President Julie Sullivan and Father Chris Collins.
Liam James Doyle/University of St. Thomas

University of St. Thomas Announces Leadership Change

Julie Sullivan selected to lead Santa Clara University, Rob Vischer named interim president

After nine years, Dr. Julie Sullivan has announced she will step down as president of the University of St. Thomas at the end of the 2021-22 academic year. Sullivan has been selected to become Santa Clara University’s next president beginning July 1. The St. Thomas Board of Trustees has appointed Rob Vischer, current dean of the St. Thomas School of Law, to serve as interim president beginning June 1; a national presidential search will soon commence.

“Julie Sullivan has been a beloved and inspirational leader, and we are grateful for her incredible contributions to St. Thomas,” said Pat Ryan, chair of St. Thomas’ Board of Trustees. “She succeeded in elevating St. Thomas, building a team of strong leaders, and implementing several transformational priorities during her tenure.”

In recent years, Sullivan and her leadership team launched the Dougherty Family College, founded the Morrison Family College of Health and oversaw the university’s historic transition from Division III to D-I athletics. Under Sullivan’s direction, St. Thomas raised nearly $300 million in philanthropy, including $100 million for scholarships, made the university one of the nation’s most veteran-friendly campuses, elevated students’ mental health needs by opening the Center for Well-Being, created a robust residency culture, continued a physical transformation with new facilities and renovations, and placed diversity, equity and inclusion squarely in the middle of its mission.

As she did at St. Thomas, Sullivan will again make history when she becomes Santa Clara’s first lay leader, and first woman president. Sullivan will be closer to her husband, Bob, her children, and four grandchildren, all of whom were born during her tenure at St. Thomas.

“While we will miss her leadership, we are happy for her to join Bob and their children and grandchildren in California,” said Ryan. “I am confident that as interim president, Rob Vischer, a trusted and known leader at St. Thomas, will continue the strong momentum that is embedded in our trajectory as a university.”

Vischer will begin his role as interim president on June 1. In his 10th year as dean, Vischer has helped leverage the law school’s mission to achieve critical objectives in student success and community impact. Over the course of his deanship, the law school has dramatically improved employment outcomes for its graduates, built a global student body by establishing partnerships with law schools in more than a dozen countries, redoubled its commitment to whole-person professional formation, maintained its top-25 ranking for scholarly impact, and made racial justice core to its mission. The Harvard Law School graduate was an inaugural recipient of the Minnesota Lawyer Diversity and Inclusion Award for his contributions to the advancement of diversity and inclusion in the practice of law.

“We look forward to working with Rob and the leadership team to implement the strategic priorities of the university, guided by our strong mission and convictions,” said Ryan.

St. Thomas is in its second year of implementing St. Thomas 2025, a comprehensive strategic plan of new and emerging priorities designed to propel the university toward a new level of impact. The plan calls for priorities that help St. Thomas build upon its strengths, invest in unprecedented opportunities and make a bolder impact on its students and the world. As Minnesota’s largest private university with a network of over 120,000 alumni, St. Thomas has a unique advantage as a common good community partner, and a producer of talent known for being principled leaders and creative problem-solvers.

“Leading St. Thomas has been an extraordinary privilege and opportunity,” Sullivan said. “Together with our accomplished and committed trustees, talented faculty and staff, and dedicated students and alumni, we continued St. Thomas’ longstanding trajectory to thrive and grow in new ways.

“The unique combination of leading an outstanding Jesuit, Catholic institution, along with the strong pull of my family, makes this an opportunity that I cannot pass up. I leave confident that the momentum we have collectively built will seamlessly continue with the strong leadership at St. Thomas.”