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Regents to start search all over again

Danny Valentine

The Daily Iowan

December 8, 2006

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

UI faculty, staff, and student leaders will once again pursue votes of no-confidence in the leadership of the state Board of Regents after the regents decided on Thursday to restart the nearly $200,000 search for a new UI president.

The move comes after one of the four finalists forwarded by the UI presidential-search committee, who was the only one of the quartet to receive support from the majority of regents, declined to take the position.

"This entire fiasco has to be laid at the feet of the leadership of the Board of Regents," UI Senate Faculty Senate President Sheldon Kurtz said on Thursday. "It is not surprising that a candidate would be unwilling to come to our university, given that leadership."

He had asked the faculty earlier this week to keep Dec. 12 open for a potential emergency meeting regarding the UI presidency, which former President David Skorton vacated earlier this year to take the top job at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Members of the now-disbanded search committee concurred with Kurtz' sentiment about the regents, which governs the UI and other state institutions.

"This is why a change in the board leadership is essential," said Katherine Tachau, a former vice-chairwoman of the search committee.

UI Staff Council President Mary Greer and UI Student Government President Peter McElligott also expressed their disappointment in the regents' decision.

McElligott referred to the latest decision as another letdown.

"For me, the whole process can be characterized by a series of disappointments," he said. "It is very disappointing that the board felt only one of the four was qualified."

Perhaps the most discouraging sign emanating from Thursday's announcement was that students seem to be fading to the background of this whole controversy, he said.

"It does not even make mention of students in that press release," he said, referring to the official statement from the regents released Thursday morning. "People need to keep students in mind."

Regent Robert Downer said he was also disappointed by the decision, adding that he supported all four finalists proposed by the committee.

He said, however, that he was ready to move forward with a new search.

The statement from regents indicated that they, too, were itching to restart the search for a new UI leader.

"A new search process will be discussed and developed by the regents in consultation with all University of Iowa stakeholders, donors, faculty and staff, deans, administrators, and Iowa City-area community leaders," the release stated.

Regent President Michael Gartner did not return calls Thursday morning regarding the search. Downer said he thought the new search would involve a search committee, although details were still unclear.

Earlier this week, regents held a closed-session telephone conference about the presidential search. During the 90-minute meeting, the regents decided to reconsider the four finalists - one of whom was current UI Provost Michael Hogan - proposed by the now-defunct search committee. The Dec. 4 reevaluation came at the request of Gov. Tom Vilsack, officials said.

"I spoke with the candidate yesterday and was very encouraged by the candidate's qualifications and grasp of the University's needs," Vilsack said in a statement on Thursday. "It is unfortunate that the candidate ultimately decided to decline the position."

Regents incited anger throughout the UI community when the board voted 6-2 on Nov. 17 to disband the search committee and reject the panel's four finalists. Former UI business dean Gary Fethke has served as interim president since Skorton's departure.