April 15, 2011 — Laying her left hand on a tattered family Bible dating from the 19th century, Teresa A. Sullivan today took the oath of office and was inaugurated as a 21st-century president of the University of Virginia.
Sullivan, 61, is the eighth person to hold the office. The ceremony, which began with a procession of more than 500 people in academic regalia, was held on the Lawn in glorious spring weather. It fell in the middle of a busy inauguration schedule that began Wednesday with an interfaith observance and will end on Sunday with a community "volksmarch" around the Grounds.
Sullivan's day began with a breakfast at Carr's Hill for family – not only immediate family, an aunt and several cousins, but also academic family from the University of Michigan, where she was provost; University of Texas, where she was a faculty member and administrator for 30 years; the University of Chicago, where she attained her Ph.D. and taught; and Michigan State University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in sociology.
"I first met Terry when she was an assistant professor at the University of Chicago," said Barry Chiswick, a renowned economist and Sullivan collaborator. He added with a smile, "I thought then she was a special person, and the marketplace has confirmed that assessment."
Following lunch at the Aquatic and Fitness Center, the president and her party were whisked to Rotunda to don academic regalia. Sullivan's new robes – blue with orange trim – awaited in the boardroom.
At 3 p.m., the academic procession stepped off from the Rotunda. Among the Board of Visitors members, College at Wise representatives, vice presidents, deans, faculty and students, were delegates of nearly 100 colleges and universities – including many presidents of Virginia schools – and U.Va. faculty members representing scholarly and governmental organizations.
"Marvelous, fantastic, just gorgeous," said Charlie Jessee, a College at Wise board member, sporting that school's crimson-and-gray regalia. "Even the weather is beautiful."
Distinguished guests included Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell; University of California President Mark Yudof, a mentor when Sullivan was at Texas; former U.Va. President Robert M. O'Neil; and Sullivan's former boss at Michigan, President Mary Sue Coleman. Sullivan in her remarks recognized her husband, Douglas Laycock, who teaches in the U.Va. Law School; their sons Joseph and John, and family members who had traveled across the country to attend.
Coleman led a contingent of 10 from the University of Michigan. "We deeply admire Terry, and we miss her," she said in her keynote address.
Congratulating Rector John O. Wynne and the Board of Visitors for their appointment of Sullivan, she added, "My only hesitation in praising your choice is that you deprived the University of Michigan of such an admired and accomplished leader."
Coleman said that Sullivan's appointment at U.Va. extends an already deep relationship between U.Va. and Michigan. "It is a bond that stretches back to a time when our respective institutions were nascent ideas in the minds of two men." Jurist Augustus Woodward, a friend of Jefferson, conceived what was to become the University of Michigan, she explained.
The men were "united in their passion about the necessity of public education in the new republic," she said. "Most significantly, they understood that democracy demanded an educated citizenry."
As president, Jefferson appointed Woodward to be the first chief justice of the Michigan Territory. In gratitude, Woodward named his 500-acre estate Monticello. "But the more lasting product of their friendship was the University of Michigan, and we in Ann Arbor are indebted to the conversations that first took place here in the hills of Charlottesville," she said.
After cataloging the challenges of higher education these days – including shrinking government support and waning public confidence – Coleman asked why anyone would choose to be a college president, and then answered.
"We are gathered today because of a shared belief in the good of higher education and the infinite power of an idea," she said. "This is not the first time we have faced difficult economic times. We can all point to challenging eras of dwindling resources. And yet we persevere because our mission is so profound."
Wynne, as he administered the oath of office, said that the Board of Visitors had identified a long list of criteria for a new president: ability to grasp U.Va.'s past and its principles, experience as a leader and recognition as a scholar, to name just a few.
"We wondered if finding such a person would be attainable," he said. "As many of you now know, Ms. Sullivan possesses all of these values, skills, abilities and experiences."
Continuing Coleman's theme of mission, Sullivan in her inaugural address compared the revolutionary times in which the University was founded to the "knowledge revolution" of today.
"The revolution led by Jefferson and his collaborators was a political and military revolution," she said. "Our revolution is a knowledge revolution playing out in classrooms, laboratories and libraries around the world."
They are worth comparing, she said, "because the stakes were so high then, and the stakes are so high now."
Today's revolution presents technological, economic, political and philosophical challenges – from the death of traditional Virginia industries to the 24-hour news cycle to information devices that disrupt the capacity for serious thought, Sullivan said.
"We are not responding to these challenges as well as we should," she said. "Educational failure in that first revolution would have imperiled our nation then. Educational failure in today's revolution will imperil our nation now."
Among all of America's institutions of higher education, public and private, she added, U.Va. stands out. "This University is particularly well suited to prepare young people to face the challenges of our revolution," she said.
Honor, academic rigor and the Academical Village ideal of learning in intimate settings across Grounds and across disciplines are the hallmarks, she said. "This University's strong curriculum in humanities and the arts prepares students to address the philosophical challenge of the new revolution," she said. "This curriculum must always be central to the University's mission."
Meanwhile, U.Va. must continue to nurture research and discovery in all fields, she said.
In Jefferson's University, students and professors met in first-floor pavilion classrooms, while the professors lived, studied and thought on the second floor, connected with peers in other disciplines by walkways.
Two U.Va. current faculty members, she said, "took that walk on the second story to collaborate." Brett Blackman, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Brian Wamhoff, an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine, developed an instrument for more quickly assessing the response of human blood cells to drugs. Their company, HemoShear, which had the support from the Coulter Foundation-U.Va. Translational Research Partnership, has created 15 jobs in Charlottesville.
"The future vitality of the University is nurtured in these second-story walks," Sullivan said.
Leaders like those educated at U.Va. are desperately needed for the future of the nation, the president said. "We see gridlock in Congress. We see partisan bickering among our elected officials. We see competing interests looking to gain the upper hand, rather than looking for common ground."
As Jefferson said of the University, it's "an institution on which the fortunes of our country may depend."
"And our founding purpose remains our first order of business today," Sullivan said. "We prepare students to safeguard the fortunes of our country and lead it into the future."