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Bring UI president finalists to campus


The Gazette

December 5, 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 idiom ‘‘haste makes waste’’ comes to mind as Iowa’s state Board of Regents appears to be resurrecting the failed search for a new University of Iowa president.

  The board, apparently contemplating a suggestion from Gov. Tom Vilsack to reconsider the four finalists from a search that was abruptly stopped in mid-November, may now think the best thing to do is to quickly offer one of the finalists the job and be done with this mess.

  That would be a hasty move. All four finalists should be publicly identified and brought to the UI campus to meet with the faculty and the Corridor community before a job is offered to one of them.

  The board held another private meeting Monday morning about the search and apparently discussed the finalists. What was said and decided remains a secret, so it’s impossible to peg what the next step might be in picking a new UI president, and when that step will be taken. If the lame-duck governor still has any influence on this board — and he should — then it’s reasonable to speculate that the four finalists, if they are still interested, are back in the game.

  Campus visits were again endorsed by UI faculty leaders in a meeting with The Gazette’s Editorial Board on Monday morning.

  ‘‘We really are committed to having on-campus interviews but that’s not our issue to control,’’ Faculty Senate President Sheldon Kurtz said.

  UI teaching and professional staff and students, jilted by the regents’ decision to end a tradition of a faculty- led presidential search committee, were promised by the regents-led search committee that the finalists would be brought to the campus. This ritual is important as it allows the formal and informal scrutiny of a candidate, making sure all pertinent information is on the table when a job is offered.

  Beyond the ‘‘buy-in’’ benefits of allowing the faculty, staff and students to meet and react to these would-be UI leaders, the on-campus meetings would be an important first step toward patching up the deep rift between the UI faculty and the Board of Regents. Only a week ago, the UI Faculty Senate, Staff Council and Student Government were prepared to pass resolutions of ‘‘no-confidence’’ in the board in protest over the secretive atmosphere of the search and concerns about the leadership of the regents. The votes were delayed to allow Vilsack to intervene in the search.

  Bringing the candidates to campus would be a professional finish to the unprofessional search and represent the first of many needed steps toward restoring the public’s confidence in the board. From there, work can begin on addressing the personality conflicts and flawed processes and achieving a more effective structure for the regents as a board of directors over the state universities. The regents could expedite this rebuilding by submitting their resignations to Gov.-elect Chet Culver when he takes office in early January and letting Culver seat a credible board that will do what’s best for Iowa.