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IOWA CITY - University of Iowa Graduate College Dean John Keller was named Thursday as the interim president of the campus when Bruce Harreld retires May 16 - an about-face from what Harreld told regents last fall about the importance of him staying on to be part of a 'meaningful transition.”
In a statement Thursday, Harreld said Board of Regents President Michael Richards 'has requested that I remain president through May 16, which will allow the new president the opportunity to begin at a date of their choosing.”
Harreld's May 16 departure comes just two weeks after the time the board expects to pick a new president - April 30 - and likely before an external job candidate would start.
In a statement Thursday, Richards said he was 'thankful that President Harreld has agreed to remain president through the conclusion of spring commencement.” In a second statement later, Richards announced that Keller - who earlier this month also announced plans to retire this summer - had agreed to serve as interim until a new president begins.
'Dean Keller has had a long and distinguished career at the University of Iowa, having been with UI since 1988. He is the longest-serving graduate school dean in the Big Ten Conference, and recently announced he will step down from that position on July 31,” Richards said. 'I am very grateful that Dean Keller is willing to take on the role of interim president until the new president starts.”
Keller has been serving as co-chair of the UI Presidential Search Committee and will stay in that role, Richards said.
'He is not a candidate for the permanent position of president,” the statement said.
Harreld did not explain why he's no longer staying on until a permanent successor starts.
'In October, I announced my decision to retire as soon as a successor was appointed by the Board of Regents,” Harreld said in his statement Thursday. 'I wanted to provide the board and our university as much time as necessary to conduct a search for a new leader.”
In October, The Gazette reported Harreld told the regents he'd stay on until a new president actually begins work, and possibly longer.
'I'm also reminded of how I joined the university five years ago,” Harreld had said in October. 'At that point in time, I could have really used someone to have guided me around the issues, strategies, meeting people … Certainly I got through that. But it took a year, maybe a little more, to get productive.
'So I would like to, if my successor would like, I would like to help them in that transition,” he said then. 'It may not take that long, but I just don't think it's disappear. I think it's some meaningful transition.”
In his retirement letter in October, Harreld wrote: 'In order to facilitate a smooth transition, I will stay as president until a new president has started at the University of Iowa or the board decides I should leave.”
He took a starkly different tone Thursday.
'When I have looked for clarity as president, I have looked toward my predecessors for guidance - with Sandy Boyd serving as the north star among them all,” Harreld said, quoting from Boyd's memoir, 'A Life on the Middle West's Never-Ending Frontier.”
'I returned to the university with the conviction that old presidents should never be heard and seldom seen,” Harreld quoted from Boyd.
Harreld's latest contract extension called for him to be president through 2023, allowing him to earn $2.33 million in deferred compensation. The state paid him a base salary of $590,000 in fiscal 2020.
Harreld and his wife own a home in Colorado ski country, just outside Vail in the town of Avon, according to the Eagle County Assessor's Office.
Although Harreld has been in the Iowa City position for six years, he remains registered as an active unaffiliated voter in Colorado, according to that state's Secretary of State. He is not registered to vote in Iowa, according to the Iowa Secretary of State.
While Harreld said he announced his retirement early to give the campus plenty of time to find a new leader, a UI search committee has moved swiftly.
The job application window closed March 15, meaning committee members have had access to applicant names and materials for about a week. The group meets Friday morning to discuss the applicant pool in vague terms publicly and in detail privately.
Virtual semifinalist interviews are scheduled for April 1-3; hybrid on-campus visits for up to four finalists are planned for April 12-23; community feedback is open through April 27; the search committee will meet with the board April 29; and regents will interview finalists and choose a new president April 30, according to a tentative timeline.
Harreld, in his Thursday message, said the campus' next president 'will find a community of scholars, researchers, and students ready to take the next step toward a remarkable future.”
'Each of you has created a university that, by all measures, has improved over the past five years,” he said. 'Student retention is up, and the university is setting records for national and international scholarships, research and grants, and national academy selections. We have much to be proud of, and I have no doubt the university is headed in the right direction.”
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