"You know, nine hundred years of time and space and I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important.”
-- The Doctor
Astrid Tuminez, the new president of Utah Valley University, has come to Orem by way of the slums of the Philipines, the halls of Brigham Young University, the libraries of Harvard and MIT, the salons of Moscow and the servers of Microsoft.
And, as may befit someone who has been that many places in that short a time (she’s only 54), she is also a Doctor Who fan. And Tuminez takes command of the state’s largest university just when the role of the Time Lord is about to be filled for the first time, as is her job, by a woman.
Like a lot of us, she thinks that’s pretty cool. (She also shared my astonishment when I told her the story of how a relative of mine crossed MIT off his list of possible colleges when the tour guide there didn’t know what a TARDIS — the Doctor’s time machine — was.)
But down to business.
Tuminez has returned to Utah to run an institution that is out to be just about as cosmopolitan as she is. People from all over. First generation college students and folks who have always been expected to go to college like their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents did. Junior college transfers and master’s degree candidates. Musicians and auto mechanics. People who have fled from Africa to settle here and people who have never been east of the Wasatch Mountains.
And, like a lot of us, she thinks that’s pretty cool.
As a scholar of the old Soviet Union, Tuminez remembers the ecology of a bi-polar world. East vs West. Them vs. Us. NATO vs. Warsaw Pact. Just about everybody else falls, or is dragged, into one of the two camps, if only for their own safety.
After all that fell apart, there was a moment where it seems that we had come to the End of History and everyone would be free to be themselves. But now, in a way, we are back to Us and Them.
But now it is not so much about what part of the world you are in. It is more about whether you are comfortable with the free flow of not just capital and goods, but of people and ideas.
Clearly, the affection the sitting president has for such thugs as Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rises from their common world view. That the way to gain and hold power is to rally your people against their people by keeping your side pure and making sure everyone knows the other side is demonic and sub-human. That’s one of the new poles of this, again, bi-polar world.
The other one is the kind that celebrates the rise of a poor girl from squalid slums through a local Catholic school, through the university that is key to the mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, through the secular priesthoods of Harvard and MIT, into global business and philanthropy. And back to Utah.
Not because we are, as some might fear and some might hope, so lily white. But because, pale of skin though most of us are, there is, down deep, a sympathy for folks who have come here from a long way away. An understanding that being displaced can be awful but also can be the turning of a page that inspires a desire to do great things. Or just the urge to be home.
Being comfortable with that much, pardon the politically correct term, diversity is a clear advantage to any culture that wants to evolve rather than freeze up. That’s why some universities fight so hard for state and federal governments to leave them alone and let them pursue affirmative action policies that, they know in their bones, fulfills their mission as a place of learning.
It is a motivation for this very petite woman of color just as it was for her predecessor -- a very tall white dude named Matthew Holland.
Tuminez notes, though, that the athletic mascot for UVU is the wolverine. A small, potentially vicious creature who can take on beasts much larger than itself.
As the Doctor used to say, “Allons-y!” That’s French, sort of, for “Let’s go!”
George Pyle, the editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, really wishes “Doctor Who” was still on KUED instead of BBC America, because KUED doesn’t have commercials breaking up the show. email@example.com