According to the university's official count the current president, David W. Pershing, is the 15th president of the University. The university only counts the presidents that have served since the name was officially changed to the University of Utah, starting with John R. Park. The count also only counts the presidents, not the actual terms, because Joseph T. Kingsbury was president two different times.
Orson Spencer was named as the first chancellor of the University of Deseret when it was created on February 28, 1850. His tenure only lasted a short time until the university was temporarily closed.
John R. Park is the longest tenured president in the history of the University of Utah, serving for 23 years. At the end of his tenure the name of the university was changed to The University of Utah and planning began to move the campus to the east bench of Salt Lake City. Upon his death in 1900, Dr. John R. Park bequeathed his entire fortune, plus his library, to the University of Utah.
John A. Widtsoe was the president of Utah State University from 1907 until 1916 when he became the president of the University of Utah. He continued as president until he was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in the LDS church. The University of Utah, Utah State, and BYU all have buildings named after him.
His presidency, 1941–46, spanned the World War II years. Classes were added in military science, economics and philosophy of war and programs began in Army pre-flight, Navy V-1 and R.O.T.C. One of the far-reaching academic achievements of the period was expansion of the medical program into a four-year medical school. In 1980 one of the first three buildings on the campus was renamed in his honor. The LeRoy E. Cowles Building currently houses Mathematics.
During A. Ray Olpin's presidency the university quadrupled in size and the enrollment tripled from 4,000 to 12,000 students. The current student union building at the university is named in his honor.