Formerly confidential: Scores of comments advised against Harreld

Records in UI presidential search released months after vote

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By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette

AMES — Confidential feedback given to state regents as they prepared to select a new University of Iowa president — released Wednesday three months after the vote — show the board unanimously picked the candidate who overwhelmingly received the poorest public reviews.

Of 170 anonymous comments made about Bruce Harreld on a private website created by a search firm, only 16 were in support.

“Do. Not. Hire. This. Man,” a staff member wrote.

“Bruce Harreld would, if hired, gain close to zero respect from the university community,” a faculty member wrote.

Regents voted Sept. 3 to reject three other finalists with academic leadership experience and instead hire Harreld, an accomplished business executive but one without that academic leadership experience. Harreld, who is paid $590,000 annually, officially started Nov. 2.

Regents President Bruce Rastetter has said he received plenty of positive feedback on Harreld from members of the public, in addition to the negative. Wednesday, during a board meeting in Ames, he told The Gazette much of that support came through phone calls, face-to-face conversations and emails.

In addition to a faculty survey to solicit feedback, which was previously released, anonymous feedback from the university community also was gathered for the regents through a confidential website established by Parker Executive Search.

Each of the four finalists held public forums on campus, and Parker Executive Search encouraged people to make comments, which were then provided privately to the regents.

Hundreds of people did weigh in, according to documents provided Wednesday to The Gazette.

The other finalists were Ohio State University Provost Joseph Steinmetz, Tulane University Provost Michael Bernstein and Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov.

According to the records, every candidate but Harreld got significantly more positive than negative reviews.

Of the more than 110 people who submitted a comment about Steinmetz, for example, 107 supported him as the next UI president.

“We would be fortunate to have him here,” one staff member wrote.

“This is the guy,” another person wrote, and then, “Please hire him.”

The confidential results mirror findings from a separate study conducted by the UI chapter of the American Association of University Professors. That survey — which was conducted in the days before the presidential selection — was open to the public and hundreds participated.

Like the feedback offered directly through the board’s website, most respondents to the AAUP survey criticized Harreld’s candidacy. Only about 2.5 percent of the faculty members who responded said they thought Harreld was qualified for the job.

The results from the AAUP study also were provided to the board before its selection and, on the eve of Harreld’s hire, UI Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan emailed the regents on behalf of the Faculty Senate to ask it not hire Harreld.

Even before the board chose Harreld, some critics questioned if his hiring was a foregone conclusion.

“No one that I have talked to believes that any of these comments will be read or valued because there is no time to do so,” one person wrote to the board through its anonymous website. “This search process is very non-standard and will be damaging for years to come.”

UI faculty and student groups responded to the hiring with votes of no confidence in the regents.

The national AAUP is investigating whether the board breached the association’s values on shared university governance and the selection of administrators.

Before he officially started, Harreld began reaching out to the university community. He issued an open letter taking on “misconceptions about my vision and values” and invited critics to contact him directly with questions.

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