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Adviser: Regents had job finalist in mind

Participants in the search for a new U of I president question the board's reason for rejecting the top 4 picks.

Erin Jordan

Des Moines Register

November 21, 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.]

Iowa City, Ia. - A second University of Iowa professor participating in the search to hire a new president says four finalists for the position were rejected because the top choice of two members of the Iowa Board of Regents wasn't on the list.

Faculty and staff, still stunned Monday by the board's decision last week to scrap the search, said an explanation by Regents President Michael Gartner that the finalists needed more experience in health sciences didn't make sense.

"We believe Gartner and (Regent Teresa) Wahlert had a candidate in mind who did not make it to the top four," said Sheldon Kurtz, chairman of the U of I Faculty Senate and member of an advisory board that participated in interviews.

Katherine Tachau, another university professor who was on an 18-member search committee that chose the four finalists, offered the same explanation on Friday after the regents' decision to disband the advisory committee and halt the search process was announced.

Gartner and Wahlert did not immediately return phone calls Monday.

Gartner called the finalists "wonderfully accomplished," but said the school needed a leader who had experience overseeing "complex health-science operations," according to a statement issued Friday.

While the regents made no announcement Monday as to how or when they will choose the next U of I president, those involved with the search said they believed they had four qualified finalists for the position.

The names of those candidates have not been made public, but three of the four finalists had experience as administrators of universities with medical schools and/or hospitals, search committee members said.

Steve McGuire, a curriculum and instruction professor on the search committee, said faculty staff and students who served on the 18-member advisory committee charged with choosing four finalists were not told to give health science experience more weight than other qualifications.

"Teresa Wahlert encouraged us to find people outside of health sciences because it was too dominated by health science," he said.

Five of the top seven candidates for the position either had a medical background or had leadership experience at an institution with a medical school or a hospital, McGuire said. The four finalists were chosen during a nearly two-hour conference call with the search committee on Nov. 14, he said. The next day, the nine regents met via a conference call and rejected the slate, Regent Bob Downer said.

Experience in health sciences was part of the presidential job description advertised because the president has a leadership role with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

"This individual must fully understand the teaching, research, and patient care missions of the health sciences and the economic and policy environments in which they operate," the job description reads.

But the job description also calls for the U of I president to be an inspiring leader, most likely with a Ph.D., who understands intercollegiate athletics, appreciates arts and humanities, and can bring in big money as the university's top fundraiser.

The university has paid a consultant, Heidrick & Struggles of Atlanta, at least $110,000 to conduct the failed search.

Gary Steinke, the board's executive director, said he did not know whether the regents would continue to use the firm, which would cost the state more money.

"There is a provision that says even if the search is not successful, they will continue to work with us," Steinke said.

The contract, signed by Steinke on April 20, states Heidrick & Struggles "will make every effort to complete the search in six months. Should this not occur, we will continue the search without additional fee, up to nine months from the start of the search, charging only expenses. In the unlikely event that the search is not successfully concluded at the end of nine months, we may suggest a reevaluation of the assignment to determine whether any further work is practical."

No payment of fees is contingent on the university actually hiring one of the candidates identified by the firm, according to the regents' contract with Heidrick & Struggles. That four-page document was obtained Monday by The Des Moines Register as part of an open records request.

Totals are not yet in for how much the U of I has spent on travel and other expenses related to the abandoned search, officials said.

The process of choosing a new president has been embroiled in controversy, ranging from concerns over a regent chairing the search committee, to the lack of on-campus interviews with the finalists, to the secrecy surrounding the search process.