Higher education

Emails: ISU fast-tracked initiative for Kraig Paulsen hire

University had 'handshake agreement' before lawmaker applied

Iowa Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen applauds during Gov. Terry Branstad's Condition of the State address to the a joint session of the legislature at the State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Iowa Speaker of the House Kraig Paulsen applauds during Gov. Terry Branstad's Condition of the State address to the a joint session of the legislature at the State Capitol building in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

AMES — A new Supply Chain Initiative that Iowa State University last month announced will be led by Iowa’s outgoing House Speaker Kraig Paulsen was far from reality just a few months ago.

In fact, when ISU Provost Jonathan Wickert in September asked College of Business Dean David Spalding to identify possible jobs for Paulsen — who in August announced plans to step down as the House’s top leader and end his legislative career after the 2016 session — Spalding suggested either a lecturer position or a role related to the possible expansion of ISU’s Supply Chain Management program.

“I expect that one result of that will be the recommendation to establish a center for supply chain education and research,” Spalding wrote in an email to Wickert, adding that such a center would need a director. “I expect the planning process to take a year, so we would expect to launch this in fall 2016 or spring 2017.”

But, at Wickert’s request, Spalding fast-tracked plans for program expansion and — within weeks — Iowa State had crafted a position, specifically for Paulsen, to direct a new Supply Chain Initiative that could generate thousands in revenue for the university, according to emails obtained by The Gazette through a public records request.

The job was not to be advertised, despite an ISU policy aimed at ensuring “employment diversity, equal opportunity and broad candidate pools.” Citing a rarely used exception, Iowa State waived the advertising requirement and — before Paulsen even applied — university officials had a “handshake agreement” to hire him and an offer ready to pay him $135,000 a year, according to the emails. A position description draft circulated Oct. 14 said Paulsen’s specific set of skills and experience made him a “unique” fit for the role.

“Through an open recruitment process, we would not get anyone of the caliber as Kraig,” according to the description.

The provost’s office received Paulsen’s resume two days later.

Paulsen declined to comment on who contacted whom about a job at Iowa State. Wickert told The Gazette, “I reached out to Kraig first.”


“We’re always on the lookout for individuals with unique skills and deep connections throughout the state,” he said. “We saw his retirement from public service as an opportunity and good fit for moving ISU forward.”

Paulsen, who has been corporate counsel to trucking company CRST International Inc. in Cedar Rapids since 2006 and a lawmaker since 2002, told The Gazette his employment with CRST concludes at the end of 2015.

The timing is ‘perfect’

Emails related to Paulsen’s hire show Spalding had concerns about faculty “buy-in” and asked colleagues if it would be best to invite faculty to meet Paulsen “as part of the interview process.”

“My thoughts are that the (supply chain management) faculty will not believe that it is an interview and a few might not be very positive,” Jacquelyn Ulmer, chairwoman of the Supply Chain and Information Systems Department, wrote Oct. 23. “I would suggest letting the SCM faculty know about this as soon as the provost gives the OK and call it a ‘meet and greet.’”

Before the “meet and greet,” Provost Wickert on Oct. 27 sent an email to ISU President Steven Leath alerting him to a handshake deal and the expectation Paulsen would sign a letter of interest after meeting faculty Oct. 29.

“Very good,” Leath replied.

A human resource liaison drafted an “offer letter” Oct. 28 that specified Paulsen’s full-time annual salary would be $135,000 with a start date of Jan. 4. Paulsen, according to Iowa State, would work half-time until the end of the 2016 Legislative Session and then ramp up duties to full-time.

According to the human resources official, however, Paulsen couldn’t sign the offer letter “because we are still needing him to formally apply and have a completed background check.”

A week later, Iowa State publicly announced its plans to launch a Supply Chain Initiative led by Paulsen. At the time, ISU spokesman John McCarroll told The Gazette the university made the rare decision to circumvent its advertising policy because Paulsen’s “skills and experiences are considered a perfect fit for the College of Business initiative.”


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In a series of questions and answers provided by Iowa State at the time, officials said Paulsen’s hire was not a political favor but rather an opportunity to leverage his experience in public service and in the logistics industry.

Wickert told The Gazette that ISU already had made the decision to launch an initiative to increase the College of Business’s impact and raise its profile.

“The timing for Kraig to join ISU and be at the front end of the supply chain initiative is perfect,” he said.

‘Very early in this process’

According to the job description, Paulsen will spend most of his time directing the Supply Chain Initiative. But he also will be tasked with teaching courses and developing leadership and training programming for ISU’s Extension Council members.

The multitude of duties prompted internal discussion, according to emails.

Danny Johnson, an ISU associate professor of Supply Chain Management, on Oct. 16 said such a wide swath of expectations could have a “negative impact on the center as it is unlikely an individual can effectively do all three disparate tasks while simultaneously getting the center up and running.”

Emails show administrators weren’t initially clear on what type of position Paulsen was interested in at Iowa State.

“In our last meeting, he indicated interest in a full-time position, and in responsibilities (e.g., leading a unit) beyond teaching, both of which were new information,” Wickert wrote in a September email to Leath. “I’d like to speak with you beforehand in order to get some guidance about how far you want me to go in terms of the nonteaching aspects of a potential appointment.”

In looking to bring Paulsen to Iowa State, Wickert in early September also reached out the Mack Shelley, chairman of the Department of Political Science, to inquire about “potential responsibilities for Kraig Paulsen.” Shelley said Paulsen could teach or “help students with internships and with independent study opportunities.”


“As things stand now, all of our scheduled classes for spring 2016 have assigned instructors,” he wrote. “If it would be necessary, we might be able to shuffle assignments; I’d just need to know soon so we can make arrangements.”

After narrowing the options for Paulsen, Wickert on Sept. 24 asked Spalding to prepare a summary of opportunities in his department — specifically around a possible supply chain center.

Spalding said providing details could be difficult.

“Unfortunately, we are very early in this process,” Spalding wrote to Wickert. “I just started the strategic planning process for supply chain two weeks ago, and we still haven’t officially announced it to the department.”

‘Treat all companies the same’

According to the summary Spalding provided for a supply chain center, it would consist of a corporate board of supply chain companies seeking to become more involved with the supply chain and information systems department.

Member companies would provide annual financial contributions to the center and, based on the level of financial support, companies could gain “premium” access to faculty or students for research projects, educational programming activities and business engagement, according to the description.

The financial contributions could be used to enhance ISU’s research and instructional support. Spalding cited Penn State University’s supply chain center as an example, saying it charges each of its more than 50-member companies $15,000 to $18,000 annually.

“We have not done any work on how many companies could be members of the center, but we would first target for membership the 62 companies who hired supply chain majors in 2013-2014,” according to Spalding.

Among duties proposed for the new center’s director, according to the draft job description, was partnering with career-services staff to “customize and target placement services for (Supply Chain and Information Systems) students.”

But Professor Johnson questioned that.


“All jobs that come to our Career Services Office are open to all students to investigate,” he wrote on Oct. 16. “In addition, we treat all companies the same with respect to the services the Career Services Office provides, regardless of whether or not they donate money to the College of Business. This should not change as a result of starting the center.”

Wickert told The Gazette that Iowa State will decide in the spring how the center could work with companies to benefit students and the companies themselves — whether to emphasize regionally or globally, and whether to focus on transportation, distribution, or manufacturing.

Regarding potential member company fees, Wickert said, the university will mull options over the next several months.

“The eventual answer will depend on how many companies or professionals engage with the initiative,” he wrote.

After publicly announcing the initiative, Iowa State received positive feedback from Richard Jurgens, former president and chief executive officer of Hy-Vee, and Dan Houston, CEO of Principal Financial Group.

A representative from another company emailed Iowa State to say, “We would like to help.” The name of the emailer was not provided to The Gazette because “the individuals are not currently affiliated with Iowa State, and did not expect their interest in the initiative to be made public,” according to Wickert.

But in addition to the ISU College of Business, that email was sent to info@CRST.com, Paulsen’s current employer, according to the documents.

‘It’s very troubling’

Iowa lawmakers can hold other public employment as long as it doesn’t conflict with their official duties, according to state law. Other lawmakers who do so include Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, who is employed as the Outreach and Community Education director at the University of Iowa Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research and the Iowa Flood Center, and Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, who is an ISU associate professor of economics.


Regarding Bolkcom’s position, UI advertised the job, conducted a search and Bolkcom applied, according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck. UI also hired former U.S. Rep. James Leach in 2014 as a visiting law professor and UI Chair in Public Affairs after he left the House of Representatives in 2007.

Before coming to UI but after leaving Congress, Leach served as a professor at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and interim director of the Institute of Politics and Lecturer at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Beck said UI didn’t advertise the position it offered Leach as “there was significant interest from a number of high-level institutions.”

Quirmbach — who currently serves as a lawmaker and an ISU employee — said he takes leave without pay from his duties as a professor during the Legislative sessions.

“In more than 13 years, I’ve given back to the university more than half a million in university savings,” he said. “When the legislature is in session, that’s a full-time job — and then some. My constituents expect me to put my full time into representing them, and that’s what I do.”

Paulsen in the 2015 budget year brought in $45,828 in annual gross pay as a lawmaker, according to the state employee salary book. According to Iowa State, he would make the half-time rate of $67,500 until after the 2016 Legislative Session ends, at which point his pay would increase to the annual rate of $135,000 — putting him in the university’s highest pay grade.

Quirmbach expressed concern around Paulsen’s ability to serve both Iowa State and his legislative constituents. He also raised questions around the decision not to advertise the Supply Chain Initiative position.

“The university public relations people said they couldn’t possibly find a better person for the job,” he said. “But I don’t know how they know that without searching. It’s very troubling.”

Equal opportunity hiring policies are in place for a reason, Quirmbach said.

“The old-boy network has been in operation for far too long,” he said. “I thought we had made more progress in dispensing with that.”

Kraig Paulsen In the House, at ISU

• He first was elected to the Iowa House in 2002

• His district include Hiawatha, Robins and portions of Cedar Rapids and Marion

• He was selected Speaker of House in 2011

• He made $45,828 as a legislator in the 2015 budget year

• At Iowa State University, he would receive the half-time rate of $67,500

• Once the legislative session ends, his pay would climb to $135,000 a year

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