Like what you're reading?

We make it easy to stay connected:

to our email newsletters
Download our free apps

Bruce Harreld named 21st University of Iowa president

The Board of Regents unanimously voted Thursday to choose Harreld over three other finalists

  • Photo

IOWA CITY — J. Bruce Harreld, a former technology and food company executive whose quest to lead the University of Iowa culminated in an acrimonious public forum this week, will become the institution's 21st president.

After deliberating for an hour and a half, the Board of Regents unanimously voted Thursday to choose Harreld, 64, over three other finalists who are leading academics at their institutions.

The board approved a five-year contract that will pay him $590,000 annually — about $64,000 more than retired UI President Sally Mason. The board also authorized a five-year deferred compensation plan for him with annual contributions of $200,000. His start date is Nov. 2, although he could begin earlier.

As the board voted to approve the contract, some of those who gathered at the Iowa Memorial Union to hear the announcement shouted down the choice. Harrold has no academic administrative experience, although he has taught as an adjunct lecturer at Harvard Business School, where he earned a master's in business administration.

Regents President Bruce Rastetter, acknowledging the “tough decision” of picking a president, said the board wants to see the UI “become larger and greater” under someone with Harreld's business credentials.

“And so what we wanted to do and what we ended up with is someone who has spent his life providing leadership … in terms of collaboration, in terms of teambuilding, in terms of reaching out to disparate groups and involving them and developing a strategic plan on how you can be better, how you can go from great to greater,” Rastetter said.

During his contentious forum Tuesday, Harreld used that phrase — “great to greater” — to describe his vision for the UI. And after his selection Thursday, he repeated the message that “great institutions don't stay where they are.”

“You either go up or go down, and I think we have all the opportunity in the world here to go from great to greater,” he said.

“It's going to take a lot of work,” he said, “I will be the first to admit that my unusual background requires a lot of help, a lot of coaching.”

Harreld largely a business background that includes serving as president or vice president for the likes of Kraft, Boston Market and IBM.

His curriculum vitae list his current position as managing principal for Executing Strategy LLC in Avon, Colo., although he explained — after The Gazette pointed out that an organization of that name isn't registered in Colorado — that he does private consulting under that name.

Thursday, Harreld said he's going to turn to those who “were highly critical and really tough on me the other day” to be mentors and teachers.

Following the forum Tuesday, the UI Chapter of the American Association of University Professors released results of an online survey in which 760 faculty, staff, students and community members participated.

It showed dismal support for Harreld — only 2.5 percent believed him qualified for the job.

On the other hand, it brought high marks for other finalists — Ohio State University Provost Joseph Steinmetz, Tulane University Provost Michael Bernstein and Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov.

Law professor and Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan said Thursday the Faculty Council also submitted a report to the regents expressing concern with Harreld's lack of experience in higher education.

“This has been a difficult search process for faculty. Many faculty feel that we were asked for our feedback, but it was not given much weight in the decision,” she wrote in an email. “It is going to take time for the faculty to heal from this, but I know that faculty love this university, and I hope that we can move forward.”

Psychology professor Bob McMurray said he has doubts. The AAUP survey showed 10 people on campus found Harreld capable of the job.

“I bet I could get 10 people on campus to say I could manage the Chicago Cubs,” he said.

Questions persist

A decision so counter to the feedback made public has McMurray wondering how much weight the regents gave to comments from members of the public and campus community.

“What's the point of having campus interviews at all if you are going to summarily disregard the very clear message you get?” he asked.

Rastetter said the board received much feedback — not just from faculty, but from other employees, students and those throughout Iowa.

“And what we heard over and over again is they supported his candidacy,” he said. “We took all those into account.”

Rastetter said a 21-member search committee formed to identify finalists for the job articulated a hope of attracting a diverse pool of candidates including non-traditional ones.

Harreld told reporters Thursday that some of those involved in the search reached out to him to ask if he might be interested in applying.

“I struggled with that,” he said. “I haven't lived most of my career inside academia. I haven't had a significant administrative role in a major university. On the other hand ... I have confronted major strategic headwinds in major organizations, and I think this industry has got a number of those.”

Some faculty members raised the question during Harreld's forum Tuesday whether he had been offered the job before coming to campus or if he had ties to any member of the regents.

Rastetter refuted the notion that Harreld had an inside track.

“That is not true,” he said Thursday.

Harreld wasn't the only non-traditional candidate the board considered, Rastetter said. He said he was disappointed in the community's treatment of Harreld.

Approach to shared governance

In articulating a vision for the UI, Harreld vowed to listen and learn and talk with constituents about “gaps” and possible ways to fill them. He espoused shared governance and his hope to quickly move off the front pages.

“I'm not the issue,” he said. “We are the issue.”

Harreld said he hopes over the next month to two months to identify ways to move forward quickly, and he vowed to make that a collaborative process.

“I may be a risk,” he said. “But when you have a healthy shared governance process at the core with the faculty, and someone willing to collaborate, I think the risk of hiring someone like me is much lower.”

Bohanna, the Faculty Senate president, said she hopes her colleagues takes him at his word.

“He is asking faculty to be involved in fundamental decisions about goals and our mission and how resources are allocated,” she said.

Role in fundraising

During Harreld's forum, he indicated willingness to reduce state funding to universities with strong fundraising abilities — answering “yes” to a question of whether he might support a funding model that pulls money from UI and redistributes it to Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa.

Thursday, UI Foundation President Lynette Marshall called that a “spur of the moment answer.”

“I would obviously love him to have an opportunity to reflect on that,” she said.

Marshall said she's looking forward to introducing Harreld to donors and getting his help in reaching the goal of raising $1.7 million by December 2016.

But UI history professor Katherine Tachau expressed concern about building trust.

“If he tells people he is going to give back $48 million to the state, how is he going to raise a penny from any donor?” she asked. “How does he have a right, just because he's president, to tell the Legislature they are spending their money in the wrong way?”

'Fresh air'

But many UI vice presidents and department heads expressed excitement to work with the new president, including Vice President for Research and Economic Development Dan Reed and Georgina Dodge, chief diversity officer and associate vice president.

Dodge said she hopes Harreld has new insight into the ongoing challenge of inclusion, which means helping all students feel supported regardless of gender, race, culture, religion or sexual orientation.

“He's a strategic thinker and I'm looking forward to putting the problem in front of him,” she said.

Interim President Jean Robilliard, who also is vice president for medical affairs of UI Health Care and led the search committee, called Harreld a “breath of fresh air.”

“I think Bruce Harreld brings tremendous value to the university,” he said. “He will help us in terms of improving our research, improving education, improving scholarship, improving mentoring, and I think we really are on the path to grow a lot faster than we were previously.”

Erin Jordan of The Gazette contributed to this report.

Give us feedback

Have you found an error or omission in our reporting? Tell us here.
Do you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.