University of Iowa changes course, will search for new liberal arts dean

Nov 20, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Print View

IOWA CITY — After reporting plans to delay a search for a new College of Liberal Arts and Sciences dean until after the completion of a campuswide review that some have worried is fated to break up the college, the University of Iowa has reversed course and is moving forward with a search.

In an email to the college’s faculty Friday, interim UI Provost Sue Curry said the about-face came in response to concerns from faculty members, many of whom voiced opposition to postponing the search during a Faculty Senate meeting last month.

Among the reasons, faculty argued a delay could drive away elite scholars, make it harder to recruit new talent, affect the entire university’s standing with the prestigious Association of American Universities and harm its national ranking — despite UI President Bruce Harreld’s vocal push to improve rankings and recruit the “best and brightest.”

“I had initially planned to wait until after the completion of the second phase of the Academic Organizational Structure 2020 Initiative,” according to Curry’s email. “After listening to your concerns, I agree that it is in the best interest of the college and the university to begin a search sooner rather than later.”

A faculty committee penned a letter to Curry on Oct. 31 pointing out potential harms caused by delaying a search to replace the college’s current Dean Chaden Djalali, who announced in March his intention to step down in July.

“The current dean in CLAS at the moment is in transition of departure, creating a hiatus in leadership,” according to the letter, which argued delaying the search until after a campus reorganization could postpone a hire for years.

“There does not appear to be sufficient apprehension of the serious risks to the college’s reputation in not appointing a permanent dean,” according to the letter. “During this period of uncertainty, many of the very best faculty and staff in CLAS may well receive offers to move to other universities.”

Curry last month was clear about the university’s plan to wait to search for a new dean until after an “Academic Organizational Structure 2020 Initiative,” which launched in January with the charge to study the UI academic organizational structure and make it a “more forward-looking, nimble university that focuses our limited resources in support of academic excellence.”

That initiative wasn’t initially pitched as a two-phase project involving two separate committees. But Curry recently announced a second phase to what she called the first phase — which produced a report that many liberal arts faculty perceived as largely directed toward them and their entity.

Specifically, the phase I report noted perceived disadvantages “where colleges were over-large and disparate in the assortment of academic units.” Some took that as indication the UI administration is posturing to breaking up the largest college on campus — which dates back to 1900 and enrolls 51 percent of the student body.

“The vast majority of CLAS faculty and staff are strongly in opposition to the idea of breaking up the college,” according to the faculty letter to Curry. “We feel that if the implications of the phase I plan as currently expressed were to be pursued without sufficient commitment to the principles of shared governance, there could be tragic consequences for the future of the University of Iowa and the legacy of the Office of the President.”

Curry last week thanked faculty for their “thoughtful and constructive input” — specially related to the dean search — and agreed to begin identifying co-chairs for a committee charged with searching for a new dean, in expectation of seating a full search committee by the start of next semester.

She has not disclosed specifics of when a search might launch. A report from the phase II organization review is due to the provost in early spring 2018.

“I now agree that the search for a new dean can run parallel to the 2020 initiative and, as a result, improve the outcome for both,” she said.

In the midst of the initiative’s second phase, university administrators and a 13-person phase II committee have been meeting with campus constituents and groups and holding public forums — two more are scheduled for Dec. 3 and 4.

Chris Brochu, a UI earth & environmental sciences professor and chairman of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Faculty Assembly, told The Gazette on Monday he’s been impressed with the phase II process so far and is pleased to hear a dean search will ensue next semester.

“That we’ll be searching for a dean sooner rather than later is very good news,” he said. “I’m grateful that Provost Curry was willing to listen to us and consider our arguments.”

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