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Search leaders hope to avoid delay

They urge regents to choose one of rejected finalists

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 3, 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.]

Co-vice chairpersons of the failed University of Iowa presidential search committee have urged the Iowa state Board of Regents 36 hours before its closed meeting not to delay the search and to choose one of the four rejected finalists.

Co-vice chair and distinguished UI medical professor Francois Abboud said Saturday that there has been talk of delaying the search by six months.

"We think that would be disastrous," Abboud said of a delay. "It seems like the expectation of the governor might not be followed, and we wanted to make people aware of that."

The Regents will meet by phone at 7:30 a.m. Monday to consider how to proceed with the search to replace David Skorton, who was named president of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., on July 1. Regents voted 6 to 2 on Nov. 17 to pass on four finalists and dissolve the committee that recommended them, which infuriated many and has left the future of the search in doubt.

Gov. Tom Vilsack stepped into the controversy by meeting with stakeholders Nov. 27 and advised reconsidering the finalists rather than scrapping the search. He also has said he would personally appeal to possible turned-off finalists.

UI Provost Michael Hogan is the only confirmed finalist, and he has said he still is interested in the position. Two others are provosts at major universities, and one is a sitting president at a mid-sized college.

Faculty Senate President Sheldon Kurtz has said that two of the four finalists have expressed concern about taking the position.

The finalists had initially been credited as being top quality, and all were either unanimously or near unanimously recommended on Nov. 14 by the search committee that included four regents.

Regent president and committee member Michael Gartner later questioned their fitness for the post and mentioned a lack of experience in health sciences.

In a statement Saturday, Abboud and co-vice chair and UI history professor Katherine Tachau listed "negative consequences" of delaying the search that has run a $195,000 tab.

Reasons included negative national attention, hindrance in recruiting and retaining top faculty, drop in donor support and harm to other campus searches such as deans of nursing and pharmacy and the drop off in talent after a failed search.

"Restarting the search will duplicate significant costs in time, energy and money, with the unlikely possibility the next pool will be as outstanding as the current one," the statement said.

Regent Pro Tem Teresa Wahlert of West Des Moines chaired the committee and was to be the sole spokesperson. She rarely has commented on any aspect of the search for several months, and did not return a late e-mail Saturday seeking comment.