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Regents criticism increases

UI faculty: President search controversy part of wider problem

Diane Heldt

The Gazette

December 5, 2006

Excerpts from Gazette editorial board meeting

[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 — The state Board of Regents is dysfunctional, with a top-down management style that creates and feeds distrust at the University of Iowa, faculty leaders told The Gazette on Monday.

  That must be fixed for the board’s relationship with UI faculty, staff and students to be productive, they said.

  ‘‘I think a president has to be given conditions in which to s u c c e e d , ’ ’ said Katherine Tachau, UI professor of history. ‘‘So the big solution is a change in the way the board operates. And that presumably means a change in the board leadership.’’

  The faculty leaders said they, staff and student leaders have made these opinions clear to Gov. Tom Vilsack, who stepped in last week in an attempt to craft a resolution to the stalled UI presidential search.

  Tachau was one of four UI faculty leaders who met with The Gazette Editorial Board. The others were Dr. Francois
Abboud, Steve Collins and Faculty Senate President Sheldon Kurtz.

  Tachau and Abboud, the Edith King Pearson chair in cardiovascular research and director of the Cardiovascular Research Center, were vice chairs of a search committee that recommended to the regents four candidates to succeed David Skorton. Skorton left in June for the Cornell University presidency. The search went into limbo after a 6-2 regents’ vote on Nov. 17 to reject the four candidates, disband the search committee and start over. The decision set off a furor on campus.

  The faculty leaders meeting with The Gazette said the search controversy is a symptom of larger problems. Of chief concern, they said, is a top-down management style that does not place importance on public board discussions and decisions, or on involving campus leaders.

  ‘‘Their modus operandi is to not have discussions,’’ Kurtz said. ‘‘I simply do not believe they’re operating the way the people of Iowa believe they need to be operating.’’

  Regents President Michael Gartner of Des Moines said the complaints he has heard from Kurtz and others ‘‘never seem to have much of a fact base to them.’’

  ‘‘I guess I don’t understand, these guys are going around the state trashing the regents while the regents are working very hard to try to find a very good president,’’ Gartner told The Gazette last night.

  Abboud and Tachau provided new details about the search, including:

  The faculty leaders said they hope campus interviews are held if the regents relaunched the presidential search in a closed session Monday morning.

  Kurtz said he is telling Faculty Senate members to keep Tuesday, Dec. 12, open in case he and other faculty leaders decide to revive a no-confidence vote on regents leadership.

  However, it would be premature to say a vote would be held, said he and Collins, who headed the presidential search that resulted in Mary Sue Coleman’s hiring in 1995. Faculty, staff and student leaders agreed last week to postpone such votes to give Vilsack time to resolve the dispute.

Excerpts from Gazette editorial board meeting

 On accusations of limiting public discussion of issues:

  Sheldon Kurtz: ‘‘It’s a secretive atmosphere . . . We just don’t think it’s a good way to operate . . .

  Sandy Boyd ( former UI president and current professor of law) said to me, ‘This is the worst thing that’s happened to the University of Iowa since I’ve come to Iowa City.’ ’’ On reconsidering the Nov. 17 decision to reject four presidential finalists: Kurtz: ‘‘I just don’t understand why a vote to reconsider would not be done in the open.’’

  Dr. Francois Abboud: ‘‘The question is: Are they going to act accordingly? . . And if they don’t, what are the consequences?’’

  On building off University of Iowa strengths:

  Kurtz: ‘‘The problem is, you need a leader to pull it off. And he (Gartner) won’t be able to pull it off. And the reason is nobody trusts him on our campus.’’

  On a lack of confidence UI campus groups have in regents leadership:

  Katherine Tachau: ‘‘ The level of skepticism now was provoked by their unwillingness to have even a superficial discussion in public regarding their decisions.

  The process has been so opaque, we can’t explain the wisdom or lack of wisdom to our constituents.’’

  Kurtz: ‘‘It is not between the regents and the faculty only . . . We (faculty, staff, students) have been speaking with one mind and one voice with respect to all of these questions.’

  On ties that some current and former regents have to Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Iowa’s largest health insurance provider, and which provides coverage at University Hospitals and for UI employees:

  Tachau: ‘‘ I’m personally mystified why a public university should have such a large preponderance of connections’’ to Wellmark.

  On Gov. Tom Vilsack stepping into the discussion last week in an attempt to find a resolution:

  Tachau: ‘‘I think he’s come to appreciate from lots of voices around the state that this crisis is very harmful to the university and to the state. Delay is not neutral, it is actually very harmful.’’

  Abboud: ‘‘He may have begun to realize that Gartner has become a liability at this point. The big solution is a change in the way the board operates. And that presumably means a change in the board leadership."