The Iowa Board of Regents' duplicity

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Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and the diligent reporting of many dedicated members of the press, it is now abundantly clear that the Iowa Board of Regents did not conduct a single search for a new President of the University of Iowa, but two searches: one for ‘show’ and one for ‘go.’

The ‘show’ search solicited nominations from people both inside and outside the University community. Those nominees submitted their credentials to the Parker search firm, which authenticated the credentials, passed along the completed dossiers to the official search and screen committee, and contacted professional references.

The ‘go’ search was the sub rosa creation of Bruce Rastetter, President of the Board of Regents. He initiated personal contacts with a hand-picked group of potential candidates. He also arranged private on-campus and off-campus meetings for some of these potential candidates with members of the Board of Regents (some also serving on the official search committee and some not) and three search committee members (the Interim President of the University of Iowa, the President of the Faculty Senate, and the Dean of the Tippie College of Business). He also arranged for one of the four finalists, Bruce Harreld, to receive a personal phone call from Governor Terry Branstad.

The ‘show’ search treasured up three outstanding academic administrators with laudable records of leadership at prestigious colleges and universities. Each one gave excellent public statements carefully articulating their vision for the University of Iowa. Students, staff, and faculty found all three of these candidates to be highly qualified to be President.

The ‘go’ search yielded a corporately-retired and self-employed business strategist with no academic administrative experience. His public presentation was embarrassingly devoid of vision and revealed him to be entirely unfamiliar with the University of Iowa and with the academic culture of a public research university, despite having previously visited our campus. Students, staff, and faculty uniformly deemed this candidate to be unqualified to be president.

The Regents nevertheless chose Harreld, leaving little doubt that the decision had been preordained.

This duplicity is scandalous. The public should be outraged. The regents cheated the University of Iowa out of a legitimate leader. They demoralized the University of Iowa community and made it harder than ever to retain and attract accomplished teachers, scholars, and administrators. They wasted the time of hundreds of people — students, staff members, faculty members, alumni, and members of the community — throughout the six-month search process. In the words of a dedicated member of the search committee, those who seriously and honestly engaged the presidential search “were played for fools!”

And, as the final indignity, the regents frivolously frittered away hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars on a flagrantly bogus search.

Bruce Rastetter and the other members of the Board of Regents should immediately volunteer to resign or be forced to do so. And, Bruce Harreld should tear up his contract and return to private life. It is inexcusable for the University of Iowa to have been treated so disrespectfully and dishonestly by the very people who pledged to be good stewards of public higher education in the State of Iowa. Shame on them!

• Ed Wasserman is the Stuit Professor of Experimental Psychology in the University of Iowa Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences; he is a past President of the Faculty Senate and a recipient of the Regents Award for Faculty Excellence. Comments: wassermn4246@gmail.com.

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