What is the last post on the hiring of J. Bruce Harreld to be the next president at the University of Iowa was also the first. I originally wrote this post in my head — or rather, it wrote itself — on September 5th, two days after the election. I finally typed it out over this past weekend, after two months of doing my best to understand the pathology that led to his appointment. Over that span I discovered more ugliness than I would have thought possible, most of it in human form. While this post is informed by that ugliness, and my newfound awareness has reinforced my original conviction, it is in spirit unaltered.
Prior to Harreld’s election my only thought about the retirement of Sally Mason was that I hoped the new president would make two pressing cultural issues a priority. Those issues were alcoholism and sexual assault, which are obviously intertwined.
If you’re not familiar with Iowa City it has always been a small town wrapped around a big university, and just off campus there have always been innumerable bars. But drinking is one thing, and routinely ranking among the top ‘party schools’ in the country another, and Iowa has been on those lists far too long. Likewise, while Iowa didn’t invent sexual assault, and it is a problem on campuses nationwide, without addressing the underlying causes, including alcohol use and abuse, and particularly binge drinking, it will be impossible to make lasting gains.
I cannot say that I paid close attention to Sally Mason’s tenure. I know she didn’t cause the floods that took much of her time, and I’m grateful for her efforts in helping the campus recover. What I did not know, and now appreciate, was how virulently and personally hostile the Board of Regents was to her. Between unwarranted condescension and intentional efforts to discredit her, I am surprised she lasted as long as she did. I would not have.