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IOWA CITY — In taking questions Thursday from the University of Iowa community on why he wants to be the campus’ next president — and what he would do differently — UI College of Education Dean Daniel Clay didn’t shy away from drawing distinctions between himself and outgoing President Bruce Harreld.
Clay — the fourth and final named prospect to succeed Harreld, and the only internal finalist — suggested he’d move away from Harreld’s touted “new budget model,” pursue stronger community relations and be present on campus.
“Last summer, after George Floyd was killed and we had protests on our campus, I think our university should have had a more prominent and present presence to listen to our students and our community members who were expressing their pain and their anguish and their concern,” Clay said to a question of what past presidents didn’t do, that he would.
“As a president, I can assure you one thing, I will always be here,” he said. “I will always listen to learn. I think it's easy to be a president when we're celebrating a national championship of our wrestling team.
“It's hard to be president when there are times of crisis,” Clay said. “But never is it more important for a president to be present and to be listening and to be learning than in times of crisis.”
Students last summer criticized Harreld’s response to Black Lives Matter protests on campus, calling him out for being absent. While Iowa’s other public university presidents worked from campus offices over the summer, Harreld worked remotely.
Harreld returned to campus in the fall, a UI spokesman said last August. UI officials this week confirmed for The Gazette that Harreld is currently working from campus, but said the two-day campus visit schedules for the presidential finalists don’t include time with the current president. Harreld’s last day is May 16.
‘Plan to be present’
“I plan to be an active citizen of our department, our college, our campus, and our community,” Clay said when asked what three things he’d do different from the current president.
“I currently have excellent relationships with people in the business community, in state and local government leadership, with our students. I plan to be present. I plan to be available, always.”
Clay said he also would travel the state more and do more to share the UI story.
“I think that’s critically important,” he said, adding it’s crucial for a president to “establish a cabinet that represents the diverse viewpoints and interests of our campus and hold them accountable.”
Clay said he’d lead the university to continue to innovate, to further differentiate itself from the competition, and to creatively pursue new revenue — pointing to Harreld’s pursuit of a public-private partnership of its utilities system as a highlight.
“We have to find new ways to work together to increase our revenue streams, both inside and outside of academia,” Clay said. “I think this P3 (utility) agreement was one effort to be creative to find ways that generate revenues that we plow straight back into our academic mission.”
Clay stressed the need for free speech and open discourse — even when the words are divisive and even when they’re offensive to some.
He urged the need for more tenure-track faculty, improved graduation and retention rates and stronger mental health supports on campus.
When asked whether Clay would continue using a new budget model Harreld has said gives the colleges and central service unit more control and clear guidelines for “equitably sharing costs,” Clay said, “no.”
After a pause, he explained that although the budget model has some positives, he worries it “pits” the college units against the central service unit.
“I think that some people believe that natural tension is a positive thing,” he said. “Let me tell you why I think it's not. …
“The reality is that the colleges and the central service units don't have enough resources, right? So how is pitting us against each other when we're all working together trying to do our very best, how does pitting us against each other help solve that problem?
“Frankly, I think as a campus, we're fundamentally different. I think we're better than that.”
UI administrators three months ago reappointed Clay to serve another five “at will” years as College of Education dean — offering him a 2.1 percent raise and feedback on what he’s done well and what he needs to work on.
According to a reappointment letter requested by The Gazette, Clay on Jan. 13 was offered a salary bump to $330,000 beginning July 1, up from his current $322,935 and 8.2 percent above the $305,000 he received when he started July 1, 2016.
His reappointment goes through June 30, 2026 — although the at-will status means it continues at the provost’s discretion and Clay’s, according to the letter and UI operations manual.
After reviewing College of Education staff and faculty surveys in Fall 2020 — along with a review committee’s report and Clay’s self-evaluation — UI Provost Kevin Kregel listed the following “notable accomplishments” from Clay’s first five years.
- Recognition as a “campuswide thought leader.”
- Establishment of “ambitious goals” and success metrics.
- Enhancement of scholarly productivity, using resources and expectations.
- Development of academic programming, specifically in the Education Policy and Leadership Studies department.
- Creation of strong external relationships.
- Development and commitment to a strategic plan.
Kregel in the letter did not provide more details about those achievements — naming specific goals, metrics, or scholarly progress and external relationships.
But Clay has touted his business acumen and entrepreneurship, noting in the curriculum vitae he provided for his presidential candidacy his “extensive experience as business founder/co-founder and investor.”
In the section identifying areas in which Clay can improve, Kregel listed four general suggestions.
- Improved communication and approachability.
- More attention to process and operationalizing initiatives.
- Better use of his leadership team to help with new initiatives.
- Further developing “internal relationships as you have your external relationships.”
Clay is named in a 2018 lawsuit — which remains in litigation — accusing the university of age and gender discrimination, unequal pay, and retaliation.
Kregel summarized his reappointment letter, telling Clay, "You are recognized as a visionary leader with a broad base of support inside and outside the college.”
“You are clearly an advocate for your college but also bring your perspectives to larger groups across campus, which enhances that discussion,” he wrote.
The Board of Regents is scheduled to interview all four finalists next week, aiming to name a new president April 30.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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