Writers circle: Incoming University of Iowa President J. Bruce Harreld

Bruce Harreld answers a question during a news conference after being announced as the 21st president of the University of Iowa at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. Harreld was chosen out of four finalists that the Board of Regents interviewed earlier in the day. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Bruce Harreld answers a question during a news conference after being announced as the 21st president of the University of Iowa at the Iowa Memorial Union in Iowa City, Iowa, on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. Harreld was chosen out of four finalists that the Board of Regents interviewed earlier in the day. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

On Sept. 9, members of the Gazette Writers Circle met to discuss the future of the University of Iowa and public universities, generally. Much of the conversation was influenced by the Board of Regents’ decision to hire businessman J. Bruce Harreld, which had been announced the previous week.



Bob Elliott, Writers Circle

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock somewhere, you know the selection of Bruce Harreld as the University of Iowa’s new president has created a major controversy raging throughout southeast Iowa and beyond.

I’m one of those with major concerns about how we got into this mess, and what future damage it could mean for not only the University of Iowa, but for all three of our state universities. Given the serious nature of the controversy, it merits a thorough investigation.

However, keep in mind it’s important to question the process, but not the person. It’s the Board of Regents and what may have been the board’s ethically flawed process that’s in question. It’s not J. Bruce Harreld.

I know of nothing negative about Harreld, a former senior executive with such large corporations as Kraft, General Foods, and IBM. But it looks suspiciously like he received special treatment in what appears to have been a predetermined selection process. And that causes me and many others to question the fairness and integrity of that process.

Many fear the process was only a cover for Harreld being a hand-picked candidate by regents President Bruce Rastetter and Gov. Terry Branstad.

There are claims about a lack of transparency, including private regents meetings; about Harreld apparently being the only applicant invited for a private meeting with Gov. Branstad; about an early July UI campus visit by Harreld before he even made application.


Also, whatever legal status is involved in UI’s tradition of shared governance, faculty and staff are protesting being left out of the process. In fact Harold Hammond, UI dentistry professor emeritus, has filed a lawsuit against the presidential search committee.

Another member of the dentistry faculty put the situation into what I believe is an appropriate and productive perspective. David Drake, professor and former president of the UI Faculty Senate, was quoted in the Iowa City Press-Citizen saying he continues to have concerns that “something didn’t smell right” about the process.

But he emphasized that the regents have made the hiring decision, and it’s time to focus on moving the university forward.

I couldn’t agree more. There’s too much at stake here to allow an escalating spitting contest to take center stage.

Many, if not most, key individuals in the higher education field throughout the nation are already aware of our controversy. Yes, I think the regents perhaps crossed a significant line to create this mess, but we need to put a priority on what’s best for the University of Iowa and our state university system.

The next time the Board of Regents creates a recruitment and selection process for a critical top level position at any of our state universities, let’s hope we don’t have highly qualified prospects declining to apply because they believe the process may be only a cover for a predetermined selection.

And about Harreld, who knows? The way major changes have taken place in postsecondary education, particularly the role of financial needs and allocations, perhaps an executive with experience and expertise in the corporate sector may be just what a large research-oriented university needs for top leadership.

• Bob Elliott is a longtime resident of Iowa City. Comments: elliottb53@aol.com



Nick Johnson, Writers Circle

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you’ve got

‘Til it’s gone

— Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi


Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter says those objecting to his selection of Bruce Harreld as the University of Iowa’s next president “embrace the status quo of the past over opportunities for the future and focus their efforts on resistance to change instead of working together to make the UI even greater.”

Which would be worse: that he truly believes this, and is unaware of the rational objections to his process and choice, or that he has deliberately chosen to divert the public’s gaze away from his actions?

Since Harreld’s selection I’ve encountered no one who advocated UI’s personnel should “embrace the status quo.” Why would anyone reject “opportunities for the future” to become “even greater”?

If it looks, walks and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. And this one looked, walked and quacked like a done deal since July. That’s when special treatment began for Harreld and his wife by the UI’s interim president and search committee chair, regents’ president, and Governor Terry Branstad. The waste of money, people’s time, and embarrassment to legitimate candidates was significant. Legally, the regents could have just picked Harreld in July — or brought four business persons to campus.

Chief executives of Yahoo, Radio Shack, Bausch & Lomb, and a Notre Dame football coach were fired for falsifying their resumes. Harreld falsified his. Either the regents failed to vet, or just didn’t care. Harreld had zero academic administrative experience. His business record was mixed. He had never served as a Fortune 500 corporate CEO or governor. His public forum performance was embarrassing.

Those are a few of the understandable reasons for the negative response, and why it’s inaccurate, insulting and duplicitous to suggest it was just academics’ desire to “embrace the status quo.”

Did the regents deliberately set out to make it virtually impossible for any president to succeed, by destroying the trust faculty representatives had been building? If so, they could not have chosen a better process and candidate.

So here we are. If Harreld does not resign, if the regents win legal challenges to their process, if the university does not lose its accreditation along with its reputation, what are our next steps?


Governor Branstad was a founding member of ALEC, a Koch brothers-funded right-wing organization writing, lobbying for, and enacting states’ legislation promoting the ideology of privatization and corporatization. ALEC has its own higher education agenda.

Those who wish to attack public higher education, or “transition” it to something else, deserve to be heard — but only if they will talk.

So let’s start with specifics. What exactly do Rastetter and the governor want from Harreld’s “transitioning” the University?

Tenure, like lifetime appointments for judges, has been a centerpiece of the academy’s integrity. Increasingly, students are taught by untenured adjuncts. Do they want to do away with tenure entirely?

Do they want to apply profit-center analysis to class size, favoring 500-student lecture halls, or classes of 100,000 online students?

Is their education-for-jobs preference so great that they want to diminish or eliminate, UI’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences?

When policy is driven by ideology, rather than history and data, it can produce an ISIS-like destruction of a society’s greatest treasures. And “the university,” as an idea in virtually all nations and cultures, with its evolution over the millennia, is as worthy of protection from ideologically-driven destruction as Iraq’s antiquities.

It can be helpful for any organization to reassess its mission and performance from time to time — including the Board of Regents, given how far it has strayed from conventional board governance principles.


It’s also true for American higher education in general, and the University of Iowa in particular — all of which are already doing exactly that.

But there are some preliminary steps before picking a new institutional leader with “experience in transitioning other large enterprises through change,” as Rastatter characterizes Harreld’s qualification.

It’s necessary to begin by (1) involving all interested parties in an evolving consensus regarding, (2) an assessment of performance compared with output goals (e.g., what knowledge and skills do we want our graduates to have?), (3) identifying what may need changing, (4) what changes have already come about over the last 20 years, (5) researching what comparable institutions are doing in this country and abroad, (6) prioritizing what most needs doing, and (7) designing and testing some pilot projects.

Then pick the president.

Watch this space.

• Nicholas Johnson maintains the repository of documents, news and opinions regarding this controversy at http://tinyurl.com/qfok7f6 Comments: mailbox@nicholasjohnson.org



Shams Ghoneim, Writers Circle

The Iowa General Assembly created the Board of Regents in 1909. The governor appoints nine citizens to the board, to govern five state public educational institutions through policy-making, coordination and oversight, as provided by law. As any politically appointed entity, the board is accountable to the citizens of Iowa. The regent enterprise is Iowa’s most powerful and comprehensive resource for educational opportunities and economic growth.

the University of Iowa was founded in 1847, is home of the world-renowned Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and the National Advanced Driving Simulator, is a comprehensive public university committed to high quality teaching, research and service. the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics rank among America’s best hospitals, provide exceptional health care, medical education, and cutting-edge research. UI was the state’s first public institution of higher learning, enrolls more than 30,000 students, and offers a number of top-ranking programs. The three regent universities provide a great return on public investment through different and complementary missions.

In 2015 the Iowa Board of Regents embarked upon new and controversial policies/decisions that could adversely impact the UI. The board approved a new and controversial funding model for the three regents universities despite their different missions and make up. The performance-based funding model has pitted the three state universities against each other, spilling over into Iowa community colleges. The proposed formula would base 60 percent of a university’s funding on its resident student population. the University of Iowa stands to lose $12.9 million, which would be redistributed, to Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. The proposal is as yet to be approved by the legislature.

Federal spending in the U.S. has surpassed state funding as the main source of public budget in higher education. Cuts to highereducation are taking the “public” out of public universities. In Wisconsin, such massive cuts could lead the University of Wisconsin to do away with its schools of nursing, law, business, pharmacy and veterinary medicine. Meanwhile, a proposed cut in Louisiana is as large as the state’s entire community college budget. In Illinois, Arizona and Kansas, Republican governors and state legislators are upending what it means to be a state, or public, university. This should be a clear warning to Iowa.


Public colleges educate 68 percent of all students in the U.S. In 2013 they received an average of 21 percent of their funding from state funds and 16 percent from the federal government. The reduction of public funds to higher education programs has clear consequences for students, families and state’s economic development. While the wealthy continue to have access to the best education, everyone else gets substandard education below most other industrialized nations in the world. Practically, it transfers the burden of paying for higher education from the state to the student. Decades of funding cuts across the nation have lead to staggering hikes in college tuition and student debt and to program cuts and departments eliminations. Governors claim that cuts are about balancing their budgets, while in fact it is due to massive tax cuts totaling billions of dollars.

Fortunately since the recession ended, a majority of states have begun to reinvest in higher education. Their governors understand that these investments can actually help revitalize their economies and also improve the lives of citizens. A recent report from the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education pointed to four states, in particular: Washington, California, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, where energetic coalitions of student, faculty and staff unions, and state legislators are working together. Iowa should follow suit. Budget cuts to public education in Iowa including K-12 are on the horizon and it will have dire consequences. Such cuts will ultimately affect all Iowans and will compromise the main mission of our educational system as well as our economical development.

For the first time in Iowa history, a non-academician recently was hired as the UI’s 21st president. State governing boards have been seeking non-traditional candidates with increasing frequency. Universities are very complex, especially those with the size and breadth of the UI. Choosing an outsider might work, but the outcome is unknown.

The UI presidential search committee was disbanded after four finalists were announced but without an opportunity by faculty, students, staff or community members to offer final input on the candidates, as has been historically the case.

On Sept.3, the Board of Regents unanimously voted in a closed session to hire businessman Bruce Harreld with a salary exceeding all former presidents, plus an offer for a tenured faculty position. This historical and controversial decision to hire the first non-traditional finalist as the UI President resulted in understandable outrage within the UI community. The UI Faculty Senate, for the second time in nine years, issued a vote of “no confidence” in the Board of Regents. The UI graduate and professional student government representing 10,000 students also issued a no-confidence vote. Later, staff counsel issued a statement of disappointment in the regents’ hiring process.

Many in the UI community believe that the board acted willfully and in opposition to their own mission to participate in shared governance. It appeared that their process was politically motivated, influencing both their search and selection process. Lack of diversity in the finalists also presented a serious flaw in the search. Their tenure offer to the new president was in complete opposition to the university’s own tenure policy for faculty.

With Iowa being one of a shrinking number of states requiring universities to publicly announce multiple finalists, the outcome may have negatively impacted the other three excellent finalists. It sent a poor message that will ultimately impact the university’s ability to recruitm and retain highly qualified faculty and staff.

To many, the entire process was flawed and undemocratic, resulting in a significant lack of trust. To repair this damage the board and its leadership need to answer some hard questions regarding the search process and final selection/offer.


How best to move forward will depend on the goodwill of the entire campus and the ability of our new president to lead, to protect the mission of a top public Big 10 university and to enhance its excellence. We as a UI community should be unified and work with our new president respectfully, with grace, and camaraderie to achieve the best outcome for our much beloved institution.

• Shams Ghoneim is a graduate of the UI Graduate College and was a UI research staff member for 32 years. Comments: shams-ghoneim@uiowa.edu



Bob Roelf, Writers Circle

The University of Iowa’s new president, former IBM executive J. Bruce Harreld, arrives in Iowa City under an ugly cloud of controversy involving the Board of Regents, the UI faculty, and just about everyone else except Herky The Hawk.

It doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to detect that the regents, in selecting Mr. Harreld, is sending the Iowa faculty a message, bluntly delivered. The faculty was enraged and understandably fired back. Some unpleasant comments were hurled at Harreld, the board, and others not sympathetic to their viewpoint.

This is not the first time that the faculty and regents have been involved in a dust up. However, this one is especially nasty. The entire presidential selection process lacked integrity, professionalism and common decency. If this ruckus continues, there will be no winners.

The University of Iowa has been an integral part of our state’s history since 1847. It contribution to the betterment of the people of Iowa is both glorious and inestimable. The last thing we need is for the university to become a hotbed of anger, resentment and recriminations. Shams Ghoneim said it best when she told us she hopes that we now accept the reality of Mr. Harreld as president and move ahead with a civil attitude and cooperative spirit. She is right.

• Bob Roelf was born in Iowa City and is a UI grad and retired businessman. Comments: rjroelf@gmail.com

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