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Search tab: $195,227 so far

Documents released by regents reveal expenses and inner workings of the hunt for UI’s president

Diane Heldt

The Gazette
November 30, 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.]

  The University of Iowa has spent $195,227 so far just in consulting fees and advertising in the stalled search for a new president.

  The total was in documents released Wednesday by the state Board of Regents, in response to a Freedom of Information request The Gazette filed. The Gazette sought the documents after UI campus groups complained about the search’s secrecy.

  The payments were made to Heidrick & Struggles, a search firm with offices in Chicago and Atlanta, among other locations. The costs do not include those for interviews Nov. 10 and 11, when the regents and a presidential search committee met with candidates in Des Moines, or the potential costs of canceled rooms reserved at the O’Hare Airport Hilton in Chicago, the original planned location of the interviews until a few  UI/ Confidentiality pacts signed days before they were moved to Des Moines. Regent Teresa Wahlert of Waukee, who led the search committee, said last night she did not know of any projected costs when the search began. So she couldn’t say if the fee seemed out of line.

  Invoices released Wednesday show the UI has paid Heidrick & Struggles a base fee of $110,000 in three payments made in May, June and July. Indirect expenses totaled $13,200. Consultant travel fees through October were $16,915.83. Advertising costs, also through October, totaled $54,623.30.

  Though the regents are running the presidential search, the UI is responsible for the bills. Payment of the search fee and expenses, the search firm said in an April 18 letter to the regents, ‘‘is not contingent upon the hiring of one of our candidates.’’

  The regents are seeking a successor to David Skorton, who left the UI in June for the presidency at Cornell University. On Nov. 17, regents voted 6-2 to reject four candidates the search committee recommended.

  The decision increased tension between campus and regents leaders and prompted faculty and staff threats of votes of no confidence in the regents before Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack intervened Monday.

  The hundreds of pages of documents obtained by The Gazette also show:

  Confidentiality was discussed at nearly every search committee meeting. The committee discussed June 14 whether each member should sign a confidentiality statement and agreed that Heidrick & Struggles would prepare a document. In the document, signed July 19, committee members agreed to keep confidential all personnel documents and refrain from commenting on any confidential information to anyone outside the search.

  The document names Wahlert as the committee’s only public voice. Members signed pledges again at meetings on Aug. 16, Sept. 14, Oct. 3 and Oct. 25, but documents do not note if one was signed at the last meeting Nov. 14.

  Asked Wednesday if any punishment was discussed for members who broke the agreement, Wahlert said, ‘‘I signed a confidentiality agreement, so I’m not going to talk about anything to do with the search.’

  At the end of the Sept. 14 meeting, 22 presidential candidates remained in the pool. At the Oct. 25 meeting, nine were selected for off-campus interviews in Chicago. Six originally had scored in the high group for consideration and three more were moved up from the medium score group.
  Wahlert told the committee she had invited all nine regents to attend the interviews to move the search along quickly because at least five presidential searches were under way elsewhere.

  Also at the Oct. 25 meeting, Wahlert said she had spoken with four of the candidates selected for interviews and all said they could not be involved in public, on-campus interviews. The committee agreed that holding on-campus interviews was an open question until after the interviews in Chicago.

  At the committee’s last meeting on Nov. 14, Wahlert reminded the group it was charged with sending at least four names to the regents. A vote was taken on each of the seven candidates who had agreed to be interviewed Nov. 10 and 11 in Des Moines. The committee decided to recommend the top four to the regents. The three remaining names were noted as not recommended, as one received no support and two received minimal support.

  The committee agreed that comments for all candidates should reflect their experience or lack of experience in major institutions and health care. It also agreed that the letter to the regents recommending the finalists should recommend on-campus interviews.

  A search timeline reviewed July 19 called for discussing an initial list of candidates Aug. 16, conducting interviews in October and November, holding campus visits in November and early December, and making a selection after those visits.