Some signs point toward Michael Young as new UW president

It's mostly circumstantial evidence so far, but the University of Utah president would appear to be a good match for the Husky vacancy.

Crosscut archive image.

Michael K. Young

It's mostly circumstantial evidence so far, but the University of Utah president would appear to be a good match for the Husky vacancy.

According to various indicators, the University of Washington is close to naming its new president, perhaps in the next few weeks. The advisory committee has apparently sent over three semi-finalists to the Regents. One of these three, a very controversial choice, has apparently withdrawn, so we may be down to the final two.

The name of University of Utah president Michael K. Young keeps being mentioned, though with no confirmation. A Salt Lake City television station reported that Young is on the short list at the UW, but no one has commented on the record. There is some circumstantial evidence to suggest he could be among the final two.

Young is a lawyer and diplomat, having served as dean of the George Washington University Law School before going to the Utah post in 2004; since the UW Law School Dean, Kellye Testy, chairs the advisory committee, there might be a tilting toward a person with Young's experience. Young has recently gone through a divorce, causing problems with the Mormon world of Utah donors and education, so he might be inclined to seek another job.

Young has a lot of the right credentials for the UW job. He's 61. The University of Utah is a large (23,000 students) state university with a good football team (about to join the Pac-10), a big medical school, and other professional schools as at the UW. Young grew up in California, went to high school and Brigham Young University in Utah, and then graduated from Harvard Law School. He clerked for Justice Rehnquist, taught at Columbia, has held some important diplomatic posts in Japan, and helped with German unification. Another good sign: He bikes to work and loves to ski.

Young is a practicing Mormon, descended from Brigham Young's brother, Lorenzo Dow Young. That religious heritage might score him some points with conservatives in this state, but he also has been a force for tolerance and diversity on the campus. He is said to be very hard-working, warm, and even able to bring consensus to a law-school faculty.

In the past, UW Regents have insisted on hiring a sitting president, which Young obviously is. His academic specialties are Japanese law, human rights issues, international trade, and international environmental law — all a good match for UW strengths and orientations.

In all, a safe and tested choice. Young would appear to have many of the skills of Mark Emmert but with a stronger academic pedigree, and that is something the UW faculty has been asking for in the new president. Emmert also arrived here without leading a university with a medical school, normally the most dominant part of major universities. Nor is Young an outsider, such as a former politician, who might rattle the nerves of the university further by imposing reforms or treading on academic traditions.

A Seattle Times story suggests that one outsider, Gary Locke, is out of the running (he was just nominated by President Obama as ambassador to China), and one former UW administrator, John Simpson, has rebuffed discussions about returning.

And what kind of university will this new president be guiding? It will clearly be less of a state university, as state funding drifts down from around $400 million a year to perhaps only half of that figure. The UW will supplement that missing money by raising tuition, accepting more out-of-state students (who pay higher tuitions), shedding weaker departments, and possibly pegging some tuitions to market demand.

It will also seek to strengthen ties to greater-Seattle-area businesses, donors, and philanthropies. Two ways this will happen is by more emphasis on environmental issues as well as urban affairs. Only Yale has as much depth in both these areas as the UW, says university history professor Margaret Pugh O'Mara, a specialist in American urban history and a leader in the university's ambitious current initiative to engage the region on urban issues, called Now Urbanism.

Obviously there are other ways of welding the university to the region's economic and intellectual interests, notably the medical school, computer science, and law. In the past, the university has downplayed its "Seattleness," fearful of how that plays in Olympia. With the new necessity to replace state funds and priorities, the likely turn to the urban context would seem to make sense. It will also take a lot of diplomatic finesse.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors