UW President Picked to Lead Texas A&M
By Benjamin Wermund
Michael K. Young has built a reputation for making sure that research done at the universities he led could find its way to the market.
That was one quality in the University of Washington president that caught the eye of John Sharp, the chancellor of the Texas A&M University System. So Sharp flew to Seattle and started courting Young to bring his expertise to College Station, where A&M's flagship campus has lacked a permanent president for more than a year.
On Tuesday, Young, 65, was named the sole finalist for the A&M presidency. His salary is being negotiated, but Sharp said Young would be "one of the best paid college presidents in the state of Texas."
Young, a Harvard law school graduate and longtime academic leader, will lead the largest university in Texas and the fourth largest in the nation. The job of president has been held on an interim basis by Mark Hussey, the dean and vice chancellor for agriculture and life sciences, since December 2013 when President R. Bowen Loftin left to become chancellor of the University of Missouri.
By law, Young's appointment won't be final for 21 days. But Sharp said he's eager to get to work on duplicating Young's successes in Washington at the College Station campus.
The University of Washington claims to lead the country in licensing its technology and boasts of success in launching start-up companies built on its research. The university says it has tripled its research funding over the past 20 years and spent $1.27 billion on research in 2014.
Young hired a vice provost for innovation, set a goal of doubling the number of new companies spun out of the university and set up a $20 million pool of private money to finance startups.
Commercialization of research, Sharp said Tuesday, "is one of those things I have wanted to really improve on within this university and the system. I'm very enthusiastic about what his plans will be to do that."
Young was not available for an interview Tuesday, but he said in a statement that A&M is poised to become one of the best research schools in the nation.
"If other presidents could see what I saw in visits to Texas A&M, they would see a university that is already the largest research university in the Southwest, but also a university poised to be one of the greatest research universities in America," Young said in a statement.
During his three years as president in Washington, Young helped the university weather tough economic times while increasing research funding and setting fundraising records.
This year the University of Washington received a record number of applications for its freshman class, up 16 percent from last year. Four-year graduation rates have risen during Young's leadership, increasing by 5 percentage points to 59 percent in 2013. That's 9 percentage points more than A&M's rate that year, according to data from the Department of Education.
In October, University of Washington regents described Young as performing "at exceptional levels by virtually any measure" and awarded him a 6.2 percent pay bump, the Seattle Times reported.
Young had an "outsized impact in a relatively short period of time," said Washington State Rep. Reuven Carlyle.
"He's respected and acknowledged for his passionate, fierce attention to taking advantage of the University of Washington's deep bench strength in the area of commercialization," Carlyle said. "Texas may think it's the startup capital of the world, but Seattle is the heart and soul and DNA of real startup culture. He's been an important instrument in continuing to grow UW's role in a 21st Century economy."
Young previously led the University of Utah. His move to liberal Seattle prompted some debate over his religion and political views. Young is a Mormon and worked for former President George H.W. Bush, a Republican. He also served as a law clerk to then-associate justice William Rehnquist of the Supreme Court, a Richard Nixon appointee whom Young has described as "a very close friend and a mentor," according to the Stranger, a Seattle weekly.
Young served on and chaired the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom from 1998 to 2006 and worked as deputy under secretary in the State Department from 1989 to 1993.
Young's selection by A&M regents ends an extended search that, coupled with an ongoing search for a new leader to replace the University of Texas at Austin's departing President Bill Powers, left the state's largest and most prestigious research universities without permanent leaders. Sharp said Tuesday that Young was also a candidate for the UT job, but withdrew from consideration "Monday before last."
(c)2015 the Houston Chronicle