Not Everyone Is Cheering

Many who have met Dr. Holland, even those wary of his appointment, have been surprised and amazed by his ability to win people over and give an aura of confidence and ability. Every press release by UVU makes sure to mention his great potential both as a leader and in doing good for the university. This does not allay my own concerns, however.

His abilities as a leader and potential abilities as an administrator are not an argument against those who have concerns about Holland’s being the son of a currently sitting member of the Quorum of the Twelve, who also happens to be a former president of BYU, or about his radically conservative political views. As a matter of fact, those who wish to see UVU taken in a different direction would obviously do well to pick someone not only with connections to institutions they wish to see reflected or represented at this university, they would be very smart — or were very smart — to pick a charismatic and charming person who can bring people aboard his agenda with relative ease. In other words, his abilities should only make those concerned more so.

Being good at running a university does not negate his cozy relationship with both the Church and BYU, nor does it change any political, moral or administrative perspectives that he necessarily brings to the job – he comes from another university and a tradition which are not known for their commitment to academic freedom or for moderate political views. In fact, Mr. Holland was, until his appointment, a board member for the National Organization for Marriage, a group whose sole purpose is to prevent gay marriage legislation from passing; which is to say that its sole purpose is to disenfranchise millions of people, and treat them as something less than full adult citizens, not to mention to paternalistically determine for even more millions of people what does and does not constitute a genuine family. Of course, NOM contributed to the defeat of Proposition 8 in California, and though gay marriage is a non-starter in Utah, this still has implications for the V’s sizable gay community of students and faculty, perhaps the most concentrated in Utah Valley.

Policies aren’t the only thing at issue – so is the entire tone of the university. Pres. Holland, simply by his very presence, can change the way we communicate here. It seems that a student or faculty member could feel emboldened by his very public religiosity and conservative agenda to speak as though the dominant culture and values were the only relevant culture and values. Another student or faculty member may find that they feel less comfortable speaking about their differing views, or about their lifestyle, religion, or atheism either in class, in the hall, or with administrators and professors, even if it is central to their education. In short, just being here could, though not with certainty, shrink and shrivel the robust and open academic atmosphere that is unfortunately so difficult to achieve in our little valley, and which we have achieved with only moderate success thus far.

In a June 4 editorial, The Daily Herald’s editorial board seemed to make the argument that any fears about how and why the new president of UVU rose to his current position from the almost total obscurity of being an only recently “tenured” professor at BYU could be allayed simply: the Board of Regents should announce publicly who backed him in the nominating process both by initially approaching him, then nominating him, and then fighting for him. That is, they argue that if only people knew he was nominated because of his leadership abilities, his “potential,” and not because of his connections, we would see that the nomination process was not based on “insider influence.” Is it not possible, however, that there is a reason for the Board decision not to speak publicly about how his nomination and appointment came about? The editorial board assumes that it really was simply because of Holland’s credentials and not his connections. And this is all in addition to the fact that a taxpayer-funded Board held a confidential process to choose a taxpayer-funded university president. Shouldn’t essentially everything funded by the public be completely open and transparent to the public? If the process isn’t, there is probably a reason.

We must think about this in the context of the relationship between UVU and its closest neighbors. When Dick Cheney was invited (or invited himself, depending on who you ask) to give the commencement address at BYU and many left-leaning students put up a fight, it was UVU that welcomed the alternative commencement, an event that somehow seems less likely to occur during the tenure of Mr. Holland. Those students who wish to get a university education in Utah Valley, but either can’t or won’t attend BYU because of their lifestyle, views, or needs often end up coming here rather than transplanting to Salt Lake or Logan. And UVU, or at least its students, has certainly irked a number of people in the community, perhaps simply by existing as it does, as was evinced by the situation a few years back with Michael Moore, among other perhaps less public instances. There are plenty more reasons, in addition to these, for the community to want a change in the V’s way of doing things in Utah Valley which hasn’t always coincided with the community and/or the Y’s way.

So it seems impossible to deny that Mr. Holland’s appointment was at least in part the result of his position and connections within this community. Surely the apparently nationwide search for a new president turned up a number of credentialed and charismatic candidates, none of whom were ultimately selected. That speaks volumes. Both of the other finalists, Jack R. Christiansen, currently the Executive Director of the V’s Center for Engaged Learning, and Kim S. Cameron, a long time scholar and student of administration and a dean several times over, have far more experience in demanding leadership positions and in executive capacities than our new president. In addition, of the some forty initial candidates, we know nothing other than that they came from around the country. Were all of them also LDS, like the finalists? Did most of them have ties to BYU, like the finalists? Were they perhaps extremely qualified, but were simply not, shall we say, as politically equipped as Pres. Holland? Did they all have the same extreme political views? These are important questions that require the Board of Regents to speak, as the Herald has astutely pointed out.

Of course, I’m not making predictions here. I am only pointing out what is on the minds of a great many people and which constitute real and strong concerns. It is possible that things will work out great, and these concerns, while merited, are simply not borne out because Pres. Holland is firmly committed to divorcing his administration from the rest of himself. But of course, the opposite path is possible as well.

His position in the community is not just cause for concern – it is pragmatic. His unique position will undoubtedly be beneficial for the important endeavor to raise funds in the poor economic climate (on this, Pres. Holland has hit the ground running it seems), and in any number of situations that require the president to, as former Interim President Hitch put it, meet, greet, and eat. These situations that are vital will be made that much easier, which is positive to be sure, and as such it was expected that the appointee would likely reflect the community in Utah Valley to a large degree. What wasn’t expected is the choice of such a newbie with a complicated set of loyalties, relationships, and politics that may not reflect the institution, or the requirements of an open society, even if they do the community.

But schmoozing for funds is not the only, or even the most important thing, a university is about. Let’s be honest and admit that there are both good reasons and serious concerns involved in this appointment, and not let Pres. Holland’s personality outshine how he came to be and where he may be taking us. Only time will tell, and going in blinded by his light won’t make evaluating his appointment any easier.

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