Teresa A. Sullivan, former provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, became the eighth president of the University of Virginia on August 1, 2010. The interview below took place on September 7, 2010, shortly after the beginning of the fall 2010 semester.
Q. In the months prior to taking office, you spent six weekends on the Grounds—meeting with former President Casteen and all of the deans and other leaders, attending student dinners and faculty meetings, and talking with local education officials. What was the process like for you, and how did it prepare you?
President Sullivan: The transition gave me an opportunity to learn about U.Va., to study intensively, and to reflect on what I was learning while also talking with presidents at other universities. I went to the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents—there I had an opportunity to interact with forty-nine other new presidents and distinguished faculty and to talk about the state of college and university presidencies. In terms of the presidency generically and this particular one, I feel that I was very well prepared. Also the staff here was extraordinary in terms of preparing briefings for me on every conceivable issue.
Q. Now that you're here, what are your highest priorities?
President Sullivan: Two executive vice presidents will be leaving next June. So one priority is to reassemble the senior management team, and that involves initially looking for a successor to Leonard Sandridge.
Q. Mr. Sandridge has been executive vice president and chief operating officer since 1999 and has been working at the University since 1967. What qualities are you looking for in your search for his replacement?
President Sullivan: Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound ... [Laughs.] What I value so much in Leonard, and what I would like to see in his successor, is both strong leadership and management skills. I'd like someone who has strong substantive knowledge in at least one area inside that portfolio and then the ability to find people who have the appropriate knowledge in the other areas. As Leonard himself will tell you, he came in very strong in finance, but in other areas of the portfolio, which he recognized he didn't know as much about, he was able to recruit strong leaders. That is what has made him so successful.
Q. The other executive vice president [and provost] you mentioned, Tim Garson, is leaving for the University of Texas at the end of this academic year. What are your expectations for a new provost for the University?
President Sullivan: I will look for someone who has a strong academic background, so that they know what it means to teach and to conduct research, and someone who is broad-minded in terms of understanding or openness to disciplines other than his or her own. Tim is a cardiologist and also a public health expert, but he's also very open to other fields. That's what you need in a provost.
Q. You mentioned that some of the challenges ahead are in raising and sustaining financial resources and retaining faculty whose salaries have fallen during the recession. The Campaign for the University of Virginia, which seeks to address these changes, had raised about $2.2 billion as of late July. How do you see your role in the Campaign for the University?
President Sullivan: The job now is to finish the campaign. The needs that we had at the beginning of the campaign are not only still there, in some cases, they've become much more urgent. So we do need to finish this campaign, and to finish strong. I think that the alumni and donors are exceptionally attached to this institution and want to see it succeed.
Q. What do you see ahead that requires major fund-raising efforts?
President Sullivan: An important issue for us right now is increasing annual giving, and there are a couple of reasons for this. One is that annual giving broadens the base of support. Annual giving is used by external groups such as foundations, and even U.S. News & World Report, as an indication of how happy alumni are with the institution; we are actually more likely to get a gift from a foundation if we have robust annual giving.
But the other thing that is advantageous about annual giving for the deans is this is often the only money they raise that they can use for their most urgent needs, because annual giving money is typically not tied to any specific philanthropic object; it is left to the dean's discretion how to spend it.
We also know that as we broaden the base of giving now, we set the stage for later success. An alumnus who graduated just four or five years ago may be raising a new family and might not have that much money. If that alumnus can send $25 this year, that's a huge vote of confidence in us. We'd like to get alumni more engaged with us early on, just after they leave the Grounds.
Q. Are there other specific projects you will address?
President Sullivan: We must hire faculty in science and engineering. This is important to us for a number of reasons. Certainly, the governor wants to increase the number of graduates in science and engineering. Many of our current faculty members are nearing retirement age and we will need to replace them. Two brand-new laboratory buildings are opening next year, so we have the space for those new faculty members. What we do not have is the one-time money needed to equip their laboratories. We need start-up package money so we can hire some of America's best young scientists and engineers.
Another priority is we must renovate the Rotunda. Parts of the Rotunda are in critically deteriorating condition, and it's going to take a lot of money, frankly, to repair it. The reason there is a black shroud around the capitals on the columns of the Rotunda is because that marble is doing what architects call—and this is a horrible word—“sugarizing.” That means the marble is actually turning granular and flaking off.
The Rotunda also needs a new roof, among other things. This building is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's part of Jefferson's original vision of the Academical Village. We can't let the Rotunda deteriorate.
Q. What's required of the University as a public institution in the next decade that might not be required if it were private?
President Sullivan: An important requirement is accountability. Our Board of Visitors meets in public. The boards of private institutions meet in private, so we're affected by the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. We act in the sunshine. That means if you want to know how much money we spend on financial aid, you can find that out; you might not be able to find that out at a private institution. If you want to know what salaries we pay our faculty, you can learn that; you might not be able to find out at a private university.
Q. What do you think distinguishes U.Va. from other public institutions?
President Sullivan: What distinguishes us is both our general history—certainly our founder—and our strong emphasis on honor. I believe U.Va. is self-consciously preparing students for citizenship in a way that maybe other institutions have not considered so important. We speak of the community of trust, which is part of the Honor System. This emphasis distinguishes us from many other public institutions.
Q. What is U.Va.'s role within a global society in the next decade?
President Sullivan: The students who take their degrees from U.Va. need to be prepared to enter a workplace that will be increasingly global. They will work on teams in their companies with not only Americans, but also with people from other parts of the world. They need to be able to talk with them, work with them, and feel comfortable in that setting. Our faculty needs to be able to understand and participate in important developments that happen in research and in higher education around the world. We need opportunities for both our students and our faculty to interact with others and we need to give the other leading universities in the world an opportunity to interact with U.Va.
Q. Dubby Wynne, the rector of the University, has said that you were the right person for the University at the right time. What does that mean to you?
President Sullivan: It's a little scary. Certainly, I will work very hard to do the best possible job that I can. I take very seriously my role as steward and as chief servant of the University. I have had the advantage of being at some of the nation's other great universities. I think that gives me a rich background. I have had a successful academic career. I love teaching. I've been a successful researcher. I understand the challenges that faculty members face. But I'm also a mom who's had two sons go through college, so I understand what a college education looks like from the other side, too.
Those traits are important because many people are looking to the University of Virginia to meet their needs. The governor and our legislators are looking to us. The people in southwest Virginia who need new job opportunities are looking to us. The families of the patients we treat in the hospital are looking to us. The parents of our students are looking to us.