Teresa A. Sullivan, the University of Michigan's provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and a leading scholar in labor force demography, became the University of Virginia's eighth president on August 1.
Sullivan was unanimously elected by the University's Board of Visitors today at a meeting in the Dome Room of the Rotunda. University Rector John O. Wynne, who chaired the Board's Special Committee on the Nomination of a President, officially welcomed Sullivan to the University community, calling her "an extraordinary talent who brings to the University an enormous depth and breadth of experience in every aspect of public higher education."
Sullivan, 60, will succeed John T. Casteen III, who announced last summer that he will step down as president at the end of his 20th year.
"The University of Virginia has enjoyed strong leadership in John Casteen for the past two decades," Wynne said. "The board is confident that in Terry we have found an excellent successor to lead the University as we work to elevate our teaching and research capabilities and to enhance our student experience. We are pleased to have attracted a person of Terry's integrity, experience, and vision."
Wynne said that he was drawn to Sullivan's confidence in the face of the challenges and complexities of leading a public institution of higher education. "She is undaunted by the challenges and has a deep understanding of the complexities. She believes in public higher education and is committed to leading our University and to building on its excellence," he said.
Sullivan seamlessly combines all aspects of leading a major research university, he added. "Not only is she well versed in academic and student life, she knows the inner workings of the daily operations of a university, from finance and health care to athletics and how to support a second campus like the College at Wise. She also has experience in all areas of managing risk."
Prior to going to Michigan, Sullivan spent 27 years at the University of Texas at Austin. She was named executive vice chancellor for academic affairs for the university's system in 2002. In that role, she was the chief academic officer for the system's nine academic campuses, with the president of each campus reporting to her.
Sullivan said she was drawn to the University of Virginia because of its Jeffersonian values and traditions, its academic reputation, its powerful undergraduate student experience, and its firm commitment to a public mission.
"It is one of the truly great public universities in the country," she said. "In fact, it is one of the great universities in the world.
"I am honored by the opportunity to lead this University - and to follow John Casteen in this role. He has set the standard for what it is to be a university president and a leader in higher education."
Those who know Sullivan paint a consistent picture of her as a brilliant administrator and leader, outstanding scholar and teacher, and extraordinary collaborator. Wynne said those who interviewed Sullivan found her to be intellectually curious, creative, direct, analytical, results-driven and empathetic, a great communicator and listener - and good company.
"I believe the University family will embrace her warmly, as members of the board and the search committee have already done," Wynne said.
Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, said working with Sullivan has been one of the highlights of her career. "Terry Sullivan is both a distinguished academic and a stellar administrator, known for her sparkling intellect as well as her superb people skills," Coleman said. "She has won the utmost respect of the faculty and the administration for her inclusive management style and her strong leadership.
"Although we will all miss her, we take pride in knowing that she will preside over one of the nation's great public universities."
Sullivan said she is looking forward to the challenges identified by the Board of Visitors, among them:
"These are many of the same issues that other leading universities - both public and private - are facing," Sullivan said. "But when I look at the sophisticated strategic planning that has been done here, I am reassured that the University is well positioned to meet these challenges. The foundation has been laid. It will be up to us - myself and the University's vice presidents and deans - to execute the plans thoughtfully, collaboratively and, above all, successfully."
As for the campaign, she said, President Casteen and others have already done the hard work. "I understand that it is a difficult time, given the recession, but I also understand that this campaign is critical to the University," she said. "I intend to work closely with the development team and the volunteers to do all that I can to assure its success."
Perhaps her greatest concern is the financial challenge facing public higher education. "The quality of higher education is threatened by increasing costs and declining state support," she said. "The best of schools - the universities of Virginia, Michigan, Texas - are the most affected, because sustained excellence requires resources. This cannot, however, keep us from our commitment to our students and to the states and the nation we serve. We must always honor our public mission - regardless of the level of the state's contributions to our budgets."
Public higher education's mission is about many things: "I still get a thrill from educating future generations, widening access to a broad array of students and providing a better future for so many of our fellow citizens who have the talent and the willingness but not the means to an education," she said. "It's also about providing health care to those who cannot afford it, economic development for the commonwealth, and groundbreaking research that will change lives and, in many cases, save them."
Only a handful of institutions are like the University of Virginia, Sullivan said. "It is the privilege and the responsibility of us in the University community to work together to preserve its legacy and foster its greatness."
Sullivan believes her experience at Texas overseeing nine campuses that have very different missions and are spread across the state will hold her in good stead with her new colleagues at the College at Wise.
Her long-held belief that athletics are an important component of university life should do the same, she said, with the athletic community, as well as with students, faculty and alumni. "There are great advantages to having athletics on college campuses," she said. "Games are a wonderful opportunity to bring the community together and to connect in special ways, particularly with alumni, parents and friends of the University."
Sullivan said she has heard many remarkable stories about the devotion of University of Virginia alumni and how they have helped sustain the University with their time and resources. "I look forward to introducing myself to them and learning from their insights. It is an enormous strength of the University to have such a loyal body of alumni."
What drew Sullivan to a career in higher education was her own experience as an undergraduate at Michigan State. "I developed a real appreciation for what a good undergraduate experience means to shaping your life," she said. "I still see today what it does for students. It transforms them the way it did me."
A turning point in her life came when Michigan State's then-president, Clifton R. Wharton Jr., asked Sullivan to stay on after graduation to be an intern in his office. He became her mentor.
At the end of the internship, Wharton, the first African-American president of a public research university, told her, "If you want to do anything in higher education, you'll need a Ph.D." She ended up going to the University of Chicago, one of his alma maters.
Sullivan was raised in the South during the time of desegregation - first in Little Rock, Ark., until she was 13, and then in Jackson, Miss., until she went to college. "My high school was the first in Mississippi to integrate," Sullivan said. "We were all touched by those times. They were what led me to become a sociologist."
After graduate school at Chicago, she joined the University of Texas as a sociology instructor. She worked her way through the ranks of assistant, associate, and full professor. In 1990, she became chair of the sociology department. In 1994, she became vice provost and a year later was named vice president and dean of graduate studies. She has continued to teach and publish throughout her career. A prolific writer, she is the author or co-author of six books and more than 80 scholarly articles and chapters.
"I have never stopped teaching or publishing - no matter what job I had," she said. "But I think something will have to go when I become president."
During her first 100 days, Sullivan plans to walk, talk, and drive her way around the University and the state - to listen and to learn. She is known for making time to explore every corner of a university. "There were some people at Michigan who had never seen a provost before and were quite surprised when they did," she said.
"You just don't know where I might turn up when I get to Charlottesville."
Sullivan's research now focuses on labor force demography with emphasis on economic marginality and consumer debt. She has served as chair of the U.S. Census Advisory Committee and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She graduated from the James Madison College at Michigan State University in 1970 and received her doctoral degree in sociology from the University of Chicago in 1975.
Sullivan is married to Douglas Laycock, who will join the faculty of the University's School of Law. The couple met at Michigan State when Laycock was president of the debate team that Sullivan wanted to join.
Laycock is one of the nation's leading authorities on the law of remedies - what a court can do for a claimant who has been wronged - and also on the law of religious liberty, including conflicts between government regulation and religious practice, government funding of religious institutions, and government speech issues such as school prayer and municipal Nativity scenes. He is currently on Michigan's law faculty.
Sullivan and Laycock have put down strong roots in each of the communities in which they have lived, she said. "We like to get involved, and to serve, in the local community. It's important to us."
They have two sons. Joseph, 29, holds degrees from Hampshire College and Harvard Divinity School and is working on his Ph.D. at Boston University. John, 22, is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago.