President Watkins Full Bio
Dr. Ruth V. Watkins, the 16th president of the University of Utah, is guiding the state’s flagship institution to unprecedented heights. President Watkins’ signature initiatives include degree completion, innovative student funding models, strong partnerships with community stakeholders, uniting the campus as One U to drive innovation in research, education, and operational efficiency, and addressing grand societal challenges such as mental health and interpersonal violence.
President Watkins inspires the U to innovate, discover, and deliver exceptional value in higher education and health care. For students, this means an excellent and affordable educational experience culminating in timely degree completion. Under President Watkins’ leadership, the University of Utah has significantly increased student success as measured by graduation rates and new avenues for access to a U education. For faculty and staff, excellence means providing unwavering support that enables creativity, collaboration, and impact, exemplified by rising research funding—a record of $603 million in 2020—and steady growth in the quality and quantity of scholarship focused on urgent societal concerns. For patients, excellence means innovative, compassionate, and affordable care at a nationally recognized health center that is ranked among the top 10 in the country for quality.
President Watkins has guided the U in its role as the University for Utah, cultivating broad and deep connections to communities and being responsive to the state’s workforce needs. The U produces more graduates in high demand fields than any other state institution and those graduates also receive the highest starting salaries compared to other Utah public schools. As an anchor institution, the U is meeting health care needs throughout the state and the region. As a result of President Watkins’ leadership, financial support for the university is at an all-time high and the U is well on its way to meeting a capital campaign goal of $2 billion.
In November 2019, the U was selected as a new member of the Association of American Universities. This is an invitation-only, prestigious group of 65 leading research institutions marked by excellence in academic expertise and research impact, student success, and securing resources in support of core missions.
The U’s excellence is marked by the variety of programs ranked among the best in the country, including its undergraduate and graduate entrepreneurship programs, full-time MBA program, and schools of computing, law, nursing, and medicine. The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education rated the U as No. 11 in the country for value in 2019. The U is ranked among the top 50 public research universities by U.S. News & World Report (2019).
President Watkins serves on the boards of the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation and the Tanner Lectures on Human Values. She also is co-chair of the Research Intensive Committee of the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities, is a member of the AAU-APLU Presidents’ Working Group on Research Security and previously served as a member of the APLU’s Council of Academic Affairs Executive Committee. President Watkins also is serving on two boards focused on innovation and the role of post-secondary education in pandemic rescue and recovery—the COVID-19 Impact Coalition supported by Strada Education Network and the Higher Education Task Force sponsored by McKinsey.
Before her appointment in the spring of 2018, President Watkins served as the University of Utah’s senior vice president for academic affairs. She came to Utah in 2013 from the University of Illinois. At Illinois, President Watkins spent 20 years in leadership and faculty roles, including dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences—where she guided the research, education engagement, financial, and developmental success of approximately 50 academic and research units—and vice provost and associate provost.
President Watkins graduated with the highest honors from the University of Northern Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology. She earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in child language at the University of Kansas, where she was a National Institutes of Health pre-doctoral fellow. Her scholarship focuses on communication development and disabilities in young children. President Watkins’ research and training endeavors have been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Education, as well as Lumina Foundation. She was named a fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in 2003.