Former UNI president named ISU interim president

Former UNI President

NICK FISHER, Executive Editor

Former UNI President Ben Allen has been named the interim president of Iowa State University (ISU)  following their current president’s departure to take up the helm at Auburn University.

Steven Leath, ISU’s current president, was named Auburn’s 19th president on March 20. The Board of Regents (BOR) voted to approve Allen for interim duties on March 27, and he will officially take over beginning May 9.

“It is indeed an honor to be asked to serve as interim president of Iowa State University …” Allen said in a BOR press release. “I appreciate the opportunity to serve Iowa State University, the Board of Regents, and the state of Iowa. We especially look forward to meeting and serving the ISU students.”

Allen became a faculty member at ISU in 1979, and would serve as a dean and later as provost over his next 27 years at the university.

Allen served as UNI’s ninth president from 2006 to 2013, when he retired following the first faculty vote of no confidence in a president in university history — the vote was 197-53 in favor of the motion against Allen.

The vote of no confidence followed 58 program cuts and the closure of the Malcolm Price Lab School, an on-campus school where education students could get in-class experience with students.

The reasons given were financial. The cuts and school closure, Allen said at the time, were in response to a $5 million budget shortfall that greeted UNI in 2012, as well as the loss of $24 million in state funding over several years prior to 2012.

The announcement of his interim presidency has astonished some at UNI, including Joe Gorton, professor of criminology and president of United Faculty, UNI’s faculty union.

“I like Ben … he’s a nice guy, he’s a good guy, [but] he made some very bad decisions,” Gorton said. “As much as I like him, I don’t think he’s a very good leader.”

Gorton decried Allen’s decision-making regarding program cuts and the Price Lab closure.

“When they decided to close down Malcom Price Lab, they took away one of the vital organs of this institution,” Gorton said.

Gorton believes school’s closure five years ago was directly related to a decrease in enrollment at UNI, from which the school is still recovering. He said financial rationales given for the closing of the school are “bogus,” and that long-term consequences of decreased enrollment far outweigh the immediate financial gain of closing the school.

Gorton also added that the administration under Allen forced 23 professors into retirement.

Northern Iowan (NI) records show Allen said at the time that closing the school would save the university $2 million a year in addition to an estimated $30 million in renovation costs to update the aging school.

He told concerned community members, students and faculty at the time that the funds previously allocated to Price Lab could be used to enhance College of Education programs.

“This issue is not what we lost, but what we gain,” Allen said.

Julie Husband, professor of English, took over as department head for Languages and Literatures the year following the program cuts. She said all French and German programs were cut without consulting faculty, but professors rallied to support students.

“In the aftermath of program closures, faculty members in French and German were very generous with their time, often offering independent studies to help students meet their program requirements,” Husband said.

Husband said the French program has bounced back since the cuts with the addition of a new French minor and a program called “French 2 + 2.” This program allows students to complete a degree with two years at UNI and two at Université de Franche-Comté in France.

Gorton maintained that it was not just the decisions themselves that concerned him and the faculty, but also how those decisions were made.

“None of the affected parties were brought into a room to talk with the decision-makers to say, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen; here’s how this is going to affect families; this is how it’s going to affect students; this is how it’s going to affect neighboring schools [and the Cedar Valley],’” Gorton said. “No one was brought into the room on that decision.”

In response to inquiries, the NI was forwarded a statement from Ben Allen regarding his appointment to interim president at ISU.

Josh Lehman, senior communications director for the BOR, issued a statement regarding Allen’s appointment.

“Dr. Allen has a long and distinguished history at Iowa State, knows their institutional culture, and will be a great interim president,” Lehman said. “As the Board moves forward in its search for a permanent president, we are thrilled that Dr. Allen has agreed to take on this crucial role.”

Gorton said Allen could boast of some accomplishments at UNI, including overseeing the creation of the Military and Veteran Student Services office in 2012.

Yet Gorton maintained Allen’s appointment is “one more bad decision made by Rastetter on his way out,” referring to Bruce Rastetter, president of the BOR, who has said he will not seek another term once his tenure is up in April.

“It would be like giving a taxicab license to someone who five years ago got arrested for an OWI accident,” Gorton said. “I don’t know why [Allen] would be any better at leadership now than he was five years ago.”

The search for ISU’s next president will be the third university presidential search conducted by the regents in two years.