Shouldn’t University of Iowa President be a destination, not a resume builder?

Time rates the best College President

I noticed former Iowa president Mary Sue Coleman made the list, and it crystalized for me a real dissatisfaction about the University of Iowa, my alma mater and current employer. To wit: Why was the last ‘career’ President of the University of Iowa Sandy Boyd? He was here for 12 years, and even came back for 2 years to act as interim president. Virgil Hancher was at Iowa for 24 years!

If you look back, it seems like anyone of actual talent and ability in the job gets hired away by higher-profile Universities after a few years in the job here. James O Friedman? 5 years here and then to Dartmouth, Hunter Rawlngs 7 years, and then on to Cornell U, Mary Sue Coleman 7 years, then on to University of Michigan, David Skorton 3 years, and then to Cornell.

I guess I should be resigned to this happening. In my field, staying 3 years is certainly respectable before moving on. But I wonder why it is that they can’t retain people for longer than that. It’s not a prestige thing, per se. Iowa’s not Harvard, but it’s not a Honduran diploma mill either. I suspect that the real fault comes down to the Iowa Legislature. A significant minority of the people in the legislature actively hate the University, and regard Iowa City as a hotbed of sin and subversion. When it comes time to fund higher education, the University has continually had to make do with less.

I first attended Iowa in 1976, and it was a completely different place. Tuition was dirt cheap — it’s gone up drastically since then, even adjusting for inflation. There were more tenured faculty teaching undergraduates, and there were more tenure track faculty positions, period. It’s depressing to have stayed around for the intervening 33 years, watching things gradually go more and more down-market.

But when it comes to our current president Sally Mason, I think that we may be stuck with her for the long run. Her signature action in the office was failing to agressively manage the official response to the rape of a student athelete, and then throwing two distinguished college administrators under the bus to save her job. That’s not such a resume builder.

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