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Expectations for a University of Utah president

Published September 24, 2011 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The University of Utah is Utah's largest higher education institution. It is a strong economic driver for our state, and was recently recognized nationally as having the most spin-off businesses of any university, exceeding even Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

It was also recently recognized as having highly efficient medical care facilities as part of its health center and teaching/research hospitals. In the near future, the University of Utah will hire a new president. This is a position that affects all Utah citizens, who pay about one-third of the university's total operating budget. All citizens would do well to reflect on their expectations for the new president.

The new president, to a large extent, will be the intellectual, philosophical and ethical leader for the University of Utah community. The objectives established for the new president by the Utah State Board of Regents should be public knowledge for all to understand and support. The goals should be lofty and more than just generalities.

The issues and considerations below are intended to be food for thought:

• What is the point of a University of Utah education?

• What should be the balance between liberal arts and learning for life versus education in the professions?

• What curricular disciplines are missing or unnecessary?

• What is the right balance between local-state interests and America's or even world interests?

• What is the proper balance between fund-raising and thought-leading for the president?

These questions come from our personal decades of experience in industry and academia. We believe the expectations for the new president should at least include the following:

• The new president should exhibit leadership in moving the president's position toward being the university's chief executive and its overall visionary. The president should not be just the university ambassador-of-good-will and primary fundraiser.

• The president should set the stage for students to discover interests and intellectual skills that will lead to a meaningful life for which they can both contribute and earn a living. For those who wish to pursue specialized learning, graduate programs should be prioritized and expanded as faculty, plans and budgets permit.

• Along with the faculty, the president should be visionary in leading and setting the balance between liberal arts and the professions; the "Great Ideas of Mankind" should be part of the learning-to-think process.

• The president must consider local-state issues without losing the broader vision of how the university and its graduates can contribute socially, philosophically and economically to national and global needs.

• The president should be the innovator in leading the faculty to new visions, carrying forward Utah's pioneering traditions. He/she should welcome new ideas and seek entrepreneurial funding beyond what the state can reasonably appropriate.

The new president will be part of the state that has recently been recognized as the best managed state in America. He/she will face issues that cannot be ignored. Utah, like most other states, is struggling to allocate resources fairly among all of its institutions of higher education.

The university is competing to obtain and retain distinguished faculty, as well as top students, research funding, donor contributions and university rankings. The president's job will be challenging, but the state offers a strong university with established academic excellence, outstanding faculty, and a record of major accomplishments.

Our new president will have to have visions that will properly challenge all — including our state Legislature and Board of Regents — to devise pioneering solutions for educating students and creating commerce.

Sidney J. Green is a research professor of engineering, and Robert R. Johnson is Emeritus Chair of computer science, both at the University of Utah.