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IOWA CITY — In outgoing University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld’s final end-of-semester message, he didn’t mention his impending departure in just 10 days.
The message of encouragement to graduates and returning students — along with faculty and staff — after an unrivaled year of “myriad hardships” was forward-looking and absent any farewell.
That still could come, with Harreld’s official last day set for May 16, when he’ll speak at an in-person graduation celebration in Kinnick Stadium.
“We look forward to what the coming months and years will bring, not only for our new graduates but also for our campus,” Harreld and Provost Kevin Kregel wrote in the co-authored campus message that was distributed Thursday.
“It is with a new sense of hope that our campus and our new graduates celebrate the coming of spring and the beginning of a life returning to a sense of normalcy,” they wrote. “Though changed, our world is beginning to look little by little the way it did before the pandemic, and we can look toward the future with new excitement.”
Harreld in October — just a year after agreeing to extend his original five-year contract for another three — surprised the campus by announcing plans to retire. At the time, Harreld said he’d stay until his successor starts, help with the transition, and negate any need for interim leadership.
Then in March, Harreld again surprised the campus by announcing Board of Regents President Mike Richards had asked him to stay just until May 16.
The board moved quickly in picking his replacement and last week unanimously chose Barbara Wilson, the University of Illinois System’s executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs, from among four finalists.
She’s set to begin July 15 as the UI’s 22nd president. Outgoing UI Graduate College Dean John Keller will serve as interim UI president for two months.
Neither the board nor university have shared details about why Harreld is leaving sooner than he said he would or how he’s involved — if at all — in the transition.
When asked whether Harreld and Wilson have been in contact, UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said Harreld and his wife hosted Wilson and her husband “for lunch on Saturday at the president’s residence.”
In their end-of-semester message Thursday, Harreld and Kregel focused on campus achievements in overcoming challenges COVID-19 presented in this academic year.
“We have reached the point where commenting on the myriad hardships of the pandemic feels flat. It is now just a fact, something we’ve had to endure,” they wrote. “And yet, as we congratulate a new class of Iowa graduates on their achievements, we must remember the astounding way this campus reacted in the face adversity.
“Hawkeyes rose to the occasion at every turn, as they are well known to do: Faculty and staff worked swiftly to set up online classes. We geared up to produce critical drugs to treat the virus. The State Hygienic Lab expanded its COVID-19 testing to record levels. Dance Marathon redesigned and kept its mission going strong.”
The university this month expects to confer 5,300-some undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. About 18 percent of the 3,714 undergraduate applicants are first-generation, and 23 percent of the total graduation pool identify as a member of a minority group.
Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa are holding their in-person and virtual commencement celebrations this weekend.
ISU President Wendy Wintersteen this week also issued an end-of-semester message, reporting as of May 1 her campus has administered 8,000 doses of vaccine through its clinics.
“The ISU community has adapted to every change and overcome every challenge of the past year with incredible strength and perseverance,” according to Wintersteen and fellow administrators. “We end this academic year in gratitude and celebration of a job well done.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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