Taylor Randall was inaugurated as the University of Utah’s 17th president Wednesday, the first alumnus in 50 years to ascend to the presidency.
Randall, appointed president of the state’s flagship institution in August 2021, shared an ambitious vision for his alma mater, which includes the U. becoming “a top 10 public university,” he said during his inaugural address at Kingsbury Hall.
“By becoming a top 10 public university with unsurpassed societal impact we will inspire a new generation of students, find newer and faster ways to innovate, improve and touch the lives of every Utahn — and in so doing change the world around us,” Randall said.
He also revealed plans for a campus and hospital in West Valley City that will require a $500 million investment to build a community hub that will also include clinics, classrooms and child care facilities that will employ 1,500 people.
“This center in the heart of Utah’s only minority-majority city will provide care not just for the community’s health needs, but also create jobs and provide pathways to education and training,” he said.
Randall also announced an aspirational goal of reaching $1 billion in externally funded research over the next seven years and increasing the pace of research impacting lives and solving problems.
He shared his plans to “revolutionize the student experience” and grow enrollment to 40,000 students over the next seven years. His plans include an initiative called “Utah Fresh,” which will ensure 80% of freshmen have firsthand experiences such as working with molecules that will change cancer treatment or help combat air pollution. First-year students could assist with economic development projects in Ghana or learn great literature and architecture through the school’s London Global University partnership, he said.
“We want prospective students to immediately have FOMO after learning about the fabulous freshmen experiences we provide at the U. We want prospective students to be so afraid of missing out that they will stand in line to come here — and we want to do this at scale,” he said.
He also referenced a planned 755-bed educational experience called the Sorenson-Gay Epicenter, a housing and educational concept developed based on Lassonde Studios. It will have two research centers within — the Sorenson Impact Center and the Center for Business Health and Prosperity.
“The co-location of these activities will provide opportunities for students to find innovative solutions to today’s social issues. The Epicenter will help make the University of Utah a destination campus — a college town in itself, if you will. It will also help dispel the perception of the U. as a commuter campus and will help to create an even stronger sense of community and belonging for all,” he said.
Christian Gardner, chairman of the U.’s Board of Trustees, said Randall was appointed president on a Thursday and the trustees worried it might be pushing things to ask him to start the following Monday.
Randall told them he would start the next day. “It shows the kind of dedication he has for this university,” Gardner said.
He recalled that during his presidential interview, Randall quoted Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman elected head of state of an African country: “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
“And president, you scared us, and yet we’re excited. All of us are,” Gardner said.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said he has become a fan of the U. women’s basketball team. During one home game, he saw a familiar face sweeping the floor at halftime — President Randall.
He said watching Randall sweep reminded him of a C.S. Lewis quote: “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.”
The governor added, “I’m grateful to have a president of the flagship university who understands his job,” a responsibility so weighty “that only someone so humble to sweep the floor that halftime can carry.”
Randall thanked the governor for his kind words but offered the clarification that sweeping the floor at a basketball game was on his bucket list. “Now being in charge, I got to do it.”
Three former University of Utah presidents attended Wednesday’s festivities: David Pershing, Michael K. Young and David P. Gardner.
A mentor and friend from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where Randall earned his graduate degrees, also honored his friend and mentee.
Wharton endowed professor Karl Ulrich said Randall possesses “superpowers,” as an “ideas guy” who listens to the ideas of others and his “type O personality,” which means he can make friends with anyone.
When Randall was in graduate school he and his wife, Janet, lived in an area of Philadelphia that was more “Rocky Balboa than it is Grace Kelly,” Ulrich said.
He invited Ulrich and other friends to watch the U.S. professional cycling championships from the porch of their row house. The group included some of Randall’s classmates, but also an artist and a commercial fisherman. “Actually, two of those people remain my friends today,” he said.
Randall, a former professor and dean of the U.’s David Eccles School of Business, acknowledged his family’s long history with the university. He was a third-generation professor at the university, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
His grandfather Clyde Randall was working in a cannery in northern Utah in the 1930s when he realized his opportunities were limited and he yearned for more.
“He saw the University of Utah as a place where he could achieve the promise of higher education, a place where he could lift his life and the lives of his children and grandchildren. His plan worked. I’ve witnessed the power of what higher education can do over multiple generations. I’ve observed the power of what the University of Utah can do for individuals and families, including my own,” he said.