A man described by Gov. Mike Leavitt as "common enough to drive a red Ford pickup truck and sophisticated enough to land a Nobel Prize laureate in physics" has been installed as the 13th president of the University of Utah.
J. Bernard Machen took charge of the state's flagship university during an installation ceremony Friday in the Jon M. Huntsman Center before an audience of about 500 people.Machen used the occasion to chart his course for the 148-year-old university and discuss his views on the "virtual university." A virtual university offers instruction via the Internet, satellite broadcasts, videotapes and other distance-learning mediums.
"Spontaneous debate, discussion and exchange of ideas within the classroom are essential in developing the mind," Machen said. "Poetry must be heard, interpreted and discussed - with professors and with classmates.
"Learning about the different professions and academic disciplines available at the University of Utah requires personal involvement, and that is only available on our campuses, and it can only be experienced by being here," Machen said.
Distance learning should not preclude "continual capital investment in higher education.
"Let us not succumb to the temptation to force a college education to its lowest common denominator. The kind of education we have at the U. is not the cheapest, but it is the best - for the individual and for the state and nation. A University of Utah education will not be replaced by the virtual university but may be improved by it when we work together."
Machen, who has been in the president's post since January, proposed the U. abide by three guiding principles: pursuing excellence, encouraging diversity and advancing its academic mission.
"From the students we accept, to the faculty we select for appointment and/or promotion, to the quality of our academic programs the overriding consideration must be: How can we achieve excellence? That is our role in the system of higher education in this state. We must always take the high road. . . .
"In the current campus climate, I sense some retreat from the pursuit of excellence," he said.
"It is understandable and it's even rational. But the people of Utah deserve the best. We must stay focused and committed to be the best. Obviously, that will require additional resources. It will also require prioritization of our goals and allocation in order to succeed. I'm confident we can do that."
"We need to hear from a multitude of voices on all issues. No race or gender or culture has a monopoly on good ideas and intellect, and for the best ideas to flourish, many diverse opinions need to be aired. For these reasons and others, diversity makes sense for a public institution such as the University of Utah."
On advancing the U.'s academic mission:
"Universities are an enduring - and mostly endearing - aspect of society. We are not a business. All decisions we make must be tested against this principle: Does it advance our academic mission?
"Inherent in this principle is the primacy of the faculty. The administration of the university is here to serve the academic mission. A good administration is one that is essentially invisible.
"It is faculty and students who should be seen and heard. That focus is what has kept universities around this long, and is what will keep us here in the next century."
Charlie Johnson, chairman of the Utah State Board of Regents, urged Machen to work with the state's other college and university presidents, Leavitt and the Legislature to ensure "our credibility. Higher education cannot move forward without credibility."
The regents also expect Machen to keep the U.'s focus on students, ensuring that undergraduates benefit from the university's research mission as much as graduate students.
Further, the U. must work diligently to attract and retain faculty who will further its mission. Machen was also directed to support the U.'s athletic programs to bolster the university's name recognition and loyalty to the institution.
He encouraged Machen to reach out to minorities and disadvantaged students who need what a university can offer "but don't know where to begin."
Johnson's charge also included the U.'s physical plant, making a plug for a light-rail spur to the U. and encouraging the expanded use of technology campuswide.
As for the U.'s buildings, "My charge to you is to take care of what you have on this campus before you start building a lot of new buildings."
The ceremony included an academic processional, including the presidents or designees of the eight other state colleges and universities, Brigham Young University and Westminster College.
Other dignitaries in attendance included former U. presidents Alfred C. Emery, David P. Gardner and Chase N. Peterson; members of the Board of Regents and U. Board of Trustees and Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah.