IOWA CITY — The list of University of Iowa community members expected to protest during the Board of Regents meeting Wednesday is growing, with members of the UI graduate student union on Tuesday announcing plans to join the fray.
“We reject the attempt by the governor and his Board of Regents to pit community members against the University of Iowa and students against teachers,” according to a Tuesday statement from the UI Campaign to Organize Graduate Students.
The regents are meeting on the UI campus Wednesday and Thursday, and a newly formed coalition — “Iowans Defending Our Universities” — last week announced plans to protest the board at 3 p.m. Wednesday. That group was formed in the wake of the board’s search for a new UI president and selection of businessman J. Bruce Harreld.
On its website, the group states its intentions: to “defend our universities against board actions that undermine integrity” and to “demand that board President Bruce Rastetter and all members of the Board of Regents be removed or resign.”
“By corrupting the search for a new UI president, the Iowa Board of Regents has tarnished UI’s reputation and integrity,” according to the coalition’s website and fliers. “The board’s illegitimate search process has produced an illegitimate president.”
COGS representatives on Tuesday said the formation of the coalition “marks a decisive moment in the fight against corporatization of higher education in Iowa.” In a statement, it too took specific aim at Rastetter.
“We are joining with undergraduate and graduate students, other unions, faculty, staff, parents, alumni, and community members to demand the resignation of Bruce Rastetter from the Board of Regents,” according to the group’s statement. “We are public stakeholders in this institution and we will not stand by and watch our proud tradition of access to high-quality education be gutted by the greed of incompetence of a few bad actors.”
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The board has come under scrutiny on the UI campus over the past few months and even years for a variety of issues, including the board’s proposal to use performance metrics to reallocate state funding to Iowa’s public universities.
The performance-based funding model, which stressed in-state enrollment, could have pulled tens of millions of dollars from UI over a period of years. had the university not responded by enrolling more Iowa residents. That funding proposal eventually was rejected by lawmakers.
In 2014, the board publicly criticized former UI President Sally Mason for her communication with them, specifically citing concerns related to her controversial comments around campus sexual assault. Mason also faced pressure on campus related to the funding model and a variety of other issues — including a deal with AIB College of Business in Des Moines to gift its campus to UI.
In January, Mason announced plans to retire in August, and the Board of Regents launched a search for her replacement by forming a 21-member committee. That committee was charged with recruiting candidates, vetting them, interviewing top prospects, and recommending finalists.
Even though the board maintained final decision-making power, finalists’ names were made public in late August and early September, and each candidate came to campus for a public forum. Harreld was announced last and drew harsh criticism from some members of the campus community, who found him unqualified to lead the university.
Harreld, a former executive with IBM and Boston Market Company who also taught at Harvard Business School, has no academic administrative experience. Supporters say he’s an innovative leader who can provide a fresh perspective at a time of significant change in higher education. Opponents have criticized Harreld for inaccuracies on his resume and for falling short of the university’s academic standards.
After Harreld’s public hearing, hundreds of UI faculty, staff, and students voiced disapproval of his candidacy and asked the board to choose any of the other three candidates. Then just one day later, the board chose Harreld as the 21st UI president, which some have said violated the university’s shared governance values.
The UI Faculty Council and UI undergraduate and graduate student governments in the days that followed cast votes of no confidence in the Board of Regents, as did the Faculty Assembly for the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
That group also issued a censure against Harreld for his resume gaffes.
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In a statement from the graduate student union Tuesday, officers accuse the board of failing to advocate for quality education at UI.
“It’s clear that the presidential search that resulted in Bruce Harreld’s appointment was a pointless and costly charade, fueled by cronyism and corruption,” according to the statement. “Bruce Rastetter’s policies, from the long withdrawal of legislative resources away from the University of Iowa, to the farce of the (efficiency) audit and now the appointment of Harreld, are designed to undermine quality public education. We will fight back.”
Still, some faculty and UI constituents either support Harreld or are willing to work with him. Harreld is scheduled to start on the job Nov. 2, and he’s been meeting and talking with many in the UI community about concerns and ways he can help move the institution forward.
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