DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad supports the state Board of Regents’ choice of business executive J. Bruce Harreld as the new University of Iowa president, telling reporters Friday he faced the same academic skepticism as an outsider that he was able to overcome in leading Des Moines University.
Branstad said he believed change is “essential” at the Iowa City campus, but he noted as a former private college president himself that “change is always difficult.”
“Being a non-academic as I was in being chose president of Des Moines University, I was immediately suspect from the faculty. I’m proud to say that I did win them over,” Branstad said during a conference call from South Korea, where he is leading an Iowa trade delegation.
“I understand that academics have kind of a distrust for somebody who’s not one of them, but I think we’ve got a dynamic leader here that can do some great things,” added Branstad in giving his approval to the regents’ unanimous choice of Harreld to be the UI’s 21st president.
Branstad’s comments followed a vote of no confidence for the regents by the UI’s Faculty Senate after the panel that oversees the state’s three public universities and two special schools picked Harreld from a field of four candidates — three others with academic backgrounds.
Branstad told reporters he had no involvement in the selection process out of respect for the regents’ separate governance authority and spoke briefly with Harreld — a former executive at IBM and a president of a restaurant chain — in Iowa City last week before departing on his trade mission.
“He’s a business person and somebody that I think has great leadership abilities and potential to make some significant changes that will benefit the University of Iowa and the state of Iowa,” the governor said Friday.
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“It was really good that he said he recognized he had a lot to learn and he could learn a lot from the faculty and wanted to work with them and listen to their ideas and I think that’s important and that’s the approach I took at Des Moines University,” added Branstad, an attorney who served six years as DMU president after four terms as governor. He left the post in 2010 to seek public office and is on track to become the nation’s longest-serving governor in December and being re-elected to a sixth term last year.
Earlier this week, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds sounded a similar tone in backing the regents on the Harreld selection.
“We’re looking forward and not backward. I have a lot of faith and confidence in the regents. I thought the process that they went through was very inclusive and I have a lot of confidence in their decision that they made and I think we need to give him a chance,” Reynolds said on a radio call-in show.
“I think he brings a lot of value to the process, and so I think we need to continue to look forward,” she added.