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Fallout continues from Regents' decision

Groups move toward no confidence vote; Vilsack won't step in

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

November 21, 2006

[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.]

University of Iowa faculty, student and staff leaders have taken initial steps toward resolutions of no confidence in the Iowa state Board of Regents.

Meanwhile, Gov. Tom Vilsack, through his spokesperson Jennifer Mullin, said time is needed for parties involved to reach out to each other so they can move forward to find the best possible person to lead UI.

Months of tension between UI and regent leadership boiled over Friday when the regents voted 6 to 2 to reject four candidates for the UI president post that the presidential search committee unanimously recommended. The regent vote also dissolves the 19-person committee that included four regents, staff, students, faculty, alumni and local community leaders.

Mullin said it would be unusual for the governor to step into the situation.

"It is not something he would get involved in. The governor appoints very capable people to handle these types of situations," Mullin said of regent appointees, all of which Vilsack appointed.

Vilsack 'doesn't know' meeting details

Regarding possible open meeting violations, Mullin said Vilsack does not have all the details.

Regents met at least three times between a board meeting Nov. 9 in Ames that ended in closed session and a Friday telephone meeting that began in closed session. Iowa open meetings laws require 24-hours notice of meetings' time, date, place and tentative agenda without a provision for closed session meetings. All meetings, whether closed or open, need to be recorded and minutes kept.

"He doesn't know all of the details of these meetings, so he can't say one way or another if regents failed open meetings laws," Mullin said, noting that Vilsack said four attorneys advised the regents.

The attorneys did not include Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, his chief-of-staff Eric Tabor said.

"We have not provided advice to the Board of Regents in this matter, and we have not had any contact with the regents on this issue, and we don't know the underlying facts," Tabor said.

Regent staff and board leaders are not responding to queries on this topic, but open meetings experts have said that because regents never adjourned they may not have technically violated the law, though they have manipulated the spirit of the law.

Regent Director Gary Steinke, through regent spokeswoman Sheila Doyle, said the regents plan to re-evaluate the president search after Thanksgiving.

Calls for regent shakeup

On the UI campus faculty, staff and student leaders are calling for a regent shakeup and rallying support for no-confidence initiatives. If the resolutions pass, it would end any working relationship now or in the future between those UI groups and the regents.

Student government and the Faculty Senate could be the first to formally support the resolution, when each meets Nov. 28 in the Old Capitol Senate Chambers on campus.

Faculty Senate President Sheldon Kurtz already has put forth two proposals to vote on Nov. 28. First, he asks for support in a no-confidence vote, and second, he asks the search committee be restructured and reappointed by the end of the year with hopes of finding a president by the end of the academic year. Kurtz asks the process revert to the traditional faculty-lead search committee.

Student president Peter McElligott said because the regents took their action just before the weeklong Thanksgiving break, many students are unaware of what has transpired. The students that do know are "furious," McElligott said.

"I don't know what could be done," he said. "Throughout this search, the campus contingencies have bent over backwards to keep as positive a relationship as possible. This is a sign that this isn't what the board wants."

He said he hopes the problems are a signal for Vilsack or Governor-elect Chet Culver to take action. Culver did not respond to requests for comment.

Staff Council next meets Dec. 13, and Staff Council President Mary Greer expects support.

"I've had staff councilors e-mail me back," Greer said. "They are supportive, but very concerned about the impact on their job. I understand their concerns. This is how intimidating the leadership of this board (of regents) is. People aren't aware they can formally speak against their board."

Greer said if relations were to be repaired, it would have to be initiated by regent leadership at this point. Short of that, she said, it is time to change the board leadership, "specifically (president) Michael Gartner, and (president pro tem) Teresa Wahlert."

Regents next meet Dec. 11 and 12 in Iowa City.