Two possible presidential semi-finalists that U insiders are talking about

It has been a bear trying to find out who the four semi-finalists are for the presidency of the University of Minnesota.

The secrecy of the names is, at this stage, protected by law. And everyone in the process has been tight-lipped. The earliest names might be announced is late this week during a regular monthly meeting of the Board of Regents.

So I sat down with MPR higher education reporter Tim Post to see who his university sources are naming as the most probable inside choices.

At this point, he says, people keep mentioning two from inside: Provost Tom Sullivan and Steven Rosenstone, vice president for scholarly and cultural affairs.

Before we get to that, a quick word or two on the current debate over the merits of choosing an internal versus external candidate:

An internal candidate would be ready on Day One, they’d know the U’s issues, and know the people involved. On the other hand, an outside candidate could bring new blood, new energy and new ideas to the U. An outsider might also have a “honeymoon” period with the legislature. Some people on campus would also prefer an outside candidate who’s a woman.

With that in mind, here’s a look at two possible internal candidates, why they’re being mentioned, and what they have to say about a candidacy:

Tom Sullivan


MPR / Tim Post


Who he is: Sullivan has been provost and senior vice president for academic affairs since 2004.  He was dean of the U’s law school from 1995 to 2002.  Prior to that he was dean of the University of Arizona College of Law and was an associate dean at Washington University in St. Louis.

Why he’s being talked about: Sources tell Post that Sullivan has definitely shown interest in the U’s top job from the start. As provost, he’s practically at the top of the food chain and has a lot of executive experience. Becoming top dog would be a natural move, and a number of higher-ed institutions are looking to provosts these days as presidential material. He’s intent on moving the U up in the various high-profile university rankings, something that is important to the regents.

What he’s saying about it: Nothing so far. Sullivan told Post he had no comment.

Steven Rosenstone


Who he is: Rosenstone has been the U’s VP for scholarly and cultural affairs since 2007. Before then, he was dean of the U’s College of Liberal Arts from 1996 to 2007. A bio on the U’s website says he was at Yale University from 1979 to 1986, and the University of Michigan from 1986 to 1996.

Why he’s being talked about: Rosenstone has a resume heavy enough to be a good inside contender — though one university official did call him a “long shot.” He has a lot of experience with teaching, and insiders say he’d be an old school “professor’s president” who understands the importance of research — but also the role of the humanities, as well as the importance of building good relationships with faculty and students.

What he’s saying about it: Rosenstone told Post, “It’s not a job I campaigned for.” (That’s far from from a denial.) The only thing Rosenstone would say about the search process is that he has “complete confidence the board will make the right decision,” and that he’s anxious to “welcome the next president” and ensuring “his or her success.”