Teresa Sullivan and above the University administration, I think there’s still a lot of problems that have yet to be addressed. Especially with concerns over how the Board of Visitors conducts business, with how the Board of Visitors are appointed, the shady dealings of the corporate culture, the lack of educational experience, there are a lot of problems with the Board of Visitors’ structure, and with the information or lack thereof that they gave the University community. And how they treat us, I feel, is really poor. I’m continuing to do research on them because I don’t think that it’s over. I don’t think that we got all the information that was out there that we deserve, and I think there’s still a lot more to be dug up. And, I’ve been getting a lot of sources and tips about other corporate influences seeping their way into the Board of Visitors and into the University; and so I want to dig a little bit deeper into that to make sure that there’s nothing corrupt going on, which I think there might be. So there’s definitely not an end to it yet and I’m not satisfied with the result because there’s still more that can be done to fix what’s happened. But I do think it was beneficial in the sense that now the focus is on the BOV, and now we know what is wrong as opposed to not knowing about it at all.

AM: Well you know there’s a lot of people who still don’t really… I mean, for example, you’re an RA with a lot of first years. Do you think they really know much about what happened this summer? Do they care that much? Or does it even cross their minds?

GL: To be honest, no one’s even mentioned it. No one has really even, even my friends, even people who are second years or third years or fourth years don’t talk about it. And, I don’t know why that is. And that’s something that’s a question in my mind; something that I’m a little bit frustrated with because I feel like students should be a little bit more invested in what’s going on, and it seems like they’ve just turned. Either, I don’t know if it’s intentionally or if it’s just because they’re so busy with work, or something, but there has been a blind eye turned to what’s still going on. And so I think, in that sense, I think it was a brilliant PR move by the Board of Visitors to reappoint Teresa Sullivan because, that’s kind of what settled everyone down. Now, if Teresa Sullivan weren’t in the position now, if you look at it in terms of another reality or whatever, right now we’d be conducting a search for the new president, right?

AM: Yeah.

GL: So it would still be an issue. It would be something the University community is still going through, and I think that a lot more people would be really really active, and if that was the case as opposed to Teresa Sullivan being back… I guess it’s a little tough to describe.

AM: Yeah, they quelled it enough so it seemed like nothing ever happened.

GL: Exactly, exactly, yeah. So, I guess the Board of Visitors think that we should be satisfied because they fixed the problem they created. And I think maybe some of the University community feel the same way: that we fixed the problem that had been created. But when that problem was created, there was a whole set of new problems that were exposed, and a whole set of things that needed to be fixed. We still need to target those problems because now we know that they exist; that they’re underlying this whole culture.

AM:  Now, just going back to something that you said-the issues with the Board of Visitors that you mentioned before- how do you think their members should be appointed? Have you thought about this?

GL: Yeah, I think that the fact that it’s through politics is not right. I think there should be…I mean I don’t know for sure what kind of policy should be in place to appoint them, but I know that the governor appointing them doesn’t work because they all donate to his campaign so that’s why he’s appointing them, and that’s not a Republican/Democrat thing: it’s just a political thing.  In general, I don’t think that politics should be involved in the running of the University, and especially when you put money into that as a tool for how people are appointed is really corrupt in my opinion. And I also think that membership to the Board of Visitors should be expanded to students and to faculty. I think that faculty should have a vote and I think that students should have a vote on the Board of Visitors, and even workers: I think staff members should have a vote on the Board of Visitors. Why should it be these white, upper-class, business executive elites who run what we’re doing? Who have no experience in education at all, and who dictate their policy on us? We saw that in terms of them firing Teresa Sullivan. We saw it in terms of Helen Dragas sending emails to members of the University administration saying, ‘What is this class about Lady Gaga?” We saw, just in general, the whole Michael Mann thing. I think there was some pressure from the governor to the Board of Visitors to put pressure on Teresa Sullivan to do something about that. And Teresa Sullivan, I think, stood up to those pressures and defended Michael Mann when the whole thing about the climate change papers came up. So, there definitely needs to be a lot of reforms happen to how the BOV is appointed, and to who is on the BOV, I think.

AM: Do you think there is an end in sight, for this whole saga? Do you think eventually we will find out what’s going on about the BOV and do you think people will finally feel a sense of closure with all of this? I feel like now there’s not a sense of closure since there’s so many unknown factors as to why they basically ousted her in the beginning.

GL: Well I think right now we have a faux-end. So we have people who do think that closure has been reached, and it’s not just members of the Board of Visitors who want the problem to go away, it’s also students who maybe didn’t give as much attention to it over the summer/ who think that, ‘Okay the University [President Sullivan] is fired, now she’s reinstated, so this is the end of the problem.’ So I guess in that sense I think we do have a sense of closure but I think it’s a fake sense of closure. In terms of reality, I think that we won’t have closure until the system is redesigned. And so, I talked a little bit about this before, but the whole corporate kind of structure-the whole underlying corporate influences seeping their way into the University-I think that’s an issue that needs to be addressed, and I don’t think real closure can be reached until that is addressed. We need to understand how the corporations-such as, Goldman Sachs was rumored to be involved; we have billionaire alumni Paul Tudor Jones; Jeffrey Walker who used to be the chair of J.P. Morgan; Dragas and former Vice Rector Kington served together on Dominion Power’s board-and it seems a network of business influences in the Board of Visitors. So until that is really exposed, and we have a sense of who really was behind this and how they really work together and what problems they had with Teresa Sullivan in general, I don’t think closure can be reached. I also don’t think closure can be reached until that system is rectified, I guess. If that makes sense.

AM: It does, yeah! Well, thanks. Is there anything that you would like to add? Any final thoughts?

GL: Not really.

AM: That’s fine. Thank you very much!

GL:  Thanks, Abby!