President Samuelson: BYU’s man for the job


    By Sarah Chamberlin

    President Cecil O. Samuelson may cause chuckling among some University of Utah fans today as he is inaugurated president of BYU. Yet, colleagues, friends and students of Samuelson have no doubt that he is the man for this job.

    “I love BYU,” Samuelson said. “I”ll be a great supporter of BYU, I”ll do everything I can to advance this institution, and I won”t have to do that with my fingers or toes crossed or anything else.”

    John Ward, professor of medicine and chief of the Oncology Division at the University of Utah School of Medicine, said he has a hard time picturing Samuelson wearing blue.

    “We”re kind of getting a kick out of having someone with three University of Utah degrees running BYU, because to me he”s a die-hard Ute,” Ward said.

    President Samuelson came to BYU with an impeccable background and an abundance of leadership experience. He has been in positions such as dean of University of Utah School of Medicine, senior vice president of Intermountain Health Care and member of the First Quorum of Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    “He can engender respect not just from a church community but from an academic community as well,” Ward said.

    Throughout his medical career, President Samuelson has been published widely and received numerous honors. While at Duke University, he won the Haskel Schiff Award for outstanding internal medicine. That particular award, which is given by colleagues to recognize an outstanding doctor in terms of compassion, highlighted a characteristic Ward said is dominant in President Samuelson.

    “Smart people are a dime a dozen, but a smart person who has compassion and good judgment is hard to come by,” Ward said. “That makes a huge difference. My view of medicine is that everybody”s smart, but that”s not all that matters. It”s compassion and caring for people.”

    Ward, whose father trained President Samuelson in medical school, said he looked up to President Samuelson as a young man and was inspired to become a doctor himself.

    “It was always nice to see people who could be good physicians and have good character,” Ward said

    While dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, Samuelson set in motion a lot of programs that still exist.

    “I think his style is one of inspiring confidence,” Ward said. “You believed in what he was doing. When he made a judgment, he made it for good reasons and you understood why.”

    As President Samuelson takes on his new charge, he will maintain his compassion and commitment to excellence. Although he has put his full-time medical profession to the side, he will still use some doctoring skills.

    “President Hinckley, in referring to my medical background, said I was not appointed because BYU is sick, but rather to keep it healthy,” President Samuelson said at the Annual University Conference. “That I am committed to doing, even when it requires changes in our habits, priorities or style as conditions around us evolve.”

    Jennie La Fortune, a BYU senior from Salt Lake City who grew up in the ward where President Samuelson lived for many years, said she was surprised to find out Samuelson would be BYU”s new president.

    “It”s weird for me to see him in this position because he was my neighbor,” LaFortune said. “I mean, we had sleepovers at his house.”

    Even though, President Samuelson was frequently away on church assignment, LaFortune had the opportunity to interact with him on a regular basis.

    “I”ve always noticed how friendly he is toward everyone,” LaFortune said. “He always makes you feel comfortable and welcome. He never forgets a face or a name.”

    LaFortune said she feels equally comfortable having President Samuelson at the head of this university.

    “I know that he”ll keep the standards high and expect a lot out of his students because he himself is very ambitious,” LaFortune said.

    In speaking at the University Conference about his goals for BYU, President Samuelson said he expects to add new programs and make improvements to those already in place.

    “I am convinced that our human deficiencies are more often our major impediments than are our physical circumstances,” President Samuelson said. “Let us continue to raise the bar in the quality of our learning and teaching, our scholarly and creative works, our outreach and our services.”

    In spite of personal achievements and success, President Samuelson maintains humility and acknowledges a power greater than his own.

    “I know that the Lord”s hand is on BYU and that the work of BYU is a vital part of the Lord”s work,” President Samuelson said. “We are thus entitled to seek His blessings and are also entitled to be guided and protected in our quests to the extent that we live our lives in congruence with our charge.”

    President Samuelson has been known to end conversations with the phrase, “Well, it”s been a slice of heaven.” Carri Jenkins, assistant to the president for University Communications, echoes that statement in reflecting on her associations with him.

    “We”re very fortunate to have a man of his experience, his intelligence and his wisdom,” Jenkins said. “He is devoted to this university and to its mission and will provide us with excellent leadership in the years to come.”

    Although today marks Samuelson”s official inauguration, he has been acting in this responsibility since May 1, 2003.

    “I think something that everyone has noticed is his devotion to the university,” Jenkins said. “He is often the first one here and the last to leave. He”s extremely competent, and we”re all taking note that he begins and ends meetings on time.”

    All faculty and students are invited to attend the Inauguration Ceremony for President Samuelson, which will take place Sept. 9, 2003 at 11 a.m. in the Marriott Center. President Gordon B. Hinckley will conduct the service and speak. Also in attendance will be President Thomas S. Monson, President James E. Faust and numerous guests of the university.

    “This will be something that will stand out as an important moment in their college careers,” Jenkins said. “I would encourage all students, whether it”s their first year or their last, to come to the inauguration and to listen carefully to all that is said there.”

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