Guest Opinion | University of Iowa needs to improve its hiring practices

A UI College of Law professor writes why Kevin Kregel’s appointment as provost hurts the UI’s hiring practices.


Jenna Galligan

The Old Capitol is seen on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

I don’t know Kevin Kregel, so the testimonials offered by the University of Iowa in support of his appointment as provost may be accurate in every way. Nonetheless, I believe that the decision to change his appointment from interim provost to permanent provost was a mistake for multiple reasons.

First, making such a decision in the middle of a search for a new president is a terrible idea. The search firm hired by the UI will say whatever it wants about this. However, having served on one presidential search committee and chaired another, I know that presidential candidates care deeply about having the ability to choose all or part of their senior leadership team.

By locking his team in place with this and other recent appointments, President Bruce Harreld has greatly diminished the ability of a new president to set a new direction for the university. This will dissuade some top candidates.

Second, filling this important position without a search is bad for the UI, and contradicts the best practices in hiring that apply across campus. Those rules require advertising of even lower-level positions to ensure consideration of a broad range of candidates and avoid good-old-boy decisions that undermine equal opportunity.

President Harreld’s refusal to follow those rules sets an example for others in the UI that will have negative long-term consequences. As provost, will Mr. Kregel be able to require deans and department chairs to follow hiring rules that didn’t apply to him?

Third, hiring without a search is unlikely to yield the best candidate for the job. There are dozens — perhaps hundreds — of academics across the nation who would have applied for this position. A search may have revealed Mr. Kregel as the best person for the job, but it also may have yielded many more highly qualified candidates with experiences that would allow them to refresh and enhance the academic environment at the UI. Unfortunately, we’ll never know that he was the best person for the job.

Fourth, a search would have provided the university with the opportunity to find outside candidates who can bring new ideas and knowledge to our campus. Having spent his entire career at Iowa (both as a student and as an academic), Mr. Kregel knows one way of doing things. To the extent he has ideas about necessary changes, those ideas will be uninformed by experience elsewhere.

Experience on another campus is not necessary in an academic leader, but it is useful. It helps leaders identify new ideas that have worked elsewhere, and it protects them from adopting new ideas that have proven ineffective or harmful elsewhere.

Finally, searches for campus leaders are important opportunities to identify and discuss critical campus issues and build campus community. In that respect, the search for a provost is even more important than the search for a president.

Our provost generally has an outsized role in setting the academic priorities and direction of the campus. The discussions and debates that are present during a full-fledged search for such an academic leader are of value to the campus and to the person who ultimately takes the job.

I implore Mr. Kregel and our other campus leaders to put a stop to this kind of hiring practice. It violates every principle of equal opportunity in employment, deprives the UI of the ability to choose from a wide range of talented people and it prevents the university from getting the occasional infusion of “new blood” that is essential to institutional success in a changing world.

Jonathan Carlson, University of Iowa College of Law Professor

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