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University of Iowa Faculty Senate votes 'no confidence' in Board of Regents

Members of the faculty and its senate said the Board of Regents betrayed them and their confidence

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For the second time in as many University of Iowa president searches, the Faculty Senate on Tuesday voted “no confidence” in the state Board of Regents for its selection of businessman J. Bruce Harreld as its 21st president.

The vote of no confidence was partly symbolic — as it has no power to reverse the decision to appoint Harreld, who the Board of Regents on Thursday unanimously agreed to hire at a starting annual salary of $590,000 — with a five year deferred compensation package worth $1 million.

But Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan said she believes it will help faculty members heal from the painful search process and find a way forward. And she and other leaders said Tuesday’s vote is just the first of many action steps the faculty plans to take on the issue in the coming year — including possible votes of no confidence in President-elect Harreld and open letters to Gov. Terry Branstad and the citizens of Iowa.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Bohannan told a packed room of hundreds of faculty who convened Tuesday for the impromptu meeting to discuss last week’s presidential hire. “I think that this university has been betrayed. Faculty, staff, students — all betrayed.”

The language of Tuesday’s motion, approved by 46 senators read, “Whereas the Board of Regents has failed in its duty to take care of the University of Iowa and citizens of Iowa and shown blatant disregard for the shared nature of the university governance, whereas the regents have failed to act to their own strategic plan and core values … we therefore have no confidence in the ability of the Board of Regents ability to wisely govern our institution.”

The Board of Regents issued a statement responding to the faculty motion that stressed the changing nature of the landscape of higher education and expressed disappointment that “some stakeholders have decided to embrace the status quo of the past over opportunities for the future.”

Throughout the search process, according to the board statement, regents heard from stakeholders all across Iowa about the type of qualities and leadership needed at UI.

After hearing all stakeholder feedback and having “frank conversations with each of the candidates,” the board unanimously thought Harreld’s “experience in transitioning other large enterprises through change, and his vision for reinvesting in the core mission of teaching and research, would ultimately provide the leadership needed.”

In 2006, in search for a successor to former UI President David Skorton, UI faculty, staff, and student groups passed “no confidence” votes in the regents, resulting in a new search committee and process that landed Sally Mason as Skorton’s successor.

Bohannan was among seven faculty members who served on the most recent 21-member search committee for the new UI president, and she said the result of their efforts is “devastating.” She said faculty gave regents the benefit of the doubt and believed it when it vowed to be open and transparent throughout the search — outlining a process that would bring finalists to campus and solicit community feedback.

That feedback overwhelmingly rejected Harreld as a qualified UI president, Bohannan said, and that sentiment was clearly and articulately communicated to the Board of Regents.

According to emails obtained by The Gazette, Bohannan — the day before Harreld was named president — wrote to the board on behalf of the Faculty Senate to express concerns with the presidential search and share the sentiment of dismal support for Harreld.

“I fear that choosing Mr. Harreld would destroy the goodwill that the Faculty Senate and the regents have worked so hard to establish,” according to the emails. “There is no doubt that, if Mr. Harreld is chosen, some members of the Faculty Senate would demand a no-confidence vote in the regents.”

Bohannan, in the email, said it’s “hard to see how the regents’ relationship with faculty could thrive under such circumstances.”

During her impassioned speech to faculty Tuesday, Bohannan said, “The regents did not listen.”

“The regents said that they wanted faculty involved in this process, they said that they wanted to hear from us and that they respected our viewpoints,” she said. “And in the end, they clearly did not. That’s it.”

The university would have been no better off had the search been conducted in private, Bohannan said.

“We would have gotten the exact same result,” she said, adding that the search “failed.”

“It failed,” she said.

After the announcement of Harreld as president, Bohannan said Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter reached out to her and she sent him a message telling him plainly that he betrayed her and the faculty and the university community.

“I communicated that any trust that might have existed between Faculty Senate and the Board of Regents is broken, and I would not be communicating with the board further until I could come to the senate to hear what the senate has to say and what the senate wants to do,” Bohannan said.

Following her speech, the packed room sustained loud applause and then faculty members spent the next hour and a half expressing disgust with the search and the regents’ leadership, and debating next steps.

Some suggested taking no confidence votes in President-elect Harreld and in President Rastetter. Many supported penning an open letter to Gov. Terry Branstad and the citizens of Iowa, telling the university’s story.

Moving forward, faculty members said they aim to point out the wastefulness of the search — bringing candidates to campus who they never intended to hire and paying $200,000 to a search firm that didn’t catch errors in Harreld’s resume.

Some said the university should start a national movement against boards chosen to govern institutes of higher education and become the model for change on that front.

“This is a great case study for disaster,” one faculty member said.

UI economics professor John Solow said he would support a no-confidence vote in the new president because, “quite frankly, that’s the fact.”

“None of us are confident in his ability,” Solow said.

The faculty seemed split on whether Harreld’s hire is a done deal or if it somehow can be reversed. Some talked about refusing to work with Harreld. Solow said he plans to go about his job — teaching, researching, and providing general service to the UI community.

But, he said, his job “does not include educating the president of the University of Iowa,” hearkening back to Harreld’s comments after being hired that he has a lot to learn and will need faculty and community help in getting up to speed.

Harreld was a top executive at IBM, Boston Market Company, and Kraft General Foods and also taught at Harvard Business School and Northwestern University. His highest degree is a master’s in business administration from Harvard.

The three other finalists included Ohio State Provost Joseph Steinmetz, Tulane University Provost Michael Bernstein, and Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov. During their visits to campus, each finalist participated in public forums, and Harreld’s turned hostile, with community members asking him why he even applied and if he already had the job.

The UI chapter of the American Association of University Professors over the weekend issued a statement “deploring the actions of the Iowa Board of Regents” and accusing it of having a “preconceived determination” to hire Harreld.

“In retrospect, it is clear that the assurances of fairness and transparency in the hiring process given to us by the regents, the chair of the search committee, the search firm, and the Faculty Senate leadership were untrue,” according to the statement. “It is our hope and belief that those assurances made by the search committee and faculty leaders were the result of representations made to them by the regents.”

Had the regents been “the least bit concerned with the reactions of faculty, staff, and students to Mr. Harreld’s campus visit” — combined with his open forum “performance” and questions about his resume — the board “would have produced a different decision.”

“Only a preconceived determination by the regents to appoint Mr. Harreld regardless of campus reactions to him can explain his hiring,” according to the faculty statement, which also apologized to the other three candidates.

“We extend our heartfelt apologist to President Krislov, Provost Bernstein, and Provost Steinmetz for the treatment they received from the University of Iowa,” according to the statement.

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