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IOWA CITY - Those with ties to the University of Iowa - internally and externally - say they hope mistakes of the past are avoided in searching for a new school president.
Sally Mason, who announced she will retire as president come Aug. 1, was hired in 2007 after a tense 17-month search. A first search failed, prompting no confidence votes by faculty, staff and student leaders in the Iowa Board of Regents, which oversees the university, and then-Gov. Tom Vilsack mediated before a second, successful phase of the search began.
'Our university still is scarred from that search,” said Faculty Senate President Alexandra Thomas, professor of internal medicine. 'It is very important that we do things well, and do it collaboratively. And I think we will.”
The presidential search committee's role has been to recommend a slate of finalists to the regents, who then select a president. The heart of the discontent in that earlier search was a power struggle between regents and faculty in guiding the search.
The Board of Regents have not yet launched a search to replace Mason, but it said information will be released about the process in an agenda for a Tuesday meeting to discuss Mason's retirement. A news conference will follow.
While Thomas is confident faculty will have a 'clear voice and a loud voice” in a 'collaborative” process, others have concerns about how the regents will handle the search after months of turmoil on issues such as a controversial funding model change that could cost UI millions.
Michael O' Hara, a psychology professor, questioned whether the regents will have a mandate for the next president, if talented candidates will apply if they sense animosity, and the direction for the university.
'One would hope the regents learned their lesson from the last debacle of a search, and not have a regent run it,” O'Hara said. 'We need serious faculty involvement. It needs to be an open search. That's our tradition.”
Gov. Terry Branstad weighed in on the matter, saying he has 'confidence the regents will do a good job of selecting a new president.”
It's unclear whether the transition will require an interim president. If so, O'Hara said he hopes former U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, who is a visiting professor in the College of Law, is considered.
The regents have been involved in two presidential searches since 2011.
An 18-member search committee, made up of faculty, two regents, alumni, a donor, students and staff, guided a three-month search that lead to two finalists, from which Steven Leath was named president of Iowa State University. More recently, a 22-member search committee conducted a six-month search that yielded three finalists, from which the regents selected William N. Ruud at University of Northern Iowa in 2013.
'There's no reason why a search can't be done that delivers an excellent president in that time frame,” said Roger Underwood, an ISU alumnus and donor who co-chaired the ISU search committee.
Underwood described the process that was tension-free and praised the contributions of Regents Bruce Rastetter and Katie Mulholland.
State Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said eight months should provide enough time to transition to the next president without an interim. Dvorsky said the process should be open and respectful of shared governance - a principle where campus groups have a say - but he believes the UI will not struggle to find candidates.
'Any good candidate would research what is going on, so they will be aware of this,” Dvorsky said. 'That is why we need a search committee that says we're are going to come together and find the best candidate.”
Leonard Hadley, a Cedar Rapids businessman who served on the search committee that recommended Mason, said the second phase of the search, which included no regents, could be a blue print. However, he said changes to the UI's funding model could discourage candidates.
'Would you be interested if you are not given resources needed to reach the goals regents are setting for you?” he said.