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Standing in contrast to her predecessor, chosen for his work in the private business arena and his potential for an outside perspective, the University of Iowa’s next president will be a seasoned academic leader with a doctorate and nearly two decades of administrative academic experience.
Having served as second in command over the sprawling three-campus, $6.74 billion University of Illinois System for the last five years, Barbara Wilson has said she’s more than experienced, prepared, and excited to lead the UI campus through this unparalleled time in higher education.
She takes over the reins from outgoing UI President Bruce Harreld on July 15.
“I work across three universities — the University of Illinois-Chicago, Urbana-Champaign, Springfield — and I'm much more outward-focused,” Wilson said during her public forum of her current role as executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs of the Illinois system.
“But really my passion is to get closer to faculty, staff, students, and donors,” Wilson said. “A position like this would afford me the opportunity to get closer to the kinds of things that really drive my interest and excite me about higher ed.”
And, she added, “The Big Ten is in my blood.”
Iowa’s nine-member Board of Regents on Friday announced Wilson will get the opportunity to focus her academic leadership chops on just one flagship campus after it spent hours interviewing four finalists for the job – including two other women and UI College of Education Dean Daniel Clay.
Wilson, Clay, Penn State Law Dean Hari Osofsky, and Georgia State University Provost Wendy Hensel were chosen from an initial pool of 79 applicants and then 12 semiflinalists to compete in the public final round for oversight of the 174-year-old research 1 university.
Wilson, 63, will receive a five-year contract with an annual salary of $600,000. She also will have a five-year deferred compensation plan with an annual contribution of $400,000.
Harreld is earning $590,000. He forfeited his $2.33 million in deferred compensation by leaving before his contract expires in 2023.
Wilson earned her undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degrees in journalism and communications from UI’s conference peer, the University of Wisconsin, in the late 1970s and 1980s. Although she spent the 1990s at University of California-Santa Barbara, Wilson returned to the Big Ten in 2000 – advancing through the University of Illinois ranks as professor, department head, vice provost for academic affairs, executive vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences dean, interim chancellor, and then executive vice president of the entire system in 2016.
She’s faced a broad array of challenges at Illinois – including many UI also has tackled – involving diversity controversies, sexual violence, transparency, budget cuts, and enrollment shifts.
“It seems to me that you're looking for a president that has many of the skills and many of the commitments that I have,” Wilson said during her forum. “I'm a communication scholar, so I spend a lot of time thinking about outreach, engagement, how do you listen, and how do you actively listen and engage in deep listening — and then how do you bring people together to solve problems across different divides?”
During her public forum, Wilson shared some of the innovative thinking she’s been doing around higher ed and the challenges it faces – suggesting Iowa figure out how to engage students not just while they’re young but for a lifetime of learning.
“Wouldn't it be wonderful if before every student graduates we could commit to some sort of partnership over their career, where they could come back and learn more from us?”
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