Staff Editorials

Harreld should explain UI's minimum wage position

(From left) University Of Iowa Provost Barry Butler, President Bruce Harreld, Director of Planning Design & Construction Rod Lehnertz and Vice President for Student life Tom Rocklin listen to a question at a community town hall meeting at the Pomerantz Center in Iowa City on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
(From left) University Of Iowa Provost Barry Butler, President Bruce Harreld, Director of Planning Design & Construction Rod Lehnertz and Vice President for Student life Tom Rocklin listen to a question at a community town hall meeting at the Pomerantz Center in Iowa City on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

In February, it was the shouting. In May, it’s the silence.

We’re referring to two gatherings where University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld faced the public. The first was a town-hall meeting hijacked by loud, angry protesters, demonstrators this editorial board condemned for marring the event and failing to give the new president a chance to be heard.

But on Monday, as Harreld took part in a panel discussion on social justice issues, the problem was the president’s silence. He was asked by multiple attendees about the university’s decision to not set its minimum employee wage to match Johnson County’s minimum wage, which jumped to $9.15 per hour Sunday.

According to The Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, the panel, including Harreld, fell silent when the issue came up. One UI staffer said it’s a topic that would be “added to the list” for future discussion. That prompted some members of the audience to walk out, including Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan.

It’s true that, as a state entity, the university is under no obligation to follow Johnson County’s wage. Student employees already earn $9.66 per hour on average. But 2,685 employees, mostly students, earn less than Johnson County’s $9.15 minimum.

It’s entirely appropriate to ask the president of the university to explain a policy that affects nearly 2,700 students and employees. It’s disappointing that Harreld declined to do so. His silence leaves room only for speculation, none of it positive.

No doubt Harreld’s critics will see this as more evidence that he’s a bad fit for the university. His allies will see it as another instance where he’s been treated unfairly before given a chance.

We see it as yet another missed opportunity for critical communication that could benefit all sides. Whether it be rude shouts or baffling silence, the result is the same.

Important messages aren’t getting through — only pointing fingers.

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We laud Harreld’s commitment to meet with the public and his critics. And we believe he deserves an opportunity to be heard in a civil setting. But he has to come better prepared to answer questions, even tough questions. We find it difficult to believe he could be blindsided by the minimum wage questions at a social justice forum.

We’re still hopeful for a meaningful public dialogue on campus that clears the air and helps the university move forward. Clearly, there’s middle ground between shouts and silence.

• Gazette editorials reflect the consensus opinion of The Gazette Editorial Board. Share your comments and ideas with us: (319) 398-8469; editorial@thegazette.com

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