Some people are sure to cluck over last week's marriage of incoming University of Washington President Michael Young. His wife, who yesterday became Marti Young, was a student at the University of Utah while Young presided over it. She's 38. He's 61. But hey, at least he seems to have gotten all the personal drama out of the way before taking over the reins at UW.
It was as University of Utah president that Young filed for divorce last year from his wife of 38 years. The break-up was a polarizing event on campus, where his wife ran a lecture series, according to news accounts. Utah's conservative Mormon culture didn't make things any easier.
Nearly a decade ago, it was the UW that was the scene of distracting marital problems. In 2002, the Board of Regents quietly asked then-president Richard McCormick to leave after learning that he was having an extramarital affair with a woman in his administration. Publicly he denied it--until The Seattle Times started making inquiries. So early in his tenure in his new post as president of Rutgers University in New Jersey, McCormick held a press conference to admit the affair. His wife, who became a Rutgers professor, was looking on.
McCormick has been in the news again recently because he is on the verge of stepping down from the Rutgers' presidency. No personal scandal is afoot this time. He did eventually divorce his wife and remarry. He and his new wife, a former Rutgers fund-raiser, now have a 16-month old adopted daughter. The 63-year-old McCormick recently told The Star-Ledger that part of the reason he's stepping down as president is to spend more time with his daughter.
The paper described his track record at Rutgers as a mixed bag:
McCormick had great successes, including implementation of a historic restructuring of the 57,000-student university. But he also saw Rutgers' state funding slashed year after year while critics said he lacked the charisma to be the statewide higher education leader New Jersey desperately needed.
It was the same problem he had here. McCormick was never able to wrestle much money from state legislators. Now it's Young's turn to try, and in even bleaker economic times. Let's hope the happy occasion of his marriage gives him the energy he'll need.
UPDATE: Following up on tips from commenters, SW learned today that Marti Young, formerly Marti Denkers, was until last year the wife of a philanthropist named Steve Denkers. He is a scion of the Eccles family, which has given "millions and millions of dollars" to UU, Denkers tells SW. He's also the executive director of the Willard L. Eccles Foundation, and was on account of his giving last year inducted into UU's College of Science Hall of Fame.
His former wife, whom he divorced last year, did not have an official role at the foundation. "She'd go to parties," he says.
He says that he kept giving to the university even while its president became involved with his ex-wife. But he also says "It's been hard . . . People at the university were very careful about it. They'd try not to put me in the same room [as Young]."
All of which raises the question as to whether Young, like McCormick, might have been quietly asked to leave. Young insists not. In fact, he says, "The trustees sat down with me and asked what it would take to get me to stay."
"There was no pressure for him to leave," agrees Randy Dryer, chair of UU's board of trustees.
The board did, however, question Young about his divorce last year. "They asked if there was anything inappropriate," Young recalls. He says he took the comment to mean was he having an affair. He said he wasn't. Marti, he says, "was divorced from her husband maybe in early January [of 2010]. I separated fairly shortly after that. We didn't start seeing each other until well after."
"I'm hardly capable of discretion, much less secrecy," he quips. He certainly seems remarkably frank, answering questions not only about his personal life (despite swearing to keep it "off limits" in the future) and commenting on the travails of getting divorced while part of conservative Mormon culture. Utah, he says, "must be the passive-aggressive center of the universe."