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Jason Olson, Deseret News
Matthew S. Holland is congratulated by Board of Regents chief Jed Pitcher, UVU trustee Steven Lund and Holland's wife, Paige, Friday.

Utah Valley University's newest president isn't at all worried about the future of the state's second-largest university.

Matthew S. Holland took hold of the leadership medallion on Friday and said he "cannot imagine a more noble, essential and thrilling work," vowing not to lead alone.

"There are those today who are somewhat pessimistic about UVU," Holland said during his formal inauguration speech at the university on Friday. "I understand this. We just moved to university status. Our student head count has increased 20 percent in the last two years. And, on top of this, we suffered a 17 percent budget cut last year and have been told by our state leaders to prepare for additional cuts this year. This combination of growth and cuts does cast some threatening clouds over our institutional mission of rising up to be an extraordinary university. But I am not worried."

From its roots as the Central Utah Vocational School in 1941 through several name and mission changes to its new status as a university, Holland said, the school is "hard-wired to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles with pluck and ingenuity. It's in our genes."

As the institution's sixth president, Holland was formally charged on Friday with seven areas of emphasis, including providing a quality education at the teaching-centered university, remembering that it was founded on principles of career and technical education, to encourage academic excellence, build partnerships with the surrounding business community, direct the school's finances and fundraise in an accountable way, maintain a student-focused campus and work collectively with other schools in the state.

"This institution, as great as it is, cannot operate in a vacuum," said State Board of Regents Chairman Jed Pitcher, noting that that responsibility also falls upon neighboring institutions, such as Brigham Young University and the Mountainland Applied Technology College.

Holland, who began his tenure as UVU president on July 1, has already impressed many of the school's nearly 29,000 students with his efforts to make them a primary focus, said student body president Trevor Tooke.

"He's very heartfelt and caring. He truly cares about the students, he loves us and wants us to succeed," he said. Tooke helped to interview candidates for the presidency and said Holland has already lived up to his commitments to value student input on all grounds.

Holland, who is the son of President Jeffrey R. Holland, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and former president of BYU, previously taught political science at BYU and holds doctorate and master's degrees in political science from Duke University and a bachelor's degree in political science from BYU. He has spent time studying at Princeton University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has authored multiple works.

"Our task now, in the years ahead, is to mature into an absolutely first-rate, nationally distinctive version of what it is we have already become, namely a credible, comprehensive university that provides a solid offering of two- and four-year degrees, especially those that provide better access to and preparation for advanced professional opportunities for our students," Holland said, adding that the tasks ahead are "vital in perhaps an unparalleled way."

Former UVU president and Commissioner of Higher Education William Sederburg said the inauguration is not only a time to celebrate individual success, but it is also a celebration of institutional renewal. He said Holland is entrusted "to establish the university's brand as a high-quality, excellent university."

Holland announced that he will soon launch a regional initiative to involve local business leaders and the community in efforts to analyze and upgrade UVU's infrastructure. He hopes the effort will emphasize engaged learning, which puts students in touch with the community. The new president is also looking to maintain open enrollment for all people and populations, providing an inclusive environment from which students can learn.

Despite the serious plight of the school, Holland announced that UVU will soon receive formal designation as an All-Steinway School, allowing students "the ability to learn and perform on the world's most finely crafted, richest sounding instruments."

"At UVU we are and will strive to be more and more serious about important ideas, scholarly inquiry and intellectual debate – pursuing these things with rigor and enthusiasm but also dispassionate objectivity, and on a plane appropriately elevated for university-level exchange," he said. "Being serious means we will be holding ourselves, our colleagues and our students to standards worthy of an institution that calls itself a university."

Holland said the job is almost as "weighty" as the medallion placed around his neck.

The inauguration ceremony was the culminating event of an entire week of festivities involving students and the community, and an inaugural scholarship ball was held Friday evening.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said he feels comforted with Holland at UVU's stead.

"I have great hope and optimism when I see people of this caliber taking roles of leadership in our state," he said. Herbert said Holland is a great man to take the already efficient Utah school into the next generation of success.

e-mail: wleonard@desnews.com