Among the new facts disclosed last Thursday, surrounding the hiring of J. Bruce Harreld to be president of the University of Iowa, was the previously unknown role played by Iowa State University President Steven Leath.
The day before applications were due for the vacant University of Iowa presidency, J. Bruce Harreld met with four members of the Board of Regents and had dinner with Iowa State University President Steven Leath.
Given the importance of Friday’s unintentional admissions by members of the Board of Regents that Harreld’s hire was indeed improper, it’s understandable that Leath’s apparently minor role in the recruitment of Harreld has received little attention. In a follow-up piece about Leath on Friday, however, Press-Citizen and Des Moines Register higher-education reporter Jeff Charis-Carlson detailed a particularly noteworthy assertion by Leath that fundamentally changes the narrative surrounding Regents President Bruce Rastetter.
From the beginning of the Harreld saga until last Friday the focus of attention has been on the hiring process and result. Lurking in the background, also from the beginning, has been a deep suspicion by many that Regents President Bruce Rastetter orchestrated the hiring of the candidate he wanted all along. But until last Friday that issue remained secondary to questions about the hire itself, including whether Harreld was even qualified for the job.
As might be expected in that context, each new defense of the regents’ unanimous vote for Harreld addressed those same concerns, including responses from Governor Terry Branstad, from acting University of Iowa President Jean Robillard, from Regents President Rastetter himself, and from other members of the Board of Regents. All spoke in support of the election, in support of the regents’ right to make the decision they made, and in support of Harreld.
Now here are the opening graphs of Charis-Carlson’s PC/DSM article.
The president of Iowa State University said Friday it was his idea to host a dinner this summer for Bruce Harreld, who was then a prospective applicant for the University of Iowa presidency.
ISU President Steven Leath said that Bruce Rastetter, president of the Iowa Board of Regents, had asked Leath for permission to share his contact information with Harreld, to which Leath agreed. Rastetter was recruiting Harreld, a former IBM executive, along with a few other candidates, as a replacement for then retiring UI President Sally Mason.
After Harreld and Leath made contact, Leath invited him to dinner July 30 at the president’s residence. The dinner was preceded by several meetings in Ames that Rastetter had arranged between Harreld and four other members of the Iowa Board of Regents, two of whom were members of the UI Presidential Search and Screen Committee.
Take a look at the first sentence in the text above. That is not a statement in defense of Harreld as a candidate, nor a statement in defense of the regents’ right to hire whomever they choose, nor a statement in defense of the hiring process, and it is not a statement in defense of the reputations of the other eight members of the Board of Regents. It is, instead, the first statement I can find, by someone in a position to know, which is solely a defense against the percolating charge that Regents President Rastetter personally orchestrated the hiring of J. Bruce Harreld.
Until now — and admittedly I may have missed something — there has only been speculation about Rastetter’s behind-the-scenes role. Until last Friday, any defense of Rastetter’s actions by others, and by Rastetter himself, spoke solely to the hire. And yet suddenly, on Friday, we have Leath’s flat statement that it was his idea to invite Harreld to dinner — a statement that has virtually nothing to do with Harreld’s hire, and everything to do with whether Rastetter orchestrated the hiring process.
Which means that right there is an alibi. And from the sitting president of Iowa State University, no less. [ Read more ]