Iowa State hires CIO, IT directors without advertising openings
Questions emerge amid reorganization
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Iowa State University did not advertise or conduct a search before hiring former Republican lawmaker Jim Kurtenbach as its vice president and chief information officer.
The Board of Regents at its June meeting approved Kurtenbach’s appointment to the $252,794-a-year post — prompting questions and concerns among some employees.
Kurtenbach, who first joined the Iowa State faculty as an associate professor in 1991, had been serving as interim CIO since January 2015. Earlier this year, he launched a reorganization of the information technology services unit that cut 23 positions.
John McCarroll, director of Iowa State’s university relations, said ISU policy allows the university president to waive open searches, and that’s what President Steven Leath did in this case.
As interim CIO, Kurtenbach became “deeply involved” in leading a review of Iowa State’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) process, which McCarroll called “perhaps the largest IT initiative the university has ever pursued.”
“Given ISU’s critical need to proceed with selection and implementation of a new cloud-based ERP system for the campus, Jim Kurtenbach was seen as uniquely qualified to lead the project,” McCarroll said. “The president did not want to lose any momentum and named him to the permanent position.”
Still the unadvertised appointment comes after an investigation by The Gazette in November revealed Iowa State hired former House Speaker Kraig Paulsen for an unadvertised position leading a new “supply chain initiative.”
That sparked criticism and questions of cronyism, and Danny Homan, president of the union representing some ISU employees, raised similar concerns with Kurtenbach, a former Republican lawmaker and former co-chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa.
“Former Republican legislators are trying to privatize the job,” Homan said. “They did the same thing for Paulsen.”
In response to Paulsen’s hire, Bruce Rastetter, president of the Board of Regents, in December told Iowa Public Radio, “There should have been advertising that went on at Iowa State.”
Rastetter cited the University of Iowa’s hiring of former U.S. Rep. Jim Leach to its law school without a search, and he said, “The universities need to be aware and advertise for those positions.”
“Whether it’s relatives being hired or family members, I think there is an H.R. process set up at the universities that they need to follow,” he said. “They need to be mindful that they’re public institutions with taxpayer dollars, and they need to treat those in a fiduciary way.”
Iowa State announced Kurtenbach would fill the CIO role on an interim basis in November 2014. Provost Jonathan Wickert, at the time, said Kurtenbach’s interim appointment allowed Iowa State the chance to complete “several large projects,” including a Regents efficiency review, before the arrival of a permanent CIO.
Iowa State policy — created to ensure employment diversity, equal opportunity, and broad candidate pools — states “the filling of all positions shall be accomplished through a process that includes announcement of the opening as widely as appropriate in terms of the level of duties and responsibilities.”
The policy indicates exceptions can be granted by the president based on a written request that is endorsed by a vice president and reviewed by the director of equal opportunity — which occurred in Paulsen’s hire.
But, McCarroll said, the advertising requirement applies only for positions involving a search, and the president can decide not to conduct a search. That means, in Kurtenbach’s case, no written request for exception was submitted.
“President Leath asked him to continue serving in that capacity on a permanent basis because of his significant experience and institutional knowledge,” McCarroll said.
Kurtenbach, when asked about concerns with his appointment, said he was involved in two open searches with Iowa State — one before his appointment as associate professor in 1991 and one before his appointment as associate dean in 2010.
“I was hired in a public setting twice,” he said. “I think the university’s had a significant opportunity to vet my skills.”
Still, ITS employee Michael Lowe — among those on paid administrative leave pending Kurtenbach’s reorganization — said he and others suspect, “It’s a friendship kind of thing.”
He similarly questioned the promotion of two IT directors in July 2014 — positions also not advertised.
“They never should have gotten those jobs,” Lowe said.
Iowa State waived the advertisement requirements for the promotions of Michael Lohrbach and Jennifer Lohrbach in 2014, according to documents provided by the university.
When asked about the unadvertised CIO appointment, regents Regents President Rastetter told The Gazette the board’s efficiency review found existing search requirements in some cases impede timely progress. The board last year actually adopted a policy change suggesting searches for positions below a certain level might not be necessary.
“I think this is a situation where President Leath made that decision to hire Kurtenbach, which is allowed under the policy … to eliminate that timetable and those hours that it takes,” Rastetter said.