PROVO — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's deputy chief of staff for policy and strategic communications is leaving to run Brigham Young University's Wheatley Institution, a think tank designed to preserve and strengthen core institutions like family, faith traditions and civil society.
Paul Edwards joined the governor’s staff in November 2016 after five years as editor of the Deseret News. He will step down in July and begin his new role as director of the Wheatley Institution in August, when he will replace the outgoing director, Richard Williams. Williams had held the position from the center's founding in 2007.
The Wheatley Institution is funded entirely by donations and sponsors a team of fellows who conduct original research and write about other research done at BYU and elsewhere in support of core institutions.
Edwards said core institutions provide norms that guide society's thinking and behavior. He said he believes Wheatley can make scholarly work about those core institutions more visible to decision-makers.
"A lot of the core institutions of society are experiencing a lot of stress and change right now," Edwards said. "We see millennials, for example, having a very different relationship with faith and family than did their parents. Understanding what that means and why that's of concern and what we can do to constructively address that is one of the major issues of our time. To get excellent research on that is really important and to make that research accessible and usable by decision-makers is really important."
Herbert called Edwards an invaluable workhorse on a number of his administration's initiatives.
"He served our state with unceasing energy and dedication, and Utah has benefited greatly from his tremendous work," the governor said in a written statement. "He showed strong leadership when he helped develop and implement policy related to Operation Rio Grande. His efforts helped us provide critical care to the homeless, as well as arrest and detain the criminal element embedded in downtown Salt Lake City. He led the third stage of the operation, focusing on the dignity of work effort, which will have lasting positive impacts on this area of our capital city.
"Paul also staffed the Suicide Prevention Task Force, bringing greater awareness of teen suicide, more sincere empathy for those with suicidal ideation, better resources for those in mental crisis and hope for reductions in suicides among our LGBTQ+ youth and veterans."
Edwards said the return to academia feels like going home. He previously served as president of the Mercatus Center, a free-market-oriented think tank at George Mason University. He also served as executive vice president and provost at Southern Virginia University and on BYU's political science faculty. He completed a bachelor's degree at BYU and then earned both a law degree and a Ph.D. in jurisprudence and social policy at the University of California, Berkeley.
"We believe that Paul will successfully lead the Wheatley Institution into its next period of growth and distinction," said Brad Neiger, BYU associate academic vice president for faculty relations. "Paul's broad experience, which combines academic preparation and leadership with intellectual centers, the legal profession, the government sector and the news industry, is quite extraordinary. He is bright, insightful and energetic, as well as being an effective communicator and statesman."
Williams will return to teaching and research in counseling psychology and special education at BYU.