clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


With controversy swirling around his presidency, University of Utah President Chase N. Peterson announced Monday that he will not resign but he will retire at the end of the 1990-91 academic year.

In a press conference, Peterson, flanked by members of U. Institutional Council, faculty administrators and his wife, Grethe, said that he is approaching his eighth year as university president and he believes the period of time "I can effectively provide leadership is nearing an end."He read a lengthy statement in which he listed what he sees as successes for the university and himself personally. However, Peterson said he has met many of his original goals for the university and he and his wife are looking forward to many other lifelong plans.

"In summary," he said of the next year, "I intend to do what I can to reduce the present level of unproductive controversy on campus so we can all focus on the enormous strengths and contributions of faculty, staff and students. Productive controversy, on the other hand, is the stuff of great universities and should not be avoided."

Peterson said that some have asked him if he intended to quit because one important constituency group - the faculty - had questioned his leadership.

"The answer is a firm `no,' " he said.

Peterson said he had several goals in the next year he wanted to advance before he leaves his presidency. These include administrative restructuring; enhancement of undergraduate teaching; better support for faculty and staff; improved neighborhood relationships, especially because of Fort Douglas; and the clarification of the relationship of health sciences to the university.

Peterson, 60, has led the U. for seven years, becoming president in 1983. He was the school's 11th president. It has been a tenure of highs and lows.

A low came last Monday when the U. Academic Senate called into question Peterson's ability to lead the university. In an overwhelming vote, the senate passed a resolution asking the State Board of Regents and the U. Institutional Council whether it was in the best interest of the U. for Peterson to continue at the helm.

Peterson said Monday he encourages the Board of Regents to conduct a review of his job. "I welcome their ongoing scrutiny."

The senate, composed mainly of faculty, were upset by the latest controversy involving the U.'s cold-fusion project. The U. had announced that a $500,000 "anonymous" donation had been made to further cold-fusion research. It turned out that the donation was actually from the U. itself. It was money from the U. Research Foundation, which collects rents and lease payments from the U. Research Park.

But the "anonymous" donation was only the "straw that broke the camel's back," as one faculty member put it.

On the academic senate's request, Peterson said, "There have been disagreements, conflicts and some mistakes. There will always be on a campus as diverse and alive as the University of Utah."

Dogged by crises

Peterson has been dogged by a series of crises during the past year, which many say were self-inflicted by his penchant for "grand-stand-ing."

These go back before his tenure as president, when as vice president he put the U. in the international spotlight in 1982 when U. specialists implanted the world's first permanent artificial heart in the chest of Seattle dentist Barney Clark.

Most recently Peterson has been denounced for plans to rename the U. Medical Center because of a $15 million donation by Utah businessman James L. Sorenson, which was abandoned after criticism of the plan; his poor communication with his faculty; and the attempt to restructure the U. administration.

Faculty were upset about the restructuring because they felt they had lost their traditional voice in the administration - the academic vice president. The vice president's importance was emphasized because faculty felt that there was poor communication between themselves and the administration, particularly Peterson.

The Academic Restructuring Committee was formed, which proposed elevating the academic senate and health science vice president to senior status. Their plan was to work in tandem with Peterson.

Fusion flap

Frequently during the past year Peterson has also been criticized for his handling of cold nuclear fusion - including its initial announcement, which many believe was done improperly at a press conference rather than in scientific journals.

The opening of the U.'s National Cold Fusion Institute with a $5 million investment from the state did little to quiet fusion skeptics, including those on campus. They were incensed both by the U.'s $500,000 donation to the fusion center and $68,000 in legal fees paid by the U. to the personal attorney of fusion researchers B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann.

While being paid by the U. for patent prosecution relating to cold fusion, the North Carolina attorney, C. Gary Triggs, threatened legal action against Michael J. Salamon. The U. physicist and colleagues published a negative fusion article in the scientific journal Nature. Triggs, who last week apologized for the letter, said he was paid by Pons and Fleischmann when he wrote Salamon and has not billed the university for it.

However, Salamon hired a personal attorney when Peterson said the U. could not represent him against a "threat." Calling Trigg's action a violation of free academy inquiry, the American Physical Society has begun a campaign to help raise money for Salamon's legal expenses.

Meanwhile, Hugo Rossi, dean of the U. College of Science and 22 faculty members, called for a financial audit and scientific review of the fusion institute. Review committee members are being selected under the direction of the state oversight committee.

Despite many accomplishments - including spearheading the U.'s most successful fund-raising campaign in which $207 million was raised - Peterson had mentioned resignation recently. In a June 1 interview, Peterson, on the day the latest fusion flap was unfolding, asked a Deseret News reporter what comments were being heard in the community about his presidency.

When told that a prevalent one was, "Is Peterson going to keep his job?," Peterson replied, "Or resign it," adding that the average length of stay for a university president is 4 1/2 years while he had served seven years.

But after having said that, he said he wouldn't speculate on either proposition because it would only raise the resignation issue in the media.


(Additional information)

University lineage

The University of Utah, founded in 1850, was led by chancellors until 1869. President Chase N. Peterson took the University of Utah's top job in 1983. He was preceded by:

David P. Gardner - 1973-1983.

Alfred C. Emery - 1971-1973.

James C. Fletcher - 1964-1971.

A. Ray Olpin - 1946-1964.

Leroy E. Cowles - 1941-1946.

George Thomas - 1921-1941.

John A. Widstoe - 1916-1921.

Joseph T. Kingsbury - 1897-1916.

James E. Talmage - 1894-1897.

John R. Park - 1869-1892.


(Additional information)

Accomplishments, controversies

Here is a list of the accomplishments and controversies during the tenure of University President Chase N. Peterson.


-$207 million fund-raising campaign

-Defeat of tax rollback initiatives

-Strengthened ties to downtown community

-New programs in academic and health sciences

-Expansion of U. Research Park


-Poor communication with faculty

-$500,000 "anonymous" donation to fusion project

-Plans to rename U. Medical Center for $15 million donation

-Attempt to restructure U. administration

-Overall handling of cold-fusion project