Academic Affairs has new leader

Tom Sullivan is the new senior vice president and provost for Academic Affairs.

Molly Moker

With state funding faltering and several top administrators leaving, the University needs someone with a fresh approach to get business done.

Tom Sullivan, new senior vice president and provost for Academic Affairs, said he is ready to make changes at the University.

Sullivan, who is responsible for overseeing all colleges and academic units outside the Academic Health Center on the Twin Cities campus, is in charge of faculty promotion, tenure and academic policy.

In his position since July, the previous Law School dean said many of his priorities are under way.

Changing the University

To get things done, Sullivan is overseeing a newly created committee with a mission to restructure the University.

The strategic planning committee – a group of faculty, administrators and staff that began meeting six weeks ago – is taking a hard look at the University’s quality level and working on a better process for identifying priorities, Sullivan said.

“I want the academic programs to drive the budget, not the budget drive the academic programs,” he said.

Sullivan said the committee will look at the University and see how it compares with other trends in higher education.

The committee will meet through the semester and present a report to the Board of Regents in February.

Although the committee is still in phase one, Sullivan said he is pleased with the group’s direction.

Professor and committee member Marvin Marshak said he hopes the committee’s work will form a broad consensus across campuses about what needs to change at the University.

“We need to be bold about it and say what we’re doing is important,” he said.

In order to make sweeping modifications, Marshak said, the whole University needs to be open to changes.

“This is a process not targeted at any one place,” he said. “If it does (target one place), then I think it fails,” he said.

The “not-in-my-backyard” syndrome that many University departments have needs to stop, he said.

“We have to confront the common opinion that the University has to change, but not my part,” Marshak said. “People have to see that the goal is so important, that even if their yard has to be dug up for a period of time, they have to live with that.”

The current state of the University is not acceptable, Marshak said. He is also chairman of the group’s faculty consultative subcommittee.

“The University will come to a point in a couple years where the money coming in for tuition will be more than money from the state,” he said. “There’s no reason to believe this will change anytime soon.”

Marshak said he sees why the committee’s work is important, although he doesn’t consider it fun.

“I’m not sure I’m excited about the committee, because it’s a little brain-numbing to sit through some of the discussions,” Marshak said. “But the process is very important and has to go carefully.”

Sometimes the group can go on for half an hour debating one word, Marshak said.

“After that, you look around and think, ‘I’m not sure I know more than I did half an hour ago,’ ” he said.

Sullivan’s experience

Marshak said he is confident Sullivan is the right person to spearhead these University-wide changes.

“I think the University needs to go through a major transformation, and Tom is the kind of analytical and thoughtful person who has the qualities to move this along,” Marshak said.

Sullivan’s legal experience is a big help to the committee, Marshak said.

“People on the committee can make mushy comments and Tom is able to take that and come out with something easily understandable, clear and concise,” Marshak said.

University President Bob Bruininks chose Sullivan when previous Provost Christine Maizar resigned this summer.

Before to his stint as dean of the University’s Law School, Sullivan was dean at the University of Arizona College of

Law and associate dean at Washington University in St. Louis. His first teaching position was at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

After graduating magna cum laude from the Indiana University law school in 1973, Sullivan started his law career practicing complex litigation in Washington and New York.

Sullivan said he always wanted to be a teacher and hopes to start teaching again at the University next year.

He has taught for 25 years, including every semester of his 14 years as an administrator, something that is rare, he said.

Sullivan is not teaching this year, but said he wishes he were.

“I love the connection with students – that’s the reason we’re here,” he said.

He said he wants to return to teaching at the Law School after being provost.

He said he has no ambitions of teaching elsewhere, even after last year’s sabbatical at the University of California-Berkeley.

“I am very much committed to the University of Minnesota,” he said.