Opinion | Welcome to the job, Barbara Wilson. It’s time to get to work

With a new president leading the University of Iowa, it is important for Wilson to focus on key issues for the university.

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Ayrton Breckenridge

The new University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson addresses reporters 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. (Ayrton Breckenridge/The Daily Iowan)

Hannah Pinski, Opinions Editor


New beginnings are on the horizon for the University of Iowa as President Barbara Wilson starts her first day as the next head Hawkeye.

I could not be any more excited for Wilson to take over as leader, and so is most of the UI community. In fact, she received the most support from campus, with 80 percent of respondents supporting her for selection.

But now that she is in office, it is time to hold her accountable for the promising future she said she would bring to the university.

Wilson’s forum made an impression on the DI Editorial Board, which is why we endorsed her as one of the top choices for our university’s leader. Her background with the hospital system at the University of Illinois and praise from former colleagues made her a promising candidate for the job.

During the presidential search, members of The Daily Iowan opinions section and myself highlighted four key areas that the next head Hawkeye needs to focus on: diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives; sustainability; shared governance; and financial losses.

With the start of Wilson’s tenure, it is crucial to remind our next leader what the university needs as she steps into office.

Welcome to the job, UI President Barbara Wilson. Now, it’s time to get to work.

DEI Initiatives

In Wilson’s forum, she emphasized her involvement with mentorship programs to promote women and people of color in leadership positions as the executive vice president of student affairs at the University of Illinois system.

Now, as head Hawkeye, she needs to demonstrate her commitment to DEI initiatives by making it a priority at our university.

The UI has always struggled with DEI initiatives and retainment and recruitment of minority populations. The student body is 71.5 percent white, with minority groups making up less than 30 percent of the population.

There have been multiple instances where faculty of color felt like their voices were ignored by the UI. From petitions advocating on behalf of Black professors in the English department to frustrations about DEI efforts voiced by two professors of color at a Faculty Senate session, it is clear there is work that needs to be done.

But that work must stop at the very top of our leadership, and it is Wilson’s responsibility to set the example and tone for the rest of the university.

In a 2020 UI Campus Climate Survey, underrepresented groups reported lower satisfaction and a higher likelihood of leaving the institution in the last year.

Changing the status quo requires that the UI provides mentors and aims to recruit peers of minority groups that hold similar identities and understand their experiences. Wilson’s role is to lead the charge and create viable programs and plans like she did in Illinois for the university to follow through.

Creating an inclusive environment that will attract students and faculty of color, but it is important for the process to start right away. Improving our DEI initiatives and recruitment and retainment of faculty and students must be a priority on Wilson’s agenda as she steps into the president’s office.

Campus Connection

It is no secret that there is a disconnection between students and administration.

When former president Bruce Harreld retired, four activist groups from the UI and Iowa City community celebrated his departure by hosting a “bye bye Bruce” event and voiced their frustrations with him and the Board of Regents.

As previously reported by the DI, Undergraduate Student Government Student President Regan Smock even said there was a lack of trust in the student population when Harreld held office.

While members of the student body felt disconnected and unheard by the administration, having a new leader gives the opportunity to form the bonds that students felt were never there. Wilson’s history of collaborating with student leaders and shared governance not only needs to continue to make decisions best for the university, but also to form strong relationships with the campus community.

If Wilson makes major decisions for the university, it is important to include the student perspective. After all, we are a key pillar in the UI community and make up the bulk of the population.

Having strong and established relationships will make communication easier, and it ensures students feel like their voices are being heard. Instead of waiting until the Fall semester, Wilson needs to start reaching out to leaders now to demonstrate her commitment to student-focused presidency.

In her forum, Wilson said she would meet with student leaders on campus like she did at the University of Illinois. It is important for her not only to follow through with that promise, but also make sure relationships are built. Without trust or without connection, we do not have a community.

 


Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.


 

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