Regents must show their work

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It’s not uncommon for university instructors to demand their students thoroughly show their work. Not doing so can result in a lower grade, even if they arrive at the right final answer.

We think the same applies to the Iowa Board of Regents, which voted unanimously to hire Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa. Clearly, the board is convinced that its unconventional choice of a former IBM and Boston Chicken executive with no university administrative experience is the right answer. They may be correct, but we believe the regents have failed to show their work.

That’s one big reason a firestorm continues to swirl around the regents’ decision. Faculty and students have fiercely criticized Harreld’s hiring and have voted “no confidence” in the board’s leadership. They contend Harreld’s hiring was a predetermined, politically motivated outcome to a search process that ignored their overwhelming judgment that Harreld lacks the qualifications to lead the university.

Unanswered questions abound. How did the search committee, including Regents President Bruce Rastetter, learn about Harreld before choosing to recruit him? He has no apparent ties to the university or the state of Iowa. What role was played by Gov. Terry Branstad, who spoke with Harreld in August, in a call made possible by Rastetter? Harreld is the lone candidate who spoke with the governor.

Rastetter and others insist Harreld’s hiring was not a done deal masquerading as a true search process. But the troubling signs and public perceptions of a behind-the-scenes push persist.

One way those perceptions can be countered is through transparency. The board should release all comments it received about Harreld’s prospects to help Iowans and the university community better understand why he was chosen. It should also release the broader list of candidates who were interviewed beyond four finalists publicly named. Was Harreld truly the best non-traditional pick, or were others with private-sector executive experience interviewed? How and when did non-traditional experience jump to the top of the list of criteria for hiring a new university president?

Without more candor, the shadow over Harreld’s hiring will remain and stand a good chance of hampering the success we hope he enjoys.

For his part, Harreld would be wise to not follow the poor practices of the selection committee and lead with transparency.

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