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Regents should reconsider four finalists for UI president


The Daily Iowan

November 29, 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.]

Gov. Tom Vilsack's intervention in the conflict encompassing the UI presidential search was a welcome sight. While progress has been reported - Vilsack told the Des Moines Register Monday night's meeting was "very long but productive" - concrete details of any kind remain scarce. It has emerged that the governor encouraged the regents to choose a president from among the four finalists. This Editorial Board welcomes Vilsack's mediation and hopes his efforts will help the university select a new president in the near future.

It is reassuring that both UI Student Government President Peter McElligott and UI Faculty Senate President Sheldon Kurtz have tempered their calls for votes of no-confidence in the regents. As this board noted Tuesday, communication is essential to bridge the gap between the regents and the UI, and completely severing ties would have been foolish. While the actions the regents have taken during this presidential dispute are certainly worthy of the university's anger, there are important topics the school must collaborate with the regents on - namely, tuition. It is encouraging to see that cooler heads are prevailing at the moment. The university community must not act before thinking of the consequences.

The four finalists consist of UI Provost Michael Hogan, two other provosts at major universities, and a president of a middle-sized college. If Vilsack believes the four candidates are capable (and if the other three boast credentials similar to Hogan's, they are) it would seem the regents are merely being difficult. If Regent President Michael Gartner is angry merely because his reported choice - Provost Deborah Freund of Syracuse University - was not among the four finalists, he needs to grow up. While it is true the regents are ultimately responsible for selecting the UI president, choosing a candidate the university community is not happy with would be irresponsible, to say the least.

If Vilsack is unable to broker a deal, incoming Gov. Chet Culver will step into the controversy when he formally assumes office in January. It is unfortunate he may be saddled with this task - his time could be spent better elsewhere. Nonetheless, he must make a consistent effort to bridge the considerable and widening gap between the UI community and the regents. How he interacts with both parties will go a long way in determining his relationship with the university and the course of higher education in Iowa during his term.

If the situation remains unresolved in January, Culver may have to look into reshuffling the regents. With state Senate approval, the governor may remove regents "for cause" - and it would seem seriously damaging the relationship with the UI would be a fair reason for dismissal. While we hope it does not reach that point, this option must not be discounted.

Communication between the university and regents must continue and increase if this dispute is to be resolved and a new president chosen.