Commissioner of Higher Education Wm. Rolfe Kerr acknowledged Wednesday he was one of 15 semifinalists for the Utah State University presidency but he has bowed out after his candidacy drew criticism on the USU campus.
The commissioner released a letter, which was sent to the 23-member USU Presidential Search Committee Monday, that says he wants his name withdrawn from consideration. The committee consists of regents; Cecelia Foxley, deputy commissioner of higher education; USU faculty and staff; and members of the community. Foxley has no vote in the selection."The presidential candidates are normally confidential, but the commissioner felt that it was more appropriate to release accurate information about his part in the presidential search because of widespread speculation on the USU campus," said Vicki Varela, assistant to the commissioner for media and government relations.
Kerr declined additional comment beyond his letter.
Varela said Kerr did not apply for the job but was nominated by several individuals.
In his letter, Kerr said he decided to withdraw because of personal concerns, major issues facing Utah higher education, but also said that his candidacy had become "problematic" for the presidential search committee.
Kerr wrote that he always knew that his nomination might cause problems with the faculty because his academic career has included neither full-time faculty appointments nor substantial scholarly achievement. "My relationship to the Board of Regents as commissioner of higher education was also seen as an issue which could create some awkwardness if I were to become a candidate," he wrote.
He said his long delay in accepting the nomination was due in part to his concern over the difficulty his candidacy might create for the search committee.
"It is disappointing to learn that both of them (lack of faculty appointments and job as commissioner) are apparently of greater concern than I had anticipated and that my candidacy has become a source of contention in your deliberations," he wrote.
One USU faculty member said Kerr's candidacy has been an "open secret" on campus. Faculty members have talked about it among themselves but it has not been discussed in public meetings. "There has been a lot of tension surrounding the presidential search," he said.
Serving as Utah higher-education commissioner since 1985, Kerr's career has focused on administration. He has been Dixie College president, Brigham Young University executive vice president and USU assistant to the president for university relations.
Besides his administrative post, Kerr has strong ties to USU. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees there, was student body president, quarterback for the football team and worked as an assistant professor of educational administration, a job he held concurrently with his assistant to the president role. He also has a doctorate in educational administration from the University of Utah.
Varela said Kerr's public announcement of his former candidacy will not affect the confidentiality surrounding other candidates. Their names will remain secret. She said the presidential search committee expects to announce a replacement to USU President Stanford Cazier in late April or early May.