University of Iowa names new art museum director

UI continues to fill administrative vacancies

Laura Lessing (Photo provided by University of Iowa)
Laura Lessing (Photo provided by University of Iowa)

The University of Iowa — in the midst of much administrative turnover — this week announced three new hires or appointments, including selection of a new director for its Stanley Museum of Art.

Lauren Lessing, Mirken Director of Academic and Public Programs at the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine, will become the UI art museum’s eighth director on July 31. She takes over at a time of significant change for the museum, which opened in 1969 but remains in limbo after 2008 floodwaters devastated its former home.

So while Lessing will oversee management and care of the museum’s educational and administrative activities and its growing collection — including more than 15,500 objects valued at more than $500 million — she also will play a “leading role in fundraising and planning” for the new $50 million, 63,000-square-foot museum.

The new facility — which will bring home the university’s collections, host exhibitions, and provide space for study, research and storage — is planned for construction next to the UI Main Library and Gibson Square Park. Since the flood 10 years ago, much of the museum’s collections have been temporarily located in the Figge Art Museum in Davenport. Some pieces have traveled the world — including its Jackson Pollock Mural, which ended its European tour in June 2017 with 1.48 million views.

“University art museums have the capacity to be nimble and experimental,” Lessing said in a statement. “And the Stanley is well positioned to lead the field with new and innovative practices to educate, enrich, and empower a diverse audience.”

UI also this week named Tanya Uden-Holman new associate provost for undergraduate education and dean of University College, succeeding Lon Moeller, who left earlier this year to become provost at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; and Joseph Kearney interim dean of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Kearney, a UI computer science professor and fellow, will begin his term as interim dean July 1 — when outgoing Dean Chaden Djalali plans to leave.

“He will have the month of June to work with the provost and collegiate leadership to ensure a smooth transition in the college,” according to the UI Office of Strategic Communication.

Djalali in March 2017 announced plans to step down July 1, 2018, citing “both personal matters (involving health issues in my family) and the ongoing academic, administrative, and financial changes faced by the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.”              

“I have come to the conclusion that it is in the best interests of CLAS and myself that I do not seek another term as CLAS dean,” he wrote in a faculty message last year.

Earlier this month, the university announced Djalali had been appointed executive vice president and provost of Ohio University, where he will start Aug. 1.

Djalali’s early notice meant to facilitate a smooth transition for the college leadership, but UI officials initially planned to wait to search for his replacement until after a campuswide review involving two phases and committees, with the latter expected to provide a report to Interim Provost Sue Curry this spring.          

Faculty pushback prompted administrators to change course and launch a search earlier — although a new hire still could be a year out, as Kearny has agreed to serve as interim until June 30, 2019, “or earlier if a new dean is selected and starts before that date.”

Sarah Gardial, dean of the UI Tippie College of Business, and David Ryfe, director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, are serving as co-chairs of the search for Djalali’s permanent replacement.

That search is among many that have recently occurred or are underway as the university also experiences turnover atop its colleges of Law, Medicine, and Public Health. It has seen recent changes in vice presidential posts and its dean of students, chief diversity officer, and provost and associate provost positions.

UI Health Care, likewise, is experiencing leadership changes — with Vice President for Medical Affairs Brooks Jackson succeeding Jean Robillard in the fall, while the institution searches for a new chief executive officer and chief financial officer — among other positions.

New Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Uden-Holman will make an annual salary of $219,845, extending her career at UI, where she earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Currently holding the titles clinical professor in the Department of Health Management and Policy and associate dean for academic affairs at the College of Public Health, she’ll begin her new role June 15.

Lessing, atop the art museum, will make an annual salary of $205,000 — below the $213,939 that former Director Sean O’Harrow was making when he left.

She succeeds Steve McGuire, who just took over as acting director in April and will return to his role as professor and director of the UI School of Art and Art History. McGuire took over for Jim Leach, UI chair in public affairs and joint visiting professor in the College of Law and the Department of Political Science, who had served as interim director since Jan. 1, 2017, when former director Sean O’Harrow left to run the Honolulu Museum of Art.

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