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UVU v.p. to serve as interim president

Published: Friday, July 18 2008 12:05 a.m. MDT

OREM — Utah Valley University's vice president of academic affairs will take over interim leadership of the school next month, the Utah Board of Regents announced Thursday.

Elizabeth J. Hitch will take the wheel at UVU on Aug. 18, after President William Sederburg leaves to assume his position as the new Utah commissioner of higher education.

Although Hitch, who has been at UVU since July 2007, doesn't wish to head the university permanently, she said she is happy to help the school through the transition.

"I'm just really so excited for this institution," she said. "There is so much momentum and enthusiasm and energy right now because of the change to university status."

Hitch was a natural selection for interim president, said Utah Board of Regents spokesman Spencer Jenkins. As the vice president of academic affairs, it was already Hitch's responsibility to fill in when Sederburg was out of town.

"The main intention of her appointment was to make this a seamless transition," Jenkins said. "Liz Hitch has worked with Sederburg. She already knows the staff. She understands the workings of the university very well."

As interim president, Hitch said she plans to continue where President Sederburg left off.

"The university is well-positioned right now," she said. "We know what our goals are. We have a very systematic way of planning and budgeting. I don't foresee a lot of challenges."

Hitch, who has 35 years of experience in higher education, also has experience filling in for the head of a university. At the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, she served as interim chancellor.

At the time, UW-L was pushing the Legislature to allow a tuition raise to compensate for cuts in state funding. Without Hitch's leadership, UW-L faculty said they would not have pulled through.

"She worked her tail off for the good of the university," said Carmen Wilson, special assistant and adviser to the chancellor. "She kept us afloat during a very difficult time."

Hitch's appointment as interim chancellor came on the heels of personal conflict with faculty, however. As the school's provost in 2006, she was censured by the UW-L Faculty Senate.

According to public records, Hitch refused to appoint the dean the faculty search committee suggested because they recommended only one candidate. She instead appointed an interim dean of her own choice. Although policy did not specifically require the faculty committee to forward multiple candidates for consideration, Hitch said not doing so was inconsistent with the idea of shared governance.

"When a committee forwards only one name for consideration, it's not really a shared decision," she said. "This had happened more than once. It was just a pattern that was not healthy for the institution."

Wilson, who chaired the UW-L Faculty Senate at the time of the censure, said Hitch's actions were the "straw that broke the camel's back" in a long-running power struggle between faculty and administration.

A court case alleging Hitch rejected the committee-recommended candidate based on age and gender discrimination is still wending its way through the court system. Hitch declined to comment on the case.

Hitch said she expects her time as UVU interim president to go more smoothly.

"UVU is in good shape," she said. "It has the advantage of added state funding ... and the support of the community."

President Sederburg echoed her sentiments.

"I am very pleased with the appointment," he said. "In the year she's been at UVSC, Liz Hitch has earned the respect of the faculty and staff. I know she'll continue the advancement of UVU."


E-mail: estuart@desnews.com

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