Search committee discusses challenges, timeline


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The University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee established a loose timeline and discussed the challenges of bringing candidates to campus during its first meeting on Wednesday.

The committee has been tasked with finding a replacement for University of Iowa President Sally Mason, who will retire this summer.

Jean Robillard, the UI vice president for Medical Affairs, is the committee head, and the state Board of Regents will recommend him to be the interim president during its April meeting.

“There’s one thing we have to make clear here at the beginning, the search for the president is really the responsibility of the Board of Regents,” Robillard told the committee members. “They are the ones who picked the committee, they are the ones who decided about the search firm, and, at the end, they are the ones who will decide about the next president of the [UI].”

Robillard said the committee is privileged to be able to advise the regents but wanted to be clear “this process is a Board of Regents process.”

The regents selected Parker Executive Search, an Atlanta firm, to aid in finding candidates at a cost of $200,000 — more than twice what they paid for recent searches at Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.

One major goal of the initial committee meeting was for Regent President Bruce Rastetter to charge the members with a number of duties. Overall, he emphasized the importance of committee members encouraging people who are qualified to apply.

“It is all of our responsibilities, individually, and all of yours to reach out nationally to the very best people and encourage them to be part of the process,” he said.

Over the next few months, the search firm will draft a position description, establish an application process, and begin a national advertising campaign. The recruitment of candidates will take place over the summer.

“Let me be very clear about advertising,” Parker President Laurie Wilder said. “It’s is a part of the search that is important, but your best candidates will not be reading The Chronicle of Higher Education and submit materials for consideration based on that.”

Wilder said the position description and advertisements instead are “about announcement purposes only.”

Each of the committee’s meetings will be open to the public. The panel will convene in closed session when discussing candidates.

“Confidentiality for potential candidates is essential,” Wilder said.

Starting in August, the search firm and committee will have full access to candidate information through a secure website organized by the search firm.

Wilder said some candidates are cautious even at this stage. For example, she said many candidates would send their résumés but refuse to send a letter of interest for fear of a screenshot being leaked to the public. 

The interview process, as well as the selection of the next UI president, will take place in August to early September.

Wilder said it is important to keep the time from interviews to the final selection short in order to prevent candidates from dropping out of the process.

“Up until that point, candidates do not want public exposure,” she said.

She said she’s sure some candidates will refuse the position for fear of jeopardizing their current careers after the candidates are brought to campus and made public. 

At the regents’ March 11 meeting, Regent Ruth Harkin expressed concern about the search firm not bringing the number of candidates the regents requested to campus.

Rastetter attributed the low number of finalists to candidates dropping out because of the public nature of the process.

The committee’s and the regents’ best defense in preventing candidates from opting out for such reasons, Wilder said, is to stress the prestige of being the UI president.

“All of you have contacts nationally you can reach out to — I think in a very positive way — about what a great job this is and what a great opportunity this will continue to be,” Rastetter said to the committee.

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