IOWA CITY — Although University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld earlier this year vowed to hold three town hall-style meetings per academic year, including one more before the end of this spring semester, that now appears unlikely.
Like Harreld’s first town hall in February that included an update on a specific topic — student housing, in that case — he had intended to host a town hall Monday, during which he would address the issue of social justice.
That topic jives with the UI’s “Just Living” theme semester, which has brought justice-centered exhibits, speakers and events to campus, and some wanted Harreld to do more than just touch on the subject.
“The president expressed a desire to host a town hall forum on issues surrounding diversity but was asked by faculty and staff to broaden the discussion to encompass the wider issues of the ‘Just Living’ theme semester,” according to UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck. She stressed that Harreld is “continuing to look for opportunities to meet with the broader campus and will host additional town halls.”
The Monday social justice-specific discussion, which is planned from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the Old Capitol Museum, is open to the public and will allow those in attendance to “share experiences, provide recommendations, and ask questions.”
A 5:30 p.m. reception will follow the discussion, during which attendees will have the chance to view a “Just Living” exhibit containing graphic images containing racist, sexist, and violent content from the distant and not-so-distant past.
Harreld called his first town hall meeting on Feb. 23 after some UI students, faculty, and staff had been demanding one for months. Before the event, Harreld released a loose agenda for the event, including that portions would be dedicated to a campus update and discussion on student housing. And critics voiced concern.
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“We hope that this does not indicate that a direct exchange of ideas between community members and the new president will be restricted, or that the event will be focused on a prepared agenda,” a group of campus activists wrote in a news release. “In light of the UI community’s repeated requests for an open dialogue directly with President Harreld, we hope that conversation will remain the primary purpose of the event.”
Hundreds attended that first forum, including dozens of protesters who either stood with signs calling for his ouster or interrupted him with shouts of opposition. At one point, many in attendance started chanting, “questions, questions,” in hopes he would skip ahead to the portion of the meeting dedicated to question and answer.
When Harreld started taking questions, most — if not all — were critical of him, his lack of academic administrative experience, or the Board of Regents search and hiring process that landed him.
Harreld, a former IBM executive and adjunct lecturer at Harvard Business School, was heavily recruited to succeed outgoing UI President Sally Mason by Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter and interim UI President Jean Robillard.
Unlike other finalists for the UI job, Harreld met with UI faculty, search committee members, and regents before the formal interview process. While he was still a candidate, but after his name and resume were made public to the campus community, many faculty, staff, and students voiced disapproval and asked the board to hire any of the other three finalists.
One day later, on Sept. 3, the board unanimously agreed to hire Harreld, and he started Nov. 2.
Since then, many on and off campus have vowed to work with him toward a unified goal of improving the institution’s scholarship, research endeavors, and the UI’s ability to remain financial stable even without increasing state appropriations. And Harreld has advocated for increasing faculty pay, supporting more research and enterprise, and improving the student experience.
But some on campus continue to decry his hiring and question his motives.
After learning that Harreld likely will not hold a second town hall this semester and instead will lead the social justice discussion, Professor Judith Pascoe said she can’t attend because she teaches at that time.
“Those I’ve spoken to are struck by the irony of having a person who was the beneficiary of a corrupt hiring process lead a social justice forum,” she told The Gazette.
If you go
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What: Discussion on social justice with UI President Bruce Harreld
When: 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., followed by a 5:30 p.m. reception
Where: Old Capitol Museum, in the senate chambers
Contact: Anyone who can’t make the event can provide feedback online at http://bit.ly/JustLivingSurvey.