Of all the posts I’ve written about the Harreld hire, this one was the most difficult. It’s one thing to feel as if a wrong has been committed against an institution you care about, and another to feel that you have to abandon your feelings of affection for that institution in order to stay in touch with reality.
While Robillard and Rastetter fall silent in the hope that the press won’t notice the missing forest for the dodgy trees they keep propping up, it’s worth taking a step back to look at the damage already done by this disastrous hire. Because whatever Robillard and Rastetter thought they were getting by fraudulently electing J. Bruce Harreld to be the next president of the University of Iowa, what they’ve ended up with is a weak puppet without a shred of personal or professional credibility.
I like feeling romantic about my time at Iowa. I like pretending that the school is good and pure, instead of a morass of conflicting agendas and nutty professors. Yes, it’s easier to view my alma mater through rose colored glasses, but until last Wednesday I also thought it was harmless. While the problem of sexual assault is paramount in my mind — and yet another reason why hiring the incompetent, unqualified and unethical J. Bruce Harreld was a cruel slap across the trembling face of students who have been victimized — I still felt that whatever else was happening it was at most a 1 or a 2 on the Ditchwalk Indignation Scale. Meaning I could enjoy my nostalgia without having to slip into outright denial.
And yet, last Wednesday’s news that the big-name donors were all throwing their support behind Harrled made me sick, and it still makes me sick as I type these words. The news caught me off guard for a variety of reasons, but at root my revulsion sprang from the same source that has fueled my hostility toward the Harreld hire from the beginning. No matter where I turn, I don’t see anybody standing up for the students, and that really bothers me.
Yes, I know I’m being naive. Yes, I know the president of any university has little or nothing to do with students on a daily basis. And yes, I know that no matter how bad Harreld is he’ll be gone in a few years and the institution will survive. But no matter how hard I tried to get my head around all that in the context of the donor support for Harreld, I couldn’t do it. There was just too much cognitive dissonance.
In the end I did work through the problem, and it’s probably helpful in the long term because it made me take off my rose colored glasses and look at the University of Iowa as just another machine. It takes in money at one end and spits out alumni at the other. Later, some of those alumni feed more money in the side door, and the machine coughs up a shiny plaque suitable for framing. Unfortunately, even though I worked through multiple layers of denial in order to understand why the donors made the choices they made, I didn’t like where I ended up. Because where I ended up was with a new president who has no administrative experience in higher education and no ethics. And nobody can explain that away with a checkbook. [ Read more ]