Whether this is your first Ditchwalk post about the election of J. Bruce Harreld to be the next president of the University of Iowa, or you’ve been torturing yourself by reading along, I have good news. In this post we’re going to use everything we’ve learned to answer two lingering questions. The first question, which arose in the previous post, is why the acting president of the university and former search committee chair, Jean Robillard, lied about Harreld’s reason for visiting Iowa City on July 8th. The second question, which follows from all of the ‘Harreld hire’ posts on Ditchwalk, is whether the fraud that was committed during the search by Robillard and Regents President Bruce Rastetter rises to the level of a criminal offense.
The Regents Hawkeye Special
Imagine it’s early September and we’re down at the train station, watching the Regents Hawkeye Special pull into town. The big old beast has been riding the rails since 2/25, when it was put into motion by the Board of Regents. Over the intervening months hundreds of people have gotten on and off, but today is the day. The new president of the University of Iowa is about to be announced.
We know that four finalists were nominated by the twenty-one-member search committee, then sent to the nine-member Board of Regents for final interviews and a vote. Three of the candidates were eminently qualified and steeped in academic administration. The fourth candidate, a freelance business consultant and former executive, had no experience in academic administration. When the train comes to a stop and the doors open, J. Bruce Harreld, the business consultant and former executive with no experience in academic administration, and no previous ties to the University of Iowa, steps out and waves to the crowd.
A week later, while we’re still reeling from the arrival of Harreld, we learn the following. J. Bruce Harreld failed to proofread his resume for errors in spelling and usage. J. Bruce Harreld misstated if not falsified the work experience on his resume. J. Bruce Harreld took full credit for authoring works that were co-authored. In every respect, were Harreld’s resume a course assignment it would have earned an F, yet somehow Harreld and his resume sailed through the search, selection and voting process. For the willful and serial ethical crimes of misattribution on his resume, J. Bruce Harreld is censured by the university faculty before he even takes office.
Another week comes and goes, confirming a series of disquieting rumors about Harreld receiving preferential treatment. We first learn that Harreld got a phone call from the governor, which no other candidate received. We then learn that Harreld met privately with four regents — two who were on the search committee, two who were not — at the business offices of Regents President Rastetter, and that no other candidate was afforded similar meetings. We also learn that Harreld dined that same evening with Iowa State President Steven Leath, at Leath’s invitation, which no other candidate received. Finally, we learn that Harreld was given the opportunity to speak before a group of forty opinion leaders at UIHC, and that only one other candidate had a similar opportunity, albeit in front of a different group.
Taking all of the above into account, what do we think about J. Bruce Harreld and the search process that elected him? Do we think that Harreld was properly vetted as a candidate? Do we think that the search process was fair or unfair to the other candidates? Given the time, effort and personal expense all of the other candidates went to in applying, can we say at this point that they were defrauded by an unfair search process? (By defrauded I mean that something was stolen from them — in the same way I would be defrauding you if I sold you a $1,000 lottery ticket with a stated one-in-ten chance to win, when the odds were actually one in a thousand.)
A few more disquieting days pass and we learn that the same two individuals were involved in facilitating all of those preferential opportunities for Harreld. What do we think about that? Does the preferential treatment shown to Harreld, and the suspected defrauding of the other candidates, betray some sort of conspiracy? How were two individuals able to perpetrate such acts on three different occasions? Were there no protections in place? Was there no oversight?
A few more days pass, then comes truly shocking news. The two individuals who engineered the preferential treatment that J. Bruce Harreld received, which appears to have defrauded the other candidates, turn out to be none other than Regents President Bruce Rastetter and Jean Robillard, the search committee chair and acting president of the university. How do we process the fact that the two men most responsible for maintaining fairness, impartiality and integrity in the selection process, were in fact undermining the search every step of the way?
At first the news seems impossible to reconcile. Yet when questioned directly both men acknowledge that they did what they’re accused of doing. Regents President Rastetter facilitated a phone call from the governor to Harreld, which no other candidate received. Rastetter also set up the same-day meetings that Harreld had with four regents, at Rastetter’s place of business, then put Harreld in touch with ISU President Leath — again giving Harreld opportunities no other candidate was afforded. Finally, Rastetter was in attendance when Robillard hosted a talk by Harreld, followed by a “VIP lunch” with two other members of the search committee. At which point we also learn, to our incredulity, that not only did Harreld’s wife accompany him on that trip, but Robillard personally met the couple at the airport and chauffeured them to the town, whereupon Harreld’s wife was given a prearranged tour of the campus while Harreld spoke and enjoyed his “VIP lunch”.
In their defense the two men insist that as members of the search committee they were obligated to aggressively recruit Harreld and help him do due diligence — though they inexplicably showed no other candidates similar consideration. In no sense, however — particularly as chair of the search committee and president of the board of regents, respectively — can Robillard’s and Rastetter’s machinations be seen as anything other than improper. Which means there is now no doubt that all of the other candidates in the search were defrauded. Literally, by Robillard’s and Rastetter’s actions, money was taken out of their pockets under false pretenses. They believed that the search process would be fair, and it was not only unfair, it was administered unfairly by the two men most responsible for ensuring fairness.
Unfortunately, while we now know that the other candidates were defrauded, we face an even more disturbing question. Did the preferential treatment given to Harreld by Rastetter and Robillard also defraud the other members of the search committee? Just as the candidates had a reasonable expectation that the search, selection and election would be fair, so too did the other nineteen members of the committee. And that includes the seven faculty members on the committee, who not only spent time recruiting and helping candidates do proper and fair due diligence, but also traveled to other schools and consulted with colleagues, demonstrating sincere interest in both shared governance and shared responsibility.
In the previous post we paid particular attention to the events of July 8th, when Harreld and his wife traveled to Iowa City. While his wife was getting a tour of the campus, Harreld spoke, then ate a “VIP lunch” with Robillard, Rastetter, and two other search committee members — Sarah Gardial, dean of the business college, and Christina Bohannan, president of the faculty senate. As later reported in the press, on that day Robillard gave no clue about Harreld’s presence other than to tout him as a business visionary.
After the election, in a 9/14 article by Eric Kelderman for the Chronicle of Higher Education, published just after news of the “VIP lunch” was widely reported, Robillard again characterized Harreld as having had no interest in the presidency on July 8th. Instead, from first-hand accounts by Gardial and Bohannan, it’s clear that Robillard felt Harreld might be an interesting candidate, and that Robillard invited them to attend on that basis. Less than forty-eight hours after Robillard’s repeated assertion was published in the Chronicle, however, on 9/16 University of Iowa spokesperson Jeneane Beck contradicted Robillard’s published remarks:
Although Harreld was not a candidate at the time of his visit, UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck confirmed that UI officials were aware that Harreld was considering whether to apply for the position and that the visit was part of his decision-making process.
Beck’s statement means Robillard was lying on 9/14 when he characterized Harreld’s July 8th visit as having nothing to do with due diligence. It also means Robillard — the chair of the search committee — committed a crime of omission against his committee when he failed to disclose to Gardial and Bohannan that Harreld was in town to gather information about the open presidency.
Why Robillard Lied
In another post we said we can’t trust what people in business and politics say because the only thing they fear is the power of law. Unless they can be hauled into court they will say anything right to your face, even if it’s categorically false. Instead, the only way to understand what people in business and politics are up to is to look at what they do, so we’re going to again look closely at the events of July 8th.
- Harreld and his wife fly to Iowa.
- Robillard picks them up at the airport and drives them to campus.
- Harreld gives a talk to forty people, including Robillard, Rastetter, Gardial and Bohannan
- Harreld has a “VIP lunch” with Robillard, Rastetter, Gardial and Bohannan
- While Harreld is doing all that his wife tours the campus and has lunch.
To see why Robillard pretended, on July 8th, that he did not know Harreld was interested in the open presidency — a lie that Robillard perpetuated for more than two months before Beck’s correction — let’s go back in time to Harreld’s presentation and “VIP lunch” at UIHC. Forty assorted bigwigs are there, along with Harreld, Rastetter, Robillard, Gardial and Bohannan. From the lineup alone it is fair to conclude, as Gardial and Bohannan did on that day, that there is some relationship between the lunch, Harreld’s presentation, and the search committee. And that is in fact what Robillard intimates to Gardial and Bohannan — that he’s got a hot prospect in town that he wants them to check out. Which they do, even though they’re not quite sure who Harreld is, or whether he’s even thinking about applying for the job.
As a hospital bigwig and the acting president Robillard exerts his administrative might, springing for a “VIP lunch” and pulling out all the stops to impress Harreld with the University of Iowa, where the position of president just happens to be open. Gardial and Bohannan later report that while the open presidency does come up in conversation, Harreld confesses no interest in the position, and Robillard confesses no awareness that Harreld is interested in the position. On July 8th, in that room, Harreld is only there because Robillard thinks he’s a smart guy.
To see why Robillard has to lie, let’s now roll the clock back to the beginning of the July 8th gathering and imagine that just after Rastetter, Gardial and Bohannan arrive, Robillard turns to them and says that Harreld is in town doing a little information gathering about the open presidency. While that would probably be fine with Rastetter, given the spree of preferential treatment that he himself will shower on Harreld in the coming months, as search committee members of good conscience the first thoughts in the minds of Gardial and Bohannan will be questions of fairness and propriety, including how it looks that Robillard — as the chair of the search committee — is hosting a talk and “VIP lunch” for a potential candidate. As long as Robillard sticks to the lie that Harreld is there to save UIHC from itself, then Robillard’s hosting exuberance is fine. The minute Harreld is a candidate, however, or even a possible candidate, then Robillard has to turn in his biggest wig and assume the role of search chair, with all the buzz-killing fairness and impartiality that implies.
Is it possible that Robillard really is trying to impress Harreld? Yes, but that doesn’t matter. By picking Harreld and his wife up at the airport, and giving Harreld an audience that includes the president of the Board of Regents, and hosting a “VIP lunch”, Robillard establishes precedents that should have been discussed by the search committee in advance, and clearly weren’t. He also obligates himself to inform the committee afterward that such accommodations are now okay for every would-be candidate, let alone those officially declared, which he also does not do.
The Other Liars
Until Jeneane Beck corrects the record on 9/16, Jean Robillard, the acting president of the University of Iowa and the chair of the search and selection committee, tells a consistent lie about the motive for Harreld’s visit on July 8th. He does so to give Harreld preferential treatment and access, but because he tells that lie to members of his own search committee he also defrauds them as individuals.
In revealing Robillard’s lie, however, we have stumbled on another miscreant. To see why, remember that on July 8th it’s not just Robillard who knows that Harreld is in town because of the open presidency, it’s Harreld himself. And yet, during the “VIP lunch”, even after the open position comes up in conversation, Harreld confesses no interest in the position. From Beck’s correction of the record it’s clear that Harreld does have interest, however, so what are we to make of that omission?
Well, let’s once again roll the clock back and consider what happens if Harreld acknowledges what Beck will confirm more than two months later — that Harreld is in town to gather information about the job. While Gardial and Bohannan won’t have any problem with Harreld’s admission, and Harreld has no reason to expect them to have any problem with such an admission, Robillard will be in the same fix he would have been in if he acknowledged the reason for Harreld’s visit himself.
And suddenly it’s clear. No one at the table can openly acknowledge, in front of Gardial and Bohannan, that Harreld is in town doing early due diligence, because that changes the entire context of the presentation and the “VIP lunch”. As long as Harreld isn’t interested in the job, it’s fine. If he is interested in the job, and Robillard knows he’s interested in the job, it’s improper. And clearly Robillard knows that, which is why he keeps his mouth shut. But how does Harreld know he should keep his mouth shut to keep Robillard from getting into trouble? In fact, if Robillard knows why Harreld’s in town, and Harreld knows why he’s in town, what conceivable reason is there for Harreld to do anything other than acknowledge his nascent interest when the conversation turns to the vacant position?
Either Robillard spends the entire lunch praying that Harreld will not mention why he’s in town in front of Gardial and Bohannan, or Harreld knows not to mention why he’s in town. And that latter possibility obviously presents a host of new concerns, because it means not only that Robillard was lying to members of his own search committee, but that he enlisted Harreld in that lie as well. Which in turn leads to another question that has never been answered, which is how Robillard and Harreld got hooked up in the first place. (In the Kelderman piece referenced above, Robillard states that he does not remember how he first learned of Harreld.)
Before we head down that road, however, what about Rastetter? He either knows or doesn’t know why Harreld’s in town. If he doesn’t know, why doesn’t Rastetter, in his role as an aggressive recruiter, broach the subject with Harreld? Clearly there must be some connection, given how Rastetter will himself give Harreld unprecedented preferential treatment only twenty-two days later on July 30th, to say nothing of arranging the governor’s call sometime in August. On the other hand, if he does know why Harreld is in town, that fact alone explains why he keeps his mouth shut.
Which brings us to Harreld’s wife, who is at that moment taking a tour of the university campus. While the specifics have not been reported, an itinerary was sent to the Harrelds by Robillard’s chief of staff on July 2nd:
The chief of staff for Robillard sent Harreld a July 2 email with itineraries for his and his wife’s trip. The message referenced Robillard’s invitation to Harreld to speak to UIHC leadership on “sustaining success.” At the time, Robillard was head of the presidential search committee.
The email said that Harreld’s wife, Mary, would be escorted for “a tour/lunch while you are meeting with UI Health Care leadership.”
Why is Mary Harreld visiting Iowa City? We have that from the Gazette on 9/17:
Harreld’s wife, Mary, also requested to come to campus and attended that July visit, according to UI officials. She did not participate in the lunch, but she toured the new Hancher building. She was the only candidate spouse to visit the campus.
Given that Robillard knows why Harreld is in town, and Harreld knows why Harreld is in town, and Rastetter seems to know why Harreld’s in town, it’s reasonable to assume that Harreld’s wife also knows why Harreld is in town. What’s not at all clear, however, is why Harreld’s wife is not at the lunch or watching her husband speak. Yes, it’s possible that she’s heard it all before, or that she’s simply interested in doing as much due diligence as possible. Given the duplicity already documented around the “VIP lunch” table, however, another possibility needs to be considered.
If Harreld’s wife is in town gathering information on the university, either for herself or on behalf of her husband, what are the odds that she’s going to sit through a presentation and lunch, in front of Gardial and Bohannan, and never once mention why she and her husband are there? In order to keep that from happening, Harreld and Robillard have only two options. They can make Mary Harreld complicit in their lie, or they can find something else for her to do so it never comes up.
While there are plenty of reasons why Mary Harreld might not attend the “VIP lunch”, it’s clear from the itinerary emailed on July 2nd that she would not be lunching with her husband, Robillard, Rastetter, Gardial and Bohannan. What we do not know is whether Gardial and Bohannan were aware that Harreld’s wife was in town. Did they meet her? Was she at Harreld’s talk, but not at the lunch? Neither? If they didn’t meet her but knew she was in town, did they know she was getting a tour of the campus? Or, did they only learn that Harreld’s wife was in town when everyone else found out, in mid-September?
Why is any of that important? Because it again goes to what Robillard and Harreld decided not to talk about in advance. In any case, no matter what happened with Harreld’s wife and no matter why Harreld failed to mention to Gardial and Bohannan why he was in town, Robillard’s failure to tell two members of his own search committee that Harreld was gathering information about the open position was a deliberate crime of omission. Not a lie of omission, but a crime — a willful decision that Robillard made, every minute he was in the presence of Harreld, Gardial and Bohannan, that he was not going to say what he was obligated to say.
Getting the Chair
Looking back at the Regents Hawkeye Special rumbling over the countryside, picking up and dropping off potential candidates, we see a search committee working in good faith, nominating and vetting candidates, yet all the while Robillard and Rastetter are favoring one candidate not simply more than the others, but administratively. Incredibly, only after the election do all of the members of the search committee learn about the phone call that Harreld gets from the governor, the meetings Harreld gets with the regents, the dinner Harreld gets with Leath, the presentation that Harreld is invited to give at UIHC, the tour for Harreld’s wife, and the “VIP lunch” that Harreld is given, which includes face time with Rastetter in his role as president of the Board of Regents. By giving Harreld preferential treatment on July 8th, and specifically by keeping Gardial and Bohannan in the dark on that day, Robillard defrauds his own committee. Whatever time and money the committee members invested individually, that investment is diminished if not rendered worthless by Robillard’s actions.
Again, in defending the preferential treatment they gave to Harreld, Robillard and Rastetter have argued, using a consistent array of dodges, that they were somehow obligated to do so as members of the committee. Even if that’s true, what Robillard and Rastetter are also then arguing is that they had no subsequent obligation to make sure all candidates and committee members were informed of those same opportunities. Even if they decided to act on the spur of the moment in each instance, without consulting the full committee first — and clearly that’s not the case given the advance planning evident on July 8th — there is no conceivable justification for not immediately reporting those events to the full committee, meaning their failure to do so betrays an intent to deceive.
Absent any evidence showing that the committee collectively agreed that Robillard and Rastetter could show favoritism to J. Bruce Harreld, the only remaining questions are whether they conspired or acted independently, and who should ultimately be held responsible. Other than Harreld himself, the sole common factor in the preferential treatment that Harreld received on July 8th, July 30th, and when the governor called, was Regents President Bruce Rastetter. No matter where we turn, we find him either present or responsible. While his actions are always servile, attending to the needs of others as a humble omnipresent minder, those actions still defrauded the other candidates and the committee as a whole.
Again, here’s Christina Bohannan, clearly articulating why the events of July 30th, which Rastetter was solely responsible for, poisoned the search process:
“It certainly is getting more and more difficult to believe that the regents meant it when they said they would take campus input into account and that the search was a real search in which all the finalists had a shot,” said Christina Bohannan, president of the UI Faculty Senate and a member of the search committee.
Bohannan, who said she did not know about the July 30 meetings until Thursday, said there is nothing inherently wrong with a prospective presidential candidate visiting a campus and seeking out more information before making a decision about whether to apply for the job. She, for example, met with Harreld for lunch in Iowa City on July 8 — a meeting that had been arranged by Jean Robillard, the chairman of the search committee and UI’s interim president, and attended by Rastetter.
But Bohannan said she has concerns about Harreld’s meeting with two members of the regents, Andringa and McKibben, who weren’t on the committee.
“That opportunity gave (Harreld) more time with the people who would ultimately make the decision,” Bohannan said. “The other finalists had only their interviews (with the full board) on the final day.”
Bohannan is right when she says there’s nothing inherently wrong with a candidate visiting a campus and doing due diligence — provided there’s a level playing field. To escape responsibility the president of the regents and the acting president of the university attempt to shape-shift into mild-mannered committee members, but that’s not possible. If you are the chair of the committee and the acting president, and you are giving curbside service and first-class treatment to one candidate, you need to do that for everyone who visits — and also make sure that the president of the Board of Regents, who will actually vote on the four finalists — is in attendance. Instead, on July 8th, while lying to Gardial and Bohannan, Robillard is doing with himself and his offices what Rastetter will later do with the governor — giving J. Bruce Harreld a special opportunity that no other candidates will receive.
While only Robillard and Harreld and perhaps Rastetter know the truth, from the facts in evidence on July 8th it looks like Robillard is the initiator and Rastetter is at most following orders — as Rastetter may also have been on July 30th, or when arranging the phone call with the governor. Taking everything into account about the search process, it seems clear that the person ultimately responsible for the fraud perpetrated against the other members of the search committee by both Robillard and Rastetter must be Robillard, because he was the chair. While Rastetter was and is the president of regents, and certainly had an obligation to ensure a fair selection process so the board’s vote would not be inherently corrupt, Jean Robillard presided over the search process.
The Criminal Element
Because all of the other candidates for president at Iowa were defrauded by Robillard and Rastetter, at the very least the university, the regents or the state should reimburse those candidates for time and expenses. Because the other nineteen members of the search committee were also defrauded by Robillard and Rastetter, they should also be reimbursed for time and expenses. Yet for all the damage done, and the fraud that was perpetrated, including the illegitimate election of J. Bruce Harreld, nothing that Rastetter and Robillard did as a specific act seems to have broken the law. Time and again what Rastetter and Robillard did was improper, and should certainly be grounds for immediate dismissal, but their crimes were almost entirely administrative.
Several weeks ago a Des Moines Register editorial came to that same conclusion, noting that while the search was improper on a number of fronts, Rastetter and Robillard didn’t break any laws. What has changed since that editorial, however, is that we now know, without question, that Rastetter and Robillard intentionally defrauded the other candidates and committee members involved in the search process, which means the search itself was fraudulent. And that means somebody else was necessarily defrauded, and if you live in Iowa that somebody is you.
The indictable criminal fraud that Robillard and particularly Rastetter committed is so monstrous it’s easy to overlook. In order to see it you have to go back to the retirement of Sally Mason and the mechanism that is used to fill such vacancies at the state’s three universities. While it may seem as if the search process that Rastetter and Robillard corrupted was inevitable, that’s not actually the case. When faced with an open presidency, the instructions to the regents in section 262.9 (2) of the Iowa Code are simple and direct:
2. Elect a president of each of the institutions of higher learning;….
That’s it. All the regents have to do to fill a vacancy is elect someone. Now, in your mind you may be thinking, well, of course, so you fire up the Regents Hawkeye Special, and form a search committee…but that’s wrong. That’s not what the regents are required to do, as the Des Moines Register noted in the same editorial:
The fact is, the nine members of the Board of Regents, not the professors, are charged under state law with governing the three state universities. In replacing outgoing President Sally Mason, the board could have dispensed with a formal search process, cut to the chase and simply hired Harreld, just like the athletic director hires a new football coach.
When a president is needed at any of the state universities the regents have a choice. They can simply pick the person they want, avoiding any shared governance issues or feedback from namby-pamby, self-entitled, status-quo types, or, they can engage in a more protracted search process. What the regents cannot do is opt out of picking the person they want, then conduct a sham search which results in hiring the person they wanted all along — or anyone for that matter. And that’s why the Regents Hawkeye Special is a special and not a local or an express. That train has to be made up in the freight yard, and the minute that process starts the regents are spending state money.
As you might imagine, since they can hire anyone they want, the state and the people of Iowa have a reasonable expectation that if the regents do authorize a search it will be fairly administered whether the search is open, closed, or something in-between. What the people of Iowa do not expect is that the regents will decide not to hire someone, call for an expensive search, administer a fraudulent search, then hire someone they could have hired without spending all that money. And in a criminal context that’s what this all boils down to: the taxpayer’s money.
We know that Rastetter and Robillard conducted a fraudulent search. We know that they defrauded the other candidates and members of the search committee. We know, absent any evidence from Robillard and Rastetter to the contrary, that there were no mechanisms in place to ensure fairness, and that their own actions ensured that J. Bruce Harreld repeatedly received preferential treatment that was denied to other candidates. And because we know all that we also know that every penny the search committee spent, from the $200,000 paid to Parker Executive Search, to time spent by state employees working on the search, to reimbursements for expenses to the regents or the members of the search committee or anyone else involved in the search process, was stolen from the state of Iowa.
Does it matter if the search was initiated in good faith, then became corrupt? No, it doesn’t. Even if we imagine that the search was spontaneously corrupted on July 8th, from that point on Robillard and Rastetter were using the Regents Hawkeye Special for their own ends, defrauding the state. And we see that most clearly with Regents President Rastetter’s repeated efforts to give Harreld preferential treatment, while systematically denying those same opportunities to other candidates.
That now also brings us full circle to the question of shared governance. Again, if the regents had no interest in shared governance all they had to do was hire the person they wanted and save the state, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the regents didn’t do that. Instead they went out of their way to present shared governance as an important part of the search process, then betrayed that promise in the final hours by voting unanimously for the one candidate which the faculty — with clear justification — deemed grossly unqualified.
For that reason this indictable fraud is not just limited to Rastetter. By voting to put the Regents Hawkeye Special in motion, instead of simply voting on the candidate of their choice, the regents as a body are responsible, even if some or most of them had no idea what Rastetter and others were up to. By opting for a sham search, almost certainly to engineer the appearance of consensus without actually submitting to consensus, the regents used state funds to conceal the electoral fraud that is now embodied in J. Bruce Harreld. From the post linked just above:
Looking at what the regents did during the presidential search that resulted in J. Bruce Harreld’s hire, it’s now clear that the regents didn’t just perpetrate one fraud, they perpetrated two frauds — one inside the other. The first fraud was the rigging of the election of J. Bruce Harreld, the candidate they wanted all along. That was accomplished by giving Harreld special access to the regents themselves, special opportunities to present himself to the university community, and by ignoring his impossibly derelict resume, which should have disqualified him on the spot.
The second fraud was the entire search process, which was initiated by Regents President Bruce Rastetter, and headed by acting University of Iowa President Jean Robillard. That fraud was perpetrated not to help find the best candidate, but to legitimize the fraud perpetrated in hiring Harreld.
The regents could have hired Harreld or anyone else. They opted not to do so, which means the minute the Regents Hawkeye Special rumbled down the tracks they were obligated to conduct a fair search with state funds. Instead, we now know that at least some of the regents, including President Rastetter himself — in league with Jean Robillard, the chair of the search committee and the acting president of the University of Iowa — spent the state’s money on their own corrupt search process.
The Origin of the Feces
A key remaining question is how J. Bruce Harreld himself factors into that fraud. One question we will not be entertaining, however, is why any of the participants engaged in fraud. Perhaps it matters if someone appears remorseful once they are caught, prosecuted, and are being sentenced, but that’s after. Even though we know that the people of Iowa were defrauded, we still don’t know the whole story, and that story begins with the origin of the plan to call for and run a sham search.
Because Rastetter was and is the president of the Board of Regents, and because we know he facilitated the phone call between Harreld and Governor Branstad, and facilitated the meetings and dinner for Harreld on July 30th, and was present on July 8th when Harreld spoke at UIHC, it’s a given not only that he was involved in the conspiracy to defraud the people of Iowa, he was, at least procedurally, responsible for initiating that bogus search. Just as Robillard, as chair, is ultimately responsible for defrauding the other candidates and committee members, Rastetter, as president of the regents, is ultimately responsible for defrauding the state.
While Rastetter’s objective is clear — hiring the candidate of his choice, while giving the election the appearance of consensus — there are two scenarios that could have led to the election of J. Bruce Harreld. The first is that Harreld was on Rastetter’s and/or Robillard’s radar before the search officially got underway on 2/25. The second scenario is that Rastetter and Robillard used the search to find a stooge or co-conspirator that they could then jam through by hook or by crook. In the end there is no difference because either scenario produces a fraudulently elected J. Bruce Harreld, but in terms of who’s going to jail there are important differences. Which is also why it won’t be too hard for seasoned investigators to help Rastetter, Robillard and Harreld remember when they first fell in love:
Unanswered questions abound. How did the search committee, including Regents President Bruce Rastetter, learn about Harreld before choosing to recruit him? He has no apparent ties to the university or the state of Iowa.
Incredibly, even now there is scant evidence about how J. Bruce Harreld arrived on the scene, let alone found himself nominated. On the latter point, Harreld had still not made up his mind to apply as late at the meetings and dinner which took place on July 30th, only one day short of the deadline. We also know that Harreld did not appear on any list of candidates on July 8th, when he gave his talk and had his “VIP lunch” at UIHC. Yet despite all that, we have this statement from Harreld himself, also in Eric Kelderman’s piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education:
So how did Parker Executive Search, the firm hired by the regents, find Mr. Harreld for a job so far outside of his expertise?
Mr. Harreld has not been made available for an interview since his appointment, but he addressed that question, albeit vaguely, in a news conference that followed the board’s decision: “A president of a major university, I think, threw my name, possibly, into the hopper, and then the search committee reached out to me and asked me how interested I was.”
That major-university president was Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., the leader of Purdue University, according to several sources familiar with the search.
Mr. Daniels did not respond to a request for comment. But the former Republican governor of Indiana has been popular among elected officials in Iowa, including Gov. Terry Branstad, a fellow Republican who urged Mr. Daniels to run for president in 2012.
Even if you’ve been following the Harreld hire closely that news may be a bit jarring — and I’m not talking about the conspiracy stuff at the end. In most such searches anyone can nominate anyone, so the origin of a nomination, or even the fact of a nomination, is essentially meaningless. It starts the vetting process, but it doesn’t mean the candidate is interested. And yet the best information we have is that on July 8th Harreld’s name was not yet known to PES because it was not known to the committee, and as of July 30th he was still undecided. So how could Harreld have been nominated, then later contacted by the search committee, when he already appeared in Iowa City on July 8th to gather information?
What is clear is that none of the above answers the question of when Robillard or Rastetter found Harreld — or vice versa — and that’s the question we’re most concerned with. Why? Because it answers our earlier question of whether the conspiracy to defraud the state was a done-deal from the get-go, and means the difference between Harreld himself just being out of a job or also going to prison.
If you’ve been following the Harreld hire in the press, and particularly if you’ve been reading about it here on Ditchwalk, you probably have a firm conviction about whether Harreld met Rastetter or Robillard first. It also stands to reason, unless Harreld met them at the exact same time, that some of the people reading this post must be wrong about their conviction, except that’s not what the record shows.
If you have been reading Ditchwalk, you probably think Harreld met Robillard first, because of the following subsequent paragraphs from the Kelderman piece:
Jean E. Robillard, Iowa’s interim president, its vice president for medical affairs, and the head of the 21-member search committee, was also familiar with Mr. Harreld. Earlier in the summer he invited the businessman to speak with some senior staff members at University of Iowa Health Care. Dr. Robillard did not recall how he had first heard of Mr. Harreld, but he brought him to the campus early in July to offer perspectives on improving health-service operations.
“We were looking for a different speaker — not a consultant — to come and tell us about what they did in a different enterprise, what they did to keep them at the top,” Dr. Robillard said. “When I heard his name, I said, This is the type of person that really I need to bring to give us a talk.”
Dr. Robillard stressed that Mr. Harreld was not a candidate to be Iowa’s president at that time. There were other visitors, he said, who were recruited to apply after similar speaking engagements on the campus. “We are a university,” he said. “We are dealing with different people all across the country, and it’s not unusual to have people who come to campus.”
So, sometime prior to July 2nd, when Robillard’s chief of staff sends itineraries to Harreld and his wife, Robillard makes contact with Harreld about coming out for a gratis speech at his own expense, completely unrelated to any possible consulting. And according to Harreld’s own narrative, that takes place after someone nominates him for the position, even though on July 8th Harreld is not on any list from PES.
Fortunately, there’s also this, from the Gazette on 9/17:
UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said Robillard invited Harreld because of his experience and published articles — he’s a former IBM and Boston Market executive who taught at Harvard Business School.
So it seems clear that Robillard is the one who initiated contact with Harreld, yet there’s nothing in either of Robillard’s narratives that suggests Harreld had already been nominated. Which brings us to this, which I missed the first ten times I read it:
Rastetter, who recruited Harreld along with five other candidates for president, said in his statement that the meetings in Ames and Iowa City were appropriate and within the goals of the presidential search process.
Wait — what? Rastetter recruited Harreld? Well, what does Rastetter mean by ‘recruit’? Given that Rastetter mentions five other candidates he can’t simply mean general vetting or shepherding. Instead, he seems to mean something specific — and here I confess it’s tempting to think that Rastetter screws up and accidentally tells the truth. Yet even if that’s the case, or Robillard’s right that he was the first contact, that still doesn’t answer the question we’re asking, which is when Rastetter or Robillard first connected with Harreld in any way.
Did Rastetter contact Harreld first, then have Robillard invite Harreld to Iowa City? If so, why would that be hard to remember? And why would they conceal how their lives converged, unless there was a reason why that convergence was a problem? What possible excuse can Rastetter, Robillard and Harreld have for failing to shed any light on their origin story? I mean, these are three very successful men by any conventional metric, yet we’re to believe that individually and collectively they cannot remember how they first met or heard of each other. Really? That’s the story? Because that doesn’t sound like a story to me, that sounds like three guys who don’t want to cop to something that’s going mess up their day. Or their pants.
As preposterous as it seems, right now, as you’re reading this post, and as J. Bruce Harreld is touting his newfound honesty in the face of “misconceptions about [his] vision and values” — Harreld himself still can’t remember how he, Robillard and Rastetter ended up together. And if there’s anybody in this train wreck who better have that straight and on the record, without the slightest hint of the lies that he told on his resume, it’s Harreld. Only by being squeaky clean in every aspect does he stand a chance of getting out of this without losing the remaining shreds of his reputation, let alone his freedom.
As you might imagine, it is of incredible value to Harreld to be able to prove that he was first contacted very late in the search process — perhaps toward the end of June. That way he can credibly claim to have been duped himself, at least until he arrives in town on July 8th and manages not to explain to Gardial and Bohannan why he’s actually there. Sure, he can argue that Robillard or Rastetter ‘made him’ lie, but even if nobody believes that he’ll still avoid a criminal indictment.
On the other hand, I don’t think Rastetter or Robillard are going to do Harreld any favors, which brings us back to the original question, and why it’s time for law enforcement to enter the picture. These guys aren’t talking until they’re forced to talk, but I don’t think anyone will have to sweat Harreld or Robillard under hot lights once they see a badge. Rastetter strikes me as someone who will deny, deny, deny all the way to prison and beyond, but Harreld and Robillard aren’t hardcore.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough to just start talking, because when you’re talking to law enforcement it matters what you say. If Harreld’s story doesn’t match what somebody else is saying, that’s bad. If Harreld’s story doesn’t match the perfectly matched stories the other two guys are telling, he’s toast. And if either Rastetter or Robillard were in contact with Harreld before 2/25, Harreld is burnt toast.
I don’t know what’s needed to kick off an investigation by the state’s Attorney General, but I am convinced that we passed that milestone at least a week ago. Whether the AG already has something in the works or not, the fact that the regents chose to spend money on a search process that was demonstrably fraudulent means that somebody should be asking questions. Maybe that’s being done quietly, maybe it’s about to be done, but the time is here. If J. Bruce Harreld had not won, then maybe we could sweep his preferential treatment under the rug, but he did win. The one candidate who received every improper advantage in a search that defrauded other candidates, members of the search committee, and the people of Iowa, is now about to take office as the next president of the University of Iowa. And if that does not rise to the level of a criminal investigation, I don’t know what does.
The question of Harreld’s origin story needs to be resolved. We need to know when both Rastetter and Robillard first heard of, contacted and met Harreld. We need to know of any go-betweens. We need to know if Rastetter or Robillard met with Harreld prior to the Harrelds arriving in Iowa City on July 8th. Did either Rastetter or Robillard travel to meet with Harreld during the search? What contact did they have? What did they talk about? Who else was involved in those conversations?
If it takes putting people under oath, put them under oath. Again, I suspect Robillard and Harreld will become extremely forthcoming once it’s in their vested interest, in sharp contrast to their current stonewalling and obfuscation. As for the possibility that those three paragons of virtue are at this very moment getting their stories straight, I don’t think that’s a concern. If that was possible they would have done so already. Instead, I think they did something naughty, and anything they say about how they originally fell in league will prove damning.
I’m also not too concerned that they’re going to alibi each other. Again, from the Kelderman piece in the Chronicle:
Many other questions about the process have arisen. One surrounds an August phone call between Mr. Harreld and Governor Branstad that was arranged by Bruce L. Rastetter, president of the Board of Regents and one of three regents who served on the search committee. Mr. Rastetter has been a generous campaign contributor to the governor and is often called a kingmaker in the state’s politics.
No such phone call was arranged for the other finalists, according to the Associated Press.
Dr. Robillard said he didn’t understand why the call had happened. But he did not feel it had tainted the process, he said, because the other members of the search committee were unaware of Mr. Harreld’s talk with the five-term governor.
“I don’t know why they did that,” he said. “You should ask Bruce Rastetter about this.”
Yes, someone should ask Rastetter about that, and the governor for that matter, because neither they nor Harreld can remember when that call actually took place. And no, the phone call was not okay simply because the other search members did not learn of the call. The very fact that it took place and nobody learned about it until after the election is proof of deception, and proof that Rastetter defrauded the other members of the search committee by withholding that information.
Fortunately, law enforcement doesn’t have to depend on the veracity of three men who have proven incapable of telling the truth. Because the fraudulent search was initiated by the regents, and paid for by the state, any staffer at the regents or the university or anywhere else, who had anything to do with the search, will be obligated to speak with law enforcement. If even one staffer says they told Robillard or Rastetter not to do things that those men ended up doing, then that’s game over because they were the institutional controls for the search committee.
And then of course there are the candidates who did not get a call from the governor, or secret regent meetings at Rastetter’s place of business, or a free meal from Leath, or an invitation to speak in front of a select crowd and chow down on a “VIP lunch”. Not only do they have no reason to lie about the search process, they should be able to confirm whether they were apprised of those opportunities.
Finally, there are the regents themselves. While Rastetter has to be considered a suspect, there may be some members who are shell shocked by what happened. While they may currently be precluded from talking about the unanimous vote for Harreld, or anything pertaining to the search, I’m guessing a visit from the AG’s office voids any confidentiality agreements. Given Rastetter’s pattern of behavior throughout this fraud, it’s possible if not likely that some of the regents were as oblivious to what was going on as were members of the search committee.
It’s not only time for answers, it’s past time. I have always thought of Attorney General Tom Miller as a fair man, so I trust he’s either on this or ramping up an initial investigation. I’m also going to trust that the loyal opposition in Iowa is doing what it can to protect taxpayers from this kind of fraud. Yes, after six terms Governor Terry Branstad may have finally wrestled the title of Midwest Political Corruption Capital away from Illinois, but until I get that memo I’m sticking with the idea that Iowans in general and those concerned about education in particular did not want the Board of Regents conducting a sham election at taxpayer expense.
Speaking of which, I find it fascinating that all of the people who were fixated on transformational change and going from great to greater and sustaining success are now up to their necks in a pig-urine lagoon. It’s enough to make one think that the status-quo obstructionists were right when they said the students and education should come first, and the marketing weasels should get the hell off the campus and out of Iowa City, and out of Iowa for that matter. Or maybe that was me.
— Mark Barrett