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U of I leaders: Vilsack stepping back
[Hardcopy: "Vilsack Speaks With U of I Leaders"]

Also, the Faculty Senate president says he thinks the Board of Regents is trying 'to intimidate' professors

Erin Jordan

Des Moines Register

December 10, 2006

Reader Comment, "Throw the Bums Out!"

[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. - Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack appears to be trying to distance himself from a conflict between the Iowa Board of Regents and University of Iowa faculty, staff and students after a failed presidential search, said faculty members who spoke with the governor Friday.

Campus leaders are also worried regents are trying to intimidate faculty and staff by asking for salary and course-load information for three professors who are among the board's loudest critics.

"It just so happens the three of us happen to be in a situation where there is some tension between the faculty and the Board of Regents," Sheldon Kurtz, president of the U of I Faculty Senate, said Saturday. "I believe it was an attempt to gather information to intimidate us."

Regents Executive Director Gary Steinke, who made the request for the public information, said faculty's claims of intimidation were "ridiculous."

Faculty, staff and student leaders have been at odds with the regents since the board voted 6-2 on Nov. 17 to reject four finalists for the U of I presidency. Vilsack met with the parties late last month and asked the regents to reconsider the finalists. The only candidate with majority support from the board declined the job last week.

Regents leaders have relaunched the search and said it could be summer before a president is named. Meanwhile, faculty, staff and student groups are poised this week to vote on resolutions of no-confidence in the regents' leadership.

Vilsack held a 40-minute conference call Friday with Kurtz, interim U of I President Gary Fethke and other campus representatives to talk about the presidential search. Vilsack told the group he understood why faculty, staff and student groups planned to go forward with no-confidence votes, Kurtz said.

"He didn't say, 'Go for it,' but the point I took was that he wasn't trying to dissuade us," Kurtz said.

Vilsack, who is running for U.S. president in 2008, also seemed to be extricating himself from the dispute, Kurtz said. Vilsack tried last week to convince the top presidential pick to reconsider the Iowa job, to no avail.

"He certainly tried with the candidate the regents selected," said Mary Greer, president of the Staff Council, another U of I employee group. "I believe he saw this as his final contact on these issues." Greer was on the presidential search committee and also participated in the talks with Vilsack.

Vilsack could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Relations between the regents leaders and on-campus groups were starting to sour Nov. 6 when Steinke asked Mark Braun, the U of I's director of governmental relations, to research the salaries and course loads of Kurtz, a law professor; Katherine Tachau, a history professor; and Dr. Francois Abboud, the chairwoman of cardiovascular research and a U of I associate vice provost for research.

Steinke said a legislator asked him to get the information but declined to name the legislator. He also asked why faculty were upset that he sought public information that is also available online.

Regents President Michael Gartner agreed. "If they are embarrassed by their salaries or course loads, that's their business," he said Saturday.

Gartner also asked why tenured faculty, who have protection against being fired or demoted, are claiming the request was an attempt to intimidate. "These people make emotional charges and they never, ever have facts," Gartner said.

Throw the bums out!

Reader Comment

Des Moines Register online

December 10, 2006, 10:38 a.m.

Mr. Gartner and his cohort should know that timing is everything. Doing background checks in the midst of a conflict is poor form. Also, letting Teresa Wahlert go before the cameras on KCCI this last week to make a claim similar to a McCarthy-era anticommunist politician that the process is being ruined by a "few radical professors," is straight-up inflammatory. Additionally, the fact that stakeholders operate from a position of emotion is the basis of the democratic process. The ease with which Mr. Gartner and his team negate this central tenet of politics is the reason the Legislature should tweak the Iowa Code to give the public a bit more oversight of the BoR. Mr. Gartner is messing with the pride and joy of the state, and at the same time messing with our children, yet lacks the sensitivity of a skilled politician to find compromise. Of course people are going to get emotional. The fact that the BoR uses an emotionless, actuarial approach to corporate governance is infuriating. No wonder the BoR is incapable of dealing with the incendiary nature of the Veishea riots. Riots are pure emotion. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said two things about rioting that the BoR might use as a metaphor to rethink their position in Iowa City: "A riot is at bottom the language of the unheard." And, "The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility." What possible value can come of the BoR heaping this kind of pain on the crown jewels of Iowa?

edit: If the BoR loves its actuarial approach so much, maybe the Threshold 21 policy planning software might help ( The insurance wonks will like it too. Maybe the Statehouse, in the name of the Sunshine laws will institute it statewide.