Regents committee forwards recommendation to close Harkin Institute

The Harkin Institute at ISU was approved by the regents in 2011

AMES -- A committee of the state Board of Regents will recommend to the full board the closure of the Harkin Institute of Public Policy at Iowa State University.

The Education and Student Affairs Committee of the regents met Wednesday afternoon and briefly discussed ISU's request to close the Harkin Institute. Regent Katie Mulholland, chairwoman of the committee, said they will recommend the action to the full Board of Regents, which meets Thursday.

The Harkin Institute at ISU was approved by the regents in 2011 to facilitate research and public access to ISU graduate and longtime Sen. Tom Harkin's papers, which were to be donated to ISU upon his retirement in 2014. But that vote created controversy, including among Republicans who thought it was inappropriate to name an institute at a public university for a sitting politician.

The saga continued when Harkin in February said he was pulling the donation of his papers from ISU, amid concerns about academic freedom and restrictions on agriculture research. Regents leaders and ISU officials disputed that, arguing there would not have been academic freedom restrictions.

It was announced in May that Harkin's papers from decades in the U.S. Congress instead will end up at Drake University, at the Tom Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement.

"Given these events, itís inappropriate for Iowa State to continue operating the institute," ISU Provost Jonathan Wickert told the regents committee Wednesday.

Iowa State raised about $3 million from donors for the Harkin Institute, and the redistribution of those gifts has been completed in compliance with donor wishes, Wickert said.

"The ISU Foundation no longer holds any funds associated with the institute," he said.

The ISU Faculty Senate supports the recommendation, and no classes will be cancelled and no positions eliminated as a result of the action, Wickert said.

The committee also will recommend to the regents the establishment of the Institute for Vision Research in the University of Iowa's Carver College of Medicine. The purpose of the proposed institute is to assist the UI to assume a world-leading role in the eradication of human blindness through interdisciplinary translational research, education and clinical care, officials said.

The initial director of the proposed institute will be Dr. Edwin Stone, professor of ophthalmology at the UI since 1997.

The proposed budget in year one is $11.1 million, with $4.7 million coming from grants; $3.6 million from gifts; $2.4 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and $407,000 in departmental support. The proposed budget would grow to more than $18.5 million in year five, with most of it coming from grants and gifts.

UI Provost Barry Butler said the institute will pull together various experts from around campus who have expertise in related areas. It's a group that collectively has done extremely well in terms of external funding, Butler said, on average garnering about 75 percent of their salaries through external grants and contract support.

"This is building on a very strong foundation," Butler said.

Another item the committee will forward to the regents for consideration: the reopening of admissions to the bachelor of arts program in geography at the University of Northern Iowa. Admissions to the program were suspended in March 2012 to allow faculty to restructure the program curriculum, which has been successfully completed, officials said.

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