Regent Lang: Harkin Institute would have been "different issue" after retirement

Harkin said last week he would not donate papers from his decades of work to ISU

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DES MOINES — Regents President Craig Lang said Tuesday he doesn’t believe the proper processes were followed by former Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy in setting up the Harkin Institute of Public Policy.

The institute, which was approved by the regents in April 2011, did not go to all the deans on campus when it was in the planning stages, Lang says, a normal step when an institute or center is created. He also noted that several members of the state Board of Regents, including him, were not informed about the plans until days before the vote.

“I don’t believe it was done correctly,” Lang told reporters after a committee meeting at the Statehouse, adding he believes the institute vote got “pushed through” by supporters before membership of the regents changed.

Lang was one of two regents to vote against creating the Harkin Institute, and he reiterated Tuesday his ethical concerns about creating an institute for a sitting politician, something he voiced at the time.

“I think after (Sen. Tom Harkin’s) retirement, it becomes a totally different issue,” Lang said. “At that time, the conflict is gone.”

Lang was absent from a regents meeting last week, when board President Pro Tem Bruce Rastetter addressed the Harkin Institute situation, so Lang was asked about it by the media Tuesday after he met with the education appropriations subcommittee.

Harkin said last week he would not donate papers from his decades of work to ISU, amid worries about academic freedom and restrictions on research. Regents leaders and university officials have said there would not be academic freedom restrictions.

ISU President Steve Leath, who took the university helm a year ago, said Tuesday he hopes to decide within a matter of weeks what will happen to the institute. Leath said he has not spoken to Harkin since his decision last week, but he hopes to discuss the situation with Harkin, the senator’s wife, Ruth, who is a regent, and institute supporters.

“We want to get it right, and we don’t want any friction or issues that have happened over the last weeks to push us to a judgment or a result that we’re not happy with long-term,” Leath said.

About $3 million to $3.5 million has been pledged to the institute, with a little more than $1 million in hand from donors, Leath said, but at least one donor has requested their money back.

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