Eight to interview for Iowa State presidency

Eight people will interview to be Iowa State's next president.

The search committee met Tuesday afternoon to select which of the 64 applicants -- 59 men and five women -- would make the cut for initial interviews.

By the numbers

Janice Fitzgerald of AGB Search provided the search committee with some specifics: 

  • In emailing higher education groups, strong candidates from prior searches, former colleagues and others, AGB's initial blast when the job description was posted in early July went to more than 6,200 people.
  • Thirty-two of the 171 people nominated for the position ending up applying, making up half of the candidate pool. Search consultants reached out to each of the 171 nominees, though 37 of them didn't respond to emails. Sixty-one of the 232 individual nominations suggested by 148 nominators were repeats.
  • Thirty-four people not nominated expressed interest to AGB. Seventeen of them applied.
  • AGB spoke by phone with 82 applicants or possible applicants, many of them more than once.

The deliberations were private to protect the identifies of candidates. After meeting for a little more than three hours, the committee convened publicly and disclosed how many semifinalists it picked. The committee didn't identify the gender, race or ethnicity of the semifinalists.

AGB Search, the firm hired by the state Board of Regents to guide the search, didn't provide any demographic breakdown of the 64 applicants, other than suspected gender. Candidates weren't required to provide information about their gender, race or ethnicity in the application.

All 64 applicants were reviewed by committee members, without any vetting by AGB.  

Semifinalist interviews, about 75 minutes with each candidate, will be held at an off-campus site Sept. 26-27. Further details will be released about a week before the interviews.

Assessing applicants

Before its private deliberations, the committee received training on how to avoid implicit bias during its selection process.

It's impossible to prevent your brain from taking shortcuts, but clear criteria and an awareness of common pitfalls can help prevent unintentional hiring discrimination, said Sriram Sundararajan, associate dean for academic affairs and equity advisor for the College of Engineering.

For instance, suggesting a candidate would be a "bad fit" could be a concern, Sundararajan said. It might mask cultural discomfort with a candidate. He urged committee members to press for examples and specifics.

"If that happens, don't be a silent bystander," he said.

Prematurely ranking candidates before reviewing them all also can lead to biased decision-making, Sundararajan said.

As part of the bias training, Reg Stewart, vice president for diversity and inclusion, told the committee Iowa State's next president needs to see equity as fundamental to leadership.

"It's not niche. It's not something you can put to the side and have some people working on it," he said.

A track record of sensitivity on polarizing issues related to race and ethnicity is crucial, he said.

"If you haven't demonstrated capacity for that, you're a liability," Stewart said. "We do not want someone who has to learn this on the job."

Diversity and inclusion was one of the themes committee members raised during a brief discussion at the end of the meeting about what questions to pose to candidates. Other themes topics included funding and private giving, growth issues, athletics, shared governance, economic development and student success. AGB will develop the actual questions to be asked of all candidates.

What's next

Prior to the interviews later this month, AGB consultants will call the semifinalists' references and share what they learn with the committee.

After interviews throughout the day Sept. 26 and the morning of Sept. 27, the committee will decide the afternoon of Sept. 27 which of the eight to forward as finalists. Between three and five candidates will be invited to visit campus for interviews and meetings, including a public forum. AGB will conduct a thorough background check of finalists, including references not listed on their application and court records, and confirm their credentials.

On-campus visits will be Oct. 5-6 and Oct. 9-10. Finalists will be identified publicly 24 hours before they arrive on campus. The search committee will solicit feedback on each finalist via an online form that will likely be avilable on the university's presidential search website

Finalists sometimes withdraw at the last minute, avoiding public identification. In the 2011 search, for instance, four finalists were selected, but two dropped out. Jim McCormick of AGB said some potential candidates who spoke with the consultants declined to apply because finalists will be public.

The 21-member search committee, co-chaired by College of Design Dean Luis Rico-Gutierrez and Dan Houston, chairman, president and CEO of Principal Financial Group, plans to provide a report to the regents at the board's Oct. 23 meeting. The committee will not rank the finalists.

After interviewing candidates at the Oct. 23 meeting, regents are expected to select Iowa State's 16th president.

Former President Steven Leath left this spring to be president of Auburn University. Interim President Benjamin Allen has been leading the university since May and will continue in that role until the new president assumes office in early 2018.

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