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Wahlert: Criticism from 'radical' minority

Regent defends secrecy during UI leader search

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 9, 2006

Dems Call for Resignations

[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.]

A key figure in the effort to find the University of Iowa's next president shrugged off criticism of the controversial search process, saying it was coming from a "radical" vocal minority on campus.

"There has been a lot of criticism from a few radical faculty members. There has been a lot of support in private e-mails. So what I would say, on balance, it is probably a medium for me," Regent president pro-tem Teresa Wahlert said Friday. "I wouldn't be so bold as to assume that because you have a few vocal faculty people that they represent the campus philosophy. Actually, I think it is much different than that."

However, UI Faculty Senate President Sheldon Kurtz said Wahlert couldn't be more wrong.

"I think she is in a self-defense mode," Kurtz said, who is planning to introduce a no-confidence vote Tuesday. "She has received a lot of criticism that is coming from far more than a small part of the campus. There is the Faculty Senate, and that is a large body. There are the students and staff.

"This is an ad-homonym attack on the people expressing criticism. The facts stand for themselves. The fact is, (it) was a flawed process from the start, and she ran the process."

Wahlert has served as the chairwoman and spokeswoman for the UI presidential search committee from the start and has been a target of no confidence votes by campus groups.

The search process to replace David Skorton has been in flux since the 6-2 regent vote Nov. 17 to reject four finalists and disband the search committee that recommended them. Skorton left last summer to become president of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

On Thursday, the regents announced they reconsidered the finalists and extended an offer to one of them. That person, who has not been identified, declined. Now the search will restart, but it is unclear when.

Wahlert said she did not support any of the four finalists when the regents reconsidered them at Monday's closed meeting.

Gartner supported two of those finalists, including the one who had received the majority support, Gartner said. The other candidates did not receive enough support to be offered the job, Wahlert said.

Wahlert said people on the search committee had different goals. She defended criticisms of secrecy, saying they were appropriate to protect the candidate's privacy, granting that confidentiality is driven by a changing marketplace.

"We had a situation toward the last part of the search where people involved ... said we are more interested in doing the search in a certain way rather than getting the best candidate. To my surprise, (the group was) fairly evenly split, and to the faculty's surprise, the faculty was fairly evenly split," Wahlert said.

She recommended that when the search restarts, a dean should lead and that none of the same people on the disbanded search committee should participate. Wahlert said she expected the search to restart after the holidays, and she said she hopes to have a president named during the summer.

"There has been a lot of work done that does not have to be revisited," Wahlert said. "From that perspective, there is a tremendous amount of foundational work. The brochure and job description are ready to go."

Wahlert did not know if Atlanta-based search firm Heidrick & Struggles would be retained, and she was unsure if a new contract would be signed.

Heidrick & Struggles assisted on the seven-month search, which cost $195,000 as of Oct. 31.

Wahlert said she thinks there will be "top quality candidates" in the next search.

"I don't think the way this last search ended has really anything to do with the candidates that would be interested in the opportunity," she said. "We have a great university. We have a lot of options with pay. I think all those things will attract a number of high quality candidates."

Dems call for resignations

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 9, 2006

The fallout from the University of Iowa presidential search has spilled over into the local community.

The Johnson County Democrats voted 24-4 Thursday to send a resolution to Gov. Tom Vilsack that he "demands" Regent President Michael Gartner and Regent President Pro-tem Teresa Wahlert resign.

The resolution states Wahlert and Gartner "have personally driven a process hidden behind a veil of secrecy and misdirection, have most likely violated the Iowa Open Meeting laws, and have thereby lost the confidence of the broader university community along with residents of Johnson County and the State of Iowa, and have embarrassed the University of Iowa and the State of Iowa by their incompetence."

The resolution further encourages the presidential search process revert to the previous processes, that Gov.-elect Chet Culver investigate the processes and practices of the regents and that the attorney general investigate open meeting violations.

As a final point, the local Democrats applauded Regent Bob Downer of Iowa City for standing up to regent leadership. Downer has criticized recent regent actions such as dismissing the four presidential finalists, questioned the use of closed meetings and vowed not to participate in rolling meetings again.

Regents drew the ire of open meeting proponents when they ended a Nov. 9 meeting in closed session and didn't adjourn so they could continue to meet for a week without notifying the public.

Johnson County Democrat Chairwoman Jennifer Hemmingsen said she was not sure what to expect as a result of the resolution, but said she didn't expect Vilsack to react because of Johnson County's importance in his 2008 presidential bid.

"I would not expect him to take action because it would be politically expedient for him in 08," she said.

Rod Sullivan, who is a non-voting member of the group and also a member of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, said he supports the resolution.

"You are talking about half the people in this county are directly affected by the UI. (The UI president) is the most important position in this county. The whole situation that has occurred is not just unfortunate for the university, but for the whole county," Sullivan said.

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said it is common for state department heads and agency heads to offer resignations when a new governor steps in and suggested all the regents do the same.

"I think it would be appropriate if regents did that as well, and Culver could appoint who he wants," Dvorsky said. "That is a good way of doing it so you are not singling people out.

"I suppose (regent executive director Gary Steinke) could submit his, too, if you would go with the top people of the regents."

Dvorsky has called for more openness with the regents and urged on-campus interviews. He said that when the Legislature reconvenes there is a need to look into the role of the regents and how they govern.

Vilsack didn't directly respond to the resolution, but he appears to remain supportive of the regents and Gartner.

"I'm confident that despite the troubles we will find the best president, that is the job that the regents are committed to, and I trust them that they will do the very best job they can possibly do," Vilsack said. "I know there are some concerns on the campus, and I appreciate and respect those, but I'm going to continue to keep my focus on what I think is the most important job we all have, which is to do what we can to get the best president."

Vilsack spoke for 40 minutes Friday afternoon with several of the stakeholders from the Nov. 27 meeting in Cedar Rapids.

Faculty Senate President Sheldon Kurtz participated in the call. He said Vilsack encouraged the groups to work together, but he did not try to dissuade campus groups from the pending no-confidence votes. Kurtz said it was his impression that Vilsack would step back from the skirmish at this point.