Higher education

Iowa State picks eight presidential semifinalists

First round of interviews later this month

A student walks past the Campanile on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
A student walks past the Campanile on the Iowa State University campus in Ames on Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2015. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The 21 Iowa State University constituents charged with identifying finalists to become the institution’s next president have winnowed 64 applicants down to eight semifinalists.

The ISU search committee picked its top prospects for the job during an hourslong meeting Tuesday behind closed doors. AGB Search, the consulting firm hired to facilitate the presidential pursuit, will go to work now on notifying those chosen to advance in the process, then inviting them to participate in off-site interviews Sept. 26 and 27, according to Board of Regents spokesman Josh Lehman.

More details about those interviews will be made public next week, including times and locations for the meetings, according to Lehman. Like Tuesday’s meeting to evaluate candidates, the semifinalist interviews will be conducted in closed session.

But the committee hopes to identify three to four finalists in that process and invite them to the Ames campus in early October, when they will be publicly introduced and invited to participate in town hall-style discussions.

Campus visits are tentatively planned for Oct. 5 and 6 and Oct. 9 and 10. Weeks later, on Oct. 23, the Board of Regents is planning a special meeting, at which the search committee will report its findings, the board will interview finalists, and a new president will be named.

The chosen candidate will become Iowa State’s 16th president, succeeding Steven Leath, who left in May to become president of Auburn University in Alabama. Ben Allen, former dean of the ISU College of Business and past president of University of Northern Iowa, has been serving as interim ISU president since Leath’s departure.

The search committee after Tuesday’s closed-door candidate evaluations did not provide details about the semifinalists, including whether the pool is diverse and whether they chose any non-traditional candidates — like former businessman Bruce Harreld, who did not have any academic administrative experience when he was hired in 2015 as the University of Iowa’s next president.

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Although the position description attached to Iowa State’s call for applications listed a terminal degree and “knowledge of higher education trends with significant higher education experience in an academic institution” as preferred qualifications, it left open the door for alternative candidates.

Before heading into closed session Tuesday to discuss the applicant pool, the search committee went through “unintended bias awareness training” — an issue that has permeated leadership searches nationwide, according to media reports.

One basic effort search committees like Iowa State have taken toward curbing bias at the outset is ensuring diversity within the committee itself. Iowa State’s group has both cultural and gender diversity and represents an array of constituent groups — including student, staff, faculty, administrative, and community members.

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