On August 1, 2010, Teresa A. Sullivan became the University of Virginia’s eighth president. She came to UVA 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 UVA’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, UVA’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
“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 UVA. She understands the University and its people, and she’s working extremely hard for our faculty, staff and students.”
Outside the Office
“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 UVA. “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
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 UVA traditions
“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.”
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
Listen: President Sullivan discusses her top priorities at UVA, including financial stability
President on the Prowl
“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
She also appreciates how the UVA 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
“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 UVA for decades, and they are the foundation of long-term excellence.”
We Come From Old Virginia
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.
“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 UVA presidents who are buried there, thought about them and what they brought to Grounds. It’s a sobering, but also an exciting, prospect.”