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Regents: Leader search to change

Process to be faster, cheaper; on-site interviews may end

Erin Jordan

Des Moines Register

December 12, 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. - Expect changes with the new University of Iowa presidential search.

That's the message of the Iowa Board of Regents, who will meet next Monday to discuss the next phase of a 10-month presidential search that broke down last month before a new leader was named.

"I feel we need to do some repair work with the general public and the campus community," Regent Bob Downer said. The comments came a day before the U of I Faculty Senate - frustrated by the failed search - is to vote on a resolution of no-confidence in the regents leaders. Staff leaders will take a similar vote Wednesday. Regents said Monday that the votes won't hinder the board, but they offered ideas for how the new search could be different.

Potential changes include:

- The possibility of no on-campus interviews for finalists. These interviews have long been the tradition at Iowa's public universities, but regents say presidential candidates are becoming increasingly insistent on keeping their names from the public.

- A U of I dean or professor could lead the next presidential search committee. The last search was led by Regent Teresa Wahlert.

- The campus-based search committee could have more public discussions about the process. Candidate names would still be kept secret, but committee members would be able to give some details of the search. Committee members were frustrated by strict confidentiality in the previous search.

- The new search will be quicker and less expensive, regents said. The U of I has already spent nearly $200,000 on the failed search. But an executive search firm paid $110,000 in fees will continue to work for no additional fee, Regents President Michael Gartner said.

Regents leaders say they want a new president named by next summer.

"Step one will be a week from today; the regents will have a meeting," Gartner said Monday.

Regents said they will wait to hear from their lawyers about whether the 5 p.m. conference call will be held in open or closed session. Iowa's open meetings law requires board meetings to be held in public unless members are discussing issues including personnel, litigation, patents or the purchase of real estate.

Issues of secrecy have plagued the board since the beginning of the presidential search. One aspect of that debate is whether the presidential finalists will come to campus for public interviews.

Regent Mary Ellen Becker said she would support eliminating these interviews if it meant recruiting a better president.

"I really think we have to ensure candidates that their names will not be made public, so I don't think we will be able to do on-campus interviews," she said.

Downer said he had conflicting views on on-campus interviews. Given the concerns over the failed search, a new leader will need support on campus, he said. "It's extremely important that whoever is selected not come into an environment where it's excessively difficult for him or her to succeed," he said.

Questions remain about whether the new presidential search will bring out new faces. Regents said they rejected four finalists Nov. 17 because the candidates didn't have enough health science experience.

"The pool we have the next time, if it's within the next two years, will be diminished," said Steve McGuire, a curriculum and instruction professor who served on the previous search committee. "We really have stubbed our toe nationally in the way we failed this search."