Education

University of Iowa ends diversity head search after candidates withdraw

Applicants pull their names from consideration after President Harreld announces retirement

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld speaks Oct. 30, 2015, during an interview with The Gazette in his office in J
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld speaks Oct. 30, 2015, during an interview with The Gazette in his office in Jessup Hall on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa will have to rethink its long and pricey struggle to find someone to lead its diversity efforts.

The campus said Thursday its search for someone to take the six-figure position is ending “after several candidates either withdrew or indicated they would likely withdraw in the wake of President Bruce Harreld’s retirement announcement.”

The UI statement was not clear on when or if the campus will resume looking for a new associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion — a job that has seen rampant turnover since Georgina Dodge left the post in 2017.

She was replaced by two interims before the university hired TaJuan Wilson last summer.

But he left after only six weeks on the job with a settlement agreement that allowed him to continue earning his salary while looking for another position outside the UI, which he eventually found at Georgia Southern University.

Once he resigned, UI diversity units reported directly to former Provost Montse Fuentes. But she stepped down, too, this summer — also signing a settlement deal, this one allowing her to continue earning $439,000 as a “special assistant to the president” through June 30, 2021.

Harreld then appointed Liz Tovar to serve as interim associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion while the search for a permanent replacement got underway.

On Oct. 1, Harreld announced his plans to retire once a new president starts and gets up to speed on the job. Harreld’s announcement came three years before his contract expires and one year after extending his agreement, which comes with a $2.33 million deferred compensation payout if he stays through the end.

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“In light of these developments, the search firm strongly recommended ending the search,” search committee co-chair Tiffini Stevenson Earl said in a statement. “Russell Ganim and I, as search committee co-chairs, were in complete agreement with this guidance and conveyed the recommendation to the interim provost, who supported the decision as well.

“Everyone involved believes this course of action is in the best interest of the university.”

The Isaacson Miller Inc. search firm has been consulting on the process. For its help in finding Wilson, the consultant was paid $103,592, including $21,593 for travel and advertising expenses, officials last year told The Gazette.

A contract with the firm stipulated if a hire that it evaluated and recommended left the UI for any reason other than death or disability, the firm would reopen the search for free — as long as it started within three months. Wilson’s resignation triggered the free search, officials said, although it spent $1,185 on advertising.

Isaacson Miller, which also advised ending this search, said “withdrawals during a leadership change are not unusual,” according to UI Strategic Communications.

“According to the firm, changes in senior leadership often greatly disrupt searches for open positions, and what has occurred for Iowa is no different from what occurs at other universities across the country,” Ganim said in a statement.

UI Interim Executive Vice President and Provost Kevin Kregel praised Tovar’s leadership, calling her a strong interim capable of moving the campus forward on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“In the short time since Dr. Tovar was appointed interim associate vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, she has already made a significant impact by listening to and engaging with many parts of campus,” Kregel said in a statement. “I am grateful for her service and leadership, and look forward to her continuing in this role.”

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Wilson, upon his departure, had questioned the UI’s diversity, equity and inclusion reporting structure and whether its associate vice president should report directly to the president instead of the provost.

Harreld in July said although “many members of campus expressed the importance of a new AVP for DEI reporting directly to the president instead of the provost, changing the job description would mean delaying the search,” according to UI communications.

Such a delay was unacceptable at the time to the campus community and search committee, he said.

“The university is not without significant challenges related to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Kregel said in a statement. “I am confident Dr. Tovar will help lead us through these challenges, but we must remember that the responsibility for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion belongs to the entire campus community.”

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

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