Higher education

University of Northern Iowa president: 'They recruited me'

'At this point in my career, it's a perfect opportunity'

Bill Ruud is president of the University of Northern Iowa.
Bill Ruud is president of the University of Northern Iowa.

University of Northern Iowa President Bill Ruud said Thursday he was “recruited hard” by Marietta College in Ohio and eventually became convinced the move was a “great next stop” for him.

“They reached out to me, they recruited me,” he said in an interview with The Gazette. “I went down there and discovered it’s a great fit and a great opportunity. But I do have mixed emotions about leaving Iowa.”

Officials in Iowa and Ohio announced Wednesday that Ruud, 63, will leave UNI to become president of the small private college in Ohio, which has an enrollment of about 1,200. His departure comes just three years after he was hired to lead UNI, which boasts an enrollment of nearly 12,000.

Upon his arrival in 2013, the Board of Regents gave Ruud a three-year contract and offered him annual raises, including a 2.5 percent salary bump in August moving him from $348,400 to $357,110. But the board didn’t extend his contract, which expires June 1, fueling questions about whether he was encouraged to leave.

“Contracts had nothing to do with it,” he told The Gazette. “It was an opportunity that was presented to me at another great university.”

Ruud said he won’t disclose he salary at the private institution. And, he said, the fact that Marietta is private and not public like UNI was part of the appeal.

“I’ve spent my career in public higher education, and the opportunity to do some of the same things that have been successful in the public realm and move them into the private is kind of exciting,” he said.

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Marietta contacted Ruud earlier this spring, he said, and he explored the opportunity with more discussions and visits.

Ruud said he wasn’t motivated to leave by challenges in obtaining adequate funding from the state. The regents for the upcoming budget year requested an increase in state appropriations of more than $20 million for their three public universities, Instead, the universities got a combined $6.3 million more.

Although the $2.8 million extra UNI got was far less than requested, it marked the second straight year UNI received a larger increase than the University of Iowa or Iowa State University.

Ruud starts his new job in Marietta on July 3.

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, said the search to replace Ruud cannot unfold like the recent search for a new UI president.

“My message to the board is that cannot happen at UNI,” Danielson said. “We have been through enough.”

In hiring UI President Bruce Harreld last fall, the regents employed a search firm, involved a diverse and faculty-rich search committee and publicly introduced four finalists to solicit feedback. Despite widespread criticism and concern about Harreld’s candidacy, the board voted unanimously to hire him — sparking protests, faculty and student votes of no confidence, and an inquiry by the American Association of University Professors.

“Given the process we used to hire the University of Iowa president, I’m going to be engaged and advocating for a more open selection process,” Danielson said.

In the days after Harreld’s hire, news media reports revealed previously-undisclosed meetings between Harreld and regents, search committee members and an interim UI president.

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When asked Thursday about the process of replace Ruud, regents spokesman Josh Lehman said “no determination has been made on the search process.”

The board will name an interim president at its June meeting, Lehman said.

Danielson and other UNI constituents said Ruud’s announcement was surprising and disappointing, as he was hired after a contentious and chaotic time on the UNI campus involving cutbacks and the retirement of former President Ben Allen.

During Ruud’s short tenure, he increased enrollment, improved budgeting, marked improvement in the quality of graduates and strengthened athletic and academic outreach efforts with the community and state, according to Danielson.

“I think his contract should have been renewed,” he said. “He had built UNI back from the debacle of 2012.”

Joe Gorton, UNI associate professor of sociology, anthropology and criminology and president of UNI’s United Faculty union and AAUP chapter, said he believes Ruud was driven out.

“It is completely lacking in credibility to believe that Ruud just decided one day, ‘I’m going to go to this much smaller private school,’” he said. “I have no doubt that this was the board not wanting to renew his contract.”

If so, it’s a disappointment, he said.

“I presume they asked him to leave — he’s going to a school that’s smaller by a factor of 10,” Gorton said. “I think President Ruud really enjoyed being at UNI. I think he was really committed to the university. I never had the slightly hint that he had any interest in not being here. So I just find it almost impossible to believe that this was a completely voluntary choice on his part.”

Gorton expressed those concerns to his UNI colleagues Thursday in an email.

“Like many of you, I am shocked and disappointed by the announcement of President Ruud’s departure,” he said. “It was his ability to work with us in good faith that led (United Faculty) to withdraw our request for an AAUP censure of UNI.”

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In 2012 — before Allen stepped down as UNI president and Ruud took over — the AAUP launched an investigation of the campus and potential violations of AAUP requirements for faculty consultation about academic programming.

In December 2015, the national association returned to Iowa to investigate the Board of Regents for its handling of the UI presidential search, and the association found the board acted “in bad faith” throughout the process and in its hiring of Harreld.

Based on that finding, the AAUP could decide next month at its annual meeting to censure the regents.

Gorton said that potential reprimand should inform the board’s launch of a search for a new UNI president.

“It is vital that our search for a new UNI president be completely open and it include truly meaningful faculty involvement,” he wrote in the letter to his colleagues.

Gorton and other campus constituents and UNI advocates on Thursday said they want the search to involve a broad spectrum of faculty, students, staff, alumni and community members. And they want the finalists’ names made public so the community can have the change to vet them.

They also want their feedback to matter in the selection, something critics say didn’t happen with the UI search.

Sarah Eastman, a Cedar Falls community member who chairs a political action committee to support UNI called “Panther PAC,” said she worries the UI search and publicity surrounding it might negatively impact the pool of UNI candidates.

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“We are in a difficult situation as far as state funding goes, and as far as the searches we have seen happen with the board recently,” Eastman said. “We might have some difficulty encouraging people to apply for a position when so many variables are there.”

Merrill P. Schwartz, vice president of the consulting arm for the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, said the level of publicity around the UI search might come into play in a new hunt.

“The search with the University of Iowa certainly will be of interest to the candidates for the presidency at UNI — there was a lot of press about it, and they are likely to be aware of it,” she said. “But I think the Board of Regents will no doubt be able to choose an excellent person for UNI. It has a great reputation and is a desirable university.”

Still, Schwartz said, she doesn’t think the board did UI President Harreld any favors “in creating controversy about the search and creating questions about the legitimacy of the search process.”

“Having a search process that is well respected and viewed as legitimate by the campus community is really essential for laying the foundation for a successful presidency,” she said.

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