Higher education

Mark Braun sole finalist for Iowa Board of Regents executive director

Former University of Iowa chief of staff and vice president to replace Robert Donley

(FILE PHOTO) A Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(FILE PHOTO) A Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

After nearly two decades in the Iowa Board of Regents system — including stints as a University of Iowa lobbyist, chief of staff, and vice president — Mark Braun is the sole finalist to become the board’s next executive director.

The nine-member volunteer Board of Regents interviewed Braun, 48, in closed session Wednesday afternoon. The board is scheduled on Thursday to announce its next executive director, according to a meeting agenda.

Braun — if hired for the position that reports to the board and oversees office staff and operations — will succeed former executive director Robert Donley, who left in July after nine years, calling it the right time for him personally and for the board.

The regents’ state relations officer Keith Saunders has been serving as interim executive director, making $200,000 in that role — which is $50,000 more than his previous pay and $45,700 above a legislative cap for the executive director post.

A regents “governance and evaluation committee” heading the search for a permanent executive director replacement over the summer narrowed a pool of 42 applicants, including 12 women, down to five semifinalists. The committee in September voted to advance just one of those semifinalists — although they didn’t initially make Braun’s name public.

Before Braun started working directly for the board office in 2014, he advocated on behalf of the University of Iowa as its state relations office from 1998 to 2008. He began serving as former UI President Sally Mason’s chief of staff in 2008, and added to his title vice president for external relations in 2013. The promotion brought with it a raise to $225,000.

In 2014, as the Board of Regents was embarking on a systemwide efficiency study, the office tapped Braun to lead the initiative as transformation project manager and vice president for operational efficiency and regulatory analysis.


He was appointed as the board’s chief operating officer — a new position — in December 2015, making an annual salary of $240,000. He brought in more than $286,000 in the 2016 budget year, according to state records.

The regent executive director pay is capped at $154,300 — a limit the board historically has skirted by approving bonuses and deferred compensation packages. Before Donley left, the board scaled down those offerings, and Donley — upon his departure — referred to the legislative cap as “an issue” the board is “going to have to deal with.”

“It is one of the only states that, by law, caps the salary of the executive director or chancellor,” Donley said at the time.

Braun holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master of business administration degree, with distinction, from the University of Iowa. He also has a bachelor’s degree in public administration.


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