UVA President Teresa Sullivan grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas until the age of 13, when her family moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where she went on to become valedictorian at St. Joseph’s High School, the first high school in the state to integrate, in 1967.
“We were all touched by those times. They were what led me to become a sociologist,” Sullivan told UVA Today just after she was hired.
She attended Michigan State University, where she graduated with high honor from the honors college. After her graduation, then-president Clifton R. Wharton Jr., the first African-American president of a public research university, asked Sullivan to stay to be an intern in his office. Wharton became her mentor, and at the end of the internship, he told her, “If you want to do anything in higher education, you’ll need a Ph.D.”
Sullivan took his advice and got her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, one of his alma maters, focusing on demography and the sociology of education.
She joined the University of Texas as a sociology instructor in 1975, where her early work focused on discrimination in the labor force and the economic pressures impacting the lives of Mexican immigrants. Sullivan worked her way through the ranks of assistant, associate, and full professor, and in 1990, she became chair of the sociology department.
A prolific writer, she is the author or co-author of six books and more than 80 scholarly articles and chapters. Sullivan’s research is now centered on labor force demography with emphasis on economic marginality and consumer debt. She has served as chair of the U.S. Census Advisory Committee and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In 1994, Sullivan became vice provost and a year later was named vice president and dean of graduate studies at the University of Texas. She was named executive vice chancellor for academic affairs for the university’s system in 2002, a role in which she served as the chief academic officer for nine academic campuses, with the president of each campus reporting to her.
Sullivan joined the University of Michigan in 2006, where she served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. As the university’s chief budget officer, Sullivan oversaw $1.5 billion of Michigan’s $5.4 billion annual budget, supervised the deans of 19 schools and colleges, and served on the board of the health system.
Sullivan became the University of Virginia’s eighth president on August 1, 2010 succeeding John Casteen III, who held the position for two decades.
Sullivan is married to Douglas Laycock, a faculty member at the UVA School of Law. The couple met at Michigan State when Laycock was president of the debate team that Sullivan wanted to join. They have two sons. Joseph, 29, is a well-known “vampire scholar” who holds degrees from Hampshire College and Harvard Divinity School and is working on his Ph.D. at Boston University. John, 22, is a graduate of the University of Chicago.