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Editorial: Focus on transparency in VP search

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JULY 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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The University of Iowa hosted a public forum Thursday featuring the first of three finalists for the UI’s vice presidency for Strategic Communication, a position that will be crucial to the ongoing efforts to improve transparency in the UI administration.

Jeff Iseminger, currently the interim vice president for university advancement and marketing at Minnesota State University-Mankato, spoke Thursday afternoon. The two other yet-unnamed finalists are slated to speak at similar forums next week.

The position of vice president for Strategic Communication, currently held with interim status by UI President Sally Mason’s chief of staff, Mark Braun, is tasked with “conveying, internally and externally, the university’s mission, vision, and values.”

The position was previously held by Tysen Kendig, who left the UI in December 2012.

In the university’s new chief communicator, the Editorial Board encourages the administrations to opt for the candidate who best demonstrates a commitment to transparency in the UI’s relationship with the public, particularly when dealing with budding scandals.

The university’s recent history necessitates such a focus on transparency during this hiring process. Last fall, the administration was criticized for its handling of the dismissal of Athletics Department executive Peter Gray, who reportedly had a history of violating the university’s sexual-harassment policy. Information about the allegations against Gray was leaked to the press after he had been allowed to quietly resign.

The issue of transparency was raised again in December, when seven members of the UI College of Education’s Faculty Advisory Committee resigned citing a “lack of transparency in administrative decision-making processes [has] rendered the [Advisory Committee] powerless in effectively and efficiently meeting its responsibilities.”

Concerns about transparency at the state’s public universities led the state Board of Regents to create a Transparency Task Force intended to recommend best practices for providing public information at the regent schools.

At its most recent meeting, in June, the task force approved new best practices for responding to public-information requests, which include the establishment of a transparency officer position and the establishment of a central public log of public-records requests.

The university’s new vice president for Strategic Communication should complement the efforts of the Transparency Task Force by further opening up the university’s communication and information-sharing with the public.

At Iseminger’s public forum Thursday, unfortunately, much of the focus was on his strategy for marketing the university to prospective students.

In light of recent events, this hiring process should focus less on brand development and more on how best to handle scenarios like the Gray scandal last fall, in which transparent crisis communication is of the utmost importance.

While we understand the need for a coherent, innovative marketing strategy for the UI, we also believe that the new vice president should also recognize the importance of clear, transparent crisis communication, which has been lacking at the UI.

We look forward to hearing from the other candidates, and we encourage the administration to choose the candidate who best embodies the culture of transparency that the regents are trying to foster and that has been absent for too long at the UI.


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