Nearly eight years ago, then-new Executive Vice President and Provost Julie H. Sullivan delivered the annual University of San Diego Fall Convocation address. The topic she presented to faculty, fellow administrators and staff centered on one question: “What will be our shared legacy to USD?”
Sullivan’s hope, she said on Sept. 22, 2005, was to define it in two ways: “One is to continue to improve our academic excellence and reputation, and two is to enhance our passionate commitment to articulate and live our values.”
Nearly eight years later, Sullivan’s actions to support her vision have been numerous and substantial. Her proactive and collaborative approach with others at USD has significantly raised the university’s profile locally, nationally and internationally.
So it’s fitting that the person who has overseen increases in freshman student averages for GPA, SAT and ACT scores, a 90 percent freshman-to-sophomore student retention rate, a rise in underserved, first-generation and international student enrollment and, among other important milestones, has championed USD’s designation as an Ashoka Changemaker Campus, is embarking on a new legacy.
Sullivan, effective July 1, will become the 15th president of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn., the largest private college in Minnesota. The university, founded in 1885, has hired in Sullivan, its first female president and first lay president at a Minnesota Catholic university. She replaces Fr. Dennis Dease, who is retiring from the role after 22 years.
“I am thrilled and honored to have been chosen,” Sullivan said. “St. Thomas is an outstanding university, which enjoys a wonderful history and legacy that is firmly rooted in its commitment to Catholic values and the liberal arts while looking forward with an entrepreneurial spirit.”
But, she added, “Deciding to leave USD, a Catholic university committed to academic excellence, leaders dedicated to ethical conduct and compassionate service, ethical leaders working and serving in our complex and changing world, has been very difficult.”
Sullivan’s leadership style, work ethic, and more were celebrated at a reception last week. She was lavishly praised, presented with special gifts and was even serenaded with a performance by the USD music department’s Mariachi Ensemble.
“The words used to describe Julie are encouraging, supportive, energetic, wise, fair, smart, aspirational and gracious,” said Paula Cordeiro, dean of the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, who spoke on behalf of USD’s deans. “Julie’s leaving is a big loss to USD and a great gift to St. Thomas.”
Following heartfelt speeches by Student Affairs Vice President Carmen Vazquez, Interim Provost Andy Allen, USD President Mary E. Lyons, PhD, and USD Board of Trustees member Constance M. Carroll, PhD, Sullivan talked about “the best job I’ve ever had.”
“I extend my gratitude to President Lyons, who gave me the opportunities, the space and the support to expand my horizons and to be involved with so many facets of university life,” she said. “This has allowed me … to realize the personal growth and to achieve experiences that make me better prepared for this next adventure.”
Sullivan praised the work of colleagues across the campus, including vice presidents, deans, faculty and staff. “You’re the best colleagues I’ve ever worked with, you’ve supported me and I’ve learned so much from you and so much with you.”
Said President Lyons: “Dr. Sullivan’s contributions to the growth and development of our university are abundantly evident. We can thank her for guiding us through the great fiscal crisis of 2008 while continuing our commitment to students and investing in our faculty. As our chief academic officer, Julie established the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies and the launch of the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering. Under her leadership, USD has significantly increased the number of tenured and tenured-tract faculty on campus, improved the academic profile of our freshman class, and we’ve become the No. 1-ranked doctoral serving institution for undergraduates studying abroad.”
Sullivan most recently led USD’s successful 2011 bid to become a designated Ashoka Changemaker Campus. The university now has an active Changemaker Hub, recognizes current students who embrace the concept and seeks prospective students who want to be Changemakers while receiving a solid USD education. In February 2013, the university hosted the third annual Ashoka U Exchange, which brought 650 social entrepreneurs from around the world to campus to learn from, discuss and share ideas.
“During my tenure, I have found that a USD education inspires and empowers students to be Changemakers — to make the difference they seek — to become individuals with self-fulfilling lives who are proactively creating positive, social, environmental and economic value. This philosophy is deeply woven into USD’s DNA.”
It’s part of a lasting legacy Sullivan can be proud of because it will continue to demonstrate USD’s academic excellence, reputation and a passionate commitment to articulate and live its values.
— Ryan T. Blystone