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Botched presidential search puts UI's reputation at stake


The Daily Iowan

November 30, 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.]

As the commotion surrounding the state Board of Regents' presidential search increases, the fiasco is bound to attract a national spotlight. Action must be taken to inject a renewed sense of purpose into the search for a new UI president, lest the university's reputation suffer.

From the beginning, the search process has been plagued by a lack of transparency. The regents insisted on meeting in secret during much of the search, and the legality of some of their closed-door sessions was called into question. The regents pushed forward, despite the barrage of objections, and, ultimately, the search committee approved four finalists. In a sudden reversal of those efforts, however, the regents voted Nov. 17 to abort the process, thus dismissing the finalists, forfeiting the tens of thousands of dollars paid in consulting fees, and effectively restarting the search process from scratch.

The regents' peculiar course of action reflects stubbornness on their part; indeed, it has become quite obvious that they have a clear vision of who should be the next president.

While the regents have been embroiled in the controversy surrounding their inability to find suitable candidates for the presidential position, valuable administrative talent may be slipping away nearly unnoticed. Provost Michael Hogan was named a finalist in the University of Delaware's presidential search on Tuesday; it is imperative that our regents look close to home before that option disappears.

The announcement by the University of Delaware should make clear Hogan's suitability for the university's top post, and his extensive involvement with Iowa cannot be ignored. He has served in the post of provost for more than three years, and he is an alumnus, as well, earning both a master's and a doctorate at the UI. Ignoring the talent and Iowa ties Hogan possesses is unacceptable, especially when other universities are also competing for candidates. In the Big Ten alone, there are three institutions looking to fill presidential vacancies. With such stiff competition, the UI may not be able to attract suitable candidates if it doesn't quickly distance itself from the bickering and controversy that has followed the regents and this presidential search.

The regents will certainly be held responsible if the next president of the university is not embraced by the UI community, and the board's juvenile antics cannot be justified. With the way things are proceeding, the pool of talented university administrators willing to work with our regents will only dwindle.

Gov. Tom Vilsack appointed this batch of regents, and he must sufficiently push the board to carry on with the search in a professional manner consistent with previous searches. The UI has produced many capable administrators in the past. The two most recent former presidents now serve at the University of Michigan and Cornell University.

Whatever process the regents have used in previous searches has been successful, and it would behoove the governor and the regents to avoid tainting this legacy.