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U of I groups delay protest votes

The governor buys time for Iowa Board of Regents.

Erin Jordan

Des Moines Register

November 28, 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. -- University of Iowa faculty, staff and students -- poised to take an unprecedented step of taking votes of no-confidence in the Iowa Board of Regents -- said today they will postpone this move.

"I have decided not to put forward the resolution of no confidence and the resolution regarding the presidential search process at today's Faculty Senate meeting," said Sheldon Kurtz, president of the U of I Faculty Senate, in an e-mail today.

The senate is scheduled to meet today from 3:30 to 5:15 p.m. in the Senate chambers of the Old Capitol building. Faculty and staff were upset the regents voted Nov. 17 to reject four finalists for the U of I presidency and scrap a 10-month search.

Kurtz and Staff Council President Mary Greer said they decided to bypass the no-confidence votes after a meeting Monday night with Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack,
regents, Interim U of I President Gary Fethke and others involved in the search.

Kurtz described the talk as "frank and, I believe, fruitful."

Greer told staff in a mass e-mail that she couldn't say much about what was
discussed in the three-hour, closed-door meeting in Cedar Rapids. The result
was a decision to postpone the no-confidence votes and revisit them, if necessary, in January, she said.

"Governor Vilsack never asked us to cancel our vote of no confidence. He simply asked if he could have some time to work on the issues we presented to him, including our concerns about our relationship with the BOR," Greer wrote.

"It feels extremely secretive now, and I too wish that weren't the case. However, I have confidence that the Governor will publicly share in time what ideas were discussed and the steps taken to resolve them," Greer wrote.

Vilsack indicated earlier Monday he favored having the regents select a president from among four finalists. He also supports the U of I creating a new vice president position to oversee University Hospitals and the Carver College of Medicine.

Gov. Tom Vilsack took on the role of mediator Monday evening, trying to broker a solution to the controversy.

"We had a very long, but productive, meeting," Vilsack said after the meeting "We are all doing what we can to hire a great president for a great university. We are going to continue to work to make that happen."

Vilsack took no questions after the brief statement.

He left saying, "That's it," and holding up his hand as he left the US Bank building in downtown Cedar Rapids.

The U of I controversy could attract unwanted media attention during a week when Vilsack formally kicks off his campaign for the U.S. presidency in his adopted hometown of Mount Pleasant.

Regents President Michael Gartner declined to comment as he left the meeting.

"I have nothing to add," he said.

The regents voted 6-2 on Nov. 17 to reject the four finalists chosen by a search committee, saying they did not have enough health science experience.

Committee members said Gartner favored another candidate, Deborah Freund, former vice chancellor at Syracuse University, who has connections with the insurance industry.

The search committee did not forward Freund's name to the board.

Search committee members called the board's vote a betrayal.

Faculty and student groups had plans to take votes of no-confidence today.

Sheldon Kurtz, president of the U of I Faculty Senate, said Monday night it was unlikely he would propose such a vote today.

"I don't think we will, but I can't be sure," he said. "We have every reason to be optimistic."

Mary Greer, a member of the U of I Staff Council, said Vilsack promised to reconvene the group in the next two weeks.

Earlier in the day Monday, Vilsack met with the editorial board of the Cedar Rapids Gazette and said he would like to see a two-part solution to the U of I controversy, which has produced vitriolic accusations about the motives of members of the Board of Regents.

Vilsack said he favors:

- Creating a vice president for health sciences position under the U of I president to oversee University Hospitals and the College of Medicine. One of the issues in the aborted search for a new president was the desire of some regents to have one or more finalists with health science management experience.

- Having the regents reconsider the four finalists recommended by the 18-member search committee the regents appointed.

The finalists were U of I Provost Michael Hogan, two other men who are provosts of major universities, and a fourth man who is president of a mid-sized university.

Attitudes toward the Board of Regents have plummeted in Iowa City since the board surprised people by voting to reject the slate of finalists and to disband the search committee that had worked for months to winnow the field of some 150 candidates.

The U of I job has been open since David Skorton left this summer to become president of Cornell University.

The six board members in the majority have made few public comments about their concerns with the finalists. Gartner has said the lack of health sciences management experience among the four was among the concerns of the majority, including all four regents on the search committee.

Regent Robert Downer of Iowa City, one of two regents to vote "no," has said the proposal to create a vice president under the president to oversee all health care matters on the Iowa City campus should eliminate the regents' anxiety over the potential lack of hands-on health sciences management experience by the next U of I president.

The vice president's position has been empty since Robert Kelch left the university in 2003.

The job was not filled primarily because of Skorton's experience as a professor of medicine and health sciences administrator.