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Sullivan transitions into university president

By , Production Editor  |  Thursday, August 15, 2013 11:01 PM

Since taking over as St. Thomas’ president on July 1, Julie Sullivan said the transition is a bit like “drinking from a fire hose” as she gets settled both personally and professionally.

During the first month and a half of her presidency, Sullivan said she has been meeting members of the university and greater Twin Cities community, reviewing the results of a planning survey and reorganizing her administration.

“It’s been a lot in a quick period of time, but it’s been good,” Sullivan said. “I’m coming here every day, meeting new people, really learning new things every day and then going home and trying to figure out well, what do I need for the kitchen and where is the dry cleaners and where is the grocery store. People have embraced me with a great deal of warmth and support, and I’ve enjoyed it.”

Julie Sullivan works at the president's desk in Aquinas Hall. Since taking office July 1, Sullivan said she has been meeting members of the university and greater Twin Cities community, reviewing the results of a planning survey and reorganizing her administration.

Julie Sullivan works at the president’s desk in Aquinas Hall. Since taking office July 1, Sullivan said she has been meeting members of the university and greater Twin Cities community, reviewing the results of a planning survey and reorganizing her administration.

High survey response rates

Sullivan said the planning survey she sent in April to all university students, faculty and staff had “extraordinary” response rates.

The university received nearly 3,200 responses — among those were 84 percent of full-time faculty, 75 percent of staff (including administrators), 24 percent of undergraduate students, 20 percent of graduate students and 36 percent of adjunct faculty.

“I was extremely pleased with the response rate,” Sullivan said. “I have never sent anything out to a faculty group and had that high of a response rate.”

Sullivan said most respondents took considerable time to express their thoughts and ideas, so she has begun working with Michael Cogan in the Office of Institutional Research to categorize the feedback.

“After you’ve read 1,000 responses, your head is spinning,” Sullivan said. “(We’re beginning) to categorize and glean some themes from what we’re reading, and that’s been taking a lot of time.”

Some of the results Sullivan said she will address personally, but others will be used in a strategic planning process launching in the fall.

New title, eliminated position in new leadership organizational structure

A benchmarking study and results from the president’s planning survey heavily impacted a new organizational structure which won’t include an executive vice president and chief operating officer and will include more administrators who will report directly to Sullivan, and an executive vice president and provost.

Sullivan commissioned a benchmarking study of 20-to-25 predominately Catholic schools of similar size in the United States to look at leadership positions and their reporting structures.

Planning survey feedback saying the university community sometimes felt “too siloed” between the academic side and administrative side coupled with former executive vice president and chief operating officer Mark Dienhart’s departure, made eliminating the COO position make sense, she said.

“It was time to say, OK there’s not an academic side and an administrative side. We’re one team,” Sullivan said. “If he had stayed, would I have done that? No. Clearly he was very accomplished in what he did, but it gave us the opportunity to really look at it with a clean slate.”

Sullivan said she wants to get to know the positions that were reporting to Dienhart, but she doesn’t anticipate hiring anyone for the position in the future.

Under the new structure, the chief financial officer, general counsel, human resources officer, provost, and athletic director will report to the president. Sue Huber’s title will change from executive vice president and chief academic officer to executive vice president and provost in a move to align with trends among similar universities.

“It tends to signal that that person is — if the president is not available — that’s the next person that you turn to,” Sullivan said.

Searches launched for business dean, provost

A search committee and search firm were selected Monday for the provost position and Sullivan said the search for a new business dean has been relaunched.

Sullivan will chair a committee made up of all St. Thomas faculty, key staff members and students to find the university’s next provost. Huber announced her retirement in May, but agreed to stay on for the 2013-2014 academic year.

After unsuccessful attempts to fill the position of business dean, Sullivan said she has met with members of the business dean’s search committee, Dean Christopher Puto, and the search firm to review the search strategy.

Sullivan anticipates students’ return

Sullivan said she has been exploring St. Paul, but is looking forward to a full campus come September.

On her to-do list is attending her first Tommie football game, convocation and participating in the march under the arches.

“I’m looking forward to the students being back on campus. I want to feel the campus with that student energy and vibrancy,” Sullivan said. “I’m looking forward to just being a part of the campus community.”

Heidi Enninga can be reached at enni5264@stthomas.edu.

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