Regents name co-chairs for University of Iowa presidential search

The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top l
The Pentacrest on the campus of the University of Iowa including the Old Capitol Building (center), Macbride Hall (top left), Jessup Hall (bottom left), Schaeffer Hall (top right), and MacLean Hall (bottom right) in an aerial photograph. (The Gazette/file photo)

IOWA CITY — Iowa’s Board of Regents has chosen committee co-chairs to lead a search for a new University of Iowa president — allowing the board to forge ahead in choosing a search firm while following “best practice” guidance it agreed to after the last marred UI presidential search.

Sandy Daack-Hirsch, UI associate professor and interim executive associate dean of the College of Nursing, and Graduate College Dean John Keller will co-chair the UI Presidential Search Committee, which has not yet been fully named.

The committee — with full membership to be presented during the Board of Regents’ Nov. 18 meeting — will include representatives from across the UI campus, including faculty, staff, student, and alumni members.

The committee will be tasked with crafting a job description, deciding how and where to advertise, assessing candidates, narrowing the pool to finalists, and funneling recommendations to the board in its consideration of outgoing UI President Bruce Harreld’s successor.

Harreld on Oct. 1 publicly urged the Board of Regents to start looking for his replacement, revealing plans to retire once the new UI president is on board and up to speed. That news came three years before Harreld’s contract is set to expire in 2023 — and just one year after he agreed to extend his original five-year agreement.

But Harreld has said he’ll stay until a new president is in place, avoiding the need for interim leadership. And he’ll help onboard a new UI head — something he wishes he had been offered when he arrived in 2015 amid uproar over the search process and his selection, despite widespread criticism of his candidacy.

“Frankly it took me at least a year to figure things out, and I truly would have appreciated a mentor helping me understand the university’s subtle dynamics,” Harreld told Regent Nancy Dunkel in an email provided to The Gazette in response to a records request.


Although Harreld replaced Sally Mason, who retired just months before he began, Harreld wrote, “Ultimately, Mary Sue Coleman (former UI, Michigan, and AAU president) helped me immensely by filling in these culture and knowledge gaps.”

In that Harreld came from a primarily business background, had no academic administrative experience, and was the top choice of then Regents President Bruce Rastetter, his hire in the face of campuswide support for the other finalists created turmoil among his constituents.

Faculty and student leaders cast votes of no confidence in the regents, and the American Association of University Professors sanctioned the campus for its governing board’s rejection of shared governance principles.

The campus came off the ignoble list after crafting a best practices document for future UI presidential searches — including that regents consult with committee co-chairs in choosing a search firm.

Harreld, in his email to Dunkel, argued beginning the search now “makes a lot of sense” in that typical searches can take 12 to 18 months “and likely longer under these trying times.”

“Then if my successor allows, I would like to take her/him around campus, state, nation to introduce them to our key leaders, legislators, donors, etc.”

Board Executive Director Mark Braun is planning at the November meeting to present to the regents the search committee’s membership, a timeline for the process, and a chosen consulting firm.

In her statement following Tuesday’s announcement, committee co-chair Daack-Hirsch vowed to “form a committee that follows the best practices document developed with the Board of Regents.”


“As the committee is put together,” she said, “we will strive to ensure that it is diverse, inclusive and representative of the University of Iowa community.”

The best-practice guidance urges a faculty member not in an administrative role — like provost or dean — should chair or co-chair the committee. Chairs, per the guidance, should be involved in selecting committee members — at least half of whom should be faculty members representing a broad swath of disciplines and tracks.

In his statement upon being publicly named a co-chair, Keller promised membership will include faculty, staff, students and alumni.

“They must each have a voice in this process,” he said. “We will work together to find our next president, and do so in a way that is as open and transparent as possible.”


Daack-Hirsch earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree from UI, focusing on the parent, child, and family area of study — with an emphasis in public health and genetics. She’s written more than 70 manuscripts and continues her research in family communication of inherited risk for heart disease.

She joined the UI College of Nursing in 2007, was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2013, and served on the UI Faculty Senate from 2012 to 2020 — meaning she was on the senate that cast the vote of no confidence in 2015.

During her time on the senate, she spent two years in presidential positions and chaired the UI AAUP Sanction Removal Committee — the group that worked to establish grounds from the campus’ removal from the national sanction list.

Keller has been a tenured professor of dental research and oral and maxillofacial surgery since 1988, writing more than 80 manuscripts and 250 abstracts. He was appointed associate provost for graduate education and dean of the UI Graduate College in 2002 — after serving as a long-term interim.

Among his many leadership posts and accomplishments, he’s overseen more than 150 graduate program actions and the initiation of the UI Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, designed to coordinate diversity efforts at the graduate level.


Keller has served on many UI committees and was interim vice president for research from 2017 to 2019.

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