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Firm chosen for UI presidential search charged the highest set fee

Seven firms responded to Board of Regents call

University of Iowa president Sally Mason talks to people before the beginning of a Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa
University of Iowa president Sally Mason talks to people before the beginning of a Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Tuesday, January 20, 2015. The Board of Regents voted to accept Sally Mason's resignation and will begin looking for a replacement. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

When the Board of Regents earlier this year put out a call for search firms to help find the next University of Iowa president, seven responded.

Those firms proposed a variety of payment structures for their services, ranging from set fees of between $85,000 and $200,000 to flexible fees based on the hired candidate’s first-year compensation, according to records requested and reviewed by The Gazette.

The board in February chose Parker Executive Search, which proposed the highest fixed fee among respondents at $200,000 — more than twice what the firm charged to help with recent presidential searches at Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa.

Three of the interested firms proposed payment plans based on one-third the total estimated cash compensation for the new president in his or her first year on the job.

Board President Bruce Rastetter and Executive Director Robert Donley in a statement to The Gazette said they can’t speculate on the salary of the next UI leader but a preliminary review of presidential salaries among peer institutions indicates a median salary in the low $600,000 range.

That means firms proposing payment equal to one-third the estimated presidential compensation would be on par with Parker’s $200,000 set fee.

“The professional fee is in line with fees recently paid in comparable searches,” Rastetter and Donley said in the statement, pointing to the University of Oregon, which recently completed its presidential search using Parker for a flat fee of $175,000 plus expenses.

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“The fee negotiated for the (UI) presidential search is very reasonable,” according to their statement. “Parker is a highly skilled firm with a wealth of experience working in the Iowa higher education market, both with regent institutions and private entities in the state.”

The Board of Regents is not required by law to accept the lowest-priced bid for goods or services but rather “to purchase goods at the lowest cost consistent with the quality and service required.”

The board previously used Parker to help conduct presidential searches at ISU in 2011 and UNI in 2012 — paying the firm a flat fee of $95,000 for its help at Iowa State and $90,000 for the UNI search. But Rastetter and Donley said comparing the fees is unfair as the three institutions differ in both size and mission, “and the search process and demands for each are unique.”

“It’s also important to note that these searches were conducted in different years, so expenses, market conditions, and available candidate pool will obviously differ,” according to their statement. “All of these factors impact the cost of a search.”

Rastetter has said the board chose Parker again because of the success it had at ISU, which hired Steven Leath through the search process, and at UNI, which landed William Ruud.

“Parker brings to the table knowledge, experience, and resources that the regents believe will result in another successful presidential search,” Rastetter and Donley said in the statement.

None of the firm fees proposed for the UI presidential search included expenses, meaning total consultant charges — including costs for travel, meals, and lodging — will top base compensation levels. For example, the board agreed to pay Parker a total of $134,558 for the Iowa State search, including the $95,000 fee and another $39,558 for expenses. The board agreed to pay Parker a total of $123,863 for the UNI search, including the $90,000 fee and 33,683 in expenses.

Including additional search-related costs beyond consultant fees, Iowa State spent a total of $151,779.13 on its presidential search. UNI spent $139,901.71, according to documents provided by the Board of Regents Office.

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The board began the process of finding a new UI leader in January after outgoing President Sally Mason announced plans to retire Aug. 1. In her final year on the job, Mason made $525,828, and Rastetter has said the board will negotiate compensation with finalists for her replacement before bringing them to campus and introducing them publicly.

According to Parker’s timeline for the UI search, on-campus interviews will occur in late August or early September, and the Board of Regents will choose a new president shortly after. Other firms proposed wrapping up the process sooner, according to the documents obtained by The Gazette, ranging in total search times from three to six months — with two proposing final selection by June.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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