Provost Ana Mari Cauce will become interim president of the University of Washington on March 2, the Board of Regents decided Thursday.

Share story

Ana Mari Cauce has worked as a clinical psychologist. An assistant professor. A college dean. A provost.

On Thursday, she accepted another position: interim president of the University of Washington, the institution where she has worked for nearly 30 years.

Her appointment comes on the heels of UW President Michael Young’s surprise announcement last week that he was leaving Seattle to lead Texas A&M University.

But it was no surprise that the Board of Regents appointed Cauce, 59, to fill in after his departure. Her name surfaced just minutes after the news about Young, and the regents’ unanimous vote Thursday came after just 30 minutes of deliberation in an executive session in the Allen Library.

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Cauce, who has been the university’s second-in-command for three years, will start the new role March 2. Her salary was set at $524,784, and she will earn an additional $150,000 per year if she stays with the university at the provost level or higher until December 2017.

After the regents publicly announced her appointment, they gave Cauce a standing ovation, and staff, regents and students lined up for hugs. She is popular with many groups at the university and is known for her collaborative style of leadership, her warmth and her sense of humor.

Born in Cuba, raised in Miami and educated at Yale, Cauce will be the first Cuban American and second woman to lead the UW.

Regents board Chair Bill Ayer praised Cauce for her “straightforward and accessible leadership, extraordinary intellect, plain-spoken common sense, honesty, sense of justice and deep dedication” to the university. He said the regents had talked to dozens of faculty, staff and community leaders over the past 10 days, and picking Cauce was an easy decision.

Cauce has been especially popular for creating a student-led budget advisory committee that aims to keep expenses — and ultimately, tuition — under control by examining the way the university spends its money.

“Ana Mari, students adore you,” said Christina Xiao, president of undergraduate-student government. “You are so understanding of the student perspective.”

And Faculty Senate Chair Kate O’Neill praised Cauce for being “a model for how to engage in academic leadership.”

Despite her popularity, it remains to be seen whether Cauce has the right mix of skills to be both a forceful lobbyist and persuasive private fundraiser, both key roles for the president of a university, especially one as big and prestigious as the UW. While the provost is the university’s chief academic officer and chief budget officer, the job of president is often described as requiring a different set of skills.

Cauce said she’s up to the challenge.

Because she’s been at the UW for so long, she said, she knows the legislators well — some from the time they were UW undergrads. The same is true for the legions of private donors who give millions each year to the university.

“I can jump in and hit the ground running,” she said.

Cauce listed two issues that will need immediate attention: making the case to legislators that they need to invest more money in higher education, and expanding the UW’s role in teaching medicine in Spokane.

While the UW does not oppose Washington State University’s proposal to build a medical school in Spokane, she said, that choice can’t come at the expense of the UW’s own satellite Spokane medical program. The fastest way to train more doctors to work in rural communities, she said, is to build on the UW’s program.

Cauce said she had not yet decided if she wants to be considered for the permanent position of UW president. “I want to spend the next term being president, rather than running for president,” she said.

While expressing her support for Cauce, O’Neill — the Faculty Senate leader — also urged the regents to pick a permanent president quickly, and to use an open process that will allow the community to weigh in. Many faculty members have said they were dismayed by the tightly controlled, closed process that resulted in Young’s hiring four years ago.

Ayer said the regents have not yet had a chance to discuss the search process.

Typically, the search is aided by a paid consultant who finds candidates, woos them and brings them to the university’s search committee for scrutiny.

Bill Funk, a Dallas higher-education consultant who led the past two searches for a UW president — Young and his predecessor, Mark Emmert — said the UW would likely look for candidates among leaders of its peer institutions that are members of the Association of American Universities (AAU).

The 62-member organization is composed of the top public and private research universities in the United States and Canada. When AAU schools go looking for presidents, they usually pick from within that pool, Funk said.

Ayer, the regent chair, said Cauce’s life story exemplifies the values of the university.

Cauce’s father, Vicente, was minister of education in Cuba; the family fled the country in 1959, after Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista government. Vicente Cauce was unable to gain a position of similar prominence here, and for a while, Cauce’s parents made shoes in a Miami factory. The family, Cauce has said, was dirt-poor, but always emphasized the importance of a good education.

On Thursday, Cauce talked of how meaningful the appointment would have been to her mother and father.

“My parents would have been so proud,” she said.