U’s new president ready to face challenges

A 21-member committee recently wrapped up a six month presidential search with a unanimous vote for former dean of the George Washington University School of Law, Michael Young, to serve as the 14th president of the U.

The original list of 147 candidates was narrowed to three finalists and, after some consideration, Michael Young, was selected in favor of Loren Crabtree and Susan Prager. Young says he is hesitant to set a lot of ambitious goals because he is coming in from the outside.

“I sense that this is an extraordinary institution and we can build on the tremendous work of my predecessors and the faculty and students,” Young said. “We will determine the path together.”

Following this brief disclaimer, Young asserted that he wishes to increase cooperation between departments and said the U is well-poised to make it happen.

“Internally there will be an expansion of interdisciplinary work,” he said. “There is a breakdown of borders that used to define disciplines and we will have the opportunity to merge those strengths with each other.”

Young added that international borders are breaking down in the same manner.

“I think the students bring a remarkable amount of international skill as well as the faculty.”

Bringing in a new president does not mean the campus will start with a clean slate. Young will face several ongoing challenges including diversity, the gun debate, building bridges with the state Legislature and furthering opportunities for research.


Critics tend to focus on the fact that Young is a Caucasian, LDS, male and, in the process, overlook his record. He urges critics to rise above prejudices and look at his history as Dean of George Washington University’s Law School.

Under Young’s direction, the law school had the largest percentage of African American students and the most Hispanic graduates among selective law schools in the country while maintaining the most diverse senior leadership in terms of race and gender among the 183 law schools in the nation.

Young insists, “Diversity is essential for a great institution.”

“In a great institution, students go out and teach each other. They learn as much that way as they learn from professors,” he continued. “[Diversity] enriches the educational experience for everyone on campus, and we’re going to have a rich education.”

While Young prefers not to be labeled with respect to affirmative action, he insists the concept misses the point by focusing solely on admissions. He insists that a more inclusive policy consisting of recruitment and treatment policies in addition to admissions would be more sensible.

“You’ve got to start back at your goal, which is to always provide the best educational experience possible for the students,” Young said. “You can’t purely focus on the admissions process or you miss the boat.”

In regard to his religious beliefs, Young says his views have played a formative role in his life and have a substantial influence on who he is, but they will not prevent him from performing his tasks in an unbiased manner.

“I’m a passionate believer in academic freedom, and I’ve been in academic settings my entire life. It’s never been a problem, and I don’t think it will be a problem in Utah.”

Although Young is the U’s first LDS President in 13 years, the school’s history shows it is not uncommon for a Mormon to serve in this high profile position. The first 11 U presidents were LDS, leaving the last two presidents, Arthur Smith and Bernie Machen, as the only non LDS presidents in the history of the university.

Gun debate

Young referred to the topic as a volatile issue and said that he understands the Second Amendment.

However, Young also warned that institutions of learning need to take occasional risks, and doing so is difficult unless you’re “free from social, intellectual and physical intimidation.”

Young continued, “Anything that would increase the uneasiness and sense of danger on campus would be ill advised.”

Building bridges with the Legislature

Young says he recognizes this is an important ingredient in resolving the issue of guns on campus, but he wished to address it as a separate topic.

Young says he sees the U as an important contributor to the community, both as an economic engine and as a trainer of nurses, doctors, lawyers, business people and teachers around the state.

“The university benefits by understanding ways in which it can have more collaborative partnerships with the state,” he said.

“However,” Young continued, “that doesn’t mean we’re not going to disagree.”

Young has already met with Legislators and says he hopes they can settle future disagreements as friends and family rather than enemies.

“I want to disagree in the way partners who wish each other well disagree. We will find common ground,” he said.

Continuing research

“Research, in ways, is really the life blood of an institution,” Young said. “People often say it’s teaching, not researching, but the two are intimately related.”

Young has extensive hands-on experience with research. He has written nearly 80 articles and either written or participated in the writing of seven books.

“The answer to great research is to expand the funding, and we will work tirelessly to do precisely that,” Young said. “I will work to do everything I possibly can to expand the funding and demand.”

He says working with the Legislature is only one mean by which to obtain funding for ongoing research. Young insists that we must also tap two additional resources: the federal government and private donors.

“We will continue to press forward on both fronts [teaching and researching] very vigorously.”

Michael Young will officially take the reigns as president on Aug. 1. Until then, Interim President Lorris Betz will continue to serve in that capacity.

When Young steps in, Betz plans to return to serve in his previous position as the Senior Vice President for Health Sciences.

Betz said his experience as interim president has been educational and he hopes it will help him expand his role in health sciences.

“It’s been very nice to get to know the parts of the campus I hadn’t had much experience with. I think I’ve made some new friendships and relationships that I hope can lead to some joint projects between upper and lower campus.”

In addition to his assessment of his personal experience as interim president, Betz offered kind words regarding the future president’s abilities.

“I think President Young was a great choice-he’s certainly shown great skill in what he’s done at George Washington Law School,” Betz said. “My interactions have shown him to be a real quick study in picking up the issues at the university and I think, so far, he’s shown a great willingness to reach out to the community and to the Legislature.”

Vice President for U Relations, Fred Esplin, praised the selection committee, the Board of Regents and the new president.

“I think Michael Young is an excellent choice as president of the university,” Esplin said. “I’ve met [Young] a few times-he’s intelligent and articulate and he clearly understands the higher education environment along with the complexities he’ll confront here at the U. I’m looking forward to working with him.”

Young is a California native, but at the age of 54, he has had the opportunity to build a history of strong ties to Utah. He earned his Bachelor of the Arts degree from Brigham Young University, an institution named for one of his most notable ancestors.

After graduating from BYU, he moved on to earn a Juris Doctorate from Harvard, an education that helped catapult him into the position of clerk for now Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist.

Young’s current position as dean of the law school at George Washington University likely helped him obtain this new position as U president, but he says
he never treated the job as a springboard to other things and he doesn’t see the role of U president as a tool to reach other positions either.

“I don’t have any plans or ambitions to go anywhere else or use this as a stepping stone to anything else,” Young said. “It’s something I’d like to do long enough to leave a legacy, and I don’t think you can do that in six or seven years like with a law school.”

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