IOWA CITY — A lawsuit filed in August accusing the University of Iowa presidential search committee of violating open meetings laws has been set for trial on March 7.
The lawsuit, filed in Johnson County District Court by UI dentistry professor emeritus Harold Hammond, is seeking to void any actions the search committee took while in violation of Iowa Code.
Among its allegations, the lawsuit contends that UI’s 21-member presidential search and screen committee broke the law by holding both public and closed meetings at 7:30 a.m. Aug. 11 and 7:15 a.m. Aug. 12 in Rosemont, Ill. Those meetings, according to Hammond, constituted violations by being “at a location outside the state of Iowa and otherwise at times and locations not reasonably accessible or convenient to the public.”
The committee closed much of those meetings to the public to interview nine candidates for the UI presidency. Hammond said it did so by citing the portion of Iowa Code that allows closed sessions to “evaluate professional competency of an individual whose appointment, hiring, performance or discharge is being considered.”
Iowa Code requires individuals being evaluated to request the closed sessions to prevent “needless and irreparable injury.” Hammond, in his lawsuit, argues the committee did not follow appropriate procedure and closed meetings without a proper basis.
He also accuses the committee of discussing and finalizing matters in closed session that should have been done in the open.
Following those closed “airport interviews” outside Chicago, the search committee publicly named four finalists for the job — including businessman Bruce Harreld, the eventual selection.
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The finalists participated in public forums, and the Board of Regents solicited feedback on each candidate through an anonymous website set up by Parker Executive Search — the firm it hired to facilitate the process.
That feedback initially was withheld, but after a UI professor filed a formal complaint with the Iowa Public Information Board, the Board of Regents on Wednesday released the comments on each candidate. They mirrored feedback previously collected by the UI chapter of the American Association of University Professors that showed widespread disapproval of Harreld.
Feedback was mostly positive for each of the other candidates — Oberlin University President Marvin Krislov, Tulane University Provost Michael Bernstein, and Ohio State University Provost Joseph Steinmetz.
Bernstein on Thursday told The Gazette he was gratified to see a lot of praise from the UI community related to his candidacy. And he accepts the criticism — even if he doesn’t necessarily agree.
“That’s the nature of the beast,” he said. “People have a right to voice their opinions.”
Bernstein said he participated in the UI presidential search process in good faith and was “quite honored” to be a finalist.
“I did my best,” he said. “I was really interested in the job. I feel confident I would have taken it, if offered. It was an exciting prospect for me.”
That’s why, Bernstein said, he found the outcome to be “frustrating.”
“I was an eager candidate who was interested in the job,” he said.
About the search process — including meetings Harreld had with members of the Board of Regents and that search committee that were not initially disclosed — Bernstein called it “unique.”
“It was a unique process,” he said. “Let’s leave it at that.”
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Steinmetz, another of the four UI candidates who garnered widespread support, recently was named chancellor of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.