James F. O'Sullivan
Vice-President (Finance and Administration) Emeritus
Convocation: October 24, 1999
On April 30, 1999, James F. O'Sullivan retired as the University of New Brunswick's vice-president (finance & administration), culminating a distinguished public service career that spanned almost 40 years.
During this period, his contributions to the Government of New Brunswick and the development of higher education in the Atlantic region have been nothing short of extraordinary.
His rich, varied, thoughtful and highly productive career supported the administrations of two New Brunswick premiers, five UNB presidents and countless others who, whether as subordinates, colleagues, or leaders, have been enlightened, assisted and influenced by his tireless and meticulous work.
In government he first served as secretary for the Royal Commission on Higher Education in New Brunswick. This groundbreaking study of higher education set the stage for the rationalized and consolidated development of universities in New Brunswick.
He also served as secretary to Committee on the Financing of Higher Education in New Brunswick and as founding chairperson of the New Brunswick Higher Education Commission.
In 1970, Dr. O'Sullivan became chairperson of the Cabinet Secretariat for the Government of New Brunswick. This is the most senior and most influential civil service position in the provincial government. That he rose to this level at the early age of 35 and so relatively early in his career is a clear indication of his considerable abilities and the level of trust and esteem in which he was held by the Government of New Brunswick. He was the first person to hold this position and so set the standard for its continued importance in the administration of the provincial government.
But it was in 1974, when he was appointed vice-president (finance & administration) at UNB, that Dr. O'Sullivan really came into his own. He was only the second person to hold this position, following in the footsteps of his worthy predecessor and mentor, UNB alumnus Beverley Macaulay.
As vice-president (finance & administration), Jim O'Sullivan provided support, counsel, and leadership for 25 years.
He saw UNB through a time of considerable change including the development and maturing of a second campus in Saint John, the unionization of faculty and support staff, the administration of more than a dozen balanced budgets and the elimination of accumulated debt.
He oversaw the continued expansion of physical facilities on both campuses, the selection and implementation of a new management information system, significant fluctuations in government revenues and student enrolments, and the administration of an accelerated early retirement program for faculty.
He nurtured the substantial growth of our endowment, encouraged the creation of many new programs and the introduction of sophisticated technology, and guided through the increasing complexity of the educational environment.
Especially important are the collegial relations he helped to forge with the university's faculty association, a situation which is the envy of most educational institutions in Canada.
Jim O'Sullivan provided leadership, a strong sense of direction, great stability, thoughtfulness, calm and unfailing commitment to his colleagues and to UNB - his alma mater. UNB's success and growth over the last quarter of the 20th century can be, in large part, attributed to his dedicated involvement.
In his innumerable reports to the senates and the Board of Governors, as well as to external bodies such as the Council of Ministers of Education, Dr. O'Sullivan left a detailed and informative record of his findings, observations and opinions on the state of higher education - at UNB, in New Brunswick, and across Canada. It is a body of work largely unpublished but extremely thoughtful, studied and deeply intellectual - a measure of the man who came to UNB intending to stay six years and made it his life's major work.