WEST DES MOINES — Rebuilding trust on campus and dealing with issues in advance of possible censure by a national faculty group will be job one for new University of Northern Iowa President William Ruud, he said Thursday after being chosen by the state Board of Regents.
UNI faculty and student leaders agreed that mending fences is the necessary first step for Ruud to repair campus relationships after a tumultuous year and a half that saw dozens of program cuts and a faculty vote of no-confidence in retiring UNI President Ben Allen.
When asked how he would handle the challenge, Ruud recalled an Army sergeant who once told him “you got two eyes, you got two ears, you got one mouth, use them proportionately.”
“Still true today,” Ruud, 60, said. “Occasionally we have challenges, we will work through those challenges and because of those we’ll be a better place.”
Ruud will start as UNI’s 10th president on June 1 at a salary of $340,000. His three-year contract includes a $50,000 annual deferred compensation plan.
Several regents, after unanimously selecting Ruud, said it was a tough choice between him and the other finalist, Michael Wartell, chancellor emeritus at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. The regents deliberated in closed session for nearly three hours after interviewing the two.
But ultimately, the regents liked Ruud’s strong experience as president since 2007 of Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, a regional comprehensive university similar to UNI in size, educational programs, challenges and strengths, Regents President Pro Tem Bruce Rastetter said. At Shippensburg, Ruud has helped raise about $30 million toward a $45 million fundraising campaign, and has worked to grow enrollment.
“We’re excited about his enthusiasm, his knowledge, his vision for education, and we think he’ll help heal some of the wounds at UNI with the faculty, and we heard that loud and clear when we visited with him,” Rastetter said, also praising the tough choices made by Allen at UNI. “We’ve got a great university and that image needs to be raised to attract more students.”
Ruud noted a tuition advantage program Shippensburg uses to attract quality students from neighboring states. He said UNI should be proud that 93 percent of students are from Iowa, but work to attract students from outside the state as well. Enrollment declines in recent years were partly to blame for budget cuts.
“I think it ought to be celebrated that UNI is the backbone of Iowa,” Ruud said. “At the same time, I think we can’t be blinded by the fact that we have a lot of talent in our border states and around the United States.”
UNI is facing censure by the American Association of University Professors, after a December report from that group found administrators violated governance, academic freedom and tenure procedures when they eliminated programs last year. That censure vote would not happen until June, and Ruud said he will spend the next months working toward a possible solution.
Dan Power, president of UNI United Faculty, said he’s cautiously optimistic that working constructively with Ruud, UNI may be able to avoid censure. The faculty “have been hurt” and were left out of administrative decisions in the past, Power said.
“If there’s a will to mend relations with the faculty and correct some serious issues, then it will happen,” Power said. “I think he has what we need right now to move forward.”
Some students also were left bitter by the cuts, but Ruud seems to be “all about” working with students, said Jordan Bancroft-Smithe, 23, student government president.
“When he was interacting with students it was immediately apparent that the students were drawn in and attune to what he was saying,” the senior from Waverly said.
Allen, UNI president since 2006, said via email Thursday he thinks the regents made an “excellent choice between two very strong candidates,” and he looks forward to working with Ruud in the leadership transition.