A longtime Drew economics professor has returned to the Forest in a new leading role.
By Mary Jo Patterson
Vivian A. Bull has spent a good part of her life in faraway places. But her heart was never far from Drew, where she first arrived as a faculty wife, then became a professor of economics and later an associate dean. After more than three decades at Drew, she left to become president of Linfield College. Now Bull is back at Drew as president for the interim term, while the university board of trustees searches for a permanent successor to former President Robert Weisbuch.
She relishes both the homecoming and the challenge. “At this particular time of my life, this is a calling, and I am delighted to be of help,” she said in an interview soon after her official duties began July 1. “You know, there’s something about Drew. It has a way of becoming part of the people associated with it.”
She would know. Her husband, Robert, a professor emeritus of church history and an archaeologist, taught at the Theological School for 37 years. One of their two sons, Camper, is a 1991 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts and president of its alumni association. The Bulls did not give up their home in Madison when President Bull went off to Linfield, an American Baptist–related school in McMinnville, Ore. While she was at Linfield, from 1992 to 2005, she says, “Bob commuted back and forth as his research materials were all at Drew.”
Yet her roots lie elsewhere. Bull grew up amid the rural beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. By high school she hoped to enter the ministry, but the Methodist church was not yet ordaining women. Instead, she graduated from Albion College, where she was the first student to be awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, and studied international economics at the London School of Economics. “I was sort of completely over my head, in some ways,” she says. “It was a marvelously demanding experience.”
Afterwards Bull traveled for months across North Africa and Europe. In a garden in Jerusalem, she met her future husband. When the Bulls later moved to New Jersey, she worked at Bell Labs, then a hotbed of invention for AT&T, and accepted a part-time job teaching accounting at Drew. The university eventually offered her a full-time position on the condition she get a Ph.D. She earned the degree at New York University, publishing a dissertation that examined the economics of the West Bank after the 1967 Israeli occupation.
Since retiring from Linfield, Bull has worked and traveled internationally on behalf of the Global Education Fund of the United Methodist Church. In May, after Weisbuch resigned, Drew’s trustees came calling. She hesitated, but not for long. An old friend who emailed her congratulations joked, “Good grief, you’ve failed retirement for the third time.”
The physical transition was easy—Bull lives just six blocks from her new office in Mead Hall—but she expects the coming months to be demanding. “There are some things that need to be done to make Drew as attractive as possible to the kind of president it deserves,” she says. “There are a number of positions we’ll be looking to fill, and we’ll be making sure that finances are in order—all the kind of things you do nonstop in higher education.”