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Open presidential search a must to repair UI, regent relations


The Daily Iowan

November 27, 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.]

The oft-contentious relationship between the state Board of Regents and the UI community has reached new heights. After the regents' inexplicable and indefensible decisions both to reject all four semifinalists the UI presidential-search committee proffered and to dissolve the panel, the university community rightly reacted with outrage. This Editorial Board has expressed suspicion about the regents in the past related to this search. Unfortunately, our fears have been proven correct. When a new search process resumes, we sincerely hope the regents will respect the wishes of the UI community and proceed openly.

It seemed we were at the end of this tumultuous process. All indications were that the regents were preparing to name a new university president in the near future. But the surprise moves by the regents have reset the process. The regents' "betrayal," as UI history Professor Katherine Tachau called their actions, has ensured that the UI will not inaugurate a new president anytime soon.

The regents' actions are an embarrassment to all interested parties, but the defense of their actions may be more troubling. Regent President Michael Gartner said in a statement that the university "needed candidates who had more experience as leaders who oversaw complex health-sciences operations as well as the myriad of other academic and nonacademic operations of a large university." His explanation is troubling for numerous reasons. Tachau told the Des Moines Register that "it was the committee [that] added the experience with academic hospitals and medicine" onto the scoring sheet. Additionally, the Register reported that only 10 of 180 points on the search committee's evaluation sheet were related to health care and hospital management.

It gets worse. Regent Robert Downer of Iowa City - who voted against rejecting the candidates and dissolving the committee - wrote in a letter to the Register that the regents were considering creating a UI vice presidential position to oversee the hospital and College of Medicine. In that letter, he also argued that the commotion surrounding contract negotiations between the UI and Wellmark in part led to former President David Skorton's decision to leave. Downer also asserts that Skorton "possessed the qualifications that the board majority now says it needs in a UI president."

Further countering the regents' insistence the candidates did not have "health-science" qualifications is the report by the Iowa City Press-Citizen that UI Provost Michael Hogan was a semifinalist for the job. All five health-science deans at the UI report directly to Hogan. He is clearly a qualified candidate, though the regents apparently feel otherwise.

Incoming Gov. Chet Culver has promised to step into the issue upon taking office. He issued a statement saying he is "confident that we can move quickly to find a qualified president using a process that is inclusive, open, and respectful of the privacy of all the applicants." Culver is now facing his first major test, and how he handles it will set a course for how he handles higher-education issues throughout his term. He must act intelligently in favor of the UI community.

While all efforts must be made to move forward in a responsible and respectful manner, the regents' absurd actions have halted all progress in the hunt for a new UI president. Moving on will not be easy - the regents have shown minimal interest in working with the university community. However, it is imperative for both entities to move forward, starting with an open and inclusive continuation of the presidential search.