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SCU President Sullivan Inauguration

Santa Clara University celebrated the historic inauguration of Julie H. Sullivan, Ph.D. on Oct. 7. President Sullivan is the first woman and the first layperson to lead the university in its 171-year history.

The historic, joyful, and community-wide event drew more than 2,000 guests, including students, faculty, staff, alumni, as well as leaders from businesses, faith institutions, elected offices, universities, and Ohlone and Muwekma Ohlone tribes—on whose ancestral land Santa Clara University sits.

The two-hour ceremony was commemorated by tradition and significance, starting with the vibrant inaugural procession. During the ceremony, a tradition which dates to the 1960s, but includes customs from decades prior, Larry Sonsini, chair of the board of trustees of Santa Clara University, officially invested Sullivan with the Office of the President. This moment was signified by the laying of the President’s chain, featuring a large medallion containing the university seal as well as symbols reminiscent of the university’s Jesuit traditions.


President Sullivan also was officially missioned into her role by Sean Carroll, S.J., M.Div. ’99, provincial of the USA West Province of the Society of Jesus. By accepting, Sullivan committed to leading the university according to the mission of the Society of Jesus. During his comments, Carroll reminded the community that “Santa Clara joins in the broader task of expanding human knowledge, deepening human understanding, exploring human faiths, and serving those in great need.”

Among those sharing welcoming remarks at the event were alumnus and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ’60, J.D. ’63, alumna and former Secretary of Homeland Security and President Emerita of the University of California, Janet Napolitano ’79, and San Jose Diocese Bishop Oscar Cantú. Lisa Gillmor, the mayor of Santa Clara, also spoke to welcome Sullivan to the role.

A Vision for Excellence

In her inaugural address, Sullivan shared the many strengths of Santa Clara University on which she hopes to build, such as its rigorous standard of academic excellence, commitment to inclusive excellence, high graduation rates of its low-income and first-generation students, and a drive to seek truth and social justice.

“Because ‘the world is our home’ as the first Jesuits said, every culture that dwells in it is our sister,” Sullivan noted in her remarks.  “I see a future for Santa Clara where we are more inclusive and welcoming, and where we continue to increase and enhance our racial, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity to better reflect the world in which we live,” she added.

She noted that universities are increasingly evaluated by how well they help students move up from one socioeconomic reality to another, and that Santa Clara must build upon its excellent record of supporting lower-income and first-generation students. “I believe it is imperative that we embrace our responsibility as a Jesuit Catholic university to make a greater contribution to social mobility in our society.”

She also shared how she views leadership as both boldly forward-thinking and grounded in tested values.  “St. Ignatius himself described strong leaders as ‘contemplatives in action,’—leaders who are eager to move forward and face the world’s most vexing problems, while retaining a grounding in their faith and values, and calling of God.”

A History of Firsts

President Sullivan is the first woman and first layperson (non-clergy) to lead Santa Clara University in its 171-year history. Prior to assuming office on July 1, she was president at University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she also was the first woman and first layperson to serve as president. Before that she was executive vice president and provost at University of San Diego, a private Roman Catholic university.

With 17 years of leadership experience in Catholic higher education, Sullivan is a champion for the tenets of Catholic social teaching, including creating opportunities and economic inclusion through education; dismantling racism and building belonging; and promoting environmental sustainability.

Her nearly decade-long tenure at St. Thomas is recognized as a time of significant growth, expansion, and transformation. Among many advancements, the physical footprint of St. Thomas’s campus grew significantly, its academic offerings expanded to include new colleges of health and nursing, and its athletic achievements vaulted St. Thomas from a Division III to a Division I institution. Under her leadership, St. Thomas also created innovative academic programs and expanded opportunities for students, such as the Dougherty Family College, a two-year program for students facing barriers to earning four-year degrees.

Raised in Florida, Sullivan is a first-generation college student who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting, a master’s in taxation, and a doctorate in business from the University of Florida. She and her husband Bob, who was the founding dean of the Rady School of Management at the University of California San Diego, have five children and nine grandchildren.

She has served on the boards of Loyola University Chicago; Catholic Charities of Saint Paul and Minneapolis; and the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Sullivan also has served as board and audit-committee member of TCF Bank, PICO Holdings, and AppliedMicro.

A Time of Growth, Opportunity and Promise

President Sullivan takes the helm of the Jesuit, Catholic university at a time of tremendous growth, opportunity, and promise.

“At Santa Clara, we uphold an uncompromising standard of academic excellence in our teaching, learning, creativity, and scholarship,” she said in her inaugural remarks. “And a Santa Clara education has always been characterized by exceptional rigor and relevance.”

Founded in 1851 by the Society of Jesus, a Catholic Order of priests, Santa Clara University attracts more than 16,000 undergraduate applicants annually for an education that is both rigorous and relevant, and which produces students who devote their talents to create a more just, humane, and sustainable world.

Santa Clara’s most-recent first-year undergraduate class is the largest on record at 1,650 students. Eleven percent of incoming undergraduates qualify for federal Pell grants and 15% were the first in their families to attend a four-year university. Santa Clara’s increasingly diverse student body is 38% White, 30% Asian, 18% Hispanic, 8% two or more races, and 3% Black.

Supporters, alumni, and donors have rallied around Santa Clara’s students and faculty to create a richly rewarding educational experience. More than $850 million in donations in recent years have enabled advancements such as the new 270,000 square-foot Sobrato Campus for Discovery and Innovation; the Stephen C. and Patricia A. Schott Athletic Excellence Center; and scholarship and other funds to increase the racial, socioeconomic, and ethnic diversity of the student body.

“President Sullivan is a strong and visionary leader who has the experience and compassion to steer Santa Clara University forward at this pivotal time in its history,” said Sonsini. “She knows the tremendous power of a Jesuit, Catholic education, and has the skills and wisdom to help our students thrive as they learn how their gifts will better our world.”

Inaugural Celebrations

Friday’s inauguration ceremony was preceded the evening before by a livestreamed inaugural Mass, and a campus-wide “Bronco Boardwalk” celebration the evening of Oct. 5. The inauguration was livestreamed to a global audience of students, families, alumni, and friends.


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