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IOWA CITY - University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld will forfeit more than $2 million by retiring before his contract expires in 2023, a Board of Regents spokesman confirmed Friday.
In October, after Harreld announced he planned to retire from his $590,000-a-year position before the end of his contract in 2023, he made comments indicating he would remain affiliated with the UI or regents in some capacity for years - bridging him to the end of his contract and allowing him to collect deferred compensation worth $2.33 million.
'When I look at the next 30 months of my tenure, I think it's very important we wisely use that time,” Harreld told the regents in October, explaining he announced his departure early to allow plenty of space for candidate search and smooth transition.
Harreld at the time vowed to stay until a new president starts, avoiding interim leadership and any pause on UI's strategic progress.
Thursday, Regents President Michael Richards announced there will be an interim after all - UI Graduate College Dean John Keller.
Although Harreld last fall had suggested a search for his replacement could take 18 months or more, the campus promptly got to work and expects to pick a president by April 30.
Harreld told the Daily Iowan last fall he expected to stay on campus through 2023.
'So you'll still be here until 2023?” a reporter for the newspaper asked.
'Yes, if I'm wanted,” Harreld replied, adding that after his tenure and time transitioning a new president, 'the board has raised whether I'd be willing to work on some issues at the board level, strategically.”
But Harreld this week announced that Richards 'has requested that I remain president through May 16, which will allow the new president the opportunity to begin at a date of their choosing.”
Neither he nor the Board of Regents have clarified why he's leaving sooner than indicated, or what changed.
Harreld's extended contract through 2023 - which more than doubled his deferred compensation payout from $1 million to $2.33 million - required he remain an employee to collect.
Despite earlier speculation Harreld would do just that, board spokesman Josh Lehman this week told The Gazette, 'President Harreld won't be an employee after his last day.”
He confirmed the board hadn't amended Harreld's extended contract and didn't change his deferred compensation deal. Lehman also confirmed that 'no exit agreements” exist.
That, according to George Mason University Professor Emeritus of Public Policy James Finkelstein, is unusual - especially considering Harreld announced his retirement two years before his contract's expiration and just one year after agreeing to extend his original five-year deal from 2015 for another three years.
'The question is, what changed between the summer of 2019 and when he announced that he was stepping down?” said Finkelstein, whose principle areas of interest and research have been in the selection and employment of university presidents.
'I've been doing this for 20 years,” Finkelstein said. 'In the last 10 years, I've reviewed hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of presidential contracts. … We have the largest collection of presidential contracts of anybody.”
As part of Harreld's 2019 contract extension, he rolled over his original deferred compensation contributions - meaning he wasn't paid any part of it in 2020, when he originally was supposed to get a $1 million payout. Almost never does a president walk away early after doing that, Finkelstein said.
'I've seen a handful of presidents do this, but know of only one other case where the president resigned after renewing their contract and rolling over their deferred comp,” Finkelstein said. 'But that individual resigned to take another position - at a more prestigious university at considerably higher pay. I believe that he also got a signing bonus that helped to mitigate his loss.”
Typically, he said, presidents will announce in the spring plans to resign or retire at the end of the academic year - giving a governing board time over the summer to engage a search firm, amass applications and wrap up between November and February.
'So something is wrong with the picture,” he said. 'I can't tell you what.”
Having followed Harreld's tenure from the start - when his controversial hire despite widespread opposition sparked votes of no confidence from faculty and students - Finkelstein said this seems a typical end for an atypical university president.
'Everything about his appointment and his presidency was unusual,” he said. 'He was hired in an unusual way, amid controversy, and he is departing in much the same way as he arrived - with more questions than answers.”
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