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Press-Citizen's 'Person of the Year'

A Bumper Crop of Finalists: Michael Gartner

Iowa City Press-Citizen

December 30, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, 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 Iowa City Press-Citizen.]

When choosing the nine previous Persons of the Year, the Press-Citizen Editorial Board considered primarily the person's positive impact on the local community. But if impact is measured more neutrally, there are few people with more impact on the Iowa City area than the president of the Iowa state Board of Regents, Michael Gartner. Whether respected or reviled, Gartner has succeeded in getting average Iowans talking about the Board of Regents.

Where the impact of Father Rudolph Juarez exemplifies both visionary and responsive elements, Gartner's effect on the UI community has been described as its own type of tornado-level chaos. Although many within and outside the UI community agree with Gartner's goal of making the regent universities as productive as possible, few in Iowa City would endorse the means by which Gartner has enforced his vision for higher education on the local cityscape.

Under his leadership, the regents have taken direct control of the search for the UI president and pushed the economic development model as the only means of measuring a university's success. His critics widely praise his intelligence and ability to win an argument, but point out that those victories too often prove pyrrhic.

Even when Gartner is the smartest person in a room, he hasn't been smart enough to refrain from pointing out that fact. This is especially a problem when the room is filled with people with M.D. or Ph.D. after their names -- people who tend to think of themselves as pretty smart, too. As a result, Gartner has found himself waging a war against the UI faculty, staff and students, and encouraged UI's critics to view academics as people who do little work for exorbitant pay.

Because Gartner's abrasive impact has alienated so many, we hope he resigns his presidency, if not his membership on the board. But we have to acknowledge his ability to make things happen.

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