I don’t remember what I was doing eight years ago, but what retired University of Iowa professor Harold Hammond was doing was filing suit against the regents for violating the state’s open-meetings law during the search that ultimately led to the hiring of Sally Mason:
In a 2009 settlement, the search committee admitted to violating the open meetings law in four different ways, including by failing to give proper notice of meetings and discussing matters in closed session that were required to be discussed openly. The university promised that in the future, presidential search committees would “take thorough and sufficient steps” to comply with the Open Meetings Law. The school also paid Hammond’s legal fees of $66,000.
While it is of course surprising that a suit had to be brought to compel an august body like the regents to comply with state laws, or at least to promise to comply with those laws in the future, it is distressing that they went right back to business as usual during the hiring of J. Bruce Harreld. Which is why Professor Hammond is suing them again on the exact same grounds:
The petition filed by Harrold Hammond, an emeritus professor in the College of Dentistry, adds another layer of controversy to the search, which ended earlier this month with the selection of former IBM executive Bruce Harreld. It asks a judge to void actions taken by the 21-member committee, which vetted dozens of candidates before recommending four finalists to the Board of Regents.
So if you’re scoring at home, that’s two corrupt searches, two corrupt outcomes, two corrupt Boards of Regents. Given the gap in time and the change in personnel you would think it would be hard for such malfeasance to persist, so I find it difficult not to wonder if there are people in key positions of authority in the state today who were also in key positions of authority the last time this happened.
For all the talk about the cultural problems on the campus of the University of Iowa, and there clearly are cultural problems facing the students, it appears that the university may be rotting from the head down. That’s particularly worrisome given the close association between acting president Jean Robillard and the head of the Board of Regents, Bruce Rastetter, both of whom paid special attention to J. Bruce Harreld as a candidate. Could it be that there’s a persistent cultural problem among the students because the people in charge can’t stop treating the University of Iowa like their own professional duchy, slush find or research park?
One would hope that the adults in any room always have the best interests of their charges at heart, but when it comes to choosing the president of the University of Iowa that doesn’t seem to be the case. And yet maybe the most disturbing part about the whole sordid mess is the abject incompetence. I mean, if you’re smart enough to rope Christina Bohannan in at the last minute in order to give your preferential treatment of J. Bruce Harreld the appearance of propriety, how do you bungle everything else? How does your hand-picked, personally groomed candidate stand up in front of a room full of people, talk about transparency and building trust, and forget to mention the transformational change that took place in his heart, mind and soul when he and his wife visited the University of Iowa campus only a few short months before? Better yet, how do you conduct meetings in secret when you got sued for doing the exact same thing last time, and lost?
I know there are people in high places in Iowa who are afflicted with feelings of inadequacy because they want to be major players in a sexy state like California or New York. And I know those feelings of inadequacy drive them to do corrupt things in furtherance of their frustrated desires. But it seems to me that plenty of states are so far ahead in terms of corruption that Iowa might as well throw its lot in with the fine, upstanding crowd. And a good first step would be removing Bruce Rastetter from the Board of Regents, replacing Jean Robillard as the acting president of the University of Iowa, giving J. Bruce Harreld the opportunity to withdraw from the position that was offered to him before he is deposed, and freeing the remaining members of the regents from whatever oath of secrecy or pledge of confidentiality or double-secret probation is being used as a pretext to keep them from speaking to the press and explaining why we should still have faith in them.
After that, we can get on with the business of hiring a president through a transparent process that produces a fully qualified candidate who is prepared to hit the ground running on day one, instead of an unqualified carpetbagger who will need to spend years engrossed in remedial instruction while also stitching back together the tattered shreds of his personal credibility. Because as it stands now, the regents have decided to pass on a sure thing and take an unnecessary $4,000,000, five-year gamble on J. Bruce Harreld — a man who needed a cabal of power brokers to grease his candidacy, who used Wikipedia as a resource in researching the university, who submitted a resume that contained false information, and who failed to mention that he had been invited to the campus two months earlier by the acting head of the university who was also the head of the search committee. All qualities which, in five costly years, may seem like blatantly obvious indicators that J. Bruce Harreld was not the man for the job.
You know, the same kind of indicators that would get almost any college kid bounced out of a work-study interview no matter who they knew.
— Mark Barrett