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Board of Regents to consider Jean Robillard as interim president of University of Iowa

Robillard is vice president for UI medical affairs, chairman of the committee responsible for naming next UI president

UI Vice President for Medical Affairs and Chair of the university's Presidential Search Committee Jean Robillard listens during a conference call at the first meeting of the University of Iowa's presidential search committee in Iowa City on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
UI Vice President for Medical Affairs and Chair of the university's Presidential Search Committee Jean Robillard listens during a conference call at the first meeting of the University of Iowa's presidential search committee in Iowa City on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — In addition to leading the University of Iowa Health Care system and a search committee for the next UI president, Jean E. Robillard is expected to be named interim UI president when Sally Mason officially retires Aug. 1.

Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter on Wednesday said he will recommend the full board approve Robillard as an interim replacement for Mason at its next meeting in April.

During the UI presidential search committee’s first meeting Wednesday, Robillard said he isn’t interested in permanently replacing Mason to become the institution’s 21st president. And, Rastetter and Robillard said, they expect the need for interim leadership will be short — five to six months.

Rastetter said he’d like to have a new president selected by Jan. 1, 2016. That would allow Robillard to continue in his current role as UI Vice President for medical affairs.

“If it were for one year, it would be a different situation,” Robillard said.

Robillard said he’ll begin working more closely with Mason in preparation for her departure, and he expects to take on more responsibilities in June and July. He’ll prepare his team of health care administrators to adjust to his additional duties as interim president, but he doesn’t expect a change — even on a temporary basis — within the UI Health Care leadership structure.

Rastetter said he expects the university will need an interim leader with Mason’s retirement just four months away and the search process only beginning. Representatives for Parker Executive Search, the firm hired to work with the Board of Regents on the UI presidential search, outlined their expectations for the search process Wednesday.

They will work with the committee to craft a position description, which likely will be considered at the group’s next public meeting in May. Then they’ll advertise and aggressively recruit candidates in hopes of conducting off-campus interviews in August.

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The goal is to bring three to four finalists to campus in late August or early September, when their names would become public and the community would be invited to weigh in. Before that, according to Parker President Laurie Wilder, candidate names should remain confidential.

“Confidentiality for potential candidates is essential,” she told the search committee. “They cannot be vetted publicly … that jeopardizes their current career, and we are cognizant of that.”

Every candidate will ask to remain private until the finalist portion of the search, Wilder said, and even then some won’t want their names revealed. Wilder said the regents’ decision to make finalists’ names public — while admirable — could prompt candidates to drop out or decide not to pursue the position at all.

“The public nature of what you do here in Iowa is a testament to the board,” Wilder said, adding that many other top universities hunting for new leadership don’t make any portion of their search public. “They don’t have the same process.”

Robillard and Rastetter said the UI search — like ones that preceded it at Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa — will hold all meetings in the open, with breaks in closed session only to discuss specific candidates.

Wilder during Wednesday’s meeting told the UI’s 21-member search committee that several other institutions are undergoing similar nationwide searches for new leaders, including University of Texas at Austin, University of Washington, and the University of Oregon, which Parker also is assisting.

Due to the extensive qualifications required of candidates for those positions, Wilder said, the search process can difficult and competitive. That, she said, is why the search committee should be careful not to leak candidate names early — potentially through emails that can be made public — and instead communicate by phone or on a secure website operated by Parker.

“The market we are working in is so hard to recruit a strong pool of candidates because it’s not the broadest field,” she said. “We don’t want to lose candidates because of something said that gets in the media.”

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Wilder referenced recent cases involving such circumstances — including at the University of Texas, which is looking for a new president. She said a potential candidate’s name and institution was leaked on a blog, prompting one of their top prospects to pull out of consideration.

“If you have something to say about a candidate, just call us,” Wilder said. “We will try to keep everything out of email, because that’s so important.”

Wilder said the actual position description and advertisement for a new UI president will play a small role in the group’s ability to cast a wide net for candidates. Much of that process will involve aggressive recruiting of top administrators who are gainfully and happily employed.

“It will be an aggressive outreach and proactive outreach,” she said. “We want to recruit at the highest level.”

She urged members of the search committee to conduct their own research and reach out to contacts at institutions across the country.

“The market for presidential candidates right now is not an unlimited pool,” she said.

Once the committee has narrowed its prospects, Wilder said, her firm will do its part to verify the candidates “are who they say they are.” That process will include talking to colleagues, reviewing media, and conducting background checks.

“That is what keeps us up at night,” Wilder said.

In public feedback provided to the university suggesting ideal qualities for Iowa’s next leader, few specific names have emerged to date. Out of more than 35 emails from members of the UI community listing characteristics they’d like in a president, only two names have emerged to date: UI Executive Vice President and Provost Barry Butler and Ohio State University Executive Vice President and Provost Joe Steinmetz.

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Steinmetz recently withdrew his candidacy for the University of Texas presidency after his name appeared publicly on a short list leaked by the media, according to The Texas Tribune.

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