By Universe Staff
Staff reporters for The Universe recently interviewed several BYU alumni now serving as university presidents at public colleges and universities in Utah. (Full profiles of several of these individuals may be seen at universe.byu.edu). Based on these interviews, as well as observing the trajectory of other BYU graduates who have risen to command higher education institutions, here are some serious and not-so-serious tips for the current BYU student aspring to one day lead a university:
1. Connections count. This is not to minimize the individual merit of anyone or suggest nepotism got somebody a job, but correlation if not causation suggests that knowing the right people, or having the right family pedigree, does not hurt. Three of the six Utah public institution presidents in 2010-2011 who were BYU graduates had recognizable names in Latter-day Saint history: Young, Benson and Holland. Another BYU graduate and college president had previously served as a General Authority for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
2. Women are invited to apply. Although five of the six BYU graduates who were college presidents in Utah in 2010-11 are male, one is not. F. Ann Millner received an Ed.D. from BYU and now serves as president of Weber State University. Millner became the first female college president in Utah in 2002 and commanded a salary of $268,000, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Millner has announced she will step down soon, after leading the Ogden school for 10 years. She will continue as a faculty member in health professions. Meanwhile, the president of Salt Lake Community College, Cynthia Bioteau, told The Universe recently that her greatest achievement was not earning a Ph.D. at age 50 or rising to the top post at a college but rather rising two children. Though not a graduate of BYU, Bioteau can relate to students with children of their own: She interrupted her own professional and academic career for 12 years to raise her children.
3. Scholarship is important but leadership is critical. The president of a university must have the respect of faculty, meaning he or she must understand if not participate actively in academic culture and production of scholarship. Most of all, though, the president must be able to lead a large organization through challenge and change. In public colleges and universities today, the abilities to raise money and lobby legislators are increasingly important. Michael T. Benson, president of Southern Utah University, told The Universe he honed his political and fundraising skills first as a BYU political science student, then assistant to the president at the University of Utah and also as president of Snow College in Ephraim. When Benson arrived at SUU in Cedar City, he told The Universe, some students thought he had promised more than he could deliver in fundraising. Within a few weeks, however, Benson had secured a $3 million donation for SUU.
4. Love students. It almost goes without saying, but college and university presidents should have the interest of their students foremost in their minds. But a college or university has to think ahead about students who will arrive 10 or even 20 years in the future. So strategic planning, building construction, fundraising and hiring faculty are all done with an eye toward their impact on students decades into the future. But a president should enjoy working with young people now. Matthew Holland of Utah Valley University taught American Heritage classes at BYU before moving to the Orem school. Stephen Nadauld of Dixie State College in St. George was a mission president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Michael Benson of SUU takes his wife and young children with him to university events, and SUU students have been known to call Benson their “hero.”
5. Watch for lightning. Although there are some obvious steps current BYU students can take, like studying hard to get good grades and prepare for graduate school, becoming a college or university president has something of a lightning-strike quality to it. So BYU students who often find four-leaf clovers or who have a rabbit’s foot in their pocket might have the best chance of being in the right place at the right time.
Contributing reporters: Elizabeth Edwards, Hunter Schwarz, Heather Daley, Kelly Bluth and Lok Yi Chan.