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IOWA CITY - News that University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld plans to retire rekindled memories of several on campus of the behind-the-scenes process that landed the business executive here five years ago, and led to calls that the search for his replacement be more inclusive.
'The search should be thorough, transparent, and inclusive of student voices - and not just nominally inclusive,” UI Law student Paul Esker, who serves as government relations chair for the UI Graduate and Professional Student Government, told The Gazette. 'We need to be included in this process from day one.”
Hours after Harreld's retirement was announced Thursday, Iowa's Board of Regents released an agenda for a special meeting Monday, when the nine volunteer members will formally accept the retirement and direct their Executive Director Mark Braun to get started on the search process.
That will include advertising for, choosing and then signing an agreement with a search firm to consult on the hiring process. Braun also will establish a search committee and outline a process and timetable for making a hire - reporting back at the board in November.
Esker said the process should net a pool of diverse applicants and finalists. And UI English Professor Loren Glass pointed to presidential search 'best practices” guidance that UI faculty and administrators crafted years ago following widespread outrage over the regents' rejection of campus feedback in its 2015 hiring of Harreld.
That collaboration on improved search practices removed the UI from an American Association of University Professors list of sanctioned institutions it had landed on after its governing board rebuffed shared governance ideals in replacing former UI President Sally Mason.
'I respect that (Harreld) has planned this out to provide a potentially smooth transition,” said Glass, the UI AAUP chapter president. 'I also expect the (regents) to adhere to the best practices for presidential searches as established and agreed upon to lift the AAUP sanction in the wake of Harreld's hire.
'This search will be a test of the (board's) understanding of shared governance,” he said. 'We will be watching this search very closely.”
This search process has 'added potency'
Among the best practices outlined in the 2018 agreement is one stressing the board 'should consult with the search committee chair or co-chairs on the use of a search firm.”
Braun told The Gazette, 'We will be following the best-practices protocol,” and more specifically said he will identify a chair or co-chairs to consult with before signing any search firm.
The university's Faculty Senate leadership Thursday also referenced that list of best practices and its expectations it will 'serve as the foundation for the search to find President Harreld's successor.”
'The senate officers understand that a presidential search often generates a mix of excitement and trepidation,” according to a message to faculty senators from Senate President Joseph Yockey, Vice President Teresa Marshall and Secretary Ana Rodriguez-Rodriguez.
'These feelings would be natural for any search,” they wrote. 'But they take on added potency at Iowa given the controversial circumstances that surrounded President Harreld's hiring by the Board of Regents in 2015.”
UI faculty leaders expressed gratitude for Harreld's commitment to stay on the job until a successor arrives.
'We can and should proceed with careful deliberation,” according to the faculty leaders. 'The university continues to face a challenging and uncertain future. We must find the right president to help the faculty, students, and staff write the next chapter of our history.”
State legislator: ‘It's time' for a change
In a statement, Associate Professor and UI Ombuds Rachel Marie-Crane Williams praised Harreld for his 'deep commitment to the stability of our university and inspired innovation, transparency, and new opportunities for research partnerships across our state.”
'He has listened, sought solutions that benefit our campus, and worked well with the Board of Regents, even in times of crisis and economic uncertainty,” Williams said. 'He has maintained an open-door policy and been available to discuss and take note of concerns and issues. I have also genuinely enjoyed getting to know his wife, Mary; she is a tireless advocate for others.”
The university, on Twitter, touted Harreld has 'having helped revamp the University of Iowa's financial and academic infrastructure.”
Responding to the public announcement Thursday that Harreld will step down, state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said, 'It's time.”
'The University of Iowa is adrift and deserves engaged leadership,” Bolkcom said. 'The process for hiring a new UI president needs to be open, transparent and meaningfully involve campus faculty, staff and students leaders. The sooner this transition can occur the better for our beloved institution.”
Harreld in his retirement letter alluded to years in state funding cuts for the regents, noting his time atop the UI has 'reaffirmed my conviction that public higher education is a critical component of our democratic society.”
'Yes, institutions like ours are critically underfunded and continue to dramatically drop in independent rankings,” he wrote. 'To put it simply, they are a public good, and we must elect leaders who will protect and invest in public higher education just as our predecessors did.”
Regents President Mike Richards told The Gazette his board began notifying lawmakers last week when regents first learned of Harreld's hope to leave early.
Gov. Kim Reynolds didn't respond Thursday to The Gazette's request for comment.
Rate of turnover raises concern
Harreld's pending departure adds to a long list of administrative turnover - including provost, diversity head and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Of the UI's 13 deans, two are interims, two were named in the last year, three were hired in 2018, two were hired in 2017 and one arrived in 2016. Only three UI deans have been on faculty for more than five years - and one of those, College of Dentistry Dean David Johnsen, has announced he's leaving in 2022.
The UI also has a new vice president for student life and dean of students, both promoted to from inside the university within the last year.
Troy Ross - chief executive officer of the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, the university's largest private donor having given more than $200 million cumulatively - referenced the turnover in responding to Harreld's retirement.
'Numerous and recent changes in leadership, including President Harreld's departure, are seemingly doing little to inspire confidence and likely taking a toll on faculty and student morale,” Ross said. 'We certainly hope that this ongoing and significant administrative turnover does not deter the world-class research, educational and service missions of the university.”