Harreld faces protests on first day as University of Iowa president
Tells UI campus in email he's pleased, humbled to begin new role
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IOWA CITY — While new University of Iowa J. Bruce Harreld was having lunch with student veterans in the Iowa Memorial Union on Monday, about 200 students, faculty, and staff were gathering on the UI Pentacrest to protest his first day on the job.
“Cheater in chief go home. Cheater in chief go home,” the crowd of about 200 chanted — among other things — during the rally on the Pentacrest that lasted about one hour.
Harreld’s first-day schedule on campus included a morning discussion with deans, lunch with student veterans, individual meetings with faculty members, and an update on UI research. But he was greeted at 9 a.m. by his first handful of protesters outside the deans meeting.
“I would like to ask you to resign today,” said Jeanette Gabriel, president of the UI graduate student union, as she shook Harreld’s hand.
Harreld asked the three protesters, “What are you doing here?”
The protesters — who were holding signs that said, “resign” and “no confidence” — responded by referencing inaccuracies on Harreld’s resume. They told a Gazette reporter they were planning to continue protesting Harreld until they push him out.
Harreld, before stepping into his meeting, told the three that he’ll follow up with them.
The noon protest of Harreld and the process that led to his hire started on the Pentacrest, where faculty posed as 10 dead UI presidents who have been “rolling over in their graves” — and ended with a march to confront Harreld himself.
The crowd walked to Jessup Hall and collected inside the building, outside his office, where protesters shouted, “Resign, resign,” and, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Bruce Harreld has got to go.” When the crowd learned he was at lunch, they headed to the IMU, but too late to catch him.
“The Bruce is loose,” one protester shouted.
UI senior Brad Pector, who started the group “Iowans Defending Our Universities,” helped organize Monday’s protest and said students are talking about staging all-day sit-in protests outside Harreld’s Jessup Hall office.
The Board of Regents on Sept. 3 unanimously agreed to hire Harreld to succeed former UI President Sally Mason at a starting salary of $590,000. Before his hire, hundreds of faculty, students, and staff publicly voiced opposition to his candidacy and asked the regents to choose one of the other three finalists.
The board chose Harreld anyway, citing his experience leading IBM and Boston Market Company through significant change and referencing the shifting nature of today’s higher education landscape. That decision drew an immediate and strong reaction on campus, including no-confidence votes from the UI Faculty Senate, UI Faculty Assembly for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and UI student government groups.
Two weeks ago, hundreds protested during the Board of Regents meeting on the UI campus, calling for both Harreld and all nine regents to resign. Protesters maintained those demands Monday.
“This is a sad and solemn day,” one person said during Monday’s rally. “But it is only the beginning of our fight to defend the University of Iowa.”
Harreld, who does not academic administrative experience but was heavily recruited for the UI job by Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter for his business background, has not shied away from the criticism. He has addressed concerns both in interviews and in an Oct. 13 statement to the UI campus, where he expressed support for faculty tenure and shared governance and vowed to listen and learn during his initial stretch in office.
Harreld told The Gazette on Friday he’s not surprised by the reaction to his hire, saying change within an organization can bring anxiety and fear. But he stressed the UI is a large campus and the protesters are a small subset.
Harreld said the criticism is not weighing on him.
“Not at all,” he said Friday.
On Monday, Harreld sent an email to the UI community saying he’s pleased and humbled to be starting his term as UI president.
“The University of Iowa is an outstanding institution and, with the collaborative and creative spirit of our campus, we will work together to make it even better,” he said in the statement. “Together, we will envision new possibilities and chart a path forward, building on the traditions that have brought us to the excellence in teaching, research, creative endeavor, and service that we enjoy today.”
Harreld, in his message, said he has spent weeks meeting with and talking with faculty, staff, students, community leaders, state lawmakers, and alumni, and has come to know more about their dedication and optimism for the university.
He thanked Jean Robillard, who served as UI interim president and is vice president for medical affairs with UI Health Care, for his leadership and guidance.
In his statement, Harreld referenced the evolving landscape of higher education, saying it presents “us with many opportunities to be at the forefront of change while staying grounded in the legacy of all we have achieved.”
“In the weeks to come, we will work together to develop a shared vision for the future of the UI and determine a path forward that will engage the entire campus,” Harreld said in the statement.
Harreld, who is temporarily living in an Iowa City town house with his wife, two cats, and 14-year-old Australian Shepherd Macduffy — named after Shakespeare’s Macduff character — said, “Mary and I are delighted to be part of this community.”
Other items on Harreld’s calendar this week include a trip to Washington D.C. on Wednesday for a previously-planned outreach event. He also will visit the Iowa Flood Center, the UI International Writers Program, the and the UI Public Policy Center.