Education

Search firm 'absolutely inundated' with interest in University of Iowa presidency

'The University of Iowa is attracting high quality candidates already'

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 — The University of Iowa has been advertising its presidential vacancy officially for just one week, but executives leading the search report that “we have absolutely been inundated every day with interest.”

Although the advertisement for the UI’s 22nd president hasn’t yet appeared in all the publications planned, AGB Search Managing Principal Roderick J. McDavis told a 21-member search committee Wednesday his team has spent many hours on the phone with interested prospects.

“I think that this committee needs to know that the University of Iowa is attracting high quality candidates already,” McDavis said.

The UI committee is advertising the position in 12 publications — including The Chronicle of Higher Education, LGBTQ Presidents in Higher Education and DiverseJobs.net.

Applicants have until March 15 to submit a letter of interest, resume, and five references.

While that means these next few weeks will feel quiet to the search committee, McDavis said his team anticipates continuing to be busy on the phone — connecting with each prospect an average of three times.

First calls typically involve details about what the UI is looking for in its next president; second calls address questions from prospects after they’ve done more research; and third calls usually involve application commitments and deadline discussions.

“With a lot of our first phone calls, folks are already making a commitment that they’re going to be an applicant for the University of Iowa presidency,” McDavis said. “That’s a good sign. That means they haven’t found anything to be able to push them away.”

UI President Bruce Harreld announced in October — three years before his contract was set to expire in 2023 — his plans to retire after the Board of Regents hires a successor.

Harreld’s hiring in 2015 sparked blowback for the regents’ rejection of campuswide criticism of the former IBM executive’s candidacy and calls from faculty, staff and students for regents choose another finalist.

Prospects for the presidential job have aired their awareness of that history, said James McCormick, a consultant for AGB Search, which the UI is paying a $90,000 fee, plus expenses, to help find its next leader.

“A number of these candidates that we talked to yesterday, they’re aware of the last search, what happened, and so on,” McCormick said Wednesday. “They’ve already done their homework. In fact, a number of them already are talking to people at Iowa that they might know.”

Praising the search committee for following best-practice guidance this time, McCormick said he’s been happy to put concerns to rest.

“The fact that we were able to say, ‘this process is outstanding, it’s according to best practices, and I don’t anticipate any situation that happened the last time to occur this time’ … I’ve been complimenting all of you for your hard work,” he said. “But there is that discussion of what happened last time.”

McCormick said questions from “people of this caliber” are typical.

“And we were just loaded from early yesterday to the end, and will be for a while, with these conversations,” he said, noting most are exploring at this point. “But often, at the end of the conversation, we say in our own notes they are seriously considering applying. … A great number yesterday want to talk more.”

The AGB Search officials cautioned there could be many applications coming late in the game from people who consider themselves top prospects for the job.

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“Typically, we’ll get anywhere between 15 to 20 folks that will apply in the last 72 hours or so,” McDavis said. “So there’s a lot of people at the end, because they’re all the top candidates. And I’m not saying they are. I’m just saying they believe they are, and so they wait until the very end.”

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

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