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Open the doors this time


Des Moines Register

December 8, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, 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 Des Moines Register.]

It's hard to see how the search for a new University of Iowa president could have gone much worse, but that appeared to be the case Thurday after the Board of Regents offered the job to an applicant who doesn't want it.

Now can we go back to square one on this disaster? And, this time, how about letting the public in on the process?

Here's what little the public does know: After a long and secret process there were four finalists for the job. On Nov. 17 the regents voted to decline all four of them. Then there was a closed-door meeting with Gov. Tom Vilsack, who urged the regents to reconsider the four finalists. Then another telephone conference among the regents, which resulted in an overature to one of the finalists who, after all, turned out not to be interested.

There might be a perfectly good explanation for all of this, of course, but the public is left to assume the worst. That, of course, is the tack taken by leaders of the University of Iowa faculty, and with them many other friends and supporters of the university. That is what happens when a process that directly affects the public is done in secret.

Iowa Board of Regents President Michael Gartner announed Thursday that a new search will be commenced, and the process "will be discussed and developed by the regents in consultation with all the University of Iowa stakeholders, donors, faculty and staff, deans, administrators and Iowa City area community leaders."

That's a pretty long and seemingly inclusive list. One group is missing, however: the people of Iowa.

Maybe Gartner and the other members of the Board of Regents don't think the people are stakeholders in the university, but they are. They own it. They built it. They benefit if the university succeeds, or they are diminished if it fails. And they deserve to know what went into the hiring of the person at the top.