As an alumnus of the University of Iowa, the recent hiring of J. Bruce Harreld to be the new president of my alma mater gives me pause. In the aftermath of that hire there has been an outpouring of frustration about the hiring process and selection, voiced immediately through votes of no-confidence in the Iowa Board of Regents by both the faculty and students. Chief among the complaints seems to be that the hire may have been a backroom deal brokered by a malevolent force on the Board of Regents, who is disinterested in whether the university can meet its core responsibilities as an institution of higher learning.
While I sympathize with anyone’s frustration in trying to get the truth out of a politically appointed bureaucrat, plausible deniability is a cornerstone of all political chicanery, and can at times approach high art. So the idea that a smoking gun might suddenly appear and reveal the entire hiring process to have been deliberate fraud is unlikely at best. In fact, attacking the regents would only play to the board’s strengths given their control of the hiring process, their secrecy, and particularly their institutional ability to deny and delay until everyone just runs out of indignation.
From time to time, however, bureaucrats — and particularly politically appointed bureaucrats — forget that while they’re cooking the books or lying to the people they purportedly serve they’re still obligated to meet a minimum standard of competence. They don’t have to be rocket scientists, or even rock scientists, but they do have to meet basic tests of accountability, particularly when working in government.
In questioning the mechanics of how Harreld was hired, a crime is being alleged. It may be that an actual crime took place, having to do with hiring practices and government regulations and things I know nothing about, or that the crime was metaphorical. It is frustrating that we will probably never have access to the information that would allow us to determine who, specifically, engineered such a crime, but we don’t have to know whodunnit to know that a crime took place.
The Board of Regents unanimously agreed to hire Harreld at a salary of $600,000 for each of five years, plus $1,000,000 in deferred compensation, meaning Harreld will be paid a minimum of $4,000,000 under the current contract. What makes that particularly remarkable, and factors into the outrage at his hiring, is that J. Bruce Harreld is demonstrably unqualified for the job. That the Iowa Board of Regents insisted, unanimously, on hiring him anyway, obviously calls their own competence into question.
The usual bureaucratic dodge is to say that there was ample opportunity to ask questions and raise objections during the hiring process, that the decision has been made, that it will not be reversed, and that it is now incumbent on everyone to move past any sour grapes and work together as professionals to make the University of Iowa great. As a factual matter, the four finalists for the position did each appear in an open forum and answer questions from stakeholders, and those forums did take place before the regents came to their unanimous determination. If people wanted to raise objections so the regents would factor those concerns into their own decision-making process, they should have made their voices heard.
Preliminary results from the AAUP survey show Ohio State University Provost Joseph Steinmetz with the most support and J. Bruce Harreld, former IBM, Boston Market Company, and Kraft General Foods executive, with the least support.
Of the more than 440 UI faculty members who responded to the AAUP survey — a voluntary poll conducted online that asked the same 10 questions for each candidate — 98 percent said they believe Steinmetz is qualified to be UI president.
Among faculty, only about 3 percent thought Harreld is qualified. The other two candidates — Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov and Tulane University Provost Michael Bernstein — also received high marks from the faculty, with about 94 percent calling Bernstein qualified for the job and 91 percent saying so of Krislov.
Of the 230-plus students, staff, and community members who responded to the AAUP poll, about 95 percent said they thought Steinmetz is qualified for the job, followed by Krislov at 84 percent, Bernstein at 80 percent, and Harreld at 4 percent.
Fair enough. Rather than dwell on the past we will look to the future, and in particular the future graduates of the University of Iowa who are now being led by a man who was not simply the least qualified of the final four candidates vying for president, but unqualified for the position. Because in insisting that they had the right to hire whomever they want, the Board or Regents has not only undercut the very premise of the institution that Harreld now leads, they have eviscerated the criteria by which the students at that institution are judged on a daily basis.
The Competence Problem
The University of Iowa has more than 32,000 students, of which over 22,000 are undergraduates. In searching for a new president to lead those students four finalists were chosen, and by all accounts three of those candidates were more than qualified, by virtue of their professional experience, to helm a large university. The fourth candidate, J. Bruce Harreld, was decidedly not qualified by virtue of his professional experience, which, in an educational setting, included only teaching.
His resume says he taught Master of Business Administration students at Harvard from 2008 to 2014. During his time there, a number of his writings and publications focused on pulling business out of crisis, and reinvigorating stagnant businesses. He also taught an MBA course at Northwestern University in 1993.
So how does Harreld’s business background position him to lead an institution of higher learning? It doesn’t, and as soon as Harreld was hired, he himself acknowledged that he had a lot to learn. In fact, he made it explicitly clear that he would be relying on the people under him to teach him how to actually do the job that the regents were paying him $4,000,000 to do.
“I will be the first to admit that my unusual background requires a lot of help, a lot of coaching,” Harreld told reporters after the Iowa Board of Regents voted unanimously to give him the job. “And I’m going to turn to a whole lot of people that were highly critical and really tough on me the other day and ask them if they would be great mentors and teachers (to me). And I suspect and hope all of them will.”
Granted, it’s probably a given that people who are now subordinate to the unqualified Harreld, who have also now been singled out for being “highly critical and really tough” on him, will teach him how to do his job, if only to protect their careers. Unfortunately, the faculty and staff who will be mentoring the new $4,000,000 president on basic aspects of his position — none of which would have been necessary had the regents hired any of the other three qualified candidates — are not the only ones who will be burdened by his incompetence.
Among the pressing problems facing the students at the University of Iowa are alcohol abuse, the stigma of being seen as a party school, and a shocking correlation between alcohol abuse and sexual assault. How is Harreld prepared to meet those cultural challenges, drawing on his expertise as a businessman? He isn’t. Harreld has no relevant experience, and the Iowa Board of Regents knew he had no relevant experience when they hired him, even as the regents also knew about those pressing problems. How does Harreld’s business experience position him to meet the core mission of an institution of higher learning, which is of course education? It doesn’t, because Harreld has no background in education other than teaching a few business courses.
In hiring the next president of the University of Iowa, the Board of Regents had one overriding responsibility, which was to bring in someone who was qualified to take on the most pressing issues facing the students. In explaining why they abdicated that core responsibility and chose someone who was unprepared for the position, the regents claim that Harreld brings other qualifications to the table which compensate for his fundamental deficiencies. In asserting their belief that Harreld’s other qualifications will prove transformative, the regents are not only gambling that the new president can be taught to do the job he was actually hired to do, they are making a blind $4,000,000 bet that Harreld’s ideas will also prove to be of benefit.
In responding to concerns from stakeholders about Harreld’s complete lack of qualifications, and in justifying Harreld’s hire, the regents insist that Harreld’s strengths as a candidate were formidable. While nowhere have these strengths been enumerated other than to point out Harreld’s business successes, including, apparently, the ability to use a telephone, what the regents have failed to address is the singular difference between a demonstrated ability to make money and a demonstrated ability to educate students.
Money does not think. Whether money is working for a crime boss or a philanthropist, it just does what it’s told. Students not only do think, in an educational setting they are expected to think and taught to think, and therein lies another problem with the hiring of J. Bruce Harreld.
The Credibility Problem
Just as Harreld now wakes up each morning and tackles daily remedial lessons in how to be a university president, all across the Iowa campus 32,000 other students are starting their semester under his unqualified watch. Whether they know much about Harreld or not, by now they have probably learned that when he met with interested stakeholders in an open forum prior to his unanimous selection by the Iowa Board of Regents, he not only admitted that what he knew about the University of Iowa came from Wikipedia, but that some of the information on his resume was false.
Faculty members have also expressed concern over Harreld’s résumé, which states that he’s the managing principal for Colorado-based Executing Strategy LLC, a firm with an expired registration in Massachusetts. Harreld admits that the firm no longer exists and that he neglected to update his résumé.
While perhaps engendering solidarity with students who have also cited Wikipedia, or who are a bit fuzzy about their own biographical information, those students probably still draw some distinction between their own halting efforts to learn how to research a subject or present themselves, and the level of professionalism they expect in a candidate for president of their university. By the same token, while many university students need remedial instruction because of deficits in their secondary education, and some students may feel a kinship with Harreld because he is unprepared for the task that he has been assigned — else he would not have graciously volunteered for, and in fact obliquely ordered, his own remedial instruction — at some point even the most genial of students will notice that while they are paying tuition in order to receive their remedial tutelage, Harreld is being paid $600,000 a year to endure his.
It may also occur to some of Harreld’s 32,000 student peers that while Harreld has had some business success, he and they all have exactly the same amount of professional experience running an institution of higher learning. In fact, as the semester grinds on, more and more students may find themselves sitting back and thinking about a great many things at their school, because that’s what students are encouraged to do, expected to do and taught to do. And from an academic perspective it’s hard not to think that the hiring of an unqualified candidate into a position of authority seems to undercut the very premise of higher education, including the idea that you have to know something about a subject or discipline in order to land a cushy, all-inclusive, high-paying job in a given field.
In the real world is it really the case that making money selling products qualifies you to do any job in any industry, or do you actually have to know something about the specifics of the position you take? Can you really expect everyone else to make up for your deficiencies, particularly when you’re getting paid more than any of those people, or should you have to prepare yourself for the work you want to do by making that work your career? Can you really get hired just by saying the right buzzwords, or prattling on about slogans, or do you have to have coherent ideas and relevant experience?
Alternatively, some students may now be wondering why they should study hard and get good grades in their chosen discipline, let alone commit to a specific career, if the job they ultimately want is going to be given to someone who made a bunch of bureaucrats drool at the prospect of going from great to greater? What does that even mean, anyway? What are the metrics of greaterness? More to the point, would such a proposal pass muster in first-semester rhetoric class, or would the faculty at the University of Iowa expect a bit more concrete detail?
While the performance that Harreld gave at his open forum proved embarrassing, in the context of higher education — and particularly from the perspective of students at an institution of higher learning — it takes on an even more ludicrous slant. What would any professor say to a student who gave a presentation in which they cited Wikipedia as a source or submitted bogus biographical information? What possible conclusion could be drawn other than that the student was — at best — unprepared? And what are all of the other students at the University of Iowa to make of the fact that while they are being held to an appropriately high standard, Harreld flunked his presentation by every conceivable metric, needs remedial instruction in order to be minimally competent, yet still got the job and will now be paid $4,000,000? In the face of that decision by the Board of Regents, what can any professor say to any student about the need to be prepared, to be qualified, and to be factually accurate?
Which brings us to those students who are concerned about the culture at Iowa, including problems related to substance use and sexual assault. The regents had an opportunity to bring in someone with a proven track record of dealing with such issues, but instead they went as far as they could in the opposite direction short of hiring a private-equity firm to cleave the university into salable assets, liquidate the art collection, then move the remaining shell into bankruptcy so as to void any outstanding pension or health benefits.
If you’re currently a student at the University of Iowa, and you just came back from summer break, and you’re taking this all in, and you’ve got a sick feeling that you’re the last priority on the list at the Iowa Board of Regents, you are factually correct. There is no other conclusion you could possibly draw from Harreld’s hire. The unanimous decision by the Iowa Board of Regents to hire an unqualified candidate with zero life experience dealing with not merely any or most but all of the issues of importance to you can only be seen as a complete abdication of responsibility, if not an open and contemptuous betrayal.
The Criteria Problem
Now, you may be thinking that use of the word ‘unqualified’ is somehow unfair to both Harreld and the Board of Regents. Perhaps you would prefer least-qualified or minimally qualified, or alternately qualified, or magically qualified. Unfortunately, we can only know if a person is qualified by referring to established criteria, and on that point the Board of Regents has created a fair amount of confusion — except, incredibly, on the rather salient question of whether Harreld is qualified by all or even any of the normal criteria applicable to the world of higher education.
By Harreld’s own admission that he needs to be taught what to do, and by the regents’ own admission that Harreld was hired because of strengths in other areas, it is beyond factual dispute that Harreld is not qualified to be president of the University of Iowa, or any university, or any college, or a high school, or a junior high, or a small country elementary school, or a preschool, or a daycare. The explanation for how he still came to be named president of the University of Iowa is that while Harreld is not qualified in any normal or traditional or expected or common sense, he brings non-traditional experience and skills to the job that more than offset the fact that he does not actually know how to do the job that he is now being paid $4,000,000 to do.
So, as a sign of good faith, and in order to stop harping on the obvious when we are in fact all in agreement, we will accept ‘non-traditional’ as a euphemism for ‘unqualified’, because that is exactly the basis on which both Harreld and the regents have employed that term. That in turn allows us to get on with the more important business of explaining why that euphemistic assertion inevitably leads to two additional concerns about Harreld’s non-traditional candidacy and unanimous appointment.
First, it’s probably safe to assume that some minimal hiring criteria were established for the position of president of the University of Iowa. Even allowing for non-traditional candidacies, at the very least there would have been non-negotiable requirements in terms of degrees held, citizenship, outstanding felony warrants, etc. We know this because not only is doing so useful in helping candidates self-select for their own viability, it’s important in terms of laws covering the hiring of personnel. While I don’t know what the minimum stated qualifications were for the position of president in this case, we can safely assume that Harreld met those tests because he would not have otherwise been hired.
It is also important for candidates to know, however, if any additional criteria might factor into the decision-making process, so again candidates have some ability to determine their own viability, and know how to best position themselves during the interview process. For example, if the Board of Regents issued a minimum set of criteria, but refused to divulge that it was secretly looking for a candidate wearing sparkly ruby-red shoes, then all sorts of impropriety might ensue. Candidates without that knowledge would be at an obvious disadvantage, while candidates informed of that unstated criterion — including perhaps the only candidate informed of that criterion — would be a shoo-in. (I’m so sorry. Really. I will not do that again.)
Speaking of which, given that Harreld’s prior business success apparently outweighed any deficiencies in his candidacy — which was, unambiguously, deficient in every other way, and acknowledged as such by both the regents and Harreld himself — were all of the other candidates notified in advance that such a determination might be made? Because if that was not the case — if that potential weighting of criteria was not acknowledged in advance — then those other candidates might now feel that the hiring process was not entirely on the up-and-up.
Second, and assuming that the criteria that led to Harreld’s hiring were listed in full in advance of the hiring process, how much effort did the Board of Regents put into finding other people who were as non-traditionally qualified, or perhaps even more non-traditionally qualified, than Harreld? While it’s clear that Harreld was the only non-traditional candidate to make the final four, was that also true when the candidates were whittled down during prior phases of the search process? Because if Harreld was the only non-traditional candidate in the hiring pipeline, or the only one with his level of non-traditional qualifications, and the regents new in advance that his ruby-red non-traditional qualifications were exactly what they were looking for — instead of, say becoming aware of that overwhelming conviction at the last possible moment — then it’s again possible that the other candidates, and in particular the more traditionally qualified candidates, might feel that the hiring process was unfair.
If the regents did not know in advance that they were looking for big, bold, non-traditional ideas and candidates, then it stands to reason that such criteria would have been omitted from the minimum qualifications, which in turn means Harreld would never have applied unless he was convinced of a messianic capacity to sway unbelievers. Is that what happened? Did the force of Harreld’s Wikipedia citation, or perhaps his forthright explanation for why information on his resume was false, win the day?
If the regents did know in advance that they were looking for big, bold, non-traditional ideas and candidates, then it stands to reason that such criteria would have been stated in advance, meaning other such candidates would have applied, perhaps with even better non-traditional qualifications than Harreld. And if that was the case, if the Board of Regents knew they were leaning toward a business-oriented candidate, doesn’t it seem as if more than one such candidate should have made the final cut, thus giving the regents a choice, instead of leaving them handcuffed?
The Conceptual Problem
What were these big, bold, transformational ideas that Harreld used to sway the Board of Regents into hiring a candidate who had no qualifications for the position other than being non-traditional and having big, bold ideas? Well, having read a fair number of accounts I have no idea, and I’m not sure anyone does. In fact, it’s not at all clear that Harreld presented his ideas to anyone during his candidacy, except — and here we do acknowledge some relevance to education — in spitball form.
Did the Regents get some briefing or presentation from Harreld that has not been reported? If Harreld did wow the regents with his big, bold ideas, why was he not able to communicate those same big, bold thoughts during the open forum in which he foundered? Conversely, if he did not wow the regents with his big, bold ideas, why was he hired?
If Harreld did not present his big, bold ideas at all, then on what conceivable grounds could the Board of Regents have been enamored of his non-traditional candidacy? Given that Harreld’s exhaustive research into the University of Iowa consisted of looking at a Wikipedia page, how confident could the regents be that Harreld’s big, bold, business-centric ideas would be materially different from, say, the various schemes enacted by for-profit colleges over the past decade? How well-versed is Harreld in that tawdry history, including the fact that they were all founded by business executives for the express purpose of bringing big, bold new ideas to education – right up until they were all but wiped out by the federal government as a result of widespread fraud? How intensively has Harreld studied what has been tried and what has failed in the education industry when profit becomes the administrative motivation for educating young minds? If Harreld used Wikipedia to look up his future employer, and he can’t remember whether the information on his own resume is accurate, what confidence can anyone have in his ability to put together big, bold, innovative plans for driving an educational mission through the application of business metrics that may never have been used for that purpose — or worse, have been used for that purpose, but only to defraud students?
From the outside looking in — and obviously I may have missed something — nowhere in Harreld’s candidacy do I see the rigorous modeling, meticulously documented facts, extensive research and detailed planning that are not simply cornerstones of higher education, but cornerstones of the teaching and study done at the University of Iowa’s own Henry B. Tippie College of Business. Instead, what I see are a lot of upbeat quotes in the press from the Board of Regents, and upbeat statements from Harreld, and vague, non-binding promises wrapped in pugnacious enthusiasm, all of which are a hallmark of business, and particularly the sales side of business.
If Harreld’s bold ideas were so incredibly compelling that three other fully qualified candidates were passed over, why are those big, bold, beautiful ideas being kept secret? Or do they even exist? Because as it stands now, although I don’t have an MBA myself, I’m reasonably confident that nobody on the faculty of the Henry B. Tippie College of Business would have awarded Harreld free housing and $600,000 a year for five years on the basis of what Harreld has presented so far, even if they were explicitly told to ignore his complete lack of competency in every other regard.
Were I a cynic I might even wonder, based on Harreld’s admittedly brief track record with the university, if Harreld intended to enlist the faculty of the Henry B. Tippie College of Business in fleshing out, or perhaps detailing, or perhaps even creating from scratch, all of his big, bold ideas — albeit after other faculty and staff finish teaching him whatever he needs to know to avoid accidentally burning the university to the ground. But I am no cynic.
Harreld hasn’t laid out the specific measures he would take to raise revenue or cut costs—he couldn’t be reached to comment for this piece—but, during his application process, he said to reporters and in public forums that he was looking forward to learning about the workings of the university and that he would collaborate with professors and others to come up with decisions that would serve the campus well.
I don’t know who those ‘others’ might be, and I can’t say whether Harreld might be more predisposed to favor the wishes of the people who cut his checks as opposed to the little people on the faculty and staff, to say nothing of the very little people who pay tuition, all of whose input the regents insolently ignored during the hiring process. Still, given that the regents seem very concerned about money, it’s worth wondering why they’re paying an unqualified person $4,000,000 dollars not only to learn on the job, but to use the university’s own resources to develop the currently nonexistent plans that apparently made his candidacy irresistible. Again, while I have no background in business, it seems to me that the regents could have had all of Harreld’s big, bold, future ideas simply by hiring him as a consultant, or perhaps as a professor in the Henry B. Tippie College of Business, thereby leaving the position of president to be filled by someone who actually knew what they were doing. (In business circles I believe such a decision would be characterized as a win-win.)
Better yet, why didn’t the regents skip hiring Harreld altogether and simply give the problems that Harreld has promised to solve — using his cumulative zero years of experience in academic administration and the intellectual infrastructure of the University of Iowa — to the exemplary faculty, administrative staff and MBA students in the Henry B. Tippie College of Business? What better place to find people who not only understand business and the unique needs of educational institutions, but who particularly understand the unique needs of the University of Iowa? That in turn would again have allowed the regents to hire a qualified president to take care of all the other responsibilities of the job that are at this very moment wanting.
The more I think about it, the more hard-pressed I am to see how passing on any of the three qualified finalists and pulling the trigger on Harreld advances anyone’s goals. Any of the other three candidates could have worked with the College of Business to put together a well-researched, cutting-edge plan based on both the most recent scholarship and current economic realities, using their established credibility in academia to make sure that all constituencies and stakeholders were heard from and accounted for. What conceivable advantage could there be in injecting an unqualified individual into the middle of such a process? Why insist on hiring an intellectual interloper in need of remedial education? Verily, what constituency could possibly be served by such machinations?
The Conviction Problem
We said at the outset that we will probably never know if some shady backroom deal took place in the hiring of Harreld to be president of the University of Iowa. We also said that doesn’t matter, because from the facts already in evidence we could conclude that a crime had taken place, even if only the crime of incompetence. Whether Harreld really does believe that he embodies big, transformative, future ideas and simply lucked into the right moment in history, whether he saw an opportunity to cash in late in life by promising to do whatever the regents want him to do in exchange for $4,000,000, or whether there are more nefarious motives at work, the buck stops with the regents because Harreld could not have hired himself.
The problem for the Board of Regents is that they have no capacity to plead innocence or ignorance. They hired this guy, unanimously. And while their crime may only be incompetence, it’s entirely possible that their crime is more than metaphorical. In fact, given what we do know, it’s almost impossible not to reach that conclusion.
Leaving aside everything we’ve discussed so far, imagine that you were one of the other candidates who originally applied for the job of president at the University of Iowa. Maybe you didn’t go on to make the final cut, maybe you did, but you were in the hunt, and sincere about your interest in the position.
Now imagine that you eventually lose out to a white heterosexual male. Depending on your life experience that may or may not cause you to raise an eyebrow, but if an eyebrow did go up, it would be understandable. Still, because the position is at a major university, and followed on the heels of a long and inclusive hiring process in which many voices were heard, you decide to ignore your cynical brow.
Now imagine that the white heterosexual male that you lost out to had no professional experience relevant to the position. Yes, he taught a few courses, but he had no administrative experience in education, at all, while you do. Might your other eyebrow go up? Or both at the same time?
Now imagine that the justification for hiring the white heterosexual male with no relevant work experience turns out to be big, bold ideas drawn from the world of business, yet none of those big, bold ideas are in evidence. No matter where you look, those transformative ideas seem to be nothing more than a promise. What would you think?
Now imagine that the white heterosexual male with no relevant work experience and a portfolio of dreams not only received a hostile reception from faculty, staff and other interested stakeholders based on his lack of qualifications, but information on his resume proved to be demonstrably false. What could you possibly conclude except that some hidden factors weighed heavily in the decision to hire that candidate, and that you may have been discriminated against as a result?
Fortunately, just as you are about to spiral into a paranoid abyss, a dim bulb pops on in your belfry and you belatedly realize that whatever non-traditional experience the white heterosexual male with the falsified resume has, it must be world-class. To assuage your fears you begrudgingly read up on the victorious candidate and learn that he had a solid record as a business executive, at which point you quite reasonably assume that he must have demonstrated the same abilities in an academic setting in order to so impress the regents.
While a frightening thought in its own right, particularly for the University of Iowa, you momentarily entertain a swashbuckling fantasy in which you were bested by the collegiate equivalent of “Chainsaw Al” Dunlap. Yet the more you read the more you find that the new president actually has no documented experience applying business practices to higher education. No demonstrated excellence, no demonstrated expertise, no demonstrated attempts. You find nothing except an acknowledgment by the candidate and the regents that his hire will be a $4,000,000 experiment.
What thoughts might start banging around in your head at that point? Would you wonder if you were you fully informed as to the relevant criteria for the position? Would you wonder if the Board of Regents actually used you as a smokescreen to give the hiring process the appearance of legitimacy, while all the while wasting your time? Given that you went to the trouble to research the University of Iowa beyond looking at a Wikipedia page, and you double-checked all of the facts on your resume, and you prepared for the position by working in academic administration and working with students and learning the unique set of skills necessary for that unique mission, what could you possibly think when you found out who got the job — even if you yourself were a white heterosexual male?
Now, I’m not a lawyer and I know nothing about hiring practices and discrimination lawsuits, but based on what I’ve seen over the course of my life I’m not sure you could make a hire look worse. In fact, if the regents had gotten together and set out to make the Harreld hire look bad, to the point that people would end up wondering how they were qualified to make any decision including choosing toilet paper, I’m not sure they could have done a better job.
As a practical matter I think it’s unlikely that anyone will sue, but not because there aren’t grounds for a suit. It’s unlikely because people won’t want to put themselves through that abuse, and they won’t want to be labeled a troublemaker in the educational community. Then again, maybe there is one person who’s had enough, and really does feel cheated. Or maybe they just feel that education is separate from business, that it is equal to business, that it is, ultimately, the engine of business, and that hiring any of the people who trained Harreld to be a success in business would have made a hell of a lot more sense than hiring Harreld himself.
If there was such a candidate, who believed that seasoned educational administrators should administrate, and that the culture of a university is important and unique, and that the safety and welfare of its students is of primary importance, then that candidate might be moved to file a case alleging discriminatory or fraudulent hiring practices, which would then allow them to use the lever of justice to compel the Iowa Board of Regents to answer questions that it is currently unwilling to answer. Because while you can tell the public that you’ve got big, bold ideas, and you can tell the press that there’s nothing to see here, and you can tell the faculty and staff at the University of Iowa that it’s time to get back to work, and you can promise the students that they’re going to be greater than great, when the federal government comes calling you don’t get to tell them anything. They tell you, and they aren’t going to wait in the outer office or beg you for five minutes of perfunctory and disingenuous attention before they let you hear it.
What will come of this mess I don’t know. As long as Harreld doesn’t burn the university to the ground the regents can frame anything he does as vindication because there won’t be anything else to compare it to. Harreld will get his $4,000,000, if not more, the regents will get whatever they’re getting out of the hire, and the university will have to band together to overcome the inadequacies of both.
Still, if Harreld really is a good guy, there’s a chance that he may come to his senses — perhaps during one of his remedial classes — and realize that right now he himself is the university’s main liability. Perhaps he’ll suddenly comprehend the full scope of his responsibilities, and how woefully unprepared he is to meet them. If he really cares about the education of young minds, he might even realize that his mere presence sets the school back and undercuts its mission. Or he might realize that none of the students signed up to be part of whatever undisclosed, untested, unformulated experiments he and the regents have in mind.
Then again, to be fair, it should be noted that Harreld has presented one big, bold idea, and it’s an idea that I believe everyone at the University of Iowa can get behind.
Anticipating several repeated questions on why he would want the job, Harreld wrapped his 37-minute remarks saying simply, “I think I can help.”
“If [I] can’t,” he said, “Kick me out of here. Literally kick me out of here because I have better things to do, you have better things to do.”
Even if nothing is ever proven, and nobody files suit, and the press gets bored and moves on to smaller things, by his very presence Harreld will perpetually dispel the notion that hard work and relevant experience win out over money and political favor. Bitter lessons that Harreld’s student peers will undoubtedly take with them into their own working lives, even as they may have preferred otherwise. Unless of course they all have high, six-figure salaries and private tutors with multiple advanced degrees awaiting them as belated compensation.
The Board of Regents will certainly not fire Harreld after just hiring him, but that’s to be expected. Politically appointed bureaucrats are not by nature concerned about right and wrong, which means the hope that one of the current members of the board may be having second thoughts, or may speak out about any aspect of the hiring process that troubled them, remains remote. What remains certain from the facts in evidence is that when given the opportunity to put the students at the University of Iowa first, and presented with multiple qualified candidates who would have done just that, the best that can be said of the nine members of the Iowa Board of Regents is that they decided instead to give $4,000,000 to a dilettante.
— Mark Barrett