Utah State University reveals three finalists in search for new president

Candidates include a former university president, a research leader and an in-house contender.

(Utah State University) Finalist candidates for Utah State University president, from left, Kenneth White, Elizabeth Cantwell and Rodney Bennett.

Utah State University announced Monday that a search committee has recommended three finalists to become the school’s new president, following current president Noelle Cockett’s November announcement that she was resigning.

The three finalists are Rodney Bennett, a previous president of the University of Southern Mississippi; Elizabeth “Betsy” Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation at the University of Arizona; and Kenneth “Ken” White, USU’s dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, among other roles.

USU has scheduled a public meeting for May 17, when all three finalists will meet with the university community, including faculty, staff, students, trustees and administrators.

Bennett will speak from 2 to 2:45 p.m., Cantwell will speak from 3 to 3:45 p.m. and White will speak from 4 to 4:45 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Eccles Conference Center on Utah State’s Logan campus.

[Read more: Utah State University President Noelle Cockett resigns]

The university began its search in December, when the Utah Board of Higher Education put together a 19-member committee of community members and stakeholders.

“The Utah Board of Higher Education is so grateful to the USU Presidential Search Committee for its meticulous and independent examination of candidates and their qualifications to lead this top-tier research university,” said Lisa Michele Church, chair of the Utah Board of Higher Education, in a news release.

“They considered all feedback received from USU faculty, staff, students and community members,” she added. “Our Board is looking forward to interviewing the three presidential finalists.”

Bennett was president of the University of Southern Mississippi for almost 10 years. According to the release, Bennett was “the first African American president of a predominately white higher institution in Mississippi.”

Bennett “established the vision for The University of Southern Mississippi to become the model for public higher education across the country,” which included diversity and inclusion initiatives and nearly $300 million in capital improvements, the release said.

“Bennett has a strong commitment to community leadership and engagement,” it added. “As president, he chaired the athletic conference board and represented the conference as a founding member of the College Football Playoff national championship Board of Managers.”

In her current position, Cantwell has been responsible for an $825 million annual research portfolio, as well as being responsible for the University of Arizona’s Tech Park, a 1,268-acre research park, the release said.

In addition to serving as a dean at USU, White is currently vice president at Utah State University Extension and director of the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station, part of a network of agriculture and natural resource researchers and facilities.

White also formerly served as the university’s head of Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences, where he has also been a faculty member since 1991.

“White has generated over $17.3 million in extramural funding while at USU to support research in animal reproduction and embryonic development,” the release said.

Find out more about the finalists in biographies on USU’s website.