IOWA CITY — Eight weeks before J. Bruce Harreld was picked to be president of the University of Iowa — and before he was officially a candidate — he and his wife were met at The Eastern Iowa Airport by the head of the search committee and taken to visit campus, according to records reviewed Thursday.
As reported first by The Gazette, Harreld had lunch in July with UI Interim President Jean Robillard, regents President Bruce Rastetter and two members of the presidential search committee before his name was officially on the list.
Records reviewed Thursday by The Gazette provide more details of the itinerary for the Harrelds that day.
Some members of the UI faculty have raised concern about Harreld’s July 8 visit to campus, questioning whether he — as an eventual candidate — had an unfair advantage over other prospects. Unlike three other finalists, Harreld has business — but not academic — leadership experience.
During a meeting Thursday of the UI chapter of the American Association of University Professors, faculty members discussed the summer visit. Two members of the search committee said they learned of it in the newspaper.
“I didn’t know … and I think there are others who were completely unaware of this,” said one of them, Dorothy Johnson, a UI art history professor. “I’m learning things in the paper I had no knowledge of even though I was on the search committee.”
The chief of staff for Robillard sent Harreld a July 2 email with itineraries for his and his wife’s trip. The message referenced Robillard’s invitation to Harreld to speak to UIHC leadership on “sustaining success.” At the time, Robillard was head of the presidential search committee.
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The email said that Harreld’s wife, Mary, would be escorted for “a tour/lunch while you are meeting with UI Health Care leadership.”
Mary Harreld’s itinerary was not provided, but included a tour of the new Hancher construction site.
“Mary and I truly appreciate your showing her the campus and especially the soon to be finished Hancher Performing Arts Center,” Harreld replied. “We look forward to meeting you.”
UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said Robillard invited Harreld because of his experience and published articles — he’s a former IBM and Boston Market executive who taught at Harvard Business School.
Beck said several other potential candidates asked to meet in person and discuss the job. Robillard and Rastetter met one eventual candidate in Des Moines, and that person received a tour of the hospital. The UI College of Public Health also hosted an eventual candidate.
Once Harreld was identified as one of four finalists, feedback poured into the Board of Regents, much of which was critical, emails released by the board Thursday show.
“The regents should not appoint Bruce Harreld,” UI graduate student Ben Gillig wrote Sept. 2. “I understand that the novelty of selecting a non-traditional candidate has inherent appeal. But that appeal pales when compared to the manifest risks.”
The UI chapter of the AAUP conducted its own survey of about 760 faculty, staff, student, and other UI community members and found dismal support for Harreld.
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History professor Katherine Tachau shared the results with the board the night before it hired Harreld — first failing to email the attachment. Regents President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland alerted her to the mistake.
“I am anxious to review these data and would appreciate further direction on accessing this information,” Mulholland wrote.
UI Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan also emailed the board the same night and warned about a potential vote of no-confidence should the board hire Harreld. Mulholland responded to that message by thanking the faculty for their work.
After Harreld was hired, the Faculty Senate followed through with its no-confidence vote.
“Today I feel nothing but sadness and shame for the University of Iowa,” one UI Health Care employee wrote. “This was obviously a rigged election with a public forum only for show.”
But a handful of people praised the board.
“I am greatly pleased and impressed with your choice,” one wrote. “The university needs a shake-up to make the institution more efficient for taxpayers and more responsive to students.”