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I.C. regent wants search continued

Downer’s was 1 of 2 votes to keep going

Scott Dochterman

The Gazette

November 26, 2006

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

  IOWA CITY — Regent Bob Downer of Iowa City remains optimistic that a Monday meeting involving Gov. Tom Vilsack and Board of Regents President Michael Gartner, among others, can ease some tension regarding the University of Iowa’s aborted presidential search. But Downer also expressed concern over the board’s 62 decision Nov. 17 to reject the recommended candidates, dissolve the search committee and begin a new search.

  ‘‘I was very disappointed by the action that was taken by the board a week ago Friday,’’ Downer said Saturday. Downer was one of the two regents to vote against scrapping the search process.

  ‘‘All of the information I got was that the pool of candidates we had in the selection process was an excellent one. I felt it was a mistake to not see the search process through until its completion. ‘‘ I’m very concerned that we may end up with a less distinguished pool of candidates if we go to a new search than the one we had this time.’’

  The UI is looking to replace David Skorton, who left for Cornell University in June. The regents paid the firm of Heidrick & Struggles $110,000 to conduct the search.

  One of the final four candidates, revealed Friday, was UI Provost Mike Hogan.

  Downer said he’d like the board to reconsider the final four and resurrect the search process. Four board members served on the 18- member search committee, and Downer said the vote to kill the search surprised him.

   ‘‘What changed, I’m not sure, because the majority of the board changed positions in response to this field of candidates,’’ Downer said.

  ‘‘I don’t know that I can speculate as to what happened. I certainly wouldn’t use the term underhanded, because I have no evidence to support that. But I don’t feel that the reason given with regard to the health science experience of the candidates being felt to be insufficient, I don’t feel that’s a sufficient reason to terminate the search.’’

  Downer added that health sciences experience was given an importance of 10 points out of 180 on the grading scale.

  ‘‘Therefore, we need to take a step back and look at this in light of the criteria that were spelled out in advance,’’ he said.

  The decision to end the search process is one of many issues that seem to challenge the regents’ relationship with the UI’s faculty. Some faculty members had expressed concerns about the board implementing a strategic plan before a president was in place. The regents agreed to a longer timeline and to ask for community input at November’s regents meeting in Ames, which alleviated some of the concerns.

  Additionally, many faculty members were unhappy with the search process before the Nov. 17 announcement.

  ‘‘I think that they (faculty), despite some misgivings about the search process, felt it was conducted well, and there had been a significant number of highly qualified candidates,’’ Downer said. ‘‘I think they were pleased with those interviews. I certainly was.’’

  Downer also is fearful that the conduct could cause permanent distrust between the board and the UI’s faculty.

  ‘‘Well, I think that remains to be seen,’’ he said. ‘‘If we can pull things back together and develop a sort of consensus on this, I would hope there would not be a rift."