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Governor, regents, UI officials emerge from meeting pleased

Diane  Heldt

The Gazette Online

November 27, 2006 8:42 p.m.

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, 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 Gazette.]

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA - University of Iowa faculty, staff and student leaders emerged
from a meeting with Gov. Tom Vilsack and state regents officials tonight saying they made progress on healing wounds between the regents and UI.

   No one who was at the meeting said anything about whether a solution to what brought them together -- tension over how the state Board of Regents has handled a search for the UI's next president -- will be resolved.

   But they said progress was made. UI campus groups leaders said just being invited to air their feelings was a positive step.

   UI Faculty Senate and UI Student Government leaders, who have been preparing votes of no confidence in the regents leadership on Tuesday, hinted tonight those votes may not be held. They stopped short of saying for certain that the votes would be canceled.

   Vilsack and Regents President Michael Gartner, of Des Moines, took no questions from reporters after the meeting. Regent Bob Downer, of Iowa City, said the regents will talk about the presidential search this week and that an announcement on some kind of movement in the search may come later in the week.

   Any meeting to discuss the search would be done in public, Downer said.

   Vilsack called tonight's meeting, at the U.S. Bank building in downtown Cedar Rapids, saying the relationship between the regents and UI was in bad shape because of a recently scratched presidential search effort.

   Vilsack said before the meeting he would pitch the creation of a health sciences vice president position at the UI as a first step toward healing that relationship and getting the university's presidential search back on track.

   No one was willing to comment on that proposal after tonight's meeting, which ended around 8 o'clock. The meeting started at 5 p.m. Vilsack had told The Gazette before going in he'd meet for as long as was necessary.

   Meeting with The Gazette editorial board, Vilsack said having an administrator who oversees all of the health sciences, including University Hospitals, and reports to the president could allow the regents to take another look at four UI presidential candidates recommended to the regents by a search committee that included on-campus representatives.

   ``I think that's a reasonable first step,'' Vilsack said during a meeting this afternoon. `'It seems to me to be a realistic way to deal with one of the troublesome spots. It makes it easier to solve the next issue'' of hiring the best president for the UI.

   The regents, in a 6-2 vote on Nov. 17, rejected four candidates on the grounds that none was the right fit or had the background depth in the health sciences. That surprise action, and the intense secrecy surrounding all aspects of the process, ramped up tensions between the board leadership and the campus community.

   The UI has had a health sciences vice president previously and it worked well, Vilsack said. The UI's last president, David Skorton, did not have one.

   Vilsack told The Gazette he wasn't interested in placing blame on anyone for the current tensions. It's important now to look forward and focus on finding a new president, he said. He wants to avoid any escalation of the problems, he said.

   ``To me what we need to do is tamp this down,'' he told The Gaette. ``The last thing we need to do is throw gasoline on this fire, which has burned pretty bright.''

   There's a lot of ``personality'' involved in the conflict, Vilsack said. That issue is a long-term discussion that should be put on the back burner until a new president is in place.

   ``Let's get some calm and stability and direction,'' he said.

   He said he was unsure if tonight's meeting would accomplish those things, but he wanted to try.

   ``I'm looking for ways to simplify this process, not make it more complex,'' he said.