SEATTLE — It's official: University of Utah President Michael K. Young is leaving for the top job at the University of Washington.
The UW Board of Regents announced the selection Monday, contingent on the board's chairman and Young finalizing an employment agreement.
"Michael Young is a prominent scholar, experienced public servant and diplomat, and exceptional academic leader," Herb Simon, the board's chairman, said in a statement. "He comes to us with a remarkable range of experience in law, government and higher education. And he has excelled at everything he has done. We are thrilled to bring him to the University of Washington to lead this great institution into the future."
Young's tenure at the U. featured a building boom on the school's campus, an expansion of external research funding and skirmishes with the Utah Legislature over whether guns should be allowed on campus. Last year, he personally helped steer the U. into the elite Pac-12 athletic conference, while the U. overtook Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the most prolific incubator for spinoff companies from its research programs.
Young told the Deseret News on Monday that when UW's search committee contacted him in November, the "timing was right" for him to look at a new opportunity. He said as a national and global leader, UW will play a key role in determining what the university of the future will look like.
"That's exciting. It'll be thrilling to be a part of that," he said.
Young, 61, came to the U. in 2004 after a stint as the dean of George Washington University's law school. He replaced Bernie Machen, who left the U. to become president of the University of Florida. Before that, Young was a professor for about 20 years at Columbia University and served as international human rights advocate.
He will draw on his background as a legal scholar of Japan — where he served a mission for the LDS Church — at UW, which has one of the nation's most highly regarded Japanese studies programs. Young said he was impressed with the school's international focus.
"We're training kids these days to go out into a world where, essentially, borders don't matter," he said. "I think the University of Washington does a terrific job on the international front, particularly with respect to Asia."
Randy Dryer, chairman of the U.'s board of trustees, said he was disappointed Young is leaving but wished him well.
"Washington is getting a very visionary leader, and I expect that he will be very successful there," Dryer said. "The (U.) is certainly well-positioned to continue its progress and improvement. ... Because of that, I think we're going to be a very attractive university for a new president to continue that upward trajectory."
He also credited Young with pushing the message that, as Utah's flagship university, the U. is an economic engine for the entire state.
Both Dryer and David Jordan, chair of the Utah Board of Regents, said that the U. may benefit from Young going to an athletic rival, as the school expects tight academic collaboration with its new mates in the Pac-12.
"I think having a friend of the U. at the University of Washington is a good thing," Jordan said.
The move to the Pac-12 may be Young's most visible recent accomplishment. But Dryer said others will have an equally important long-term impact on the U., including the USTAR research initiative and fundraising that not only has the U. well-ahead of its goal in its current $1.2 billion capital campaign, but also has moved $1 billion of campus building projects — adding 2 million square feet — forward with minimal state funding.
"Washington's gain is truly Utah's loss. Michael Young has been an outstanding leader for both the U. and the state of Utah," Gov. Gary Herbert said in a statement. "UW obviously recognized Mike's exceptional talent and ability, and I wish him well."
Bill Sederburg, Utah's commissioner of higher education, said Young has set a high bar for his successor.
"This is another testament to the quality of leadership of Utah's public colleges and universities, and Mike is an excellent choice to lead such a prestigious public institution," Sederburg said.
Higher education officials in Utah have said they will move quickly to convene a search committee and announce an interim president at the U., but there will be no firm deadline, such as the start of the next school year, to find a permanent replacement.
"We need to take the time to get it right, and we will do that," Jordan said.
The U.'s health sciences chief, Lorris Betz, who served as interim president for seven months between Machen's departure and Young's arrival, was due to retire this year. Betz said Monday he is willing to serve in that role again during a national search for Young's replacement, but had not yet been asked to do so.
The previous UW president, Mark Emmert, was one of the highest-paid public college presidents in the country when he left in October to become president of the NCAA.
Emmert earned $694,697 in 2009-10, while Young made $723,595, including a $375,192 lump sum of deferred compensation, according to data published in March by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Young is recently divorced with three adult children.
He said that when he took the helm at the U. seven years ago, he was "passionate" about coming back to a place where, as a BYU graduate, he had deep roots.
"I don't think I had any idea how warmly I'd be welcomed or how much success we'd have," Young said. "And that does make it hard to leave."
"I will miss this place enormously," he added. "I had a love affair with this place."