Education

Mount Mercy and University of Iowa following similar presidential search timelines

Both campuses set application deadline for March 15

Mount Mercy University is shown in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Ga
Mount Mercy University is shown in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Four months after Mount Mercy University’s short-lived president resigned after just two months on the job — in the midst of a pandemic and massive derecho cleanup — the private Catholic institution in Cedar Rapids is moving ahead with its search for a new leader.

Coe College, the other private college in Cedar Rapids, and the University of Iowa in Iowa City also are searching for new presidents.

Mount Mercy’s search to replace Robert “Bob” Beatty — who started July 1 and resigned without explanation Sept. 9 — aligns with timing of the UI search to replace its outgoing President Bruce Harreld, who is retiring.

Both organized search committees in December with ambitions of advertising their respective vacancies in January.

Both chose consultant AGB Search, of Washington, D.C., to assist in finding prospects.

Mount Mercy has started advertising in publications determined by its search committee and AGB, according to Jamie Jones, director of marketing and communication.

The UI wanted to place an ad with The Chronicle of Higher Education on Jan. 4 — and more widely advertise beginning Jan. 14.

Although that campus hasn’t yet placed or posted any ads, Board of Regents spokesman Josh Lehman said UI search committee leaders are formulating a final version to be posted, “hopefully” this week.

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Both Mount Mercy and the UI have a March 15 deadline for applications, and both plan to interview semifinalists in early April. Both are planning to identify finalists publicly and bring them to campus — or host virtual forums — to allow for public engagement and feedback.

Timelines

The UI timeline has its Board of Regents choosing a new president April 30. Mount Mercy’s timeline has the search committee identifying finalists, hosting open forums, choosing a new president and transitioning that person into office in April and May.

“This timing aligns well with MMU’s academic calendar, as the new president is expected to start before the 2021-22 academic year,” according to a recent message from Mount Mercy Trustee Jeff Cannon, who is chairman of the 12-member search committee.

That committee includes seven members of the Mount Mercy board of trustees, including Jane Meyer — who earned a bachelor’s degree, played basketball and coached for Mount Mercy before getting master’s and doctorate degrees from the UI, where she served as a UI associate athletics director.

Also serving on Mount Mercy’s presidential search committee is Gary Streit, a Cedar Rapids lawyer, and Charlie Rohde, board chairman who helped hire Beatty last year.

Beatty, a Cedar Rapids native, assumed his first presidency at Mount Mercy following a string of short stints at other colleges and universities across the country.

Upon announcing Beatty’s resignation, Mount Mercy named Tim Laurent, its provost and vice president for academic affairs, as interim president.

Coe College announced last year its President David McInally is retiring and would transition to chancellor Jan. 1. David T. Hayes, Coe’s vice president for advancement, was named interim president. Coe has paused its presidential search because of the pandemic.

Presidential aspirations

In its new presidential position profile, Mount Mercy lays out expectations, qualifications, and quality aspirations for its next leader, including that he or she “be a practicing Catholic or a non-Catholic Christian who is engaged in their faith.”

“He/she will possess a terminal degree and present a record of success as a leader in a higher education setting,” according to the position profile. “Successful experience in managing change, community relations, and fundraising is highly desired.”

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The Mount Mercy ad highlights challenges a new leader will face — flagging a widespread pandemic-propelled push toward more virtual learning.

“The next president must be prepared to determine the extent to which Mount Mercy will court graduate students and adult learners,” according to the advertisement. “Online education, especially, is evolving rapidly and the competition for students is becoming more intense.

“In order to be a serious player in this arena, Mount Mercy will need to establish a competitive niche and move beyond a zero-sum game, drawing new students from outside the pool of currently expected candidates.”

Acknowledging higher education’s imposing financial headwinds, Mount Mercy spells out in its presidential profile that, “Independent colleges and universities, especially those whose budgets are tuition driven, are aware that enrollment can dramatically change the institution’s budget outlook.

“The board of trustees expects Mount Mercy to improve its financial position as it moves into the future,” according to the ad. “Cedar Rapids includes among its residents many with the capacity to give and a record of generosity. The next president will find a community ready to hear Mount Mercy’s story anew. The president will demonstrate an affinity for identifying donors capable of making transformative gifts and closing gift commitments.”

A draft UI position description for its next leader also promotes proficiency in philanthropy and donor development, while stressing more its desire for a president with a record as an educator and scholar with “substantial understanding of undergraduate and graduate teaching, learning, creative scholarship, research, international education, and technology.”

A UI president should have a deep commitment to diversity and academic freedom, along with shared governance, according to its draft advertisement.

Mount Mercy’s position description notes its next president should be ready to evolve.

“The next president must be prepared to coordinate a complex, multifaceted academic operation where change is the norm rather than the exception,” according to the ad. “The president will encourage the faculty to embrace new technologies and pedagogies as needed to improve student learning and prepare the next generation of leaders.”

Some of those new technologies might come into play in the actual picking of a next leader.

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“We know you’re looking forward to meeting the final candidates, and we hope to invite them to campus for open forums — depending on the COVID-19 situation and vaccine rollout,” according to Cannon’s recent message. “Zoom or other technology will be our backup plan.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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