Seattle University: A History of Excellencephoto caption: students pose during a mathematics lesson.You are viewing the Text-Only version, launch the Flash site
1975-1991: A New Beginning

In 1976, president William Sullivan, SJ, began a 20-year tenure that would see SU grow into one of America’s top regional colleges. Early bumps in the road gave way to a growing scholarly reputation and a successful drive to build a solid financial endowment.

If Father Gaffney had taken the ship back from the brink, it was a vigorous young administrator, William Sullivan, SJ, who would steer it to shore. Three years after he arrived, the university would welcome a visit from the Dalai Lama, and in 1986, Sullivan would be named chairman of the organizing committee for the Goodwill Games.

What had happened to change the university’s fortune so drastically? Among other things, Sullivan took a long term view of solving SU’s financial problems. He instituted a corporate management structure and cancelled many beloved programs, including The Aegis yearbook and the Chieftains’ NCAA Division I status. His style rankled some, but the trustees stood behind him through a number of difficult yet crucial decisions.

Most importantly, Sullivan launched SU’s first comprehensive funds campaign, which would provide the foundation for its endowment. Headed by trustee Jim Pigott, a member of the family with a long tradition of support for the university, the capital campaign was a stirring success. SU was able to build some new buildings and remodel others, including the venerable Garrand Building.

At the same time, the university pressed ahead with its innovative Mateo Ricci College program, which had been championed by Sullivan’s predecessor, Fr. Edmund Ryan, SJ. Combining prep school and college into a single six-year program, it would prove to be a long term success for the university.

Father Sullivan: 20 years of service

Father William J. Sullivan, SU’s longest standing president, once compared running a university to skippering a big racing sailboat. You pick the crew, you outfit the ship, and you plan the course. “But,” he added, “nothing stays the same at sea.”

Sullivan came to SU almost by accident. He had been selected as provost by Father Edmund J. Ryan, SJ, who served one year after the departure of Father Gaffney. When Ryan fell ill, Sullivan took up what must have been an undesirable job. In spite of five years of improvement under Gaffney, the school was still awash in red ink.

Rather than seeking quick-fix solutions, Sullivan instituted changes at every level of administration. His management style is most often described as corporate; he ran the university with vice-presidents, lay trustees, and large-scaled fund raising programs. Early on, this alienated some, but the trustees stood by him, and his policies eventually pulled the university out of its crisis and on to unequaled progress.

As SU’s profile rose, so did Sullivan’s. Through the years, he volunteered for a wide variety of posts, including the United Way and Target Seattle. His greatest personal challenge came when he chaired the organizing committee for the 1990 Goodwill Games.

Under Sullivan’s tenure, the university would add such landmarks as the Bannan and Casey Buildings, the Quadrangle and fountain. And in a moment of personal triumph, in 1993, he announced the acquisition of the University of Puget Sound’s law school.

After 20 years at the helm, Father Sullivan retired in 1996. Fittingly, the building that houses the university’s School of Law now bears his name.

Launch of Matteo Ricci College

In May, 1973, Father Gaffney authorized planning for a radical new program that condensed college and high school into a six-year curriculum. The idea had first been championed by Father McGoldrick as early as the early ’40s.

Planning was launched with much fanfare and lofty words, but its execution fell to Father LeRoux. The college would educate “Form I” students for three years at Seattle Prep, and then “Form II” students for another three at Seattle University.

The first students began in 1975 and would come to Seattle University in 1978. The program remains a vital part of campus life today.

Dalai Lama on campus

As a sign of the university’s growing prestige, SU hosted a memorable visit from the Dalai Lama in October, 1979. The university bestowed an honorary degree on the exiled leader, while he, in turn, blessed a scarf for Pope Paul II. Father Sullivan delivered the scarf into the pontiff’s hands a few days later in Washington, DC.

Father LeRoux: university ambassador

A long standing faculty member, Father William LeRoux, SJ came to SU in 1958. He served until 1982 as a faculty member, professor of theology, and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Since then, he has served as an assistant to the Vice President for University Advancement, where he has helped raised millions of dollars while remaining a much beloved ambassador to alumni and friends.

Life on campus

A 1982 survey revealed Seattle University to have a highly diverse student body. 60% of its students were 23 years of age and older, with women making up the majority of enrollment. Meanwhile, minority enrollment was shown to be the second-highest of any institution in the Northwest—a far cry from the stormy days of May 1970.