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Penn State Dean Interviews For UI Presidential Post

University of Iowa Presidential Candidate Hari Osofsky speaks at a public forum, Monday, April 10, 2021, in Iowa City, Iowa. Osofsky currently serves as dean of Penn State’s Law and the Penn State School of International Affairs. (Hannah Kinson/The Daily Iowan via AP, Pool)
Hannah Kinson
The Daily Iowan
University of Iowa presidential candidate Hari Osofsky speaks at a public forum on Monday. Osofsky currently serves as dean of Penn State’s Law and the Penn State School of International Affairs.

The University of Iowa held its first public forum Monday with one of the four candidates in line to be the school’s next president. Hari Osofsky, currently the dean of Penn State Law and the Penn State School of International Affairs, was the first finalist to get the chance to introduce herself to campus leaders, students, and the public.

Speaking from behind plexiglass barriers to a small group of socially-distanced attendees, and with even more watching a livestream online, Osofsky was the first to get the chance to introduce herself to the University of Iowa community and to answer a slate of questions on how she’d approach the job of leading the state’s flagship public university.

Describing herself as a civil rights lawyer who then centered her work as a professor on climate change policy and litigation, Osofsky said she was ultimately drawn to seek out university leadership roles as a means of engaging more deeply with broader societal issues that she says are transforming modern life.

“I became an academic leader because I think we’re at a moment of profound change, in which technology and globalization and the need for cross-cutting knowledge and the need to foundationally make progress on diversity, equity and inclusion are fundamentally changing higher education and society,” Osofsky said. “I think we have a difference in this moment right now to make a difference in how universities evolve and innovate and impact society.”

Each of the four finalists for the job currently held by outgoing President Bruce Harreld is getting the chance to visit the school’s campus and meet with key leaders. Each candidate will meet with administrators, union representatives, faculty and staff councils and student leaders, in both virtual and in-person settings over the course of two days.

The finalists will also field a range of questions submitted by faculty, staff and students in public forums that are streamed online, in an effort to include the broader UI community in the vetting process for the candidates.

Osofksy answered questions on issues ranging from what experience she has with collegiate athletics to how she would support victims of harassment to how she would hold accountable the predominantly white president’s cabinet, at a time when students, faculty and staff are consistently raising concerns about the recruitment and retention of people of color and other underrepresented communities.

Osofsky repeatedly focused on themes of cross-disciplinary collaboration, of fostering dialog across political divides and being intentional about seeking justice and promoting social equity.

“I think it's important that we speak out in support of anti-racism values,” Osofsky said. “And obviously, I'm now treading into complex political ground by saying that. I think that there are ways in which we can acknowledge support and recognize freedom of speech and diversity of viewpoints, and at the same time say that we value diversity, equity and inclusion. And those two things can live together.”

Osofsky made a point of stressing the breadth of her current responsibilities at the helm of two different schools at Penn State, overseeing separate budgets, diversifying student, faculty and alumni groups, securing private fundraising, launching new majors and working to create a more inclusive culture, while continuing her own scholarship and engaging in campus life, such as guest coaching the football team and doing pushups with students to raise money for homeless veterans.

“The reason that I'm looking at this position is because I'm excited about the leadership opportunity,” Osofsky said. “For me, as I talked about, it's the pull, it's the excitement of being able in this community to work with all of you to make a difference that really matters.”

Three other finalists will participate in public forums on April 15, 19 and 22. The names and CVs of each of the candidates will be released the day before their interview. The finalists were selected by a presidential search committee made up of faculty, staff and student representatives, who reviewed applications from 79 potential candidates.

The committee is on track to make its final recommendations on the candidates to the Board of Regents by the end of April, with the board scheduled to hire the next president on April 30.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter