Michael Young: Campus Coupling

Why the University of Washington's new president was available.

Some people are sure to cluck over incoming University of Washington President Michael Young's recent marriage. His wife, who on June 3 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 the University of Utah's president that Young filed for divorce last year from his wife of 38 years. The breakup was a polarizing event on campus, where Young's wife ran a lecture series. Utah's conservative Mormon culture didn't make things any easier. Nearly a decade ago, the UW was the scene of similar 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. He denied it publicly—until The Seattle Times started making phone calls. 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. 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 Utah, Denkers tells Seattle Weekly. He's also the executive director of the Willard L. Eccles Foundation, and was inducted into Utah's College of Science Hall of Fame last year on account of his giving. According to Denkers, his former wife did not have an official role at the foundation. "She'd go to parties," he says. Denkers 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 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 Utah's board of trustees. The board did, however, question Young about his divorce last year. "They asked if there was anything inappropriate," says Young. 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 says. And he certainly seems remarkably frank, answering questions not only about his personal life (despite swearing to keep it "off limits" in the future), but also commenting on the travails of getting divorced while part of the conservative Mormon culture. Utah, he says, "must be the passive-aggressive center of the universe."

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