Higher education

University presidential finalists lack diversity - again

Head of search committee says proper recruitment methods were followed

Finalists for University of Northern Iowa president (from left) Neil Theobald, Jim Wohlpart and Mark Nook.
Finalists for University of Northern Iowa president (from left) Neil Theobald, Jim Wohlpart and Mark Nook.

For the second time in as many years, an Iowa Board of Regents search for a new university president has turned up a list of finalists who are all white men.

The board this week publicly introduced its search committee’s top choices to replace Bill Ruud as University of Northern Iowa president, and the three named candidates lacked diversity in gender and ethnicity. The same was true for the four finalists announced last year to replace former University of Iowa President Sally Mason.

The consecutive searches with white male finalists raises questions about whether equal employment opportunity and affirmative action policies were followed. Board of Regents President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland, who co-chaired the 21-member committee that chose the UNI finalists, said she believes they were.

“That’s one of the main reasons that we hire a search consultant — and that was a very clear expectation to them,” Mulholland said. “Our high expectation was that they reach out to get us a diverse pool and recruit.”

State code holds the Board of Regents and its institutions responsible for “the administration and promotion of equal opportunity and affirmative action efforts in the recruitment, appointment, assignment and advancement of personnel.”

Board of Regents policy requires officials to “take affirmative action in personnel administration to overcome the effects of past or present practices, policies or other factors which serve as barriers to equal employment opportunity.”

According to UNI policy, “Affirmative action entails special efforts by the university community to recruit and hire protected class members throughout the university, proportionate to their availability in the relative labor market.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

But those laws and policies don’t mandate results — only efforts to recruit a diverse pool of candidates. And Mulholland said she believes AGB Search, the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm hired to facilitate the UNI presidential search, met those requirements.

“They did,” Mulholland said, noting the broad range of advertising and recruiting AGB employed. “We published on a number of professional websites that specifically address gender, diversity and all those elements.”

In the end, she said, the Board of Regents hires based on merit and qualifications, and that was the charge it gave the search committee.

“We want the strongest qualified candidates for the position,” Mulholland said.

That’s what the campus wanted, too, according to Mulholland, who engaged in listening sessions with constituents for weeks before launching the search. She said the campus also expressed a desire for commitment to inclusion and diversity.

But, Mulholland said, that can come from all types of leaders, and the search committee in its recruitment efforts looked for “evidence of what (the candidates) had done toward not only diversity but inclusiveness.”

Not only were the three UNI finalists white men, but all six of the semifinalists were men and appeared white, according to Mulholland. As for the larger pool of 46 applicants, Mulholland said she can’t quantify diversity — as some make inferences in their application letters and some don’t.

“As diversity has evolved, it is difficult to tell — when you’re looking at all of the applications — diversity,” she said, noting, “I said they did their job, but how do I know? Honestly, I don’t except for the things that were in the writing and the letters.”

Still, Mulholland said, nine of the applicants were women — about 20 percent. For the UI search, 4 of its 46 applicants were female — about 8 percent.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!

You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.

“In that (UNI) pool, there were more in-depth viable candidates than I’ve encountered in the other searches,” Mulholland said.

The search firm is in the process of collecting feedback about the UNI finalists — former Temple University President Neil Theobald, interim UNI President Jim Wohlpart, and Montana State University Billings Chancellor Mark Nook.

Search committee members plan to discuss their thoughts Monday and share them with the Board of Regents later in the day. The board is to conduct final interviews with the candidates on Tuesday, and make a final selection.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.