The process of deciding how to leave a legacy can take months, even years, of soul-searching. But for Michael O’Sullivan, Ph.D., the decision to commit a $3 million bequest to Loyola Marymount University was straightforward. As a former clinical psychologist and an integral member of LMU’s Department of Psychological Science for more than 30 years, O’Sullivan has built a career of studying the nuances of understanding and behavior. He knows himself – and the human brain – better than most.
“I’m a great believer in the Socratic principle, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living,’” explained O’Sullivan, during one of his regular visits back to the LMU campus in Los Angeles. “That’s the gift of a transformative education: the capacity to question, to be constantly curious over the course of a lifetime. Just walking from Sacred Heart Chapel along the bluff on campus, I might hear five or more different languages being spoken – there’s so much we can learn from each other, so much that might spark and carry our attention.”
As a former vice provost for academic affairs, chair of the Department of Psychological Science, and interim dean of the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts (BCLA), O’Sullivan has carefully observed the evolution of LMU from the 1980s to the present. Through his bequest, he hopes to further advance opportunities available to faculty and students, with a focus on research quality and diverse representation on campus. With these goals in mind, $1 million of O’Sullivan’s gift will be directed toward University-wide scholarships for Native American and Indigenous students, and another $2 million will support faculty and student research within the Department of Psychological Science and BCLA as a whole.
“Michael O’Sullivan’s gift to LMU and BCLA is a profound reflection of his personal values,” said Robbin D. Crabtree, dean of LMU’s Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts. “Throughout his academic career, Mike demonstrated an exceptional commitment to faculty-student collaboration and meaningful mentoring relationships. He knows that supporting undergraduate students’ independent inquiry will create stronger psychologists and researchers in the long term. I am also moved and impressed by the ways that this gift will pay tribute to the Gabrielino-Tongva peoples, the original caretakers of the land upon which LMU is built, by establishing authentic connections to Native and Indigenous peoples through the recruitment and support of students from those communities.”
The allocation of the gift maps onto O’Sullivan’s own life story. Before joining LMU as an assistant professor in 1985, he had trained as a Jesuit and was serving Native American populations as a clinical psychologist. That mutual commitment to academia and social justice guided him toward a career in higher education, and his dedication to the care of the whole person motivated him to take on roles of increasing responsibility. As department chair, O’Sullivan paved the way for exponential growth in the psychology major, hiring many new faculty members and boldly raising awareness of the costs involved in publishing and presenting world-class research. He continued to be a staunch advocate for faculty and students as a member of the provost’s team, emphasizing high-impact teaching practices such as faculty-student research.
Those experiences as an impassioned professor and a stalwart administrator gave O’Sullivan an insider’s perspective on what it really takes for a university to thrive. Crabtree credits O‘Sullivan with encouraging her to apply to her current role as dean of BCLA; both share a vision for a rigorous liberal arts education in the Jesuit and Marymount traditions. “Mike has a deep familiarity with the nuts and bolts of university infrastructure – all the hidden costs and behind-the-scenes commitments that allow us to achieve our goals,” she said. “His planned gift is a moving example of what faculty legacy giving can do, and we’re grateful beyond measure for his philanthropic spirit.”
As O’Sullivan has recognized through his many years of teaching, that spirit of giving isn’t unique to philanthropists. It’s an instinct that is central to Ignatian pedagogy, a grounding in the shared responsibility to serve the common good. “I’ve seen so many of my students go out into the world to do wonderful things, fueled by that drive toward global solidarity. By taking the form of an endowment, this bequest is intended to keep giving long after I’m gone – and by investing in our faculty and students, that magnifying effect will continue to increase far beyond what I can predict or imagine. For me, that’s one of the greatest benefits of a Jesuit education – not only to expand the limits of our understanding, but to continually work to achieve what we don’t yet know is possible.”
By Matilda Bathurst, Senior Writer & Editor for Advancement Communications, Loyola Marymount University