Noelle E. Cockett, president of Utah State University since 2017, announced Tuesday that she will step down on July 1, 2023.
She is USU’s 16th president and the first woman to lead the university. Prior to being selected president, Cockett was executive vice president and provost of the university.
She will continue as a tenured member of the USU faculty after her presidency comes to a close.
In a letter to the USU community, Cockett expressed gratitude for the opportunity to lead the Logan-based school over the past six years and for the hard work of employees and supporters.
“The decades I have been at USU have convinced me that all of our amazing institutional accomplishments have been possible because of the hard work and commitment of each one of you and those who preceded you as university faculty, staff and supporters,” Cockett said in a letter to employees.
Lisa Michele Church, chairwoman of the Utah State Board of Higher Education, thanked Cockett for her years of service at USU.
“President Cockett’s tenure included great advancements for the university, its statewide campuses and the community in the areas of research; diversity, equity and inclusion; and educational excellence. We appreciate her tireless advocacy for transformative projects such as the Janet Quinney Lawson Institute for Land, Water and Air and the USU College of Veterinary Medicine. We wish President Cockett every success in her future endeavors.”
Cockett’s academic career with USU began in 1990 as a research faculty member in the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Science.
She is considered an international expert in sheep genomics research. Her research has centered on the identification of genetic regions associated with economically important traits in sheep, as well as the development of resources that advance research on the sheep genome.
She also served as dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences from 2002 to 2013 and vice president for USU Extension from 2006 to 2013. She also directed the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station from 2009 to 2013.
During Cockett’s presidency, USU increased student completion of certificates and degrees by 16%, growing more than 3% per year.
The university also became one of 146 universities to earn the R1 Carnegie classification for excellence in research.
Cockett celebrated USU’s largest first-year class and a 16% increase in first-generation first-year students in fall 2022, initiated the university’s first multiyear strategic plan and successfully led the university through the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a university press release.
Her term was also marred by reports of multiple sexual assaults of students that were mishandled by the university.
The Department of Justice investigated how the university investigated sexual assault reports, concluding the cases were mishandled and left other students vulnerable.
The DOJ’s 2020 findings said in part: “Severe sexual harassment, including rapes and other forcible sexual assaults, went unaddressed and students who were subjected to sexual harassment often suffered negative academic, mental health, and social consequences, including withdrawal from their classes or from the university altogether.”
In one case, former USU football player Torrey Green was convicted in 2019 of sexually assaulting six women while he attended USU’s Logan campus. He is seeking a new trial.
The university has since instituted a series of reforms intended to prevent sexual violence, better serve students and support survivors of sexual assault as cases move through the judicial system.
In 2020, The Utah Board of Higher Education authorized an investigation of remarks by Cockett to football team members regarding interim head football coach Frank Maile’s religious and cultural background. Maile is Polynesian and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The comments prompted USU to cancel its game at Colorado State University because of concerns raised by football players about religious and cultural discrimination in the search for a new football coach, the university said in a statement at the time. Then-USU athletic director John Hartwell also attended the meeting.
The investigative report, with portions redacted for privacy reasons, concluded that “neither President Cockett nor Hartwell expressly stated that their ‘primary concern’ about Coach Maile was his religious or cultural background, nor that his background would disqualify him as a coaching candidate.”
The board passed a resolution giving Cockett its unanimous support: “Though some remarks made were interpreted as potential or cultural bias, they were not intended as such. President Cockett has long demonstrated her commitment to make USU a welcoming, nurturing environment for people from all backgrounds.”
Hartwell resigned from his position on Nov. 1 to move closer to family, he said. He had been in the position for 7 1⁄2 years.