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IOWA CITY - After thrusting the University of Iowa's College of Dentistry under the free speech microscope of Republican state lawmakers with his mass email condemning then-President Donald Trump's executive order on diversity training, college Dean David Johnsen said Thursday he'll step down after this semester.
By leaving at the end of the spring term in June, Johnsen will depart a year earlier than expected. In September, he had announced plans to retire in summer 2022.
Though no longer dean, Johnsen will remain a UI employee as a pediatric dentistry professor with tenure. As dean, Johnson earns $364,754 annually. His faculty salary has not been determined yet, said UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck.
Although a UI announcement of Johnsen's early departure didn't mention the controversy that's spawned Republican calls for accountability for free speech violators across the public universities, Johnsen in a statement said, 'Upon further reflection, I came to realize that the pieces are in place for me to step away a year earlier.
'After more than 25 years, I am ready for a change of pace,” he said. 'I look forward to seeing the college continue our service to this state that I am proud to call home.”
Johnsen is one of the university's longest-serving deans, having arrived in 1995 after teaching at West Virginia University and Case Western Reserve University.
'The University of Iowa College of Dentistry has been my second home since 1995 and I have enjoyed every single minute of my time with our students, faculty, and staff,” Johnsen said in a statement. 'I want to help navigate the college through the challenges brought on by COVID-19, and I am now certain that we have weathered the storm so it is time to hand the keys off to another leader.”
UI Provost Kevin Kregel praised Johnsen's leadership and said he's 'served the college and the university with distinction over more than two and a half decades.”
The university - which is deep into a search for a new president - recently selected a firm to conduct a national search to replace Johnsen. It will appoint members to a search committee in April.
The campus expects to appoint an interim once Johnsen steps down.
A month after Johnsen announced plans to retire in 2022, he and associate dentistry professor Michelle McQuistan sent a mass email to students, faculty, staff and residents 'strongly” condemning a Trump executive order banning at entities like the UI that get federal funds from providing diversity training that involved race and sex 'stereotyping” and 'scapegoating.”
The Oct. 16 email signed by more than 30 college leaders said the executive order 'prohibits trainings that are crucial to progressing toward a more equitable and just society.”
'We are concerned about the effects the order may have on College of Dentistry students, residents, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, staff, and patients, and especially individuals from minority and diverse backgrounds.”
The mass email came a week after UI President Bruce Harreld, Provost Kregel and diversity head Liz Tovar sent a message regarding the order's 'chilling effect.”
'We are deeply disappointed in both the intention behind and the language used in the executive order, which carries the force of law,” Harreld wrote Oct. 8.
President Joe Biden since has repealed the executive order.
But in response to Johnsen's mass email, dental student Michael Brase replied with his own mass email questioning if the college supports - among other things - using federal money to promote training that does involve race or sex scapegoating and stereotyping.
Those questions sparked a long back-and- forth in the college.
Assistant dentistry professor Susan McKernan acknowledged the order on the surface 'looks good” but should be taken in the context of 'what motivated President Donald Trump to issue the EO.”
'If we only had the executive order to go on, then the college speaking out against it doesn't seem to make any sense,” she wrote, but added, 'It didn't come out of nowhere. It is strategically designed in response to the current political and social climate.”
Some praised Brase's questions - like visiting dentistry professor Steve Kelly, who reported recently emailing Johnsen 'to express my frustration regarding emails coming from the university and the College of Dentistry that seemed to blame all of America's problems on white males or the police.”
In early November, the UI Collegiate Academic and Professional Performance Committee summoned Brase for a 'professional misconduct review hearing” for 'your unprofessional behavior involving the follow-up emails you sent out on a public platform after you were offered other means to continue the conversation.”
After contacting Republican lawmakers, Brase on Nov. 11 received a letter canceling that hearing. But the legislators were not satisfied with that resolution.
Lawmaker concerns have fueled a barrage of proposed legislation this session aimed at addressing free speech at Iowa's public universities.
Bills that would eliminate tenure, require university employees to report political party affiliation, mandate syllabus information be made publicly available and bar race and sex scapegoating training - among other things - have gained GOP support at the Statehouse.
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