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The search for UI's next president

The Gazette

December 3, 2006

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

  The decision by three University of Iowa groups not to pursue a vote of no confidence in the state Board of Regents expresses a vote of confidence in Gov. Tom Vilsack. If Vilsack’s intervention in the stalled UI presidential search can help get the disparate parties back on track, then there will be plenty of time later to address the broader complaints these groups have about the regents.

  The key right now for the UI Faculty Senate, Staff Council and Student Government — as well as all other parties involved in this issue — is to separate the short-term issues involved in hiring a new president from the longer-term issues about the governance and leadership of the Board of Regents.

  In the short term, the university and the state need a great president to lead the university and support the state’s efforts to improve economic development, particularly in the bioscience and biotechnology arenas.

  A good first step in getting that accomplished would be to commit to the idea Vilsack floated last week of hiring a vice president to oversee health sciences. The regents voted Nov. 17 to reject a slate of four finalists for the job because, they said, none of the candidates had the experience in the health sciences the regents wanted. Having a vice president fulfill that role would ensure that a high-level administrator is focusing on coordination of the many aspects of health science, medicine and health care at the UI. Such a move also would ensure that the UI president has the time to fulfill the myriad functions of that office.

  Another critical short-term step is to make sure that everyone involved in the presidential search has the same clear information about the characteristics and experience required of candidates and about the UI president’s job description. That apparently has not been the case so far.

  Finally, a restarted or resumed search needs to have a clearly defined process that’s made as public as possible. Open records and openmeetings rules should not be skirted.

  Yes, there may be legal basis for confidentiality in some aspects of the search. But far more can and should be public than has been the case so far.

  Once a president is hired, work can commence on the longer-term issues, and perhaps by that time, some of the emotions so evident in recent weeks will have cooled as well.

  The entire search process can be revisited then. What should be the expectations for faculty involvement and for on campus interviews?

  Should searches at all three universities be handled alike?

  That also will be the time for a deeper look and possible clarification of the regents’ mission, scope of authority, leadership and methods of operation.

  The relationship between the regents and the UI community must be repaired for the university to fulfill its primary educational mission and to be a partner with the state in economic development initiatives and improving the well-being of Iowans. Fixing that relationship will also be important for the people of Iowa, for the effective operation of the state’s public universities are critical to the state’s well-being.

  Legislators and Gov.-elect Chet Culver have made it clear they are willing to help with the process of repairing that relationship. And having a great new president on board will be helpful, too.