Board of Regents name Wendy Wintersteen as next Iowa State President
The school's first female president has been with school for decades, was previously dean of ag college
AMES — After a six-month national search, it turns out the person to lead Iowa State University was on campus the whole time.
The Iowa Board of Regents on Monday unanimously voted to appoint Wendy Wintersteen, the dean of ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, as ISU’s 16th president.
Wintersteen, 61, said she was “honored and humbled” to take the job during her formal introduction in the ISU Memorial Union’s Campanile Room.
Iowa State’s first female president will begin her new job Nov. 20.
Board of Regents President Michael Richards called Wintersteen “one of the Cyclones’ own.”
Wintersteen has worked at Iowa State for most of the past four decades and has been the ag school’s dean since 2006. She earned her Ph.D. in entomology from ISU in 1988.
“The best thing is we will not have to train this person about Iowa State,” said Vivek Lawana, president of ISU’s Graduate and Professional Student Senate and a member of the presidential search committee. “We’ll have to train this person about the job but not Iowa State, and I think it’s something we can do in the fastest way possible.”
The other finalists for the president’s job were Sonny Ramaswamy, the director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and Pamela Whitten, the provost at the University of Georgia. The fourth candidate, Dale Whittaker, provost of the University of Central Florida, withdrew from consideration Thursday.
Each of the three finalists interviewed with the regents for about an hour Monday. Around 2 p.m., the board settled in for about two hours of deliberation.
“She knows the institution, and she’s part of Iowa State,” Richards said after Wintersteen’s introduction, adding that the regents think she’ll be an excellent president.
Wintersteen will begin her job with a five-year contract, which has salaries set for the first three years: $525,000 the first year, $550,000 in the second and $590,000 in the third.
She’ll also receive deferred compensation for three years, with contributions of $125,000 the first year, $150,000 the second and $200,000 the third.
Wintersteen takes over from Benjamin Allen, ISU’s interim president, and former president Steven Leath, who left ISU in May to become Auburn University’s president.
Wintersteen told reporters the first thing she plans to do as president is visit each college on campus and listen to students and staff to get to know the university. Part of that listening, she said, will be to ensure ISU is providing an inclusive environment for all students.
Wintersteen said that while she was proud of the increase in multicultural students in recent years, ISU sometimes didn’t “make sure” its environment was welcoming and inclusive.
“We’ve been having conversations with students,” she said, echoing what she said at her public forum earlier this month. “How can we make that environment an environment where they want to be welcomed, where they feel welcomed, where they’re treated just as every student is treated?”
Wintersteen said her biggest challenge would come on the budgetary side.
Iowa State, like the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa, has seen a drop in its state funding over the past several years — including a pair of midyear cuts last school year that meant deferring some projects and leaving positions vacant.
Wintersteen said she’ll work to make ISU more efficient and see what the university can stop doing to save money. She wants Iowans to know Iowa State won’t waste a dollar.
“I think that it’s time to really look at everything again,” she said, referring to a top-down efficiency evaluation.
When Wintersteen’s name was announced as a presidential finalist, some criticized her ties to corporate agriculture and questioned her commitment to environmental issues.
Asked about that, she said, “We’re going to maintain that commitment (to water quality). Hopefully, we’ll be able to grow it. ... Water quality is a critical issue in this state, and we’re going to continue to be engaged, continue to provide leadership.”
Others have suggested Wintersteen’s appointment would open the door for large agricultural companies — Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer — to gain influence.
Richards said regents “looked at that, but we were not concerned about it.”
While Wintersteen may have her critics, few were seemingly in the Campanile Room for her introduction Monday. She earned a pair of standing ovations with sustained applause.
And while he wasn’t present, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, tweeted that he was “real happy” about her appointment.
Cody West, the ISU Student Government president who served both on the search committee and on Wintersteen’s dean advisory board, said she’s “effective, sincere” with students and good at “activating” those around her.
“It’s a really collaborative approach, and it’s an approach that works,” he said.
Standing next to West, Lawana, the president of ISU’s Graduate and Professional Student Senate, said the students were excited to hear Wintersteen, a former ISU graduate student, was a finalist.
Wintersteen said her time as a Ph.D. student, as a professor and an administrator has given her the experience she’ll take into the culmination of her ISU career.
“What it’s given me is a really clear understanding about Iowa State’s people, about its culture and about how it wants to move forward,” she said.