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.
The Power of Administration
Imagine that you work in a small real estate office with four other agents. Each month there’s a contest to see who brings in the most in commissions, with the winner getting a bonus. No matter how hard you and three of the other agents work, however — and you work like dogs — one agent keeps getting the bonus.
Now imagine that the agent who always wins the bonus is also dating the owner of the company. Aren’t you going to suspect that agent of having an unfair advantage? Maybe they’re getting the best leads and you’re being frozen out. You don’t have any proof, but the mere fact that your co-worker and your boss spend a lot of time together means your peer has preferential access that they can use to increase their success. There’s nothing illegal about it, but it costs you money.
Now imagine that it’s bonus time again, and true to form the same agent wins again, only this time you lose it. You go off, ranting about preferential treatment until the owner appears and demands to know what’s going on. You explain that you and the other agents never win the bonus, that it’s obvious the owner’s flame is getting preferential treatment, and that you’re furious about that injustice.
You are not at all surprised when the owner denies your allegations. You are completely surprised, however, when the owner says that the difference between the agent who keeps winning and the rest of you is that agent who keeps winning maxes out their available advertising budget and expense account each month, while you four serial losers don’t spend a dime. At which point your head explodes because you don’t know what the owner is talking about. What advertising budget? What expense account?
Equally incredulous, the owner shouts back that individual advertising and expense accounts which were announced in an email shortly before the new bonus system was established. At which point the office descends into chaos because neither you nor the other three serial losers got an email explaining that money for advertising or client expenses was available. At which point the owner pulls up the sent email and shows it to everyone, proving that it was sent even though it never arrived.
It later turns out that although the owner did send the email, at that exact moment a glitch prevented the email from being delivered, so no one did anything nefarious. The owner’s love interest knew about the advertising and expense money because it was discussed in person prior to implementation, and on that basis never thought to expect an email. While it seemed odd to the owner and the owner’s companion that none of the other agents spent any of the available funds, they chalked that up to laziness — which is also why you were all about to be fired.
Ultimately, when the dust settles you realize the following. First, nobody did anything wrong. Nobody cheated, nobody committed a crime, nobody lied. Second, simply by virtue of not knowing what was available it was impossible for you to win the monthly bonus. You suspect the owner’s companion kept quiet on purpose, and you know the owner’s companion profited from preferential treatment because they weren’t exposed to that critical clerical error, but at root the only thing that occurred was that information which was supposed to be communicated was not.
The end result of that accidental clerical crime of omission is that you were not able to compete with the agent who was aware of those funds. No matter how diligent you were, no matter how much you hustled, your ignorance of opportunities that were otherwise available meant you could not and would not succeed. By having knowledge of those opportunities, the owner’s companion not only won the bonus each month, but would have done so apart from any preferential treatment they received as a result of their romance.
An Administrative Crime
Now imagine that instead of working in a glitchy real estate office, you’re the ethically challenged chair of a search committee looking for a new university president. You know you can offer the candidate of your choice preferential treatment, but you want to magnify that effect by orders of magnitude, thus ensuring that your hand-picked puppet makes the cut each step of the way.
After a bit of fiendish thought, not only do you come up with what a darn good scheme, you can accomplish your goal in a way that will almost certainly evade detection. Nothing you do — no act you commit, no meeting you engineer — will rise to the level of anything other than preferential treatment, and nothing you do will constitute a crime in itself. The reason for that is that the subversive crimes you are going to perpetrate will be administrative crimes of omission.
Instead of doing what you’re supposed to do, you’re doing to drag your feet a little here, forget to mention something there, overlook something hither, forget to do something yon. If anyone steps back far enough they might see the odious method to your apparent absent-mindedness, but you also know that people do not tend to think of inaction as an action in itself. They may notice that you favored one candidate, but that in itself will help obscure the fact that you intentionally disenfranchised all of the other candidates not just by denying them opportunities, but by denying them any awareness that those opportunities existed.
By concealing important information from other candidates, recruiters and members of the committee, you pave the path for your candidate through the search process, whereupon they will be confirmed by a corrupt board that has the final vote. Even better, because several other candidates will also be sent to that board, it will be virtually impossible to connect you to anything duplicitous, let alone actionable.
In the aftermath of the search and election, now matter how hard people dig into the facts of the hire, there won’t be any acts which reveal your administrative abuses, because every act of sabotage will be something you didn’t do. The only way things can go south is if someone notices the systematic way in which you avoided doing things that you should have done, but even then they’ll have to ask exactly the right questions in order to expose your malfeasance. Short of that, you’re home free.
Administering the Harreld Hire
In order to understand the magnitude of the effect that bureaucratic crimes of omission can have on a search committee, we need to establish a benchmark. Although crimes of commission have already been exposed — meaning specifically the preferential treatment shown to Harreld by Rastetter, Robillard and the governor — simply pointing to acts that occurred does not fully express how those acts damaged the search process. It’s one thing to say that Harreld got a phone call from the governor and had a lunch and a couple of meetings that other candidates were denied, and quite another to consider the actual value of those things.
To begin, we’ll note that in the real estate office example above, the two sources of discretionary funds that would have been of tremendous benefit were an advertising budget for promoting properties and an expense account for wooing clients. In the context of a presidential search we can equate the advertising budget to time and money spent on a aggressive recruitment, and the expense account to time and money used to meet due diligence requests from candidates.
In order to make the value of aggressive recruiting and due diligence real we’ll assign a dollar value of $5,000 to each, giving us a maximum $10,000 that can be ‘spent’ on each candidate during the search. Out of respect for all the time and effort that Jean Robillard spent wooing Harreld to appear in Iowa City on July 8th we’ll call our aggressive-recruitment dollars Robillard Bucks, and out of respect for all the time and effort that Bruce Rastetter devoted to helping Harreld do due diligence on July 30th we’ll call our due-diligence dollars Rastetter Bucks.
Simplifying things further, we’ll say that everything that Harreld got on July 8th maxed out his Robillard Bucks at $5,000. Itemizing those benefits and opportunities, we come up with the following list:
- Pick-up at airport by acting president
- “VIP” meal with 4 members of search committee, including:
- Board of Regents president
- Acting president of university
- Two other committee members
- Opportunity to present to small group on subject of candidate’s choice
- All previous individuals, plus:
- Acting president’s leadership staff
- 40 UIHC administrators or equivalent
- Campus tour for partner or guest
We will also say that everything Harreld got on July 30th maxed out his Rastetter Bucks at $5,000. Itemizing those benefits and opportunities, we come up with the following list:
- Arrangements coordinated by president of Board of Regents
- Same-day meetings with 4 regents in some combination
- Option to hold meetings at president’s place of business
- Meal with ISU President Steven Leath
Having now identified what $10,000 worth of aggressive recruitment and due diligence looks like in R&R Bucks, we can now compare that value to what other candidates received, including any candidates who also maxed out. Except there aren’t any. In fact, this seems to be the closest that any other candidates got:
….several other potential candidates asked to meet in person and discuss the position. Robillard and Rastetter met one eventual candidate in Des Moines, and that person received a tour of the hospital, although he did not speak.
The UI College of Public Health also hosted an eventual candidate.
Neither of those candidates became finalists, so the university is not revealing their identities, Beck said.
Welp. That’s obviously quite a fall-off. Although Harreld’s meetings on July 8th and July 30th were hardly lavish affairs, compared to that $10,000 value in R&R Bucks it’s hard to see how anyone else got over, what — maybe $1,400? $1,600?
Even if we want to go a full $2,000 in R&R Bucks for the candidate who met Rastetter and Robillard in Des Moines, who also got a tour of the hospital, we’re still short $8,000 in equivalent value compared to what Harreld received. And that other candidate didn’t even make the final cut, meaning nobody who was left to compete against Harreld had that same level of exposure to the regents and search committee. As absurd as it sounds, and obviously percentages can be misleading, even if we’re as charitable as possible, J. Bruce Harreld ended up getting got 500% more bang for his R&R Bucks than any other candidate. How do we explain that? Better yet, how do the administrators of the search committee explain that?
No matter how I come at that question, I don’t see a good answer — assuming of course that fairness was a core tenet of the search process. Even without inferring anything nefarious, there are, objectively, only two possibilities. Either the other candidates didn’t want any of the things that Harreld got for his $10,000 in R&R Bucks, or they didn’t know that $10,000 in R&R Bucks was available.
While it’s likely that some of the candidates considering the position were not really serious about applying, and it’s possible that some didn’t see any value in meeting with the regents or the head of the search committee, who also happened to be the acting president of the university, it’s hard to imagine that all of the candidates still in the mix on July 8th or July 30th were aware that such interactions were available, yet turned them down. Some, maybe, but not all.
Which leaves us with only one possibility. In administering the search process, someone — and I’m not pointing any fingers — failed to notify the other candidates that those opportunities were available. And if that is the case, as you discovered during your horrifying experience as an imaginary real estate agent, that lack of awareness necessarily doomed those candidates to fail.
Total Cost of Administration
When you buy a car you know you’re not just out the cost of the car. The only thing you can see is the car — it’s the only object — but it’s not the only cost. There’s also the cost of insurance, the cost of debt if you borrow to make the purchase, the cost of fuel, the cost of maintenance, the cost of upkeep, the cost of repairs. One car, six or seven associated costs depending on whether you pay cash or not.
Although the opportunities that J. Bruce Harreld was afforded on July 8th and July 30th were, in the scheme of things, relatively modest, even as they grossly outpaced any other candidate interactions with members of the search committee, they also triggered ancillary costs. While there were obviously costs in terms of food on July 8th and travel expenses for the four regents on July 30th, the main potential costs of those two meetings were administrative, for two different reasons.
First, as we discovered in the previous post with regard to the president’s bedroom, there’s the administrative time and effort required to come to a decision as a committee, then announce that decision to recruiters and to candidates who are already in the pipeline. Second, there’s the actual administrative cost of pulling off whatever opportunity is being made available.
Consider the cuddly personal phone call from Governor Branstad to Harreld, which Rastetter brokered sometime in August. While that call certainly had value in terms of R&R Bucks, and no other candidate seems to have availed themselves of that opportunity, that’s all separate from the administrative cost involved in making the call happen. While relatively simple compared to what Harreld experienced on July 8th and July 30th, Rastetter, as both president of the Board of Regents and a member of the search committee, first had to consult with the committee to determination if such a call was proper. Next, because he was concerned about fairness, he or someone directed by him had to let recruiters and other candidates know that the governor was standing by with reassurance for all. Only then could Rastetter actually set up the conversation, conveying Harreld’s number so Branstad could call, perhaps at some agreed-upon time. All very routine for someone like Rastetter, but still — the administrative costs must be acknowledged
While the lunch that Harreld had on July 8th only spanned a few hours, even if there was chit-chat before and after Harreld’s presentation, consider the administrative logistics involved in making that event happen. First, there was all the decision making by the committee that went into whether to even extend such an offer, including the time and effort that went into notifying the other candidates, recruiters and members of the search committee that such an opportunity was available. In terms of pulling off the event, that required: coordinating with the travel plans of Harreld and his wife, who was the only spouse to visit during the entire search process; setting the date so that Rastetter and Robillard — who must both have full calendars — could attend; corralling Robillard’s leadership staff; reserving the space for Harreld’s presentation, plus arranging for any technological support; announcing the event early enough to fill the room; arranging the campus tour for Harreld’s wife; arranging for Robillard to personally meet Harreld and his wife at the airport and chauffeur them into town; and arranging for the “VIP lunch”, both in terms of the space and catering. Pant, wheeze.
Though the events of July 30th were less involved, they still required a fair amount of administration. Again, Rastetter first had to decide, as a member of the search committee, whether getting Harreld together with four regents at his office in Ames was okay, then let everybody else know that was happening. You know, because fairness and transparency are critical to the integrity and validity of the search process. After that was done, Rastetter then had to coordinate with Harreld’s travel schedule; coordinate the schedules of four regents so they would be in Ames at the right time; coordinate with ISU President Leath, who would host Harreld for dinner that evening, and make sure appropriate accommodations were made at Rastetter’s place of business. Again, not a crazy amount of work, but not trivial.
Timeline of Administrative Logistics
In looking at the Harreld hire through the lens of fairness, it’s clear that there were deficiencies, but so far the focus has only been on the degree to which Harreld received preferential treatment. By looking at the administrative logistics behind the benefits that only Harreld received it’s clear that the favoritism shown to him was not simply bad judgment but systematic. To see that even more clearly, we will now consider the question of those administrative logistics in the context of key moments in the search.
- Regents impanel twenty-one-person search committee
- “The firm handling the University of Iowa’s search for a new president says 11 candidates have submitted applications, 16 have said they will apply, and 45 are seriously considering applying.”
- Harreld gives presentation at UIHC
- Harreld lunches with Rastetter, Robillard, Gardial and Bohannnan
- Harreld meets with four regents at Rastetter’s business in Ames
- Harreld dines with ISU President Leath
- Position officially closes
- Phone call from Branstad to Harreld
- (News reports indicate only that the call took place sometime in August)
- Search committee narrows field from forty-six to nine
August 11th – 12th
- Search committee holds “airport interviews” with nine semifinalists
- Four finalists are recommended to regents; search committee disbands
By viewing the preferential benefits which Harreld received in the context of the overall search, we can determine whether those same benefits could have been made available to everyone. Whether they were or not is something that will have to be concluded through investigation, and the fact that no other candidate received those benefits is damning in itself, but here we’re mostly concerned about simple math. Given the number of candidates involved, was there enough time to provide the same benefits to others? Because if there wasn’t, then regardless of what those opportunities were, they should not have been offered to Harreld.
Starting with the simplest benefit, the phone call from Branstad to Harreld, we immediately face an absurdity. For some reason, neither Harreld, Rastetter nor Branstad has pinned down when that call took place, other than saying it occurred sometime in August. Why is that important? Well, if Branstad talked to Harreld on August 1st, just after Harreld’s meeting with four regents at Rastetter’s offices in Ames, there were still forty-six candidates in the pipeline, who should have been offered that same contact. If the call was after August 5th the maximum number of calls Branstad would have to make drops to nine, and after the 12th it drops to four, including Harreld. All certainly doable, but you can see why the timing matters.
Moving back to July 30th, when Harreld met with four regents and had dinner with ISU’s Leath, we know there were still at least forty-six candidates considering the position because that’s how many were reported on August 5th, when the competition was cut down to nine. If Rastetter was concerned about fairness he would have had to offer, and been prepared to provide, the same arrangements that he made for Harreld to forty-five other candidates in the next six days. Even if we assume that only one tenth of the candidates took advantage of that offer, that would mean (rounding up) five more meetings and dinners in less than a week. If even five additional candidates accepted that offer, let alone ten or twenty, it would be impossible to accommodate those requests.
Moving back to Harreld’s presentation and luncheon on July 8th we get a little more breathing room, but we also add more candidates. On July 2nd the candidates in the pipeline include 11 who have already applied, 16 who have committed to applying, and 45 who are still doing due diligence, giving us 72 candidates total. Had Harreld already applied or even committed to applying by July 8th, we could limit a similar offer to candidates with that same status, but as Robillard and Rastetter have made nauseatingly clear that was not the case. Harreld was undecided and remained undecided until the last possible minute, which means when Harreld appeared at UIHC on the 8th there really were seventy-one other candidates who should have been offered the same opportunity to speak and have lunch with Rastetter, Robillard and two other members of the search committee.
As you can plainly see from the calendar, however, it would be impossible to host even half that many candidates between July 8th and the closing of the position on July 31st. In order to provide the same benefit to thirty-six other candidates in three weeks you would have to do two per day, including coordinating the schedules of the president of the Board of Regents and the acting president of the University of Iowa so they could attend. (Because that’s the middle of the summer doldrums, when people are off on vacation, getting that same full cast together day after day would probably be impossible, even if you only had to do one a day over that span.)
Even if we ignore whether notice was given to other candidates, while still assuming that the search committee was concerned about a fair search, just looking at the math reveals irreconcilable problems. Not only did Harreld get several hours of face-to-face meetings with key players — including a voting majority of five on the regents’ nine-member board — but the administrative effort behind those meetings could not have been replicated for every other candidate. And the committee should have known that well in advance of making those offers to Harreld. All you have to do is look at the calendar and look at the number of candidates in the pipeline and you can see that July 8th and July 30th won’t work for everybody, yet Harreld was given those beneficial meetings anyway.
The Administrative Difference
Now, if this all seems complicated, remember that what we’re talking about is an administrative rule that people apply all over the world every day. And that rule says that if everybody can’t do it, nobody gets to do it. If everybody can’t have a piece of pie, nobody gets a piece of pie. If everybody can’t ride on a tractor, then nobody gets to ride on a tractor. And the sole principle behind that that simple rule is fairness. Which is, not coincidentally, why hiring practices are put into place, and even why laws about hiring practices are put into place. Because they ensure fairness. Which is why the University of Iowa and the Board of Regents also have hiring practices, and must meet legal requirements when making hires, because doing so ensures fairness.
In terms of administrating fairness in the Harreld hire, while Rastetter and Robillard routinely express laudable humility by portraying themselves as simply two members of the search committee, they were — and could not recuse themselves from being — also the acting president of the university and the president of the Board of Regents. As such they were not only responsible for aggressively recruiting and responding to due diligence demands from individual candidates, but for ensuring administrative fairness in the search process.
Again, both Rastetter and Robillard had access to all of the administrative tools they needed in order to ensure fairness, and they were supported by a phalanx of staff whose only job was to keep them from running afoul of their responsibilities. And still they ran wildly if not wantonly afoul. Even if we try not to speculate about their motives, it’s clear that they not only failed dismally but with almost machine-like consistency, and that in turn does lead to suspicions that the administrative failings we can now clearly see are evidence of a pattern of intentional behavior.
If we assume that’s not the case, the inclusion of J. Bruce Harreld as one of the four finalists for the position was an almost inevitable byproduct of those failings, and might not have happened if the search process had been administered fairly. If we do assume that the search process was intentionally corrupted through administrative crimes of omission, which denied other candidates equal opportunity even as they ensured Harreld’s inclusion among the finalists, no laws were broken. In either case, however, Rastetter and Robillard, as president of the Board of Regents and acting president of the university respectively, apart from their roles on the search committee, still failed to meet their professional obligations to ensure fairness in the search process.
It would have been one thing if Harreld received a few extra perks in a search process that was fairly administered, but that’s not what happened. What Harreld got was first-class treatment the whole way, including concierge service from the acting president of the university and head of the search committee on July 8th, and from the president of the Board of Regents on July 30th. What everyone else got was at or near the bare procedural minimum, and so consistently so that it’s as if there was one search process for Harreld and another for everybody else.
To see that clearly, consider the time that Harreld spent meeting with Rastetter and Robillard on July 8th. The closest reported comparable is the meeting that Rastetter and Robillard had with another candidate in Des Moines, and in terms of the actual interactions we can see some equivalence. Factor in the administrative logistics for each meeting however, and those two quasi-equal opportunities are revealed to be night and day, on different planets. That’s the administrative difference.
The only remaining question is whether the systematic administrative failures in the Harreld hire were intentional, and if so, how that might be proven. Once again, focusing on crimes of omission which must have taken place, and the lies of omission which are now covering up those crimes, is key. Once you realize that something’s missing you can ask where it went, or why it was never delivered, or if it ever existed at all. It may be that Rastetter and Robillard can’t answer those questions, but that in itself will be probative. Because if you were running a fair search to begin with, you wouldn’t have any trouble providing verifiable answers.
So. How do you steal an election, without breaking a law, and still betray yourself?
— Mark Barrett