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After free speech controversy, University of Iowa dentistry dean stepping down early

David Johnsen Web
David Johnsen

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) -- After a free speech issue within the University of Iowa College of Dentistry was the subject of a Government Oversight Committee hearing at the State Capitol earlier this month, the College of Dentistry dean is stepping down.

Dean David Johnsen announced Thursday he will step down as dean at the end of the spring semester in June. Johnsen previously announced last fall that he would resign his position as dean in the summer of 2022.

While stepping down as dean, Johnsen will remain on staff as a pediatric dentistry professor.

"The University of Iowa College of Dentistry has been my second home since 1995 and I have enjoyed every single minute of my time with our students, faculty, and staff," Johnsen said. "I want to help navigate the college through the challenges brought on by COVID-19, and I am now certain that we have weathered the storm so it is time to hand the keys off to another leader."

Johnsen has served as the dean since 1995 after teaching at West Virginia University and Case Western Reserve University. He also was department chair and director of the pediatric residency program at Case Western Reserve University from 1990 to 1995.

"David has served the college and the university with distinction over more than two and a half decades," Executive Vice President & Provost, Kevin Kregel said. "Under his leadership the college has continually advanced its reputation as a premier dental school, a leader in interdisciplinary research, and a vital resource to the state of Iowa. He is a passionate champion of the college and ambassador for the university, and I have no doubt that will continue."

Johnsen's early resignation comes just one day after the Board of Regents approved changes to campus free speech policies, which were spurred on by the UI College of Dentistry controversy, and other issues at The University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University.

The issue at the UI revolved around the school's handling of a Trump administration policy on diversity, equity, and inclusion training; where a College of Dentistry student was reprimanded for disagreeing with the college over email. That policy was eventually deemed unconstitutional in the court system and subsequently rescinded by President Joe Biden.

Although not specifically mentioned in Thursday's announcement concerning his early resignation, Johnsen did say this:

"Upon further reflection, I came to realize that the pieces are in place for me to step away a year earlier and that after more than 25 years, I am ready for change of pace," Johnsen said. "I look forward to seeing the college continue our service to this state that I am proud to call home."

The UI recently selected a firm to conduct the national search for Johnsen's replacement, and plans to name a search committee in April. An interim dean will be named later this semester.

The issues on all three campuses has led to an increased push from Iowa Republican lawmakers during this legislative session to seek more oversight of the state's public universities. The latest bill, introduced just this week and passed out of a House subcommittee Thursday, has very similar language to the policy changes approved by the Board of Regents Wednesday.

House Study Bill 237 would, among other things, bar "public statements regarding policy matters made in an official capacity by a president, vice-president, dean or department director of the institution" unless they're made in collaboration with the Board of Regents. Like the recommendations from the BOR, the bill would also amend policies, increase free expression training, and develop a system for lodging complaints.

Other bills introduced during this legislative sessions would:

Trevor Oates

Executive Producer

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