Regarding today’s report that J. Bruce Harreld visited the University of Iowa to speak about “transformational change” several months before being selected as the new president — and specifically that he had lunch with Jean Robillard, the head of the search committee, and Bruce Rastetter, the president of the regents — while the news itself is damning, so is Harreld’s omission of that fact during the open forum which was held for the benefit of faculty, staff and interested stakeholders.
I don’t know whether Harreld’s visit to Iowa City on July 8th was his first visit to the University of Iowa or not, but at the time Harreld was reportedly not a candidate for the position of president. So on some level, one would think that visit must have created quite an impression if he subsequently decided to apply for the job.
When Harreld later found himself in front of a hostile crowd, and was trying to win them over, why did he not mention the fact that he was wowed only a couple of months earlier when he apparently got his first glimpse into all that the University of Iowa is and can be? Instead, as has been noted, Harreld’s only comment about researching the university is his now infamous reference to having looked up the school on Wikipedia. Was there simply no opportunity for Harreld to mention his prior visit, including his lunch with Robillard and Rastetter, or did he intentionally avoid doing so?
I don’t know, but after watching the whole presentation I believe I can state with some certainty that he did not mention (or, if you prefer, disclose) either. What follows are timing marks where Harreld had what might fairly be described as a conversational opening to talk about the process that ultimately brought him to Iowa.
6:00 — Begins speaking.
10:25 — Mentions the “medical school”.
13:00 — Mentions “prior meetings here on campus”.
1:05:45 — Makes mention of medical research, and indicates that he is familiar with someone seated in the audience who is associated with same.
1:13:38 — Takes a question from someone on staff at UHIC.
1:19:00 — Answers a question about transparency, and whether he is doing or has done work for the regents.
1:26:42 — Answers a question about the need for transparency in a different context.
1:30:44 — Makes reference to Wikipedia.
Harreld spoke extemporaneously for a half hour before taking questions, and seemed comfortable doing so. He laid out his vision, stayed on message, and never once referenced notes — though he may have had prompts that were not visible to the camera. Except for the slip-up regarding false information on his resume Harreld showed no problem with recall.
So how does someone with Harreld’s grasp of the facts, having once helped save IBM from itself, and apparently having been blown away on a brief visit only two short months before, omit that transformational moment from his personal narrative? If you’re on the faculty or staff, or you’re a student, it’s one thing to consider the impact of today’s disclosure in terms of the regents, but another to wonder why Harreld himself didn’t disclose those same facts when he clearly had an opportunity to do so.
When asked why he was applying to be president of the University of Iowa, Harreld had a consistent answer. On multiple occasions he said, “I think I can help.” Fair enough. It’s clear that J. Bruce Harreld has been around the block, and if he’s willing to share the benefit of his wisdom and experience over five mean Iowa winters we should take the man at his word until given reason to do otherwise.
Speaking of which, it does seem that someone with Harreld’s wisdom and experience would know that omitting prior contact with the head of the search committee and the president of the Board of Regents might look bad, even if nothing shady was going on. And, as a leader, we might rightly expect Harreld to defuse even the appearance of impropriety by disclosing that contact. Because if that information did come out later, it very well might make people have second thoughts about J. Bruce Harreld’s personal credibility, integrity, and commitment to transparency.
Or is that just how business is done?
— Mark Barrett