Head Hawkeyes reunite for UI presidential panel during Homecoming week

A panel of University of Iowa presidents past and present sat down Oct. 18 to reflect upon their tenures at the helm of the UI.

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Head Hawkeyes reunite for UI presidential panel during Homecoming week

Former UI President Hunter Rawlings (1988-2015) speaks during a panel discussion by four former University of Iowa Presidents and current UI President Bruce Harreld on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019 in the Voxman concert hall. The event coincided with the unveiling of portraits of former UI Presidents Mary Sue Coleman, David Skorton, and Sally Mason, which will be on display on the fifth floor of the UI Main Library.

Former UI President Hunter Rawlings (1988-2015) speaks during a panel discussion by four former University of Iowa Presidents and current UI President Bruce Harreld on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019 in the Voxman concert hall. The event coincided with the unveiling of portraits of former UI Presidents Mary Sue Coleman, David Skorton, and Sally Mason, which will be on display on the fifth floor of the UI Main Library.

Emily Wangen

Former UI President Hunter Rawlings (1988-2015) speaks during a panel discussion by four former University of Iowa Presidents and current UI President Bruce Harreld on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019 in the Voxman concert hall. The event coincided with the unveiling of portraits of former UI Presidents Mary Sue Coleman, David Skorton, and Sally Mason, which will be on display on the fifth floor of the UI Main Library.

Emily Wangen

Emily Wangen

Former UI President Hunter Rawlings (1988-2015) speaks during a panel discussion by four former University of Iowa Presidents and current UI President Bruce Harreld on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019 in the Voxman concert hall. The event coincided with the unveiling of portraits of former UI Presidents Mary Sue Coleman, David Skorton, and Sally Mason, which will be on display on the fifth floor of the UI Main Library.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

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The University of Iowa’s past and present head Hawkeyes gathered on campus recently to celebrate Homecoming and reflect on their leadership experiences.

Five former and current UI presidents reflected upon each of their presidential tenures in a panel at a Voxman Music Building concert hall filled with family, alums, and students Oct. 18. The panel discussed changes to higher education throughout their careers as well as the events and experiences that affected them.

Participants included former UI Presidents Hunter Rawlings, Mary Sue Coleman, David Skorton, and Sally Mason, as well as current UI President Bruce Harreld. The panel was hosted in honor of completed portraits for Coleman, Skorton, and Mason — which were on display at the event.

Related: University of Iowa history, told through the head Hawks’ eyes

Since the initial commission of UI presidential portraits, the presidential portrait gallery has moved multiple times on campus. The gallery arrived at its current location at the Main Library in 1972, UI archivist David McCartney said in an email to The Daily Iowan.

Emily Wangen
The newest additions to the Presidential Portrait Gallery are on display in the Voxman music building following a panel discussion by four former University of Iowa Presidents and current UI President Bruce Harreld on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019 in the Voxman concert hall. The event coincided with the unveiling of portraits of former UI Presidents Mary Sue Coleman, David Skorton, and Sally Mason, which will be on display on the fifth floor of the UI Main Library.

“[The portraits] allow us to consider the circumstances and challenges of earlier times, and to be reminded that education and the quest for scholarship endures,” McCartney said.

The first UI president and his successors sat for portraits until the tradition ended around 20 years ago, McCartney said. Library scholars at the university worked with the UI President’s Office and the Center for Advancement to resurrect the tradition, he said.

Related: Sandy Boyd reflects on a lifetime of scholarship, leadership at the UI

During the panel, Mason discussed how increased access to higher education creates a transformative experience for students who thought they would get the opportunity to attend college.

“The fact that this country, more than any other country, has higher education of all shapes, sizes, and flavors available to its populous means that there’s more access than ever before,” Mason said.

Skorton said he learned three things from Iowans in his time at the UI: University culture can seem foreign, some people turn to higher education out of desperation for an improved life, and students often struggle to understand the operational details of a university, Skorton said.

“I think we must go back and do a better job of trying to explain exactly what happens behind the curtain,” Skorton said.

Harreld emphasized the importance of a diverse group of decision-makers at the university and explained how recent changes in state funding have affected the UI.

“I think we all came to the conclusion that we need to own the future rather than reacting to the past,” Harreld said. “And that then set us on a path of changing the way we talk about things.”

Emily Wangen
Former University of Iowa President Sally Mason (2007-2015) answers a question during the UI Presidential panel discussion on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019 in the Voxman concert hall. The event coincided with the unveiling of portraits of former UI Presidents Mary Sue Coleman, David Skorton, and Sally Mason, which will be on display on the fifth floor of the UI Main Library.

Rawlings reflected upon the 1991 shooting on the UI campus and how it impacted his presidency. He remembered how members of the community came together for healing and how the UI Director of Communications at the time stepped up in the face of tragedy.

“That’s the kind of trauma that no one’s prepared for, no matter how much practice you have,” Rawlings said. “And frankly, we didn’t have practice for anything like that.”

Related: Three more years: Iowa regents extend Harreld’s contract until 2023

In response to a request for advice on entering a leadership role such as a university presidency, Coleman noted the importance of keeping the campus community informed by clearly explaining issues brought to the President’s Office.

The first thing Coleman learned, she said, was that a president should listen to the people who will be affected by a decision and allow each to give their input. The president should then explain to community members why that particular decision was the chosen course of action, she said.

“The second thing I learned was go out and talk to all kinds of people; don’t keep yourself in a bubble,” Coleman said. “Get out and talk to people in the community.”

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