Correction to This Article
The article about Teresa A. Sullivan, who was chosen to be president of the University of Virginia, incorrectly said that she was recruited to apply for the job in August 2008. It was in August 2009.

Teresa Sullivan is the first female president to lead University of Virginia

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The University of Virginia's first female president got an early look at how to run a school as a college senior when she won a coveted internship in the president's office at Michigan State University.

Teresa A. Sullivan, chosen Jan. 11 to lead Virginia's flagship public university, has punched her ticket at some of the nation's top public and private institutions. But it was that first step observing the inner workings of a major state school that launched her career as a highly regarded scholar-administrator, capable of juggling senior administrative posts while pursuing research on the sociology of financial ruin.

"There are aspects of administration, they're like a chess game," she said. "You're looking forward three or four moves."

Now, at 60, Sullivan is about to assume her first college presidency, and colleagues say she is more than ready. But this is no ordinary job. Mr. Jefferson's University, as many call it, is perhaps the preeminent public institution of higher learning on the East Coast, a place brimming with history and consistently ranked second only to the University of California at Berkeley in academic prestige among public universities. She replaces John T. Casteen III, who is concluding one of the most successful college presidencies in recent memory. She starts Aug. 1, amid a statewide economic crisis.

When a recruiter for U-Va. approached her last year, Sullivan was in her fourth year as provost at the University of Michigan, a "public Ivy" in the same academic tier as Virginia. She had spent the previous four years as executive vice chancellor of the University of Texas system, with nine campus presidents reporting to her. She was also a working scholar, with six books and several dozen articles to her credit, an authority in her field, and still teaching a class every year.

"She's the full ticket. She has it all," said Mark Yudof, president of the University of California, who promoted Sullivan through the ranks while serving as chancellor in Texas.

Sullivan will be only the eighth president of U-Va., a school that opened in 1825 but resisted installing a singular leader for nearly a century, in keeping with Jefferson's wishes.

The first seven were men. The school didn't admit women as undergraduates until 1970.

She has the unenviable task of following Casteen, who led U-Va. for 20 years, shepherding the school into an era when public universities must rely on private dollars to thrive. His accomplishments include two of the largest fundraising campaigns by any public university, creating AccessUVa, a groundbreaking aid program that meets the needs of low-income students without using loans, and seeing the school's endowment grow from $445 million in 1991 to $4.3 billion today. He maintained Virginia's academic currency, and built its global reputation, as state support dwindled from one-quarter of the university's budget to 7 percent.

Casteen received total compensation of $797,048 in 2007-08 and ranks among the highest-paid public university presidents, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Sullivan will receive a $680,000 package in her first year. She and her husband, law professor Douglas Laycock, will occupy Carr's Hill, the Colonial Revival president's residence. Laycock will move from Michigan's law school to Virginia's.

'Smart as hell'

Teresa Ann Sullivan was born in Kewanee, Ill., an only child. Her mother, a military nurse, had been posted to a forward evacuation hospital in France after D-Day. Her father, an artilleryman, had guarded prisoners of war in Jackson, Miss.

She grew up in Little Rock and in Jackson. Her father died of a heart condition when Teresa was in the sixth grade.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company