University of Utah has new president with ‘big aspirations’ for school
After being named the new president of the University of Utah on Thursday, Taylor Randall couldn’t help but think back to 34 years ago, when he was an uncertain and nervous freshman stamping his feet at the same school he was about to lead.
During this first semester in 1987, he remembers rendering his first article in English. What he got back was his first F marked in bright red at the top.
It wasn’t all that surprising, Randall recalls with a laugh. And at least it was written in the school color. But what he remembers the most, he said from the podium where the crowd had just applauded and cheered his date, was that he had a teacher working with him for the improve and change it.
Randall said it took four careful rewrites before he ended up with a better grade: a B-plus.
He was the proudest B-plus of his college career. Smiling, he says the experience ended up improving and changing him.
âThis university transformed me,â Randall noted.
Now Randall, the current dean of the prestigious United States School of Business, will lead the school he once attended. Its first day is Monday – two weeks before fall school starts and well before the time when the Utah Higher Education Council planned to select a new president.
His first year at the helm began at a tumultuous time.
Randall will replace former US President Ruth Watkins, who announced her departure earlier this year, to work for Strada Impact, a national education nonprofit.
Watkins spent three years at the helm of the United States, focusing on improving graduation rates and expanding research. But her time has been haunted by questions about how the case of student-athlete Lauren McCluskey was mismanaged before and after her campus murder in October 2018. Randall will still be tasked with handling some of those fallout. The campus police chief recently resigned and at least two notices of claim (often precursors to lawsuits), including one from the chief, have been filed against the school linked to the case.
In a meeting with the students on WednesdayRandall said all the school can do is “apologize and move on.”
The school also faces persistent challenges due to COVID-19. There is also more pressure to fund research. Many buildings on campus are outdated and will require fundraising to renovate them.
And the U. has strived to diversify both its growing number of students and its staff, but has yet to meet its targets.
In his acceptance speech, Randall promised to work on this. He is committed to making the United States “the most inclusive school” in the state. But, to get the job, Randall, a white man, was selected from two other finalists – Carrie Byington, executive vice president of the medical system at the University of California, and Jayathi Murthy, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied. Science at UCLA – both women and people of color.
The United States has never before had a person of color for president. And Watkins was the first woman to run the school. Randall was the only internal finalist for the post.
With that history and the state’s predominantly white population, it might not be an easy task to recruit more diverse students and faculty into Utah’s flagship institution. And some students at the meeting with the finalists on campus on Wednesday urged the school to go with an outside candidate both to resolve this issue and to get a new perspective on campus safety.
Randall’s experience, however, as head of the David Eccles School of Business, noted Harris Simmons, president of the Utah Council on Higher Education, will guide him forward. The Board of Directors unanimously approved Randall’s appointment after reviewing over 2,500 resumes and nominations.
Simmons added, “The Eccles School has thrived under a stable leader who has proven their commitment to students.”
Adding diversity and dealing with COVID
During her 12 years in business school, Randall increased the number of female full and tenure-track professors, Simmons said. He also credited Randall with starting the First Ascent Scholarship Program, which provides financial assistance to first-generation students and those from under-represented communities.
âAt the end of the day,â Randall said Thursday, âwe will be measured by our humanity, who we care about, who we brought in and not who we left behind. I have faith that we are going. reach out to this community, and this university will bring the gift of higher education to this whole state. â
He also said he had other “big aspirations for this university,” including tracking Watkins’ progress in getting more students to graduate and expanding the ways students can experience learning – online. , in person, in internships and more.
“We can be a leading institution and we will be,” he said in front of a red background of the school’s seal. âI have unwavering faith in the students, faculty and staff. “
It was under his leadership that the business school gained a national reputation – including several first-place rankings in collegiate publications – for innovation and entrepreneurship. Currently, seven of the school’s programs are also ranked among the top 25 in the country, according to the press release from the United States.
Randall has expanded the institutes and centers of the business school which give students a direct glimpse into a career in business or finance with internships, scholarships and jobs. These include the Sorenson Impact Center and the Kem C. Gardner Institute of Policy.
And for the past year or so, he’s been the economic lead for the Utah Unified Command’s COVID-19 response team. He asked his team of business school professors to research the wearing of masks, who found that having to cover the face reduces the incidence of viral infections, saves lives and stimulates the ‘commercial activity.
“It reduces the spread of COVID in our communities,” he said at the time, “but it also increases the mobility of consumers in stores and restaurants and also increases consumer spending.”
He told the students on Wednesday that he wants to do as much as possible to keep them safe on campus when they return later this month – and he wants them to come back in person to learn. But his hands are somewhat tied. The legislature has banned the school, as a public college, from instituting requirements for vaccines or masks.
âRight now what we’re doing is probably the most aggressive thing we can do,â he said. “I know that for a lot of you, that probably doesn’t make you very happy.”
On Thursday, he wore a mask before accepting the job, removing the red and black face covering to reveal a big smile.
“What’s in front of the University of Utah”
After graduating from U. in 1990 Randall received a master’s degree in business administration and a doctorate in operations and information management from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
He had his first job as a senior consultant at Arthur Andersen LLP, an accounting firm based in Chicago, according to his LinkedIn page.
Then he joined the staff of the U. in 1999 as professor of accounting. He was director of the faculty of the University Venture Capital Fund, the largest student-run venture capital fund in the United States.
Now, as president of the U., he will be responsible for leading a sprawling campus of more than 33,000 students and 23,700 employees, with a leading medical complex and a renowned natural history museum – that he will have to report beyond the already awarded business school.
“There are no better opportunities in higher education and health care in this country,” he said, “than what lies in front of the University of Utah.”
Randall said he wanted to replicate his experience as a student there for all students – giving them opportunities to grow, learn and lead – and, most importantly, improve.
From the English class where he got his first F, to the acting class where his teacher helped him overcome his fear of public speaking to becoming president of the University of Utah, he has changed.