David Buhler, a former Utah lawmaker with years of service in state government, will likely succeed retiring William Sederburg as commissioner of higher education.
The governor-appointed Board of Regents, which oversees higher education policy, selected Buhler on Thursday afternoon, but the appointment is subject to the approval of the Utah Senate under a recently enacted law.
For the past dozen years, Buhler has been the point man for the Utah System of Higher Education at the Legislature, as associate commissioner for public affairs. He is also a one-time interim commissioner.
The announcement came after the board spent several hours interviewing finalists in executive session before publicly naming Buhler to guide the state's eight-campus system of public colleges and universities.
"This is a great honor," Buhler told the Regents. "When I started as an adjunct professor at the University of Utah 22 years ago I never would have imagined my career would have wound up here."
Buhler has many challenges awaiting, presuming he takes the reins on Aug. 1. The state's higher education system has been struggling to accommodate an influx of students, many of them unprepared for college, in an era of diminishing public resources. Meanwhile the state's political leaders want to expand to 66 percent the portion of the state's adult population holding some kind of post-secondary certification.
Officials say Buhler is a great choice for this task given his long record of public service.
He served as a Republican member of the Utah Senate from 1995 to 1999 and was a Salt Lake City mayoral candidate in 2007. He taught political science at the U. until 2006, and served as executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce from 1989 to 1992.
Gov. Gary Herbert has already signed off on Buhler's appointment.
"Dave will be able to ensure our 66 percent by 2020 goals can be achieved, allowing our economy to continue to grow and prosper. His leadership will foster continued education excellence as Utah leads the nation in economic growth and quality of life," Herbert said in a prepared statement.
Officials believe the state's labor market will soon demand that 55 percent of working-age adults hold bachelor's or associate's degrees. That goal would require a dramatic increase in enrollment and higher college completion rates.
Regents said they expect Buhler to build on the 2020 goals and other strategic initiatives developed under Sederburg's leadership.
"We are excited about what the future holds and are pleased that Dave is willing to lend his skills to strengthening the quality and level of attainment for students engaged in higher education in the State of Utah," said Regents chairwoman Bonnie Jean Beesley.
Buhler spent the afternoon at his Salt Lake City home waiting to hear whether he got the job. The Regents deliberations went longer than expected and the anxious Buhler wanted to head down to the office, but his wife Lori persuaded him that would be "very presumptuous."
"I hope for my children and grandchildren that they will have the same opportunity like I did for an affordable, quality education right here in Utah," said Buhler, a U. graduate, when he arrived in the Regents' meeting chamber. The Buhlers have two children currently enrolled in Utah universities, while their youngest attends Salt Lake City's East High School and their oldest is a school teacher.
The Salt Lake City native is completing a doctorate in political science at the U. and holds a master's in pubic administration from Brigham Young University.
The number and the names of commissioner finalists were not disclosed, but they were selected from a short list of nine candidates from around the nation, according to Regents spokeswoman Pamela Silberman.
Sederberg, who had served as president of Utah Valley University during its transition from a state college, retires in August at age 65 after four years as commissioner. Sederberg, who had been earning $226,000 in that post, will remain involved with Utah education, although he has purchased a home in North Carolina. He expects to teach education policy online through the U. and serve as a special advisor to the governor to help implement the 2020 goals.
Utah's commissioner-designate for higher education is a familiar face in Utah. He has long served as higher education's associate commissioner for public affairs. He has served in the Utah Senate and led the state's Department of Commerce. Buhler is a graduate of the University of Utah, where he has taught political science as an adjunct and is working on his doctorate.