Campus wants president willing to lead discussion

Maggie Curry

“This is a president for all of us.”

College of Design Dean Luis Rico-Gutierrez opened the first public forum in the search for the next president of Iowa State University with those words.

It is the reason the committee is holding forums this early in the search – to get community input on what qualities and priorities candidates need to have.

The search firm assisting the committee, AGB Search, was delayed in attending the first forum, but the meeting was recorded and will be on the website,

Rico-Gutierrez opened the forum asking about the challenges coming to Iowa State’s community in the next ten years. James Tener, a senior lecturer in the music department, first mentioned the political situation with the state and the loss of state funding.

“It seems to me the person is going to have to be politically savvy,” Tener said. Tener also said the person would have to “really stand up” for campus and go into the offices on the capital that need to be gone into.

Tener also mentioned the fundraising side of the job. Tener wanted to make sure donors’ opinions match with what the university would want to stand for. 

“We need somebody who understands that where you get the money is important,” Tener said. 

“The new president has to value the research that goes on at Iowa State,” Zuercher said. That includes funding the research and the support systems for research to happen.

Oberhauser also said the value of open-forums as a public university needs to be supported by the incoming president. Oberhauser said a president who “appreciates open dialogue” was a priority.

In the past the fact Iowa is a great place to raise a family has been emphasized in drawing potential hires. Nicci Port in the office of the Vice President for Diversity & Inclusion said that drove her crazy and could narrow the search.

“While Ames is a great place to raise a family, we don’t necessarily need a president with a family,” Port said. “I would encourage us to maybe check some of our assumptions.”

Add your input. For those who cannot attend a forum but would like to provide input on desired candidate characteristics and qualifications, comments may be emailed to [email protected] no later than June 19.


That enrollment number

Ann Oberhauser, a professor in sociology and women’s studies, said she has just finished her second year on campus. She said she wanted a president aware of the enrollment and capacity impacts on the institution and the town.

“I think that the rapid increase in enrollment is really causing a stress on the infrastructure and social capacity of the institution,” Oberhauser said. “There’s gotta be a different way or a better way of bringing in that additional revenue.”

Rico-Gutierrez said increased enrollment could be seen as both a challenge that needs to be addressed and an opportunity for the next president to make their mark.

Ann Campbell, the Mayor of Ames, spoke on impacts on the community from large student growth, including the university’s land use and the demands on city infrastructure. CyRide is anticipating upwards of 7 million riders in the next year, Mayor Campbell said.

“You see the mushrooming of apartment buildings that are by and large student apartments, and generally with no supervision,” Campbell said.

She also said neighborhoods are going from single-family to almost dormitory style housings as families and landowners lease to more and more students. Campbell said this has led to changes in neighborhoods and ultimately school closures.

The importance of community input is why one forum will be held on Main Street. Rico-Gutierrez said the community and university’s futures are linked.

Not reinventing the wheel

Jon Fleming, an alum and community member, spoke on the structure already in place at Iowa State, particularly among the deans, and how an incoming president shouldn’t try to overhaul the system.

“This is a team that works extraordinarily well together,” Fleming said.

A representative from the alumni association said there were areas that needed restructured. A member of the study abroad center said the same thing. Some things are repetitive under each college, instead of being centralized under the department. They both hoped for a stronger, unified message about their programs.

For the Director of University Marketing, Carole Custer, Iowa State’s strong message was her entire job. She came with a list of talking points, among them the importance of speaking with one voice and keeping the “student-centered” brand.

“We go from president to president and each of them have their own kind of way of looking at the horizon,” Custer said.

That horizon has been different things; being the university the capitol city partners with first or national prominence are just a few. Custer spoke on the importance of extension, research and the cultivation corridor project continuing.

Ultimately, she said she preferred a current sitting president coming to Iowa State from another institution who would know the importance of long-term planning, not a president-in-training.

“[The university is] pretty darn good at what we do,” Custer said. “We’ve survived a lot of presidents.”

Transparency and accessibility

Those were just two characteristics attendees hope to see in the next president.

“The things that we’ve heard about the [former] president last year have not been great,” Tener said. “I think that something’s broken with regards to the sense of what the president is allowed to do, sometimes, on the side. There’s another element that I think about, and that is at the University of Iowa we had some problems with the last search.”

Tener was talking about the response to the newest president of Iowa, which was overwhelmingly negative. In can be safe to assume that this presidential committee would also like to avoid protests of their choice.

“The reason some of us are here is that we want to make sure whatever went wrong [at Iowa] doesn’t go wrong again,” Tener said.

ISU is an opportunity, not a stepping stone

“I hope it’s not somebody who’s going to come here and make their mark in five years and move on,” Jose Rosa, professor in marketing, said.

Rosa had sat on presidential committees before. His concern was weeding out the people who want to make improvements at Iowa State for the sake of their CV, not for the university. He also warned that it can be easy to be overwhelmed and make the choice on something inane. He compared it to potential homebuyers, who become overwhelmed and choose a home based on the countertops or the tree in the backyard.

Rosa also mentioned that diversity was an important issue for an incoming president to be aware of as the demographics of the state change.

Rosa said the university needs someone to believe in the institution, and to see Iowa State for what it is. 

Juan Duchimaza-Heredia, a graduate assistant in chemistry, one of the few students at the first forum, said that more openness from the president and proactivity on campus and national issues was a priority for them. VEISHEA was one example of reactive action instead of being proactive about what behavior should be encouraged ahead of time.

Duchimaza-Heredia also wanted an open president who can admit what they can and cannot do and being honest about what they will do. A bonus would be someone who is bilingual or multilingual and who has had experience internationally. 

“I think we have a lot of hard conversations that need to happen on campus and throughout the United States in general,” said Liz Zuercher, director of the grant hub. “I’d just like to see our next leader help us maneuver through those tough conversations.”

A background in faculty, industry … or both?

When asked whether the next president needs to have a university background, the room was split. Some felt that, although nationwide this is changing, a tenured faculty member is necessary to lead a university of faculty. Some felt the industry background would help advise students and work with fundraising and legal issues.

Having both would allow a president to fulfill all duties with prior experience.

“I think that choosing somebody who can deal only with donors and with political interests, as important as that is, but that does not inherently understand university, is the type of leader that ultimately neglects university,” Rosa said. “We need somebody who understands us.”

Nancy Camarillo, in multicultural student affairs, said that besides academic record she wants a president who hasn’t only seen one side of the university, to make sure they understand the work done in different sectors of the university.

“They have to understand the work that we do, because that’s a major component of us fulfilling this land-grant mission,” Camarillo said.