Last weekend I attended my 30th reunion at the University of Virginia, and had a chance to chat with the current president, Teresa A. Sullivan. I had met her a few years before, at an alumni event in Singapore, and was very impressed by her candor and her grasp of issues, both the obvious big picture and the subtle bits.
Over the 8 years of her tenure she has shown the vision necessary to take America’s top public university forward as she addressed everything from the changing nature of education to the restoration of key historical buildings at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along the way, The University (yes, it’s capitalized) has faced some significant, and unexpected, challenges, many coming from sources outside the school. She has handled those events with the calm demeanor and the forthright action that are essential for an effective leader. With the benefit of hindsight we can always debate whether this option or that was the better one, but there is no denying that when a decision was needed, she had the guts to make it and move forward. Not everyone does.
As she prepares to leave this role and return to research and teaching, it’s worth highlighting her work as a great example of leadership. There are plenty of case studies that can be written about her experiences, and I hope other university presidents, and other leaders in every field, will take the chance to learn more about what she has done and what they can learn from her. The University of Virginia is a better place as a result of her leadership.