The state Board of Regents has selected as the next president of the University of Utah a leader with international experience and Utah ties: Michael K. Young, dean of the George Washington University Law School.
"The opportunity to serve in this capacity is truly the opportunity of a lifetime," Young, 54, said Thursday at a special board meeting. Young will become the U.'s 14th president this summer.
Young a descendant of pioneer leader Brigham Young and a graduate of U. rival BYU said he hoped to draw on the U.'s strengths, such as its international potential and technological capabilities, and build strong ties with the community.
"I think the university wants to work closely with the entire . . . education community . . . to find ways to anticipate and educate the large number of kids coming through the system and to improve the quality of education across the board for everybody, and at the same time to keep focusing on the research that has really been a hallmark of this institution," Young said.
Regent Jim Jardine said he hopes Young's experience will help in his role of representing the university on the state, national and international levels.
"We felt generally that Mike would really be able to lead us to new heights, especially in his ability in the external role," said Jardine, who chaired the search committee.
Young replaces former U. President Bernie Machen, who left to head the University of Florida. A 21-member search committee narrowed a national search of 147 candidates down to three.
The regents voted Thursday without debate to select Young after a day of closed interviews with the three finalists. Young was competing against Loren W. Crabtree, University of Tennessee system chancellor and vice president for academic affairs, and Susan Westerberg Prager, University of California-Los Angeles, law professor and 16-year UCLA School of Law dean.
Young will take on the post with an annual salary of $295,000, which still needs official board approval. Young declined to disclose his salary at George Washington, a private institution, but said he was "delighted" with the U.'s offer.
Young, who holds degrees in political science and Japanese from BYU, admits there's some irony in his selection also noting that BYU's president is a former Ute.
"I have a brother probably in cardiac arrest down in Springville, but my passion for the Utes knows no bounds," Young said. "It's an amusing thing, but a more serious side to it (is) one of the ways great universities move forward is through collaboration with other great universities."
The new U. president's wife, Suzan, a native of Orem, a BYU graduate and certified nurse, said she's "excited to be able to represent the U. in this role."
Young holds a law degree from Harvard University. He is serving a second term as chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and has written several articles and books. His resume includes work for the U.S. State Department and as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.
He said he is a "committed, active member of the LDS Church" and doesn't see that as a conflict in his new role.
"It's an important part of who I am and why I do what I do," he said. "At the same time I have spent my entire academic career outside of Utah. It has never been a problem."
Jardine said Young's religion was not brought up as an issue as the regents discussed the candidates.
As dean at George Washington's law school, Young oversaw an increase in the mean GPA and LSAT scores of students and strengthened the profile of the minority students. He said diversity will be a top priority.
He said of the 183 selective universities, his had the largest number of African-American law students last year and ranked ninth in the number of Hispanic graduates.
"Having all sorts of points of view represented in an academic community is essential to the real success of that academic community," he said. "The University of Utah is increasingly situated in a community from which it can draw lots of diverse points of view, and I think it is important that it do that. It enriches everybody's educational experience."
Colleagues at George Washington say their loss is Utah's gain.
"You guys suck, and you can print that," said Larry Mitchell, a George Washington University law professor. "The University of Utah is getting an absolute star," he said.
Sen. Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park, said it appears the U. has a good person for a taxing job.Comment on this story
"It's a difficult balance between creating an institution of open and broad learning in the context of tradition and conservatism in Utah. It will be a balancing act."
Brigham Young University general counsel Tom Griffiths met Young in Washington, D.C., about nine years ago. He calls him one of the "pre-eminent lawyers" in the nation."What Mike does so well is bridge gaps and bring people together. He's just really good at that, at taking a community that might be fractured and divided in some ways and bringing them (together) to find common ground."
Contributing: Dennis Romboy