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.