Former Faculty Member Invests in Diversity and Research with $3 Million Bequest

Michael OSullivan

Michael O’Sullivan, Ph.D.

The process of deciding how to leave a legacy can take months, even years, of soul-searching. However, for Michael O’Sullivan, Ph.D., the decision to commit a $3 million bequest to LMU was straightforward. As a former clinical psychologist and an integral member of the LMU Department of Psychological Science for more than 30 years, O’Sullivan has built a career from 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. “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, 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 the 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 day. Through his bequest he hopes to further advance opportunities available to faculty and students, with a focus on quality of research and diverse representation on campus. With these goals in mind, $2 million of the gift will support faculty and student research within the Department of Psychological Science and BCLA as a whole, with an additional $1 million directed towards university-wide scholarships for Native American and Indigenous students.

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.

Students at the Tongva Memorial

The Tongva Memorial on the bluff, a site of solidarity for the LMU Native American community

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. Robbin Crabtree, Ph.D., 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,” said Crabtree. “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 Jesuit 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 towards global solidarity. By taking the form of an endowment, the 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.”

To learn more about leaving a bequest to LMU, contact LMU Gift Planning at 310.338.7526 or