New UI president supports athletics council, doesn't 'want any surprises'

Harreld says 'everything's under review' at the university

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz talks with new University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld before Iowa’s game against Maryland at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz talks with new University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld before Iowa’s game against Maryland at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Less than a week on campus, new University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld quickly made acquaintance with the Presidential Committee of Athletics and deemed their advisory role as “critical” to the university’s mission.

“I don’t want any surprises,” Harreld told committee members at Thursday’s monthly meeting. “I need a group that actually are poking and doing what the people, particularly on this campus in terms of liberal arts and sciences is a big core of this ... they know how to think critically and inspect critically and challenge. I need them doing that and advising me on our various issues. I look forward to continuing that.”

Harreld was hired as UI president on Sept. 3 and Monday was his first day in a full-time capacity. He met previously with UI Athletics Director Gary Barta and with Liz Tovar, the associate athletics director for academic services. Harreld said he’s committed to winning on the field but is more concerned with the department’s comprehensive value statement of ‘Win, Graduate and Do It Right.’

“I believe very strongly in the three-legged stool,” Harreld said. “I told Gary the winning is yours; I’m all about the integrity and the academics. I’ll do everything I can to support that.”

Harreld was hired from a business background and is perceived as an agent of change on campus. While education is the institution’s primary mission, athletics provides the university with its most public viewing. When asked if he sees anything in athletics that needs to change, Harreld said, “Not yet, no.”

“Everything’s under review. I’m learning,” he said. “I’m a sponge right now.”

Harreld has no experience overseeing intercollegiate athletics and was asked during Thursday’s meeting if he had read any books to prepare him in leading a major Division I program. Harreld said a few were recommended to him. When pressed for specifics, Harreld replied, “I’m going to leave that alone because my colleagues gave me some advice. I think it’s just to respect our integrity and professional relationship. It’s specifically a couple of books.”

The NCAA released the annual graduation success rate (GSR) on Wednesday, and 89 percent of UI athletes who entered the school in fall of 2008 graduated. That tied the school’s previous high and was six points higher than the national average among peer institutions.

Along with the figures, Harreld said he’s impressed with Tovar, both in her presentation to him and how she responds to athletes.

“I asked a lot of questions and she has a lot of good thoughts and answers,” he said. “It was a Friday afternoon and it got later and later, and I started seeing student-athletes poking their heads in her door. The door was closed, but they were barging in and introducing themselves and asking her some questions. That said to me she’s engaged, respected and has a good feel.”

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating the athletics department for alleged Title IX violations in connection with the firing of former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum last year. Griesbaum’s partner, former UI senior associate athletics director Jane Meyer, was transferred from the athletics department to facilities last December and filed a lawsuit accusing the school of gender discrimination and retaliation. Griesbaum also is expected to file a lawsuit.

Harreld said he’s aware of the situation but doesn’t have much knowledge of the history and said, “it would be inappropriate for me to comment.”

“I think if it’s going to be an active lawsuit, unless I’m deposed or somehow involved, I’m not going to say anything,” he said. “That’s the reason we have courts.”

Harreld has met with Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz, who has made a good impression.

“I love him. He’s a great man,” Harreld said. “A gentleman. High integrity. Looks you in the eye and talks straight. More importantly, his athletes, I think it rubs off. I can see his style, his feel with them.”

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