More than three years after taking the helm as University president, Mary Sue Coleman put the finishing touches on her executive team Tuesday by naming Teresa Sullivan the next provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

Jess Cox
Teresa Sullivan

Currently the executive vice chancellor for academic affairs for the University of Texas system, Sullivan will become Coleman’s second-in-command, managing the academic and budgetary aspects of the University of Michigan.

Pending approval by the University Board of Regents, Sullivan, 56, will assume the position June 1. Interim Provost Edward Gramlich will hold the post until that time.

When Coleman became president in 2002, many of the University’s top executive positions needed to be filled. Paul Courant, whom Coleman inherited as interim provost and then named provost for a three-year term when she became president, stepped down in August.

Coleman, formerly president of the University of Iowa, has also appointed vice presidents for finance, development, medical affairs and research during her tenure.

Coleman said in an interview yesterday that she is excited to have her team in place and said she and Sullivan “just see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues,” stressing the importance of “having a partner in a provost.”

Sullivan’s appointment marks the first time people from outside the University have filled both the president and provost positions. Sullivan admitted she will face a steep learning curve.

“It’s the risk that you take in bringing in an outside provost,” she said.

But she also said a new set of eyes might bring insight to the University.

History Prof. Nicholas Steneck, an expert in University history, said there is a tradeoff between picking an internal and an external candidate.

“Usually if you want to keep the University moving on a smooth course, you appoint someone from the inside,” Steneck said, but he added that bringing in officials from outside the University can also bring new ideas.

The search process leading up to the selection was at times criticized as too secretive. At a recent meeting of the Senate Advisory Committee on University affairs, the executive arm of University faculty governance, SACUA member and Engineering Prof. Semyon Meerkov sparred with Coleman, suggesting she was neglecting to consult the faculty in the search process.

Coleman responded that unlike the selection of some other administrative positions, the selection of provost is her decision.

Institute for Social Research Director James Jackson, chair of the search advisory committee that generated a list of candidates for Coleman, said searches for high-profile positions tend to be closed to the public because many potential candidates will not enter an open search. The search committee had been working since April, shortly after Courant announced he would step down.

Coleman said she thinks people will be happy with the appointment once they learn about Sullivan’s background. Coleman cited Sullivan’s administrative experience and the quality of her scholarship as important factors in her decision.

As a sociologist, Sullivan studied labor force demography, focusing on people with considerable debt problems. She also served in a number of administrative positions, including vice president and dean of graduate studies at UT-Austin, chair of the sociology department and director of women’s studies. Sullivan received her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Chicago and her bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University.

Coleman and Sullivan also stressed similar priorities in separate interviews yesterday.

The two women – the appointment also marks the first time women have filled the University’s top two positions – both discussed enhancing undergraduate education. Sullivan said she wants to provide more international opportunities for undergraduates and more diverse course offerings.

Sullivan said she needs to spend time learning about the campus and the campus culture, saying she has told the deans that she plans to spend her first six months “like an ethnographer,” an anthropologist who studies and describes human societies. Sullivan also talked about the importance of public higher education and the opportunities it has provided for many Americans – a topic about which Coleman is often passionate.

The provost position at the University is highly sought after. A number of former provosts have gone on to become university presidents, including Billy Frye, who became president of Emory University; James Duderstadt, who became the University of Michigan’s president; and Nancy Cantor, now president and chancellor of Syracuse University. Sullivan will be paid $340,000 a year -$50,000 more than Courant earned.

Sullivan will also receive tenure as a professor of sociology, although it is not clear whether she will teach a course. She said in her first year she will probably not be able to teach, but that she would like to do so afterward if the job allows. She currently teaches a freshman seminar called Credit Cards, Debt and American Society at UT-Austin, where she has won a number of awards for her undergraduate teaching.

At Texas, she worked to bridge the gap between the health and academic sides of the university, led searches for four university presidents within the Texas system and worked to increase the amount of research throughout the system.

She said faculty should engage in research as well as teaching because “universities are communities of learners,” and that the faculty should not be exempt from learning. She added that the experience of teaching has also improved her research.

University Regent Andrea Fischer Newman, who is currently the chair of the board, called Sullivan “an extremely impressive person.” She added that it is more important to find the best person than to pick an internal candidate.

Sullivan will face a number of challenges as provost. Faced with a sputtering economy, the state has been cutting funding to the University in recent years. In 2002, the state allocated $363 million to the University, but that number will be $316.3 million for 2006.

On Monday night, The Michigan Daily published a story online saying Coleman would name Sullivan the new provost, the University announced her nomination on Tuesday, earlier than the University planned on making the nomination public.

Sullivan’s husband, Douglas Laycock, is a First Amendment scholar and will become a professor at the University’s law school. He helped guide the UT system through the fallout of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in the Hopwood v. Texas case that banned the use of affirmative action in university admission in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

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