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

Courtesy of University of Virginia
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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.