University of Iowa sanctioned for presidential search

Bruce Harreld's hire followed 'an illusion of an open, honest search'

  • Photo

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa on Saturday joined the dishonorable list of higher education intuitions sanctioned by the American Association of University Professors for its Board of Regents’ disregard of faculty opinion in hiring a new UI president.

Delegates at the AAUP’s 102nd meeting — including three UI professors representing the association’s local chapter — voted unanimously to sanction the institution “for substantial non-compliance with standards of academic government” in its selection of businessman Bruce Harreld as the University of Iowa’s 21st president.

The AAUP’s Committee on College and University Governance, which recommended the sanction, said the reprimand is “primarily directed against the Iowa Board of Regents.”

“In contrast to historical practice at the university, which had been to involve faculty fully in presidential searches, the board’s leadership had engineered the search to identify a figure from the business world who was congenial to its image of ‘transformative leadership,’ ” according to the committee’s recommendation, which was made public Saturday.

“Once the regents identified such a person, what followed was at best an illusion of an open, honest search,” according to the document.

The committee called the events in Iowa “part of a broader emerging crisis in U.S. higher education, which, in the committee’s words, ‘is occasioned by headstrong, thoughtless action by politically appointed regents who lack any respect for the faculties of the institutions over which they preside.’”

There is no time limit for how long the university remains on the list. The earliest the AAUP could vote to remove the institution from the list is at next year’s annual meeting.

Late Saturday, Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter issued a statement defending the regents UI search.

“The Board of Regents ran a fair process in the search for president at the University of Iowa,” he said, “and we are very pleased with the progress that President Harreld is making.”

In response to the AAUP sanction, UI Faculty Senate President Thomas Vaughn issued a statement expressing disappointment in the decisions.

“A sanction against the University is both unfair and wholly unjustified,” Vaughn said. “The AAUP’s own report did not contain a single factual finding showing any wrongdoing by anyone at the university. In fact, the university itself has an exemplary record of shared governance, and this tradition has continued over the past several months under President Harreld.”

UI history professor Katherine Tachau, one of the Iowa representatives who voted for the sanction Saturday, said AAUP rules prevent sanctions against governing boards, and she advocated during the meeting for a change.

“Boards themselves should be the targets of sanction,” said Tachau, president of the UI’s AAUP chapter.

The university joins a list of six other institutions that have been sanctioned for infringement of governance standards. But UI is the list’s only school that boasts membership with the Association of American Universities — which comprises 62 public and private research institutions.

Publication of the sanctions informs the association’s nearly 50,000 members, along with the profession and public at large, “that unsatisfactory conditions of academic government exist at the institutions in question,” according to the document.

Tachau said she believes the impact of the sanction will be gradual at first. Iowa could see repercussions in its membership with the AAU, she said. As the university looks to fill academic and administrative openings, it could take a hit.

“I’ve talked to folks who have been sanctioned … they can’t find deans and provosts who want to come there,” she said. “It will damage our ability to get senior faculty who have a choice to leave their university for Iowa. It will be hard to retain people.”

She said the sanction also could spur unionization among UI faculty. The chapter’s AAUP membership has doubled since Harreld’s hire, Tachau said.

According to the investigating committee that recommended the sanction, the Board of Regents hired Harreld, an “independent business consultant,” over “strenuous objections of the faculty.” Harreld, a former IBM executive with teaching experience at Harvard Business School but no academic administrative experience, “was far less qualified than three other semifinalists, each of whom held senior administrative positions in institutions of higher education and had strong academic credentials as well as support from the faculty,” according to the recommendation.

Harreld’s selection prompted votes of no-confidence from the UI Faculty Senate and UI student government for its “blatant disregard for the shared nature of university governance.”

UI biology professor John Logsdon for months has been calling for Harreld’s resignation — along with members of the Board of Regents involved in the search — and said Saturday’s sanction confirms his concerns.

“I’m not pleased my university is under sanction, but I think it does validate the assertion many of us have been making that there was something seriously wrong with this search,” he said.

And, Logsdon added, he thinks sanctioning the university — not just the Board of Regents — is at least partially warranted as several members of the UI faculty and administration were on the search committee that identified Harreld as a finalist.

“To say the University of Iowa holds no responsibility is really missing the facts,” he said. “Not every faculty member at the University of Iowa was involved, but a number in the leadership were certainly involved in the events that have led to this.”

Tachau said she hopes events surrounding the UI presidential search — and the repercussions — will prevent something similar from occurring in the upcoming search for a new University of Northern Iowa president. UNI President Bill Ruud is leaving next month for the presidency at Marietta College in Ohio, and the board is in the process of preparing to search for his replacement.

“The leadership at the Board of Regents were determined to pick their own candidate, and they used the search to do it that way, and they can’t approach (the UNI search) that way at all,” she said. “It should not be their decision to choose a candidate.”

The board at its meeting earlier this month directed Executive Director Robert Donley to develop a process and timetable for the UNI search. Regents President Rastetter said they plan to consult with UNI faculty and don’t intend to rush the process.

Below is a list of institutions that have been sanctioned by the national association:

Elmira College, 1995

Miami Dade College, 2000

Antioch University, 2010

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2011

Idaho State University, 2011

Union County College, 2016

University of Iowa, 2016

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.