University of Iowa art museum sees leadership changes

Shifts indicative of campus-wide transitions

The University of Iowa Museum of Art (rendering shown here) is one project that could be delayed by the construction freeze.
The University of Iowa Museum of Art (rendering shown here) is one project that could be delayed by the construction freeze.

Turnover among the University of Iowa’s leadership ranks is continuing, with the campus’ School of Art and Art History director stepping in for former Congressman Jim Leach as acting director of the UI Stanley Museum of Art.

Steve McGuire, longtime UI art and art history professor who began serving as the school’s interim director one year ago, will take over immediately for Leach, UI chair in public affairs and joint visiting professor in the College of Law and Department of Political Science.

Leach began serving as interim art museum director Jan. 1, 2017, after former director Sean O’Harrow left for the Honolulu Museum of Art. Leach, according to the Office of Strategic Communication at the time, planned to serve in the interim role until the university hired a permanent replacement but now wants to return his focus to teaching and research.

“It was an honor and a pleasure to oversee one of the finest university collections of art,” Leach said in a statement. “Now that we’ve reached this stage of the search process, I feel confident that the museum is in a position to continue to showcase iconic works by diverse artists for years to come.”

McGuire, co-chair of the search committee to find a new museum director, began serving as interim director of the School of Art and Art History after its last leader John Beldon Scott retired in May 2017. McGuire was named permanent director in October.

The leadership shuffle is among heavy turnover atop UI, which has vacancies — requiring interim or “acting” leadership — in roles like provost, associate provost for undergraduate education, dean of students and assistant vice president, vice president for research and economic development, and the College of Public Health.

UI professor Lena Hill, who’s been serving as interim chief diversity officer and associate vice president since Georgina Dodge left that role in July 2017, earlier this month announced she’s leaving to become dean of the College at Washington and Lee University.

Filling in for her will be UI Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers, who hasn’t been on campus yet a year — as she replaced Tom Rocklin in June 2017.

The university is planning to replace Chaden Djalali atop the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences after he retires in July, and it recently replaced College of Law Dean Gail Agrawal. UI Health Care replaced its Vice President for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard in October, and it’s searching for a new chief financial officer and UI Hospitals and Clinics CEO after Ken Fisher retired last summer and Ken Kates announced plans to do so in the coming months.

UI President Bruce Harreld last week appointed Rachel Williams university ombudsperson in the Office of the Ombudsperson, replacing Susan Johnson, who will retire this summer.

The state’s other public universities have seen turnover too — including at Iowa State University, which lost its president Steven Leath a year ago and hired successor, Wendy Wintersteen, in October.

Chief of Staff and Chief Financial Officer Miles Lackey followed Leath to Auburn University at the end of the year, and Senior Vice President for University Services Kate Gregory left in November after just one year on the job.

Iowa State has several searches underway, including those for dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, previously held by Wintersteen, and dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, which lost its leader to the University of Georgia last year.

Back on the UI campus, McGuire told The Gazette he doesn’t expect to be acting art museum director long, as the search committee recently announced plans to bring three finalists to campus — its first arriving Monday.

Catherine M. Hale — director and curator of Creative Campus Galleries at Sheridan College in Mississauga, Ontario, and former curator of African and non-western art for the UI art museum — was unveiled Sunday as the first finalist.

She started her two-day campus visit Monday and will — like the others — meet with faculty, staff, and students, and participate in a public forum. A second finalist is expected to be identified Tuesday in advance of that candidate’s public forum from 3:45 to 4:45 p.m. Wednesday.

The third finalist will be announced April 22, in advance of a public forum from 3:45 to 4:45 p.m. April 23. Interim Provost Sue Curry will make the final selection.

“As we prepare to name a permanent director for the museum, I want to thank Jim for his leadership during this challenging transitional period for the Museum of Art,” Curry said in a statement.

McGuire told The Gazette he feels like a good fit to oversee the transition, as he has experience doing so when new buildings are involved. He recently oversaw the debut of a new $77 million UI Visual Arts Building, which opened in summer 2016 after the campus’ 2008 flood devastation.

The university has plans for a new $50 million, 63,000-square-foot art museum to replace its flood-ravaged space. Administrators last week warned the facility could be affected by a five-month campus construction moratorium in response to state funding cuts. University officials this week said, for now, even with the moratorium they believe they can stick with the original timeline to start work on the museum in late 2018 for a public opening in 2020.  

“This is what happens when you are at a university when things are very tight resource-wise,” McGuire said. “But I’m not worried at all.”

Times and dates for art museum director forums: 

  • 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday, April 16, 101 Becker Communication Studies Building

  • 3:45 to 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, N120 College of Public Health Building

  • 3:45 to 4:45 p.m. Monday, April 23, Big Ten Theatre, Iowa Memorial Union

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