A conversation with Dr. Michael Good on his new role as interim president

On the "U Rising" podcast, President Ruth V. Watkins engages in insightful conversations with students, staff, faculty, alumni and community stakeholders who are at the center of the state's flagship research university. President Watkins also connects with other leaders to give listeners a fresh take on top issues and innovations in higher education in Utah and across the country. You can subscribe to U Rising via iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and other podcast streaming services.

Dr. Michael L. Good joined the University of Utah in the summer of 2018 as our senior vice president for Health Sciences, CEO of University of Utah Health and executive dean of the U’s School of Medicine. We knew that Dr. Good, who previously was at the University of Florida, was an absolutely fabulous leader, administrator, experienced guide and a person of the highest integrity. He has lived up to every expectation we had and more, earning the trust and respect of our campus and the broader community. Now Dr. Good is taking on a new responsibility—interim president. In this episode of U Rising, Dr. Good talks about his new role, his priorities and what he hopes to accomplish, and what he wants our campus to know as we navigate the coming months. Recorded on March 31, 2021. Thanks to Brooke Adams, Emily Black and Dave White for technical assistance. Original music by Taylor Hartley. Read the full transcript.


President Ruth Watkins: Welcome to the U Rising podcast, where you get to meet people who are helping the U achieve great things. In 2018, just a few months after I officially assumed the presidency at the U, I was so fortunate to recruit a remarkable partner—Dr. Michael Good. Dr. Mike Good joined the University of Utah in the summer of 2018 as our senior vice president for Health Sciences, CEO of University of Utah Health and executive dean of the U’s School of Medicine. Now, we knew that Dr. Good, who joined us from the University of Florida, was an absolutely fabulous leader, administrator, experienced guide and a person of the highest integrity.

He has lived up to every expectation we had and more, earning the trust and respect of our campus and the broader community. And this is why I have full confidence that the U is in great hands as Dr. Good takes on yet one more responsibility—interim president. He will step into that role tomorrow. I am so delighted that Dr. Good is my guest today on the U Rising podcast. He's going to talk about his new role and how he is starting to think about what it will mean to be interim president and what he hopes to accomplish. Dr. Good, warmest welcome and congratulations to you.

Dr. Michael Good: Well, thank you, President Watkins. I'm excited to be here at the University of Utah and I'm particularly willing and able and looking forward to picking up and building on the great legacy and the great trajectory that you leave this university on as your life transition begins here tomorrow.

President Watkins: Well, Mike, I'm just going to call you Mike for the podcast and say, you have a lot of titles and a lot of responsibilities and I think listeners might wonder, what on earth is this guy doing? Why does he want to be interim president? I can tell you that I'm so glad you're willing to serve. Tell listeners about why you're willing to serve in this capacity.

Dr. Michael Good: Well, Ruth, I believe very, very deeply in this university. I'm a mission-driven person and I believe so much in those missions of education, research, caring for patients and engaging with our communities to try to tackle some of the grand challenges of our time. Taken together what those missions mean is that the university, and by the university, I mean our faculty and students and staff, we work to improve the human experience. And so, part of it is a deep belief in this university and that deep belief extends into higher education. Higher education changes the trajectory of lives. Our students learn knowledge and skills that will change their lives. They learn how to learn, which is so important in our modern society. They'll meet role models and mentors and they learn about relationships and they'll meet friends that will last a lifetime. Many of them will meet partners and spouses.

Danette and I met during our years in higher education, some 37 years ago. Now, I was at Michigan and she was at Michigan State, but that's probably a story for another day. But this notion that higher education changes lives, that the University of Utah is such an amazing place on an amazing trajectory itself. And, President, you've just pointed us in such a great direction with focusing on student success, focusing on research that matters and is recognized nationally. Just all of the things you've done make me want to make sure that there's a very smooth handoff between your time as president and when our next president arrives. And to me, the most logical way to do that was to just be the person in the middle, if you will, picking up, and if you will, grabbing the baton from you and making sure it gets to the next president very smoothly.

I do have a few other jobs as you've mentioned. And one of the ways I know I can do this is because I really believe in team leadership and the team you have assembled here, President Watkins, is just amazing. I'm a part of that team, but the team is 16, 18 members strong. It includes Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dan Reed, who is just so knowledgeable and so skillful in all the matters that he handles for our university for us. Our CFO Cathy Anderson is very strong, very aware of all our financial situation. I shared with Health Sciences when the University of Utah made the cover of Bond Buyer. We all talk about our academic journals, but it was cool to see University of Utah on the cover of Bond Buyer, speaking to the financial strength of our university, being recognized by others.

And anyway, the list goes on and on. Every member of the president's cabinet is very strong in their own expertise, but we all work together. And I know they're all going to help me in this journey of the next few months, making sure we're ready to, again, take all the great things that you have led us to, keep those going, and then hand them to the next president as they arrive on our institution.

President Watkins: Well, listeners, you've just learned some important things about Dr. Mike Good. You learned that not only an extraordinary physician, researcher and leader, but also a person who is passionate about education and has thought a lot about the role education plays in people's lives. And he's also thought a lot about the role of team and getting things done. So, during this time, Mike, that you're going to have dual roles of keeping your Health Science work and also leading the university, how are you going to manage the Health Science part of your life? Do you have some team members there that will step up and in to help?

Dr. Michael Good: Yeah. I've been so fortunate to have a great team here in Health Sciences, members of the team that have been here for many years, sometimes decades. But also, some of the recent recruits and appointments that we've made in the last few years. We do have a very strong and highly functional Senior Vice President for Health Sciences Cabinet. At a Cabinet meeting, after I had agreed to serve as interim president, I shared with the Health Sciences Cabinet that the word “yes” may have come out of my mouth, but it was on all of their behalf and they all had some new assignments and duties as well, to which they all responded.

They, too, all similarly have this deep passion for this university, where it's at, where it's going. And so over the course of the last month or so, I'm so proud of the individuals on my team. They've all agreed to step up and help with additional responsibilities, things that they will manage for me during this transition period. And so, I'm very confident. Health Sciences is in a good place. It has also good momentum and that I'm confident with that team and that team-approach to leadership. We'll be able to keep moving forward with our Health Science Center initiatives during the presidential transition as well.

President Watkins: Mike, I couldn't agree with you more. We have remarkable people on this campus, our staff, our faculty and, of course, our students and our community partners. So, as you think about that whole campus community, is there a message you'd like to share with them as you start on this journey?

Dr. Michael Good: We often talk about the accomplishments of the university, but really, it's the accomplishments of our students and our faculty and our staff, both individually and in teams. And I do have a message and that message is very straightforward, I think, very simple. Stay focused on your missions. Stay focused on your missions. If you're here as a student, stay focused on your educational program, work to graduate on time. The workforce needs you—the workforce needs you yesterday, so please stay focused on your educational program and graduate on time. Your faculty, all your faculty, are still here. They are ready to help you finish that educational journey, to acquire the knowledge and the skills that you need and that will make you successful in today's dynamic, but sometimes challenging workplace.

To our faculty and staff, stay focused on our missions, your work. If you primarily teach, keep working on learning ways to teach better, more effective. I really am proud of our educators over the past year. You've been so adaptable as this pandemic has disrupted learning and our traditional learning modalities. You have innovated and reinvented different ways of learning, helping our students learn.

If you're a scientist, stay focused on your research. The list of problems in our world remains long and we need solutions, whatever area you're working in. Obviously, if you're taking care of patients, please keep doing that. The pandemic has been disruptive to health care and, again, hats off for the adaptability. And if you're part of our team that engages with our community, stay focused on that mission.

I do recognize leadership transitions and, particularly, when a particularly strong and admired leader is changing, that can create anxiety in the organization. But I know, to our faculty and students and staff, if you stay focused on your mission, stay focused on your work, that is how we will get through this with momentum and acceleration and really moving the University of Utah forward in the next chapter of its great and evolving legacy.

President Watkins: So, since you mentioned the pandemic, let's talk about that just a little bit because I know what's on people's minds. I want our listeners to know that Dr. Mike Good has found such a strong place in our state as a trusted and respected leader. How fortunate we have been to have him representing the university and all of us in the state through this period. I would want our listeners to know—this is such a point of pride for the U—that in a survey recently conducted by Intermountain Healthcare, Dr. Good was identified as one of the most trusted and respected individuals for information about navigating the pandemic, right behind Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Angela Dunn.

Mike, that's a pretty big deal and we're so glad we've had you here through this period. So, as we wrap up spring semester and begin to look ahead to summer and fall, what advice do you have for listeners about managing the pandemic as they think about their own health and safety and how to promote the health and safety of people around them?

Dr. Michael Good: We have learned a lot through this pandemic. We've learned the importance of working together. We have been stronger together. We've learned that we had to be more nimble and make decisions more quickly than perhaps we did in the past. I've often said, you know, this virus moves very fast and we've needed to move faster, and we did. Businesses, government, health care, higher education, really came together here in the state of Utah, I believe, much better than other states and even countries. And as we hopefully are entering the latter months, latter stages, of this pandemic, hopefully we can gather some of those things we've learned, the lessons learned, and make them part of us, part of our organization, part of our processes going forward.

We've learned a lot about online learning. And I'm in the front of the line in wanting to get back to in-person learning and those important interactions between a student and a professor who often becomes a mentor, things that just have to be learned in person, side-by-side. But we've also learned a lot about things that can be done online and how do we balance that out. The same is true in health care. We learned a lot about telehealth and although the vast majority of health care is now back, the important things that have to happen in person, we have 15, 10, 15% of health care now still being provided through telehealth and other forms of virtual visits. And telecommuting—we've learned a lot about work that can be highly productive, in some cases, more productive remotely.

So, I hope, and I already know that we have work groups here at the university, looking at how we take some of these lessons learned and make them part of us going forward.

But there are also parts of the pandemic where we've not really quite figured things out. Childcare has been a huge issue for so many of our faculty and their families. Its disproportionally impacted our women faculty, and so we have to redouble our efforts around childcare. And mental health. This pandemic has taxed us mentally, in a way, many now talking about the second pandemic or the pandemic in the pandemic. And I also think there are related to that the social aspects of being together as human beings, we desire to be together with one another.

So, I think we're going to navigate forward. The order of the moment is to get everyone vaccinated. These vaccines are amazing. Vaccinated individuals, we're not seeing severe COVID. We still see a few infections and some mild cases, but we're not seeing the hospitalizations and worse in those that get vaccinated. So, in the short term, get vaccinated. In my crystal ball, I do see us back together in the fall, but I do think routine testing, as we've set up here at the University of Utah and other employers and groups have set up, I think routine testing will be with us. And I think, in many situations, we'll still need face coverings, perhaps not all, but in specific situations we will.

But I'm an optimist, I think the vaccination program will continue, distancing and masking, distancing when we can, and masking when we can't. But my crystal ball is optimistic and I see us being able to enjoy art and concerts, sporting events and, I dare say, even a Pac-12 Championship is on the horizon.

President Watkins: Hey, that sounds pretty great. And the people that will be the happiest to hear what you just said are our students, our continuing students, those we've admitted, and there's a lot. We have a great amount of interest in the University of Utah for Fall 2021. What would you want our students to know, those that are anxious about getting back together? I know we both hear from our students and they are very eager. They miss each other socially. They want to be in person to the extent possible. Any message for our students?

Dr. Michael Good: Well, first of all, I want to thank our students for this past semester and the fall semester. The students, our students and our student leaders really came together as part of the campus approach to this pandemic. And because of their efforts, we've had very low levels of virus on campus. We've had very low levels of transmission and that's because our students have done the things that they've needed to do, isolate when they're sick, test when they, for example, the students that live in our dormitories and so on. And so, first of all, to our students, thank you.

I am, second of all, excited to celebrate the accomplishments and really the perseverance of the Class of 2021. It was their senior year that this pandemic collided with and they've just done an amazing job. And I think we are, I know I am very proud of them and I'm glad we're going to be able to, although we won't have the big commencement, the large commencement will still be virtual, but the colleges are having some convocations, some gatherings, to celebrate those 2021 graduates. And I'm so pleased with that.

To our students, we are planning predominantly in-person college experience this fall. As I've mentioned, in-person learning is so important because our faculty, not only are they the source of those knowledge and skills and experiences you need to acquire to obtain your degrees, but they often become your role models and your mentors.

I can think of very specific individuals, now decades ago, but who really helped shape me and my career and my thinking about how to approach both professional aspects of life, but also personal. So, I guess, to the students, again, thank you for working through this with us, congratulations to the Class of 2021. And again, we look forward to a predominantly, highly in-person experience this coming fall. We really look forward to having you back here on campus.

President Watkins: Mike, you said it so eloquently. We, as a campus, have navigated the pandemic remarkably well. That is in no small measure credit to our student body who really joined with us to listen to your advice and the advice of your team about how they could be safe and promote health and wellbeing. Thank you, students. And thank you, Dr. Mike Good, for leading the way in those areas. Now, Mike, you have a front row seat to what it means to be the president of the University of Utah as we worked together over these past three years, and now you're going to get an even more up close view, being president of a large public research university that is a member of the AAU. I think, as we think about looking for a president for the next phase that you will pass the baton to, what would you want those who might listen to this podcast to know about the University of Utah from your insider perch?

Dr. Michael Good: You know, Ruth, the University of Utah is a very special place, but it's a special place because it's filled with special people. The people of the University of Utah, they're amazing people. They're bright, they're hard working, they're dedicated to our missions, and it's very rewarding to be a part of that community, to be part of those teams. The real joy in our work is seeing what these amazing, special people are doing, their research, their teaching, in the healthcare settings. I know, President, it's been great to have you visit so many of our health care programs, especially those that focus on underserved or those with special needs. And so, I think anybody, just as we recruit an assistant professor or a department chair or a dean, those who might be interested in being our next president are going to find this community of 62,000 strong individuals who believe in goodness and advancement in making the world a better place, both locally, regionally, nationally and, increasingly ,internationally.

That's certainly been my journey here for over, now approaching two and a half years. Danette and I were very professionally happy here, but I would add, we're very personally happy as well, having fallen in love, not only with the university and its people, but also Salt Lake City and the state as well. The University of Utah is changing lives, changing lives of students, of faculty, patients, citizens. I've spent portions of my career at Michigan and Florida so I've gotten to know a little bit about the Big Ten, the Big 12, the SEC. And many will say, obviously what I'm about to say is a little biased, but this is the place to be. And I think those that are interested in joining our team as its president, they'll learn these things and they'll want to be a part of this team, this team that plays at a great place that's known as the University of Utah.

President Watkins: So, well said, Mike. And I want to just add, for any listeners out there, some of the most powerful moments for me in this role have been the opportunity to engage with and really learn about what happens at University of Utah Health. Whether it's the Burn Unit, Moran Eye Center, just our fabulous hospitals and clinics out in communities, the Huntsman Cancer Institute, our Orthopedics Hospital. Top-flight, first-rate caring leaders. What a remarkable opportunity to be part of something great and on the way up. So, Dr. Good, as we ask about final thoughts, I think listeners would be interested in what you see as priorities for this time, the next months ahead, while you will be leaning. And I think that would be really, really insightful for listeners to hear what's on your mind in this next phase.

Dr. Michael Good: President Watkins, I think I want to begin by thanking you and thanking you on behalf of those 62,000 member-strong University of Utah community. The historians will look back on this period, on your eight years here at the University of Utah, and they will see this inflection point of a university that was doing pretty good, but one that accelerated, that gained significant altitude, that rose in its national distinction and stature. And they'll trace all of that back and they'll find your fingerprints on so many of the ideas, the initiatives, the actions. You drew together a great team that rallied together with you and it's just been an amazing eight years and I've had the joy and the privilege of being a part of that team the last two and a half years. The list is long. You've mentioned AAU membership, which you really worked hard and helped other people realize just how special the University of Utah is and the great work that's going on.

We worked closely on advancing mental health and after partnering with the Huntsman family to create the Huntsman Mental Health Institute, you helped me really focus on making sure that that work then focused on our students because those years in our lives are often where mental challenges happen. And then your relentless focus on our students, student well-being and graduation, and you really moved the needles in amazing ways, the graduation rate and what that means for our students. So, I think in answering the question, what do the next few months bring, I know I speak on behalf of not only the leadership team, but the whole university, we're going to really try to honor your legacy by keeping the energy and the commitment and the focus, equity, diversity and inclusion, anti-racism, making this a place where everyone finds not only comfort, but a place to excel, where they can leave their mark, their influence on the world.

In the months ahead, we're going to stay focused on that same list of things we've been talking about for the past, certainly for nearly three years now, and keep that great energy and that great wisdom. I want the listeners to know, I do have all the secret numbers to know where to get ahold of President Watkins in her new role. And she has made a commitment to me that she's available if I don't know the answer to a particular question. But, Ruth, really, thank you and congratulations. You've left us in just an amazing place and with momentum. And that means we will carry on and we will carry forward doing the great work that you pointed us toward and really leave us in just such a great place. We thank you.

President Watkins: Listeners, my guest today, Dr. Mike Good. Dr. Good is taking over tomorrow as interim president of the University of Utah. Mike, I am forever grateful to you and Danette for joining us in the vision and energy and passion that is the University of Utah, and I wish you every success. Thanks for being with me today.

Dr. Michael Good: Thank you.

President Watkins: Listeners, this is going to be the last edition of the U Rising podcast for this semester. I think a brief break is ahead, but it will be back soon. So, stay tuned and listen in. Thanks for being part of today's conversation with Dr. Mike Good.