University of Iowa demonstrators missed an opportunity

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld walks past protestors before a community town hall meeting at the Pomerantz Center in Iowa City on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld walks past protestors before a community town hall meeting at the Pomerantz Center in Iowa City on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

The purpose, structure and funding of public higher education is rapidly evolving. The University of Iowa — and the state — have tough choices to consider and critical decisions to make about its future.

The UI administration has been charged with creating a strategic planning process to guide the university through these seismic changes. It’s a big task — one that should not and cannot be addressed by a handful of people in a corner office.

So it is frustrating and disappointing to see some members of the UI community using last week’s town hall meeting — UI President Bruce Harreld’s first since his controversial appointment to the post last fall — as an opportunity to demonstrate, not discuss.

We can understand their anger. Many people have rightfully questioned the Iowa Board of Regents’ presidential search and selection process. The lack of answers, apology or acknowledgment of their concerns have marred Harreld’s short tenure. Lawsuits have been filed. Resignation demands have been made. Repeatedly.

But by co-opting the event and derailing the potential for productive dialogue, demonstrators missed a chance to hear what Harreld has learned in his first few months on campus, and to share with him their views.

Their vulgar signs and shouted uncivil interruptions made their cause less sympathetic to the broader public and distract from legitimate concerns about regents’ lack of transparency and respect for shared governance.

Perhaps, in this nation’s overtly hostile political climate, such outbursts should be less shocking. We can’t imagine how they could be more embarrassing.

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The University of Iowa, like all other institutions of higher learning, has many problems to confront: Funding challenges, affordability, student housing, maintaining a safe, welcoming and supportive campus environment, increasing demand for mental health services.

Tuition freezes, while welcomed by students and parents, may be chilling the school’s ability to entice and keep quality faculty members. Sexual assault continues to be a serious concern.

But those important issues were lost in all the shouting. That’s an opportunity missed.

Demonstrators are right to persist in demanding answers from the Board of Regents. But they should not let that blind them to a chance to have a reasonable conversation and a voice in the UI’s plans to move forward.

• Gazette editorials reflect the consensus opinion of The Gazette Editorial Board. Share your comments and ideas with us: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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