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Big University of Iowa donors back new president, say support will not falter

'I can't imagine that he would not be a positive influence'

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IOWA CITY — Shortly after being chosen as the next University of Iowa president, J. Bruce Harreld called Roy J. Carver Jr. to introduce himself to one of the school’s most generous philanthropists.

Carver, chairman of the Carver Charitable Trust that was created through the will of his father and that has given more than $100 million to the UI — said he had a “nice chat” with Harreld.

“He seemed like a nice gentlemen and very thoughtful,” Carver said. “I think he was trying to solidify some support for his selection.”

Harreld’s lack of academic leadership experience has made him a controversial choice for president among UI faculty, staff and students. But he won support from several donors including Carver, whose family’s generosity has been recognized in buildings and programs on campus, including Carver Hawkeye Arena, the Carver College of Medicine and the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver Biomedical Research Building.

“Every once in a while you have to look at an organization with a fresh set of eyes,” Carver said. “Perhaps he can bring some metrics to the table that look at the university in a different way.”

Several other major UI donors said they, too, are supportive including John Pappajohn — for whom the Pappajohn Business Building, Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and Pappajohn Pavilion on the medical campus is named — and Jerre Stead — whose giving is honored by the UI Stead Family Department of Pediatrics.

Mary Louise Petersen, a former regent who has given generously to the university and recently was honored for her service in the naming of the new Mary Louise Petersen Residence Hall, said she has concerns about the process of Harreld’s hiring. But, she stressed, her giving will not falter.

“Even though we have reservations, we do have to give this gentleman the opportunity,” she told The Gazette.

Harreld largely has a business background as a top executive for IBM and Boston Market, although he served as a lecturer for Harvard Business School.

While a candidate for the UI job, Harreld stressed during a Sept, 1 public forum the importance of fundraising, even saying he would support shifting state allocations away from the UI if its philanthropy thrived. Supporters have praised his fiscal experience, pointing to that as a key component of the job in a changing landscape for higher education — along with an ability to network and forge new partnerships.

But his candidacy and selection by the Board of Regents have drawn widespread criticism among many of the university’s academics. Days after his hire, the UI Faculty Senate, UI Student Government and Graduate and Professional Student Government passed no-confidence votes in the regents.

Some members of the public have sent emails to the UI Foundation, the institution’s fundraising arm, threatening to pull support over the hire.

The university is nearing the end of a $1.7 billion fundraising campaign and this week is celebrating a campaign of encouraging faculty and staff to give.

UI Foundation President Lynette Marshall said she doesn’t think controversy over Harreld’s selection will hamper philanthropy to the institution, which is 92 percent of the way to reaching its goal by December 2016.

“There have been a few people who have expressed concerns related to continuing support for the university,” Marshall said. “But it’s not something that I would presume would happen.” Carver said he doesn’t see why donors would cut off support.

“As long as the university maintains the quality of its programs and dedication to educating young people and quality research, why should someone abruptly change their support to the university?” he asked.

The Carver Charitable Trust has given more than $98 million to support the Carver College of Medicine, and continues giving annually — the trust in 2013 gave more than $784,000 to the university. Seven people oversee the trust, which has assets topping $285 million and annual grant distributions of more than $13 million. Carver said he hasn’t heard from any of them about concerns with Harreld.

“They probably will give this gentlemen a chance to do his thing,” Carver said. “If he makes wise decisions, they will be very supportive.”

Carver said he had never heard of Harreld before his selection and didn’t talk to him or about him with anyone involved in the search before his hire.

“That was entirely a surprise to me,” he said. “But every once in a while you have to do an alternative selection that measures your progress and where you’re going.”

Carver said he views Harreld’s skill set as one with clear benefits.

“He will probably bring about some change,” he said. “And change is scary for some people.”

“I was quite impressed”

Two days after Harreld’s hire, UI hosted its first home football game in Kinnick Stadium and Harreld attended. During that event, he met several major donors — including Pappajohn.

“I was quite impressed,” Pappajohn told The Gazette. “I said, ‘Welcome, I hope you like it here. I know you have some problems, but people are very nice here, and I think they will give you an opportunity to perform.’”

Pappajohn — an entrepreneur and philanthropist who, along with his wife, has given more than $50 million to the university — said he watched Harreld interact with a young student who asked for advice on her major. He offered his recommendation — what he would do in her shoes — “and she was delighted,” Pappajohn said.

Although Pappajohn said he had never heard of Harreld before his hire and wasn’t consulted in any way, he believes Harreld has a “wonderful background that will allow him to think outside the box.”

“I’m a venture capitalist, and I’ve been involved with more than 100 companies,” he said. “And I think that there comes a time in the life of companies and universities and businesses where sometimes it’s time to think and reflect and get a different perspective.”

Pappajohn said he thinks critics of Harreld have a right to their opinion.

“But I think it’s not fair until they give him an opportunity to perform,” he said.

“I think the future will tell us whether we are going to end up raising more money or less money,” he said. “But I can’t imagine that he would not be a positive influence on the university. I believe that he will, just because of his background.”

“Shaking my head”

Petersen, who served on the Board of Regents from 1969 to 1981, said she doesn’t foresee any fundraising roadblocks ahead for UI — despite the controversy around Harreld’s hire. She does have concerns about his background and his ability to “take right off” in leading the university to new heights, but Petersen said that won’t affect her giving.

“He has been duly appointed by the appropriate legal authorities, and he has to be given the opportunity to learn,” she said.

But, Petersen said, that’s where many of her concerns lie — in the fact that he has so much to learn.

“I think it will be a steep learning curve for someone who has been a lecturer at an institution but has not spent years on a faculty or an administration of an institution of a higher education,” she said. “I think it’s unfortunate that we can’t take right off with the new president — that the new president will have to have quite a lengthy learning curve to be effective.”

During Petersen’s time as a regent, she was involved in several presidential searches and said she has concerns with reports about how the recent UI search was conducted. Specifically, she expressed concern with meetings Harreld had — while a candidate — with five members of the board.

“It’s very unusual,” she said. “If you could see me, you would see me shaking my head.”

The board, according to Petersen, is supposed to act “as a whole, in public, with input.”

The board was designed to be a buffer between the political powers and the public institutions, Petersen said.

“I think it’s really important that higher education institutions not be politicized — to not be an arm of any one particular party or any one particular point of view,” she said. “And I think we can all read the newspaper. We see reports that make us uneasy about the political influence to the board and through the board.”

Petersen said faculty buy-in on a new president is paramount in his or her success.

“That is not to say it can’t be built with this,” she said. “But it’s going to take more time and more communication and more listening and more talking.”

UI Foundation President Marshall said Harreld has said he’s “very eager to learn,” and he already has been briefed by the foundation. Harreld is scheduled to be in town over homecoming weekend Oct. 10, Marshall said, and he’s planning to participate in a talk featuring Pappajohn.

Marshall said she hasn’t spent much time worrying about the controversy on campus.

“We are completely focused on fundraising … and having a successful conclusion to this campaign,” she said.

The foundation is nearing the $1.55 billion mark in its campaign, putting the $1.7 billion goal within reach, according to Marshall. “It will require us to continue working very hard,” she said. “But it does seem doable.”

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