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University of Virginia picks 'U' Provost Sullivan as next president

Courtesy of University of Virginia
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BY JACOB SMILOVITZ
Editor in Chief
Published January 11, 2010

University Provost Teresa Sullivan was selected yesterday to become the University of Virginia's eighth president and the first female president in the school’s history.

Sullivan, the provost and executive vice president for academic affairs here at Michigan, will take over the top seat in Charlottesville on Aug. 1.

The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors elected Sullivan at a special meeting yesterday afternoon. The motion to appoint Sullivan to the post outlined some specifics of her employment, though more details are expected to be announced once Sullivan officially signs a contract.

In a press conference yesterday afternoon, Sullivan said she’s excited to take her new position.

“I look forward to learning from and working collaboratively with an administrative team of vice presidents and deans, with the faculty and staff and with the students,” Sullivan said. “I bring you my dedication, extensive experience and, above all, my passion for the tasks ahead of us.”

She added: “I am also bringing to you one of my own greatest treasurers. My husband Doug Laycock, the Yale Kamisar Collegiate Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Michigan.”

In Sullivan, UVA has tapped one of the leading academics in the country who both knows the importance of offering a world-class education to students and has experience grappling with the size and complexity of a modern major higher education institution.

Among the top priorities awaiting Sullivan in Charlottesville will be a budgetary quandary similar to the one she has battled in Michigan since she first came here in 2006. Officials at UVA have been decrying the decline in state funding for the school much as administrators — Sullivan included — have done here in recent years.

In a speech last February, outgoing UVA President John T. Casteen III said there was no short-term funding fix that “compensates for the systematic under-funding of Virginia's colleges and universities since 1990.”

In his 20 years at the helm of UVA before announcing his retirement, Casteen kept the school near the top of most national rankings year after year — and almost always at the very top for rankings of public universities. Casteen maintained that level of excellence throughout a period during which the proportion of the school’s budget covered by state funding fell from 26 percent to 7 percent, according to The Washington Post.

Similarly, Sullivan spent much of her time in Ann Arbor dealing with the fallout from declines in higher education appropriations from the state. Facing Michigan’s worsening economic crisis, Sullivan made a name for herself as a consummate cost cutter — trimming excess at the University by reducing energy costs, revamping office supply purchases and launching an initiative to make more efficient use of classrooms and other space on campus, among other efforts.

Sullivan currently oversees $1.5 billion of the University’s $5.4 billion budget, according to a UVA press release from yesterday.

In an e-mail to the Ann Arbor campus community, University President Mary Sue Coleman wrote that the University has greatly benefited from Sullivan’s leadership.

“Since joining U-M in 2006, Provost Sullivan has provided a level of academic and budgetary acumen that has solidified and advanced the University at all levels,” Coleman wrote.

State funding has remained relatively stagnant during Sullivan’s time at the University, after it experienced a free fall in 2003, plummeting by about 10 percent. In the fiscal year 2010 budget, state funding constitutes about 22 percent of revenues in the University’s General Fund, while tuition and fees account for slightly more than 65 percent. For comparison, in 2000, state funding composed a little more than 35 percent of General Fund, while tuition and fees made up just over 50 percent.

That trend is nothing new for the University, though, as data during the 1960s show that nearly 80 percent of the General Fund was made up by state funding, and tuition and fees only accounted for about 20 percent of the fund.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily in December, Sullivan discussed a potential “historic” drop in state funding at Michigan — as much as a 20-percent reduction — that she would have to consider when formulating next year’s budget.

“It doesn’t mean the state legislature doesn’t like higher education, it just means they’re not getting enough revenue, and they’ve got to find something that can be cut because the constitution requires a balanced budget,” she told the Daily at the time. “It’s a very difficult place to be.”

According to UVA's press release, Sullivan is "looking forward" to the challenges that the Board of Visitors have identified for the next president. Among them is the task of “focusing on a financial model that will ensure the long-term health of the University."

Sullivan — who has extensive experience working at public universities — began her career at the University of Texas at Austin. Through her 27 years at the University of Texas, Sullivan rose through the leadership ranks, eventually becoming executive vice chancellor for academic affairs for the university's system in 2002.

According to the UVA press release, Sullivan chose to take the position at UVA because of the school’s strong academic reputation and the university’s commitment to public higher education.

“It is one of the truly great public universities in the country,” she wrote in the release. “In fact, it is one of the great universities in the world.”

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sullivan will operate under a five-year contract with a base salary of $485,000, $180,000 in deferred compensation and $15,000 in an automobile allowance — resulting in an overall compensation package of $680,000.

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman makes $553,000 in base pay and about $800,000 when deferred compensation, bonuses and other benefits are included.

Coleman wrote in the campus-wide e-mail that Sullivan will continue working at the University until July 31 and that she plans to name Sullivan’s successor prior to that date.

She added that the news comes with "deep pride and a tinge of sadness."

In a statement released to the Daily, Coleman praised Sullivan’s people skills and “sparkling intellect.”

“Working with her has been one of the highlights of my career, and although we will all miss her, we take pride in knowing that she will preside over one of the nation’s great public universities,” Coleman said.

James Duderstadt, who served as University president from 1988 to 1996, told the Daily yesterday that though Sullivan was a smart choice for Virginia, the move will be a big loss for Michigan.

“She’s made superb appointments as deans — which is one of the most important things a provost can do — and she’s been very skillful, along with the president and chief financial officer, at navigating Michigan through one of the most difficult economic periods in its history,” Duderstadt said. “She is a very important addition to this university, but she will simply be an outstanding leader for the University of Virginia.”

Dean of Libraries Paul Courant, who served as University provost from 2002 to 2005, said he heard Sullivan would be named UVA’s next president yesterday morning and that he was excited for her.

“My reaction was that she’s been a terrific provost here and she’s clearly ready to be a president,” Courant said. “Virginia’s a great place and it looks like a match made in heaven.”

In an interview yesterday, Regent Andrea Fisher-Newman (R–Ann Arbor) said she was happy for Sullivan.

“I’m so excited for Terry, and UVA is so lucky,” Newman said. “It’s hard not to be really happy and really proud of someone you have a lot of respect for.”

“She is a very matter-of-fact, down-to-earth individual who when telling you good news or bad news did it in a very measured, factual manner without glossing over any of the details,” Newman said of Sullivan.

“She was a great delegator and also someone who regularly gave credit to others. She did everything in a quiet, yet substantive, manner.”

Regent Andrew Richner (R–Grosse Pointe Park) told the Daily that, in some ways, he wasn’t surprised by yesterday’s announcement.

“It was clear to me early on that Terry Sullivan is made of presidential material,” Richner said. “She is a respected academic — smart, capable, adept in handling a very challenging budget situation in her position as provost.”

“From that standpoint, it didn’t come as a surprise that she might be a highly sought-after candidate for the presidency of the University of Virginia,” he continued. “We will miss her, but I think Provost Sullivan’s hiring at the University of Virginia is indicative of the strength and depth of leadership that we have at the University of Michigan starting at the top with our president, Mary Sue Coleman.”

Regent Julia Darlow (D–Ann Arbor) said yesterday that she admires UVA for selecting someone as qualified as Sullivan as its next president.

“All of us are overjoyed for her,” Darlow said. “She’s been invaluable at the University of Michigan and we will miss her greatly.”

In an interview with the Daily yesterday, Vice President and General Counsel Suellyn Scarnecchia expressed mixed emotions about Sullivan’s move to the University of Virginia.

“I feel extremely happy for the University of Virginia and extremely happy for Provost Sullivan,” she said. “But I do feel sad that we’re losing her.”

— Daily News Editors Jillian Berman and Kyle Swanson contributed to this report.