UVU President Matthew Holland spent his career as a professor preaching the importance of political involvement.
Now local politicos are asking Holland to practice what he preached.
With Utah’s 3rd Congressional District up for grabs (Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced this week that he will not seek re-election) Utahns are striving to curate a superlative candidate pool of both Republicans and Democrats.
And as a potential candidate, supporters believe that Holland doesn’t merely make the grade—rather, he receives highest honors.
The only problem for would-be boosters: Holland is feverishly focused on his day job, running Utah’s largest university.
Apart from exhibiting a skill-set that some feel is needed in Washington, D.C., Holland has done nothing himself to stoke political speculation about a potential candidacy. But given Holland’s civic-minded ethos, admirers believe they can cajole him into launching a bid.
While there’s no shortage of eager candidates to take Chaffetz’s spot, Holland's contentment to continue building Utah Valley University is seen by supporters as a strength. Indeed, as a laundry list of aspiring politicians are jockeying to be the “presumptive nominee,” Holland's attention appears to be directed on Utah Valley University's upcoming commencement.
For Holland hopefuls, however, a reluctant politician is a virtue rather than a vice.
George Washington, after all, was hesitant to assume the presidency. He was persuaded by fellow patriots who felt that he possessed a unique quality of leadership that would benefit the republic.
So could a groundswell similarly persuade Holland to run?
As I’ve talked off the record with potential supporters and political observers, they say a Holland candidacy is attractive for several reasons:
1. Holland has firsthand knowledge about the needs and concerns of the 3rd District from various constituent perspectives — including students, business owners, educators, political leaders, and families.
2. Holland understands the principles on which the nation was built. When Holland wasn’t teaching students about the founding era, the U.S. Constitution or the broad sweep of American history, he was writing, reading and speaking about these and other topics.
3. As a successful university president, Holland has nearly a decade of experience implementing pragmatic solutions, building coalitions and crafting policies based on shared governance.
4. Because public universities are funded by the Legislature, Holland has a strong familiarity with the legislative process.
5. Holland already knows how to fundraise while balancing other pressing duties.
6. As the president of a secular public university and the son of an apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which owns this paper), Holland can connect with, and effectively represent, both LDS and non-LDS constituents of the 3rd District.
7. Holland possesses an incisive mind and profound persuasive abilities. Apart from earning a Ph.D. from Duke and a post-doc at Princeton, Holland is a sought-after speaker and an accomplished academic; he was recently named executive of the year by the editors of Education Dive, a national education news source.
8. Holland and his wife Paige are both natives of the 3rd District. They understand the district's history, its highlights and challenges.
9. Holland already has political experience, having served as the special assistant to Gov. Michael Leavitt.
To be fair, a Holland candidacy, some say, could also have downsides. For starters, if Holland ran for Congress, UVU would lose its president. And, although some academics have succeeded in the political arena, a professor who feels comfy with the contemplative life may quickly become disenchanted when confronted with the realities of the political realm.
Others say that going from running the state's largest university to running for congress is a step down, and Holland would be far better suited for a role like governor or senator. And yet, still others suggest that representing the 3rd District would be a powerful perch from which to launch a bid for either of those positions down the road.
Among Democrats and Republicans, there are a number of other well-qualified and worthy candidates who have expressed interest in the 3rd Congressional District seat. At least two have already publicly declared their candidacies.
Of the potential candidates, however, Holland has perhaps done the most to avoid the political limelight. In an era of self-aggrandizement and camera chasing, modesty and loyalty to an employer are additional reasons why some are so eager to make Holland the subject of political speculation.
It's not clear whether Holland would run. However, after nearly a decade of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a manifestly media-minded congressman, the option of a less flashy figure with strong qualifications seems justification enough for others to urge President Holland to consider a campaign.