always thought he looked like Albert Einstein would
have looked with his hair combed, wearing a $1,200
suit. Sure, he
had carriage Sure,
he was dapper. You
could slice cheese with the crease in his breast
pocket handkerchief. But
Tim Sullivan was always about more than looks and
brains. He was
about passion and courage and conviction.
And he was about judgment, in large things
and little ones.
came to William and Mary as a student, graduating in
1966. After a
law degree from Harvard and a stint in the Army, he
joined the law school faculty in 1972, became its
dean in 1985, and was named W&M president in
1992. When he
steps down at the end of June, all of
will be the poorer for his leaving.
no mistake, Sullivan looked after the home front, as
all good college presidents do, but he went beyond
that. He moved
this sleepy, academic village onto a higher plane. Research funding doubled during his tenure.
The endowment nearly tripled. Admissions applications are up 40 percent,
and the quality of them is way up, too. William and Mary is consistently named one of
the best small colleges in
by the national surveys. These are the things most college
administrators aspire to, the scores most of them
keep among themselves.
that’s not what separated Sullivan. And it wasn’t his sustained, state-wide
reach as a passionate, demanding, fearless,
unrelenting advocate for higher education in
though his credentials in the “Big Education”
arena were second to none.
served as chairman of the
Council of Presidents of Virginia Colleges and
Universities, counsel to the Commission on the
Future of the Virginia Judicial System, chairman of
the Association of Governing Boards Council of
Presidents, and on and on and on.
But a lot of major college presidents get gigs like this.
Raising money and serving on important
commissions come with the territory now.
last week, I thought Sullivan’s finest hour came
during Jim Gilmore’s administration when some
effort was made to relegate the role of college
presidents and trustee members to lip-synching
“foot soldiers” for a particular point of view.
He had but one agenda—education—and was
relentless and unflinching in his advocacy.
Then last week, in the waning days of his presidency at William and
Mary, he showed us again the thing that separates
intervened on behalf of two of the college’s
custodial employees who had been disciplined for
speaking to members of the press in the days
following two student suicides at the school. One employee had been dismissed, and the
other had been put on probation.
It is easy to imagine how something like this could happen in this
day of control and spin and image that is so often
confused with substance. It happens all the time. It is even easier to imagine how the plight
of two custodial workers could escape the notice of
a university president. But not in Williamsburg.
Sullivan’s reaction was straightforward, and
"The disciplinary actions related to talking to the
press have been rescinded with our sincere
apology," his e-mailed statement read.
"The college does not discipline
employees for speaking to the public or the press on
matters of public interest or concern."
Nichol will succeed Sullivan as the president of the
and Mary on July 1. He is the dean of the law school
at the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and an accomplished fellow in his own right. One
can only wish upon him Tim Sullivan’s elegant and
exquisite judgment as he takes up his new post in Williamsburg.
May 23, 2005