More about Michael Young, '67,
President of the University of Utah

President Michael Young

New U. 'captain' well-suited --
Young has honed skills at varied high-level posts

President Mike Young began his term as
President of the University of Utah in August 2004.

By Dennis Romboy
Deseret Morning News

On Michael K. Young's first day as dean of the George Washington University Law School, two senior administrators waited for him at the front entrance.

He thought the pair, both retired Navy admirals, were there to salute the change in command. Rather, they politely escorted him to the school's largest classroom, where water was cascading down the steps and pooling at the bottom.

The administrators turned to the dumbstruck dean with a snappy salute and called him captain.

"It took me a few minutes to realize that captains, not admirals, go down with the ship," Young wrote in a law review article.

That lesson served him well during his six-year tenure at GW. And Young wants to avoid disaster on his first day as president aboard Utah's flagship university.

"I'm hoping it's not the same here," he said.

Faulty plumbing will be the least of his worries when he becomes the University of Utah's 14th president this summer. The state Board of Regents appointed him to the post Thursday after a six-month search to replace Bernie Machen, who now heads the University of Florida.

Though Young has had ample opportunity for presidencies and deanships at other universities, he said the Utah job was the only one he pursued.

At 54, he inherits an institution battling the Legislature over banning guns on campus, budget tightening and allegations of anti-Mormon bias in faculty hiring and medical school admissions.

A colleague at George Washington said Young has the leadership skills and the vision to guide the U. through sticky issues.

"He is well prepared to deal with people who have conflicting interests that have to come together at some point in time and to make it all work," said Thomas Morrison, an assistant dean at GW.

Morrison said he watched Young mold the law school faculty, staff and students into a cohesive unit and mend strained relationships with the university at large.

GW law professor Larry Mitchell says flatly, "My guess is he's going to have the Utah Legislature eating out of his hand."

Freedom and religion

Young honed his diplomatic skills in the State Department during the Bush and Clinton administrations where he was the lead attorney on the treaty reunifying Germany. He currently serves as chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

"In this day and age, can anyone ask for a harder task?" Morrison says.
Commission vice chairwoman Nina Shea says Young is bold, courageous, fearless and creative in his role.

"He's not someone looking over his shoulder saying, 'Will this be good for my career?' He has a passionate commitment to freedom and rights, particularly religious rights," she said. "That is quintessential to who he is," said Shea, who is also director of the Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.

Despite lacking support from the State Department and the White House, Young plunged into ending the 21-year Muslim slaughter of non-Muslims in Sudan. A peace accord will be signed any day now, Shea said.

Young lectured about Sudan at the U. law school last fall. A third-year law student approached him afterward, saying he had dissolved her cynicism and restored her desire to change the world.

"Mike blushed and he turned red and he hemmed and hawed," said longtime friend and Salt Lake attorney Jim Holtkamp, adding Young advised the student to use her profession for good.

Another friend, Tom Griffiths, an attorney for Brigham Young University, describes Young as humble.

"Sometimes in folks who have his record of accomplishment you see some outsized egos. I haven't seen that in Mike," he said.

Young did thank the U. search committee for the "brilliance of their decision" at Thursday's announcement but he said it with a grin.

Colleagues say Young is always a willing listener. Law professor Mitchell sought him out for advice on both professional and personal problems.

"I kind of think of Mike as an older brother, a good older brother, not a dysfunctional older brother," he said.

Young also brought his interest in East Asia to the religious rights commission, focusing it on North Korea, which Shea calls "probably the worst d" in terms of human and religious rights violations. He seeks out religious leaders in both South and North Korea. "He really extends himself," Shea said.

Utah roots

A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Young is a descendent of Lorenzo Dow Young, a brother to Brigham Young. He was a missionary in Japan and headed the Center for Japanese Legal Studies for 13 years.

Young's oldest son, Stewart, a third-year Stanford University law student, and daughter Kathryn, a senior at the U.S. Air Force Academy, both served LDS missions in Japan. A third son, Andrew, is a senior at George Washington.

Despite a demanding career, Young puts his family first, said Stewart Young, who grew up in Manhattan and Washington, D.C. "He's honestly my best friend," he said.

Born in Chester, Calif., Young attended public schools in Provo, graduating from the old B.Y. High. At BYU during the Vietnam era, Holtkamp said, he, Young and another friend mocked the establishment and considered themselves anti-war activists, "all in the context of Utah County," meaning they didn't march around with placards because they didn't want to get kicked out of school.

"We thought we were enlightened kids," Holtkamp said. That is until the three of them went away to different law schools. "Boy, that was an big awakening for all of us."

Young met his wife of nearly 32 years, the former Suzan Stewart of Orem, while attending BYU. Her grandfather started Timp Haven resort in Provo Canyon, now known as Sundance and owned by Robert Redford. Both the Youngs shared a love for skiing and worked as ski instructors.

"That's one of the reasons my dad married my mom, because he thought she was the best skier he ever met," Stewart Young said.

The family owns a Deer Valley condo and usually spends Christmas in Utah. Suzan Young's mother lives in Utah Valley.

"The happiest person in Utah right now is my mother-in-law," Young said shortly after his appointment was announced.

Young graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. Holtkamp, who earned his law degree at George Washington, visited Young during their school years, looking for the secret to his success. As a kid from Provo in the Ivy League, Young told him, "I was scared to death, so I decided to cope with it by working my rear end off," Holtkamp recalled.

Colleagues, friends and even Young's wife are hard-pressed to come up with his hobbies or interests outside work. "He works a lot. He loves to read history," Suzan Young said. Griffiths said they usually talk about politics and law.

Young does try to work out every day on the treadmill or rowing machine and, weather permitting, rides his bike 13 miles to his GW office.

Stewart Young said his father is an avid scuba diver, as is he. They try to go on a trip once or twice a year to places such as the Bahamas or Mexico.

Young should consider donning his scuba gear on his first day at the U. just in case there's a flood. No admirals will be waiting for the new captain at the front door. It's sink or swim from then on.

Those who know him expect him not only to float but maybe walk on water.

Source: Deseret News, Saturday, May 1, 2004

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