University of Iowa appoints new HR head without search

Reardon will lead human resources reorganization recommended by a task force she led

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IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa’s newly appointed chief human resources officer — who will lead a reorganization recommended by a task force she chaired — was chosen for the $218,325-a-year-job without a formal search for other applicants.

UI President Bruce Harreld this week introduced Cheryl Reardon as the new chief human resources officer and associate vice president. She is to direct improvement in the central human resoureces structure by, for starters, positioning it as an independent organization reporting directly to the office of the UI president.

The central human resources previosuly reported to Finance and Operations Vice President Rod Lehnertz.

The human resources changes were recommended by a Talent@Iowa Task Force, which began meeting in the spring and delivered its final report in August.

Reardon — who has been with the university 25 years, most recently as associate vice president for research and economic development — led that 18-member task force.

The group made four primary recommendations, including beginning a process for faster job posting, more flexible job classification, leveraging centralized services, and implementing adaptable compensation structures.” A subcommittees suggested streamlining the hiring search process.

The UI recruitment manual outlines job search procedures to comply with laws governing equal employment opportunity and affirmative action.

“Deviations from these procedures are therefore strongly discouraged,” according to UI policy. “Exceptions to these procedures will be made only upon careful review by the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity and the compensation and classification unit of human resources.”

The university outlines appropriate justifications for search waivers, including when an applicant’s “unique qualifications and expertise are such that no other applicant would be expected to surpass this individuals qualifications for the position.”

“Typically,” according to the manual, “the applicant would need to be nationally or internationally renowned in his-her field to meet this criterion.”

The Gazette last month reported the UI, in its last two budget years, hired 179 people without advertising or searching for applicants.

That’s about 4 percent of its total hires. Iowa State University hired 140 people with waivers — about 8 percent.

UI officials initiated a request to waive the search in Reardon’s case Sept. 12. Harreld, in a letter that day, requested Reardon be excepted from a search, citing her work with research and economic development leading “day-to-day administrative operations, overseeing human resources, budget, and financial matters,” among other things.

“The institution needs a respected, proven leader who understands our culture and our landscape in order to move HR forward and direct the implementation of the task force recommendations,” Harreld wrote, referencing the Talent@Iowa task force she led. “Cheryl has over 17 years of experience with HR at Iowa, as well as 12 years of senior leadership at the VP unit level. Her experience and relationships across the institution make her the right choice for this role.”

Reardon was making $205,001 at the start of this year. Her new position will pay $218,325, according to an offer letter sent to her Sept. 15.

Cathy Glasson, president of the union that represents thousands of UI Health Care employees and nurses, said the way Reardon was hired into the job “should raise a host of concerns for all employees.”

“It certainly does for me,” Glasson said in a statement. “Her appointment was, as I understand it, done without any kind of search. Also, she chaired the committee that recommended hiring someone for the job she got.

“This kind of selection is just more of the same lack of transparency that UI President Harreld and Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter seem to engage in regularly.”

Glasson expressed concern about the human resources changes, which Harreld announced this week in a campus message.

“The UI and the regents have an obligation to bargain with us before they can institute ‘adaptable compensation structures’ and ‘flexible job classifications,’ whatever those are,” she said in the statement. “To me, those words equate to paying whatever they feel like, and being able to alter positions and duties whenever they please.”

UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said that when filling jobs, the university may conduct an internal search, launch an external search or use a search waiver.

“The best option in this case was a search waiver,” she said. “The waiver process is intended to be used sparingly, and it is. But the process exists for a reason. ... It’s important the institution be able to promote and retain talented people.”

Responding to concerns about a conflict, Beck said Reardon has a long history of success at the UI and was asked to lead the task force.

“Her work on the task force highlighted for the president that she has the necessary skills and knowledge to be successful in this new role,” Beck said. “Her appointment also reinforces his commitment to internal mobility and succession planning for key university positions. When you have an internal candidate with the appropriate skills and competencies, it provides stability to the organization.”

Reardon told The Gazette the recommendations are meant to shift the central human resources focus from operational and transactional to strategic.

“We view this as a real positive for the institution, and we would want to help others understand how we see that as a positive,” she said. “We all report up to the president. So even where it existed before, it still flowed up to the president to the board office.”

In total, the task force offered 24 recommendations, and Reardon said the next step is creating a governance council to implement them. That work is expected to begin in early fall and wrap in one to five years.

The task force suggested adopting a “comprehensive talent management system” that would cost $1 million in initial vendor costs and $500,000 nnually after that.

Reardon said an overarching goal is creating a culture where university employees can “innovate with ways that they do their work and bubble those up to us.”

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