University of Utah to have first female president in its 168-year history

Composite image shows the University of Utah in the background and a photo of Ruth V. Watkins, who the Utah State Board of Regents has selected as the 16th president of the university, in the foreground. University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, photo undated; Watkins photo, location and date not specified | University photo stock image, Watkins photo courtesy of the university; St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The University of Utah’s senior vice president has been named the university’s first female president – and the 16th overall – in the school’s 168-year history.

Ruth V. Watkins will take over as president of the University of Utah in the spring. | Photo from the University of Utah website, St. George News

The Utah State Board of Regents selected Ruth V. Watkins as the university’s president in a unanimous vote Thursday.

Watkins will succeed university president David Pershing, who is retiring as president after five years, but will remain in the position through the upcoming legislative session and stay at the university as a chemical engineering professor.

Watkins will begin her presidency in the spring.

“Dr. Watkins brings both an outside perspective based on years of leadership experience at the University of Illinois as well as significant familiarity with the University of Utah where she has served as senior vice president and provost since 2013,” Daniel W. Campbell, chairman of the Board of Regents, said.

“She is a collaborative leader who is committed to ensuring exceptional educational and research opportunities for students and faculty. She also is widely respected by our community partners. Dr. Watkins’ vision and dedication will ensure the U excels in the years ahead.”

A 25-member presidential search committee selected Watkins from a pool of national candidates as one of three finalists announced Jan. 12.

“In all measures, Dr. Watkins rose to the top in our national search for the next president to lead the U,” said David L. Buhler, commissioner of higher education. “She is a superb and energetic administrator and a proven fundraiser who understands our community and will be able to continue the momentum of our flagship university.”

As senior vice president for academic affairs, a position she assumed in August 2013, Watkins worked closely with campus leaders to set the university’s strategic direction and align its resources with its academic priorities, according to a statement from the school.

“I am deeply honored to have this opportunity to lead the University of Utah and offer my thanks to the Board of Regents, the university’s board of trustees and the search committee for their confidence in me,” Watkins said. “The University of Utah plays a vital role in the state, and increasingly the nation, in path-breaking research that solves societal challenges and educational opportunities that transform lives. My goal is to ensure that we continue and accelerate this trajectory in the years ahead.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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