UI rift isn't Harreld's to repair

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Growing up, my dad would ask me: Do you know the difference between a lie and a half-truth? The half-truth question informs my skepticism. I always wonder what I am not being told.

I am not alone. Sensible people have looked at the controversy surrounding the hiring of UI President Bruce Harreld and wondered how one of the top universities in the country found itself in this position.

It seems not a day passes without some new revelation concerning the selection process. Sunday’s Cedar Rapids Gazette headline: “At first, he said no” just added to questions about Regent President Bruce Rastetter’s veracity. We now know the new president of the University of Iowa had to be aggressively persuaded to accept the position.

Last spring’s agreement by the regents to engage all parties now promises to deliver a winter of discontent. Let’s face it. Protesters at your door on your first day is not an auspicious beginning. While UI leaders are pulling out all the stops to create harmony, President Harreld must now invest extraordinary efforts to build trust within the UI community. At the same time, he must work to support the efforts of the UI Foundation to raise donations from a broad base of supporters. This controversy does little to help the foundation provide much needed resources for the university.

Unfortunately, the regents failed to inform the university community it would not be business as usual with this presidential search. Experienced academic leadership was not a prerequisite, and in fact, may have been a detriment. Rather, a change agent was needed to shape up the University of Iowa so it could face the new realities of higher education.

This came as a shock to some of the 22,000 UI employees. They thought they were hitting the mark and fulfilling the core missions of teaching, research and service. The regents’ comments at the time of the selection felt like a public rebuke. Their explanation of why they selected this candidate with no academic experience over other qualified candidates seemed like a public condemnation of how the institution is running.

It is unfortunate the regents and governor appear to have lacked integrity with the process. In retrospect, it would have been better to put the community on notice a change agent was needed. To have conducted an open search inviting the UI community to participate and then pull rank with your selection over the objections of that community denies dignity to all parties.

I asked UI Interim President Jean Robillard (who was also head of the search committee) what he would do if he could do it over. After confirming he would still pick Bruce Harreld, he offered a thoughtful reflection about an open or closed process.

In retrospect, a closed process would have not only been within the authority of the regents, but would have allowed many parties to maintain their dignity. Those who take exception with the process are not being unreasonable. The apparent corruption of the process, combined with a lack of sensitivity and tact has created a challenging environment for the entire UI community.

It is unreasonable and unfair to expect President Harreld to repair this relationship. Now is the time for Regent’s President Rastetter and Gov. Branstad to step up. They need to go to work repairing the fractured relationship between the regents and the UI community.

There is no room for half-truths in a relationship that depends on mutual trust.

• Tim Terry founded the accounting firm of Terry Lockridge & Dunn in 1978; in 1991 he founded the investment firm World Trend Financial. He serves on numerous boards including the UNESCO City of Literature. Comments: tterry@tld-inc.com

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