'Family man' David Pershing begins job as 15th president of the University of Utah

Published: Sunday, March 11 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT

Technology, and a focus on the increasing availability of online courses, is also an important part of engaging students, Jordan said. Ten percent of total student credit hours at the university were taken online last year, giving students more flexibility in meeting a demanding course load.

"We are not your father's Oldsmobile," Pershing said, adding that he is proud of the innovative ideas the university fosters and represents.

Online courses also provide a unique incentive to the university, as without building and operations costs, they are less expensive to offer to students.

"It is true here in Utah and it's true across the country that the level of public support, in terms of state funding as a percentage of the total cost of education, is going down and we just can't continue to increase tuition to close the gap," Jordan said. "We have to find ways to be more efficient so that tuition remains affordable for our students in an environment where we don't have the level of state support that public universities once used to enjoy in this country."

Financial pressure will continue to be an issue, and Pershing is faced head-on with the need to replace critical infrastructure at the Salt Lake City campus. Electric wiring and water pipes that run under the ground between some of the campus's oldest buildings are failing, threatening, in some cases, to compromise the outcomes of millions of dollars of federally funded research that is ongoing at the school.

"It isn't that we've let it go or neglected it," Pershing said of the old pipes and hot-water heating systems. "It's just too big of a problem."

Pershing also wants to continue collaboration with other institutions in the state, including an ongoing partnership with Dixie State University in St. George.

"It is important for the president of the U. to help be a leader in the system, working with the other presidents to achieve this 2020 goal of having 66 percent of our population with some kind of post-secondary education," he said. "That's only going to happen if the system works together."

As far as the school's Utah County competitor, Pershing said the two schools can work together in harmony.

With the help of BYU professors, Pershing helped to found the Advanced Combustion Engineering Research Center in 1985. It was a cooperative effort between the two schools, funded by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy, to research energy technologies and comprehensive modeling.

"As a result of that collaboration, and how well I was treated by the people at BYU, I have a very fond feeling about BYU," he said. "Yes it is true that we compete on the football field, but I'm much more interested in collaborating on the academic side and we've got lots of examples of how that works."

He expects the university to continue to grow, but not in the exponential numbers it has seen in the past few years. Pershing said that as the economy recovers, students will be pulled back into the job market.

Also dependent on the economy are public and private donations to the school. While the ongoing capital campaign just recently met a $1.2 billion goal, it still has two years to garner as much funding as possible to sustain student scholarships, unmet needs and address expansion potential for the university.

"We are blessed in the state of Utah with amazing donors," he said.

Pershing moved into his new office this weekend, just as the new appointment starts to feel real for everyone involved. Official inauguration ceremonies, however, won't take place until later in the year. Plans for that have yet to be finalized.

"It's new and none of us really fully understand exactly what it means, as far as the changes in our family," Sandi Pershing said. Her two daughters seem to be as invested in the university as she and her husband are, and they're all looking forward to more interaction on campus.

"It will be different in the sense that a lot of this is a very external position, a public position," she said. Already, people have stopped the couple at the grocery store, to talk ideas and issue congratulations. "It's been exciting."

But Sandi Pershing is certain that the notoriety and responsibility won't change her husband.

"He's humble. He's patient. I've never seen him angry. I've never seen him stressed, even in this whole process, there were moments that were very challenging, but he just rises above that and I think he'll continue to be that kind of guy," she said. "He's pretty committed to being fair and collaborative and not getting stressed out, and being open to people's ideas. That's just the kind of leader he is."

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere