University of Iowa seeks 'momentum' despite frequent departures

Of the 12 UI college deans, eight have experienced turnover since 2017

Melissa Shivers Vice President for Student Life at the University of Iowa talks about diversity and inclusion on campus
Melissa Shivers Vice President for Student Life at the University of Iowa talks about diversity and inclusion on campus during the inaugural Iowa Ideas Conference at the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex in northeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa can’t afford to lose ground in the areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, mental health and student organizations, according to UI President Bruce Harreld, which is why he plans to look internally for a new vice president for student life.

“We cannot lose the momentum built over the past several years,” he said in a statement Thursday — a day after Melissa Shivers announced she’s leaving a vice president position just two years after arriving. “We have remarkable talent all across our campus, and I am sure the (search) committee will develop an exciting slate of candidates for the next leader of student life.”

Harreld said he expects to name a replacement still this fall — a rapid turnaround for a post that won’t technically be vacant until Shivers leaves in December.

Shivers, who started in the role in June 2017, announced Wednesday she’s taking the same post at the larger Ohio State University. She currently earns $295,000. At Ohio State, she will make $325,000, Ohio State officials said.

Her announcement came the same day that UI Tippie College of Business Dean Sarah Gardial announced she’s leaving March 1, 2020, to become dean of the private Massey College of Business at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. She is earning a total of about $421,334 this year at the UI and said her new salary — not publicly available — will be comparable.

Unlike with Shivers’ vacancy, the UI will name an interim business dean while it launches an external search for a replacement.

Of the university’s 12 college dean positions, eight have seen turnover — or are in the midst of that process — in the past two years.


Six of those colleges either welcomed new leaders or learned their deans are leaving since the start of last year. Three have announced change this year.

On the vice presidency front, the UI has lost or welcomed seven since 2017 — including four who served for at least some period atop the UI Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

After former UI Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President Georgina Dodge left in July 2017 for a similar job at Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University, Lena Hill stepped in as interim for nearly a year, until she, too, left in 2018 for dean of the College at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.

Shivers stepped in as Hill’s interim replacement until the UI in June welcomed TaJuan Wilson as its new associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion. That appointment, however, was short-lived as Wilson, 33, resigned unexpectedly just six weeks later under unexplained circumstances.

Wilson was given “special assignment” with the university — a $244,000 position that allows him to work remotely while searching for another job on the public’s time.

He hasn’t responded to requests for an interview from The Gazette.

Upon Wilson’s resignation, the university announced it doesn’t plan to immediately replace him and instead will have the three units that make up Diversity, Equity and Inclusion report to Montse Fuentes — who also is new, having started the same day as Wilson in June.

Among its other leadership positions, the university also since last year has appointed a new executive vice provost and senior associate provost and director of its UI Stanley Museum of Art.

The state’s other large public university, Iowa State University in Ames, also has experienced some recent turnover — including at its very top, with Wendy Wintersteen stepping in as its first female president in November 2017.


About the same time, Pam Elliott Cain — already an associate vice president for finance — was named interim senior vice president for university services and interim chief financial officer, filling vacancies left by two resignations.

Cain currently is serving as interim senior vice president for operations and finance, and ISU also since 2017 has welcomed four new collegiate deans, a new vice president of extension and outreach and a new dean of students.

ISU’s first-ever vice president for diversity and inclusion, Reginald Stewart, has been with the campus since 2015.

The Higher Education Publications Inc. in April 2018 reported top-level positions at colleges and universities “are experiencing some of the highest employee turnover compared to other administrators.”

Its analysis found presidents, chancellors and provosts to be three of the top four positions with the highest turnover rates at accredited colleges and universities.

UI officials previously expressed concern that Iowa serves as a sort of feeding ground for recruitment of executives by peer institutions — making the argument for more resources to keep top leaders from leaving.

Shivers said Wednesday she wasn’t looking to leave Iowa — but was sought out by Ohio State.

Gardial said her decision to leave was all pull and not push. She came from Tennessee and has two daughters in Georgia and was compelled by Belmont’s growth mind-set — with enrollment surging and the Nashville business community thriving.

“It had to be something pretty powerful to pull me out of here,” said Gardial, 63.


If the recent departures at Iowa are part of a larger issue, she said, “I don’t know about it.”

“What I would say, though, is that there is a lot of turnover in higher ed,” she said. “You are seeing that people’s terms are getting shorter and shorter, and there’s a lot of movement. It’s the way of the world in higher education these days.”

Although a search committee hasn’t yet been named to replace Gardial, the university Thursday announced seven faculty, staff, and students who will lead the internal search for Shivers’ replacement — including the director of diversity resources for the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

And while UI College of Engineering Dean Alec Scranton doesn’t plan to leave the UI campus until June 30, 2020, the university on Thursday announced it has four finalists for his job — with public visits to campus planned between Oct. 29 and Nov. 12.

UI faculty, staff, and students are invited to attend public forums and provide feedback to the administration, with Provost Fuentes expected to make a final selection this fall.

Although an updated cost for the UI searches wasn’t immediately known Thursday, The Gazette one year ago reported contracts with search firms hired to fill high-profile vacancies showed total fees and expenses would top $1.5 million.

Comments: (319) 339-3158;

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.