Is Holland UVU’s Obama?

Dr. Matthew Holland, UVU’s newly-appointed president, has been praised for his charisma, the dedication of his life to the field of education and for his willingness to work with even his most critical opponents in order to accomplish universal goals and benefit as many as possible. He has also been criticized for having relatively little experience in administration, having ties to a controversial church with unpopular political views and for being an appointment strictly rooted in pandering to the demographic that he personally represents. While these criticisms (or praises, for that matter) are not necessarily inaccurate, and although they should be taken incredibly seriously as UVU stands on a precipice of self-discovery as its identity is still being forged, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by a sense of sociopolitical deja vu.

How did this all feel so familiar? What about this process, these claims made by equally strong-worded supporters and detractors, rang so familiar? It wasn’t anything on the local level; the Michael Moore debacle, the elevation to an accredited university, the alternative commencement farce or any similar big deal. I couldn’t place a finger on it. The origins of this controversy continued to elude me until recently, when I was within earshot of someone watching the insultingly ignorant Glenn Beck criticize (surprise!) Pres. Obama’s legislation, and I finally figured it out: Pres. Holland is Pres. Obama.

I don’t mean in a cool Batman/Bruce Wayne kind of way, although it’s almost as interesting. For example, Obama’s ties to his long-time pastor, Jeremiah Wright, or as I like to call him, “The Gift That Keeps On Giving.” Wright came under heavy fire after some of his more ludicrous beliefs on race relations — including his recent claims that the “Jews in Washington” keep him away from the President (which reminded me of the brilliant TV Funhouse SNL cartoon where Obama keeps sending the eager Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton on “secret missions” to the North Pole and the Sahara in order to keep them from campaigning for him) — came to light. One of the biggest criticisms of Holland is that he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his father, Jeffrey R. Holland, is a current apostle in the church, as well as the former president of BYU. The LDS Church itself has come under substantial criticism over the years, most recently with its vocal support and advocacy for Proposition 8, California’s anti-gay marriage initiative. Holland himself was, until his appointment, a board member of the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-gay marriage group.

Obama’s critics maintained that he didn’t have sufficient experience for the pressures of the presidency. Whether or not that is a valid criticism – even Newt Gingrich said that “Abraham Lincoln served two years in the U.S. House, and seemed to do all right” – similar arguments have been made about Holland. Sen. John McCain, Obama’s chief rival, has served in the Senate since 1987, and Dr. Jack R. Christiansen, another finalist for the UVU presidency, has more than 30 years of education experience; similarly, Obama spent only four years in the US Senate, and Holland has been a consultant and a chairman of the American Heritage Faculty Group at BYU, but never anything on the level of university president.

I guess I don’t really have an argument either for or against Holland; I have no strong feelings about his appointment, in the same way that I didn’t have any strong feelings for or against Obama’s election (except that anything we can do to keep Sarah Palin away from ‘The Big Red Button’ is good by me). I have my criticisms of Obama, but I think he’s doing a fine enough job given the circumstances, and I feel that at least he’s trying to improve the nation’s overall direction. As UVU continues to evolve in these crucial, formative years, it will be interesting to see how Pres. Holland helps facilitate (or hinder) the growth of that identity as an individual, unique university. Our school has long been percieved as BYU’s redheaded stepchild, the school where the alcoholics go when they can’t get into BYU (or after they get kicked out). But most of us didn’t “settle” for UVU, and most of us aren’t here just because we want to be able to have beards and enjoy a fine single malt.

Obama and Holland are two educated, accomplished, and apparently decent men who may not have the same amount of direct experience as their now-defeated opponents did, but our country gave Obama the benefit of the doubt for now, and perhaps we should allow Holland the same.

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