Harreld cites campus changes in 'unique time' for higher education
University of Iowa president calls on more support, collaboration
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At a time of significant change in the higher education landscape — and with longtime University of Iowa Provost Barry Butler headed to assume his first presidency at a private college in Florida — UI President Bruce Harreld said he might restructure the provost position and possibly rework its duties.
Butler, who has been employed at UI for 33 years, earlier this week was named the sixth president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. He’s scheduled to start there March 13, and Harreld told The Gazette on Thursday he’s about one week away from announcing an interim provost.
That person will not be in the running to become permanent provost but could be on the job for as long as 12 months as Harreld and his team review the provost position and how they want it to function going forward.
“We will put someone in an interim capacity and let some of the other pieces of work get more developed and then come back and visit, what’s the impact on the provost’s office and then launch a search,” Harreld said. “This is a really unique time to let a couple other things finish and then catch our breath and see what the implications are.”
Harreld made those comments after speaking at the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet — where he highlighted significant shifts in funding and policy shaping and shifting higher education realities. He challenged the hundreds in the room to view Iowa’s university and college campuses as an asset to invest in not a cost to minimize.
Without ramped up support and improved collaboration between the universities, the communities, the Board of Regents, and lawmakers — UI will continue to struggle to compete for talented faculty and students.
“We are in the process of dis-investing in the Midwest from our major public universities,” Harreld said. “This is an issue we need to come with grips on.”
Harreld reminded the crowd that UI is losing faculty at an alarming rate to other universities offering better pay. Although, Harreld said, Butler — who in the current budget year is earning a salary of $413,972 — did not leave for improved compensation. He was ready to assume a presidency, Harreld said, and — in fact — had been a candidate for the UI job that Harreld landed in 2015.
“He is at a station in his career that he can step up and be a president of an institution,” Harreld said. “This is a great opportunity for him.”
In addition to reshaping the provost role, the university is responding to the competing pressures on higher education by revamping its budgeting process — asking deans and program leaders to take a more active role in prioritizing. The university almost is done cutting $8 million out of its current year budget after lawmakers in January voted to take back $18 million from Board of Regents institutions as part of $117.8 million in cuts to account for a statewide budget shortfall.
Harreld said those cuts will come, among other things, through reassessed student financial aid, reduced summer tuition grant offerings, and revised policies making it more difficult for out-of-state students to become Iowa residents — and thus pay lower residential tuition rates.
“We’re doing a lot of things internally, but no layoffs, no faculty,” Harreld said. “If anything we’re going to continue taking their salaries up. So we have to be more efficient in some other areas. I think we’re about a week from execution.”
He also challenged the Board of Regents and the state to come together with the universities to improve cooperation in the areas of state allocations, tuition rates, admission standards, and other policies and practices that can make or break a campus’ ability to succeed.
“We have three sets of dials,” Harreld said. “The university controls some dials. Our Board of Regents controls a dial. And the state controls another dial.”
The university dials address budget priorities and efficiencies, for example. The regent dials set tuition and admission standards. And the state dials deal with funding.
“You would hope that those dials would all be turned in a consistent way — they aren’t,” he said. “And what’s more troubling to me and my colleagues at the university is the process of trying to get on the same page is unclear in today’s environment … The mechanism for harmonization seems to be something we need to do talk about.”
At the start of Harreld’s chamber speech, a group of UI graduate students stood up with signs and chanted, “Silence is violence.” The students challenged Harreld for not speaking more publicly about a variety of issues important to them — including national immigrant bans and vast changes to the state’s collective bargaining law that strip unions of power to negotiate over a wide range of topics.
Lawmakers on Thursday passed what some have called a “union busting bill,” and it’s now headed to the governor’s desk. The UI graduate student union has asked Harreld and the Graduate College dean to promise continued competitive salary and health insurance packages for their teaching and research assistants.
Harreld told The Gazette those bargaining issues happen at the Board of Regents level, but he believes strongly in the value of graduate students and education on campus.
“We’re not going to disinvest in graduate students,” he said. “It’s a core part of our university and will always be … Therefore one could assume that the salaries we pay and he benefits we pay will always be competitive.”
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