Regents facing second lawsuit in University of Iowa president search

'This case concerns the board's attempt to avoid transparency'

  • Photo

A second court in Iowa is being asked to void Bruce Harreld’s selection as University of Iowa president based on actions Board of Regents and university officials took in recruiting and hiring him.

Gerhild Krapf, a UI graduate who worked for 10 years as counsel at the UI Hospitals and Clinics and later as special assistant to the dean of the College of Law, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Polk County accusing the Board of Regents of violating Iowa’s open meetings law in hiring Harreld. Her lawsuit comes nine months after UI professor emeritus Harold Hammond filed a similar lawsuit in Johnson County asking the court to void the UI presidential search committee’s actions.

“This case concerns the board’s attempt to avoid transparency into the University of Iowa presidential search process through a series of closed door meetings and other indirect methods that violate the letter and spirit of the Iowa Opens Meetings Act,” Krapf states in her petition.

Board spokesman Josh Lehman said the office has not been served with the petition and doesn’t have any comment.

The board on Sept. 3 hired Harreld — a former IBM businessman with no academic administrative experience — to replace former UI President Sally Mason despite widespread criticism of his candidacy among campus constituents.

That selection prompted protests and votes of no-confidence in the board — even before Harreld started Nov. 2. In the weeks after Harreld’s selection, reports surfaced of meetings he was afforded with search committee members and other regents while he was a candidate — adding fuel to the outcry.

The lawsuits filed against the Board of Regents and the UI search committee in connection with the search allege failure to follow open meetings requirements — although in different capacities.

Tuesday’s petition focuses on meetings Harreld requested after being recruited for the presidency by Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter and interim UI President Jean Robillard. In early June, when all search committee members were actively recruiting candidates, Rastetter and Robillard met with Harreld in Cedar Rapids to discuss the presidency.

Robillard subsequently invited Harreld to speak at the UI Hospitals and Clinics on July 8, at which time he met again with Rastetter and two other members of the search committee. Rastetter then coordinated two meetings between Harreld and four other regents on July 30 — the day before the deadline for applications.

Those meetings — the first involving regents Katie Mulholland and Milt Dakovich and the second involving Larry McKibben and Mary Andringa — occurred at Rastatter’s business location in Ames. Before the meetings, Harreld emailed Rastetter his resume, giving him permission to forward it to those he’d be meeting, according to media reports and the lawsuit.

After those meetings, on July 31, Harreld emailed Andringa to thank her and forward an article on “punctuated change.” Andringa replied by urging Harreld to “continue to give us in Iowa a chance to tap into your great skill set, experience and passion for excellence through strategic change by being open to the presidency at the U of I,” according to media reports.

Krapf, in her lawsuit, asserts Harreld’s meetings with regents on June 30 violate Iowa’s open meetings law, which require gatherings related to policy-making duties involving a majority of a governmental body’s members be open.

Even though five of the nine regents weren’t present at any one meeting on June 30, Krapf alleges the “gatherings occurred in close temporal proximity to each other.”

“The July 30th meeting was not for purely ministerial or social purposes,” she states in the lawsuit. “The board did not post a public notice of the July 30th meeting, nor did it vote to hold a closed session.”

Consequently, Krapf asked the court to award her costs and fees, void “all actions taken as a result of the unlawful July 30 meeting, including the election of Bruce Harreld,” and direct the board to comply with the state meetings law for a under “under penalty of civil contempt.”

The Board of Regents is about to launch another presidential search process after University of Northern Iowa President Bill Ruud last month announced plans to leave in July for the presidency at Marietta College in Ohio.

The board also was investigated by the American Association of University Professors, which will vote June 18 on whether to censure the University of Iowa in connection with the presidential search.

The lawsuit Hammond filed in August against the UI presidential search and screen committee accused it of violating Iowa meeting laws by holding both public and closed meetings “at a location outside the state of Iowa and otherwise at times and locations not reasonably accessible or convenience to the public.”

Those meetings, at which the committee narrowed its pool of choices to four finalists, occurred at 7:30 a.m. Aug. 11 and at 7:15 a.m. Aug. 12 in Rosemont, Ill.

Both sides in that lawsuit, which has been set for trial in March 2017, have been quarrelling through legal filings in the past week about requests for documents, materials, and answers to questions.

The defendant’s responses, according to documents filed by Hammond on May 27, “raise improper objections, are incomplete, evasive, and/or otherwise inappropriate.”

Like what you're reading?

We make it easy to stay connected:

to our email newsletters
Download our free apps

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.