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Private regents talk on president 'productive,' Gartner says

Faculty leader says meeting shows selection is closer

Erin Jordan

Des Moines Register

December 5, 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. The Iowa Board of Regents held its first meeting Monday since rejecting four finalists for president of the University of Iowa, and the session ended after 90 minutes of private discussions about candidates for the job.

"It was a productive session, but we have nothing else - no announcement - to go beyond that at this time," Michael Gartner, regents president, said afterward.

U of I Faculty Senate President Sheldon Kurtz said he was optimistic about the meeting.

"The fact they talked about it for an hour and a half is a positive sign," Kurtz said. "One interpretation is that they have already decided to seek one candidate."

Monday's telephone meeting was the first time the nine-member board has met since Nov. 17, when the regents voted 6-2 to reject four finalists. At that time, Gartner, of Des Moines, said none of the finalists had enough experience with hospitals and medical schools.

The decision to disband the search committee baffled and frustrated U of I faculty and staff members. They were prepared to take unusual no-confidence votes in the regents' leadership last week.

But Gov. Tom Vilsack stepped in, summoning the parties to meet with him and Gartner. Gartner followed that up last week by calling top U of I administrators together to discuss the search for a new president.

Vilsack also urged the regents to reconsider the four finalists. The finalists were U of I Provost Michael Hogan, two provosts of other large universities and the president of a mid-sized institution.

Regent Robert Downer of Iowa City would not say whether regents selected one of the finalists during their telephone meeting Monday, but he echoed Gartner's praise.

"I would be hopeful there would be more meetings in the near future," he said.

The regents' next scheduled meeting is Monday in Iowa City. The regents could schedule another meeting with 24 hours' notice.

The regents started Monday's conference call about 7:40 a.m. and voted 8-1 to move into closed session. Downer voted against immediately closing the meeting and said the board should vote in public on whether they were going to reconsider the Nov. 17 decision to reject the four finalists.

"If we don't take that action, it seems that this matter is essentially over and that would be it," Downer said.

Gartner responded that the purpose of the closed session was to discuss candidates, a topic that is viewed as a confidential personnel matter.

Downer said after the meeting that he had no objection to how the meeting was conducted.

Faculty and staff members and students have been critical of the secrecy surrounding the presidential search, which started last spring.

The regents eventually will name a leader to succeed David Skorton, who left the U of I in June to become president of Cornell University in New York.