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Faculty Senate 'betrayed and angry' over UI president hire

Email: Hiring Bruce Harreld was 'shocking and extraordinary step'

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IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa Faculty Senate and its leaders, including two members who served on the search committee for a new UI president, “feel betrayed and angry” about the Board of Regents decision to “hire a president who had virtually no faculty, staff, or student support,” according to an email obtained by The Gazette.

The board’s decision to hire J. Bruce Harreld, who has a largely business background at IBM and Boston Market Company and no academic administrative experience, “was a shocking and extraordinary step,” according to the internal email sent to faculty senators from Senate President Christina Bohannan, Vice President Thomas Vaughn, Secretary Peter Snyder, and past President Alexandra Thomas.

“This is a very painful time for our faculty and the university community,” according to the email. “Having worked so hard, for so long, to make faculty voices heard in this process, no one feels this more than the Faculty Senate.”

Both Bohannan and Thomas served on the 21-member search committee charged with identifying finalists for the UI job. Four candidates were publicly identified and brought to campus, including Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov, Tulane University President Michael Bernstein, Ohio State University Joseph Steinmetz, and Harreld.

During each campus visit, candidates met with administrators, faculty, staff, and students and participated in public forums. Harreld’s forum turned contentious and hostile, with members of the UI community asking him why he applied, if he was already offered the job, and whether he had inappropriate ties to any regents or members of the search committee.

Following the event, some expressed concern with the way the UI community behaved, including Faculty Senate leadership and Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter.

“Those are fair questions,” Rastetter told The Gazette. “But we want them done in a professional manner.”

Members of the community were invited to submit comments on each candidate via a private website, all of which of which were passed on to the regents before they made their final decision Thursday.

Although that feedback was kept private, the UI chapter of the American Association of University Professors developed its own survey — which polled 760 faculty, staff, students and community members. It showed few people — just 2.5 percent of faculty — thought Harreld was qualified for the presidency.

And before Harreld was unveiled as the new president, Faculty Senate President Bohannan wrote to the Board of Regents on behalf of the Faculty Senate to express concerns with the presidential search and lack of support for Harreld.

“I fear that choosing Mr. Harreld would destroy the goodwill that the Faculty Senate and the regents have worked so hard to establish,” according to the email obtained by The Gazette. “There is no doubt that, if Mr. Harreld is chosen, some members of the Faculty Senate would demand a no-confidence vote in the regents.”

Bohannan, in the email, said it’s “hard to see how the regents’ relationship with faculty could thrive under such circumstances.”

The Faculty Senate is meeting Tuesday afternoon to share “feelings and disappointment” and to discuss “where to go from here.” The graduate student union also is meeting Tuesday evening on the topic.

In the email from Faculty Senate leadership to senators, they stressed the efforts that went into repairing more than 10 years of negative relations between the University of Iowa and the Board of Regents. Once the search began, according to the email, faculty “did everything we could to make the search a success.”

Faculty search committee members spent time over the summer visiting colleges and hearing from colleagues about what they’d like to see in a new president. They worked hard, according to the email, to identify good candidates, interview each one, represent the university’s interests, and “speak our conscience.”

“However,” according to the email, “given that only seven out of twenty-one members of the search committee were faculty, one can easily see how a finalist could be brought to campus without significant faculty support.”

The Faculty Senate went to great lengths to organize engagement in the campus interview phase, combing through faculty comments and writing summaries to the board.

“The various forms of feedback all tended to show the same themes,” according to the email. “Our feedback reports were not ambiguous.”

The Faculty Senate leadership, in the email, talked about the letter Bohannan wrote to regents before they voted to hire Harreld, urging them to pick one of the other three candidates.

“We should be proud of how faculty have worked together, not as faculty of any particular college, but collectively as the faculty of the University of Iowa,” according to the email. “We only regret that, in the end, our voices were not heard.”

Following that internal message, the UI chapter of the American Association of University Professors issued a statement “deploring the actions of the Iowa Board of Regents” and accusing it of having a “preconceived determination” to hire Harreld.

“In retrospect, it is clear that the assurances of fairness and transparency in the hiring process given to us by the regents, the chair of the search committee, the search firm, and the Faculty Senate leadership were untrue,” according to the statement. “It is our hope and belief that those assurances made by the search committee and faculty leaders were the result of representations made to them by the regents.”

Had the regents been “the least bit concerned with the reactions of faculty, staff, and students to Mr. Harreld’s campus visit” — combined with his open forum “performance” and questions about his resume — the board “would have produced a different decision.” “Only a preconceived determination by the regents to appoint Mr. Harreld regardless of campus reactions to him can explain his hiring,” according to the faculty statement, which also apologized to the other three candidates.

“We extend our heartfelt apologist to President Krislov, Provost Bernstein, and Provost Steinmetz for the treatment they received from the University of Iowa,” according to the statement.

When contacted by The Gazette on Tuesday, Bernstein and Steinmetz declined to comment on the topic. Krislov did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.

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