The Utah Valley University community heard from the final four candidates for its next president Thursday, one day before a new president will likely be announced.
Bradley Cook, John Rosenberg, Astrid Tuminez and Matthew Wilson were at UVU on Thursday to meet with university groups and participate in a question-and-answer session with the community. The candidates answered questions that centered around the academics of UVU, the university’s relationship with its neighbors and how they would interact with the state Legislature to secure funds for UVU.
Current President Matthew Holland will leave the university this summer to be a mission president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in North Carolina.
The Utah System of Higher Education Board of Regents is scheduled to vote on the next president at 5:45 p.m. Friday at UVU.
The candidates are presented in alphabetical order below.
Cook pointed to his green tie and UVU pin as he joked about pandering to his crowd.
“It’s lovely to be back home,” Cook said.
Cook, the provost and executive vice president at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, worked at Utah Valley State College from 1993 to 1995 and from 1999 to 2006.
Cook, who graduated from Payson High School, called the process a homecoming and said he has memories associated with every part of the campus.
“Green and white really runs through my blood and I am just so happy to be back and to be consider to get back in this fight with you arm-in-arm for its next iteration,” Cook said.
He said the university needs to have strategic growth and that, while the university is rapidly growing, students he’s spoken to haven’t felt like UVU is too big or that they get lost.
Cook said he chaired SUU’s diversity and inclusion master plan, which identified the need for a chief diversity officer on campus. He also said using open educational resources, which are free, instead of expensive textbooks and keeping tuition low helps with socioeconomic diversity.
While he was at UVU, Cook said the number of international students there increased and the amount of minority students has increased by 50 percent.
He’s aware of the tension between the university and neighbors who oppose high-density student housing near campus. He said there needs to be empathy toward the community and its worries, along with healthy dialogue.
Rosenberg wants UVU’s model to be sustainable as the student population grows so the university can remain an open-enrollment institution.
“I am not ready to say it is time to close the doors,” Rosenberg said. “One of the reasons I’m not ready for that is because I see what is happening on my own campus.”
Rosenberg trains academic administrators as the associate director of the BYU Faculty Center.
He discussed the origins of university and a liberal arts education and said general education is the last remnant of that history. If a university wants to last for 800 years, he said it needs to go back to the basic, medieval roots of universities.
While large class sizes aren’t in themselves an obstacle to a good general education, Rosenberg said the university needs to receive funding to match its growth and needs to look carefully at academic priorities.
He’s been in Utah County for 33 years and said the changing demographics have enriched the community.
“Diversity can’t simply be accomodation,” Rosenberg said. “Accommodation is the lowest form of diversity. A higher form is what I call reciprocal hospitality.”
As for the relationship between the university and the community, he said a university can either be considered a well to draw resources from, or a tumor. To have a good relationship with UVU’s neighbors, he said the university and the community need to find common interests and work from there as UVU finds ways to minimize its impacts on neighbors.
Tuminez finds UVU’s dual model bold and experimental.
“My goal is for the dual mission to take over the world of higher education,” Tuminez said.
Tuminez is the regional director for corporate, external and legal affairs in Southeast Asia for Microsoft. She has previously led marketing, fundraising and grants administration at the National University of Singapore.
She was born in the Philippines and came to Utah at 18 to study at Brigham Young University.
Tuminez said she wasn’t looking for any job and was interested in the president position because she has an attachment to Utah, she likes UVU’s vision and could take on meaningful challenges at the university.
In technology, she said people are also asked to do more with fewer resources. She said UVU will need to clarify its core priorities and raise additional funds.
“Once we define the things that absolutely must be done and focus on those, and see what else can be done with the resources the university has,” Tuminez said.
She wants to improve completion rates, increase teaching quality and bring in additional funding.
In her own career, she said she’s tried to be aware of her own prejudices and look at how talent can be developed. She wants to continue UVU’s existing diversity programs.
Tuminez said UVU should find a common language to problem-solve with its neighbors and show the value UVU has to the community.
“When the community thrives, the university thrives,” Tuminez said. “Everybody wins at the end of the day.”
Wilson, who said he had family in the area, also called his visit to UVU a homecoming.
He has been at the University of Akron for four years, two of which have been in the role of the president after he was thrust into the spot first as an interim president. He was the dean of the university’s law school for the other two years.
Wilson said he planned to stay in Ohio until Holland announced he was stepping down and Wilson got calls from people telling him he’d be a perfect fit.
“I have decided I want to invest here in Utah Valley,” Wilson said.
He said he can see himself retiring in Utah.
Wilson said his role as president in Ohio has been to empower, inspire and equip employees. He also meets with employees in town hall meetings.
“I believe in rolling up one sleeve and supporting where possible, not micromanaging, but supporting, is exactly what I need to be doing as president,” Wilson said.
He points to overcoming a $30 million deficit in the University of Akron’s budget that ended with putting $12 million into the university’s account without raising tuition and with giving staff a bonus last year.
Wilson also said university-community relations were terrible when he took on the role as president and he went door-to-door to visit with community members and groups. He also met individually with legislators to develop relationships.
He said he has experience with difficult cultures through time he spent living in Japan and is in a multicultural marriage. As president, he said he wanted the University of Akron to be inclusive, which included putting together a room for Muslims to pray.
“We should celebrate differences because through differences we find strength,” Wilson said.