Sullivan calls her appointment ‘a sign of the times’

By , Assignment Editor  |  Friday, February 15, 2013 12:01 PM

University of San Diego provost Julie Sullivan was announced as St. Thomas’ first female and lay president-elect Thursday at a press conference in the Anderson Student Center.

Sullivan, 55, will serve as the university’s 15th president and will succeed the Rev. Dennis Dease. She will take office July 1.

“I’m thrilled and honored to be chosen,” Sullivan said. “St. Thomas is an outstanding university which enjoys a wonderful history and legacy … It is poised to do even more: to expand its influence and visibility.”

Dease called his successor “a star.”  130214_president_edited

“I meant that very sincerely. Her spirit, her authenticity … will be just a great fit for St. Thomas. I am absolutely delighted by her selection,” Dease said.

Sullivan has aspirations for her time to come at the university and the way society views the St. Thomas community.

“My aspiration for St. Thomas is to be recognized regionally, nationally and internationally as the model Catholic university of our time … for all Tommies to be inspired, to challenge themselves and change our world,” Sullivan said.

Dease, nodding to the two men who introduced the new president, offered Sullivan some advice.

“With friends like these two gentlemen (Archbishop Harry Flynn and chair of the search committee John Morrison) at your table and countless others who make up the University of St. Thomas, you can’t go wrong,” Dease said.

After Dease pledged to make Sullivan’s transition into the presidency a smooth and enjoyable one, Sullivan made a pledge of her own to the university.

“Over the next several years, I will work with deep conviction and enormous energy to carry on the … rich legacy of Father Dease and so many of you and so many others that have made St. Thomas such a outstanding university,” she said.

Sullivan said she knows this will be a job for the entire university. As St. Thomas’ first female and lay leader in the university’s history, she spoke as to what these two developments mean for the community.

“Yes, I am a woman, and I am a Catholic lay person,” Sullivan said. “I’m sure many of you are wondering, what does this mean? How will this be different? I think this reflects the signs of the times.”

Undergraduate Student Government president Mike Orth said while Dease has done so much for the St. Thomas community, he knows Sullivan is a great person to come to the university and lead it into the future.

“I think it’s going to send a message to the St. Thomas community here and beyond, just how exciting it is and I think we’re really taking a huge step forward,” Orth said. “We’re really ready to make a big change and I think it’s going to be a change for the better.”

With a doctorate in accounting from the University of Florida, Orth said Sullivan will help St. Thomas’ business reputation.

“She’s got a lot to offer, a long resume working in the business academic world, so I think she’ll certainly help our business program,” Orth said. “But she’ll help every aspect of our university, not just business, and so that’s exciting.”

Senior Muhdii Sharif had the opportunity to meet Sullivan, and he said “she’s very engaging, very sweet, a little soft-spoken, but she seems like she will be a great leader.”

“Each leadership is different, so I think she will forge her own path,” Sharif said. “I think St. Thomas will stay the way it is, and it will be a great school to go to. There’s still a board, and there’s still a lot of other people who help shape the policies, so there’s not going to be one single person who will be bigger than the university.”

Morrison said Sullivan has the “total package.”

“The board was charged with the responsibility of finding the best person,” he said. “And a very complex university world today, and she had the background running a complex university at that has a great scholastic background, and she has the total package, she’s got the financial package and the she’s got the academic package.”

Briggs LeSavage can be reached at

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