Leading the way with experience and charisma

Former BYU professor is the new president of Utah Valley University

Matthew Holland is ready for his close-up.

It's the middle of August and the new president of Utah Valley University in Orem is scheduled for a photo shoot in the UVU commons area. The newspaper photographer phones to say he is finished setting up and ready to start taking the president's picture.

Because his presence affects university staff and students like a magnet attracts iron filings — they literally gravitate to him — President Holland throws on his suit coat as he heads out the door.

En route, he makes eye contact with a redheaded young woman, a freshman by the looks of it. She opens her mouth, ostensibly to say hello, but she's star struck and the words won't come out. He effortlessly diffuses a potentially awkward situation with a friendly smile and warm greeting.

Family first

President Holland's father, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve, was president of BYU from 1980-89 — a period that commenced when Matt Holland, eldest of three siblings, was 14 years old.

"My own experience was obviously one of adjustment," he said. "I had the kind of experience that I think my kids are having. It's given me an appreciation for what they're going through. My sense is that they're handling their move better than I handled mine. They've really been adaptable and joined us in seeing it as an adventure."

He and his wife, Paige Bateman Holland, have four young children: Jake, 12; Mitzi, 10; Grace, 7; and Daniel, 4. Although the new job requires him to put in longer hours at times, the family is reaping the benefits that come from living in the on-campus residence reserved for UVU's president.

"I'm busier and feel more demands on my time, like traveling on a more extended basis than I did in my previous career," President Holland said. "On the other hand, I now have a house that's here on campus with greater access between my home and the office. My kids and I have both taken advantage of that. They can come down to visit me, and I can dash home on a busy day or night to see them or tuck them in or have dinner even as I have to go off to other events."

Ultimately, President Holland views the new job he began on June 1 as an opportunity for bringing increased unity to an already-strong family unit.

"One of the things that come with these positions is that your family gets more cohesive in the sense that you live on a campus and you're a little bit more isolated," he said. "There are those kinds of blessings that can come from this sort of experience for a family. I've noticed my kids playing more and more with each other; I did the same thing with my siblings. Family time matters even more, so Paige and I guard it carefully and relish every minute of it."

Leadership ability

While at BYU, President Holland taught classes and served as chairman of the American Heritage Faculty Group — essentially giving him oversight of the American Heritage 100 class that more than 5,000 Cougar undergrads take every year.

He cites inspirational leaders such as Joseph and Hyrum Smith, King Benjamin and the first Nephi as favorite examples from Church history and the scriptures. In that same vein, American Heritage program administrator Erica Germaine describes President Holland as having a charismatic style of teaching that resonates with college students.

"He could really touch students," she said. "He had such a connection with the students that they just flocked to him and wanted to hear what he had to say. The best way to describe it would be that students looked at the opportunity to listen to him as being able to sit at the foot of a giant."

In addition to winning year-long fellowships at places like Princeton and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, President Holland earned master's and doctoral degrees in political science from Duke University, ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the ninth-best graduate program for political science in the nation. At Duke he worked closely with Professor Thomas A. Spragens.

"Matt was and is a very impressive guy," Professor Spragens said. "He was a top student, and had style and personal charm to him as well. He is very congenial, treats people well and is fun to be with. I think he can provide the kind of leadership that brings people together and gets them to keep their eye on the prize."

After watching his own father work as a university president for 30 years, Professor Spragens is familiar with the demands that job entails. He forecasts success for President Holland.

"He has both the political and the personal abilities that you would need in that capacity," Professor Spragens said. "You need an understanding and a dedication to the educational process, and Matt certainly has that from his excellence in teaching and research."

The road ahead

Challenging opportunities await President Holland at UVU. The school is coming off an epoch of intense, rapid growth, rising from junior college in 1993 to fully accredited university in 2008. The new president emphasizes the importance of enhancing the quality of undergraduate instruction and raising funds to give UVU the means it needs to fill out its expansive, figurative foundation.

President Holland received some sage advice from his father, the apostle and former university president, to help guide him as he forges ahead.

"My father's main piece of counsel was, 'Don't let yourself feel overwhelmed. There's going to be more thrown at you than you can possibly deal with, and that just goes with the territory. You need to pick off the things that you can do and go do them, and try to do them well.'

"That's been really useful advice because I've found it is exactly the case. As you come into an office like this, there's more to do than any human being could possibly do alone in the time frame you have to do it. So you work your hardest, trust in the Lord and try to surround yourself with good people, and I am surrounded by a very good team here at Utah Valley University."

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