David DeJong, first candidate for UI provost, speaks at forum

At an open forum on Wednesday, the first candidate for UI executive vice president, David DeJong, fielded questions about a variety of topics.


Ryan Adams

Executive Vice Provost at the University of Pittsburgh David DeJong speaks during the provost forum in the IMU on Wednesday, January 16, 2019. DeJong is one of four finalists and a UI graduate. (Ryan Adams/ The Daily Iowan)

Charles Peckman, News Reporter

Students, staff, and faculty gathered in the Iowa Memorial Union Big Ten Theater on Wednesday to hear from David DeJong, the first finalist for the University of Iowa executive vice president and provost.

DeJong, who fielded questions on topics ranging from diversity to the cultivation of interdisciplinary ideas, is currently the executive vice provost at the University of Pittsburgh. Although he has spent the majority of his career East of Iowa, DeJong’s ties to the UI go back to 1989 when he received his Ph.D. in economics.

On Jan. 10, the UI announced that four candidates would participate in similar forums, and UI President Bruce Harreld will select the new provost once the visits conclude. Sue Curry has filled the role on an interim basis since April 2017 when former Provost Barry Butler left to serve as the president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

During Wednesday’s open forum, DeJong broke down his remarks into three categories, of which he said are central to his candidacy at the UI: the challenges and opportunities public-research universities need to prioritize, the type of intellectual community the university needs to sustain, and his experience in higher education.

“For [students,] we aspire them to be life-long learners,” DeJong said. “And that’s simply because of the need to keep your skillset sharp … to appreciate the beauty of a poem, or the transformation of power in a chemical reaction, or the elegance of a well-proven theory.”

Ryan Adams
An attendee asks a question during the provost forum in the IMU on Wednesday, January 16, 2019. DeJong is one of four finalists and a UI graduate.

After a brief presentation, DeJong fielded questions from the approximately 30 attendees. Christopher Cheatum, an associate professor of chemistry, said he was concerned about faculty retention.

“… Faculty, at least in the disciplines I’m connected to, stay or leave an institution largely on whether or not they can accomplish all their research goals,” Cheatum said. “Public higher education broadly, and Iowa in particular, are suffering the loss of their best people to largely private institutions. How is it at a public university that we’re going to stem the top?”

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DeJong said although retention is a problem that faces public institutions, the solutions can be difficult at times.

“If an intergalactic superstar comes whipping through here and leaves a lasting impact then failing to retain that person – well failure isn’t awesome – that’s an awesome thing to have happened,” DeJong said. “It’s a competitive environment we work in and we need to be resilient to do what we can to make this a great place to be, to nurture productivity and success, but Harvard is Harvard.”

Rachel Napoli, chief of staff at the office of the CIO, gave DeJong a challenge.

“I would like you to give us the elevator pitch that you would give about the value of a four-year degree to an Iowan who is outside the university community,” she said.

DeJong said he thinks a four-year education is an “amazing investment,” and added he believes universities such as the UI train people to become life-long learners. Ultimately, he said he believes he can bring his unique skillset to the UI.

“We don’t need to be bound to tradition when tradition is holding us back,” he said.