Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Iowa Rain Forest ("Earthpark") Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Blog, FromDC2Iowa

Gartner cites 'lynch-mob mentality'

'The issue is, who governs the University of Iowa?' he says

Jonathan Roos and Lynn Campbell

Des Moines Register

December 14, 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 Board of Regents President Michael Gartner, under attack for the board's handling of a failed effort to hire a new University of Iowa president, said Wednesday the board's independence would be damaged were he to succumb to a "lynch-mob mentality" and heed critics' calls for his resignation.

"If I resigned, I think that it would set the system back for another 20 years," said Gartner, whose current six-year term ends in 2011.

"I'm not particularly enjoying my life right now, especially with spring training right around the corner," said the Iowa Cubs owner. "But it's very important that the regents do what the law says they're supposed to do, which is to be the governing body for the three universities and to hire a president" for each.

Gartner indicated that votes taken by the U of I Faculty Senate and other groups registering a lack of confidence in the regents' leadership have their roots in a struggle over who's in charge of the campus.

"It's not about the president search. It's really a governance issue. ... The issue is, who governs the University of Iowa? The Board of Regents or ... the faculty over there?" he said on a taping of "Iowa Press." The program will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 11:30 a.m. Sunday on Iowa Public Television.

Gartner's critics include Marvin Pomerantz, a former Board of Regents president who on Wednesday offered a scathing review of the current board and portrayed the unsuccessful U of I presidential search as a disaster waiting to happen.

Pomerantz, a Des Moines businessman who was regents president from 1987 to 1993 and again from 1995 to 1996, said Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, should not have appointed Gartner board president.

"It's a policymaking board. Mike engenders conflict wherever he goes," said Pomerantz, a Republican, in a meeting with Des Moines Register reporters and editors. "Mike is brilliant. He's got a lot of great ideas, but he's not a great leader."

Gartner dismissed the criticism from Pomerantz, saying Pomerantz had opposed Gartner's initial appointment to the board. "I like Marvin a lot, but he's trying to settle some old scores" dating back to Gartner's tenure as editor of The Des Moines Register.

Pomerantz said the regents should put off a new presidential search until the controversy dies down.

U of I 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.

"It wouldn't bother me if you just cool the waters for two years," said Pomerantz, adding that Interim President Gary Fethke is a good leader.

Gartner said it would be a mistake to wait.

He said better communication and the passage of time would eventually ease tensions on the U of I campus.

"I don't think this Mardi Gras atmosphere adds anything to it," Gartner said of loud protests directed at the board and its leadership. "It's almost like a lynch mob some days, and that's not good."

Faculty, staff and students have piled criticism on Gartner and President Pro Tem Teresa Wahlert for what they describe as heavy-handed leadership and secrecy surrounding the 10-month presidential search.

The Faculty Senate voted 62-1 Tuesday in favor of a resolution expressing a "lack of trust and confidence in the leadership of the Iowa Board of Regents."

Sponsors said they hope the lopsided vote will persuade Gartner and Wahlert, who headed the committee to help find a replacement for David Skorton as U of I president, to resign.

While Gartner wasn't predicting how long the next presidential search would take, he said there was agreement on changing some things, such as forming a smaller search committee than before, using a new slate of committee members, and probably calling on a dean to lead the group.

"We must concentrate on finding the very best man or woman we can find to be the president," Gartner said.