About 500 protestors marched into the Board of Regents meeting on the University of Iowa campus Wednesday, holding signs and demanding that each member be dismissed, along with the president they hired to lead the institution – J. Bruce Harreld.
“Hey hey, ho ho, the Board of Regents has got to go,” the crowd chanted after initially filing silently into the meeting in the Iowa Memorial Union.
After surrounding the board, UI student representatives told the nine regents their demands and handed over the group’s petition, which has amassed more than 1,000 signatures.
“Bruce Harreld is not fit to run the University of Iowa and should be immediately dismissed from the presidency,” according to the petition, which also requests a new “more democratic method” of electing a president that takes into account faculty, student, and community member opinions.
After the students spoke, the crowd erupted in loud applause and then protesters began shouting, “resign, resign.” The board sat mostly quiet during the protest, although Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter halted the board’s discussion about its system-wide efficiency review to acknowledge the protestors and accept their petition.
After the meeting, Rastetter told reporters he has no plans to resign and doesn’t know of any other regents planning to step down. He also stressed that Harreld will start as the UI’s 21st president Nov. 2, and he believes the search process that landed Harreld was fair.
Rastetter said he has received “tons of positive reactions” to Harreld’s meetings with UI constituents.
“The board is moving forward,” he said.
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After the protest, its organizer UI student Brad Pector, 21, said he feels the rally served its purpose.
“I wanted to disrupt a little bit and let them see how many people want them gone,” said Pector, an art and English major who started the online petition to oust Harreld and created a new coalition called “Iowans Defending Our Universities.”
Pector said he’s hopeful the turnout will sway the board and to expect more protests and rallies if it doesn’t.
“We’ll keep pressing the Iowa Board of Regents if they choose to do nothing,” he said.
The Board of Regents has come under fire from members of the UI community in recent years for a variety of issues – including a new funding model that could have pulled millions from campus and an efficiency review that cost millions.
But the board’s search for a new UI president – including both the process and the selection –impassioned the hundreds to protest and prompted no-confidence votes from faculty and students.
In launching its search, the board established a 21-member committee charged with identifying presidential finalists and making recommendations. Each of the committee’s four finalists came to campus for public forums, and Harreld faced harsh criticism during his town hall – fielding questions about why he applied and whether he colluded with regents.
Harreld, a former top executive with IBM and Boston Market Company who has teaching experience at Harvard Business School but no academic administrative experience, said he did not and laid out a vision for the institution amid unprecedented changes in higher education.
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But hundreds of outspoken faculty, students, and staff voiced opposition to his candidacy and asked the board to choose any of the other three finalists. The board on Sept. 3 named Harreld as UI president, effective Nov. 2, despite the vocal opposition.
In the weeks that followed, information emerged about meetings Harreld had with five members of the board, search committee members, and Interim UI President Jean Robillard before the application deadline.
And on Wednesday, following the protest, Jesse Case – president of the Iowa City Federation of Labor and parent of a UI undergraduate – said all that gives the appearance the search and interview process was “a dog and pony show.”
“And I think the community, students, faculty, and parents coming together is sending a message that is going to make a difference,” Case said.
Before filing into the board meeting Wednesday, the group rallied for nearly an hour – sharing concerns about the board’s actions and Harreld’s looming presidency. One speaker used the bullhorn to recount UI’s legacy of strong leaders – listing off past presidents like Willard L. Boyd, Hunter R. Rawlings III, Mary Sue Coleman, and David J. Skorton.
“We should all be shocked and outraged at what this Board of Regents has done to shatter this tradition,” he said.
The crowd referenced board statements that Harreld will move UI beyond the status quo by chanting, “No more status quo, the Board of Regents has got to go.”
And one person urged the crowd to remember the public university is not a gift.
“It is our right, we own it, so it is our duty to defend it.”