University of Illinois administrator selected as next University of Iowa president

The Board of Regents on April 30 named Barbara Wilson, an administrator with the University of Illinois, as the next University of Iowa President. (Screen shot from an April 30 Board of Regents livestream)

Barbara Wilson, the executive vice president at the University of Illinois system, will be the next University of Iowa president after a unanimous vote by the Board of Regents.

“We’re going to make the University of Iowa as good as it can be and even better,” said Wilson, who currently serves as the executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs across the three University of Illinois schools. 

Wilson will replace current University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld, who announced in October that he planned to retire. He will step down in May. University of Iowa Associate Provost John Keller will serve as interim president until Wilson begins her term on July 15.

“I’m really delighted, this is such a great honor,” Wilson said, sporting a Hawkeye-yellow blazer. “It will be fun.”

As the University of Iowa president, Wilson will receive an annual salary of $600,000 under a five-year contract. If Wilson stays in the position for duration of the contract, she will receive an additional $2 million.

Harreld was eligible for an additional $2.3 million had he stayed until the end of his contract in 2023, but due to his early retirement, he will not receive the additional payout. He said Thursday he always planned to donate those funds, and he requested that the Board of Regents use the money to relocate cultural houses to the center of campus.

In an April 15 public forum with University of Iowa staff, students and faculty, Wilson said the president position was a “dream job,” as it would allow her to focus more deeply on one campus. In her position with the University of Illinois, Wilson oversaw three locations.

“I work across three universities, The University of Illinois at Chicago, Urbana-Champaign and Springfield, and I’m much more outward focused,” she said. “But really, my passion is to get closer to faculty, staff, students and donors.”

Wilson expressed her excitement to stay within the Big Ten. In addition to working for 20 years at the University of Illinois, she earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in journalism and communication arts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“(The Big Ten) is where we make these big, phenomenal, magical experiences for students, and where we have these tremendous ways where we can be impactful on the research side,” she said.

Wilson emphasized the importance of communication and collaboration in leadership.

“I think when I create teams, what I’m looking for is diversity of perspectives, people who will challenge me,” she said at the public forum. “Frankly, I’m looking for people who are smarter than me, and most of the time, I can find them.”

Before working in administration for the University of Illinois system, Wilson served as a professor and administrator at the University of Louisville, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the Urbana-Champaign campus for the University of Illinois. Her academic experience stands in contrast to Harreld, who worked as an executive with Kraft Foods and Boston Market, in addition to business consulting and serving as an adjunct professor.

Katie Akin
Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.