Regents acted 'in bad faith' in University of Iowa president search, AAUP concludes
Board could face sanctions from national professors group
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IOWA CITY — Iowa’s Board of Regents acted “in bad faith” throughout its search for a new University of Iowa president by manipulating the process “to reach a foreordained result,” according to a new investigative report from the American Association of University Professors.
That finding could lead the organization to sanction the Board of Regents at its annual meeting in June — putting it on a list that would harm its reputation and make it more difficult to recruit and retain quality faculty, staff, and students at Iowa’s public universities, said Jordan Kurland, associate general secretary for the AAUP’s department of academic freedom, tenure, and governance.
The AAUP will review the case again this summer, before deciding whether to issue a sanction, and consider updates addressing their original findings. Kurland said the Board of Regents could take steps to avoid the reprimand.
“But they need to change their tune,” he said. “And I think it’s going to be very difficult if the current personnel remain in place, as members of the board and the president of the board and key officers claim they didn’t do anything wrong and have been unwilling to enter into real discussions with us.”
The national organization conducted an inquiry into the UI presidential search at the request of the UI chapter of the AAUP, after the Board of Regents in September chose businessman Bruce Harreld to become the institution’s 21st president despite significant pushback from faculty, staff, and students.
In its report made public Thursday, the organization found the board’s “blatant disregard for the shared nature of university governance” to be “inescapable.”
“It is difficult to see how anyone of intelligence and probity would permit himself or herself to be considered for a future presidency in Iowa,” according to the report. “In this, the board has done a serious disservice to the people of the state, as well as the institutions to which it owes the highest standard of care.”
In conducting its investigation, members of the Washington D.C.-based association visited Iowa City, met with faculty members, evaluated documents, and reviewed media reports. They asked to meet with interim UI President Jean Robillard, members of the Board of Regents, and Harreld — all of whom declined or didn’t respond to the request.
Following its investigation, the AAUP provided Harreld and the regents a summary of its findings — which show the board designed the search to prevent any meaningful faculty role in selection of the president and appointed Harreld above three “vastly more qualified candidates.”
The Board of Regents provided a statement in response, saying it believes it “ran a fair and transparent search process.” Harreld responded by saying he believes the AAUP discovery process was professionally executed and the report was “accurate from my perspective.”
“As I move forward as the president of the University of Iowa, please know I will continue to respect and engage in the shared governance of this institution, as I pledged to do before assuming my duties,” he said in the statement provided by the AAUP.
Highlights from the report include:
The 21-member presidential search committee initially allotted five seats for faculty members, but after some protest Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter increased the allotment to seven;
Faculty had little or no input into whether to use a search firm or which firm to use;
An “equal opportunity and affirmative action” statement initially was left off the presidential position posting and only added after a faculty member pointed out board policy requires it;
Harreld was one of only two candidates who submitted only a resume before the initial application deadline — no statement of application or references;
Four faculty members were “strongly opposed” to inviting Harreld to initial “airport interviews” in Chicago, and “there was significant faculty opposition” to moving Harreld into the final four;
Records requests from The Gazette and independent faculty, staff, and student surveys showed widespread disapproval of a Harreld presidency. But the board hired him anyway Sept. 3.
The AAUP reported two theories on what happened, the first being that the search process was fair, while the actual selection was not.
“But others have offered another, darker view,” according to the report. “To them, the process was tainted from the start; the result was foreordained.”
Backing that theory, faculty point to the involvement of the board’s leadership on the search committee; pressure to consider “diverse” candidates, including those without academic administrative experience; significant measures taken to persuade Harreld to consider applying for the job, including private meetings; and the immediate decision to place him on a “short list of semifinalists.”
“When he became a semifinalist, on or about Aug. 4, the decision had already been made,” according to the report.
That perspective prompted multiple campus groups, after Harreld’s hire, to pass votes of no-confidence — including the Faculty Senate and the UI Student Government.
Still, although the report portrays the UI search as “nothing less than a crude exercise in naked power,” it also suggests that faculty and university interests would be best served by moving forward and taking Harreld at his word.
“Only time will tell whether he will grow into the position and effectively defend the institution from the worst instincts of its present governing board,” according to the report.
After reading through the investigation’s findings, UI Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan — who also served on the search committee — said she found the report to be mostly correct, although she said there were some inaccuracies.
For one, she said, the report states that Faculty Senate leadership has “urged a posture of good will and confidence-building toward the board, as it has toward the president.”
“But we think the cases to be different,” the report author wrote. “The president has manifested a reciprocal desire. The record of the regents’ actions evidences no similar desire to treat the faculty in a spirit of comity. One simply cannot build trust and confidence with those who are disinclined to reciprocate.”
Bohannan said although the Faculty Senate began the presidential search process willing to work with the board, it cut off communication after the Harreld hire and stands by its no-confidence vote.
As for how the university should move forward, Bohannan said the Faculty Senate “will remain vigilant regarding shared governance and other fundamental academic values.” But it also agrees that moving forward cooperatively with Harreld is wise at this time.
“So far, President Harreld has said that he embraces shared governance, and he has sought the advice and guidance of the Faculty Senate and other faculty,” Bohannan said. “He is also advocating for legislative funding to hire needed faculty and to remedy salary disparities between UI faculty and faculty at our peer institutions.”
Building trust will take time, she said.
“But we are encouraged by early indications of President Harreld’s priorities.”