Person of the Year: Rolling out the goodbye mat for Matt Holland

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Matt Holland dominates a room with his personality and size. “I’m a little under, but I say I’m 6-foot-4 to be the same size as Tom Selleck,” Matt laughs. (Photo by Dave Blackhurst/UV Mag)

Nine years ago during the hiring process for UVU’s next president, Matt Holland’s final question was why he should be considered when the field included top candidates, many of whom had more impressive resumes.

Matt says the answer came into his mind “clear as a bell.”

“I told them there were people in the pool with more experience, who have had administrative jobs and a more advanced scholarly record,” he remembers saying. “But you won’t find anyone in this pool who cares more about this institution and this valley. This isn’t about Matt Holland being the president of something big. This is something I truly care about. I want to raise my kids here. This institution matters to me. I love higher education. I love students. I love the learning process. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who cares more than I do.”

He was right. They were right to select him. And under his leadership, there have been countless “rights” that have lit the green light on campus and throughout the community it serves.

When Matt was named the unlikely UVU president by the Board of Regents in 2009, it was a shift. For him. For UVU. For the community.

“I obviously didn’t apply for a job I didn’t think I could do, but I also knew I would have to figure a lot of it out on the job,” he says. “I had loved being a professor where I was teaching, researching and writing. This was a an entirely new set of tasks for me. I didn’t have a track record of doing many of the things I’ve now spent nine years doing. From the beginning, this role was fresh and new and exhilarating. And it has stayed that way.”

Exhilaration has been spelled, in part, like f-u-n-d-r-a-i-s-i-n-g.”

“When we arrived, UVU wasn’t getting sufficient funding and didn’t have the buildings needed — they had been making a push to raise $17 million,” Matt recalls. “The fact that we’ve raised more than $100 million is satisfying to me and it’s only due to the community members who have rallied for our cause.”

Utah Valley Magazine names Matt our third annual PERSON OF THE YEAR, and the following story is organized categorically with quotes by Abraham Lincoln — who is Matt’s hero and research specialty.


Step-Up Books: When Matt was 5 years old, his dad was in graduate school at Yale and the young boy slept in an army cot. “My parents couldn’t afford me a bed, but they somehow had money for books,” Matt recalls. The family owned a series about important historic figures, such as Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and Abraham Lincoln. “As a kid, I felt especially connected to Thomas Jefferson, although my scholarly interested eventually moved toward Lincoln.” Matt has kept some of his childhood books in his corner office, including this treasured and underlined story of Thomas Jefferson, which told of the young man waking himself up in the morning by putting his feet in a bucket of ice water.

Matt will be setting aside his UVU title but immediately picking up a religious nametag with the same ring to it. As president of an LDS mission, he and Paige will oversee 100+ missionaries as they dedicate their full-time service to sharing the gospel and teaching people about Jesus Christ.

“UVU has been a very demanding role, and my sense is that the mission will be equally demanding but in a different way,” Matt says. “The volume may be different, but the intensity may be no less.”

The process of receiving a call as mission president went according to protocol, despite the fact that Matt’s last name has connections to church headquarters.

Matt and Paige were summoned to downtown Salt Lake. Before he went, Matt called his father, Elder Holland, who said he wanted to “recuse” himself of this conversation. “You’re on your own,” Elder Holland told him.

“The interview focused on our lives and our willingness to serve in general, with no discussion of assignments,” Matt says.

Not long after that, the Hollands were invited to meet with President Eyring, where they learned they had been called to a yet-to-be-assigned mission where they would serve as presidents.

“I’m praying for the UK, while Paige is praying for the United States,” Matt says. “But we have no sense of the matter. We know we’ll love the age group we’re working with and we’ll be dealing with folks on topics we cherish most.”

In December 2017, the Hollands got word they would be presidents of the North Carolina Raleigh Mission starting July 1.

Even though Matt has loved the UVU post and the post has loved him, college presidents don’t generally stay in office for more than a decade.

“I’ve always known for the sake of the institution, I would need to move on,” Matt says. “There is something about new energy that sees potential to move the school forward. While we’ve stayed open admissions and very inclusive, the strength of the institution has moved forward and will continue. Our standards and expectations have increased. People now know that if you want an excellent university education, you can get it at UVU.”

Although Matt and Paige intend to come back to Utah Valley after their three-year mission, there are no guarantees.

“Right now we’re giving UVU everything we have until we leave, and then we’ll give the mission everything we have,” Matt says. “Where we live afterward will be based on our next chapter, which at this point is completely unknown.”

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother (or in Matt’s case, his wife Paige).”

The Hollands’ oldest son, Jake, will return from his mission to Uruguay after the rest of his family has left to lead the North Carolina Raleigh Mission. (Photo courtesy of Holland family)

The Hollands brought four young children to UVU, and although Matt and Paige put both feet and all four shoulders toward the UVU machine, they also didn’t want to sacrifice their family. Their upcoming decade (give or take) would also be the heart of their parenting years.

“We made an early commitment to ourselves that as important as this job is and as much as it matters to the community, it’s not worth sacrificing our kids,” Matt says.

The Holland boundary became a two-nights-in-a-row rule.

“This is a job where I could literally be gone every night and most weekends, but Paige and I decided that I wouldn’t be gone more than two nights in a row,” Matt says. “If there was a third event needing my attendance, we would stand strong that I needed that night at home.”

The only exception? Graduation week.

The Hollands also made family travel a top priority, where Matt could turn off his phone and turn up his father figure status.

One of their annual traditions was to leave on graduation day at 3 or 4 p.m. after the lost convocation and head to dinner at Maddox in Brigham City, followed by a drive to Lava Hot Springs in Idaho.

“We would soak in the hot waters and detox over the weekend,” Matt says.

 “Whatever you are, be a good one.”   

During Utah Valley Magazine’s first interview with the Hollands in 2009, Paige said of Matt: “I’ve always known Matt has amazing abilities — with the charisma to match. He’s a fixer. If he sees a problem, he finds a solution. When you add that to his teaching ability, his care for people and his love for education, you have a natural university president.” (Photo by UVU Photo)

If there are three words Matt is known for, it’s “serious, engaged and inclusive.” That word set originally included the fourth word “large,” until he got word from his faculty and staff that “large” wasn’t really an aspiration.

“The word ‘large’ ended up coming through the back door as we have become the largest university in the state,” Matt says.

Serious, engaged and inclusive have rolled off all UVU tongues during the Holland administration.

“These core themes are so seared into my consciousness that I’ll probably be taking ‘serious, engaged and inclusive’ into the mission field,” Matt says. “It’s not like I created these concepts — they were already in the warp and woof of the place when I got here. We just crystallized them into these three words.”

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Matt has vowed not to be a “lame duck” during his last six months in office. He still has mountains to climb as UVU cements its dual mission mode of being a community college within a university. (Photo by UVU)

For Matt and his tribe of Hollands, Sunday is a happy family day.

“Sundays have been very sacrosanct for me,” he says. “And it’s not just in a spiritual sense, but also in a mental and physical sense.”

For the first half of his UVU presidency, Matt’s religious position was as gospel doctrine teacher — his favorite service opportunity in the LDS Church.

The second half of his green life has been as an advisor in the Priest’s Quorum, where he shared three years with his oldest son, Jake.

“We focus on mission prep and call ourselves ‘MTC West,’” Matt quips.

Sunday evenings are a time to eat, laugh, watch movies, read and relax as a family.

“I don’t get time to do those things during the week — even on most Saturdays,” he says. “Sunday has been a treasured day.”

“You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.”

When Matt “inherited” UVU, he didn’t know about all of the great programs and awards. “And if I didn’t know, I knew others in the community didn’t as well. I’ve been committed to telling our stories.” (Photo by UVU)

Matt’s biggest fear coming into the UVU position was that he knew the community would have to step up like they hadn’t done previously.

“We were underfunded, under-appreciated and under-recognized,” Matt says in his characteristic parallel speaking structure. “We were dangerously lean, to the point of risking accreditation. Somehow the disconnect with the community had to be overcome. We have created millions of new ongoing funding — much more than any other institution in the state — which allowed us to hire hundreds of faculty and staff. I will always be grateful to the community and the legislators who helped fund the story. Everybody came together to move UVU forward.”

“I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”

Matt is known for his thirst for knowledge, especially around the Founding Fathers and LDS Church leaders.

“More than once I’ve read Gordon B. Hinckley’s ‘The Loneliness of Leadership,’” Matt says. “He looks at the U.S. presidency as a model. In any thriving, growing organization, there are moments nobody fully knows. People see from their angle, but they don’t see the tough circumstances when a leader has to figure out how the pieces must come together.”

“Everybody likes a compliment.”

Matt says, “If I could talk to Matt Holland of 2009, I would say, ‘The vision will come and you can do it. You’ll put together a great team and you’ll figure it out.’” (Photo by Utah Valley Magazine in 2009)

Matt has built buildings and he’s built leaders during his tenure at UVU. He is complimentary of everyone around his offices and beyond. But his highest praise is for his highest advisor: Paige.

“Paige has been so critical for me as she’s been very involved at the university,” Matt says. “And yet she’s been conscious not to do too much, either.”

Matt says he’s been continually amazed when he’s battled through a tough issue on campus and come home to share the tip of the iceberg with Paige.

“I sometimes assume she may not have the context she needs to grasp the difficulties, but she gets to the heart of an issue quickly. She’s smart. She’s savvy. She gets people. She’s also a heck of a fundraiser!”

The Hollands joke that Paige raised more money at a women’s luncheon than one of UVU’s swanky scholarship balls.

With her at his side, Matt’s contributions clearly land him as the 2018 Utah Valley Magazine Person of the Year.

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