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IOWA CITY — Now that names of top prospects to become the next University of Iowa president are known — and only days remain before the Board of Regents picks one — feedback is coming in on the finalist pool, which has more gender variation than the last crop of UI presidential finalists but lacks racial diversity.
Where all four finalists to succeed former UI President Sally Mason in 2015 were white men, three of the finalists to succeed UI President Bruce Harreld this year are women. All again are white, and regents spokesman Josh Lehman told The Gazette he can’t provide demographic data on all 79 applicants for the job because the presidential search committee doesn’t have it.
“It wasn’t collected by AGB,” Lehman said of the search consultant, even though best practices the UI community developed after 2015 urged developing a “diverse applicant pool.”
Parker Executive Search, the 2015 presidential search consultant, did collect demographic information. The Gazette at that time reported of the 46 applicants, 8 percent were women and 24 percent were racial minorities — equal to about four and 11 applicants, respectively.
Last October, Harreld announced he planned to retire from his $590,000-a-year position leading the Big Ten institution before the end of his contract in 2023. This year, he announced that his last day will be May 16. With ties between Harreld and the regents severed early, over $2.3 million in deferred compensation to which he would have been entitled will be left on the table.
Save one exception in Harreld, who had neither academic administrative experience nor a terminal degree — the finalists in 2015 had traditional and extensive academic pedigrees of either provost or presidential experience.
This year’s four finalists include:
- A law school dean, with four years in that administrative role;
- Another lawyer by training and former law dean with less than two years’ provost experience;
- An internal candidate with more than a decade of dean experience;
- And an executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs who has been in academic administrative roles for two decades.
“That’s still the most common path to a university presidency — coming from provost or vice president for academic affairs,” according to George Mason University Public Policy Professor Emeritus James Finkelstein, whose primary area of research for two decades has been the selection and employment of university presidents.
Although acknowledging an uptick in deans as presidential candidates, Finkelstein said, “It’s not a common path to a president for a flagship university.”
Especially a flagship like the UI, a top-tier research university and member of the Association of American Universities whose past presidents include the likes of:
- Hunter Rawlings, who went on to serve as president of Cornell University and the AAU;
- Mary Sue Coleman, who spent 12 years after Iowa as University of Michigan president before succeeding Rawlings as AAU president in 2016;
- David Skorton, who also served as Cornell president and then secretary of the Smithsonian Institution before taking over in 2019 as president of the Association of American Medical Colleges.
1 internal candidate
0 racial minorities
1 executive vice president for academic affairs
2 law school grads
2 juris doctors
States represented: Georgia, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Iowa
0 internal candidates
0 racial minorities
1 independently-employed businessman
1 juris doctor
States represented by finalists: Ohio, Louisiana, Colorado
(Source: The Gazette, University of Iowa, Board of Regents)
“Deans becoming a president of an institution of that level would be unusual,” Finkelstein said. “Not unprecedented. But unusual.”
The University of Maryland, for example, last year chose its School of Engineering dean to serve as its next president. And Iowa State University — also an AAU research institution — in 2017 announced its College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Wendy Wintersteen would become its first female president.
Like UI College of Education Dean Daniel Clay — among the four finalists in this search — both were internal candidates.
“An advantage that an internal candidate would have in that situation is they know the environment, they know the campus,” Finkelstein said. “Whereas, if you bring a dean in from outside, that's very different.”
The first candidate publicly named as a finalist for this UI presidential search is Hari Osofsky, dean of Penn State Law and the Penn State School of International Affairs.
“Law school deans are generally not a common choice for a university president,” Finkelstein said, noting that although it does happen, law schools typically operate relatively independently from their main campuses.
The most traditional candidate of the four UI has identified, according to Finkelstein, is Barbara Wilson, executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs with the University of Illinois System. She has a doctorate and two decades of academic administrative experience.
All four finalists have what are considered terminal degrees — although Georgia State University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Wendy Hensel doesn’t have a Ph.D. like the others, but rather a juris doctor from Harvard Law.
Osofsky has both a doctorate in geography and a JD from Yale Law School. And the American Bar Association recently reported a trend of lawyers becoming college presidents.
Citing work by Patricia E. Salkin — senior vice president for academic affairs for the Touro College & University System, which includes 35 schools in four countries — the ABA reported the number of lawyers appointed to serve as college and university presidents in each of the last two decades has nearly doubled.
At least 250 lawyers were appointed to college presidencies in the 2010s, according to Salkin, up from 68 in the 1990s, the ABA reports.
Terminal degrees became a point of contention during the UI’s 2015 presidential search when committee members amended desired qualifications to open the door for a non-traditional applicant without the academic experience that would qualify him or her for a tenured appointment.
Harreld’s highest degree is a masters of business administration from Harvard Business School. His fellow finalists all had terminal degrees and deep academic administrative experience — with two serving as provosts at the time and one as a college president.
This year’s search profile includes as the attributes of an ideal candidate a doctorate or terminal degree from an accredited institution of higher education and a record of success as an educator and scholar in the academic enterprise, among other things. An ideal candidate, according to this year’s search profile, also would have substantial understanding of undergraduate and graduate scholarship within a research university and demonstrated commitment to academic freedom and shared governance, which means faculty are involved in personnel decisions, budgets and educational policies.
A lack of shared governance around Harreld’s hire — with the Board of Regents appointing him despite widespread criticism on campus — resulted in the university being slapped with an American Association of University Professors sanction. The AAUP eventually lifted the sanction after the university and regents agreed to a set of best search practices going forward.
Mark Criley, program officer for the AAUP’s department of academic freedom, tenure and governance, told The Gazette on Friday his organization isn’t keeping too close of an eye on the current UI presidential search.
“To the best of my knowledge, we haven’t heard any concerns about it,” Criley said.
‘Diverse applicant pool’
Best practices for presidential searches that UI leadership compiled with the regents following Harreld’s hiring included standards around diversity and recruitment and called for development of a “diverse applicant pool.”
The standards required candidate commitments to diversity regardless of their race. All four of this year’s finalists have been explicit and direct about their dedication to creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive campus.
“There's a lot of pressure on governing boards today to increase diversity in their search for president,” Finkelstein said. “The problem is the demand outweighs the availability in the market.”
And Iowa isn’t the only large university looking now for a new president. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s job listings, the University of Utah and Florida State University are among the campuses looking. Georgia State University — where one of the UI finalists is provost — is nearing the end of its search for a new president. That search timeline continues candidate recruitment through late April, unveiling a new president by late spring.
Among the adopted best practices for UI presidential searches is one in which the search committee collects, tabulates and evaluates public reaction to the finalists, who each have held town halls on campus.
The search committee also must “allocate adequate time and resources to gather, store, analyze, and make available to the UI community and the Board of Regents the UI community response to the final candidates.”
A feedback form on the UI presidential search website is anonymous, although it does ask whether the person filling it out is faculty, staff, a student, alumni, administrator, community member or other. It asks for an excellent-to-unacceptable rating — with an “unable to judge” option — on 16 questions including each candidate’s record of success in academia; demonstration of commitment to academic freedom; success in diversity, equity and inclusion; and whether he or she has “significant senior-level know-how.”
The questionnaire also allows open-ended feedback on the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.
The search committee will collect feedback through 5 p.m. Monday. Any feedback submitted after that time won’t be sent to the Board of Regents, which touts on the website, “The Hawkeye community’s feedback is essential to choosing the University of Iowa’s next president.”
The search committee is scheduled to meet in closed session Wednesday. The regents are planning to interview finalists Thursday and Friday, expecting to announce a new UI president later Friday.
Martin Krislov: Krislov became the eighth president of Pace University on Aug. 1, 2017. Pace University is a private university based in New York City, with secondary campuses in Westchester County.
Joseph Steinmetz: Steinmetz became the sixth chancellor of the University of Arkansas on Jan. 1, 2016.
Michael Bernstein: Bernstein began serving as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Stony Brook University in 2016. He began serving as interim president of Stony Brook in August 2019, before returning to his provost post July 1, 2020. He stepped down from that post Oct. 1 and remains a Stony Brook professor.
Bruce Harreld: Harreld became the 21st University of Iowa president in 2015. Last fall, he announced plans to retire before his contract expires in 2023.
(Sources: Stony Brook University, Pace University, University of Arkansas, and University of Iowa.)
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