University of Iowa replaces dean atop largest college after criticism, apology

Steve Goddard will return to teaching; Sara Sanders new interim

The Old Capitol Museum is seen on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/
The Old Capitol Museum is seen on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa on Thursday replaced another top administrator with an interim appointment — demoting the dean of its largest college two months after he led a roundly-criticized discussion with 400-plus faculty and staff about budget cuts and fall-return plans, for which he since has apologized.

In a Thursday letter to faculty and staff, interim UI Provost Kevin Kregel announced Sara Sanders will start serving immediately as interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

She’ll replace Steve Goddard, who came to Iowa just one year ago from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln following a lengthy search that netted four finalists.

Goddard, who most recently was making $382,300. “has assumed a faculty role as professor in the Department of Computer Science,” according to Kregel’s letter. He’ll be making $251,370 in his new assignment.

Sanders — a professor in the UI School of Social Work who was appointed associate dean for strategic initiatives and director of diversity, equity and inclusion in January — will earn an annual salary of $305,000 as interim dean. She was making $160,980 as associate dean.

UI officials did not answer The Gazette’s questions about why Goddard was replaced. An emailed inquiry to Goddard received an automatic reply that he is on vacation.

In Kregel’s letter Thursday, he said Sanders will serve as interim until a permanent dean is appointed.


And he indicated the university will conduct another search — after spending nearly a year and more than $116,000 on the previous search that landed Goddard.

“I want to assure you that we will move forward in an inclusive and transparent manner and that faculty, staff, and students will have the opportunity to be engaged throughout the search process once a timeline has been determined,” Kregel wrote.

Sanders, he said, is “a well-respected leader across campus and is committed to ensuring a collaborative and welcoming campus community for students, faculty, and staff.”

In a follow-up message to her colleagues, Sanders on Thursday acknowledged the challenges her college and university are facing — including “unimaginable circumstances” presented by COVID-19.

“This year, we are going to be tested in ways that I have yet to experience during my tenure in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” she wrote.

But Sanders committed to taking it on the challenges and also stressing the need to do better in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Throughout our college, individually and institutionally, our community must engage in the difficult process of confronting the long-standing historical racism and oppression that is embedded in the very structures in which we operate,” she wrote. “Being silent in the face of injustice — both overt and implicit — equates to institutional complacency and indifference toward those who have been systemically disadvantaged throughout our university’s 150 years of existence.

“We are better than that, and our students and faculty expect and deserve more.”

‘I Do Make Mistakes’

The administrative upheaval comes amid unprecedented challenges facing the university and its largest college in the form of a historic pandemic that forced all instruction online mid-March and has crippled the budget — with enrollment dropping, tuition frozen, lawmakers cutting appropriations, and new costs mounting as administrators scramble to keep the campus safe when students return in three weeks.

Addressing his college’s dire straits in June, Goddard led a virtual town hall with more than 400 faculty and staff, during which he spelled out plans to resume in-person instruction and aired news of coming layoffs.

He suggested faculty and staff who refused to teach in person out of fear for their health and safety could lose their job, and he seemingly dismissed one faculty member who identified herself as a woman of color with an autoimmune condition and “tremendous anxiety” about being in the classroom.

Answering her question about teaching online permanently, Goddard urged her to start with “mental health counseling to kind of deal with some of the anxiety and understand that.”

“I’d also encourage you to think about trying to manage that because — as an underrepresented minority, a woman of color — you have a tremendous impact to students if you can overcome some of that anxiety and fear,” he said.

During that discussion, Goddard noted Iowa’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is the largest — reporting 15,749 undergraduates in fall 2019 — meaning it will see bigger enrollment declines and thus budget cuts. He aired an expected 10 percent to 15 percent drop in students this fall from last, which already was down 4 percent from fall 2018.

And he introduced three tiers of potential cuts to trim $15 million to $25 million over the coming years. Certain measures outlined across the tiers included furloughs and the immediate elimination of 15 non-tenure-track lecturers.

Following that Zoom town hall, which sparked widespread backlash, Goddard issued an apology.

“There are a number of questions for which I wish I had done a better job answering,” Goddard wrote June 5 to faculty and staff. “In some cases, I interpreted the question differently than other listeners. In other cases, I simply flopped, and I apologize for offending any member of our community. I do make mistakes and I try to learn from them.”

Growing list of departures

Goddard’s demotion adds to a growing list of administrative departures or replacements on the UI campus, which two weeks ago reassigned its Provost Montse Fuentes to serve for a year as “special assistant to the president.”

That reassignment involved a settlement allowing Fuentes to continue making her vice president-level pay of $439,000 in her new role.


And the agreement echoed a similar deal the university struck with its former Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion TaJuan Wilson, who started the same day as Fuentes in June 2019 — the same month Goddard arrived on campus.

UI officials have not answered questions about why Wilson and Fuentes were reassigned.

Wilson stepped down from his vice president-level position after only six weeks on the job and was allowed to continue earning a six-figure salary while looking for another job — which he eventually found at Georgia Southern University, where he serves as associate vice president for Inclusive Excellence.

Goddard’s hire came after former UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Chaden Djalali in March 2017 gave the campus 16 months notice that he planned to step down July 1, 2018.

Djalali said he was resigning due to, among other things, “ongoing academic, administrative, and financial changes.” He also cited personal matters involving “health issues in my family,” but continued looking for jobs, eventually landing one as executive vice president and provost of Ohio University.

Despite his 16-month notice, UI officials initially planned to delay a search for Djalali’s replacement until after completing a campus review that some faculty worried was aimed at breaking up the university’s largest college.

In response to those concerns, former interim UI Provost Sue Curry changed course and in February 2018 appointed a 16-member search committee. Goddard was among four finalists brought to campus in October 2018. He was hired in December but didn’t officially start until June.

Before spending 21 years at the University of Nebraska, Goddard worked for 13 years in the computer industry, including nine years as president of his own company, S.M. Goddard & Co., Inc.

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