University of Utah President Taylor R. Randall sketched an ambitious plan for growth—measured by sheer numbers, but also by impact on the community—in his inaugural address this week.
The speech, titled “Re-Imagine U: Inspiration, Innovation, and Impact,” builds on the U’s foundational principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion; safety; health and well-being; academic freedom; and sustainability.
Randall shared his vision for how the university could become a top 10 public university with equivalent societal impact. The steps to get there include: revolutionizing the student experience and growing the student body to 40,000—a nearly 20% increase; reaching $1 billion in annual research funding within seven years; and striving to improve the lives of all 3.3 million Utahns, with a presence in all 29 counties in the state.
”I’ve witnessed the power of what higher education can do over multiple generations. And I’ve observed the power of what the University of Utah can do for individuals and families, including my own,” Randall said. “By becoming a top 10 public university with unsurpassed societal impact, we will inspire a new generation of students, find new and faster ways to innovate, improve and touch the lives of every Utahn—and in so doing change the world around us.”
The evening ceremony filled Kingsbury Hall with family and friends, students, faculty and donors. Utah dignitaries—including Gov. Spencer Cox, state lawmakers, former Gov. Gary Herbert and Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a member of the university’s School of Medicine class of 1947—also attended.
Cox said he welcomes Randall’s extensive to-do list—particularly the initiative to impact the lives of every Utahn.
“I believe, and he knows, that the most underutilized resource in the state of Utah is the University of Utah. The opportunity to change and impact the lives of Utahns across this state is greater than ever. And this resource is still untapped,” Cox said. “Unleashing the brainpower of the professors and more importantly, unleashing the possibilities of these students, will change the course of Utah’s history.”
To reach those goals, Randall said, the university first will inspire students. To transform the student experience, university leaders will launch “Utah Fresh,” a new program that will connect 80 percent of incoming freshmen with live-learn communities and undergraduate research opportunities.
Randall also announced plans for the Impact & Prosperity Epicenter. The 755-bed living-learning, multi-use, multi-disciplinary building in the center of campus will provide housing for students along with being the headquarters of two co-located centers—the Sorenson Impact Center and the Center for Business Health and Prosperity. The project has received gifts of $10 million each from donors Jim Sorenson and Bob and Lynette Gay, as well as approval for nearly $120 million in bonding authority from Utah lawmakers in 2021 and 2022. Developing additional student housing is essential to making the U a destination campus with a “University Town,” the president added.
“How do we re-imagine an education and even a future for this generation of students? By creating an optimism that allows them to use their imagination to transform their future,” he said. “For students making a choice between attending the U and any other institution, I want there to be no comparison. We want this campus to be 1,534 acres of ‘you can achieve anything here’.”
“We want prospective students to immediately have FOMO (fear of missing out) after learning about the fabulous freshman experiences we provide at the U,” Randall added. “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.”
Sabah Sial, a presidential intern and the university’s 2022 Rhodes Scholar said the president’s vision of a new student experience mirrors what she experienced in the David Eccles School of Business when Randall was dean.
“His vision for Utah Fresh is a culmination of all the wonderful first-year experiences I had at the U—plus more,” Sial said. “His ideas left me hopeful and excited for the future of students at the university.”
While the University of Utah’s research history is well-documented—ranging from the development of the first successful artificial heart to the LUKE arm—Randall still hopes to propel research discoveries and advancements even further. In 2021, approximately 3,000 university research projects generated just over $640 million in external grant funding. To elevate research funding to $1 billion a year within the next seven years, Randall committed $100 million in university funding to help U researchers innovate to create new discoveries.
“We need to do more research, and our research needs to hit markets more quickly,” he said. “I call this picking up our ‘clock speed’ by increasing the velocity of our engagement to speed up knowledge transfer.”
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Randall said, he will focus on impact—helping to transform the lives of Utah’s 3.3 million residents wherever they live, in all 29 counties. The president said accomplishing that goal requires re-writing the “compact” the university has with the community around it. The president noted the U is the home of the state arboretum (Red Butte Garden), the Natural History Museum of Utah, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Pioneer Theatre Company, Utah Presents (and is the “origin soil” for the Utah Symphony, Utah Opera, Ballet West and more).
“The U will extend its impact far beyond the hill it sits upon. Traditionally, research university have focused on teaching their students from the academic inquiry conducted their campuses. We want to flip that tradition on its head by converting faculty research into action,” Randall said. “We want to embed the U even deeper into the community we serve. We want to cultivate the community connections, build trust, uproot injustices and transform the future of this amazing state we live in.”
To that end, the president announced the new Presidential Public Impact Scholars, a program for recognizing the research translation work of exceptional faculty members. The first class of scholars will be recognized at the 2022 Commencement on May 5.
At the same time, Randall noted, the university will expand its reach to the west side and southern reaches of the Salt Lake Valley—with a new, $400 million hospital and education complex in West Valley City and a campus in Herriman, shared with Salt Lake Community College. By 2025, the Herriman campus will be home to 7,000 students. The West Valley City hospital is slated to open in late 2026 or early 2027.
Mike Good, senior vice president for Health Sciences, said the university’s focus on community impact puts the U in a position to lead the state in tackling health and education disparities.
“This health and community center will be the first of its kind in the valley and possibly in the state,” Good said. “Through training, educating and employing those who use and innovate in the facilities, this project will uniquely reflect the community it serves.”
Presidential Intern Luis Ramirez, a junior studying accounting and information systems, said he hopes the U’s West Valley City project will help bridge the two distinct socioeconomic halves of his hometown—poorer neighborhoods east of Bangerter Highway and more wealthy neighborhoods west of the main thoroughfare.
The power of education
At the end of his speech, the president noted the power of education to transform lives. He is the first alumnus to be president of the institution in 50 years. Both his father and his grandfather were professors at the university.
“I inherit an institution poised for remarkable success,” Randall said. “I am so grateful for this opportunity to lead an institution that I love—a top-tier research university that provides an exceptional education, groundbreaking research and meaningful service in the community around us.”
While the goals may seem lofty, they are still attainable as university leaders strive to continually improve the institution, said Martell Teasley, interim senior vice president for Academic Affairs.
“These initiatives are right in line with the strategic planning and day-to-day work we are all engaged in here on campus—to gradually increase our enrollment, enhance student success, advance our research and serve the community around us,” Teasley said. “I share President Randall’s optimism that if we all keep doing the work, we will advance this institution to a place of national prestige and impact that the University of Utah community has never achieved before.”