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Editorial: Searching for the next UI President

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JANUARY 20, 2015 5:00 AM

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Toward the tail end of the university’s winter break, UI President Sally Mason announced that she will step down from the position on Aug. 1. Mason was hired in 2007 by the state Board of Regents, and over her tenure, she has faced challenges from external forces such as heavy flooding and, in recent years, those caused by her statements on such topics as sexual assault on campus or controversies surrounding the university’s sports programs.

Over Mason’s eight years, controversies seemed to sprout like weeds. Whether it was the removal of an inflammatory art piece or allegations that the university had mishandled the firing of a field-hockey coach and squelched an investigation into on-campus assault by student-athletes, Mason has continually been forced to address perceived wrongs by the UI.

In February 2014, her comments on sexual assault in a Daily Iowan interview sparked the most vitriol. After saying ending sexual assault was “probably not a realistic goal, just given human nature,” weeks of protests followed. A flashpoint for the backlash on campus came when a group of students interrupted Mason’s speech at the 31st-annual Presidential Lecture, standing in front of her podium with signs and tape over their mouths.

Regardless of one’s opinion on Mason’s performance as the head of the university, she has been a successful advocate for it. The university’s various fundraising campaigns have brought in more than $1.4 billion under her guidance, bringing it within reach of the $1.7 billion target, the highest ever for the school. Any potential applicants for UI president will need to demonstrate an affinity for fundraising.

As the regents look to a new field of candidates to replace Mason in her final months, we must stress the importance of updating the searching process itself. Mason’s hiring in 2007 was preceded by a failed search for a president in 2006, in which the board rejected four finalists for the position.

For the sake of the UI, we hope that doesn’t happen again. Strict selectivity is certainly appreciated in finding someone to preside over a campus of 31,000, but it must also be balanced with taking in community input and completed in a reasonable amount of time.

It’s a tall order for the regents, who will meet today in Iowa City to discuss the selection process. Finding a balance between someone who understands both the fiscal aspects of university operations as well as how to fulfill its academic mission may not be easy. The finalist will need to be adept at communication and interacting with faculty, the media, state lawmakers, and many others.

The selection process should also be transparent, in the vein of the regents’ efficiency study with Deloitte Consulting that successfully identified areas to improve among the three state universities. By receiving and incorporating input on the presidential search from all the affected parties, be it faculty, administrators, and other in the campus community, the selection process should go much smoother this time around.


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