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Regents plan to discuss president search Monday

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 2, 2006

Search Pricetag: Nearly $200K

Two of Four Finalists Concerned About Becoming UI President

[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.]

Friday's closed meeting called by University of Iowa Interim President Gary Fethke with four regents and UI deans and vice presidents yielded few clues about what's next in the search for a new university president.

However, the scenario might change Monday when the Iowa state Board of Regents meets at 7.30 a.m. in a closed telephonic meeting to discuss a personnel matter.

"I believe what we will get from the meeting is a direction," said Amir Arbisser of Davenport, one of the regents who gathered Friday with Fethke and the others at the UI president's house.

The search to replace David Skorton, who was named president of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., on July 1, suffered a setback Nov. 17 when four finalists were rejected by the regents in a 6 to 2 vote -- a move that also disbanded the search committee.

Since then, there has been much uncertainty about how the search will continue. Gov. Tom Vilsack has recommended that the four finalists be reconsidered, along with reinstating the vice president for health care position.

Arbisser said that those candidates likely would be part of the discussion Monday, though it was possible but unlikely regents would select one Monday.

"It doesn't sound likely, but anything is possible. I don't know how it will turn out," Arbisser said.

Arbisser was in Iowa City Friday to meet with Fethke and fellow regents Ruth Harkin of Cumming, Bob Downer of Iowa City and board president Michael Gartner of Des Moines. Regent Director Gary Steinke also participated.

The deans and the vice presidents had not been on the search committee and there was a feeling they had little input, Arbisser and Fethke said.

"This is an opportunity for deans and vice presidents to get a feeling for the process," Fethke said. "There has been too much separation of this group."

Fethke said the 2½-hour meeting involved frank discussion, but there was no talk of who might become the next president.

There was little other comment. Gartner declined comment, as did most of the deans and regents.

Student, staff and faculty leaders have said they would proceed with a no-confidence vote in the regents if its leadership -- Gartner and president pro tem Teresa Wahlert -- did not change. Students and faculty postponed their vote scheduled last Tuesday but said they could revisit that in January.

Staff Council President Mary Greer said she was disappointed Friday's meeting was not open to the entire campus.

"I certainly know staff members would be interested in talking to four members of the Board of Regents," she said.

Greer, who attended the closed meeting last Monday with Vilsack in Cedar Rapids, also said Friday's meeting was unexpected.

"I am a little surprised that it took place," she said. "The governor never indicated to me (Monday) that a meeting such as this was among the options."

Search pricetag: Nearly $200K

Primary cost was $110,000 retainer fee

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 2, 2006

As of Nov. 20, the tab for the failed search for a new University of Iowa president cost nearly $200,000, according to documents acquired through an open records request to the Iowa state Board of Regents.

Regents administer the search although UI is responsible for paying the Atlanta-based search firm Heidrick & Struggles.

In the contract sent to Regent Executive Director Gary Steinke on April 18, Heidrick & Struggles promised to try to complete the search to replace David Skorton, who became president of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. on July 1, in six months. That didn't happen.

Regents voted 6 to 2 to reject four finalists and dismiss the search committee that recommended them. Now UI is left without a permanent president and currently without a public plan for selecting one.

Gov. Tom Vilsack has urged regents to reconsider the four finalists, who had been described by the search committee as top quality candidates. Regent president and search committee member Michael Gartner later publicly questioned if they were the best candidates for the post.

Steinke has not returned messages involving the president search. It is unclear if those candidates are still interested, if the regents will reconsider them or, if not, when and how the search will continue. It is also unclear what role, if any, Heidrick & Struggles, would have if the search does continue.

Regent President Pro Tem Teresa Wahlert, who led the president search, has declined to comment on the search, citing a confidentiality agreement. The contract states that, other than expenses, it will not charge additional fees up to nine months from the start of the search.

UI could have recouped some of the fees had the search been called off between 30 and 90 days. However, after more than seven months, bills totaled $195,226.

The primary cost was the $110,000 retainer fee. The fee reflected one-third of the targeted first-year compensation for the president position, which included base salary, target bonus and any sign-on bonuses.

The remaining costs included: $13,200 for indirect expenses; $16,915 for consultant travel; $54,623 for advertising; and $487 for office expenses. Heidrick & Struggles would also have been compensated for each executive employed as a result of the search.

Two of four finalists concerned about becoming UI president

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 2, 2006

History professor Katherine Tachau, the No. 2 person on the University of Iowa president search committee, said Friday that at least two of the four finalists are concerned about taking the job with the current Iowa state Board of Regents.

"They made it very clear that they were very concerned about micromanagement of the Board of Regents," Tachau said.

The Iowa state Board of Regents voted 6 to 2 Nov. 17 to stop a seven-month search to replace David Skorton, who was named president of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., last summer. The regents' decision to abort the search, which cost nearly $200,000, has caused frustration and uncertainty on campus. Last Monday, Gov. Tom Vilsack stepped in to mediate the rift. He has recommended the regents reinstate the four finalists who were rejected rather than restart the search, but it is unclear if that will happen.

Tachau, vice chairperson of the search committee, said she doesn't blame some of the finalists for being concerned about the controversial process.

"I don't see how any university president could succeed here if the board leadership remains the same," she said. "Until there is resolution, the most sensible people who are happy where they are aren't going to walk into a situation that is unsolvable."

Her comments echoed statements by Sheldon Kurtz, president of the UI Faculty Senate, who told The Des Moines Register that at least two candidates expressed concerns about "walking into a mess."