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Votes roll in for no confidence

More groups call for regent resignations

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 14, 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.]

Regent leaders should recognize that they are hurting higher education and take the high road by resigning, University of Iowa Staff Council President Mary Greer said Wednesday.

The UI Staff Council, which represents about 5,200 people, was the second campus body to pass unprecedented no-confidence resolution in Iowa state Board of Regents President Michael Gartner and President Pro-tem Teresa Wahlert. Councilors voted on the resolution in secret ballet 38-1 with two abstentions at a meeting in the Pappajohn Business Building on campus.

"What this does is it says to Gartner and Wahlert, 'We are watching you,'" Greer said. "And we don't have any confidence in the work you are doing. By saying it, it allows us to move on."

A standing room-only crowd of more than 100 people packed a fourth-floor conference room and erupted in applause at times.

Among the primary criticisms are accusations of secrecy and mistrust. Regents held a series of unannounced meetings between Nov. 9 and Nov. 17. By not adjourning, they argue, they could recess and reconvene at will. It still is unclear if this directly violated the law, but Iowa Open Meeting law experts have said this made a "shambles" of the spirit of the law.

The board office has refused multiple requests from the Press-Citizen to provide the times, dates and locations of these meetings, which according to Iowa Code is to be public and announced. Board lawyers did say there is one set of minutes and a recording that covers the entire period.

Gartner and Wahlert have shrugged off and downplayed the amount of criticism. Wahlert, of Waukee, described the base as a "radical" minority -- that statement has inspired T-shirts and buttons -- and Gartner, of Des Moines, said it was an "Iowa City and Cedar Rapids phenomena." They have said they will not step down.

Gartner has called a litany of accusations of lying, secrecy, authoritarianism, bullying and manipulating the president search a "combination of half truths and untruths and innuendoes."

Gartner responded to questions about no confidence votes Tuesday, but neither he nor Wahlert returned telephone messages Wednesday.

The governor can remove a regent with majority support of the Iowa Senate, although neither Gov. Tom Vilsack nor Gov.-elect Chet Culver have publicly indicated they want them removed.

"There is a possibility (this vote) won't make a difference, but we had to take a stand," Staff Council member Dave Martin said.

Tensions between campus groups and Gartner and Wahlert have been present since early in the year with the formation of a regent-led presidential search committee and a secretive strategic change process.

The relationship crumbled further as the president search continued with top-down decision making, refusal of on campus interviews and blocking public discussion of the process, claim campus groups.

The final blow came Nov. 17 with a 6-2 regent vote to reject, on false pretense according to campus groups and members of the search committee, four finalists that had resulted from a seven-month, $195,000 process.

The search to replace the now Cornell University president David Skorton still is up in the air, but regents plan to meet by phone Monday to restart the search.

The graduate student senate, 39-1, and College of Liberal Arts and Science Faculty Assembly, 37-0, also passed no-confidence resolutions Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the undergraduate student government announced an emergency meeting at 4:30 p.m. today in 140 Schaeffer Hall. Students will call a vote of no confidence in Gartner and Wahlert and a separate one for Vilsack because of his handling of the regents, whom he appointed.

The Faculty Senate resoundingly passed a no-confidence resolution Tuesday, and off campus, the Johnson County Democrats passed a resolution asking Vilsack to demand the ouster of Gartner and Wahlert.