Dr. Julie Sullivan, executive vice president and provost of the University of San Diego, will become the first woman and the first lay person to serve as president of the University of St. Thomas in its 128-year history.

The St. Thomas Board of Trustees unanimously elected Sullivan, 55, to succeed Father Dennis Dease, who will retire June 30 after 22 years as the 14th president of Minnesota’s largest private college or university.

With a Ph.D. in business administration, Sullivan has a strong background in business education that she will bring to St. Thomas. John M. Morrison, a trustee who served as chair of the search committee, said Sullivan’s extensive background as a professor and administrator has prepared her well for the St. Thomas presidency.

“Julie is tailor-made for the position,” said Morrison, a banker and founder of the Morrison Center for Entrepreneurship at the university’s Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. “She has the academic experience, business acumen and personal qualities we need in our next president, and her Roman Catholic faith is central to her life. St. Thomas, which is similar in many respects to that of the University of San Diego, will thrive under her leadership.”

While an undergraduate at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Sullivan thought she would become a public accountant. After a six-month internship with what then was Ernst and Whinney, she concluded that she preferred tax accounting over auditing. She needed a master’s degree to work directly in tax accounting, so she continued her studies at the University of Florida.

“I had a teaching assistantship during my master’s program and discovered I loved to teach,” she said. “Thus, I decided to remain at Florida and pursue a Ph.D. in business administration.”

She began her academic career in 1983 at the University of Oklahoma, and four years later moved to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, to be a visiting professor for one year. She was hired as a tenure-track faculty member at the end of that year.

During her 16 years at North Carolina, Sullivan became an Ernst and Young Distinguished Professor and served as co-director of the Center for Innovation and Learning, director of the Center for International Business Education and Research, associate dean of the master’s of accounting program and senior associate dean of the Kenan-Flagler Business School.

She was interim dean of Kenan-Flagler in 2003, leading a $180 million capital campaign, when she moved to California and became a full professor in the Rady School of Management at the University of California-San Diego.

Sullivan was named executive vice president and provost of the University of San Diego in 2005. Today, she is responsible for all degree and nondegree educational programs, information technology services, admissions, financial aid and career services. She also oversees the chief financial officer and has responsibility for the operating budget.

One achievement of which she is particularly proud is the 2011 designation of San Diego as a “Changemaker Campus” by Ashoka, an Arlington, Va.-based organization that supports successful social entrepreneurs around the globe.

Sullivan believes St. Thomas, too, can become a “changemaker” campus – if not by designation by Ashoka, then certainly by day-to-day practice.

“St. Thomas is an outstanding university which enjoys a wonderful history and legacy that is firmly rooted in its commitment to Catholic values and the liberal arts while looking forward with an entrepreneurial spirit,” Sullivan said. “It is poised to do even more – to expand its influence and its visibility.”

Dease also applauded the choice of Sullivan and promised a smooth transition over the next few months. He will become president-emeritus following his retirement and will work with Sullivan and the board on special projects.

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