Firm says retired University of Iowa President Mason won't play role in UNI search

Mason works as one of many consultants for the company

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Even though retired University of Iowa President Sally Mason does work for the firm that Iowa’s Board of Regents hired to help search for a new University of Northern Iowa leader, officials said she won’t be involved in it.

“There would not be any chance she would play a role in that search,” said Jamie Ferrare, founding managing principal at AGB Search in Washington, D.C. “We see that as a potential conflict.”

Mason joined AGB Search as a consultant in 2015 after leaving the university, which she served as its 20th president from Aug. 1, 2007, to July 31, 2015.

Ferrare said Mason has aimed her consulting work toward the overarching Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, of which AGB Search is a subsidiary. She has not been assigned to facilitate a search at AGB.

“She could in the future be involved in a search,” Ferrare said. “If there’s an institution that’s a good fit for her, then we would assign our consultants accordingly.”

AGB consultants James McCormick and Janice Fitzgerald are heading the search to replace former UNI President Bill Ruud, who left in July to lead the private Marietta College in Ohio.

The Board of Regents has used Parker Executive Search to conduct its last three presidential searches — those that netted Ruud in 2012, Iowa State University President Steve Leath in 2011, and Mason’s replacement at the UI of Bruce Harreld last year.

Parker came under fire during last year’s UI search for, among several things, failing to note inaccuracies and discrepancies on Harreld’s resume.

The board in August announced it was going in a different direction for the UNI search and would be paying AGB Search $85,000 plus expenses to help find Ruud’s replacement.

McCormick and Fitzgerald participated in their first public meeting with the 21-member UNI search committee last week, outlining the process and timeline for advertising the post, recruiting applicants, whittling down the candidate pool and deciding on finalists.

Ferrare said AGB has 34 consultants who occasionally network and collaborate when developing candidate pools. In that sense, he said, Mason could weigh in on the UNI search.

“She could be among the network contacted,” he said. “This is a unique situation where she was president of another university in the state of Iowa. … She is well regarded at AGB, and if (McCormick and Fitzgerald) asked for her assistance, she might weigh in if she wants to.”

McCormick told The Gazette that although AGB consultants cast a wide net in developing a candidate pool, they typically don’t get involved in each other’s searches.

“We are doing it,” he said. “That’s clear.”

A subgroup of UNI’s search committee spent the last few days continuing to meet with campus constituents and develop a draft advertisement.

The Board of Regents at its meeting this week is expected to consider approving the duties of the search firm, the charge to the search committee and the proposed timeline. The board also will receive an update on the search, which is expected to officially launch Sept. 12 and wrap in early December.

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