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.
In the previous post about the election of the new University of Iowa president, we discussed three administrative crimes of omission which gave J. Bruce Harreld preferential treatment that no other candidate received. Included was a phone call Harreld received from Governor Terry Branstad, sometime in August; meetings Harreld held with four regents on July 30th, plus dinner that evening with ISU’s President Leath; and a “VIP lunch” and presentation Harreld was afforded on July 8th, which was attended by, among others, search committee member and Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter, search committee chair and acting Iowa President Jean Robillard, and two other members of the search committee.
At some point in the search process a determination was made that it was okay to offer those opportunities to Harreld. To-date, however, Robillard and Rastetter have failed to explain how those determinations were made. Because the weight of evidence suggests that they conspired to deprive other candidates of those opportunities, it is now incumbent on Rastetter, Robillard and even the governor to do what the Cedar Rapids Gazette suggested over a month ago.
It’s not uncommon for university instructors to demand their students thoroughly show their work. Not doing so can result in a lower grade, even if they arrive at the right final answer.
We think the same applies to the Iowa Board of Regents, which voted unanimously to hire Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa. Clearly, the board is convinced that its unconventional choice of a former IBM and Boston Chicken executive with no university administrative experience is the right answer. They may be correct, but we believe the regents have failed to show their work.
Even if we allow, as the Gazette does, that the decision to hire Harreld may have been arrived at fairly, it’s clear that the key decision points remain cloaked in secrecy. Between claims of confidentiality from Parker Executive Search, which the regents hired at twice the normal rate, the confidentiality imposed on the search committee, and the secrecy of the final interviews and vote by the regents, we have only the announcement of their nine-to-nothing vote to go on. What the regents have yet to do is explain how they got to that conclusion by showing their work.
Why is that a problem? Well, again overlooking the fact that wanton favoritism has already been proven, there are a lot of ways to get to a unanimous vote when you know the machinations of that vote will never see the light of day. Too, although five of the regents met face-to-face with Harreld at least once during the selection process — a voting majority, and far more than any other candidate — some regents did not have the opportunity to interview Harreld until the last minute:
Rastetter said the regents were well aware of the concerns raised by the UI faculty. The board received a cautionary Sept. 2 email from UI Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan, the night before the regents’ closed-session interviews with Harreld and the other three finalists for UI president.
“A number of the regents hadn’t even interviewed the candidates when we heard one wasn’t acceptable,” Rastetter said.
While we’ve heard quite a bit from Rastetter, and from Regent Katie Mulholland, and several of the other regents who met with Harreld on July 30th, at least four of the regents are missing from the post-vote conversation. Even though the regents are political appointees, and Govern Branstad went against the intent of the law that created the regents by packing it with political cronies, we also can’t be sure that all of the regents were aware of the special treatment Harreld received.
Did they all know about the phone call from the governor? Did they all know about the meetings in Ames, or the dinner with Leath? Did all of the regents know about the July 8th “VIP lunch”? Because if they didn’t know about those things, and wanted to know about those things, I’m not sure the vote itself can be said to be fully informed. And that’s particularly true given that we don’t know how they finally arrived at their nine-to-nothing decision.
It is a given that the regents as a body are corrupt. It is not a given that all nine members of that board have forgotten what personal integrity means to Iowans. In that silent minority there may be at least one member who is aghast at what was perpetrated in their name, and at how their vote now validates the administrative crimes that were systematically used to elect J. Bruce Harreld.
In the previous two posts we decided that fairness would be our only test for evaluating the search process that resulted in the hiring of J. Bruce Harreld as the next president of the University of Iowa. We also exposed a number of dodges that acting University of Iowa President Jean Robillard and Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter have been using to confuse and obscure the question of fairness. Finally, we looked at how a fair search process would be conducted by a fictional committee determined to meet that test, and in so doing learned that the two critical aspects of a fair search are decision making and communication.
We then compared that fictional committee to the search committee that Rastetter was on and Robillard chaired. In doing so we noted that while it has been clearly established that Rastetter, Robillard and even Governor Branstad gave Harreld preferential treatment, what has been overlooked is that Rastetter and Robillard also subverted the entire committee process. In this post we will consider how administration of the Harreld search would have been done if the search process had been fair to all candidates, and how the search was actually administered.
As we saw in the previous post, if you do something you’re not supposed to do, then lie about it, that’s a crime of commission and a lie of commission. If you don’t do something you’re supposed to do that’s a crime of omission, and if nobody asks you about that crime your silence is a lie of omission.
As you might imagine, it’s much easier to detect and prove crimes of commission precisely because something happened — a physical injury, a loss of funds, property damage. With a crime of omission you have to know that something should have happened to even suspect that a crime took place. Until you do, there’s no chance that you’ll stumble on evidence that leads you to ask the right questions.
In the context of the Harreld hire, the preferential treatment given to Harreld by Rastetter, Robillard and Branstad includes individual and collective administrative crimes of commission. Because those crimes resulted in acts, however — meetings and contacts which took place during the search — they have been exposed and reported by the press over the past few weeks. Prior to that point much of that information was obscured by lies of omission from the various parties, including the protracted lie of omission which encompassed J. Bruce Harreld’s entire presentation at the open forum shortly before the election. (And of course we can’t forget the serial administrative crimes of omission on Harreld’s resume.)
As damning as all that might be, however, those crimes are dwarfed by the administrative crimes of omission that were perpetrated against the search committee itself. What makes identifying those crimes particularly difficult is that nothing Rastetter, Robillard and Branstad failed to do rises to the level of illegality, meaning even though the search was fraudulent, their complicity appears to be nothing more than laziness, incompetence, or typical bureaucratic confusion.
In the previous post we adopted fairness as the sole standard by which we would judge the election of J. Bruce Harreld to be the next president of the University of Iowa. We also noted different dodges that Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter, and acting University of Iowa President Jean Robillard, have been using to explain their preferential treatment of Harreld during the search process, and that their arguments always lead away from or obscure the question of fairness.
So. How do you steal an election? Well, if you’re Robillard, and you’re the chair of the search committee, and you’re Rastetter, and you’re also on the search committee, the first thing you have to do is corrupt the selection process. If you can’t get your candidate — freelance business consultant Harreld — through to the full Board of Regents, which Governor Terry Branstad has thoughtfully packed with political cronies for just such an occasion, then you can’t elect your stooge.
Though I know nothing about hiring anybody for anything, I’m reasonably sure that institutions like the Board of Regents and the University of Iowa hire people all the time, and as a result have mature guidelines and procedures for doing so. And in among all those mature policies I’m guessing there are a lot of do’s and don’t’s, and people on staff who are well-versed in those do’s and don’t’s, including some people called lawyers whose job it is to make sure the do’s happen and the don’t’s don’t. Because the last thing anyone wants in the middle of making a hire is for the appearance of impropriety, let alone actionable impropriety, to rear its ugly head.
Because I’m naive to such things, however, and cannot draw on real-life experience in this post, we’re going to do the next best thing, or the best thing if you prefer fiction to nonfiction. That’s right — we’re going to join an imaginary search committee fraught with the same aggressive recruiting and meticulous due diligence that tormented Robillard and Rastetter during their epic struggle to catch, land, and mount J. Bruce Harreld over the black-and-gold Iowa mantel.
So let’s pretend we’re members of a twenty-one person search committee in a parallel universe, which also happens to be looking for a new university president. I’ll play the part of Bruno Ratsnest, the head of the Board of Regency, which will elect the new president from four finalists chosen by the committee. You’ll be Jacque Bobblehead, the acting president of the university, and because of your loyalty to the regency you get the chair.
Although there are nineteen other members on the committee, because we represent and control both the regency and the university, and have access to crack staffers and legal teams at each institution, we decide to take the lead and do everything we can to conduct a fair search that meets not only every legal requirement, but every ethical test that might leave us vulnerable to the dreaded appearance of impropriety. We’ll not only do that from our point of view as aggressive recruiters, but from the perspective of meticulous candidates doing due diligence. Whatever happens, the one thing we will be sure of is that we are prepared for any eventuality.
Until Thursday of last week I did not know what to think about acting University of Iowa President Jean Robillard. Was he a kindly old doctor manipulated by ruthless Regents President Bruce Rastetter, or a co-conspirator in the fraudulent selection and election of J. Bruce Harreld to be the next president of the University of Iowa? Unfortunately, based on Robillard’s comments on that day the answer seems to be co-conspirator, if not worse.
Predictably, Robillard, Rastetter, Governor Terry Branstad and Harreld himself are doing their best to move on, hoping that the facts of the fraud they perpetrated on the university and the people of Iowa will simply be forgotten. That’s the way corrupt bureaucrats roll, and unless a smoking gun turns up they often get away with their abuses. If there’s no pool of blood, no open wound, no sign of a struggle, then almost any crime can be called progress, while those who cry foul are dismissed as settling for the status quo, being afraid of change, or choosing to fail.
Oddly enough, however, as you’ve probably noticed in your own life, one of the things that bureaucrats are extremely good at is avoiding accountability. I’m not sure if that’s an innate capacity that leads some people to become bureaucrats, or if it’s a skill that’s learned on the job, but if you don’t have that ability you usually end up in another line of work, while the people who cost you your job gets promoted. If you end up in conflict with a bureaucrat you may think you have them dead to rights, but no matter what you do they dodge this way and that until you falter in the courage of your convictions, and then you’re finished. Combine a dodgy disposition with even a moderately complex bureaucracy and it may actually be impossible to figure out who did what, let alone pin anything on anyone.
Fortunately, although the people who hijacked the office of president at the University of Iowa are certainly very dodgy, they’re not lost in the bowels of a massive corporation like GM, Toyota or VW. No. Instead, they’re standing right out in the open on the autumnal grasslands of Iowa, where there’s nowhere to hide, except perhaps in the wintry blades of the governor’s mustache. [ Read more ]
What I hope will be the first of many:
The American Association of University Professors is sending two representatives from its national headquarters in Washington D.C. to Iowa City to launch an inquiry into the search that landed J. Bruce Harreld as the next University of Iowa president.
The inquiry could lead to a full-blown investigation around whether the state Board of Regents breached the association’s values related to shared governance and the selection of administrators.
I guess J. Bruce Harreld was right. Institutions either go up or down.
We just didn’t know he was talking about the Iowa Board of Regents.
— Mark Barrett
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 ]
A little over a week ago the Iowa Board of Regents pushed back hard against growing evidence that there was impropriety in the hiring of J. Bruce Harreld to be the next president of the University of Iowa. In doing so the regents summarily demonstrated that the hire was in fact the definition of impropriety.
On the question of shared governance, one quote from Regent Katie Mulholland crystallized the degree to which the board believed it was obligated to take the opinions of the faculty and staff at Iowa into account.
“In my role as a regent, we honor the shared governance of the university faculty and staff,” Mulholland said. “But shared governance is really different from shared decision-making.”
Now, on first reading that may seem coherent, but as we’ll see it’s actually the kind of bureaucratic doublespeak that long-time administrators use to avoid lying to your face. Because of course lying is uncomfortable and messy and leads to hurt feelings, while doublespeak conceals duplicity and thwarts accountability.
Looking back over the past week it still strikes me as exceedingly odd that Iowa State University President Steven Leath is the only person — as far as I can tell — who has given Regents President Bruce Rastetter even the teensiest alibi against the charge that Rastetter rigged the election of President-elect J. Bruce Harreld at the University of Iowa. It makes sense that the governor would keep his distance, given that part of Rastetter’s role as a political fixer is to be a disposable firewall, and it makes sense that acting Iowa President Jean Robillard would want to keep his options open in case he has to turn on Rastetter to save his own skin, but still — nobody else?
While the motive for Leath’s odd defense of Rastetter isn’t clear, it’s important to note that any implied equivalence between Leath and Harreld is unintended. Where Harreld is completely unqualified to be the president of any educational institution, Leath is not simply qualified, by all accounts he was an excellent hire by the Board of Regents in January of 2012. Admittedly, until a couple of weeks ago I’d never heard of Leath’s name in my life, and if you had asked me to name any current or former president of that fine institution I couldn’t have done so. In looking into Leath’s background, however, it’s not merely impressive, it’s absolutely shocking how qualified he is when compared to the carpetbagging dilettante that the Board of Regents is now foisting on the University of Iowa.
From the ISU website:
From 2007 to 2012, Dr. Leath was Vice President for Research for the University of North Carolina (UNC) General Administration, where he oversaw $1.4 billion in competitive research grants and contracts and promoted research and sponsored programs across the full spectrum of academic disciplines and interdisciplinary activities carried out by UNC’s 16 university campuses. He also oversaw UNC’s inter-institutional centers and was one of the leaders in such highly successful public-private partnerships as the North Carolina Research Campus and the David H. Murdock Research Institute, which he helped establish and led as chief executive officer. He also had active roles in the North Carolina State University Centennial Campus and the Research Triangle Park.
During his research career, Dr. Leath published nearly 100 scientific articles in plant disease resistance, plant pathology, plant breeding, and related fields.
Wow! And we got this guy?
How is it that only three years ago the Iowa Board of Regents managed to choose an eminently qualified academician with long administrative experience at an institution of higher learning to head Iowa State University, but now, in choosing the new president at the University of Iowa, they passed over three eminently qualified academicians with long administrative experience at institutions of higher learning in order to choose a guy who can’t tell the truth, who takes credit for other people’s work, and who can’t spell?
The answer is that the board which elected the fully qualified Leath is not the board that elected the utterly unqualified Harreld. In fact, between Leath’s hire in January of 2012 and Harreld’s hire in September of 2015, only two board members remain of the nine who hired Leath. Those members are Regents President Bruce Rastetter, and Regent Katie Mulholland, who famously uttered this defense of the improper special treatment given to J. Bruce Harreld during the hiring process:
“I don’t think that we knew any more about (Harreld) based on (those meetings) than we did about the other candidates based on their curriculum vitae, which were extensive,” Mulholland said.
To that toxic core of two, seven new regents have been added in the past two and a half years. Because each regent serves a six year term, those seven will remain in office for another three and a half years, minimum. (The terms of Rastetter and Mulholland expire in a year and a half, assuming they aren’t reappointed.)
It’s also interesting that at the same time when Governor Branstad was packing the regents with new appointees, the regents were also refusing to give University of Iowa President Sally Mason a new contract, while simultaneously going back on their own word about the length of contracts that would be offered to presidents at the state’s schools:
The question about Mason working at will was raised last week when the board awarded a five-year contract to Iowa State University President Steven Leath, who also received a 7.123 percent raise to $500,000. Mason received a 2.5 percent boost in salary to $525,828 but was not offered a contract. William Ruud, who just completed his first year as president of the University of Northern Iowa, is currently on a three-year contract and received a 2.5 percent raise, bringing his salary to $348,400.
The board awarded the salaries following performance evaluations of the three state university presidents. The raises go into effect July 1.
After granting Mason a 4 percent raise last summer but no new contract, regents leaders said the board did not intend to offer university presidents contract extensions beyond an initial three-year term. Leath has led ISU since January 2012 on a three-year contract.
Yep, that’s your Iowa Board of Regents. So desperate to have a lapdog at Iowa that they actually froze out the previous president, went back on their word, then committed a fraudulent hire.
Again, I know absolutely nothing about Leath, and I have no idea why he threw a feeble alibi to a political shark, but honestly, Leath has my sympathies. Whatever else he thought he was getting when he took the ISU job, he ended up with Rastetter chained up just across the street, and I’m guessing that’s not a lot of fun.
The agribusiness owned by Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter was awarded $480,000 in no-interest loans from an Iowa State University center a few months after he joined the school’s governing board, records show. The loans from the Iowa Energy Center helped Summit Farms LLC finance the $990,000 cost of installing wind turbines at its corporate office and two hog confinements.
The worst I can say about Leath is that he’s doing a good job advocating for his own school, and after sizing up Harreld at their celebrated dinner I’m guessing he’s licking his chops at the prospect of getting his hands on a big chunk of the U. of I. budget in the coming years. So good for him. Well played.
— Mark Barrett
If you read the previous post you probably found yourself thinking something like this….
Pshaw, Mark. Why would a US Attorney call up Iowa State University President Steven Leath, just to ask him if he really was the one who came up with the idea of having dinner with J. Bruce Harreld, on a day when Harreld was in Ames at Regents President Bruce Rastetter’s behest, meeting with four other regents at Rastetter’s business office, and benefiting from face time that was not made available to any of the other finalists for the position of president of the University of Iowa?
Well, that’s a fair question — if perhaps also a bit verbose — but we’ll get to the answer momentarily.
The Hen House
More broadly, you may be wondering why someone in the United States government would even care if a small group of corrupt bureaucrats hijacked the election of a university president. Don’t the feds have enough to deal with, what with every other thing going to hell in a handcart twice a week? Well, yes they do. But.
The thing about the federal government is that it doesn’t mind blowing money on its own terms, but it really doesn’t like it when somebody steps in and does so without permission. It’s kind of like how you feel about your own bank account. If you go on a drunken bender and drop $2,000 that you can’t account for when the weekend is over, well, there’s an important life lesson, or maybe six. On the other hand, if somebody steals twenty dollars from your wallet, chances are you’re going to make a federal case out of it, and rightly so.
While there are lots of colleges and universities across the country, most of them are not major research institutions. And while I don’t have a handy graphic that defines ‘major’ in that context, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars each year in federal money alone, that you belong in that category. And the University of Iowa does that, every year. In 2015 the University of Iowa will bring in about $232,000,000, while in 2014 the total amount of federal money was just over $250,000,000. Add in private donations and state money, and each year over $500,000,000 flows into the University of Iowa.
On the federal front various departments are represented by those funds, from Health and Human Services to Education to the National Science Foundation to NASA to Defense. As you might expect, that money also comes with various strings and expectations, and even a few security clearances here and there. Among the expectations is the assumption that nobody will run off with, divert, monkey around with, broker, or leverage said funds for other purposes. So you can understand why the federal government might want to have confidence in whoever is accepting all those checks strewn with zeroes. In fact, they actually pay people to follow up on such things, to make sure there’s no hanky-panky going on. [ Read more ]