The Board of Regents meets in executive session
on Thursday morning of this week to evaluate
the work of the presidents of the three state
The discussion of Iowa State’s Steve Leath will
be perfunctory and routine. He’s new in the
job, still in a honeymoon and is highly regarded
and widely liked. The discussion of Ben Allen
of the University of Northern Iowa probably
will center on how long he wants to stick around.
He has guided the school through major cultural,
financial and strategic change, a wearisome
grind that came on top of debilitating prostate
surgery. Now 65 and entering his seventh year
as president, he could well tell the Board he
wants to retire after this year.
“He’s done a marvelous and courageous service
for UNI,” says an educator who has watched his
every move, “and he could retire with pride
even though he has suffered terrible and grossly
unfair criticism” for the major changes he wrought
— closing the Price Lab school and irritating
the community, dropping baseball and irritating
some alums, and instituting wrenching academic
changes and irritating some faculty. Another
factor pointing toward retirement: He dotes
on his grandchildren.
That leaves the University of Iowa’s Sally Mason,
who has just wound up her fifth year under a
five-year letter of employment. She has strong
defenders and strong critics in the state —
and on the Board of Regents. Critics say her
tenure has been marked by administrators’ mishandling
of an athletic sex scandal, a devastating flood,
a controversy over her husband’s job, the firing
of two top aides, a mini-flareup over fundraising
by staff doctors, questions about the university’s
foundation and a couple of private clashes with
Board leaders. Her critics concede she didn’t
cause the flood, but they’ll concede little
else. Her supporters say she has shown a steady
hand through difficulties not of her own making.
Mason, 62, has a couple of firm supporters on
the Board — particularly Iowa City lawyer Bob
Downer, who has been a cheerleader for the university
since his student days in the 1950s — as well
as a couple of stern critics, Board watchers
say. Her future might boil down to the view
of Bruce Rastetter — the vice chair and most
powerful member — and he hasn’t tipped his hand.
At best, though, the annual review will probably
leave Mason bruised; at worst, unemployed.
Stay tuned. ...
Nancy Sebring is what teachers might call a
By May 24, the then-superintendent of schools
was trying to contain the damage from those
steamy emails to and from her six-week lover,
missives that the school board was about to
release to newspapers and that would imperil
— and ultimately undo — her new job in Omaha.
You would think that by then she would be careful
about what she put in her emails.
But if you think that, you would be wrong.
Trying to explain the X-rated emails to the
lawyer for the Omaha school district, where
she had been hired as superintendent, Sebring
“The school district’s attorney (who is of marginal
competence) is currently in the process of redacting
information from the emails. When that is completed,
my attorney and I are supposed to see them and
at that time determine whether to file an injunction.
However, neither I, nor my attorney, is confident
that the DMPS attorney will actually adhere
to that process as she seems to change her mind
every time we discuss this with her.”
Not a good idea to call your general counsel
“of marginal competence.” Not a good idea to
do it in an email. Not a good idea to do it
in an email to another lawyer. Not a good idea
to do it in an email that might be released
to the press.
And, sure enough, it was one of a dozen or so
emails released last week to the Omaha World-Herald.
Even more mind-boggling: The emails were released
by Sebring herself. “Sebring told the World-Herald
she wants them made public to show the Omaha
community she was honest with [the Omaha school
board] about why she abruptly resigned from
the Des Moines job May 9, seven weeks before
her contract with that district was to expire,”
the Omaha paper wrote last week. Whatever.
The Des Moines lawyer is Patricia Lantz. She
politely told Cityview she had “no interest”
in responding to Sebring’s comment. But a school
employee who has worked with both Lantz and
Sebring says, “Sebring’s comment says more about
her own character than it does about Pat’s ability.
From my experience, Nancy Sebring’s measure
of someone’s competence was in direct proportion
to whether or not they agreed with her.”
In that same email to the Omaha lawyer, Sebring
wrote: “Six weeks of poor judgment out of a
35-year career.” In fact, it was more than six
weeks, but who’s quibbling. More than a year
ago, Sebring applied for the top school job
in Boulder, Colo., but didn’t get it. She returned
to Des Moines, professing her love for the district
to such an extent that the smitten board gave
her a rich new contract. The ink was barely
dry before she was applying for jobs in Minnesota
— using her office email account. Those emails,
too, ultimately came out. ...
The Southern Hills house where David and Liz
Kruidenier had wonderful parties and entertained
politicians and artists and writers from around
the world is finally on the market, nine months
after the widowed Liz Kruidenier died there
at age 85 and a few months after a deal — or
maybe it wasn’t a deal — for a neighbor to take
it over fell through. The 52-year-old, 6,000-square-foot
home sits on 3.5 acres and is assessed at $575,000,
which is $10,000 below the asking price. The
listing doesn’t exactly call it a fixer-upper,
but it does say the house “is fairly priced
so you can afford to update.” There’s already
one offer, Skinny hears.
The house built by the former publisher of The
Des Moines Register (and, in those days, The
Tribune, too) was one of the first in the Southern
Hills subdivision, which was the first major
area to attract the wealthy away from the west
side to south Des Moines. ...
“I loved listening to you and especially loved
listening to you when you had your hand on my
leg.” — Nancy Sebring. CV