SALT LAKE CITY — The inaugural Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Chairs at the University of Utah were announced Tuesday, a distinction that recognizes health sciences faculty for excellence in research, clinical care and career progression.
The inaugural six chairs, honored at a luncheon at the U.'s Alumni House, include professors with appointments in dentistry, psychiatry, population health sciences, biomedical informatics, pulmonary medicine and obstetrics/gynecology.
Each received a wooden chair, commemorative medal and funding to advance knowledge and improve care in their respective fields.
There will be a total 12 chairs, with the remaining six to be appointed next summer. The appointments are for five years and can be renewed once up to five years.
The chairs were funded by a $22.5 million gift from the Huntsman family. They honor the late Jon M. Huntsman Sr., who was an industrialist, philanthropist and founder of the Huntsman Cancer Institute. He died Feb. 2.
Karen Huntsman, chairwoman of the Huntsman Family Foundation, said the family's steadfast commitment to cancer research, treatment and patient care is well-known.
"With that commitment is a vision to advance a broad array of health and medical research and clinical work at the University of Utah," she said in a statement.
Wyatt Rory Hume, the U.'s associate vice president for academic affairs and education, University of Utah Health, said the tradition of awarding academic chairs dates back to 16th century England "when chairs, as we know them, were a luxury for many people."
When a learned person was bestowed the rank of professor by a king or bishop, "the professor also received an actual chair — one with arms, back and legs like these — as a symbol of their professional status," said Hume, referring to the wooden chairs presented to each of the inaugural chairs.
Being selected a faculty chair is the highest honor bestowed upon a university faculty member, he said.
U. President Ruth V. Watkins said the Huntsman family's commitment to the U. "is profound and these chairs are yet another testament to their dedication to advancing health research, education and compassionate care."
The first Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Chairs are:
• Dr. Nathan G. Adams, assistant professor, School of Dentistry adjunct professor in otolaryngology.
• Dr. Lowry A. Bushnell, assistant professor of psychiatry.
• Angela Fagerlin, professor and chairwoman, Department of Population Health Sciences.
• Wendy W. Chapman, chairwoman, Department of Biomedical Informatics.
• Dr. Robert Paine III, chief of the Division of Respiratory, Critical Care and Occupational Pulmonary Medicine.
• Dr. Howard T. Sharp, professor, division chief and vice chairman for clinical affairs, Department of General Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Peter Huntsman, CEO of the Huntsman Family Foundation, said the family's hope and expectation of the endowed chairs "is that five years from now, 10 years from now, that we're able to look back that we'll be absolutely amazed at what they've done, that we've seen the arc and curve of creativity.
"The university, in its most basic form, should be an incubator of ideas and solutions and the resolution for problems of society, particularly around health care at the University of Utah. I hope that when we look at where we are in the world of dentistry or psychiatric care or population health, any of these sort of areas, we're going to be in a vastly different place five or 10 years from now."
Chapman, a nationally renowned scholar and researcher in the field of biomedical informatics, said she is considering using the funding tied to the chair "in ways to support some students making new discoveries, partly for education. I'm thinking about maybe women and minorities, the pipeline getting into the field of informatics and helping students do research in this area."
The gift of the endowed chairs was announced by Jon Huntsman Sr. last fall when the university and the Huntsman family jointly announced a new memorandum of understanding been the U. and the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.
The memorandum of understanding, which addresses the governance and finances of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, was negotiated in the wake of simmering tensions between the parties that turned into a roiling public dispute following the sudden termination of Huntsman Cancer Institute CEO Mary Beckerle.
Two on-campus protests from institute faculty, students and cancer patients followed the firing.
Jon Huntsman Sr. called for the ouster of then-U. President David Pershing and then-Senior Vice President of Health Sciences Vivian Lee, who fired Beckerle.
Beckerle was quickly reinstated and Lee resigned from her administrative position. Pershing moved up the timetable of his planned retirement as president but remained in the position until Watkins, who was appointed in January, assumed the presidency in April.
Under the agreement, Beckerle reports directly to the U. president and the university was to pay the Huntsman Cancer Institute $68 million to clear up a funding dispute.
Lee's successor has not yet been appointed, but the field has been winnowed to three finalists.