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FALL, 2006
Volume 50,
Number 1


Making the grade

Digging history


The University of Iowa

Taking care of business: Former dean outlines plan for interim presidency
Gary Fethke, outgoing dean of the University’s Tippie College of Business, took the helm as interim University president on June 2, when David Skorton stepped down to take the top job at Cornell University. Fethke, a native Iowan who received a BA and PhD in economics from Iowa, had been dean of the business school since 1994. He also is the Leonard A. Hadley Professor of Leadership in the Departments of Economics and Management Sciences.

Question:What do you bring to the table from your years leading the Tippie College of Business?

Interim President, Gary FethkeAnswer:In the last seven or eight years, the business school has been focused on the whole  experience of the undergraduate. An example includes the Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center, which started in 1996 with a class or two and has become one of the larger  undergraduate offerings in the University. Another is the Hawkinson Institute of Business Finance, which is dedicated to student placement in the financial services industry. Something more University-wide is the Pomerantz Career Center, which is devoted to  students in liberal arts and sciences, engineering, and business.

We have a responsibility to both educate our students and help convince them to seek great careers, and we hope many of them stay in Iowa. I’d like to carry that theme to the University and persuade the University community that there’s a whole area of development where we can do a better job for our students.

Question:What will this transition between  presidents mean to Iowa’s undergraduates?

Answer:If I’m successful in doing the things I just mentioned, I think there can be some immediate effects. We’re putting together a business plan for a Chicago center that would focus on recruiting and placement. More than 30 percent of our students come from Illinois. They’re going to be interested in whether they can obtain jobs, and I think we should be there to help them.  And we’re doing something similar in  Des Moines. I’m also very interested in international experiences, so if I can find ways of facilitating them, making them easier and more attractive, I’m going to work on it.

Question:How do you plan to stay in touch with needs and concerns of students?

Answer:I give a lot of talks and I’ve had one-on-one communication with student leaders, and those are important. But I’ll try to look for ways of engaging more broadly. I want students to know that I have their welfare in mind, that I’m interested in making this a better place for students, and that I’m trying to do what’s right for them.

Question:How important is it to you to communicate with parents?

Answer:When an 18- or 19-year-old comes to the University, they undergo an unbelievable transformation in terms of maturity. There’s nothing more interesting than to meet people coming in as first-year students and then follow them for three or four years through this process. I enjoy talking to parents about the fact that they’re handing us this person at 18 and we’re going to hand someone back who’s quite different. We need to have a conversation about what roles we’re playing in the educational and developmental processes of their student.

Question:What are the most pressing issues you expect to face?

Answer:There are always financial challenges. If we want excellent faculty, for example, we have  to provide excellent compensation. Part of it has to do with our willingness to be a bit  more focused and to channel our resources a bit more effectively. Part of it has to do with the need to generate new resources beyond the generous appropriation the state provides.  We have to be entrepreneurial and innovative, and that’s a real challenge. I’m very  interested in what we can do ourselves to make our world better. My history is one of  looking for ways of generating additional resources.

Question:The Regents recently approved a $100 a semester surcharge for full-time students at the state’s three public universities to help pay for increased energy costs and faculty raises. What can the administration do to keep higher education at Iowa affordable?

Answer:I certainly don’t like surprising parents and students with any kind of a fee increase after they’ve planned, but this happened because of other financial circumstances in the state. One thing I found extraordinarily refreshing was that the students came to the Board of Regents meeting, and instead of complaining about the surcharge, they gave a talk about what they were going to try to do to better conserve energy in the dorms and other places. They had thought of ways that they could help collectively as students. So although we  need the money to support the University in a time with very rapidly rising energy costs,  I thought the response of the students was fantastic.

Question:What do you want to let parents know about the University?

Answer:They should be really proud—proud of the history of this place. It’s a gem. I think it’s partially my responsibility to help them understand better the legacy of The University of Iowa. One of the wonderful things about being a dean is going out and talking to people, and it’s clear to me that for many people, probably most of the people I talk to, the years they were here have turned out to be to be the most important and well-remembered years of their lives.


Published by University Relations Publications. Copyright The University of Iowa 2004. All rights reserved.

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