Santa Clara University Charts New Future with First Female Layperson as President

Santa Clara University today announced the appointment of the first female – and first layperson – as its new president.

Julie H. Sullivan, current president of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, was named the 30th president of Santa Clara University in mid-day ceremonies in front of the historic mission at the 171-year-old Jesuit, Catholic institution.

Unanimously chosen by the Santa Clara University Board of Trustees following a nationwide search, Sullivan will assume duties in July.

Larry Sonsini, a Silicon Valley lawyer and chair of the Santa Clara University Board of Trustees, called the day “a historic moment” for the university, breaking its tradition of Catholic priests as presidents.

He said Sulllivan is “a proven leader and faithful servant ideally suited to lead Santa Clara University in our pursuit of a more humane, a more just, and a more sustainable world.”
“With extensive higher education leadership experience spanning more than three decades, Dr. Sullivan brings strong academic and financial credentials to Santa Clara University,” Sonsini said in a statement. “Moreover, she is a person of demonstrated faith who has dedicated much of her career to service rooted in justice and care for the whole person.”

These qualities come at a critical time for the university as it recovers from the shock of last spring’s sudden resignation of Kevin O'Brien. O’Brien, a Jesuit priest who had delivered the homily at a Mass for the inauguration of President Joe Biden, resigned after Jesuits said he had engaged in inappropriate behavior with graduate students.

Lisa Kloppenberg, the university’s provost and a former law school dean, has served as acting president since O’Brien’s departure.

Sullivan, a 64-year-old Florida native, brings a solid business background to her new position in the heart of Silicon Valley. holds a Ph.D. in business from the University of Florida and is an internationally recognized scholar and educator in accounting, finance and taxation. She has extensive business and financial expertise with nearly 20 years of public company board service and 15 years of private company board service in several industries.

In more symbolism of change at the mission campus, the audience at today’s ceremonies was welcomed by Danielle Slaton, a star of the 2001 national championship women’s soccer team and currently director of external relations for Santa Clara’s School of Education and Counseling Psychology.

Santa Clara Universitythis year has a student population of 8,669, with 5,694 undergraduate students and 2,975 graduate students.

As a prominent Catholic lay educator, Sullivan will face the challenge of balancing the university’s Jesuit, Catholic traditions with the increasing complexity of leading a nationally ranked higher education institution and sustaining enrollment as the cost of education is skyrocketing.

She was president of the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic university, for nine years, where she established new health and nursing schools, raised more than $100 million in new scholarships and completed the university’s historic transition from Division-III to D-I athletics.

Sullivan also was the first layperson and first woman president of St. Thomas.

“I am deeply honored to have been selected as the next president of Santa Clara University, a true national leader in higher education,” said Sullivan. “Throughout my career I have been witness to the transformation that happens when you develop not only knowledgeable, but faithful, compassionate citizens of the world.

“At Santa Clara University, I have found a home rich in history and primed for the future, with its robust social consciousness distinctively driving tomorrow’s innovations,” she said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to getting to know the Bronco family–students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni alike–and to engaging with full heart, mind, and spirit in the work ahead.”

In a press release, the university said today’s announcement followed a national search that included 149 nominations and 58 applications from individuals representing a broad range of backgrounds, institutions, and fields. Including both Jesuit and lay candidates. “The diverse applicant pool created a new opportunity for Santa Clara University to recruit highly experienced candidates with strong leadership credentials and deep operational, financial, and academic acumen, “ according to the release.

“We welcome Dr. Sullivan to Santa Clara University with tremendous excitement and anticipation,” said Matthew Carnes, S.J., vice chair of the Santa Clara Board of Trustees and chair of the presidential search committee. “Her thoughtful and engaging leadership style, insightful decision making, proven business skills, and ability to create a culture of mutual trust, respect, and inclusion will be instrumental in driving Santa Clara University forward.”

In June 2021, Santa Clara’s board of trustees updated the University’s bylaws to remove the requirement that its president must be a Jesuit priest. The search committee comprised 13 individuals representing faculty, staff, alumni, the board of trustees and Jesuit priests.

Prior to joining the University of St. Thomas, Dr. Sullivan was executive vice president and provost of the University of San Diego, a private Catholic university, and was recently elected board chair of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

Sullivan is married to Robert Sullivan, and the couple has five children and nine grandchildren.



Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.


  1. The Catholic Church needs a rebirth

    There are plenty of these lesbians’ running universities, fine, but they don’t need to be running Catholic ones.

  2. Not him,

    Not that there would be anything wrong witha lesbian in charge but this woman is married to a man. Read the last sentence of the article, thanks.

  3. married means nothing

    let her run SJSU or Berkeley or Santa Clara or Stanford or USC

    whatever sexual orientation, lesbian or otherwise; whatever gender; whatever denomination

    but Catholic is about doing things the same way, it’s not about modernity, more an antidote for it.

    The Catholic Church pulled Western Civilization out of free fall, conquered the Romans, the Goths, the Greeks, the Germans, the Celts, the Inca, the Mayan, and the Aztecs

    It’s a system and a way of life that unapologetically prioritizes the family, labor, and community through traditions, and Catholic Institutions, universities, schools, monasteries, orphanages, etc. that did that conquering did it the same way for centuries

    let modern institutions be places of modernity, and leave the Catholic Institutions to their old traditional ways

    frankly with the absolute deterioration and destruction of society that you and your ilk have perpetrated on your inherited outrageous fortune given to you by the Catholic Church, I would think you would want to have them around as a hedge to your experiment, but your hubris blinds you.

    Once your dear leader Hillary and her hand puppets Biden/Harris gets you in a nuclear war, it’ll be the Catholic Church, likely in concert with Islam, that rebuilds society, just like last time

  4. Again she’s not a lesbian not that it would be a problem.

    Note that the Jesuits are highly educated and support the big bang theory, the fact that man evolved from lower forms of life, and the fact that the universe and the earth are billions of years old. The pope also knows the pandemic is real and urges people to get vaccinated and boosted.

    Check out the book Brother Astronomer by Brother Guy Consolmagno, the Jesuit Brother who runs the Vatican observatory. They do secular science there in cosmology planetary science and other things. Brother Consolmagno has a BS in Planetary Science (study if planets and asteroids and exoplanets) from MIT and a PhD in the same subject from the University of Arizona.

  5. It was a mistake for the Jesuits to update the University’s bylaws to remove the requirement that its president must be a Jesuit priest. I don’t think they fully comprehend what they just did.

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