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Search committee promises openness

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

January 27, 2007

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

The first meeting of the second University of Iowa presidential search committee Friday stood in stark contrast to the months of secrecy that surrounded the initial presidential search.

For one thing, television cameras peered over the shoulders of the 13-person committee during the meeting.

In addition, the meeting was open to the public and discussions and deliberations about on-campus interviews and other procedural issues weren't veiled behind closed-door meetings and confidentiality agreements, which occurred throughout the seven-month, $216,000 initial search led by Regent President Pro-Tem Teresa Wahlert.

"We don't want to create an atmosphere where people are guessing," said Jarjisu Sa-Aadu, a search committee member and UI finance professor.

UI General Counsel Marc Mills was on hand to advise committee members on open meeting laws and the proper process for discussing candidate names.

"We are a group sanctioned by the regents and, therefore, subject to open meeting laws," said committee chairman and College of Dentistry Dean David Johnsen.

Johnsen vowed openness throughout the process, including providing time, date and location before each meeting, conducting public meetings and providing weekly updates. Johnsen said he also will meet regularly with the regents.

With the initial search, meetings were not public, notice was not provided and there were few updates.

Topics at the meeting ranged from how to address questions about the fallout from the initial search, constructing a core message for seeking candidates and communicating with constituents on and off campus, establishing a meeting schedule and committee charges.

"We are seeking someone to lead, manage and govern this complicated university. We need to decide what they need to lead, manage and govern," Johnsen said.

The committee's regular meetings will be from 1 to 3 p.m. on Fridays, except Feb. 2 when the group will meet from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Johnsen said the charge of the committee, which must be OK'd by the regents, likely will be to forward four finalists in alphabetical order to the regents. Then the regents will select a president. Johnsen has pegged July 1 as the end date for the search.

One of the most critical issues in this search, one that will be decided by the search committee, will be whether to require on-campus interviews.

Traditionally on-campus interviews have been standard, but some say the national trend is moving toward confidentiality to attract top candidates.

The committee made no decision Friday, but members had a wide range of thoughts on the matter:

"I am a strong believer in on-campus interviews. But you can't make that decision (of whether to require it) until you see who you are talking about," law professor Jonathan Carlson said.

"If I were a sitting president, I wouldn't go through that process," said Paul Rothman, director of internal medicine.

"Letting the candidate feel the vibration from campus, ... is that not the greatest insurance against making a bad mistake?" said Leonard Hadley, a UI alumnus and retired chairman and CEO of Maytag.

The initial search to replace David Skorton, who announced more than a year ago that he was taking a job as president of Cornell University, stalled after six regents voted down four finalists and disbanded the search committee.

The second search got under way with the naming of Johnsen on Dec. 18, and the committee was finalized Tuesday.