You feel violated. You trusted in a process that proved corrupt and you trusted in people who proved corrupt. You know a wrong has been perpetrated but there’s no smoking gun — not even a broken pane of glass you can point to as tangible evidence of a crime. Instead, you’re left with a void, and you’re now trying to comprehend that void using your intellect, which has always sustained you. And that’s your first mistake.
When you’re victimized you may go through a period of dissociation or cognitive dissonance, where no matter how hard you try you can’t get your view of the world to match up with what happened. And that’s particularly true if you were betrayed in the process. If you’re a peace-loving sort and someone you know slaps you across the face, you may be stunned by that assault, not just physically but mentally. If you’re an honest person and someone you know takes money out of your wallet, then laughs in your face because it will be your word against theirs, you may be incredulous, but you may also find yourself numbly agreeing with their logic. If you’ve devoted your life to the search for truth and a small gang of thugs in blue blazers steals an election by corrupting key points in the electoral process, you may find yourself trying to rationalize that abuse simply because you can’t comprehend the audacity of the deceit.
If you are a good person all of those reactions are normal. Unfortunately, the bad people in the world will use your goodness against you to perpetrate crime after crime. Which brings us to the Board of Regents and their unanimous decision to hire J. Bruce Harreld as the next president of the University of Iowa.
You are now being told that the hiring process was open and transparent when you know it was not, that the perpetrators of that violation care about shared governance when they clearly do not, and that it’s time for everyone to pull together and help the newly elected, unqualified, carpetbagging dilettante who is about to be installed in office actually learn how to do the job he is now being paid $4,000,000 to do. Yet as a good person you may still be thinking there is some plausible justification for why a small group of fine, upstanding thugs behaved so reprehensibly.
What you are now being asked to do is to participate in the violation of trust that was perpetrated against you, and you are being asked to do that for two reasons. First, so you can no longer protest that abuse, and second so you will be complicit in the abuse yet to come. If you are on the faculty or staff, or are a student at the University of Iowa, what just happened is a violation of your trust and you should not forget that. The election of J. Bruce Harreld was not the result of a fair and open process of inclusion, but a bald abuse of power by Governor Terry Branstad, by the president of the Board of Regents, Bruce Rastetter, by the acting university president, Jean Robillard, and by the newly elected president himself, J. Bruce Harreld.
The Truth and the Law
You feel deceived. You’ve made your way in life using the power of your mind and the clarity of your words to search for truth. Now you’re being buried in a blizzard of denials and assertions that you can’t intuit, parse, deconstruct.
What you need to know is that none of those words mean anything. Nothing that Governor Terry Branstad or Regents President Bruce Rastetter or acting president Jean Robillard or newly elected president J. Bruce Harreld will ever say can be trusted, and most of what they have said and are saying is designed to get you to do exactly what you’re doing — to doubt yourself, or to waste time looking for a smoking gun that doesn’t exist. The words coming at you are not designed to enlighten, they are designed to distract, like a military aircraft dropping flares to ward off incoming missiles.
If you’re having a debate with someone, and what you care about is the truth, and what they care about is power, money or just plain ego, what weight should you give that other person’s words? Should you assume that your objective is their objective, or is that a fallacy on your part?
Everyone uses language to get what they want, but that commonality of means does not imply a commonality of ends. As a professional educator or student, you’re used to using language to probe and test ideas. That’s what you’re paid to do if you’re a teacher, and why you’re in college if you’re a student. That’s not what people in business or politics use language for. They use language to make money and wield power, often at the same time. Yes, there are laws about such things, but if you’re committed to winning above all else you can even get around the law.
From the point of view of business and politics, while not everyone is corrupt, the only thing that matters is whether an action — an actual deed — is illegal or not. Or, more accurately, provably illegal. From that perspective it literally does not matter what a businessperson says or what a politician says. Unless you’ve got a promise in writing you’ve got nothing, because the only real test is whether an act or deed will hold up in court. Yes, people in business and politics pay lip service to customers and citizens, but in the end the only thing they fear — the only authority that gives them pause — is the legal system. Not the law, but the legal system.
Which is of course why people in business and politics often work as hard at undermining the legal system as they do at selling goods or implementing policy. If there’s only one obstacle keeping you from unbridled power, then weakening, co-opting or corrupting that obstacle is going to be a top priority. If you’re in business, maybe you bend the law legally, through campaign contributions and brokering power behind the scenes. Or maybe you do it illegally, by paying people off or threatening to reveal them in compromising situations. If you’re in politics maybe you bend the law legally, by appointing people to the courts who share your views. Or maybe you do it illegally by taking bribes. Or, if you’re really corrupt, maybe you just make up laws to suit your needs.
As a student or educator or someone who believes in education as an end in itself, none of that has any meaning to you. You do not sit around thinking about how to avoid, pervert or corrupt the legal system. You are not concerned about whom to pay off or how to pay them off or having an army of lawyers on staff in case you get caught paying someone off, or even about seizing political power so you can corrupt the legal system from the inside out. That is not how you think.
Unfortunately, the people who only fear the legal system know that about you, and they will always use that against you. What you care about is an ideal. The only use they have for the law is using it as a means to their own business or political ends, which is why they’re so good at evading it, corrupting it and breaking it.
Watch What They Do
You feel confused. You look at the countless hours spent searching for a new president, all the conversations, the planning, the interviews, and every bit of it was a sham. And yet you still can’t get your mind around what you missed. How did you not see this coming?
Again, the core of the problem is your reliance on words. For you, words have meaning. For the politicians and businesspersons who committed this betrayal words mean nothing. That is in fact the whole point of using language in business and politics. You don’t tell people the truth, you tell them what they want to hear so they will buy your products or vote for you, or let their guard down so you can exploit them or deceive them.
Talk to any diplomat about how they practice their craft — and diplomacy is a craft — and they will tell you to watch what they do, not what they say. And they’re right. Whether you’re talking to diplomats, politicians or businesspersons, the words that come out of their mouths are only a means to an end. It doesn’t matter what they say, it only matters what they do.
In the case of the Harreld hire, you can see that dynamic on flagrant display at the top of the political and business food chain by looking at what Governor Terry Branstad said and what he did. Here’s what Branstad said:
Branstad also said he was not involved in the decision to choose Harreld, a former IBM executive.
Here’s what Branstad did:
It also appears Rastetter recruited Gov. Terry Branstad to respond personally to Harreld’s question to the Regents about the governor’s support of the university. If there was any doubt about the political linkage between Rastetter’s Regents’ role and the governor, Branstad’s phone call eliminated it. The sequence of events gives every impression of favorable treatment and foregone conclusion for Harreld’s hiring.
Because he’s a clever guy, the governor said that he had nothing to do with the decision to choose Harreld, but he clearly did have something to do with Harreld being chosen. The governor spoke to only one candidate, and that candidate was J. Bruce Harreld. Note also that the governor did not simply accept a call from Harreld, or make time for a call from Harreld in the middle of his busy schedule, but that the governor himself put in a call to Harreld.
So how can the governor square his claim that he played no part in the hiring process, even as he only spoke to one candidate, and that candidate was J. Bruce Harreld? Well obviously he can’t, but he doesn’t care about that. Politically, the governor has to insist that he played no part in the hiring process in order to establish plausible deniability, so that’s why he said what he said, even as that claim is in direct conflict with what he actually did. Unless there’s a federal investigation and the governor is put under oath, however, he knows there’s no price to pay for appearing incoherent in the eyes of the citizens that he technically serves.
In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that the governor proved exactly that when he himself called for a federal investigation into the shadowy conspiracy besmirching the good name of pink slime.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad decried the controversy that has arisen in recent weeks over finely textured lean meat at his press conference Monday, repeatedly referring to criticism as a “smear campaign” and vowing to “expose the people behind this.”
The beef product – which is treated with ammonia and known derisively as “pink slime”— is used as a filler in ground beef. It has been the subject of a nationwide controversy over its use in fast-food products, store-bought meat and school lunches.
Yes, that’s right — when it was disclosed that meat served to children was being intentionally exposed to ammonia, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad sided with the ammonia-meat suppliers and against the kids. And why wouldn’t he? Exposing meat to ammonia was approved by the government as safe for consumption.
On Monday, he called the outcry against the meat product a misinformation conspiracy by “people who don’t like meat” that has been abetted by “Hollywood,” “media elites” and “celebrity chefs” and disseminated via social networks.
“We need to expose this,” Branstad said. “And, more importantly, I’ve asked the congressman to work to see if we can get a congressional investigation as to who’s behind this smear campaign.”
Branstad was referring to U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Republican who represents western Iowa and sits on the House Agriculture Committee. The governor said he’s also talked with U.S. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, and will reach out to the chairman of the Agriculture committee, U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma, about the possibility of an investigation.
“We need to get to the bottom of this,” he said. “We need to find who’s behind it and why they’re doing it.”
Befitting a politician with no interest in the voters who elected him to office, Governor Branstad could not comprehend that the people behind the outcry over pink slime were ordinary citizens who were shocked to learn that it was legal to feed meat that had been exposed to ammonia to human beings. Which is why it should not shock you that Governor Branstad has no interest in what anyone — including the faculty, staff and students at the University of Iowa — thinks about his incoherent position on the hiring of J. Bruce Harreld.
And yet…despite the governor’s incoherence and perfectly consistent disinterest, as an Iowan I confess that his complicity still shocked me. Until a couple of weeks ago, if I ever thought about the legacy of six-time Iowa Governor Terry Branstad at all, it was probably as the pink slime guy. One thought that never entered my mind, however, was that his political career would culminate in a desecration of the core value of the state of Iowa.
While certainly dominant in agriculture, education has been a core principle in the state of Iowa since long before I was born. Whether reflected in the widespread national use of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, the presence of ACT in Iowa City, or the state’s own cultural tradition, the education of young minds has been a sacred trust. And yet given the chance to continue that great history, Governor Branstad either permitted or prompted his politically appointed crony on the Board of Regents, Bruce Rastetter, to ignore the educational needs of the students at the University of Iowa in preference of political machinations and business interests. Just as the Governor was completely oblivious to, or openly hostile to, the concerns of citizens when it was disclosed that industry and government were conspiring to intentionally expose their meat product to ammonia.
The Case for J. Bruce Harreld
You feel conflicted. When confronted with the proposition that businesspeople should not automatically be excluded from leadership positions at institutions of higher learning, your life-long penchant for reason takes hold before you can even question the premise. In response to opinions of support for Harreld that verge on claims of victimization against such candidates, you remember that the question is not generic but specific, as ably articulated by a member of the faculty at the University of Iowa.
Does this mean we cannot imagine someone from the business world as an effective university leader? No. It means the university community concluded, after assessing his resume and his performance during his campus visit, that this particular candidate was not equipped for the job.
What are the qualifications that made J. Bruce Harreld’s irresistible to the Board of Regents? Well, we don’t know, because the vast majority of the regents aren’t talking. But in presenting himself at an open forum Harreld talked about his time at IBM and how he helped turn that massive corporation around. While he wasn’t the CEO, and there are hundreds of people who were employed at IBM during that same time frame who could make the same claim, it is possible that he played a key role.
Before that, from 1995 to 2008, he served as senior vice president for New York-based IBM, working with the CEO to “chart the organization’s transformation from near bankruptcy.”
Among his accomplishments there, Harreld boasts leading a business transformation team “that streamlined operations and reintegrated the global organization” and creating the firm’s “emerging business organization” that produced more than $15 billion in new, profitable revenue across 20 new businesses.
Should we trust Harreld’s claims? Unfortunately, when relating his experience as a businessman Harreld’s word is already suspect.
According to the CV provided by the Board of Regents, Harreld lists himself as managing principal for a firm called Executing Strategy LLC, out of Avon, Colo., advising public, private, and military organizations on “leadership, organic growth, and strategic renewal.”
But no business with that name is registered with the Secretary of State’s Office in Colorado, and representatives with an Avon-area chamber of commerce said they have no knowledge of the business. An Executing Strategy LLC was registered with the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 2009 under the signatory James Bruce Harreld, but it was dissolved earlier this year.
Harreld, according to public records, on Feb. 6, 2013, filed three mandatory annual reports for the business for the years 2010, 2011, and 2012. But no reports have been filed since, and the secretary of the commonwealth on June 30 took action to dissolve the business, which listed its services provided as consulting, strategy, implementation, marketing, and turnaround advice.
And then of course there was the time that he was named as a defendant:
He was president and member of the board for Boston Market Company in Golden, Colo., from 1993 to 1995, working with five partners to grow the organization from 20 stores in the Boston area to more than 1,100 stores nationally, according to his CV.
In 1995, Harreld was listed as a defendant in a lawsuit accusing him and other corporate leaders of insider trading and conflict of interest. That initial lawsuit was dismissed, but plaintiffs persisted and the case eventually settled.
Because of the mix of duties facing any university president, it has been argued by Harreld’s advocates that a businessperson can do the job as well or better than someone stepped in administrative experience at an institution of higher learning. While a bold claim, it is obvious that there must be some minimum qualifications involved. For example, while a hot dog vendor is a businessperson, I don’t think Bruce Rastetter or Jean Robillard would have put a hot dog vendor up for the position even if the governor had ordered them to.
Unfortunately, even if we assume that Harreld is not simply a guy who helped turn IBM around but the guy, as he and his supporters allege, that only prompts more confusion. If J. Bruce Harreld really is a transformative figure in American business history, and really is capable of leading transformative change in any institution, why is he coming off multiple years as a struggling freelance consultant who can’t remember the legal name under which he is doing business?
More importantly, if you single-handedly saved IBM from itself less than a decade ago, why are you not in constant demand around the globe? While Harreld is slated to make $600,000 a year as the president of the University of Iowa, he could probably make $600,000 a month turning Greece around, with the EU kicking in a healthy bonus for keeping the Euro from tanking. If Harreld truly is a wizard at transformational change, and if he literally does not need to know anything about the institutions he changes, why wouldn’t Greece want him to solve their crushing problems?
Which is when you realize that the real problem with J. Bruce Harreld is the same problem you have with palm reading and astrology. Even if you are willing to believe that your fortune can be foretold by the lines on your hand or the stars in the sky, what are the odds that someone with that ability would be selling those secrets for forty bucks a crack? Or $600,000 a year at a Big Ten university? If you really are wired into the secrets of the universe — and better yet, if you’re the only one who is — aren’t you going to use that power to solve global problems? Or at least make out like a bandit? Unless of course you’re not imbued with mystical knowledge, in which case what you’re purporting is nothing more than a con aimed at suckers.
The Three Qualified Businessmen
You feel incensed. Given four finalists for the job, three of them undeniably qualified to lead an institution of higher learning, the regents unanimously picked the fourth, who is undeniably not qualified to lead an institution of higher learning. The stated rationale for that contrarian decision is that J. Bruce Harreld’s business acumen fits perfectly with the business responsibilities of a university president, and that he can pick up all the academic stuff during late-night cramming sessions with the various department heads.
But there’s a problem with that logic, and it’s a problem that’s easy to overlook. If heading up a university necessarily requires some business skills, which is clearly what the regents are claiming with their pick, then anyone already doing that work must necessarily be demonstrating those same business skills. Which means, by definition, that the other three finalists who were passed over in preference of Harreld already have the specific business experience that Harreld must now learn. So not only does Harreld have to learn about the core educational mission at Iowa, which none of the other candidates needed remedial help with, and not only does he need to learn about the core healthcare mission at Iowa, which two of the other finalists did not need remedial help with because their universities include teaching medical facilities, but Harreld must also be brought up to speed on the actual business workings of a university, which none of the other candidates needed remedial help with.
All of which means that the only conceivable advantage to bringing in an outside businessperson, rather than someone already stepped in the business of higher education, would be any unique experience that such a candidate had which was also applicable to the job of running a university. Yet in the case of J. Bruce Harreld we find nothing other than feeble claims of strategic thinking and team-building expertise, which are not only qualities the other three candidates have necessarily demonstrated in their own careers, but ones they have put to long use in the business of higher education. Nothing J. Bruce Harreld has done prepares him to work in education or healthcare, which is also demonstrably the core of any ancillary business that the University of Iowa might be involved in. If the regents wanted to hire not simply the absolute worst candidate of the four finalists, but someone less qualified than thousands of accomplished individuals currently administrating and conducting business in higher education across the country, they could not have done a better job if they hired a corpse. And yet the Board of Regents unerringly and unanimously decided that J. Bruce Harreld was their man.
If you’re in academia and you’re watching this farce unfold, what do you think? Do you think, gosh, that University of Iowa is some forward-thinking institution! Or do you think, gosh, the people who made that hire are idiots! Or maybe you’re thinking, wow, if that can happen there, that can happen here! Tellingly, the most that anyone has said in defending the Harreld hire is that the regents have the right to gamble $4,000,000 on someone who demonstrably does not know how to do the job he’s about to take on, and anyone who says otherwise is an anti-business bigot.
And what if you’re one of the three fully qualified candidates who were passed over? After all the time and effort you put into the hiring process — all the interviews, the meetings, the phone calls, the presentations that you painstakingly prepared for — you lose out to a guy who couldn’t hand in a factually accurate c.v.? What would you think if that happened to you, or if you were someone else and thinking about working at the University of Iowa? Does the way those candidates were treated help the University of Iowa recruit the best and the brightest, or make it look toxic?
The people who made this hire not only gave J. Bruce Harreld special treatment and access that other candidates did not receive, they treated those other candidates like dirt by making them foils in this sham. And if they were willing to do that to them they’re willing to do that to anybody including you. Whoever you are, they do not care how qualified you are or how respected you are. All they care about is how quickly they can scrape you off the bottom of their shoes.
J. Bruce Harreld and Risk
You feel vulnerable. And you should. To truly understand the Harreld hire from the point of view of the governor, Terry Branstad, the president of the Board of Regents, Bruce Rastetter, the acting president and head of the search committee, Jean Robillard, and J. Bruce Harreld himself, consider this quote regarding the search for a new president at the University of North Carolina:
Jan Greenwood, a former university president and consultant for Greenwood/Asher & Associates — the search firm used in the University of Florida’s 2014 system president search — said candidates aim to be successful in whatever the board hopes to accomplish.
“It’s really measuring the match, if you will — the match between what the person has done and wants to do with what the university wants to have done,” she said.
The regents’ perfect match turned out to be a president ignorant of his core responsibilities, with no ties to the school or state, who will dutifully pull the levers of power at the University of Iowa on behalf of frustrated powerbrokers in Des Moines. In that context J. Bruce Harreld is a literal tool, and demonstrably so because his main qualification for the job is that he has no idea what he’s doing. The complete absence of any administrative experience at an institution of higher learning, when that is the core of the president’s job, makes clear that all of the people involved have zero interest in that responsibility, yet that cavalier lack of concern raises more concerns.
Did anyone vet this hire from the point of view of risk mitigation? No? Because if you go out of your way to hire someone who knows nothing about the job they’re supposed to do, it seems to me that you’re opening the door to claims that you do not care about that part of your ‘business’. And some of those claims might be legal.
If the NFL has finally been forced to acknowledge culpability in exposing its players to CTE, the recent release of the AAU Campus Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct should make clear that colleges and universities need to have real programs and assets in place to discourage what can only be described as an epidemic of sexual assault. And not just because it’s the right thing to do to keep students safe. The day isn’t far off when some student’s parents — who either have the money to hire a scary team of lawyers, or who are a scary team of lawyers — are going to drop a very public lawsuit on a well-endowed school for failing to protect their child.
So what did the Iowa Board of Regents do to mitigate that risk? They intentionally hired a man who has no experience dealing which such issues, who does not understand the culture in which such issues have been allowed to fester, and by the very nature of his own duplicitous conduct as a candidate cannot build trust with the people he needs to build trust with in order to make meaningful change.
Now, I’m no attorney, but the phrase willful disregard keeps popping up in my head. Or maybe it’s contributory negligence. Or dereliction of duty. Or aiding and abetting. (I’m not sure, but it’s definitely one of those.) In fact, if you were an attorney and you were looking to sue a school on behalf of a victim of sexual assault, or even to make that your cottage industry, I think you would have to long look at the University of Iowa because protecting the students on campus doesn’t seem to be a pressing concern for Governor Branstad, Regents President Bruce Rastetter, acting president Jean Robillard, or incoming president J. Bruce Harreld.
Yes, it’s probably a long shot that such a suit would happen, but it was a long shot that an unqualified candidate with provable falsehoods on his resume would end up being elected president, so I guess we have to consider these things. If something awful did happen, what would Harreld’s defense be on the stand? While he could obviously plead ignorance, and a jury would undoubtedly find him completely believable, I’m not sure that’s the legacy he’s looking for as president of the University of Iowa. Or, more to the point, that such a defense would shield the school.
And what about Rastetter for that matter? What is he going to say when a lawyer asks him, under oath, why he turned down three candidates with long experience dealing with such matters, who have spoken forcefully and knowledgeably about the subject of sexual assault on campus, and instead decided to hire the frozen pizza guy?
And as long as we’re on the subject of bringing business expertise to the world of higher education, is it possible that someone could file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of multiple victims? What would that do for the reputation of the University of Iowa? How would the donors and the businesses already associated with the school react to something like that? Again, I’m not an attorney, and I’m not a businessperson, but if I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that lawyers can also be real entrepreneurs. If businesspeople can think of universities as just another asset to be exploited for profit, it won’t be long before a few legal sharks reach the same conclusion and start looking for an easy target. And the regents just made the University of Iowa a sitting hawk.
Buzzwords R Us
You feel manipulated. And why wouldn’t you? How could three completely qualified candidates — academically and in terms of the business responsibilities at any university — be passed over? What did J. Bruce Harreld have going for him that those candidates lacked?
The one thing they lacked, other than preferential treatment, seems to be a catchy marketing campaign, and a bunch of insiders parroting that messaging as if it was meaningful. Like the staid academics they are, those other candidates mistakenly relied on the fact that they were qualified for the job, when even a glance at the political world will tell you that such requirements are no longer culturally in force. What matters today are views and likes, and making sure that you control the dialogue.
Consider the rhetorical climate in which the search took place. For some reason, Regents President Bruce Rastetter took to describing the University of Iowa as an out-of-sync, antiquated, ponderous, calcified monstrosity in need of complete overhaul. Why would he do that? Why would he keep harping on the idea that the status quo wasn’t good enough? Well, oddly enough, somebody asked him, and he didn’t have much of an answer.
Bruce Rastetter over the past few weeks has repeatedly said, “The status quo is unacceptable” at the University of Iowa.
But what does that mean?
The Board of Regents president, answering questions about the recent hiring of businessman Bruce Harreld as UI president, has explained that he doesn’t have “a long laundry list” in mind.
Not only did Rastetter not have a detailed plan to fix the generally satisfactory status quo, if you read the whole piece you’ll see that his only real interest is the bottom line. Questions of culture, education and patient care don’t seem to be a priority except insofar as they drive a revenue stream which can them be exploited. You know, because that’s the whole point of having schools and hospitals in the first place.
Speaking of which, if money really is the root of all reason, why are the players who were so hot to hire J. Bruce Harreld all sucking on the government teat? Why are they not all working in the private sector, facing ruthless competition at every turn? Instead, they all have milk running down their chins, even as they decry the milk that keeps the University of Iowa healthy. And why is J. Bruce Harreld so eager to start sucking right alongside them? Again, if this is the guy who single-handedly saved IBM from itself, why is he interested in a job hamstrung with obligations like educating students and treating the sick? Instead of sucking harder, why don’t these pro-business visionaries get out and let the University of Iowa keep doing the damn fine job it’s always done taking care of those constituencies? (Status quo indeed.)
One possibility — and granted, it’s only a theory — is that perhaps the consulting business Harreld started after saving IBM from itself just never took off. Maybe people had a hard time believing he was the pivotal figure in the history of that company that he portrayed himself to be. Having been a freelancer myself I can tell you it’s a tough grind, and maybe, coming from the corporate world, Harreld wasn’t up to the challenge. Or maybe he just didn’t bring in enough revenue to meet his monthly nut, so he started looking around for something a bit more stable and lucrative.
Still, to be fair, he did get an invite from Jean Robillard, acting head of the university and head of the presidential search committee, to speak at UIHC two months before being elected president. While Robillard and Rastetter insist that Harreld was not a candidate for president at the time, they also both felt, incongruously, that it was important at the last minute to invite two other members of the search committee to meet Harreld when he spoke.
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.
Could it be that the force with which Harreld spoke on the subject of sustaining success proved transformational for Bruce Rastetter? Is that when he suddenly started talking about the University of Iowa being stuck in the status quo?
Harreld’s visit, first reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education, raises more questions about whether he was given special treatment during the search. Critics say Harreld was unqualified but the Iowa Board of Regents hired him anyway.
Robillard told the Chronicle that he wanted the former IBM executive to offer his perspective on organizational leadership. Rastetter has dismissed criticism as resistance to change, saying Harreld was chosen for his strategic thinking and team building skills.
Because if that’s the case that transformation should be in the record, in the rhetoric used to champion not just J. Bruce Harreld himself but the overarching cause. If Harreld really did sell Rastetter on the importance of transformational change, then Rastetter’s comments about the university should have changed after that important meeting. On the other hand, if Rastetter was using that language before Harreld appeared on the scene, it might be argued that he was doing so to prime and justify Harreld’s eventual candidacy. Either that, or the most wonderful coincidence occurred in the lives of those two men, with Rastetter desperately seeking transformational change and Harreld appearing at the exact right moment to deliver Rastetter’s tortured soul.
What magical elixir might Harreld have cast over his audience on that day? Well, we don’t know because nobody taped his talk, but from his performance at an open forum for faculty and staff, prior to the election, we can get a sense of his vision. And one of J. Bruce Harreld’s very biggest of big ideas seems to be moving organizations from ‘great to greater’.
What does that mean? Well, obviously it means nothing. It’s a buzzphrase, designed to first compliment (great) and then entice (greater). Which, in the world of freelance consultants and business gurus usually involves hiring that individual to make sure you get all the greaterness you deserve. Great and greater are also wonderful euphemisms for rich and richer, but without all the baggage that comes with acknowledging greed, so right there you can tell Harreld knows how to motivate, build teams and think strategically. Unfortunately, that may also be why ‘great to greater’ has little appeal for academics, because they long ago decided that life isn’t only about economic success.
So how do you go from great to greater? Through — and here is where Harreld closes the deal — transformational change. Sure, it sounds redundant, but only to the uninitiated. Where lots of people go about making small, incremental changes, perhaps to make sure they don’t break something that is otherwise working just fine, real visionaries understand that change must be transformational because that’s where the real consulting money is. Moving the pillows around on your couch is meaningless change. Transformational change means setting that couch on fire and buying a new one with the insurance money. And really, who could be against that? You get a brand new couch!
It is truly amazing how fortunate the regents were that Harreld was available, instead of plying his amazing talents somewhere else. To think that a humble Midwestern school somehow found the one guy able to solve its problems, when that guy had apparently been overlooked by everyone else for years! How it flatters us to have such keen judgment. If you want to go from great to greater, and you want to get there through transformational change, J. Bruce Harreld is the guy, and we’ve got him! And for only $4,000,000!!!
So how exactly is Harreld positioned to lead transformational change at the University of Iowa? Well, he’s not. But if the faculty and staff can teach him how to do his job, then he will be.
Rastetter echoed Harreld’s pledge to help get the university back to its core mission of teaching and research. Because his most extensive experience in academia has been as a lecturer at the Harvard Business School, Harreld said he will be looking to the faculty to serve as mentors and teachers to show him what changes need to be made to allow professors to get back to those two main activities.
And there you go. Transformational change.
What You Can Do
You feel vengeful. How you express your displeasure, however, will have a lot to do with your relationship with the university.
Protesting is tough these days because everybody’s so busy. Yes, you can use social media to raise a ruckus on social media, but that’s nothing like a good old fashioned sit-in. Unfortunately, sit-ins only attract the attention of the press and whoever’s chair you’re occupying, and you clearly want more reach.
The good news is that buzzwords aren’t just for the elites who are cashing your tuition checks. In fact, unlike everybody else in this cluster, you’re unique because you’re paying for the privilege of having a frozen-food executive as your next president. That gives you a lot of options, particularly if you’re savvy enough to seize the bevvy of marketing opportunities suddenly before you.
One way to prime the pump is to get other students to invest themselves emotionally, ideally when they’re all in the same place at the same time so scheduling takes care of itself. Fortuitously, here are the Hawkeye home football games before J. Bruce Harreld takes office on November 2nd:
- Saturday, October 10th, 11 a.m., versus Illinois
- Saturday, October 31st, TBD, versus Maryland
Obviously these are not marquee games so they probably won’t be widely televised, but still – there will be plenty of powerbrokers in the stands and skyboxes, and it might be fun to let them know how you feel. Say, by repeating a boisterous, good-natured chant:
Hey — Ho
J. Bruce Harreld
Has GOT to GO!
In fact, if you get that chant going once or twice you can take a short video that will remind you of the moment for years to come, or, perhaps even serve as a social-media commercial for your follow-up merch! As you know, there’s nothing better than a protest t-shirt, particularly when it makes it easy to identify people of like minds, or to remember a cherished moment from Kinnick.
How about a Reagan-era throwback, complete with the kind of comic touch that makes opposition seem like entertainment? In fashionable black and gold, of course.
to J. Bruce Harreld
And remember — you’re not being disrespectful, you’re being an entrepreneur!
If that takes off you can then take a page from the greatest business book of all time and print up shirts for the pro-Harreld students. Maybe something in a meme-defeating theme, because you can never respond to labels too quickly:
J. Bruce Harreld is
If you don’t find a lot of student demand for the pro-Harreld shirts, try selling them in bulk to Governor Branstad, regents president Bruce Rastetter, acting university president Jean Robillard, or even incoming president J. Bruce Harreld himself. Maybe even throw in a t-shirt cannon so Harreld’s press secretary can shoot them into the crowd of welcomers that will undoubtedly greet him at the airport when he finally arrives to take office.
Faculty and Staff
You’re getting a lot of advice now, including being told that you must go along to get along. You’re hearing euphemistic terms like healing and being realistic, mostly from people who don’t want you to make waves for the incoming, badly damaged, completely unqualified and unprepared president-elect. You’re also aware that your job could be on the line, depending on the cuts that the regents hope to implement through Harreld, so there is some risk in speaking out. In fact, here all that is in a soul-destroying cynical nutshell:
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, author of “Presidencies Derailed: Why University Leaders Fail and How to Prevent It,” advised that Harreld not wait until his Nov. 2 start date to begin the process of meeting with the people who have voted “no confidence” against him.
“He needs to meet with his greatest critics immediately,” said Trachtenberg, a president emeritus of George Washington University and a former president of the University of Hartford. “… This hiring may or may not be the ideal decision (for the university), but real people live in the real world and learn to make the best of their circumstances.”
You are now responsible for coaching and mentoring the person at the head of your own institution, including explaining why that person should care about you, which means you have already lost. J. Bruce Harreld is a long-time executive in the private sector. He is going to put on a great show, smile broadly and nod with practiced concern — and maybe even take you aside and confess that he really has come to understand why the university was so upset with his hire. But he’s still getting his $4,000,000 from the people who put him in office, and that’s who he’s beholden to. Which means trying to educate J. Bruce Harreld is never going to work.
David Drake, a professor of dentistry who served as president of the UI Faculty Senate last decade, said he continues to have concerns that “something didn’t smell right” about the presidential search process. But now that the regents have made the hiring decision, it’s time to focus on moving the university forward.
“We have to give (Harreld) a chance,” Drake said. “We need to educate him on the importance of shared governance and on the history behind it at this university. We need to help him understand that this is not a corporation, and he needs to work with the faculty, staff and students so that we can all move the university forward.”
Don’t do that. Don’t debase yourself by groveling to a man who lied to your face. Instead, do what he would do, and tell him what he wants to hear, then do your best to protect the university until he gives up or retires. If we’ve learned anything about Bruce Rastetter, Jean Robillard and J. Bruce Harreld, and the other eight perpetually mute members of the Board of Regents, it’s that the last thing they’re interested in is honesty and transparency. If you’re invited to a party, attend and have a wonderful time. If you’re put on the spot about your commitment to the new president, make it clear that your commitment is to the school and the students, and that you assume the same is true for the new president.
One big advantage of eschewing collegiality and adopting the professional, dare I say corporate, approach, is that it will make J. Bruce Harreld wonder who is and is not on his side, who is and is not lying to him, and who is and is not working to undermine him every step of the way. And who knows — at some point he may just get tired of feeling the kind of creeping paranoia that can never be assuaged because you didn’t leave any facts in your wake by which you might be implicated.
Are you thrilled with the Harreld hire, or not so much? If you’re aghast you might try a gentle note or email through the proper channels. If you regularly contribute, you might suspend your contributions until J. Bruce Harreld is gone and the university again commits to its core educational mission by hiring someone qualified for that job.
On the one hand, you may feel like you’re getting the green light with the Harreld hire because of the wholesale commitment to business principles. On the other hand, you may not be eager for other businesses to compete for the business you’ve established over the years. And maybe on one foot you’re now realizing that you’re dealing with corrupt people, and if they’re willing to betray the students while lying about it they’re probably willing to lie to you too. What happens if J. Bruce Harreld decides that you’re not transformational material? Or he decides to cut a backroom deal with some new player that leaves you out in the cold? How much exposure can you afford to have to the $4,000,000 experiment in higher education that is J. Bruce Harreld?
You may have heard that while hiring a businessperson to run an institution of higher learning is not common, that it does have precedent. What you need to know is that there is no precedent for this hire, because all of the examples that have been put forward include some prior association between the businessperson and the institution of higher learning that they were elected to lead.
The hiring of J. Bruce Harreld to head the University of Iowa is a one-off hire with no precedent, and if it’s allowed to stand, or worse, allowed to be seen as anything but an unmitigated disaster, it will open the door to nationwide abuse by lactose-tolerant businesspersons who will see educational institutions as nothing more than lip-puckering cash cows. This is indeed a watershed moment, but not because J. Bruce Harreld was hired to transform higher education. It is a watershed moment because the cause of business is laying claim to the assets of a university while rejecting any obligation to meet its core responsibilities.
If you remember nothing else about this little series of posts, remember that in being told to accept the hire of J. Bruce Harreld you are being told by the people who victimized you to validate and participate in that victimization. You are under no moral, ethical or professional obligation to do so. You do not have to speak out and you do not have to make waves, but it would be unwise to forget that these people do not care about you, do not care about higher education, and do not care about truth.
In an attempt to address Harreld’s many failings — and also to get their hands on any future dirt emanating from the University of Iowa — the Des Moines Register ran a recent editorial that listed all of the things J. Bruce Harreld needs to do, even before he takes office. At the bottom of the list was this:
Build trust. A new president at a much different university, Drake’s Marty Martin, said that is Job One. “That requires engagement, great face-to-face, personal engagement. … Coming from outside the institution is its own challenge to that and coming from outside the industry is just an additional challenge to that, but it’s not insurmountable.”
Do not trust J. Bruce Harreld. By his own conduct and the conduct of the people who rammed him through the election process he has forfeited any right to be given the benefit of the doubt. The regents did not decide to give $4,000,000 to a carpetbagging dilettante because they aspire to greaterness. They’re giving him $4,000,000 because they expect him to do what he’s told. Having worked in the corporate world Harreld is no idiot — despite being unable to submit a factually correct resume during the hiring process — so he’s going to tell you ten things that are true in order to tell the big lie that the regents hired him to tell. And then he’ll do that all over again for the next big lie.
Like the U.S. Constitution, the commitment to truth that is critical to education, research and science is not a suicide pact. If the people telling you what to do and how to behave are people who lied to your face, you should discount what those people are telling you. That may seem obvious, but in my experience good people often have trouble making that connection because they don’t want to think the worst of people, and they know it’s important to have the capacity to forgive. The problem with that laudable perspective is that the bad people in the world have no compunction about using your decency against you. The good news is that you don’t have to worry about hurting their feelings, because many of those people feel nothing at all.
You feel violated because your trust was violated. Now what are you going to do about it?
— Mark Barrett