SALT LAKE CITY — Monday’s announcement that Utah Valley University President Matthew S. Holland has been called to serve as a mission president for the LDS Church means Utah’s System of Higher Education has a second presidential search on its plate.
The search for the successor to University of Utah President David Pershing, who is retiring, is underway with the assistance of a Dallas executive search firm.
Utah Commissioner of Higher Education David Buhler said the system and Utah State Board of Regents have conducted up to three presidential searches in a single year, the last time selecting new leaders at Southern Utah University, Dixie State University and Snow College.
This time, the searches involve the state's flagship university and the state's largest university in terms of enrollment. UVU's head count exceeded 37,200 students this fall, the highest among the state's colleges and universities for three years running.
The searches come on top of the system's customary workload, which includes preparations for the 2018 general session of the Utah Legislature.
Buhler said he told his staff Monday: "We're just going to run as fast as we can until a least next summer, and then we'll see if we get to take a little break. Make sure you're taking your vitamins."
Hiring a successor to Holland, who has been UVU's president since 2009, will be Buhler's eighth presidential search since he became higher education commissioner in June 2012.
"You learn something about each of the institutions through this process. While again, I would have been happy not to do one for a few more years, this is the reality. I'm looking forward to it and I'm sure we'll have a good result," Buhler said.
The search for the next president of the University of Utah, he said, is "past the midpoint." The next president of the U. will likely be named in early 2018.
"We'll be concluding that as we get UVU going. I'm not worried," Buhler said.
A search committee for Holland's successor could be announced as early as next week, Buhler said.
"We're going to get moving quickly because we've got a few significant holidays coming up. We want to get started because that presents a few logistical challenges, so we're going to get moving a quick as we can," he said.
Buhler said he had known about Holland's church calling "for a while, but it's been a very tightly held secret," until Monday's announcement, he said.
Holland, in an interview Monday, expressed gratitude to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its "unusual effort to let me announce this and to do so early, and the primary reason is so the Utah System of Higher Education will have the chance to start a search process as early as this week or next week so that they can have a successor appointed by May 1. If I stay until June, you could have someone conceivably in place by July and you could have a pretty seamless transition.
"That's the plan. I'm very grateful to the church and I'm very grateful to the commissioner and the chairman of the board of regents who are wanting to move that aggressively, because it doesn't always happen that fast, but I think it will be best for the institution," Holland said.
Utah Valley University had barely become a university when Holland was named as its president in June 2009, Buhler said.
"This has been much more than a name change and I give President Holland tremendous credit for that because from day one, that has been his charge and what he has worked so hard to accomplish and I think, with considerable success," he said.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, in a statement, described Holland and his wife, Paige, as "wonderful, dedicated people whom Jeanette and I consider dear friends. Over the last nine years, the Hollands have led Utah Valley University to extraordinary heights. We are grateful for their wholehearted and visionary service in improving higher education here in Utah, and send them our best wishes as they dedicate the next few years of their lives to serving the LDS Church."
During Holland's tenure, UVU's enrollment has climbed from 28,765 to 37,282 students. The number of graduates increased by 45 percent between 2009 and 2017, with nearly 5,000 graduating in 2017.
Among his many accomplishments, Holland charted a 40-year master plan for the university, secured public and private funding for 12 major buildings or structures and oversaw the development of 26 new bachelor degrees and six of UVU's eight master’s degrees.
Since assuming the helm of UVU, Holland "has talked a lot about being a serious institution. He's really taken that to heart," Buhler said.3 comments on this story
"It’s one thing to have the name 'university.' It's another to really be a university. I think he has made a number of efforts academically, and it's not just him, but of course his team there, the faculty, staff everybody working together, to really make Utah Valley University a university in more than name."
Buhler added that while he has not studied applicants for the U. presidency in great detail, "I think we're going to have a very strong field to look at, and I'm confident we will for UVU as well. It's (UVU) a great place to be. It's on a great trajectory. Utah is a desirable place to be, so I think we'll have some strong candidates."