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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
University of Utah President David Pershing speaks during a press conference about a new parternship between the University of Utah Health Care and United States Olympic Committee at the Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 11, 2016.

SALT LAKE CITY — Two men and one woman were named Friday as finalists to be the next president of the University of Utah.

The finalists, identified Friday by the U. and the Utah System of Higher Education, are:

• Nicholas P. Jones, executive vice president and provost at Pennsylvania State University

• Thomas Katsouleas, executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia

• Ruth V. Watkins, senior vice president for Academic Affairs at the University of Utah

The successful candidate will succeed David Pershing, who has served as U. president since 2012 and is retiring.

The finalists will be on the U. campus Wednesday to meet privately with groups representing faculty, staff, students and administration. On Thursday, the Utah State Board of Regents will interview the finalists in a closed session.

In a public meeting, which could be as soon as Thursday, the board of regents will vote and select the new president.

Spencer Jenkins, assistant commissioner for public affairs, said the three finalists were selected after a nine-month nationwide search for the U.'s 16th president.

"We contacted hundreds of potential candidates and attracted dozens of highly qualified applicants," Jenkins said.

The finalists

Pennsylvania State University
Nicholas P. Jones, executive vice president and provost at Pennsylvania State University, is one of the three final candidates to be the new president of the University of Utah.

Jones is responsible for the oversight of all of Penn State’s research and educational programs, institutional budget, strategic planning and for the general academic welfare of the faculty and students.

Prior to Penn State, he was the Benjamin T. Rome Dean of the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins, and previously professor and chairman of civil engineering.

Jones also served as dean of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He holds a master’s degree and doctorate in civil engineering from Caltech and an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from the University of Auckland.

Katsouleas directs the academic administration of the 11 schools at the University of Virginia, the library, art museums, public service activities, university centers and foreign study programs.

University of Virginia
Thomas Katsouleas, executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia, is one of the three final candidates to be the new president of the University of Utah.

Prior to joining UVA, he served as dean of the Pratt School of Engineering and professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke University and taught at the University of Southern California. Katsouleas earned his bachelor’s degree and doctorate in physics from UCLA.

Watkins was appointed to her current position at the U. in 2013. She leads the U.'s academic mission, guiding the campus on matters related to faculty, staff and students, and works to set the university’s strategic direction and align resources with academic priorities.

She has worked to enhance student success through degree completion and expand research and creative activity. Watkins came to Utah following 20 years in leadership and faculty roles at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in child language at the University of Kansas.

David Titensor, The University of Utah
Ruth V. Watkins, senior vice president for Academic Affairs at the University of Utah, is one of the three finalists for president of the University of Utah.

Pershing's retirement

In May 2017, Pershing announced he was moving up the timetable of his planned retirement in the aftermath of a high-profile rift between University of Utah Health and the Huntsman Cancer Institute.

The conflict came to a head with the sudden firing of Huntsman Cancer Institute CEO and Director Mary Beckerle by Pershing and U. Health CEO Vivian Lee. Beckerle was reinstated a short time later, and Lee resigned from her administrative position.

Dr. Lorris Betz has been serving as interim CEO of U. Health and senior vice president of health sciences until Lee's successor is selected by the new president.

The public power struggle was followed by months of negotiation, culminating in a new agreement between the U. and the Huntsman Cancer Foundation in October that addresses the governance and finances of the Huntsman Cancer Institute moving forward. At the time, benefactor Jon M. Huntsman Sr. said reaching the agreement meant "we've moved a great mountain."

Pershing agreed to serve as president until his successor is selected. He will return to a faculty position once the new president is chosen.

His annual base salary is $438,007, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Starting pay for the new president has not yet been determined.

The search

A 24-member search committee led by Harris H. Simmons, vice chairman of the Utah State Board of Regents, and H. David Burton, chairman of the U. board of trustees, conducted the search for the U.'s 16th president. The committee included regents, trustees, university faculty, staff, students, administrators, alumni and community members.

The higher education search firm R. William Funk and Associates of Dallas guided the search at a base cost of $100,000 plus administrative and direct out-of-pocket expenses.

According to the position announcement developed by the search committee, “ideal candidates should have demonstrated success in a leadership role at a major, complex research institution."

“Candidates should also have a proven record of scholarly achievement in higher education, appreciation for multiple disciplines, experience and success in fundraising.”

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Also “a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and leadership qualities essential for the administration of a large, culturally diverse, and complex research institution. A terminal degree is required.”

The University of Utah is the flagship institution of eight public colleges and universities that comprise the Utah System of Higher Education. Founded in 1850, it serves 32,000 students from across the country and the world.

The U. offers more than 70 undergraduate major subjects and more than 90 graduate major fields of study, including law, business and medicine.