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Regents change course, consider push for new University of Iowa funding

Faculty, student questions, criticism remains

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Countering an original Board of Regents proposal seeking no new state money for the University of Iowa in the next budget year, the regents’ president on Monday said he instead will push for a $4.5 million increase for the university to support its core mission.

The board is scheduled to approve its 2017 state appropriation requests at a meeting Wednesday in Cedar Falls, and President Bruce Rastetter said he intends to ask his colleagues at that time to up its original proposal for UI from $0 to $4.5 million.

“After meeting with incoming President (Bruce) Harreld as well as faculty, staff and students, it is clear that additional funding to support the long term reinvestment in the core mission of teaching and research is needed,” Rastetter said in a statement.

“I believe that this additional money is critical in the support of the University of Iowa’s vision to invest in its strengths and to continue to provide the highest quality education to our students,” he said.

The board made public its 2017 funding proposal requesting $8.2 million more in general appropriations for Iowa State University, $7.7 million more for University of Northern Iowa, and $0 for UI last week — on the same day UI President-elect Harreld came to campus as one of four finalists for the job and was drilled during a contentious public forum.

Despite that hostile welcome and a campus survey that showed dismal support for Harreld’s ability to lead the institution, the Board of Regents on Thursday named him the 21st UI president.

UI Professor Katherine Tachau on Monday said she’s pleased with the board’s apparent about-face in its funding request for the institution, but she’s suspicious of its motives.

“If I had just hired a university president who had as little support among the students, staff, alumni, and faculty as the current president, the very first thing I would do would allow him to appear victorious in advocating for the university,” she said.

“Many of us have been predicting this,” Tachau said, but added, “President Rastetter is absolutely correct that this is very much needed at the University of Iowa.”

The Board of Regents last year asked lawmakers to support a “performance based funding model” that would have distributed state allocations to the three public universities based on metrics like enrollment, access, attainment and research. That model could have pulled millions from UI and redistributing it to ISU and UNI, but legislators didn’t support it.

Instead, they agreed on a spending plan to up base appropriations for UNI and ISU and give all three institutions one-time allowances. But Gov. Terry Branstad vetoed those one-time moneys, meaning UI did not receive any new money for the current budget year.

Harreld, after being named UI president, said status quo at the university is unacceptable and he intends to move the institution from “great to greater” by experimenting with new learning models and methods, focusing on the quality of teachers and education, and listening to constituents across campus.

A group of UI graduate students and alumni over the weekend said they want to move past Harreld’s rocky start and improve the institution as well. But first, they want the Board of Regents to answer questions about the presidential search process that landed Harreld.

“To what extent were the regents involved in preparing and pushing Mr. Harreld through the search process?” the students and alumni asked in a statement. “Individuals close to the search process have expressed concerns that members of the Board of Regents personally prepared Mr. Harreld — but none of the other candidates — for his campus interactions.”

If so, they asked, why was Harreld given preferential treatment?

“Harreld has a difficult road ahead because of the controversies created by the board during this search,” according to the statement. “This is not how we want our next president to begin his tenure at the University of Iowa.”

Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said he would like to see the community give the new president a chance, and he was pleased to see Rastetter’s plan to change the UI’s funding request.

“I’m certainly gratified that President Rastetter saw the position that a lot of us have been advocating — that the University of Iowa needs resources, and all three universities should be treated as the individual entities they are,” Dvorsky said.

“I appreciate any efforts that President-elect Harreld has done to get that word to Rastetter,” he said. “And I will continue to give the new president every opportunity to prove some of the detractors wrong.”

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