While speaking at an open forum as one of four finalists for the open presidency at the University of Iowa, J. Bruce Harreld made no mention of his visit to the University of Iowa campus two months earlier. Only after his unanimous election by the Board of Regents was it revealed that he had visited the state with his wife, and that he had met with both the president of the Board of Regents, Bruce Rastetter, and the head of the search committee and acting president, Jean Robillard, as well as two more members of the search committee who were hastily added at the last minute.
It has been reported that at the time Harreld was not a candidate for the position, and that Robillard simply invited him to speak to a small group of people at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics*, but that narrative is now falling apart.
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.”
Mary Harreld’s itinerary was not provided, but included a tour of the new Hancher construction site.
“Mary and I truly appreciate your showing her the campus and especially the soon to be finished Hancher Performing Arts Center,” Harreld replied. “We look forward to meeting you.”
One reason it’s important for Rastetter and Robillard to stick to the narrative that Harreld was not a candidate at that point is that it could fairly be noted that the treatment afforded Harreld was not uniformly afforded to other candidates. The reason that narrative is now falling apart is that it strains credulity that Harreld’s wife was given a tour of the campus for any reason other than to show her the campus that her husband would be presiding over only two short months later.
Another reason it’s important to cling to any remaining shred of plausible deniability about Harreld’s status as a candidate is that it means Rastetter and Robillard did nothing wrong by failing to notify the full twenty-one-person search committee that Harreld was in town and being considered for the job:
During a meeting Thursday of the UI chapter of the American Association of University Professors, faculty members discussed the summer visit. Two members of the search committee said they learned of it in the newspaper.
“I didn’t know … and I think there are others who were completely unaware of this,” said one of them, Dorothy Johnson, a UI art history professor. “I’m learning things in the paper I had no knowledge of even though I was on the search committee.”
As is always the case when dealing with politically appointed bureaucrats and their collaborators the details are both mind-numbing and critical, but you can find an excellent summary of the ever-evolving narrative of Harreld’s visit here.
After Rastetter and Robillard both promised an open and transparent hiring process, and despite the fact that the regents were taken to court eight years ago for conducting a presidential search in violation of the law (which they lost), and after J. Bruce Harreld himself spoke at the university and talked about shared governance, transparency and building trust, it is readily apparent that neither Rastetter, Robillard or Harreld knows what transparency means, what shared governance means, or how to build trust with anyone except themselves. And of course with Mary Harreld.
* If you are not familiar with the UIHC, what you need to know is that it is a massive cutting-edge teaching hospital with resources and staff that rival any hospital complex in the world. On any given day there must be dozens of people giving talks on different subjects, none of whom would be contacted by the acting president’s chief of staff, none of whom would have a sit-down with the acting president (who was at that time also head of the presidential search committee), none of whom would meet with the president of the regents (whose body would soon vote on the candidate of their choice), and none of whom’s spouses would be given a tour of the campus even if they tagged along on such a junket, which they likely would not.
— Mark Barrett