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Colleagues of Arthur K. Smith aren't surprised that he is a now a university president. They just didn't predict the place - the University of Utah.

"I had the sense that some university would grab him for the presidency. He is absolutely first-rate. He is knowledgeable, smart, has a wonderful value system. The University of Utah showed excellent taste in hiring him," said University of Alaska President Jerome Komisar, who first met Smith 20 years ago when both were faculty members at the State University of New York, Binghamton.Added Carol McGinnis Kay, humanities and social sciences dean at the University of South Carolina: "I'm not surprised that he is gone - everybody expected it - but I'm extremely sorry. We needed him here in South Carolina. We needed his stability."

For the past three years, Smith has served as the University of South Carolina provost. During the past year, he also served as South Carolina's interim president and was a finalist to permanently lead that institution. John Houser, a Gastonia, N.C., banker, who is head of the University of South Carolina Alumni Association, said Smith, a New Hampshire native, was one of the top candidates for the South Carolina presidency, but the search committee "wanted someone who understands the Southern way of life. The University of South Carolina was founded in 1801 and survived the War between the States. It has a great history . . . We felt like we wanted someone who understood the Southern psyche."

The alumni leader, who said he is "very fond" of Smith, said he thinks Smith can be easily transplanted to the West. "He's solid, dependable, a straight shooter," said Houser, who said he equates these traits with Westerners.

Houser also praised the new U. president for leading South Carolina through a very difficult time.

"Art reminded me of the captain of a ship. He came in and took us through troubled waters. He presided over the change from the former president," Houser said.

It was that former president, James B. Holderman, that Kay thinks may be the reason Smith didn't get the South Carolina post.

The free-spending Holderman left South Carolina amid charges of excessive spending, including $800-a-night hotel suites. Since his departure from the university, Holderman has been convicted of federal income tax evasion.

Smith was not one of Holderman's cronies. He joined the South Carolina administration at the end of Holderman's tenure and was forced to deal with its wake.

"He had to deal with the difficulties even though they weren't his. I think that the board (of trustees) felt that a clean sweep was needed. It was unfortunate," Kay said.

Rick Wade, who serves as the university's liaison with South Carolina's General Assembly, also had praise for Smith's leadership during a trying year. "It has been a tough time for South Carolina, but Art did an outstanding job in steering the university to this point. He is admired by not only faculty and administrators but by students and community leaders as well."

Kay also said Smith has been "an absolutely wonderful" provost, who studies proposals, talks to a variety of people about them and then sticks with his decision.

"He takes some time to make a commitment, but once he does he honors it," she said, adding he is devoted to the faculty, academic scholarship, quality teaching and research. "He should be well received" by Utah faculty, Kay said.

All of Smith's colleagues mentioned his good sense of humor. "He has a dry wit. He won't come across as Bob Hope," Houser said.

Several also talked of June Smith as an asset to a university community and of the strong husband-and-wife partnership.

"She is one who will take an active interest in the university," Wade said. "She will be a great ambassador as well."

Komisar added: "Both Art and his wife have just a warmth to them. They will be very good members of the community."