Feedback rolling in on University of Iowa presidential candidates

Board of Regents set to name president Thursday

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IOWA CITY — Now that all four finalists to become the next University of Iowa president have been introduced to the campus and community, feedback is pouring in — with the Board of Regents set to make its final decision Thursday.

Members of the campus community have been submitting general feedback on each candidate via a secure website set up by Parker Executive Search. Those comments, which can be made anonymously, are going to the Board of Regents, which will interview each candidate Thursday before announcing a new UI president.

The UI Faculty Council also collected feedback from its constituents, which it summarized in a report provided to the regents. And the UI Chapter of the American Association of University Professors initiated its own survey “to help obtain a clearer and more objective picture of the view of the University of Iowa stakeholders.”

Members of the AAUP said they wanted to ensure public accountability — as results from the Parker feedback will not be made public — and they wanted a more quantitative method for assessing each candidate.

Preliminary results from the AAUP survey show Ohio State University Provost Joseph Steinmetz with the most support and J. Bruce Harreld, former IBM, Boston Market Company, and Kraft General Foods executive, with the least support.

Of the more than 500 UI faculty members who responded to the AAUP survey — a voluntary poll conducted online that asked the same 10 questions for each candidate — 98.3 percent said they believe Steinmetz is qualified to be UI president.

Among faculty, only about 2.5 percent thought Harreld is qualified. The other two candidates — Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov and Tulane University Provost Michael Bernstein — also received high marks from the faculty, with about 93 percent calling Bernstein qualified for the job and 89 percent saying so of Krislov.

Of the 250-plus students, staff, and community members who responded to the AAUP poll, about 95 percent said they thought Steinmetz is qualified for the job, followed by Krislov at 84 percent, Bernstein at 81 percent, and Harreld at 5 percent.

That survey also asked respondents to consider, on a scale of 1 to 7, candidate strengths in specific areas — like ability to articulate the university vision, oversee the budget, secure external funding, and establish trust.

Steinmetz earned the highest average rating of any candidate on a specific topic, achieving an average 6.7 for his perceived ability among faculty to enhance the university’s excellence. Harreld earned the lowest average rating of any candidate on a specific topic with his 1.2 from faculty on the question of whether he demonstrated the ability to lead a complex academic research institution and medical center.

Community member, student, and staff responses tended to align with faculty responses, although Harreld had slightly more support among that group of respondents.

And although Harreld faced outspoken critics during his public forum on the UI campus Thursday — including those who asked him why he applied, if he’s a “performance artist,” and what he knows about shared governance, tenure, research, and academic freedom — some have expressed support for his candidacy.

“I look at this and say that search committee ought to be applauded,” said Gary Fethke, UI business professor emeritus who served as interim UI president between former presidents David Skorton and Sally Mason. “The committee has come up with a menu of candidates … and I think, given the history of presidents at the University of Iowa, this is a good pool to select from.”

Fethke said he listened in on Harreld’s forum Thursday night and agreed with much of what he said about the changes facing higher education and the need to respond or fail. Harreld warned about the danger of entrenched culture and status quo and challenged the institution to go from “great to greater.”

“I’ve spent the last five years making the same statements,” he said. “I’ve gone before audiences to say, look, things are changing here. We are relying on the choices of people who have an increasing array of choices.”

Regarding higher education funding, Fethke said, state dollars are dwindling, and Harreld seemed to grasp the potential impact of that.

“The problem is, when the subsidies stop, you’ve got to make some changes,” Fethke said.

Praising Harreld’s business accomplishments and not discounting his teaching experience at Harvard Business School, Fethke said, “I’m with him.”

He said Steinmetz also touched on a lot of those critical funding issues, and he’s not surprised the Ohio State candidate apparently has widespread faculty support. Steinmetz and Bernstein, he said, are more traditional candidates, where Harreld and Krislov are non-traditional options — as Krislov hasn’t been a chief academic administrator for a major research institution.

Fethke said he was surprised by the level of tension and hostility in the room during Harreld’s forum.

“One of the defining features of this state is a certain level of civility — a kind of openness to people,” he said. “And many of the expressions that were presented didn’t reflect the nature of the people I know at this university.”

Other UI community members also felt “embarrassed” by some of the hostile comments, and the UI Faculty Senate on Wednesday issued a joint statement from the Faculty Council, Staff Council, Student Government, and Graduate and Professional Student Government expressing “regret.”

“While many members of the UI community asked thoughtful questions at Mr. Bruce Harrald’s town hall forum, some of the questions transformed a vigorous debate into a hostile atmosphere,” according to the statement. “Many of our constituents were embarrassed by these comments and felt they were not characteristic of the UI community as a whole.”

Nancy Quellhorst, president and CEO of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, said she met with the candidates during their visits and was impressed by all of them.

“Every candidate brought different strengths and a different approach, and I think it’s very exciting,” she said. “Honestly, I would say I liked something about each of the candidates. They all had characteristics that could be very valuable to us as a community and the university.”

Regarding the university’s relationship with the business community, Quellhorst said, successful collaboration is predicated on a president’s willingness to partner and collaborate — regardless of academic or business credentials.

“I believe we could work with any of the four candidates,” she said.

Although the final decision on UI’s 21st president lies with the nine members of the Board of Regents, who are appointed by the governor, a spokesman for Gov. Terry Branstad on Wednesday told The Gazette, “He trusts that the regents will make a selection that serves the University of Iowa, its students, faculty, alumni, and community well.”

“(Branstad) has not been heavily involved in the search,” said Jimmy Centers, a spokesman for the governor’s office, adding that Branstad does speak with Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter “on a regular basis regarding regent-related business.”

The governor has not offered his endorsement or a recommendation for any candidate, Centers said. But the newly-named UI president is expected to join Branstad for his Hayden Fry proclamation during Coralville’s FRY Fest on Friday, said Josh Schamberger, president of the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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