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McBee Lecture Series 2012-13


John Thelin, university research professor at the University of Kentucky, presented the 24th annual Louise McBee Lecture on November 1, 2012. The title of his presentation, “Academic Procession: President and Professor from Past to Present,” was an appropriate topic to honor Louise McBee, who was an administrator at UGA for 25 years.

John Thelin discussed the essential and enduring qualities of American higher education from early days to the present. One of the establishing features is the provision that colleges and universities had a strong presidential office in tandem with a strong board of trustees. “We take this arrangement for granted. But it was not inevitable, and it remains a very unique arrangement in higher education worldwide.”

During the “heroic age of university building” (1890-1910), there was a strong dependence between presidents and professors with students causing more problems than faculty for presidents. Low expectations and the lack of serious study were prevalent, even on elite, private college campuses.

Over the last century, the complexity of our universities and the complexities of the presidency have been transformed. Beginning in the 1930s, state universities gained in enrollment, endowments, and prestige, and their presidents played a major role in this development, realizing the importance of good relations between state universities and the legislature and the importance of private philanthropy. Private funds were used to achieve a margin of excellence at the university: “things that truly made a university great but were beyond the state budget,” Thelin added.

Thelin went on to say that “professors need to acknowledge those who have been their champions,” mentioning Robert Maynard Hutchins, Clark Kerr, and Howard Bowen among others. “However, presidents need to listen, respect, and heed the voice of the collective faculty in return.”

Professor Thelin concluded with the present dilemma that the collective voice of the faculty is increasingly in jeopardy because financial constraints dictate a fast, decision-making administration who rely more on specialists in finance than faculty input. He ended with this question, “What will be future faculty’s role in the shared governance of the 21st century university?”



Teresa A. Sullivan was unanimously elected the eighth president of the University of Virginia in 2010. Prior to coming to Virginia, President Sullivan had a distinguished career as a faculty member, a researcher, and a higher-education leader.

A graduate of James Madison College at Michigan State University, President Sullivan received her doctoral degree in sociology from the University of Chicago. Earlier in her career, Dr. Sullivan served on the sociology faculties at the University of Chicago and the University of Texas, and had faculty appointments in the Law School and women’s studies programs at the latter institution as well. At Texas, she began her administrative career, serving in turn as director of women’s studies, chair of the Sociology Department, vice provost, and vice president and graduate dean. In 2002, she moved to the University of Texas System to serve as executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. In that role, she was the chief academic officer for the nine academic campuses within the University of Texas System. In 2006, she moved to the University of Michigan, where she served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs until her appointment at Virginia in 2010.

Dr. Sullivan’s time at the University of Virginia has been extraordinary in several respects. After being pressured by university board members, she resigned from the presidency in June 2012. She was reinstated a few weeks later, following extensive attention in the national media and a remarkable outpouring of support from university faculty, students, and alumni. In the year since the upheaval, the University of Virginia has completed a large capital campaign and President Sullivan is presenting a new strategic plan before the university board in September.

In March 2013, President Sullivan was honored to receive the leadership award of the Women’s Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization. That award honors nationally known and accomplished women from diverse backgrounds and sectors.

The author or co-author of six books and more than 50 scholarly articles, Dr. Sullivan has focused her scholarly research on economic marginality and consumer debt. Her most recent analyses have examined the question of who files for bankruptcy and why. Dr. Sullivan is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has served as chair of the U.S. Census Advisory Committee and as secretary of the American Sociological Association.

In every respect, Dr. Sullivan represents the ideals of the academy and of Dr. Louise McBee. She is a distinguished scholar and leader, and an exemplar of courage and grace under pressure. We are honored that she will deliver the 25th annual Louise McBee Lecture.

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