They already call him an accomplished scholar, an exceptional academic leader and a warm and likable person. On Wednesday, the future president of the University of Washington also made a roomful of UW officials smile by saying he'd take less money than his predecessor, Mark Emmert.

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They already call him an accomplished scholar, an exceptional academic leader and a warm and likable person. On Wednesday, the future president of the University of Washington also made a roomful of UW officials smile by saying he’d take less money than his predecessor, Mark Emmert.

Michael Young, the president of the University of Utah and president-designate of the UW, made a joke of the issue during a Wednesday news conference, his first public appearance on campus, by making a show of telling UW Board of Regents Chairman Herb Simon that he wouldn’t take a penny less than Emmert, then telling the rest of the room that he would.

Emmert was the second-highest-paid public-university president in the country in 2009, and if he had stayed another year, would have made more than $900,000 in 2010. His high compensation was a contentious issue for some lawmakers and faculty members; if proposed budget cutbacks pass the Legislature, the state will have cut 50 percent of its support of higher-education funding since 2008.

“The problem is I have to negotiate with Herb Simon,” Young joked. “So it’s probably inevitable I’ll accept less.”

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Just how much less will be worked out this week, Simon said. Young’s total compensation as University of Utah president was about $724,000 in 2009-2010.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, his base pay during that period was $348,403. And he was also paid $375,192 in deferred compensation. In addition, he accrued, but has not yet been paid, $67,290 in deferred compensation, according to The Chronicle.

Simon said Young is “very sensitive and understanding of our political and financial crisis. Knowing … that sensitivity is all the more reason why we want him to be our president.”

Setting “an example”

Although the UW didn’t discuss salary when interviewing Young for the job, the Utah president made it clear that he understood the depth of the UW’s financial problems and that he wanted “to set an example that will resonate,” Simon said.

At the UW, faculty and staff salaries have been frozen since February 2009 and are expected to remain frozen for at least another year. The UW has 4,100 faculty members and 23,000 staff members.

Young, 61, admitted that he felt some trepidation in accepting the job because of the depth of the state’s proposed budget cuts. “People are worried, to be sure,” he said of the cutbacks, but there’s also “a sense of enthusiasm and momentum that I sense in talking to everybody affiliated with the university.”

He talked about the importance of the country’s great public research universities in both developing technology and training students, and said the quality of life in the U.S. was dependent on the nation’s universities remaining strong.

And he said he thought he could play a role in making the UW a national leader in helping to find ways to overcome the decline in state support for universities, which is happening at public schools across the nation.

“My son described my career as never being happy unless I’m walking across a tightrope over the Grand Canyon,” he said. “I think this is the most exciting opportunity and challenge in higher education.”

“A country lawyer”

Young showed flashes of a gentle, self-deprecating humor during the half-hour-long news conference before a roomful of reporters, university officials and a few professors. At one point he called himself “just a country lawyer” — one who happens to have earned a law degree from Harvard and clerked for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist.

At another point, he said someone once told him that “the only reason you become president is to get onto a faculty you otherwise couldn’t get onto.” Young was a law professor at Columbia University and law dean at George Washington University, and UW faculty members have praised his academic credentials.

Young came outfitted for the news conference in a purple-and-gold tie and a “W” lapel pin.

His staff at the University of Utah gave him a set of UW cufflinks, and the UW gave him a goody bag with Husky paraphernalia, including a yo-yo that lights up, from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, where the news conference was held.

After the midmorning conference, Young was whisked to Olympia to meet with Gov. Chris Gregoire and key legislators.

Later, he met with faculty leaders and about 30 students involved in student government. He was to attend a reception with major UW donors later in the evening.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or

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