If you’re a student at the University of Iowa, this post is about how your new president, J. Bruce Harreld, is costing you money now, and may cost you a lot more in the future. If you find it useful, please share it with your friends on campus. (There are share buttons at the bottom, or you can drop this shortlink: http://goo.gl/RwrSjS.)
As an alum, my interest in Harreld’s election has grown over the past two months, because each time I try to find a silver lining in what is otherwise a colossal cluster, I come up empty. Whatever you’ve heard about your new president, and however you feel about the various frauds that were perpetrated in order to elect him, one thing you probably haven’t heard is that he’s decreasing the value of your education, but that’s objectively true. It may seem incongruous given that Harreld’s claim to fame is saving IBM from bankruptcy, and that his supporters are enthralled by his Harvard MBA, but behind that sales facade is a man who — as of the date of this post — has exactly the same amount of experience in academic administration that you do.
By hiring J. Bruce Harreld against the wishes of the vast majority of faculty and staff, the Board of Regents foisted a president on the university who has, even before taking office, cost you money for two separate but related reasons. We’ll get into those reasons in a moment, but the big-picture takeaway is that unlike everyone else in this debacle, you, the students of the University of Iowa, are paying for this bureaucratic abuse. Everybody else is getting a paycheck and will probably continue to do so no matter how bad things get. You, on the other hand, are paying for the privilege of being an unwitting test subject in an experiment authorized by five corrupt members of the Board of Regents.
Valuing Personal Integrity
If you paid any attention to the election in early September, or to the search that took place between late February and the end of August, you know that during the final vote the Board of Regents could have picked any of three eminently qualified candidates for president. Instead they went off the board for the unqualified J. Bruce Harreld. What you may not know is that every argument about how the other three candidates were lacking in some way is false. They not only had experience with academic administration, they had experience with every aspect of the role of a university president: fundraising, leadership, business, politics, campus culture, and on and on. There was no sense in which any of the other three candidates were lacking in any way, except that they did not have long experience in the private sector — which by definition is not central to the job of a university president, particularly when the school in question is in the public sector.
J. Bruce Harreld, on the other hand, was and is unqualified by every conventional measure of what a university president is supposed to know. Which is why Harreld himself, after the election, admitted that he needed coaching and mentoring simply to do the job he was hired to do, at $800,000 per year in total compensation. Yet even before the election, troubling signs about Harreld were apparent, which brings us to a question. What’s wrong with this picture?
If you haven’t seen it before, that’s a typo on J. Bruce Harreld’s resume. Even better, if you like comic irony, the missing letter turns out to be a big black capital ‘I’. And yes, it’s always easy to make fun of a typo, but as we’ll see, that error is symptomatic of a greater ill. (Click the above link to see the original resume, and the typo, in context, on the University of Iowa website.)
I am not, as I have pointed out elsewhere, a typo nut. There are typos all over this blog because I myself go blind to my writing very quickly. So I do have some sympathy. The difference, of course, is that I’m not asking anyone for $4,000,000 over five years, or to be put in charge of a billion-dollar research university.
Does the top dog at Harvard have a resume like that? Princeton? Michigan? Even Iowa State managed to hire a fully qualified president only three years ago (albeit with a properly constituted Board of Regents) — so why are you getting jobbed?
Which brings us to the next question. Out of the Top 100 universities in the United States at this moment — and one ranking has Iowa tied at 82nd — how many of those universities have a president whose online resume includes a typo, plus an error in usage? I’m guessing the answer is zero, because as an egghead one of the things you tend to do when going through a formal hiring process is make sure that your resume and/or c.v. is bulletproof. Sure, a resume can be written to say almost anything, but as a presentation of self you want it to be spotless, and it’s expected to be spotless. And J. Bruce Harreld’s resume is not spotless.
Okay — anybody can make a mistake. And I guess anybody can fail to run their resume by a few people in order to catch that mistake. And anybody can stumble into a hiring process in which nobody — including the search firm which is being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to vet candidates and their paperwork — catches such an obvious, glaring mistake.
But there’s another problem with J. Bruce Harreld’s resume, and it’s not simply a problem related to sloppy work. As you may have heard, J. Bruce Harreld lied on his resume in two ways that were also not caught by the search firm expressly hired to catch such problems. And there’s no way that those lies do not reveal something of the man, beyond his incapacity for proofreading.
First, it turned out the information that Harreld supplied about his most recent employment — freelance consulting — was false. That information was revealed in the press prior to the final vote, so the Board of Regents knew about that in advance. Second, Harreld’s citations for published works omitted co-authors, of which there were many. And again the Board of Regents either did know about that, or should have known about that, prior to the final vote.
On that second point, because accuracy in citations could not be more central to higher education, J. Bruce Harreld, the president-elect of your university, received the ignominious distinction of being unanimously censured by the Faculty Assembly of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Meaning not only is your new president the only president at a Top 100 university with a typo on his resume, he’s also the only president to be censured by his faculty — before taking office, no less.
What was the regents’ response to these revelations? Revelations that, if they had been perpetrated by you in class, would have certainly prompted a failing grade?
“We’re not concerned about the resume,” said Josh Lehman, regents spokesman.
By its very existence J. Bruce Harreld’s resume should have disqualified him as a candidate long before he became a finalist, but that didn’t happen. And none of the heroes who elected J. Bruce Harreld has stepped forward to explain why that didn’t happen. In fact, nobody has verified that the search firm hired to vet candidate paperwork ever even saw Harreld’s resume, let alone checked it for accuracy.
As you read this, can you name any professor who would let you get away with that — let alone give you four million dollars? What would your professors say if you turned in a paper like Harreld’s resume? What would the university say if you excluded co-authors and assumed full credit for their work? What would you think if one of your fellow students did those things — then got a a high-six-figure salary and free housing for their efforts? Because that’s your new president.
Valuing an Education
So how does all that hit you in the educational pocketbook? Well, the value of your degree, and by extension the value of the time and effort you put into that degree, is in part determined by the institution you attend. If you have a law degree from Harvard you’re going to command top dollar in the market because of the school you attended. If your school has a good rep — a good brand, to put it in crass marketing and business terms — your degree is worth more in the marketplace.
Yet it’s important to remember that such relationships are not only about branding. Harvard has a great rep for turning out lawyers not because of the Harvard name, but because Harvard has some of the best faculty and highest standards. Yes, the name has cachet, but if the school perpetually turned out inbred dolts its reputation would falter, and the value of a Harvard law degree would decrease. Harvard doesn’t simply work hard to maintain an image, it works hard to maintain the standards that are the foundation of that image.
Now, because Iowa is more middle-of-the-pack than top-of-the-heap, we could have an argument about how we need to improve our rankings or branding. That was in fact a key component of, if not the only component of, Harreld’s pitch to stakeholders shortly before the election. Instead of being just great, he wants Iowa to be greater than great. And who wouldn’t want to be great for all greaternity?
And yet, objectively, no matter how you would have valued a degree from the University of Iowa at the end of last May, by his own resume, J. Bruce Harreld has devalued the Iowa brand by undermining the integrity of the school’s standards. Which consequently means he has devalued the work you’re doing right now, and decreased the future value of your Iowa degree in the market. And again, he somehow managed to do all that before taking office.
While we don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking that higher education is solely about money, you wouldn’t be spending the money you’re spending if you didn’t think you would get a positive return on that investment. While there are important intangibles that should not be overlooked — and I just read a great piece on that topic by Hunter Rawlings, who, at one time, was a fully qualified president of the University of Iowa — it should be clear that J. Bruce Harreld and his resume are decreasing the value of each dollar you’re currently expending, which decreases the value of each minute you spend working toward your degree.
The candidate who was elected solely because he would increase the value of the University of Iowa despite all of his glaring inadequacies, is now taking value off the table even before he gets to work. And yes, per student, in absolute dollars, it might not be much, but multiply that amount by 30,000 students over four or five years and you’re talking about hosing hundreds of millions of dollars in academic equity down the drain.
Attesting to that fact, in the aftermath of the Harreld hire many of the big-money donors at Iowa announced that they would not be cutting back on their giving as a result of the Harreld hire. Now, whatever you think about big-money donors and their place at the table, I think you’ll agree that if the regents had hired a truly stellar candidate, nobody would have rushed out to announce that they were not going to stop giving. Whether the donors did so in order to prop up their own suddenly devalued investments, or because they genuinely thought Harreld was a visionary leader, is for them to explain, but their actions were clearly damage control.
Again, we don’t want to think only of dollars because the quality of your education also matters. More importantly, however, we don’t want to think that way because the cabal that hired Harreld might start chasing national rankings like quarterly profits, instead of earning national rankings by maintaining and improving upon Iowa’s standard of academic excellence. And once you head down that road you’re courting real disaster.
Valuing a University
Whatever economic hit the value of your work and the future value of your degree has already taken from Harreld’s demonstrable failings as an unqualified and deceptive candidate, that hit may soon be dwarfed by failings exposed in the search process itself. Again, if you haven’t been paying close attention, not only was the promise of shared governance gutted during the election of J. Bruce Harreld, but there are serious and valid concerns that the election involved both corruption at the Board of Regents and criminal fraud during the search.
However all that plays out over the long term, in the coming months the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) will be releasing the results of its investigation into the Board of Regents’ failure to meet its obligations to shared governance. And that’s not simply a formality. The AAUP is responsible for making sure that colleges and universities are not run by political dupes, but instead adhere to important standards of conduct in higher education. If the AAUP comes down hard against the Board of Regents — and by every right they should drop the hammer — then that affects not just Iowa, but the state’s other two state schools.
Simply put, if the AAUP says that the Board of Regents can’t be trusted, that’s a huge red flag to any faculty who might be considering Iowa as a destination. And that means, again, that the Harreld hire would devalue the economic worth of your education in the coming years. Yet none of that had to happen. The board could have chosen any of three eminently qualified candidates, but in its diseased wisdom chose to pick the unqualified candidate who couldn’t spell IBM after working there for thirteen years.
By ignoring shared governance the Board of Regents violated its agreement with the AAUP. It’s entirely possible, of course, that the board never gave its obligations a second thought, or that it did and simply didn’t care, but the end result, as with Harreld’s resume, is that the value of a degree conferred by the University of Iowa is diminished. Even the fact that Harreld doesn’t know what he’s doing cripples the university until he figures that out. And because I’m getting hot under the collar just thinking about it, here’s former regent Mary Louise Petersen explaining why:
But, Petersen said, that’s where many of her concerns lie — in the fact that he has so much to learn.
“I think it will be a steep learning curve for someone who has been a lecturer at an institution but has not spent years on a faculty or an administration of an institution of a higher education,” she said. “I think it’s unfortunate that we can’t take right off with the new president — that the new president will have to have quite a lengthy learning curve to be effective.”
The damage is everywhere, and it’s growing. From the resume and censure, to donors reassuring everyone that they’re not going to withhold funds, to the ongoing AAUP investigation and threat of imminent punishment, to three of the state’s largest papers demanding that the regents demonstrate transparency, show their work, and come clean, to the faculty at all three state universities passing resolutions against the board, the only people who are still on Harreld’s side are the people who made sure he got the job in the first place.
And for the record, as is so far currently known, those people are:
- Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue
- Terry Branstad, governor of Iowa
- Bruce Rastetter, regents president
- Katie Mulholland, regents president pro tem
- Milt Dakovich, regent
- Larry McKibben, regent
- Mary Andringa, regent
- Jean Robillard, search committee chair
- Jerre Stead, search committee member
- J. Bruce Harreld, president of Iowa
Now, there’s a funny thing about all the bold, visionary people on that list, who are absolutely sure that J. Bruce Harreld is a savior, including Harreld himself. Where you would think they would all want to talk about how Harreld arrived on the scene and got himself elected, it’s exactly the opposite. Every single person on that list has either clammed up or refused to talk because of pending litigation. Even the simplest questions vex them, and they’re always changing the subject from whether the election was fair to whether it should have been even more secret. If you had just found the greatest non-traditional candidate in the history of higher education, would you have trouble remembering how you met him, or where you first heard of him, or how many times you’d visited with him in the past? Me either.
While the university of Iowa will never be an Ivy, it shouldn’t aspire to be an Ivy. It should aspire to be rock-solid as a state school, but instead it’s now being headed by an incompetent leader. If the Board of Regents is willing to turn the keys over to a carpetbagging dilettante with a Harvard MBA, it has to be assumed that everything is now for sale, including the standards and integrity which have, for eleven straight years, made the University of Iowa one of the few public universities in the U.S., U.K. or Canada to make Fisk’s ‘Best Buy’ list.
The premise of the Harreld hire was that he would accomplish things no academic administrator could ever bring about, and I guess he has. By Harreld’s own conduct he has already proven every concern valid, and he doesn’t officially start until Monday. If the Board of Regents had set out to undercut their own argument before Harreld had a chance to set foot in the office they couldn’t have done a better job.
Having willfully ignored every conventional standard by which university presidents are measured in order to elect J. Bruce Harreld, it’s obviously important to assess the purportedly unique value proposition that Harreld himself brings to the position. The crux of that argument, allowing for some hyperbole, is that Harreld saved IBM from bankruptcy, or at least a long slow decline, during his thirteen years at that company. While it’s hard to see any direct correlation between IBM and the U. of I., we’ll set that aside for the moment and look at Harreld’s role at IBM.
I have not read everything that Harreld has written, or at least that he claimed to have written on his resume, but what I have read focuses on internal dynamics, and less so on the context in which those dynamics take place. In particular, this piece does a good job describing some of the changes that Harreld made at IBM, while trying to transform its calcified corporate culture.
Rather than the typical formalistic yearly review, the new strategic planning process engaged general managers in disciplined conversations with their strategy colleagues on the nature of their performance and/or opportunity gaps. These conversations focused on strategic insight, based on fact-based analyses of market conditions, innovation streams, and associated alternative business models, along with a careful analysis of execution options (the implications of various business models on the units’ critical tasks, structure, culture, processes, competencies, and leadership behaviors). Under this revised strategic planning process, the role of Harreld’s strategy team shifted from yearly evaluation to on-going conversations, based on jointly developed data, about innovation streams, new business models, and associated leadership capabilities and organizational architectures (this process of corporate/business unit interaction is similar to that described by Joseph and Ocasio (2012) at GE).
While that all makes sense, and was undoubtedly complex as an undertaking, what’s missing is critical context. By the time Harreld arrives at IBM the company is reeling from the realization that it missed the boat on the PC revolution on both the hardware and software sides. If you’re in college right now there’s no reason you should know this, but at one time in the distant past IBM owned both the microprocessors and the software that would soon revolutionize home-based computing. Between the 8088 processor and the OS/2 operating system, IBM was poised to dominate the technology universe for all time.
Yet in only a few short years IBM fell behind Intel on the hardware side and Microsoft on the software side, only to watch hundreds of billions if not trillions in revenue vaporize before its big blue eyes. How did that happen? Because IBM was so big and so ponderous it simply could not iterate fast enough to keep up.
At the birth of the PC, if you pitted two guys in a garage against a massive corporation with hundreds of millions in cash, the two guy in the garage had all of the advantages except for money, and money was the least of their problems. It was like — and here I’m going full geek — the old original Star Trek episode titled Wink of an Eye, where the aliens move so much faster than the crew of the Enterprise, that in the time it takes Spock to blink the aliens can cook a three-course meal, play a few hands of canasta, and alter the universe. In the time it took Woz and Jobs to iterate five versions of their first computer, or Gates and Allen to plunder the OS/2 code, IBM could barely get through a round of meetings, and those meetings were just to determine whether they should authorize a group to study whether they should authorize a group to study those markets.
The key passage in the quote above, if not in the whole article, is this: “Under this revised strategic planning process, the role of Harreld’s strategy team shifted from yearly evaluation to on-going conversations…” While that’s exactly the right move, in the context of the times it wasn’t innovative, it was derivative. It was in fact what everyone was doing — what they had to do — because the pace of change was so rapid and only accelerating. I saw it first-hand myself in the interactive industry in the mid-nineties, when the Waterfall Model became popular, and as explained in Steve McConnell’s excellent book, Rapid Development, which was published in 1996 — almost exactly when Harreld joined IBM.
Harreld’s job at IBM was less about innovation than about resuscitation using a new method of business development that was foreign to IBM as a culture. And while I’m sure it was a chore, and I’m sure there was resistance, by analogy Harreld was simply one of several people who finally taught your grandmother how to program her VCR. I’m sure it wasn’t a lot of fun, and it was frustrating at times, but only relative to IBM’s calcified bureaucracy could Harreld’s work be described as transformative. At the same time, everywhere else, the world was already innovating and iterating at light speed.
So how does all that cultural change map to the pressing needs of the University of Iowa? It doesn’t. First, if Governor Branstad and a majority of the Board of Regents were not constantly trying to strip the university of funding, Iowa wouldn’t have a lot of problems. Second, not only is innovation the least of the concerns in higher education, we just went through two massive spasms of innovation in higher education that both proved to be colossal busts. Between online colleges and for-profit colleges, the business community, citing innovation as the driving force, took two huge swings at education as an industry, and accomplished nothing other than turning piles of capital to ash.
And it wasn’t the eggheads who got in the way, it was the market itself that said no — that shot down those big, transformational ideas in only a matter of a few years. And that means something more is going on in higher education than meets the MBA eye. What business has learned in only the past five years — at the cost of billions of dollars in start-up funding — is that higher education, and education in general, is not a problem that can be solved with technology. The drivers of success in education, both individually and collectively, are old-school values like maintaining high standards, hiring the most qualified administrators and professors, and teaching and challenging the students to think for themselves so they’re ready to compete in the marketplace.
Valuing a President
So let’s review. Is J. Bruce Harreld’s word good? Is he a man of deep personal convictions about ethics and integrity? No — and we know that from his resume.
Is he qualified to be the president of a major university, or even a small private college? No — and we not only know that from his resume, we know that from his own admission that he will need coaching and mentoring just to know the basics.
Are we getting a bargain? No — in fact, quite the opposite. Harreld is being paid $800,000 a year in total compensation, which is more than the outgoing president, who had eight years of experience on the job. Worse, not only is Harreld getting paid more, because he’s unqualified and has to learn on the job, the Board of Regents is paying a price premium for a trainee.
Is Harreld special in some way? No — he’s not special. The people who jammed him through the search process claim he’s special, but there’s nothing in his background that makes that case. If Harreld was indeed a visionary leader, instead of being a vagbond business consultant for the past five years he would have been saving VW from itself, or perhaps brokering a ceasefire in Syria.
J. Bruce Harreld is, at best, a project — a $4,000,000 gamble over five years, using state funds, in which the Board of Regents is betting he will eventually be able to dig himself and the school out of the hole they have already dug. The good news is that all of the people who wanted him in office are now going to bend over backwards to make him look good, or at least not incompetent. Something Regent President Rastetter has already done by kicking loose a few million here and there after being a pain in the ass to Sally Mason for years.
In sum, then, when 97% of the people who responded to a poll after Harreld’s open forum said he was not qualified for the job, those people were right. When people said his resume showed that he lacked the ethics and integrity for the position, they were right. When a Des Moines Register editorial said that the search was flawed, that was right. Yet J. Bruce Harreld is starting on Monday.
The real fear now is that he and the people who appointed him will continue to undermine the school, collapsing the value of your degree in a marketplace fully aware of what’s happening at Iowa. Because Iowa is a state school it’s never going to fall completely off the map, but you can do tremendous damage to any institution of higher learning by eroding its standards. Worse, the very fact that the new president of the university lied on his resume, took credit for other people’s work, couldn’t spot the most egregious typo in the history of typos, and still got the job, means the first battle over maintaining those standards has already been lost.
The best hope now is that there are additional investigations, and everyone involved in this gross deception pays a price. What you need to know as a student at Iowa is that there was no reason for any of this to happen, and no reason to put you and the value of your education at risk, other than rank politics, ego and greed. At best it was reckless, and a worst it constitutes criminal fraud, yet there wasn’t a single moment when the ten people on that list cared about how their decision affected you or the hard work you’re putting into an education that you are paying for.
On second thought, what isn’t wrong with that picture?
— Mark Barrett