Biography: potential president Julie Sullivan

By , Chief Story Editor  |  Wednesday, February 13, 2013 11:45 PM

If recommended to and approved by St. Thomas’ Board of Trustees as the university’s new president, Julie Sullivan will have to leave sunny San Diego and make four-season Minnesota her new home.

Sullivan is executive vice president and provost at the University of San Diego, a private, Catholic school in California. She joined the university, which is similar to St. Thomas, in 2005.

San Diego and St. Thomas, both Roman Catholic universities, are both centered around mission statements that focus on Catholicism, knowledge, morality and service.  130211_Sullivan

The schools are also similar in size, especially in undergraduate students. San Diego’s enrollment sits at 5,493, while St. Thomas boasts 6,336 students. However, St. Thomas has 1,999 more students for overall enrollment.

If Sullivan does become the president, she will oversee a considerably larger number of employees at St. Thomas. San Diego has 1,146 less employees than St. Thomas.

Other key differences between the two universities are diversity, sports and Greek life. While 14 percent of St. Thomas undergraduate students are minorities, 32 percent of San Diego’s campus are students from diverse backgrounds.

Sullivan is quoted on diversity on the San Diego website.

“Academic excellence thrives in communities that welcome diverse viewpoints and life experiences,” Sullivan said.

San Diego athletes on 17 teams compete at the NCAA Division I level, despite the school’s size. The school also has six national fraternities and eight national sororities, while St. Thomas has few fraternities and sororities and shut another down.

While St. Thomas was in the early stages of the search for its next leader, The Vista, San Diego’s student-run newspaper, covered the turmoil over theirs.

Student protests erupted after San Diego’s president, Mary Lyons, sent a letter to Tina Beattie, a theologian set to begin a five-week fellowship at the university.

The letter rescinded the fellowship, citing a dissent from official church teaching for her support of civil marriages of homosexuals.

In November, San Diego’s College of Arts and Sciences passed a vote of “no confidence” in the school’s administration.

Sullivan told The Vista that she and other administrators supported Lyons’ decision.

“The Executive Council supports the President’s decision not to provide an honorary fellowship to Dr. Beattie,” Sullivan said.

This September, in her convocation address, Sullivan told faculty what she thought the purpose of a university is.

“The institution of the university has always been an expression of humankind’s need to constantly examine and reexamine our world in order to better understand and contribute to it,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan also focused on the need to address social challenges, a call to stay rooted in the school’s core mission, values, and Catholic social teaching, and encourage and inspire students to be “change makers.”

“A changemaker is optimistic and embraces challenges as opportunities for positive transformation,” Sullivan said. “I am an optimistic person. And I would like to promote the premise that this same world of challenges is today even more so a world of opportunity.”

Heidi Enninga can be reached at

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