IOWA CITY — Two years after the American Association of University Professors placed the University of Iowa on its ignominious list of sanctioned higher education institutions over the hiring of UI President Bruce Harreld, it changed course last weekend and lifted the blackball — now offering praise to the university.
During the association’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., delegates voted to remove the UI from the list, citing progress in relations between its faculty and the Board of Regents.
“Recent reports from multiple faculty members described the current state of faculty-board relations at Iowa as the best in the past twenty years or more,” according to an AAUP news release.
The AAUP has placed the UI on its sanctioned list following the contentious regents’ decision to hire former IBM businessman Bruce Harreld as the school’s president.
Harreld’s hire — which followed private meetings with regents not afforded other candidates — sparked protests manifested through faculty and student no-confidence votes. Many of those opposed urged the regents to pick any of the other three finalists, all of whom had more academic credentials,
UI faculty members at the time said the board’s decision to hire Harreld rebuffed long-standing shared governance values — which the AAUP exists, in part, to uphold.
“In contrast to usual practice at the university, which had been to involve faculty fully in presidential searches, the AAUP’s investigation found that the governing board designed this search process specifically to prevent any meaningful faculty role in the selection of the final candidate,” according to an AAUP news release issued when the sanctions were imposed.
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But times have changed. Since Harreld started in November 2015, the university has assembled a committee to address shared governance concerns. Faculty Senate members, regents and board staffers have collaborated to “author a best-practices document on presidential searches addressing key concerns noted in the investigating committee’s report.”
Harreld himself has voiced strong support for shared governance values, creating a more collaborative budgeting model that — for example — delegates more decision-making to deans and unit heads.
Harreld has continued to face some criticism about decisions he’s made, like his move to combine the UI Foundation and UI Alumni Association into one entity.
Still, according to an AAUP representative quoted in the association’s news release, “The available evidence suggests that there is a genuine commitment to shared governance at UI, and it is reasonable to expect that the institution’s next presidential search will mark a return to the tradition of a strong faculty role.”
Regents have conducted two presidential searches since Harreld’s hire — one landing Mark Nook at the University of Northern Iowa in 2016 and the October 2017 promotion of longtime Iowa State University agricultural college Dean Wendy Wintersteen.
Although an AAUP sanction doesn’t restrict a university’s power or impose any financial penalty, it can harm a school’s reputation — making it difficult to recruit top academics and researchers who value shared governance ideals, for example.
Last weekend’s vote formalizes a recommendation The Gazette reported in April from the national association’s Committee on College and University Governance that UI be removed from its list.
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