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Presidential Search

UI faculty skeptical of request

Diane Heldt

The Gazette

December 9, 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 and staff leaders are concerned that the state regents office requested information about three faculty leaders less than 48 hours after non-regents members of a UI presidential search committee raised concerns about the search.

  Regents Executive Director Gary Steinke said Friday he made the request on behalf of a legislator, and that such requests for public information happen frequently. He declined to name the legislator.

  But faculty leaders questioned the request’s timing and purpose.

  ‘‘I believe the joinder of these three individuals in a request can only be perceived by us as an attempt to gather information to intimidate us,’’ UI Faculty Senate President Sheldon Kurtz said. ‘‘The timing is entirely suspicious.’’

  Steinke asked the UI the morning of Nov. 6 for the fall teaching loads and salaries of Kurtz, a Percy Bordwell professor of law; Katherine Tachau, professor of history; and Dr. Francois Abboud, Edith King Pearson professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics and director of the Cardiovascular Research Center. Tachau and Abboud were vice chairs of the presidential search committee seeking a successor to David Skorton, who left the UI in June for Cornell University.

  Kurtz, Tachau and Abboud, who learned this week about the request, acknowledged Friday that the information is public. But they also point to its timing.

  The 14 non-regent search committee members sent the regents an e-mail the night of Nov. 4 that said, ‘‘A majority of the search committee feels disenfranchised by the lack of participation in the development of the procedures and plans dictated to us on Friday Nov. 3.’’ A few days earlier, the UI Faculty Council had asked the regents to delay discussing a strategic plan process.

  That the regents office request involved the faculty president and search vice chairs ‘‘can’t be terribly casual,’’ Tachau said.

  Steinke said it was public information anyone can get. His office often gets requests for his salary or those of coaches or UI Interim President Gary Fethke, for example. He estimated it happens seven or eight times a week.

  ‘‘It was a request from a legislator, not from a regent, not from the board office, not from me. I handled it like all the others,’’ Steinke said. ‘‘Don’t people have a right as citizens of Iowa to ask these questions?’’

  Faculty leaders said any hint of intimidation would be inappropriate. Kurtz said he talked with Fethke on Friday and that Fethke ‘‘said this is simply unacceptable behavior.’’ Fethke did not return a call for comment.

  Kurtz, Tachau and Abboud have tenure, but Kurtz worried that nonfaculty staff members might worry about job security.

  ‘‘Just the request itself has a chill of intimidation,’’ Staff Council President Mary Greer said Friday. She wondered whether it would affect how council members vote on a resolution of no confidence in regents’ leadership that is planned for Wednesday.

  The Faculty Senate is to vote Tuesday on a no-confidence resolution.

  The failed UI presidential search has worsened strained relations between the regents and UI faculty, staff and student leaders. The regents on Nov. 17 voted 6-2 to reject four recommended candidates and relaunch the search.

  Gov. Tom Vilsack asked the regents to reconsider the four, which they did this week. But the regents announced Thursday that their chosen candidate said ‘‘no,’’ and a new search will be begun.

  Steinke’s request went to Mark Braun, UI director of governmental relations. Braun forwarded the request to Stephen Rhodes, executive assistant to the provost, who got help from other UI employees.

  E-mails between UI employees gathering the information said a quick turnaround of 30 minutes or less was requested. The request came in at 8 a.m.