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Willing to wait

No-confidence votes postponed in search for new UI president

Diane Heldt

The Gazette

November 29, 2006

[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.]

  IOWA CITY — University of Iowa faculty agreed Tuesday to back off a planned no- confidence vote in the state Board of Regents leadership to allow time for a resolution in the controversial UI presidential search.

  UI Faculty Senate President Shelly Kurtz told a standingroom- only crowd in the Old Capitol Senate Chambers on Tuesday that Gov. Tom Vilsack intends to spend as much time as necessary to work through the issues and will report back to UI leaders soon on his progress. His confidence in Vilsack’s ability to resolve the problems led him to postpone the planned vote, Kurtz said.

  Leaders of the UI Student Government and Staff Council said Tuesday they also would postpone no-confidence votes.

  Several faculty members said they are willing to wait because they support Vilsack’s involvement and they have faith in Kurtz’s leadership.

  ‘‘I remain hopeful and cautiously optimistic that we’ll end up with a very good president,’’ professor Steve Collins said. Vilsack met privately Monday night at the Hall Perrine Foundation offices at the US Bank building in Cedar Rapids with a small group that included Board of Regents President Michael Gartner of Des Moines, Regent Bob Downer of Iowa City, UI Interim President Gary Fethke and UI faculty, staff and student leaders. It was his effort to smooth strained relations and put the search back on track after a surprise Nov. 17 regents vote to reject the four recommended candidates and relaunch the search.

  Participants aren’t giving details about Monday’s meeting, but did say they were pleased that progress was made during the three-hour session.

  Vilsack showed leadership by stepping into a process that had become bogged down in controversy and tension, UI professor Steve McGuire, who served on the search committee, said Tuesday.

  ‘‘The thing that was important . . . is that everybody be convinced that they’re ready to move forward,’’ he said. ‘‘We really walked away with an understanding of the governor’s level of commitment.’’ Staff Council President Mary Greer said Vilsack asked the campus groups Monday for time to resolve the tension and that the campus leaders were willing. Greer said several ideas were discussed in expressive and honest exchanges. They included Vilsack’s proposal that the regents consider having a UI vice president for health sciences and determining whether that could free them to reconsider the four finalists.

  Area legislators who attended Tuesday’s senate meeting said they expect a resolution could come within weeks. The UI’s last president, David Skorton, left in June for Cornell University. ‘‘I think things should be moving along in the next few days,’’ said Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D- Coralville, who attended Monday’s meeting with Vilsack. ‘‘I think they came up with something everyone could live with’’ on Monday, adding ‘‘give people about a month.’’

  Resolution of the issue is Vilsack’s top priority, said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City.

  People ‘‘should rest assured a solution is going to present itself soon,’’ he said.

  Downer said Tuesday he was unsure when more details would be announced because the regents are trying to set a meeting time that works with everyone’s schedule.

  In his statement to the Faculty Senate, Kurtz said he remains hopeful that ‘‘working together we will, in short order and with the help of all concerned, restore an effective governance structure and find a great president for our university.’’

  Only one faculty member questioned Kurtz, asking if faculty had an assurance that the regents leadership would change and, if so, by when. Kurtz called it an excellent question but said he had no comment.