IOWA CITY — Months after a key deadline was missed in the University of Iowa’s sweeping review of how it can become a “nimble” campus pursuing academic excellence amid financial headwinds, talk of the controversial process — at least publicly — has evaporated.
A committee report synthesizing findings after meeting with a broad array of university employees and students was due last spring. But no report has emerged.
Administrators, in response to questions from The Gazette about where the “UI 2020 Initiative” stands, said the report is being prepared for release later this fall.
The first phase of the initiative had produced a report that caused trepidation among the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences faculty, who feared the review would lead to breaking apart the largest of the UI colleges.
In the second phase, a committee charged with leading a comprehensive assessment of the UI structure and recommending ways to optimize it spent last fall meeting with students, faculty and staff; holding forums; and collecting information online.
The committee was to deliver a report with “a menu of recommendations and implementation strategies” to Interim Provost Sue Curry by the last spring semester.
UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said it “took longer than expected to put together” and has not been finalized.
“The committee and administration chose to extend the time frame rather than rush the report,” she said in an email. “The 2020 process has occurred during budget cuts, leadership searches, and the creation of a new budget model for the university, which all require careful consideration as the committee pursues its charge.”
Indeed, budget cuts the organizational review partly was intended to address have played a role in its delay.
The 2020 process is to review the school’s “academic organizational structure, with the goal of helping the UI become a more forward-looking, nimble university that focuses our limited resources in support of academic excellence.”
But the UI has absorbed millions in budget cuts and take backs from the Iowa Legislature, prompting it to freeze faculty pay, temporarily halt campus construction and close some academic centers.
Changes in UI leadership closely involved in the review process, too, contributed to the delay.
Among the many leadership changes and departures during the review process was that of Chaden Djalali, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences from 2012 until his recent hiring as executive vice president and provost of Ohio University.
Three months after the UI launched its organizational review, Djalali in March 2017 announced he would leave in 16 months, on July 1. He cited both personal issues and changes being faced by the college.
A short time later, Djalali got an extension of his deanship through June 30, maintaining his $348,317 annual salary.
For much of that year, he was in the job market as a top finalist for provost positions across the country — including at the University of Illinois-Urbana, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Connecticut, Ball State University in Indiana, Ohio University and the University of Texas-San Antonio.
Ultimately, on May 7, 2018, Ohio University named Djalali its new provost, to start Aug. 1. A UI announcement said his last day at the university would be June 30.
But he stayed on as a visiting professor in the UI Department of Physics and Astronomy during the month of July, earning a wage of $26,123.77 for just that month. The average UI faculty salary in the 2018 budget year was $111,952, according to Board of Regents documents, or $9,329 a month.
UI officials said it no longer has access to Djalali’s calendar information for that month, as it terminates accounts 14 days after the end of employment. It does not have any documentation of its agreement to keep him on in July, officials told The Gazette.
Even before Djalali announced plans to leave UI in March 2017, he was a frequent finalist among open provost posts across the country, including at University of South Carolina in June 2015; Chapman University in California in March 2016; Kansas University in April 2016; and University of Alabama in December 2016.
Before his hire at UI, he was a named finalist for the same job at Iowa State University in October 2011. ISU instead chose Beate Schmittmann as dean of its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
During a UI Faculty Senate meeting in October, Interim Provost Curry gave an update on the review and a report from its first phase.
“A common concern heard during the campus discussions was whether our current collegiate and administrative units optimized our future research and teaching potential,” according to the report. “Especially where colleges were over-large and disparate in the assortment of academic units, several disadvantages were noted.”
Curry, at the time, said the UI did not plan to search for Djalali’s replacement until after the review was over.
Wording of that first report paired with the delayed decision on a new dean raised alarm among the faculty that administrators were eyeing a College of Liberal Arts & Sciences breakup.
“We and other campus constituencies request that more extensive information be provided throughout the rest of the 2020 process,” according to a faculty response. “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.”
In November, the UI announced the review’s second phase would involve more faculty and the broader campus.
Curry also backtracked on a delay in the dean search. The UI announced Feb. 1 a search committee for the job.
The committee still is accept applications for the head of its largest college, which enrolls more than 19,000 undergraduate and graduate students in 37 departments and has about 700 faculty members. Its next leader — among other things — “will evaluate current structures and operations.”
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