President Tom Sullivan Takes Office
- By Thomas James Weaver
President Tom Sullivan’s first day on the job at the University of Vermont included a schedule stacked with forty-five minute meetings and an evening speaking engagement. Mid-morning, he fielded questions about challenges before the university, his priorities and his leadership style from members of the Vermont press corps packed into his Waterman Building office.
Sullivan’s answers, for the most part, were focused on big-picture issues such as affirming the university’s role as a public, research, land grant institution; the importance of keenly aligning budget with the university’s vision and mission; and assuring affordability for Vermont students, a top priority, he said.
The new president said he will focus the first 100 days of his presidency on listening. Describing his personal leadership style, Sullivan said, “I’m collaborative, a pretty good listener. I want to have an open, frank, candid dialogue so all of us can identify a shared vision for promoting quality and excellence.” In the relative quiet of the campus during summer, President Sullivan will soon begin a round of visits that will take him to every Vermont county to meet legislative, community, and business leaders; UVM alumni; and media.
Following the initial period of gathering perspectives, the president said he will then draft a thousand-day plan. “I’m someone who believes in leadership by objective — once we’ve identified our objective, moving backwards to establish strategies and tactics and timelines,” Sullivan said.
The quality of UVM’s academic experience and environment were frequently mentioned by Sullivan in his comments. He noted that one early initiative will examine the quality of academic facilities, laboratories in particular, to see where renovations are needed. More broadly, Sullivan said that one of his top priorities will be testing every decision to see that it “promotes the advancement of quality, value, and, ultimately, the reputation of the University of Vermont.”
Speaking to the viability of liberal arts education, Sullivan said that core of UVM’s mission and history was a key draw to the job for him. “This university has a grand tradition of producing leaders for society. That ability to think broadly and deeply, those critical thinking and communication skills are embedded in liberal arts education.”
President Sullivan is a veteran in higher education leadership, most recently serving as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Minnesota for the past eight years. He also served Minnesota as dean of the law school from 1995 to 2002. And, as a professor in the law school, Sullivan was a recipient of the Stanley V. Kinyon Teacher of the Year Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Sullivan is a nationally recognized authority on antitrust law and complex litigation, having authored ten books and more than fifty articles. Before joining the faculty of the University of Minnesota, Sullivan served for six years as dean of the University of Arizona College of Law and as associate dean at Washington University in St. Louis. He began his career in higher education as a faculty member at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
A native of Amboy, Illinois, Sullivan earned his bachelor’s degree at Drake University in Iowa, followed by his law degree from Indiana University in 1973.
Before entering academia in 1979, Sullivan clerked for a federal judge, in Miami, Florida, and thereafter was a trial attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice in the Attorney General’s Honors Program. His legal career also included work as an antitrust litigator with the New York and Washington, D.C., firm of Donovan, Newton, Leisure and Irvine. Throughout his career he has continued to serve as a consultant on antitrust, complex litigation and Federal Court matters.
President Sullivan’s spouse, Leslie Black Sullivan, is a 1977 graduate of the University of Vermont.