Interim president named to lead University of Utah after Ruth Watkins’ departure

Michael Good, the current CEO of University of Utah Health, will temporarily take the top spot.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Michael Good, CEO of University of Utah Health, has been named the interim president to lead the University of Utah while the state searches for a replacement with Ruth Watkins stepping down.

The state has named Michael Good, the current CEO of University of Utah Health, as the interim leader to oversee the University of Utah while it continues to search for a permanent replacement for outgoing President Ruth Watkins.

Good was chosen by the Utah Board of Higher Education on Friday to step into the role starting in April, when Watkins is set to depart. Good is an experienced administrator who also serves as the dean of the U.’s School of Medicine and senior vice president of health sciences.

“Dr. Good is highly qualified and well-prepared to take on the interim role at the University of Utah,” said Nina Barnes, vice chair of the Utah Board of Higher Education, in a statement announcing the appointment. “The board is confident that he will see the University of Utah successfully through this transition.”

The board has previously estimated that it could take nine months to a year to find a new president. The hope is that a new leader will be named by the end of the year and in place by early 2022. At that time, Good will return to his other positions.

The top spot opened up when Watkins announced in January that she would be resigning for a position at Strada Impact, a national education nonprofit. It was a surprise to many after Watkins rose through the ranks at the U. and was named the first female president of the school less than three years ago.

But her tenure was also marked by the 2018 on campus murder of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey and the continued fallout over how the case was mishandled, which Watkins acknowledged was part of the reason for her stepping down.

Soon after her announcement, Good was seen as an obvious candidate to take her spot during the interim. He was named to his current position by Watkins in 2018.

The medical leader came to the university after a clash between the U.’s health care system and the Huntsman Cancer Institute. The former U. Health CEO, Vivian Lee, resigned from her post amid sharp backlash for firing the leader of the Huntsman Cancer Institute and exposing a contentious reporting relationship between the two organizations.

Mary Beckerle, the director of the institute, was quickly reinstated by then-U. President David Pershing, who shortly after announced his own retirement — which led to Watkins’ appointment.

At the time of Good’s hiring to replace Lee, Watkins said he was someone who “shares my vision that a public university should serve as a catalyst for improving the human condition and should strive to improve the community it serves.”

Typically, the person who fills in as the interim president is not interested in the position in the long term, so it’s unlikely Good would ultimately be named to that spot; he also currently has a higher salary than the university president, roughly $770,000 a year without benefits, as CEO of the health system.

Before coming to the U., he was the dean of the University of Florida College of Medicine.

The Utah Board of Higher Education has said it hopes to expedite the process of naming a permanent U. president. But it also reiterated in its statement Friday that it “will take the necessary time to find the most qualified candidate.”

For finding a permanent new leader, the board has approved hiring a national firm to help guide the process. And it named a search committee of students, faculty, community members and leaders from the school’s own board of trustees to vet the candidates who apply.

Once the search committee feels it has enough options, it will close the application and conduct interviews. It will narrow the options down to three finalists to be announced sometime around August.

At the earliest, a new president would be named by September.

Watkins’ replacement will be tasked with overseeing the sprawling U. campus of more than 33,000 students, amid challenges in education due to COVID-19. And they will also be responsible for continuing efforts to improve public safety, including naming a new chief safety officer. Marlon Lynch, who is currently in that position, also announced he would be departing in March.