Guest Opinion | No future in sight with Barbara Wilson

A University of Iowa Undergraduate Student Government senator expresses their concerns as Wilson begins her tenure as president of the university.


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.

On April 15, candidate Barbara Wilson held her public forum in the Levitt Center for University Advancement. Fortunately, I was able to attend the session in person. My early arrival ensured a front seat where I was able to discern her closely, right behind the incoming Undergraduate Student Government President Regan Smock.

Before the forum, Wilson sat in a chair nervously fidgeting with her pearl necklace. I could hardly see any confidence in Wilson compared to the previous candidate.

In her introduction, Wilson gilded her past experience as the executive vice president for the University of Illinois System. Although it is important to not dismiss her background, it is critical to focus on what she is not bringing to the table. Wilson failed to share her vision for Iowa and fell flat on discussing what she will do as the president.

When asked how she will make the international students feel safe on campus, Wilson went on to discuss making Iowa a destination spot for international students by ensuring their safety. The lack of strategic plans and initiatives in her response was worrisome.

The public forum was no more than a spot for a delivery of polished-sounding lines filled with buzz words: “making Iowa a destination spot,” “I am an experienced leader in…,” and “we need to make the campus more inclusive.” These thoughts were superficial and lacked substantive directions on how to effectively address the needs of the community.

Contrast to steadfast Hari Osofsky from Penn State, who outlined four areas of innovation in her opening speech, Wilson’s responses provided an ominous sign that she will bluff her answers for the rest of the forum with the skills she learned from her communication degrees.

Wilson failing to properly answer the questions was not an uncommon occurrence during this forum. When she responded to a question that her own university was also facing: the rising cost of tuition causing in-state students to leave (most of them came to Iowa), Wilson said that the worry of in-state tuition should be solved by the recruiting of out-of-state students.

This is concerning because there’s a generational enrollment decline currently happening. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the total college enrollment has decreased from the height of 21.02 million in 2010 to 19.65 million in 2018. Out-of-state enrollment is not a sustainable solution.

Wilson initially showed hesitation applying.

“I didn’t apply right away because I needed to learn a little bit about the position and make sure it was a great fit for me, but as soon as I figured that out, I put my application in and the process started,” she said.

It seems that Wilson only learned about the position, not the university. She mentioned that she isn’t experienced with Iowa culture and failed to disclose her opinion on Iowa’s 2030 sustainability goals.

After hearing the result of the selection process, my hope for a brighter Iowa dimmed. The UI needs a proactive leader that can prevent issues arising in advance, not someone who did not do any homework beforehand and still thinks they can be the president of our university.

-Xiangheng Li, First Generation Senator for University of Iowa Undergraduate Student Government

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