UI sees quick turnover in admins


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In the past 30 years, six University of Iowa presidents and provosts have left to head other institutions — and for many, after a relatively short stint in Iowa City.

Recent years have shown landing a top administrative role at the UI doesn't necessarily mean the selected person plans to end their careers in that position. Instead, the job can serve as one important step to reaching a larger goal.

The high turnover rate of UI leaders has drawn mixed opinions. Most maintain that it's simply evidence of a strong administration, but others note the continual change can slow some initiatives.

"I think it's very important that there be a sustained period where the institution goes in the same direction and follows the goals and visions of one individual," said Regent Robert Downer.

Most recently, former Provost Wallace Loh left late last month after just two years in the position to become the president of the University of Maryland. The move surprised many, especially because UI President Sally Mason had said she expected him to stay at least five years. P. Barry Butler, former dean of the College of Engineering, is now interim provost.

Former President David Skorton, who is now president at Cornell University, served four years at the UI, and former Provost Michael Hogan, now president at the University of Illinois was also at the UI for four years before Loh took over.

Downer acknowledged several of the UI's past presidents as top-notch, though he said, at times, tenure was a little shorter then he would have preferred.

"It has to some degree [slowed the process.] Certain initiatives presidents have commenced and then someone takes office that doesn't share that position," he said. "You have these starts and stops, zigs and zags."

Loh's leaving is an example of a national trend, said Ruth Prescott, an associate of Edu Search Consulting — an organization that works with university search committees. Tenures are not 15 to 20 years at institutions, "as they used to be," she said.

"Those [universities] are massive enterprises that are not sleepy little institutions of higher learning," Prescott said.

John Keller, the dean of the Graduate College, has worked with six provosts during his 10 years as dean.

"Yes, it is difficult," Keller said. "It can be hard when you have a series of intermingled [administrators.]"

When Hogan left during Keller's review process, it was put on a prolonged hiatus.

In the end, it took almost a year to develop a working relationship before continuing with the dean's review.

"I think it was awkward for everybody," he said.

But the high turnover rate of provosts and presidents reflects positively on the UI, some experts say.

"It's a specialized job looking at someone who knows a lot about doctoral education and research and how they coexist," said David Shulenberger, vice president for Academic Affairs at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. "If you haven't been in a major research university, that's an awful lot to learn."

The UI's status as a major research university was definitely attractive to those who hired Loh, said Donald Kettl, the chairman of the University of Maryland's Presidential Search and Screen Committee.

While at the UI, Loh achieved record turnouts in diversity, honors, nonresident, and freshman students.

Kettl said Loh's installment as president in Maryland is a compliment to the UI.

"[Selecting Loh] shows clearly the way in which the university stature is viewed," Kettl said.

Though another passing of the provost torch could once again slow the university's plans, Downer said it ultimately is in the hands of the president.

"I have every hope that President [Sally] Mason is going to complete her career here," he said.

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