E. Thomas Sullivan

  E. Thomas Sullivan, the fourth presidential candidate to come to campus, held an open forum on Jan. 25 to answer questions about his impressions of the University and his confidence in leading a premier research institution.                   In his most recent position, Sullivan served as provost of the University of Minnesota for seven and a half years, where he managed budgets, coordinated private and public fundraising and reorganized the University. Sullivan’s career has also included employment at three public land-grant universities and a private university.                   “I think having been at both public and private universities, perhaps at a scale somewhat bigger than UVM, has given me a comparative advantage at this point in my life,” Sullivan said. With 22 years of experience in administrating higher education and two deanships at different institutions, Sullivan said he believes his experience would align very well with UVM and the state of Vermont.                   “The experience that I’ve garnered from being a faculty member and then in positions of leadership as Dean and Provost… give me some insight as to how [I could] help the faculty and students lead this University to even greater heights of excellence,” he said. Sullivan said he does not believe that the transition from a much larger university to UVM will act as an obstacle but as an opportunity, considering UVM’s deep passion for liberal education, the humanities, science and the environment.  “I see this as a natural progression of my career, to perhaps come to an institution that seems very focused, very strategic,” he said. “I think in this case, your size and your focus is a real advantage. Not a challenge.” If chosen as University President, Sullivan would be a lawyer heading a university without a law school, but in an interview with the Cynic, he said he is not concerned.  “My own research and teaching at this point in my career could easily find a way into any of the social sciences departments,” he said.  Sullivan said he believes UVM’s size makes it a place where an administrator can have a very specific vision and mission that is compatible to his own values and aspirations. “[At] a more complex institution, people expect you to be all things to all people,” Sullivan said. “And sometimes you’re very broad and not very deep when you are trying to meet expectations.” Sullivan said he was impressed by UVM’s aspirations and expectations for the future of Vermont citizens, faculty, staff and students.                   “As a land-grant public university, it’s our obligation, our responsibility, to advance the public good,” he said.                   UVM could accomplish this through applied research and by bringing ideas and innovations into the community to make it a better place for the citizens of Vermont, Sullivan said.                   A critical part of contributing to society involves improving the overall student experience.                   “This will excite students to be able to go out, having had a great education here, and want to play a leadership role in society to make it a better place,” he said. Sullivan mentioned research that suggested students who are more engaged in universities by joining organizations or working part-time will perform better academically and graduate in a timely manner.  “It’s not just the academic experience or the educational,” he said.  “It’s about the social maturations of our students.” Sullivan said a university should be a leader in advancing diversity. “Universities have to stand up, presidents and chancellors, and make the case on why this is a legal, moral and social issue,” he said. “We are a country that has become very successful because of its diversity and our pluralism; the future is only bright if we embrace and support and encourage that same path.” Some participants at the forum said they enjoyed Sullivan’s ability to speak in a colloquial manner as well as his focus on the liberal arts and humanities.  “It’s important to find a president also driven by values,” Library Professor Trina Magi said. Even though Sullivan only visited Burlington for the first time last May, he said he has always shared strong connections with the University. His wife, Leslie Sullivan, and her older sister, are 1977 and 1973 UVM graduates, respectively. In addition, one of his nephews recently graduated last May.  “There is a fondness for this University,” Sullivan said. “When I was called to see if I would consider the institution, it was a combination of being the right time for me… and also the fondness that my family has for Vermont.” Sullivan concluded the forum by saying that he believes UVM has the ability to move forward in the ranks of the very best premier, small research universities.  “A university that focuses and cares deeply about liberal education, our environment and health care is important to our society today,” he said.