Editorial | Barbara Wilson brings promising vision to University of Iowa

University of Illinois System’s executive vice president, Barbara Wilson will take the helm as the next University of Iowa president July 15. Wilson is an excellent choice, and the Board urges Wilson to stick to her student-focused mission, even when the going gets tough.


Ayrton Breckenridge

The new University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson speaks to reporters at a press conference in the Levitt Center for University Advancement on April 30, 2021. Wilson becomes the 22nd president for the University of Iowa and was previously the Executive Vice President and Vice President for Academic Affairs for the University of Illinois.

The University of Iowa’s future looks bright after the state Board of Regents selected Barbara Wilson as the 22nd president of our 31,000-student institution.

Wilson, currently the University of Illinois System’s executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs, was one of the two candidates that The Daily Iowan Editorial Board wrote would be excellent picks as the next head Hawkeye. We are excited with the regents’ selection and can’t wait to see the path the university will take under her leadership. The board urges Wilson to stick to her meet-people, student-focused goals she outlined in her forum.

It’s no secret that she will face a number of headwinds entering this position: financial struggles, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and reforming campus safety. But her lengthy résumé in academic administration and emphasis on building connections with campus stakeholders is what we hope will enable her to successfully lead the institution.

During her public forum on April 15, Wilson highlighted that she would include students and shared-governance leaders in decision-making that is transparent and productive. Her work at the University of Illinois System, including regularly meeting with student leaders and creating stricter sexual misconduct guidelines, exhibits the potential she has to make a positive impact as a leader of the UI.

At a time when some students feel their voices are going unheard by the current administration in Jessup Hall, as highlighted when four University of Iowa and Iowa City community activist groups hosted a “Bye Bye Bruce” event, it has never been more important for the next leader to improve relationships. Her endorsement from colleagues and Iowa campus leaders shows how Wilson can bridge the gap between administration and students.

In answering questions from reporters on Friday, Wilson focused on students as the nucleus of the university’s mission. Wilson stressed that she wanted to raise graduation rates and cut down on the time students needed to graduate. She told reporters she wanted to return to a position that focused more on students than her current, more outward-facing role as executive vice president of a three-university system allows.

It was sentiment reiterated from her public forum.

“I love meeting with students,” Wilson said at the forum. “I had monthly lunch meetings with student leaders from the Greek system, international students, students working on sexual violence prevention, and I think that any leader of an organization like this has to have students in his or her ears all the time, because that’s what we’re about. We’re about students.”

Wilson also focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion as priority during her forum. Part of her initiatives at the University of Illinois System in these efforts was retainment and recruitment of faculty and creating an environment for diverse instructors. During her forum, she said that she plans on surrounding herself with people who come from diverse backgrounds to help her make more educated decisions.

As the UI struggles with faculty relationships, especially when it comes to faculty of color, and a recent decline in tenured faculty, it’s important that Wilson follows through with efforts spearheaded by the Chief Executive Officer for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Liz Tovar, if the UI wants to remain a top-tier academic institution.

Additionally, her emphasis on promoting people of all backgrounds into higher administrative positions, particularly women and people of color, will hopefully create diversity in leadership positions that the UI is currently lacking.

One part of accessibility, we believe, is achieved through public access to the university’s administrators. Answering questions from media members, especially the student-run DI, is essential to keeping leaders accountable and their actions transparent.

The DI has greatly appreciated regular sit downs, twice a semester, with current President Bruce Harreld, and hopes that incoming president Barbara Wilson will continue that tradition.

Campus asked for a leader with experience in higher-education administration. With Wilson’s two decades with the University of Illinois System, including as an interim chancellor — the equivalent of an Iowa university president — the regents picked an excellent choice.

Editorials reflect the majority opinion of the DI Editorial Board and not the opinion of the publisher, Student Publications Inc., or the University of Iowa.

Editorial board members are Sarah WatsonAlexandra Skores, Hannah Pinski, Evan Mantler, and Cesar Perez.