What Do We Want in a U president? We reached out to a few students, faculty, alumni, and more to find out.

As the University of Utah begins its search for a new president, we wanted to know what attributes people in the U community think would be most important to consider. So we reached out to a few students, faculty, administrators, and alumni to find out. Here's what they had to say.

“I hope that the board of trustees will find someone with a clear vision for the university, a strong sense of integrity, and a commitment to transparency within the position. Our university needs a leader who will not only be the public face of the U for years to come, but who also has the interpersonal skills necessary to ensure that the U will remain a hub for world-class education, research, and health care for years to come.”

Steven Havlik
Biology major

President, The MUSS Board

“As a U student, especially a student reporter, I like to know what is going on with the higher-ups of my school. I want to know what decisions are being made, and how they will shape my college years. It is important to me to know that my voice is being heard, and that my experience is being considered as a factor in universitywide decisions. For my university, I want a president who is dedicated to transparency, and who is willing to show how and why they are making the university better for every individual involved.”

Megan Hulse
English and communication major

Editor in Chief, The Daily Utah Chronicle

“In addition to continuing the great work around equity and diversity initiated by our current administration, our next president should continue to guide the university toward becoming an inclusive environment for all students, faculty, and staff to excel to exceptional levels.”

Nicole Rene Robinson*
Professor, U School of Music

Assistant Vice President, U Office for Equity and Diversity

“The president should above all be student-oriented and have a vision of the university that is progressive, inclusive, and high achieving. The U is a top-tier research institution, and I love the opportunities it provides for entrepreneurship and cultivation of the intellect. I think a good president has ways of implementing these opportunities on an administrative level and finding ways to get students involved. Additionally, after speaking with a lot of students about the current political climate of the country, it’s become apparent that many don’t feel as comfortable or safe on campus as they deserve to be. I believe it is important for the president to find a way to make students feel welcomed and involved.”

Saeed Shihab
Biomedical engineering major
Vice President, ASUU Student Relations

“The University of Utah needs a president who has integrity, good judgment, courage, diplomatic and communication skills, a deep understanding about academics, scholastic accomplishments in their own field, and stamina to deal with the demands of the position. We also need a president who knows how a great university operates, and who can lead the U to look and act even more like the world-class university that it can become.”

Richard B. Brown PhD’85*
Dean, U College of Engineering

“The next president of the university must care deeply about students, believing that students are not an interruption of our work, they ARE our work. Understanding and framing the campus culture for learning requires assembling an amazing team of leaders, nurturing them individually and collectively, celebrating successes, and adapting from failures, always with the best interests of the university at heart. The U thrives on collaboration and partnerships; its new president must serve as a model and cheerleader for these values. The groundwork for a fantastic future has been set, and we all look forward to the incredible years ahead!”

Barbara Snyder
Vice President, U Student Affairs

“A university president’s job is highly collaborative. Thus, a successful president is one who has not only impeccable integrity, a great vision for the future of the university, and professional credentials that win the respect of peers and constituents; a successful president will also be one who is highly effective at building relationships with students, faculty, staff, legislators, and donors, along with business, education, and government leaders across the state of Utah and beyond. Having an optimistic attitude and a great sense of humor helps!”

Harris Simmons BA’77*
Vice Chairman, Utah Board of Regents
Chairman, President, and CEO, Zions Bancorporation

“I feel like a laundry list may be the best way to look at the ideal candidate so it can be used as a checklist. Here is my take on that list: Has a good sense of humor, clear idea of right and wrong, common sense, integrity, perseverance, willingness to listen and debate an opinion that is different from or opposite of their own, strong sense of family; is a problem solver, team builder, good communicator; is enthusiastic, passionate, thick-skinned, patient, loyal, visionary, optimistic, socially and politically poised, approachable, confident, caring, and respectful. Not necessarily in that order.”

Joe Sargetakis BA’80
President, U Alumni Association Board
Co-owner, Frog Bench Farms

“A university president should be a beacon, inspiring both commitment and deep curiosity in scholars across all disciplines. He or she must be a humanist, one who reminds us that for all our specialties, we aspire in common to aid and improve humankind. Our president must remember and honor the first purpose of all higher learning: To provide a physically safe and intellectually unsafe, exciting, and stimulating environment where any mind may think critically and develop to its fullest. The president must be well-rounded, have an ability to live in this unique culture, cultivating community support as well as legislative appreciation for the university. Finally, the president should be forthright about how the institution must adapt, always bearing in mind that the future will be shaped only inasmuch as we succeed to mentor, mold, and then make way for the individual student.”

Anne Cullimore Decker BS’57 MFA’82
Actress; former U Professor of Theater

*Members of the U's Presidential Search Committee (Simmons is co-chair).

Web Extra: Read a comprehensive overview of how a national search for a university president is conducted in our previous Continuum feature here.

We want to hear from you, too! Share your thoughts in the comments below...

For updates on the search and information about public input meetings, visit https://presidentsearch.utah.edu/

10 thoughts on “What Do We Want in a U president?



  • We need a president who fiercely defends free speech on campus. No safe spaces. No trigger warnings. No coddling of anyone. Just the free grown-up competition of ideas through dialogue. Even ideas many don’t find attractive must be allowed expression, in part so they can be exposed for what they are. The marketplace of ideas works and I hope our new president is a strong advocate for free speech on campus.

  • I think it’s about time that the University had a woman president. And not just an interim president either. The concerns of 50% of the population need to be addressed, by someone who has experienced them.

  • While I could list many attributes, I note that many of them have already been raised. So I will mention just one. There is such a limitation of free speech on campuses these days. One of my degrees also came from Cal-Berkeley. I was so disappointed in how they (and so many other campuses) now not only limit free speech, but organized violence occurs there when alternative opinions are raised. I am concerned that Utah also seemed inclined in this area when they considered “uninviting” a speaker at Commencement because of her views. Therefore, a new President must be committed to free speech and allowing all points of view to be heard Obviously this would not include encouraging violence or other unlawful practices. Furthermore, professors should NOT be allowed to push their own political agenda within the classroom.

  • I’d like a president that would be willing to go without his/her own parking spot until the parking problem has been fixed for everyone else.

  • A president with a strong ecological conscience. The university needs to set a sustainable example with everything it does

  • I’d echo what Jerry Lund said, the ‘U’ and it’s next president need to be rock solid in their support of the constitution’s protections for free speech. Waver even a little and ‘the Hill’ turns into Berkeley, wherein the battle over free speech is fought ad nauseam to a violent stalemate.

    On a more practical note, the next president has to be a dynamite fundraiser.

  • I agree that it is time the U had a female president. Maybe even a minority female president. Half the student body is female, and a good amount of students come from minority communities. How about hiring someone who looks like us? Laura M. Gray B.A. ’81, J.D. ’91.

  • An individual who is respected for his or her knowledge, respect for others,creating a curriculum which can teach students that which will be most helpful for their futures, and unfortunately take responsibility for students who have not acted appropriately and take actions to correct rather than ignore.

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