Search leaders make qualifications for new University of Northern Iowa president public

'We will be ever watchful for a bait-and-switch'

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Leaders of the search for a new University of Northern Iowa president have made public a list of qualifications the Board of Regents “will use in the final selection process of candidates recommended to them by the UNI presidential search committee.”

That list, included in a letter the committee co-chairs sent Tuesday to several lawmakers who had expressed concern with the process, indicates the board wants someone who has — among other things — “successful executive experience, including leadership and administration in higher education.”

Other “presidential qualifications” also making the list include a strong academic background that meets qualifications for tenure; commitment to developing a diverse UNI community; experience in fundraising leadership; and advocacy for academic freedom, tenure, and shared governance.

The board, according to the list, is looking for candidates who will implement strategies for student recruitment, growth, and retention; strengthen and grow graduate and professional programs; work with the regents; and champion the UNI mission — “preparing to teach and serve PK-12 schools.”

The list noted “additional preferences,” like a terminal degree, fundraising experience, and appreciation for intercollegiate athletics.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, told The Gazette.

Danielson was one of three Democratic lawmakers — along with senators Rob Hogg and Brian Schoenjahn — who wrote the board in August to express concern with its leadership and to demand a “fair and transparent” UNI search. Danielson, specifically, asked the board to publicly state its vision for in a new UNI leader.

“The Board of Regents has few if any duties that are more important than the election of presidents for our universities,” the senators wrote Aug. 12. “The most recent presidential selection process at the University of Iowa did not adhere to the high standards Iowans expect from our Board of Regents.”

The board’s UI search last year ended with its hire of former IBM businessman Bruce Harreld, who had no academic administrative experience and was heavily recruited by regents president Bruce Rastetter.

The board picked Harreld over three other finalists despite widespread criticism on campus of his candidacy. The decision prompted the UI Faculty Senate and UI Student Government to pass votes of no-confidence in the board, and the American Association of University Professors sanctioned UI for the board’s decision — which it said violated shared-governance values.

In the weeks after Harreld’s hire, news broke of previously-undisclosed meetings during the search between Harreld and other regents and search committee members. Harreld even requested and was granted time on the phone with Gov. Terry Branstad before his selection.

All that serves as an ominous backdrop for the search to replace former UNI President William Ruud, who left the Cedar Falls campus in July to lead the small, private Marietta College in Ohio. And Danielson said he met with committee co-chair and regents President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland on Tuesday to discuss the search.

“I told Katie this morning that we will be ever watchful for a bait-and-switch at the end,” he said. “That cannot happen here like it did at Iowa.”

But, he said, this search so far seems to diverge from the UI process in several key ways — including the intention to keep the search committee in tact after it recommends finalists.

“After today, I have nothing but high praise for the search committee process and the direction the board has set,” he said. “But we are not going to take anything for granted, and we are going to stay engaged.”

The candidate qualifications made public Tuesday will go before the Board of Regents during its meeting this week and form “the foundation for the search committee and the Board of Regents selections.”

The letter laying out the qualifications — although on regent letterhead — was signed by Mulholland and search co-chair and UNI professor Daniel Power, not the entire board.

“It’s obviously no legal guarantee, and we will not take anything for granted,” Danielson said.

Senators Danielson, Hogg, and Schoenjahn on Sept. 15 will participate in a forum on the UNI campus to discuss the upcoming search and the regents’ governance, according to Joe Gorton, president of UNI’s United Faculty union, which is hosting the event.

“The quorum will likely go beyond the UNI presidential search — I hope it does,” Danielson said. “Because, frankly, we need greater transparency in their decisions.”

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