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UI panel votes 'no' on regents

Matt Nelson

The Daily Iowan

December 13, 2006

Ben Fornell, "Tough to Dump Regents"

[Note: This material is copyright by The Daily Iowan, 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 Daily Iowan.]



In a packed room in the Old Capitol, with the lower levels of the building filled, UI Faculty Senate members on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted "no confidence" in the leadership in the state Board of Regents.

But in response to the 62-1 vote adopting the resolution, Regent President Michael Gartner - one of the primary targets of the action - said the move will have no effect on his handling of board matters.

"I'm sorry that the Faculty Senate had no confidence in us, but that's life," he told The Daily Iowan on Tuesday. "I don't have a lot of confidence in some of them, frankly."

The motion - previously postponed after faculty, staff, and student leaders met with Gov. Tom Vilsack and Gartner on Nov. 27 - followed a Dec. 7 announcement that regents will restart the UI presidential search.

That revelation came after the four finalists originally chosen by the UI presidential-search committee were turned down by regents on Nov. 17, then re-evaluated in response to outrage from the UI community.

The regents eventually chose one of the four candidates, but that finalist turned down the offer, leading the regents to start over in the quest for a replacement for former UI President David Skorton.

Faculty Senate President Sheldon Kurtz emphasized that while Vilsack did not support the vote of no-confidence, the governor didn't dissuade faculty from going forward with the move.

"In fact, he voiced the opinion that a no-confidence vote would be an appropriate way for faculty and staff to express their concerns about [regent] leadership," Kurtz said in a prepared statement before the Faculty Senate.

In the speech, he accused the regents' leadership - particularly Gartner - of not effectively and openly communicating, proclaiming that regents cannot continue to function under their current leaders.

Gartner and Regent President Pro Tem Teresa Wahlert are "putting the university at great risk," he said.

"This proposed no-confidence resolution sends a clear message that our state's great universities have been entrusted to two individuals who have demonstrated that they are not up to the task," Kurtz said.

When he reread the text of the no-confidence resolution into the microphone, the lower floor erupted in cheers and applause. After the vote was passed, the Faculty Senate room - filled with roughly 160 attendees - welcomed Kurtz's announcement with a standing ovation.

And even while he asked that calls for the state government intervention in the regents' leadership be held off, the goals of the vote were clear.

"What I'm hoping for is the resignation of Regents Garter and Wahlert tomorrow," Kurtz said after the meeting. "And if not tomorrow, then Friday. And if not Friday, then next week."


Tough to dump regents

Ben Fornell

The Daily Iowan

December 13, 2006



Malfeasance - usually defined as misconduct, especially by a public official - seems to be the buzz-word surrounding a campus push to remove members of the state Board of Regents.

The UI Faculty Senate members decided Tuesday that they have "no confidence" in the regents' leadership. But the pronouncement has no power, in and of itself.

UI leaders who believe that a failed presidential search - coupled with allegations of regent micromanagement - provide grounds for the dismissal of board members can only hope their activism will put pressure on Gov. Tom Vilsack to suspend some of the regents.

Section 262.4 of the Iowa Code states that the governor, with the approval of a majority of the Iowa Senate during regular session, "may remove any member of the board [of regents] for malfeasance in office or for any cause which would render the member ineligible for appointment or incapable or unfit to discharge the duties of office."

Iowa lawmakers will not convene until the second week of January; in their absence, the code states that the governor may suspend a regent and appoint a replacement - subject to the approval of the Senate upon its return.

"There's no case law interpreting those terms," said Eric Tabor, the chief of staff for the Iowa Attorney General's Office, which ultimately represents the regents. "The Legislature intended to give the governor the power and [for] the Senate to act as a counterbalance."

While he may not wield formal power to remove a regent, UI economics Associate Professor John Solow has been selling buttons to send a message to the regents: A radical majority is growing at the UI.

The 1-inch yellow buttons say "Radical Minority" in black letters. The demonstration is designed to confront an assertion by Regent Teresa Wahlert, the former UI presidential-search committee chairwoman, in Sunday's *Iowa City Press-Citizen* that criticism of the presidential-search process is coming only from a "radical minority" of UI faculty.

"I'm not doing this as an attempt to get any regents fired - that's not the point," Solow said. "I'm not taking this lightly. Everyone I've talked to thinks this is an unmitigated disaster. I really want to make a statement - to Regent Wahlert, in particular."

Solow is not alone in his frustration. After the regents' Nov. 17 decision to disband the search panel, several prominent UI community and Johnson Country citizens have called for the resignation of oft-criticized Regent President Michael Gartner and Wahlert, the regents' president pro tem.

Days after a similar Dec. 7 resolution by the Johnson Country Democratic Central Committee, former search-panel members Katherine Tachau, a UI history professor, and medical professor François Abboud publicly demanded that Gartner and Wahlert resign.

But it may take more than demands.

"People who get appointed to these boards are typically big supporters of the governor," Solow said. "They're political patronage jobs."