Robillard ready for challenge


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Twelve hours a day — from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. — the man who may become the next interim president dedicates a full-time effort to the University of Iowa.

Jean Robillard, the UI vice president for Medical Affairs, is the top dog for UI Health Care and the Carver College of Medicine, where he’s made it his goal to cut costs, boost efficiency, and keep the college and hospital programs among the top in the nation.

“Don’t call it work — it’s fun,” he said.

And he’s about to play an even bigger part in determining the future of the university.

State Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter said he and Regent President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland plan to recommend that Robillard be appointed interim president during the regents’ April 22 and 23 meeting in Council Bluffs.

He would begin after UI President Sally Mason’s retirement on July 31.

The appointment would be in addition to the duties Robillard has as the head of the search panel tasked with finding a new president for the UI.

“My first goal is to make sure we recruit a good president and to make sure that there’s really excitement on campus about this and the place is ready for that person and so on,” he said.

He anticipates he would be able to continue his work as VP for Medical Affairs during his presidency because as the search is scheduled to last fewer than six months.

Robillard, 71, a French-Canadian doctor who was born and raised in Montréal, Québec, arrived at the UI in 1973 and stayed for two years researching pediatric nephrology.

He returned and spent 1976 to 1996 as an assistant professor.

“ ‘I said, why did we come here? It’s too small — I will never survive,’ ” Robillard said he told his wife, Renée, at first. “Renée told me, ‘If you come here, you’ll be here for a long time,’ and I said, ‘Never,’ but I was here for 20 years and came back.”

Robillard said that now, he couldn’t imagine living in a large city again.

He later taught at the University of Michigan before making his way back to the UI in 2003, when then-interim President Willard “Sandy” Boyd appointed him dean of the College of Medicine.

Boyd was the UI president from 1969 to 1981 and served as interim president between 2002 and 2003.

Four years later, the next UI interim president, Gary Fethke, appointed Robillard to be the school’s first ever vice president for Medical Affairs, overseeing hospital functions as well as the medical school.

Both Boyd and Fethke said they had complete confidence in his ability to lead as interim president.

Boyd noted Robillard’s long history working with UI faculty and the major responsibility he already has at the university.

“He couldn’t be better prepared,” Boyd said. “Robillard knows this place inside and out.”

Fethke said Robillard’s appointment sets a high standard of excellence for the next UI president.

“I think [Robillard’s appointment] would be an excellent decision,” Fethke said. “He has a very solid reputation in the university, is highly respected, and he’s a doer — he’s made an enormous number of changes for the UIHC.”

The two former interim presidents, however, had differing ideas about what the provisional president should do in terms of making major decisions until the next president is found.

Fethke said while he was interim president, he noticed changes that needed to be made for the university and made them.

For example, during his one-and-a-half year interim presidency, Fethke chose a new athletics director and reorganized UIHC, creating Robillard’s current position.

“I hope when [Robillard] gets in there, he continues to make good decisions and not hesitate,” he said.

Boyd, on the other hand, said he believed in the opposite approach.

He said the interim president should “keep the steady course” but also noted that Robillard “needs no advice.”

Robillard said when the regents approached him about being a potential interim president, he said he would agree so long as it wouldn’t last more than one year.

He pointed out almost two months of the interim presidency would be during the summer months, when most students are away from campus.

Robillard hopes the search committee will bring a president to campus by the end of the fall semester.

Jean Robillard

Two top regents will recommend that Jean Robillard, the UI vice president for Medical Affairs, become the interim president upon President Sally Mason’s retirement.

• Robillard is from Québec.
• He first came to the UI in 1973 to study pediatric nephrology.
• He served as assistant professor from 1976 to 1996.
• He left for the University of Michigan before returning to the UI in 2003 to become dean of the College of Medicine.
• He entered his current position in 2007.
• Robillard is also the head of the Presidential Search Committee.

Source: University of Iowa

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