On August 1, 2010, Teresa A. Sullivan became the University of Virginia’s eighth president. She came to U.Va. from the University of Michigan, where she served as provost and executive vice president of academic affairs. Although she’s been in Charlottesville for only a few months, she seems well on her way to getting to know not only the entire University community but also just about everyone in the commonwealth of Virginia.
She’s had one-on-one meetings with Virginia’s governor and secretary of education. She’s attended bond hearings in New York, development events around the state and an alumni reunion in Los Angeles. She’s met with faculty members, alumni clubs, and athletics teams and coaches. She’s met with individual legislators in their hometowns around the state, state agency heads, and all of the Virginia congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. She’s been to U.Va.’s College at Wise and has spoken to numerous student groups and University-affiliated foundations. She’s met with local school superintendents, members of the Charlottesville city council, the Albemarle County board of supervisors and local ministers.
“The worst job in the commonwealth right now is being my scheduler,” Sullivan says with a laugh.
In addition to her busy schedule of speaking engagements, she also led the Day of Dialogue, organized the committee to search for a new executive vice president, and tackled a variety of issues ranging from student safety to budget challenges.
She’s managed all this while settling into her new home at Carr’s Hill with her husband of 39 years, Douglas Laycock, a noted constitutional law scholar who has joined the faculty of the University’s School of Law.
“She knows this business extremely well,” says Leonard Sandridge, U.Va.’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “She is very, very knowledgeable. She could do my job better than I could today. She has had that kind of administrative experience and financial experience. She is engaging. She’s very levelheaded. She’s very decisive. I could sum it up by saying candidly that she is great fun to work with. She is going to be a president that we’ll all be very, very proud of. I have seen her in action, and she’s the real thing.”
Ready to Roll
By the time Sullivan began her work as president, she was ready to get down to business. In July, she attended the annual Harvard Seminar for New Presidents, where she and about 50 others heard from experts and former presidents about running a university. Regular trips between Charlottesville and Ann Arbor during the months preceding her official start helped familiarize her with many of the University’s key players. Extensive reading materials supplied by many of those same people helped ensure she was prepared.
“The day after I was named [in January], I asked each dean to send me the three things to read that they thought I needed to understand their college or school,” Sullivan says. “And I asked a similar question of the vice presidents. So I had the best advice of the people in the leadership positions about what I needed to know before I got here.”
“President Sullivan has a great ability to carry a heavy work load while remaining focused on priorities,” said Nancy Rivers, the president’s chief of staff. “Considering she only started here in August, she has an incredible command of the facts about U.Va. She understands the University and its people, and she’s working extremely hard for our faculty, staff and students.”
Outside the Office
During weekends, Sullivan has enjoyed exploring the surrounding community with her husband, Douglas Laycock. The couple’s excursions have ranged from attending the Albemarle County Fair to exploring local restaurants and taking evening strolls around Grounds.
“Doug has been a real partner for me every step of the way,” she says. “I’m really proud to bring him with me. People asked if I was going to bring somebody from Michigan with me, and I said, ‘Yes, I’m bringing a great law faculty member.’”
In addition to her occasional explorations of the Charlottesville area, Sullivan has found time to read. Normally, reading is one of her favorite ways to relax, but even that has been given over to learning more about U.Va. “I’m reading a student’s honor’s thesis that is a book-length set of interviews with three presidents—Frank Hereford, Bob O’Neil and John Casteen. I’ve learned a lot that I wouldn’t have found out otherwise.”
Her other pastime is volksmarching. Sullivan has been a volksmarcher since 1984 and has completed about 700 sanctioned events, which consist of organized walks of 10 kilometers or longer. A volksmarch is planned as part of the festivities surrounding Sullivan’s inauguration this April. “Virginia is a hotbed of volksmarching in the United States, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity to do some,” she says. “It’s done principally for health reasons, but also because it’s fun, and I enjoy it.”
Listen: President Sullivan discusses her hobbies, including reading and volksmarching
First-Year Student Reception at Carr’s Hill
After addressing students at the Opening Convocation on the Lawn, Sullivan attended the Honor Induction with the first-year class. “I wanted to hear it myself,” she says. “It was very inspiring—it is one of the things that makes this place so special.”
Afterward, the students were invited to her home for a reception. “Having them all up to Carr’s Hill was fun, and they enjoyed looking at the house,” says Sullivan. “And by the way, they were exceptionally careful with their ice cream, not to drip it on the rug or anything.”
Listen: Teresa Sullivan discusses the ice cream reception at Carr’s Hill and her take on U.Va. traditions
As the first-year students moved in to their dorms at the start of the school year, Sullivan made her way around Grounds in a Smart Car driven by Pat Lampkin, vice president for student affairs. Sullivan mingled with students and their parents, and was impressed by resident staff and other student volunteers who helped with the move-in.
“The parents were amazed when a student showed up to help them move all their stuff in,” Sullivan says. “I could tell that the dads were really anticipating carting those mini-fridges on their backs. Instead, two or three really strong upperclassmen showed up and put the mini-fridge on their backs. Parents were really delighted.”
Watch: President Sullivan speaks to first years on move-in day
It’s clear that she relishes being among students. “President Sullivan looks for any planned or unplanned opportunity to interact with students,” says Lampkin. “She seems to have an innate sense of what is on their minds and is able to immediately engage them in challenging discussion.”
Listen: President Sullivan discusses her move to C’ville
At the end of her first week as president, Sullivan conducted a press conference at Madison Hall. While questions covered a wide range of topics, many concerned financial issues—an area in which Sullivan is well versed. In her previous position at the University of Michigan, she not only served as provost, but also the school’s chief budget officer. “The financial stability of the University is an issue to which I will certainly be giving a very high priority. The University is very well managed and run right now. But our faculty have had no raises for three years, and neither have our staff. It will be hard for us to maintain this caliber of faculty in the face of that for very long. And we know that we’re about to lose $14.6 million from our budget because of stimulus funding that will be going away. So we have a really serious issue in terms of our revenue sources. On the spending side, I see the University being pretty careful about the way it spends its money. And of course we have very robust application flows. Lots of students would like to be here, so I’m persuaded that we provide an excellent educational program.”
Listen: President Sullivan discusses her top priorities at U.Va., including financial stability
President on the Prowl
At the University of Michigan, Sullivan was known as the “Provost on the Prowl” for her habit of showing up just about anywhere at any time. She’s continuing that practice at U.Va. Here, she visits with associate professor Hilary Bart-Smith in a mechanical engineering research laboratory.
“I find I often learn things from people by visiting them where they are. And there are lots of different people who work together to make a great university like this happen. Some of them are in laboratories. Some of them are in libraries. Some of them are in little obscure offices tucked away in a corner somewhere. But all of them together make up a great university. I think it’s part of my own education about the institution to get to know some of these people and see them where they actually work. That’s why I prowl around.”
Listen: President Sullivan discusses why she’s known as the “President on the Prowl”
First Football Game
Sullivan is a strong supporter of collegiate athletics and is an avid football fan, telling one alumni gathering that she hopes the University will one day host ESPN College Gameday, a television show that travels to each weekend’s marquee game. “It’s very important that the Virginia athletics program is one with integrity, that we take the rules seriously, and that good sportsmanship is an important aspect of what we do,” she says. “It’s also very important to me that our student-athletes are students first and athletes second. And of course I hope that they will compete at great levels to wonderful success.”
She also appreciates how the U.Va. family comes together at games, as well as the benefits student-athletes gain from collegiate sports.
“It’s certainly a way for them to get their education, but it’s also a great way for them to learn unbelievable time-management skills. That’s one of the reasons NCAA athletes often excel in graduate and professional programs.”
Working With Faculty
Sullivan meets with faculty members at the Curry School of Education. Sullivan set a goal of speaking to the faculty at all of the University’s schools before the end of the semester. “In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins says you have to get the right people on the bus. And I think that [President Emeritus] John Casteen did a really good job of getting the right people on the bus. And I have to say the same thing about [Provost] Tim Garson with respect to his hiring of the deans. I have a really good feeling about the leadership team.”
“With her background as a provost, President Sullivan clearly understands the importance of a strong leadership team,” says Carl Zeithaml, dean of the McIntire School of Commerce. “As an accomplished scholar, teacher and academic leader, she also appreciates the significance of attracting and retaining a world-class faculty. Our great faculty members often stay at U.Va. for decades, and they are the foundation of long-term excellence.”
Regular cabinet meetings help Sullivan stay on top of the latest issues from all around Grounds. “I give people a lot of responsibility and hold them accountable,” says Sullivan about her management style. “I don’t have time to micromanage anybody else’s portfolio. I have enough to do with my own. But on the other hand, I do expect them to keep me apprised of significant events. I promulgated for my leadership team what I call ‘Sullivan’s Laws of Administration.’ And the first law is, never surprise an administrator. If something is going wrong, I want to hear about it. I don’t want to read about it in the newspaper. And the corollary there is that I promise not to shoot the messenger. So if you bring me bad news, I’m not going to crawl all over you about it. But I do need to know. We are an organization of humans and not of angels, so we’re going to have problems. But if I know what they are, I can help you work on a solution together. So my management style is certainly collaborative, but it’s also collaborative with strong expectations.”
We Come From Old Virginia
Sullivan joins alumni to sing “The Good Old Song” at the Western U.S. Alumni Reunion in Los Angeles. The early September weekend was one of the first opportunities for the new president to interact with a large group of alumni. “One thing that struck me right away is that she’s a warm, friendly person with a terrific sense of humor,” says Tom Faulders, president and CEO of the Alumni Association. “She was very welcoming to the alumni at the reunion and seemed to have a great time talking to everyone there.”
Day of Dialogue
To begin the Day of Dialogue (see pages 14 and 61), Sullivan addressed a large gathering at Old Cabell Hall. It was a day of somber reflection and discourse among various segments of the University community, and Sullivan came away impressed by the level of faculty participation—75 faculty members served as facilitators for the day’s discussion groups
President Sullivan speaks at the Day of Dialogue
“Those kinds of traditions, of the students and the faculty interacting with each other, are what makes this place really special,” she says. “It’s also what I hear from alumni. They tell me about a particular faculty member who changed their life, or a particular course that changed the direction of their career. I hear those stories all the time from people. I know it’s real.”
Along with the traditions that shape everyday life at the University, Sullivan also has a keen sense of the history that permeates Grounds. “It’s hard not to feel it, certainly in the Academical Village,” Sullivan says. “When you think that the original Board of Visitors was Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe, that’s a lot of executive talent on one board. I’ve also been to the University cemetery. I’ve visited the graves of the three U.Va. presidents who are buried there, thought about them and what they brought to Grounds. It’s a sobering, but also an exciting, prospect.”