Regents to review university leadership

Wendy Wintersteen (left), Iowa State University president, talks with Bruce Harreld, University of Iowa president, befor
Wendy Wintersteen (left), Iowa State University president, talks with Bruce Harreld, University of Iowa president, before a state Board of Regents meeting at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City on Thursday, Sep. 13, 2018. (The Gazette)

Six months after the state Board of Regents over the summer agreed unanimously to extend the contracts of all its public university presidents — and boost their compensation — the institution heads next week will sit for their regular midyear evaluations.

Each university president has asked that his or her evaluation be conducted behind closed doors — as is allowed under state law. The nine volunteer regents will start and end their evaluations in open session though — taking any action, including possible pay changes, at that time.

The board in recent years, though, hasn’t taken significant action following midyear reviews. And, in light of receding state support via cut appropriations, it had approved few presidential raises until agreeing in June to extend contracts and bolster compensation.

With his extension, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld’s contract now stretches through 2023, earning him additional deferred compensation contributions of $400,000 annually between the 2020 and 2023 budget years. The extension will defer Harreld’s original $1 million payout in 2020 to 2023, when he’ll receive a total $2.33 million.

The board over the summer didn’t change his annual base salary of $590,000 — which has remained the same since his arrival in 2015.

Regents in June also didn’t adjust Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen’s base pay, but it did extend her contract through 2023 and boost her deferred compensation total to more than $1 million.

She became ISU’s first female president in October 2017, when the regents awarded her a unique stepped five-year deal that increased her salary from $525,000 to $550,000 to now $590,000.

University of Northern Iowa President Mark Nook, hired in 2016 with a base salary of $357,110, saw his contract extended through June 30, 2025 — with an option to renew for two years through 2027. His deferred compensation boost means his payout will top $700,000.

The board next week also will evaluate its Executive Director Mark Braun, who over the summer received a contract extension through 2024. When Braun was hired in fall 2017, he received a complex compensation matrix meant to circumvent a state salary cap for his position of $154,300. And he, too, received additional performance incentives and deferred compensation plans over the summer, as did Steve Gettel, superintendent of the board’s special schools.

Gettel, who also will be evaluated next week, was the only head to receive an actual bump to his base salary of 2.1 percent — bringing it to $196,828 annually, plus performance incentives.

Since the summer extensions and raises, ISU and the UI have implemented tuition increases, UNI has reported a sharp enrollment drop, and Harreld has led the University of Iowa into a unique public-private partnership for the operation of its $1 billion utility system.

That partnership with a pair of French-based companies is expected to produce an upfront payment of $1.165 billion, much of which the university plans to invest into an endowment it can pull millions from annually to support its strategic plan.

The university’s new utilities partner will benefit from 50 years of stable income — in that the UI must continue paying all costs associated with its utilities operation, including salaries, fuel and maintenance. Plus, the UI must pay its partner a $35 million annual fixed fee that will start increasing annually at 1.5 percent after five years.

Over the deal’s life, the UI expects to pay its partner $2.4 billion for just the fixed fee — excluding its other utility system expenses. But it will get help in doing so from its endowment, which it expects to cash flow more than $3 billion over the deal’s 50 years.

All three campuses in recent months also have been facing racial tensions and climate issues, which administrators have addressed with statements and meetings.

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