Ana Mari Cauce Named 33rd University of Washington President

The University of Washington Board of Regents today erased the “interim” in front of President Ana Mari Cauce’s title, selecting her to be the first woman to hold the position on a permanent basis in the university’s nearly 154-year history.

Despite spending upwards of $160,000 on an outside search firm, the regents found the next president in Gerberding Hall, where Cauce had been stationed as provost for three years before being named interim president earlier this year, replacing Michael Young, who left to head Texas A&M University. She was previously dean of the UW College of Arts and Sciences, among other administrative posts. She joined the UW nearly 30 years ago as an assistant professor of psychology.

Cauce’s selection is still contingent on contract negotiation. Her annual salary in the interim job was $524,784.

An internal appointment to the top job at a major university is rare in U.S. higher education, The Seattle Times reported recently. The regents’ search committee and consultants winnowed down a field of about 100 candidates, eventually focusing on 29 “high-potential prospects” that included 17 sitting university presidents or chancellors, nine provosts, and three from outside the world of universities.

But Cauce was a clear favorite from the beginning. In a February statement appointing her to the interim job, Bill Ayer, chairman of the board of regents, called Cauce “the perfect choice to lead the university forward,” and said appointing her “was, in many ways, an easy decision for the Regents”.

Ayer, in a statement Tuesday, said, “Our rigorous presidential search process has validated that Ana Mari is exactly the right person to take us to the next level in our long-term quest to become the best public research university in the world.”

Ayer also praised Cauce’s dedication to the UW. “Her love for the University is evident in her strong work ethic and in her vision: improving student access and affordability, creating a leading-edge student experience, fostering greater innovation, and delivering global impact. Because of her intimate understanding of the University and all that it stands for and all that it aspires to be, she is also a passionate spokesperson and advocate.” He added more in a letter to the UW community.

Cauce’s path to the top job at UW was an interesting one, but the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in terms of career choice: Her father was Cuba’s minister of education before her family fled that country’s revolution when she was 3. She was raised in Miami. (She is also the first Latina president of the UW.)

The Seattle Times ran an in-depth profile of Cauce earlier this fall. It’s well worth the read.

On the topics of innovation and technology transfer, Cauce has largely continued the policies of her predecessor. She upped the rhetorical ante around innovation. Where Young had an “innovation agenda,” Cauce calls it an “innovation imperative.” She is steward of an institution that is doing quite well on that score—the best in the world among public universities—at least as measured by a recent Reuters ranking.

At Xconomy, we looked at factors that would influence whether UW remained on top: No. 1 was leadership. With that question answered, it will be interesting to see how Cauce influences the others. I would be surprised to see much deviation at this stage. Young, who was hired in part for his reputation as a leader in commercialization, departed having built momentum on that score that many backers wanted to see continue—though in some instances, the university appeared to be overstating its startup creation numbers, particularly in terms of their economic impact.

While many of the UW’s hallmark programs that form the innovation agenda/imperative were started under Young, Cauce was involved in nearly all of them. She’s wrangled the budget and overseen core university functions of education, research, and service as provost.

Cauce, center, talks with Gov. Jay Inslee, left, and Young, at a UW startup celebration in 2014.

Cauce, center, talks with Gov. Jay Inslee, left, and Young, at a UW startup celebration in 2014.

Cauce has been heavily involved in a novel partnership with Tsinghua University to create a Global Innovation Exchange in Bellevue, WA, seeded with $40 million from Microsoft. The effort to create an international graduate program in technology innovation began under Young, but it’s all Cauce’s now. It didn’t receive as much attention as I expected during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Seattle, and it appears to be running a year behind schedule, with the initial degree program set to begin in fall 2017.

Cauce did preside over agreements with Chinese universities during the visit, including one related to “smart cities” research with Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and another related to a broader low-carbon cities partnership with the province of Sichuan. On the topic of cities, the Urban@UW program was started under Cauce’s watch.

Cauce, in a Tuesday statement, praised the faculty and institution she leads:

“We have assembled here one of the great faculties of any university on Earth, and we attract the most ambitious and remarkable students,” Cauce said. “They come here to study and learn. They transform their lives and, we hope, the lives of others. I am immensely proud of who we are as a University—one that is dedicated to access and excellence. These values are the hallmark of what it means to be a great public university, and I am thrilled at the prospect of how much more we can do for our students, for the state of Washington, and for people around the world whose lives we touch in some way.”

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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