We are excited to welcome Barbara Wilson as the University of Iowa’s 22nd president.
By the very nature of your position, you instantly become one of the most influential people in the Corridor and the entire state. As you know, it is a heavy responsibility and one that can help shape our collective educational and economic development strategies for years to come.
By now, you know that your predecessor, Bruce Harreld, wasn’t a conventional university president, nor did he act like one. Unfortunately, he didn’t engage the local or regional community as previous presidents have done. This was a missed opportunity.
He also didn’t embrace the business community, which wanted to help him be successful but were otherwise left on the sidelines.
We hope that you not only continue the strong leadership that you demonstrated while serving as executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs for the University of Illinois System, but also keep a solid commitment to open and deliberate communications, which is fundamental to your academic expertise and an essential part of your past success.
A few of the more significant challenges that you will encounter outside of the oftentimes siloed university setting will be the love-hate relationship that legislators across the state have with the UI and the misplaced provincial nature of some community and economic development leaders from throughout our seven-county region.
Spending a significant amount of time in Des Moines and with your regional legislative representatives is essential in positioning the UI for success. Many of our legislators need the respect that only personal attention from a university president can achieve. This will pay dividends when budgets are considered and controversies arise.
Certainly, you are familiar with Richard Longworth, the distinguished fellow with the Chicago Council of Global Affairs and author of the seminal book “Caught in the Middle.” Mr. Longworth writes passionately about the Midwest and its changing economic landscape, underscoring some of the challenges.
“In short, the Midwest is caught in the painful shift from one economy to another, and its divided fortunes show this. It is a split between winners and losers, between well-educated city dwellers and the left behind, angry denizens of the old economy,” Mr. Longworth wrote in a blog in 2020. “All this has big impacts that are economic and social – and political.”
Mr. Longworth also admonishes Midwesterners to act more collectively and cooperatively as regions to better position ourselves in the global economy.
We have long championed Mr. Longworth’s thesis and would welcome your leadership to help further this cause. It bests positions the region and the UI for success in a global economy.
Welcome to the region. Your success begets our success. And good luck.