The Bruce Harreld era at the University of Iowa is coming to an end. As The Gazette’s Vanessa Miller wrote in her story chronicling Harreld’s retirement announcement Thursday, his tenure has been a “roller coaster.” To say the least.
There will be much looking back and rehashing the controversies and accomplishments of his time as president of UI. We’re looking forward, to the search for a new president as the university faces major challenges that will shape its future for decades to come.
The good news is the search process will be much different from the secretive, misguided process that brought Harreld to campus in 2015. His hiring and that process drew howls of protest from faculty and others in the university community, and a sanction from the American Association of University Presidents.
This time, the Board of Regents will use best practices crafted with the help of the AAUP and faculty. They’re the same practices used in subsequent searches for presidents at Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.
Beyond the search, we’d like to see a UI president who emphasizes transparency at all levels. UI is a public university operating with public tax dollars. But there have been too many instances to count over the past five years where the university threw up barrier after barrier to keep information on various issues secret.
That’s got to change, especially as the university must prove its public worth in the chase for shrinking state support. Gaining adequate state funding while also keeping UI tuition affordable will be a big challenge for the next president, as it was for Harreld. More painful cuts may be needed, but faculty and others in the university community should have a say in a transparent process.
The pandemic has exposed large gaps in the university’s ability to address student health and mental health needs. Those gaps will need to be filled.
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The university has struggled with efforts to make the campus and its leadership more diverse and address systemic racism. Encouraging racial activism and supporting voices calling for change will be a vital task for the next president. Diversity should be an emphasis in the presidential search.
And the UI president isn’t just an important voice on campus. The president must a leader in the community, region and state. We need a president who understands the challenges and the politics while building strong relationships and working tirelessly to achieve change.
The search will be complicated by the pandemic, but we’re confident the UI presidency will draw a broad array of talented candidates from across the county. We hope the Board of Regents will consider the fact that higher education is at a fateful crossroads. The next president will be the University of Iowa’s pathfinder.
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