The University of Utah will have a new president sooner than expected. Much sooner.
On Wednesday, the state board over higher education announced its picks for the top three finalists for the position. And the board said it anticipates selecting a new leader from that group by the start of August — before fall semester begins and months ahead of schedule — instead of early 2022, as originally planned.
“Our extensive search has led us to capable and distinguished candidates,” said Harris Simmons, the chair of the Utah Board of Higher Education, in a statement.
The search comes after former U. President Ruth Watkins, the first female president at the university, announced her departure earlier this year, and subsequently left the state’s flagship university to work for Strada Impact, a national education nonprofit.
The finalists are:
• Carrie Byington, the executive vice president for the University of California’s medical system, a former administrator and professor at the U.
• Jayathi Murthy, the dean over the School of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of California, Los Angeles.
• Taylor Randall, the dean of the David Eccles School of Business at the U.
The finalists will each meet with students and staff on Aug. 4 and also will participate in a community forum where members of the public can ask questions. Murthy will have her forum from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m.; Randall will speak from 1:45 to 2:30 p.m.; Byington is slated from 3 to 3:45 p.m.
Those meetings will be held at the University of Utah Marriott Library’s Gould Auditorium, as well as streamed online at presidentsearch.utah.edu.
The board anticipates gathering the following day, Aug. 5, to name Watkins’ successor.
The new president will be tasked with leading a sprawling campus of more than 33,000 students and 23,700 employees, with a top-tier medical complex, a competitive business school and a renowned natural history museum.
The school faces continuing challenges due to COVID-19. There’s also more pressure to fund research. Many of the buildings on campus are outdated and will require fundraising to renovate. And the U. has been working to diversify both its growing student body and staff — but has not yet met its goals.
Watkins spent three years at the helm of the U., focusing on improving graduation rates and expanding research. But her time was also dogged by questions about how student-athlete Lauren McCluskey’s case was mishandled before and after her murder on campus. Watkins’ successor will still have to deal with some of that fallout, as the campus police chief recently resigned and at least two notices of claims, including one from the chief, have been filed against the school related to the case.
Christian Gardner, the chair of the U.’s board of trustees, said Wednesday that he believes any of the three candidates could take on those challenges. “Each would be an outstanding choice to lead Utah’s flagship university,” he said, “and is well positioned to continue the U.’s upward trajectory.”
Here’s a closer look at the three candidates.
In her current role as the executive vice president for University of California Health, Byington oversees a system much like the U.’s, where a medical complex and a college operate together on a shared campus. Except the California model is much bigger — in fact, it’s the largest public academic health care system in the country.
Since starting there in late 2019, Byington has led the education of all medical students, as well as worked as a professor of pediatrics on the San Francisco campus. She’s also directed the system’s response to the pandemic, preparing hospitals for the surge in cases, developing testing and administering the vaccine — which will be required for students and faculty at the University of California to attend classes on the campus this fall.
Byington is considered an industry expert on bacterial and viral respiratory pathogens, having extensively studied Ebola, pneumonia and influenza. She also served as chair of the team responsible for protecting U.S. athletes and staff from the Zika virus during the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.
She took over the helm in California after the previous executive vice president was accused of sexual and racial harassment, according to The Daily Californian.
Before her role in California, Byington was the vice chancellor for health services for the Texas A&M system and dean of the medical college there. That’s her alma mater, where she received her bachelor of science in biology. She became a doctor of medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine and completed her residency there. And she did a fellowship at the University of California.
At Texas A&M, she made history as the first Mexican American to serve as the dean and senior vice president for an academic medical center in the United States. And her focus in academic medicine has followed suit, as she’s worked to end health disparities and increase equity in medicine, including creating policies for hiring more diverse faculty.
If she’s chosen as president of the U., it would also mark a return for her to Utah. She was a professor of pediatrics here, as well as an administrator over health sciences and the school of medicine, for more than 20 years.
Interviewed by The Salt Lake Tribune in 2016, she said she loved specializing in children’s health.
“When you intervene medically with a child, there’s so much you can do to improve their life,” Byington said. “They have so many years to live.”
Murthy is the first female dean at UCLA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, a job she has held since January 2016. There she oversees 6,000 students and 190 faculty members.
In her role, she has worked to expand teaching topics, specifically with medicine and biology as they overlap with engineering. And she has focused on bringing more artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics into the classroom. Last year, she directed undergraduates to use that technology, including a 3D printer, to build surgical face shields for medical workers during the pandemic, according to the television station there, KTLA.
Her own expertise is in studying the transfer of heat at a nanoscale level, and she is a distinguished professor.
But her biggest push has been to get more women and people of color into the sciences. She created WE@UCLA, a program that supports the full participation of women in engineering.
“Our larger goal is to see women fully participate and succeed in our student body, and at all levels in industry,” she said in 2019 when a sponsor donated $5 million to make the program permanent.
Murthy also forged new partnerships with nearby community colleges that led to more students enrolling for a bachelor’s degree at UCLA. The University of Utah is currently trying something similar with Salt Lake Community College, including starting construction on a shared campus in Herriman.
Prior to UCLA, Murthy was chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. And from 2008 to 2014, she served as the director of the Center for Prediction of Reliability, Integrity and Survivability of Microsystems, which focuses on how science can solve societal challenges, at Purdue University, where she also had been a professor since 2001.
She has also worked at Carnegie Mellon University and Arizona State University.
Murthy started her career as one of the earliest employees of Fluent, Inc., a developer for computational fluid dynamics software that is used worldwide.
She received her doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota, a master’s degree from Washington State University and a bachelor of technology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur. She grew up in Hyderabad, India.
According to the Hindu Business Line, Murthy’s father was a civil engineer and she said she was inspired and intrigued by his work as a kid.
Randall is the only internal candidate to become the next U. president.
He joined the staff at the university in 1999 and has served as dean of the Eccles School of Business for the last 12 years.
It has been under his leadership that the school gained a national reputation — including several first place rankings in college publications — for innovation and entrepreneurship. Currently, seven of the school’s programs are also ranked in the top 25 in the country, according to the U.’s news release.
Randall has expanded the institutes and centers at the business school that give students a firsthand look at a career in business or finance with internships, fellowships and jobs. Those include the Sorensen Impact Center and the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
During the past year, he served as the economic lead on Utah’s Unified Command COVID-19 Response Team. And he directed his faculty team at the business school to do research on mask wearing, which concluded that mandating face masks lowers the incidence of virus infections, save lives and boosts commercial activity.
“It reduces COVID spread in our communities,” he said, “but it also increases consumer mobility in stores and restaurants and also increases consumer spending.”
Randall also approved a random COVID-19 testing project that gave the state data on how far the virus had been spreading in households.
He also recently launched a partnership with the business school and the U.’s athletic programs so that student entrepreneurs could help student athletes with creating a brand and profiting from their name, image and likeness.
And, during his tenure, the business school accepted a $13 million donation aimed at coming up with solutions to fight global poverty.
Before he became dean, Randall was a professor of accounting for 11 years. He served, too, as the faculty director of the University Venture Fund, the largest student-run venture fund in the United States.
His first job was as a senior consultant at Arthur Anderson LLP, an accounting firm based in Chicago, according to his LinkedIn page.
Randall graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah in accounting. He then earned an MBA and Ph.D. in operations and information management from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.