IOWA CITY — In the weeks after Bruce Harreld was chosen last year to succeed retired University of Iowa President Sally Mason, he sat down for interviews with local journalists.
He typically spends a few minutes after events, such as Board of Regents meetings, answering reporters’ questions.
But he repeatedly declined requests from The Gazette, initially made months ago, to talk about his first year leading the institution — a financial enterprise nearly 30 times larger annually than the city of Cedar Rapids’ general fund.
He also declined to answer written questions.
UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck responded on his behalf: “He respectfully declines a sit-down interview at this time,” she wrote. “President Harreld discourages focusing solely on the ideas of a single leader and is trying to facilitate team oriented decision making. He believes others on campus can provide a better evaluation of his first year.”
Coming from a mostly-private sector background that involved corporate work for IBM, the Boston Market Corp. and Kraft General Foods, and academic work with the private Harvard Business School, the University of Iowa is Harreld’s first experience atop an enterprise beholden to taxpayers.
“Until relatively recently, it was pretty universally understood that the job of a university president included making regular time to meet with the local news media,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington.
He compared public university presidents with city mayors in that they wield taxpayer dollars in their authority over law enforcement, health care, food service and housing for tens of thousands of people.
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Harreld has over the past year put extensive effort into widening the university’s “shared governance base” through meetings with thousands of faculty, staff and students, said Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz. As a result, he said, “information to and feedback from the university community has grown substantially in a short time.”
Harreld also has spoken before community groups like the Iowa City Noon Rotary Club. And Lily Abromeit, editor of the Daily Iowan, said he meets with the student-run newspaper “on a regular basis.”
But Harreld reneged on a vow to hold three public forums a year after the first in February was overrun with protesters and outbursts.
“He continues to meet frequently with faculty, staff, student organizations, community members, alumni, and congressional and legislative representatives to answer questions, discuss the needs of the university, and examine the best way to make progress,” Beck stated.