The reputation of Jean Robillard, the acting president of the University of Iowa, continues to take hits as new disclosures mount regarding his role in the hiring of president-elect J. Bruce Harreld. Yet so far the central question of how Harreld even made it through the selection process remains unanswered.
It is now known that Harreld declared his official candidacy either on, or one day before, the deadline for doing so:
Rastetter said Thursday that four additional regents met Harreld on July 30 in Ames, the day before the application deadline. Rastetter defended the meetings, saying Harreld wanted to learn more about the position and what would be expected.
What has not been established, however, is when Harreld submitted his resume. Fortuitously, because acting president Robillard was also the head of the search committee, he is perfectly positioned to answer that and related questions.
For example, as the head of the search committee Robillard must have put protocols in place for verifying the resumes and c.v.’s of the candidates who made the initial cut. And that’s true even if responsibility for maintaining those protocols was delegated to Parker Executive Search, the search firm that was paid an unusually high fee of $200,000 by the Board of Regents to manage and ensure the integrity of the selection process. Yet despite all of those protections, it was learned via press reports just prior to the election that J. Bruce Harreld’s resume contained false information.
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.
Over the past few days Harreld’s resume has received renewed public scrutiny for additional misrepresentations, which were also overlooked by both the search firm hired by the Board of Regents and the search committee headed by Jean Robillard.
Whereas Harreld has already revealed his lack of such essential integrity by submitting a misleading professional resume, which not only identifies his current position as the managing director of a non-existant company, but also lists him as the sole author of 12 articles and book chapters, 7 of which were co-authored with others, as noted by many faculty, staff and students. So it’s no wonder that the university community is deeply puzzled and troubled by how he gained such a uniquely important position, presumably embodying the highest standards of the institution, despite such distortions of his professional record.
In judging Harreld’s fitness for office at an institution of higher learning such omissions are obviously a concern. So much so that the Faculty Assembly of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences took the unprecedented step of censuring Harreld for misconduct over a month before he is scheduled to take office.
Harreld’s resume also included 12 items in the section on publication history. Harreld did not note, however, that that most of those publications were co-authored.
The motion from the faculty assembly notes that the failure to list co-authors is in violation of the UI Operations Manual.
If Harreld had already taken office, one obvious question is whether such disclosures would constitute grounds for removal. Because if that’s the case, they must also necessarily constitute grounds for precluding Harreld from taking office.
Perhaps befitting the organization that unanimously elected the one finalist who did not know either his own business name or the names of his co-authors, the regents’ official response to these demonstrated errors and omissions has been tepid.
Regent officials told the Associated Press that they had no comment on the censure, but shrugged off the criticism.
“We’re not concerned about the resume,” said Josh Lehman, the board’s senior communications director.
The disinterest of the regents in the ever-growing inaccuracies in Harreld’s resume may be understandable given their oversight. It’s also understandable that others who are now coming under increasing scrutiny, including acting president Jean Robillard, may want to cast blame on the search firm that was paid almost twice the usual fee to screen candidates, but is that a valid defense?
The Iowa search has been criticized for different reasons. In that search, Harreld admitted his résumé was inaccurate. It stated that he was currently employed as the managing principal for Colorado-based Executing Strategy LLC, a firm with an expired registration in Massachusetts. Harreld said during an Iowa forum that he let the firm’s registration expire and is now personally liable for his consultancy work.
Many faculty questioned how Parker and Iowa’s Board of Regents missed the error during the vetting process.
“Parker Search doesn’t seemed to have vetted it or pointed that out to anyone,” Katherine Tachau, a history professor and president of Iowa’s American Association of University Professors chapter, said of Harreld’s résumé. “He’s self-employed and he’s listing it that way to imply that he actually is an officer in a firm.” Tachau highlighted how “false information on your résumé” is a violation of Iowa’s business college’s honor code.
While obviously damning, what does not seem to have been established even at this late date is whether Parker Executive Search did in fact review and vet Harreld’s resume. Everyone assumes that’s the case, and it’s a logical assumption given the circumstances, yet given the obviousness of the errors — including others that we’ll get to in a moment — it’s hard to imagine that Harreld’s resume was seen by anyone involved in the vetting process, let alone anyone with experience reviewing such documents for accuracy and veracity.
Because Harreld declared his candidacy at the last possible moment, acting president Robillard should provide answers to the following questions in order to explain exactly happened to Harreld’s resume during the vetting process.
- What is the standard protocol for vetting candidate resumes and c.v.’s at the University of Iowa?
- Is that protocol different for a presidential search? If so, in what way?
- Was established protocol for vetting resumes and c.v.’s followed in this search? If not, why not, and who countermanded the normal protocols?
- When was J. Bruce Harreld’s resume initially submitted for vetting?
- To whom was Harreld’s resume initially submitted for vetting?
- Was Harreld’s resume submitted to Parker Executive Search for vetting? If so, when? If not, why not?
- When did the entire search committee have access to the resumes and c.v.’s of the final four candidates?
- When did the regents have access to the resumes and c.v.’s of the final four candidates?
- Did the vetting process for Harreld diverge in any way from the vetting process for the other three finalists for the position?
Update 10/3: also missed this from the Gazette:
According to emails made public Thursday, Harreld forwarded his resume to Rastetter on July 29 and asked him to forward it on to “those with whom I will be meeting.”
While this shows Harreld submitting his resume to Rastetter, the people he’s talking about meeting are the regents he’s going to meet with at Rastetter’s place of business in Ames the next day, before having dinner with ISU President Steven Leath that night. He is not referencing the search committee or anyone from the search firm, so it’s not clear how Harreld’s resume gets from Rastetter to those bodies, if it does. So maybe Rastetter can shed some light on that, along with asking the search committee and Parker Executive Search to confirm when Harreld’s resume arrived, and who submitted it.
Update 9/30: missed this from Thursday by The Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, who is doing outstanding work on this story:
Details have not been made public about when Harreld officially submitted his application materials for the presidency, although Robillard has said all the candidates submitted materials on time.
But, according to emails made public Thursday, officials with Parker Executive Search on July 24 warned the search committee that a few candidates might submit materials after the July 31 deadline and they would be alerted if that happens.
On Aug. 3, Parker sent an email to the group saying materials for three additional candidates had been uploaded to a secure site.
Despite the mounting errors in Harreld’s resume, as recently as this past Tuesday, acting president Robillard was still solidly behind the president-elect.
Robillard also talked about incoming UI President Bruce Harreld. The controversial selection of the business consultant sparked no-confidence votes in the state Board of Regents by UISG and GPSG.
“If you want my opinion, [Bruce Harrald] is the right fit for the university,” Robillard said. “He will be successful as long as he has our support.”
The obvious concern, as it is with the regents, is that Robillard has no interest in revisiting a search process that he himself botched. If Harreld should have been excluded from consideration on the basis of his resume alone, to say nothing of his utter lack of qualifications for the position, what was he doing among the final four? Was Robillard’s leadership of the search committee lazy? Incompetent? Worse?
Given that Robillard was perfectly positioned, as both acting president and head of the search committee, to ensure the highest possible standards during the search process, why were those standards not met? While it’s unlikely that Robillard intentionally gutted the search protocols in order to aid Harreld’s candidacy, it’s equally important to make sure that such concerns do not erode confidence in Robillard now and in the future, or in Harreld now or in the future. Unfortunately, even if Robillard’s only crime is incompetence, his woeful performance feeds the ever-growing belief that the entire hiring process was improperly skewed in Harreld’s favor. For that reason alone it is incumbent on Robillard to put to bed any idea that he may have looked the other way in order to give the regents the candidate they wanted all along. And yet, even then he will be left with two more questions.
- How was Harreld’s resume, which fails to meet the basic standards of higher education in multiple ways, able to make it through the vetting process?
- If the errors on Harreld’s resume were discovered on the resume or c.v. of a member of the faculty, would they constitute grounds for termination?
At the very least it also seems prudent for acting president Robillard to use the university’s investigatory and legal assets to ensure that all other information on Harreld’s resume is correct, and that any other representations about his work history are accurate, including particularly the decisive role that he played in saving IBM from corporate catastrophe. In fact, in laying sole claim to the authorship of a number of articles and chapters that were in reality co-authored, Harreld himself has called into question the central narrative of his candidacy, which is that he was the key figure in the turnaround of IBM in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Instead, merely by drawing conclusions about Harreld’s capacity for accuracy and veracity from his own resume, it now seems likely that he was simply one of several or perhaps many individuals involved in the turnaround of IBM at that time. Which would mean the sole remaining tenuous argument in favor of his hire is now void.
Still, because J. Bruce Harreld remains on schedule to take office on November 2nd, and for the sake of completeness in vetting his slipshod resume, we will now consider another possible error which seems to have been largely overlooked. I say ‘possible’ and ‘seems’ because I leave it to you to make your own determination.
To begin, take a look at the following screenshot from the pdf of Harreld’s resume, which shows a section of text from his work history:
Do you see a typo? Because every time I look at that text I see a typo.
If not, here’s a closer look:
Still having trouble? All right, let’s zoom way in, which we can fortunately do with confidence because pdf files hold up quite well under extreme magnification:
See it now? Because unless my eyes are playing tricks on me, and that’s certainty possible, that should be ‘IBM’, not ‘BM’. In fact, it’s such an incomprehensibly startling mistake — if indeed it is a mistake — that my initial response was to check the social mediasphere to see if anyone else had noticed the same error. Which is how I discovered that I was not the first person to reach that same conclusion.
Still, even then I had to acknowledge that perhaps IBM, which has probably spent billions of dollars over the decades managing its brand, might be referred to as ‘BM’ in some circles. Say, as the ‘Big BM’ in tech circles, or ‘Ol’ BM’ south of the Mason-Dixon line. Not likely, perhaps, but how could I rule the possibility out? In the end the best I could do was ask a long-time New Yorker, who also worked as a reporter at the Wall St. Journal, and on various beats at Bloomberg News for over a decade, and in high-end public relations, whether he had ever heard of IBM referred to as ‘BM’ even once. And he said no. (And he didn’t even go for the joke!)
So. In concert with my own nerdy confidence that no error had been made in formatting the pdf, I was left with only one possible conclusion. That big ‘BM’, right there in the middle of J. Bruce Harreld’s resume, was a typo.
Now, maybe this is just me, but wouldn’t you think the one man purportedly responsible for saving IBM from itself during a white-knuckle moment of corporate crisis, whose job responsibilities included, specifically — according to his own resume — being responsible for “strengthening IBM’s brand”, would know that IBM has an ‘I’ in it? And if that is a reasonable assumption, shouldn’t that man also be capable of, if not expected to, catch such an egregiously obvious typo, if only because failing to do so would go to the very heart of his competence and fitness as president of the University of Iowa, or any university, or any school? Or are the Board of Regents and acting president Jean Robillard now making the case that proofreading and taking personal responsibility for work that bears your name is yet another tedious life chore that students at the University of Iowa no longer have to be concerned about, along with not having to make sure that their work history is factually accurate and not having to make sure that their citations are honest?
While obviously good for the students, that would also be a big relief to me personally, because then I wouldn’t have to mention the other typo I found:
For the record, I am not a typo snob. Far from it. On my best day I can be a typo machine, and I’m always trying to improve my proofing. In fact, just a few days ago I wrote a draft post about proofreading in WordPress, so it’s fair to say that typos are a problem I wrestle with a lot myself.
When it comes to proofreading a resume, however, and particularly a resume for a job that pays $600,000 a year, let alone a job at an institution of higher learning, I think we can agree all that you should probably be able to spell IBM if you worked at IBM, and particularly if you are selling that association as the key rationale for your candidacy. How is it that the man whom acting president Robillard believes to be the right fit for the University of Iowas could not properly spell IBM when spotted the ‘B’ and the ‘M’?
I’m equally at a loss as to how the Board of Regents managed to overlook all of these issues, to say nothing of how a search firm that was paid $200,000 failed to catch them. Unless of course it did catch them and dutifully reported them to the search committee, which then failed to disqualify J. Bruce Harreld. Or perhaps someone on the search committee failed to notify the entire committee, which would have then been obligated to disqualify Harreld. Or perhaps the employees at the search firm never had a chance to catch those mistakes because they never saw Harreld’s resume, because someone knew those mistakes would disqualify Harreld. Whatever the answer, we’re again quite fortunate that Jean Robillard, as both the acting president and former head of the search committee, is perfectly position to clear up such questions.
As to the resume itself, my gut tells me that J. Bruce Harreld didn’t write it, or at least that he didn’t produce the final copy. And there’s nothing even remotely wrong about that. Harreld is clearly a big-idea guy, and big-idea guys are famous from having more important things to do. Unfortunately, given the disastrous end product, it may be tempting for Harreld, as it must be for Robillard and the Board of Regents, to throw somebody under the bus in order to get away from this problem, but I hope he won’t. Because even when you’re a big-idea guy that doesn’t give you the right to blame others for your failure to put protections in place which ensure that your big ideas are carried out. If somebody did help Harreld prepare his resume I hope he’ll go to that person, who undoubtedly feels terrible, and explain that he failed them.
As a document, J. Bruce Harreld’s resume was entirely his responsibility. As a former executive vice president at IBM Harreld should have known how to delegate the chore of resume preparation to a professional, then delegate the proofreading of the prepared resume to two or five other professionals. And he should have known to do that because even when you’re a great-to-greater guy, and a transformational-change guy, and a turnaround-specialist guy, and a sustaining-success guy, and the guy who (purportedly) single-handedly saved (I)BM from itself, to say nothing of being the formerly-doing-business-as-Executing-Strategy-LLC guy, some people might have second thoughts about your competence and ability to lead a major research university if it turns out you can’t even execute your own resume.
— Mark Barrett