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Johnsen hopes for smaller group

Says he will try to keep search open

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 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.]

College of Dentistry Dean David Johnsen was named chairman of the second search committee for a University of Iowa president Monday night, and since his selection, his e-mail inbox has been flooded.

"It's 100 percent encouraging," Johnsen said.

The letters mostly have been offers of help or urges of, "Let's find a way to move forward," the senior dean of UI's 11 colleges said.

The Iowa City resident steps into a firestorm between UI campus groups and the Iowa state Board of Regents. Relations have blistered since the initial search ended Nov. 17 with regents rejecting four recommended finalists.

Johnsen was hesitant to opine on some of the issues related to the search such as whether there should be on-campus interviews, the size of the committee and whether the next search committee should include regents or students. He is leaving much of those choices to the regents.

"We need committee members that can draw opinions out of the larger campus community," Johnsen said. "It gets down to person by person. Who will be able to represent particular constituencies and articulate the position of the university?"

Johnsen, as do many of the regents, said he favors a smaller search committee than the previous 19-person committee. Johnsen said the committee will be largely campus-based and major constituents will be represented, but it will be kept small and manageable so the committee can meet weekly, he hoped, and the search can progress quickly.

Campus deans urged naming a president by July 1 to UI Interim President Gary Fethke and Gov. Tom Vilsack on Dec. 12.

When asked how the potential vice president for health sciences position would affect the presidential search, Johnsen said that position is out of his hand. However, he hoped to stay in regular communication with Fethke, who would make the appointment for that position.

Health sciences came into question during the last search when Gartner claimed the candidates didn't have enough health science experience. The vice president of health sciences position would relieve some of the pressure to find a president with those skills.

The past search also was beleaguered by confidentiality agreements and secrecy surrounding the process. Johnsen said he planned to do "anything we can do to keep (the search) open."

"I think we will try to be as open as we can, but identity and confidentiality of the candidates has to be complete," he said. "It can't compromise the search."

Johnsen said he was confident he could work with the regents in the role for the next several months and said he expected regular communication.

"The regents made it clear they want to work with us," Johnsen said. "They believe in an engaging process."

Some people have asked him why he agreed to do this in light of the controversy, and his response has been, "This is a great university and I was asked to. You can't be a leader and hide out."

Johnsen seems to have appeased all sides. Regent President Michael Gartner, Regent Bob Downer and Faculty Senate President Sheldon Kurtz, three of the most vocal people in the controversy surrounding the initial search, have heaped praise on Johnsen.

"I think he is a first-rate individual," Kurtz said of Johnsen on Monday.

A University of Michigan graduate, Johnsen has specialized in pediatric dentistry during his career.

Johnsen, who was hired as dean in 1995, thinks his 11 years on campus and his involvement in the UI community are reasons why he makes a good candidate to lead the search. He also said deans are engaged in recruiting faculty and manage the individual units that make up UI.

Johnsen has experience leading other searches, including the search that led to hiring Donna Katen-Bahensky as CEO of University Hospitals. He also is chairman for the Dean of the College of Nursing search, which he expects to conclude shortly.

"This has to be my top priority until a new president is named," Johnsen said.