Ruth V. Watkins named 16th president of the University of Utah

The Utah State Board of Regents has selected Ruth V. Watkins as the 16th president of the University of Utah.

Watkins is the first woman to lead the University of Utah — the state’s oldest, largest and only Research 1 higher education institution — in its 168-year history. (Jerilyn S. McIntyre served as interim president of the U twice, for two months in 1991 and all of 1997.) Watkins will assume the position this spring – an exact date will be determined in the coming weeks.

She succeeds David W. Pershing, who has served as president since 2012 and will officially step down to rejoin the U as a faculty member.

“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,” said Daniel W. Campbell, chair of the Board of Regents. “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, co-chaired by David Burton, chair of the U’s Board of Trustees, and Board of Regents Vice Chair Harris H. Simmons, 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.”

Watkins currently is senior vice president for Academic Affairs at the U, a position she assumed in August 2013. In that role, she has worked closely with campus leaders to set the university’s strategic direction and align the U’s resources with its academic priorities. She has been an advocate for advancing the success and impact of the U as a top-tier research university, including enhancing student success through degree completion and expanding research and creative activity.

“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.”

Watkins came to Utah from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she spent 20 years in leadership and faculty roles, including associate provost for Undergraduate Education, vice provost and chief of staff, and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She began her academic career at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Watkins graduated with highest honors from the University of Northern Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts in Speech-Language Pathology. She earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in child language at the University of Kansas; her scholarship focuses on communication development and disabilities in young children. Watkins’ research and training endeavors have been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Education, as well as Lumina Foundation. She also has a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Speech-Language Pathology. In 2003, she was named a fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.