The search for the next president of the University of Utah has been reduced to three people according to an announcement made Friday by the presidential search committee.
The final candidates are Ruth Watkins, Nicholas Jones and Thomas Katsouleas — one of which will replace current university President David Pershing.
Pershing told the U’s Academic Senate in May that he had planned to announce his retirement in August, but chose to move it up following the chain of events surrounding Mary Beckerle’s dismissal as CEO of Huntsman Cancer Institute. Beckerle was later reinstated.
Once the new president steps in, Pershing will return to a faculty position in engineering.
“The University of Utah Presidential Search Committee has narrowed the applicant pool to these three highly qualified candidates and is honored to recommend them to the Board of Regents for its consideration in selecting a new leader for the university,” said presidential search committee co-chair Harris Simmons in a prepared statement.
Ruth Watkins is the senior vice president for academic affairs at the U. If selected, she would be the university’s first woman president.
Before coming to the U, Watkins spent 20 years at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in administrative and faculty positions. She has both a master’s and doctorate degree in child language from the University of Kansas.
Similar to Pershing, both Nicholas Jones and Thomas Katsouleas hail from an engineering background.
Jones is the executive vice president and provost at Pennsylvania State University. He has also held leadership positions at Johns Hopkins University and, like Watkins, at UIUC. He obtained a master’s and doctorate degree in civil engineering from the California Institute of Technology and has an undergraduate degree in the same subject from the University of Auckland.
Also an executive vice president and provost, Katsouleas is currently stationed at the University of Virginia. He formerly occupied administrative and faculty positions in electrical and computer engineering at Duke University and served as a faculty member at the University of Southern California. Katsouleas received his doctorate and undergraduate degrees in physics from the University of California, Los Angeles.
The 25-member presidential search committee is comprised of faculty, staff, students, administration, alumni and community members. The group was organized in June with 24 members, but another was added after students raised concerns about the lack of diversity in the group, according to Spencer Jenkins, a spokesperson for the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE).
In September, about 15 students marched into a public hearing concerning the presidential search toting posters that criticized U administration’s handling of race issues on campus. A few of those students spoke at the meeting to raise concerns about poor representation of people of color in both the administration and the search committee.
Of the 24 original members of the presidential search committee, only four were people of color.
USHE Assistant Commissioner Geoffrey Landward, who helped organize the hiring process, promised the group after the hearing that there would be a more diverse group included when interviewing candidates.
According to Jenkins, USHE has done what it can to fulfill this pledge.
“We’ve been working with the Dean of Students Office to reach out to a number of student groups,” Jenkins said.
Dean of Students Lori McDonald said that the office gave USHE a list of leaders in the Associated Students of the University of Utah and those affiliated with student groups, including those under the Office for Equity and Diversity.
Jenkins said USHE will reference this list when selecting the students, faculty, staff and administration that will meet with the finalists privately on Jan. 17. A final decision will be made following a public hearing on Jan. 18 — the time of which is to be announced at a later date.
David Burton, search committee co-chair and chair of the U’s Board of Trustees, said in a written statement, “We thank the university’s trustees, faculty, students and staff, along with the community as a whole, for their valuable participation in this process.”