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SCU Names First Female President

Santa Clara University (SCU) made school history on March 1 when it announced that the University’s 30th president would become the school’s first ever female president.

Dr. Julie Sullivan was introduced to SCU students, staff and alumni by SCU Board of Trustees Chair Larry Sonsini.

“We wanted leadership because a higher education university needs leadership and she has that,” said Sonsini. “Her tenure for almost 9 years at the University of St. Thomas has been outstanding.”


Not only is Dr. Sullivan the first female president of the University but she is also the result of the first nationwide search by SCU. This was the first time the University opened the search to all applicants regardless of whether they were Jesuit.

The 13 member search committee met nearly a dozen times during the summer to work out a profile for the ideal university president and reached out to more than 4,500 individuals for input. 58 people applied for the job and ultimately, Dr. Sullivan was selected by a unanimous vote.

“Right from the first conversation, it is no surprise to say that Dr. Sullivan rose to the top,” said Matthew Carnes, the Chair of the Presidential Search Committee. “In fact, I remember in her first meeting with all of the search committee, as she finished an hour of our questions and she signed off, we all looked at each other. There was this silence and then this ‘wow’ that came out of the group.

“We saw in Dr. Sullivan her deep experience as a student-centered educator. One that places students and their well-being and their growth at the center of every decision,” said Carnes.

Carnes told the crowd that in Dr. Sullivan, the University will find a person with “unbridled optimism,” a “passion for innovation,” and “integrity.”

Dr. Sullivan comes to SCU after nine years as the President of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. She was also the first female president of that university.

Dr. Sullivan’s background is in finance and accounting. She served as the Senior Associate Dean and Ernst and Young Professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan Flagler Business School and a professor at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management.

In talking to the crowd, Dr. Sullivan said she was impressed by the extensive work SCU did to find a new leader.

“You are all, to a person, so committed to this search,” said Dr. Sullivan. “I admired your concerted and extensive efforts to successfully hire the person that you believed would be the next best leader at this time in Santa Clara’s rich history. I also so appreciate the historic moment of becoming the first layperson or first woman to lead Santa Clara.”

The search for a new president started when Father Kevin O’Brien resigned in May 2021. During the search, Lisa Kloppenberg was put in place as interim president of the University. Kloppenberg received a standing ovation and many thanks during Dr. Sullivan’s introduction to the university community.

“I want to give special thanks to Lisa Kloppenberg,” said Sonsini. “She stepped in as interim president during a challenging time. A very challenging time for all universities across America. She adhered to our mission. She did it with passion and judgment and sensitivity and humanity. Lisa, thank you so much, we owe you deeply.”


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