New University of Iowa president's emails show early outreach with faculty
'Welcome - really - we need your contribution'
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IOWA CITY — Even though J. Bruce Harreld doesn’t officially start as University of Iowa president until Nov. 2, he began hearing from and connecting with constituents using a newly minted presidential email account immediately after his hiring.
Harreld’s uiowa.edu account was activated at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 3, just hours after the Board of Regents unanimously chose him as UI’s 21st president. To date, he has had about two dozen exchanges through the account, mostly from UI administrators, faculty, and other community members wanting to meet with him or fill him in on the institution and their work, according to a records request from The Gazette.
Despite concerns vocalized among many faculty, staff, and students related to Harreld’s hire and the process the Board of Regents followed in making their selection, none of the emails through his “uiowa” account have been critical of him.
Some emailers did address the pushback but also offered to help him acclimate to campus.
“Welcome to the University of Iowa,” Richard Koontz, UI law lecturer and director of the Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center wrote in a Sept. 9 email. “We are glad you are here, and hope that the knowledge you have about real life management can find its way into the place.”
Koontz told Harreld he believes he’ll be able to find a leadership foothold on campus.
“But it may take some time to build that trust,” Koontz wrote. “Welcome — really — we need your contribution.”
Harreld, who comes from a largely business background with leadership roles at IBM and Boston Market Company, on Tuesday issued his first campuswide message addressing some of the concerns that have swirled since his selection. The UI Faculty Senate and student government groups have issued no-confidence votes in the Board of Regents for its hiring of Harreld, who has no academic administrative experience, but Harreld on Tuesday outlined his leadership style and welcomed questions.
And the emails made public Wednesday seemed to support that message, showing Herrald’s attempts to talk with faculty and accommodate requests for meetings.
In at least one instance, on Sept. 13, Harreld used his email account to reach out to UI philosophy professor Richard Fumerton, asking if he’d be up for a meeting.
“I’d like to get your views on the UI’s current status and what we can collectively do to make our university even greater,” Harreld wrote. “Said another way, I’d appreciate getting your views on what our common vision should be and how best to execute it.”
Following their discussion, Harreld emailed Fumerton to thank him.
“I especially appreciated your caution on the dangers of ‘one size fits all’ approaches to leading our various schools,” Harreld wrote. “Indeed, teaching styles, faculty composition, etc. need to be tailored to each specific area.”
The day after Harreld’s hire, Rachel Napoli — UI organizational change administrator helping to lead the institution’s “organizational change team” — emailed Harreld to welcome him to campus. Harreld responded, saying he’d “love to know more” about the team.
Napoli explained it was created in April to facilitate change related to the Board of Regents efficiency review. Its mission, she wrote, is to build change competency and enable the UI community to navigate organizational change with agility, resiliency, and collaboration.
UI business lecturer Joseph Sulentic wrote Harreld Sept. 8 about the possibility he make an appearance for a “social entrepreneurship class.” Sulentic, who identifies as a “student veteran advocate,” also told Harreld he recruited a SEAL to a UI master’s in business program.
“If you are interested, he could provide an intel briefing on what he has seen/experienced to date at the University of Iowa,” Sulentic wrote.
Harreld responded by saying he’d like to join one of the evening entrepreneurship classes once he gets settled on campus.
“Additionally, please ask your SEAL student to ping me so we can connect,” he wrote. “I suspect we share a few common friends.”
Harreld was invited by some UI administrators to read more about their departments or meet with their faculty, like Alec Scranton, dean of the UI College of Engineering. Scranton invited Harreld to participate in an Oct. 9 meeting involving the college’s advisory boards, and Harreld agreed.
John Keller, UI dentistry professor and dean of the Graduate College, sent a note Sept. 7 congratulating Harreld and sharing more about his college’s efforts to “move in the directions that you articulated during your visit to campus.”
UI law professor and Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan told The Gazette that Harreld has told faculty leadership he’s not only willing but eager to meet with them.
“We have heard from many faculty members who have talked with him,” Bohannan said. “And it seems that those conversations have been constructive.”
Faculty Senate officers have had a productive discussion with Harreld, according to Bohannan.
“Our Faculty Council — the executive council for the senate — has invited him to our first regular meeting after his Nov. 2 start date, and he has kindly accepted that invitation,” Bohannan said.
Mark Nolte, president of the Iowa City Area Development Group, in a Sept. 10 email congratulated Harreld and vowed to help him “succeed in this role.”
“The success of the university is critical to the success of our state and region,” Nolte wrote. “We have entered a time when every industry and institution will be challenged to either be the disrupter or be disrupted.”
“I believe if you have the support you need, the University of Iowa can be a disrupter and lead the evolution of higher education.”