GW Law School Dean Michael Young could learn Thursday night whether he will become the next president of the University of Utah.
Young, who has been the Law School’s dean for six years, is one of three candidates being eyed by the University of Utah to fill its top post. Utah officials are expected to announce their decision following a Thursday night meeting.
“It’s going to be a very difficult choice because all three candidates are very well qualified,” said Dave Buhler, Utah’s associate commissioner for higher education. “Each has their own strengths, and the (Utah Board of Regents) is going to have to see which is the best fit for the University of Utah.”
The other two candidates for Utah’s presidency are University of Tennessee-Knoxville Chancellor Loren Crabtree and University of California-Los Angeles law professor Susan Westerberg Prager.
Because there is no clear front-runner for the job, Utah’s Board of Regents, which is the top higher education decision-making body in the state, might not make a final decision Thursday, Buhler said.
The position became vacant when Utah president Bernard Machen took a job at the University of Florida in January. The search for a replacement began immediately after his departure.
“They approached me a few months ago and asked whether I was interested,” Young said in a phone interview Monday. “These are not uncommon calls, but for the most part, I am very, very happy here, and I haven’t allowed my name to go forward anywhere else. I said I’d be willing to have my name considered or taken to the next level.”
Young, a graduate of Brigham Young University, which is also located in Utah, said he is excited about the chance to return to the West.
“I’m from the West and went to BYU undergrad,” he said. “I think (University of Utah) is an extraordinary institution with a lot of exciting things going on across the board. It seemed to be an interesting opportunity.”
Before coming to GW, Young was a professor of Japanese law at Columbia University and held several positions in the U.S. State Department.
If Young becomes Utah’s president, the Law School would elect a committee of faculty members to search for a new dean, said Roger Trangsrud, the school’s senior associate dean for academic affairs. After interviewing candidates, the faculty would make a recommendation to University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.
Trangsrud said the Law School, which was ranked 20th in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, is in “excellent condition” and has long-term plans in place that would not be derailed by Young’s departure.
He said Young’s interest in Utah does not indicate any unhappiness with his position at GW.
In several discussions with Law School faculty and staff, Young “made clear that he was very happy being here,” Trangsrud said.
Some Law School faculty members credited Young with improving the school in areas across the board, and said they would “miss him terribly” if he went to Utah.
“He’s done a lot of really great things,” law professor Gregory Maggs said. “He’s doubled the size of our building, expanded the faculty, increased the pay – everything he’s done is great as far as I’m concerned.”
Law professor Lawrence Mitchell said he would be “extremely distressed” if Young got the job and left GW. Mitchell praised Young for the efforts he has taken to improve the Law School’s image.
“He has managed really to raise the visibility of the law school in (a) way that allows people to better see how good a law school we are,” Mitchell said. “In the past, we had a tendency to undersell ourselves, and it obscured how truly fine an institution this is. Mike basically overcame that … and I give him enormous credit for that.”
Trachtenberg said while he has been pleased with Young’s performance at the Law School, he is happy to see the dean’s career advancing.
“He’s been a brilliant dean, and inevitably talent draws attention to itself, and people come and try to steal your people,” Trachtenberg said.
“We, as an institution, are interested in keeping people here, but we don’t discourage professional growth,” he added. “So when a challenging opportunity … comes along, we try to help people.”
Last year, the University appointed John Williams, vice president for health affairs, as provost. Trachtenberg said last September that he was “trying to give (Williams) a professional challenge that would discourage him from looking elsewhere.”
Young’s greatest challenge would be finding the niche of a secular university in a state that has many devout Mormons, Trachtenberg said. Trachtenberg also said that Young would be making the transition to a job that would encompass his whole life.
“We’ve had long conversation about how it impacts your private life, the fact that it’s a total wrap-around,” said Trachtenberg, who is serving his 16th year as GW’s president. “It’s 24-7. You’re never quite off the clock.”
-Michael Barnett contributed to this report