Trustees dinner honoring Drew University President Vivian Bull in Crawford Hall, Thursday, May 8, 2014.
Carlson Bull unveiling the portrait of his mother accompanied by his daughters. The portrait will stay in Mead Hall after Vivian Bull retires.

Years ago, when then–Associate Dean Vivian A. Bull was heading out for a summer archaeological dig, she asked Professor Jim O’Kane to take over running Drew’s summer school program. He says he remembers worrying about whether he could get all of the administrative tasks done once she left.

O’Kane, now retired, says he worried for nothing.

“She had done so much preparation and planning, I had very little to do,” he said. “It ran rather smoothly.”

It’s that ability to lead, organize and pay attention to detail that Drew President Bull has shown in her two-year term, friends and colleagues say. When Drew needed someone in 2012 to put its fiscal house in order before seeking a full-term president, it turned to Bull, who had spent 32 years at the university as an economics professor and dean and another 13 years as president at Linfield College in Oregon.

“She came back and put all her energy into it with her usual calm and level head,” said O’Kane, who has known Bull for more than 30 years. “The Drew we have now is a credit to her. She put her intellect to it and kept Drew afloat.”

Bull is set to retire in July. Her successor, MaryAnn Baenninger, president of Saint Benedict’s College in Minnesota, will begin at Drew July 21.

Under Bull’s watch, a new governance model was put in place for Drew’s endowment and renovations began on the Hall of Sciences. She stood strong when both the dean of the college and Theo School, as well as the provost of the university, resigned, followed by the unexpected death of the interim dean of the college.

More recently, she assisted in the search for a new president and dean of the Theo School, signed an agreement with an outside partner to expand Drew’s global learning environment and oversaw a sweeping review of the university’s programs and administrative functions.

Given her limitless energy, it’s hard to believe she is 79 years old. CLA Dean Chris Taylor points to Bull’s trademark sneakers, which she wears when she has to cross campus quickly to get to a meeting. “She almost always beats me,” he says.

“The board of trustees and the entire campus community has benefitted from Vivian’s hard work, business acumen and tireless commitment to Drew,” says Chair Dean T. Criares ’85. “She has steered us through some rough times and strengthened our foundation so we can move forward into a future filled with possibility.”

A former student of Bull’s, Criares added it had been “an honor” to work with her. “I will miss her both personally and professionally,” he says.

In the last year, Bull weathered the death of her beloved husband, Robert J. Bull, Drew professor of church history and archaeology emeritus. Bull endowed a prize at Drew and donated his personal teaching collection to the Theological School. She said she plans to continue her work with the Global Education Fund of the United Methodist Church. Just one day after commencement, she traveled to Japan to speak on behalf of the fund about social responsibility and business ethics.

Though Bull has turned down two offers to lead other colleges, her son Carlson has his own ideas: “I would be very surprised [if] she wouldn’t find another institution to whip into shape.”—Elizabeth Moore