In the previous post about the election of the new University of Iowa president, we discussed three administrative crimes of omission which gave J. Bruce Harreld preferential treatment that no other candidate received. Included was a phone call Harreld received from Governor Terry Branstad, sometime in August; meetings Harreld held with four regents on July 30th, plus dinner that evening with ISU’s President Leath; and a “VIP lunch” and presentation Harreld was afforded on July 8th, which was attended by, among others, search committee member and Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter, search committee chair and acting Iowa President Jean Robillard, and two other members of the search committee.
At some point in the search process a determination was made that it was okay to offer those opportunities to Harreld. To-date, however, Robillard and Rastetter have failed to explain how those determinations were made. Because the weight of evidence suggests that they conspired to deprive other candidates of those opportunities, it is now incumbent on Rastetter, Robillard and even the governor to do what the Cedar Rapids Gazette suggested over a month ago.
It’s not uncommon for university instructors to demand their students thoroughly show their work. Not doing so can result in a lower grade, even if they arrive at the right final answer.
We think the same applies to the Iowa Board of Regents, which voted unanimously to hire Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa. Clearly, the board is convinced that its unconventional choice of a former IBM and Boston Chicken executive with no university administrative experience is the right answer. They may be correct, but we believe the regents have failed to show their work.
Even if we allow, as the Gazette does, that the decision to hire Harreld may have been arrived at fairly, it’s clear that the key decision points remain cloaked in secrecy. Between claims of confidentiality from Parker Executive Search, which the regents hired at twice the normal rate, the confidentiality imposed on the search committee, and the secrecy of the final interviews and vote by the regents, we have only the announcement of their nine-to-nothing vote to go on. What the regents have yet to do is explain how they got to that conclusion by showing their work.
Why is that a problem? Well, again overlooking the fact that wanton favoritism has already been proven, there are a lot of ways to get to a unanimous vote when you know the machinations of that vote will never see the light of day. Too, although five of the regents met face-to-face with Harreld at least once during the selection process — a voting majority, and far more than any other candidate — some regents did not have the opportunity to interview Harreld until the last minute:
Rastetter said the regents were well aware of the concerns raised by the UI faculty. The board received a cautionary Sept. 2 email from UI Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan, the night before the regents’ closed-session interviews with Harreld and the other three finalists for UI president.
“A number of the regents hadn’t even interviewed the candidates when we heard one wasn’t acceptable,” Rastetter said.
While we’ve heard quite a bit from Rastetter, and from Regent Katie Mulholland, and several of the other regents who met with Harreld on July 30th, at least four of the regents are missing from the post-vote conversation. Even though the regents are political appointees, and Govern Branstad went against the intent of the law that created the regents by packing it with political cronies, we also can’t be sure that all of the regents were aware of the special treatment Harreld received.
Did they all know about the phone call from the governor? Did they all know about the meetings in Ames, or the dinner with Leath? Did all of the regents know about the July 8th “VIP lunch”? Because if they didn’t know about those things, and wanted to know about those things, I’m not sure the vote itself can be said to be fully informed. And that’s particularly true given that we don’t know how they finally arrived at their nine-to-nothing decision.
It is a given that the regents as a body are corrupt. It is not a given that all nine members of that board have forgotten what personal integrity means to Iowans. In that silent minority there may be at least one member who is aghast at what was perpetrated in their name, and at how their vote now validates the administrative crimes that were systematically used to elect J. Bruce Harreld.
If you’ve been following the appointment of Harreld, you may have noticed that everyone went quiet over the past week, though a press release was floated yesterday in Harreld’s name. There are three reasons for that silence. First, Governor Branstad, Regents President Rastetter and the other regents, and acting Iowa President Robillard, all seem to have finally realized what the Des Moines Register concluded on October 3rd:
Bruce Harreld has a steep hill to climb in winning the trust and confidence of the University of Iowa faculty, staff and students. Unfortunately, the state Board of Regents has made the climb even steeper with a deeply flawed search process.
Board members have defended their handling of the presidential selection process, but only aggravate the wounds. Board President Bruce Rastetter issued a public statement suggesting faculty critics are just opposed to change, and Gov. Terry Branstad weighed in telling them to, in effect, get a grip.
You know you’re in trouble when the governor chimes in not once, but twice, and still ends up whiffing both times. Yes, every utterance from those involved in the fraudulent hire of J. Bruce Harreld has proven aggravating, because there are wounds. Any pretext that this is simply a territorial dispute or a difference of opinion was put to rest immediately after the election, in a series of disclosures about the preferential treatment that Harreld received throughout the search process.
As that’s the second reason everyone has suddenly clammed up. They want people to forget, and if they keep talking about how they did not inflict wounds that they clearly did inflict that’s not going to happen. Since there’s nothing they can say to excuse their actions or explain away their deceit they’re saying nothing at all. And yet, while it is often true that time does heals wounds, you know you’re in trouble when your best available option is hoping for collective amnesia.
Not surprisingly, there are still plenty of questions that need to be answered, and that’s the third reason a bunch of people who couldn’t stop talking about J. Bruce Harreld’s visionary leadership are now suddenly mum. Because it was just over a week ago that an investigation into the hire was announced by the AAUP:
The American Association of University Professors is sending two representatives from its national headquarters in Washington D.C. to Iowa City to launch an inquiry into the search that landed J. Bruce Harreld as the next University of Iowa president.
The inquiry could lead to a full-blown investigation around whether the state Board of Regents breached the association’s values related to shared governance and the selection of administrators.
You also know you’re in trouble when you find yourself providing two different explanations about why you can’t defend — let alone explain — your own work. Already facing a lawsuit about whether the search process violated Iowa’s Open Meetings laws, which reprises a suit that they lost last after the last presidential election at Iowa, the regents are now arguing that they cannot comment because the AAUP’s inquiry is too vague and because of pending litigation.
While it might seem as if events are now at an impasse, that’s not the case. The governor, the regents, Robillard and even Harreld himself can clam up, but no one else is obligated to do so. In fact, anyone interested in justice and the truth will continue to ask questions until those questions are answered, so the university and the people of Iowa can have confidence that J. Bruce Harreld was fairly elected.
Show Your Work
In the three posts prior to this one we covered a lot of ground, from choosing fairness as our only standard for evaluating the Harreld hire, to exposing the dodges used by Robillard and Rastetter to avoid talking about fairness, to understanding how crimes and lies of omission work, to showing why crimes and lies of omission were necessary to avoid administrative obligations that literally could not have been met during the search. The good news is that by looking for acts that should have taken place but did not, it not only becomes possible to ask very specific questions about the Harreld hire, those questions are no longer adversarial.
If the public and press want proof that the Harreld hire was not an administrative crime, and the governor, regents, Robillard and Harreld want to prove that the selection process was not an administrative crime, then everyone is already on the same page. All the public and press have to do is request specific information which the regents and the search committee should have, at which point that exculpatory evidence can be disclosed to everyone’s relief. Even better, everyone involved in the search process should have seen that specific information as a matter of routine.
With one exception, which can be resolved by multiple individuals, we also know the dates we’re concerned about. July 8th, when Harreld presented at UIHC and had a “VIP lunch” with search committee members Robillard, Rastetter, Business College Dean Sarah Gardial, and Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan; and July 30th, when Harreld met with four regents at Rastetter’s place of business in Ames, then dined with ISU President Steven Leath. (It is still not clear whether the dinner that Leath hosted was attended by anyone other than Harreld, but again, those two individuals can easily clear up that bit of confusion.)
Broadly speaking, we’re interested in the procedures for offering candidates particular opportunities, and how such determinations were made. So first we need to make sure there were any rules. Helpfully, Robillard reassures us that there were, and that as chair he was determined to administer a fair search process.
Rastetter said Harreld requested and received meetings with four other regents and Iowa State University President Steven Leath on the eve of the application deadline July 31. And Robillard on Thursday echoed Rastetter’s sentiment that Harreld was doing his due diligence in researching the opportunity, and the meetings did not break any rules.
What was a highly irregular election may yet turn out to be a criminal act. In order to bolster confidence in the people who elected J. Bruce Harreld as the next president of the University of Iowa, it’s time for the Board of Regents to show their work. It’s no longer sufficient to say that the search committee did its job. It’s time to show the committee at work, not simply shuffling papers and nominating candidates, but debating the issues and making the determinations which are at the heart of legitimate suspicions about how this search was conducted.
Concerned that critical emails might be missing? Don’t be. At a bare minimum any email of note would have been seen by all twenty-one members of the search committee. If any emails no longer exist, a majority of the committee should easily recall seeing them in the course of administering the Harreld search, and be willing to testify to that under oath.
Unfortunately, if the regents and others can’t answer the specific questions in this post, then not only will we know that Harreld was treated preferentially during the search process — which has already been proven beyond any doubt — that will be the least of the crimes that were committed. In fact, failure to answer these specific questions will prove that the entire search apparatus was a fraud, leaving the people who committed that fraud vulnerable to criminal charges.
Setting aside the question of indictments for the next post, the questions we’ll be asking in this post are simple, but this is still a complicated matter. Even if we suspect that administrative fraud was committed using serial lies of omission, we still need a framework in which to prove that case. Fortunately, Regent Katie Mulholland provided exactly the template we need when she scolded the AAUP for its vague notification of investigative inquiry about the wholesale abuse of shared governance that she and the other regents remorselessly perpetrated against the University of Iowa faculty and staff:
Robillard and Mulholland said they can’t talk about the issue due to pending litigation — a UI professor emeritus has filed a lawsuit accusing the UI presidential search committee of violating open meetings laws.
Mulholland also said told the AAUP it would not meet because “your letter fails to identify with any level of specificity the issues or scope of your investigation.”
Good stuff! So — all we need to do to be helpful to Rastetter as president of the regents, and to Robillard as chair of the search committee, is specify the scope and issues of our inquiry. Which seem to me pretty straightforward, as follows:
- Administrative fraud in the selection and election of J. Bruce Harreld.
- Intentional and systematic omission of information critical to fairness in the selection and election process.
As noted, our only concern is that the search process was administered fairly. We already know that Harreld got preferential treatment, so obviously something is amiss. If the search was administered fairly and a few people just pushed the limits, then Harreld is still unqualified for the job and the search is still corrupt, but we don’t have to worry about people being indicted on felony charges. On the other hand, if the regents and committee can’t show that the search process was fair — whether it was open, closed, or something in-between — then somebody with a badge is going to have to hitch up their britches and knock on a few doors. And because nobody wants that to happen, I’m guessing the regents and committee will be happy to clear everything up by providing the answers to a few simple questions.
The Governor’s Phone Call
We’ll start with the call that Governor Branstad made to reassure the ever-skittish Harreld, which was arranged by Regents President Rastetter himself under the guise of helping Harreld do due diligence. While none of the incredibly accomplished, world-beating advocates for transformational change who were involved in that phone call seem to be able to remember when it took place, other than sometime in August, that’s a small impediment. Too, while no other candidate talked with Branstad, let alone received a call from the governor, we can also acknowledge that whether the call lasted five minutes or eight hours, in the scheme of things it was clearly the lesser of the preferential abuses perpetrated on Harreld’s behalf.
What we’re concerned about, specifically, is documenting the process by which the committee decided that such a call was proper, and the process by which the committee notified other candidates and recruiters that the governor was standing by to express support for whoever emerged victorious. While it’s tempting to wonder if any of that happened at all, we don’t want to prejudice our questions, so we will simply assume as a matter of course that such things were done in order to ensure administrative fairness in the search process. Which leads to two simple questions.
- When did the search committee discuss whether it would be appropriate for Regents President Bruce Rastetter to arrange personal phone calls from the governor to candidates who were interested in that contact?
- When and how did the search committee communicate to recruiters and candidates that such an opportunity had been made available?
As noted in the previous post, because of the cut-down schedule during the search, the number of calls that Branstad would have had to make would have varied widely from forty-six in the first few days of August to only four after August 12th. Knowing when Rastetter arranged the call on Harreld’s behalf would be useful in narrowing down the time frame during which the search committee was debating those issues, but still — between hard drive searches using keywords and simple recall using the ol’ bean, it should be pretty easy to find archived evidence of what must have been, even if only for a short time, an involved conversation.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, who would want to talk to the governor? Well, what you’re overlooking about the candidates is that although most of them were eggheads, they worked in academic administration. And next to politics there is perhaps no more political environment than academia. As a result, like elected officials, academic administrators are used to schmoozing and pressing the flesh and bridge building and deal making and back knifing. Which is to say that the number of candidates who would have jumped at the chance to talk to the governor for five minutes or eight hours is probably equal to the number of candidates who were still in the pipeline when Harreld got his call.
That’s why it’s important for the regents and committee to answer the two simple questions we just asked. Because from the outside it almost seems as if all those other candidates had no idea that such an opportunity was on the table. And if that’s the case we obviously can’t lay that off on Harreld, because even though it would be to his considerable advantage to have that done on his behalf, he was in no position to commit the administrative crimes of omission that would have been necessary to preclude other candidates from learning about that opportunity.
Four Regents and Dinner With Leath
On July 30th Harreld met with four regents, two at a time, at Rastetter’s business in Ames. After those meetings, Iowa State President Steven Leath hosted a dinner for Harreld. Again, while no other candidate was offered anything comparable to those meetings, let alone the opportunity to pick Leath’s brain, our concern is solely with when and how the search committee decided it was proper for Rastetter to offer the meetings, and to ask Leath if he could share Leath’s contact info with Harreld.
- When did the search committee discuss whether it would be appropriate for Regents President Rastetter to arrange for candidates to meet with four regents at his place of business?
- When did the search committee discuss whether it would be appropriate for Regents President Rastetter to broker Leath’s personal contact information to candidates?
- When did the search committee communicate to recruiters and candidates that such opportunities had been made available?
Because we can fix the date when Harreld was granted those opportunities, and because we know that forty-five other candidates were still in the hunt at that time, we could point out — as we did in the previous post — that if every candidate took Rastetter up on the same offer he would have to make the same arrangements for forty-five individuals in less than a week, which would obviously be difficult. But again, we’re not going to prejudice our questions with hard facts.
Is it likely that any or all of the other candidates would have wanted to meet with four of the nine people who would vote on their fate if they made the cut? Well, obviously that calls for some speculation, but I think some of the other candidates would have opted to do so. And why not? If you’re gathering information as part of your due diligence process, do you really turn down the chance to meet, one-on-two, twice, with the people who hold your fate in their hands? (I don’t.)
While we obviously have to wait for the regents and committee to answer the questions above, we already have some testimony on the record, so we can see how it squares with our concern that the search may not have been fairly administrated. Here’s Regents President Rastetter commenting on Harreld’s visit to his place of business on July 30th, while also once again shape-shifting into the role of mild-mannered search committee servant:
Rastetter, who recruited Harreld along with five other candidates for president, said in his statement that the meetings in Ames and Iowa City were appropriate and within the goals of the presidential search process.
“I considered Mr. Harreld’s requests for these additional meetings on July 30 not only appropriate, but due diligence on his part,” Rastetter said. “He wanted to gather as many facts as he could about the position. I appreciate the fact that he was interested enough to want to do his research on the job, and took his time gathering facts.”
Rastetter did not attend the July 30 meetings, but he did facilitate them. Emails released Thursday show an invitation to the Ames meeting sent to Andringa from an email account at Summit Agricultural Group, where Rastetter is CEO.
While Rastetter is quite specific that he didn’t attend the meetings, and quite mum about whether he attended the dinner with Leath, and we already dispensed with his idiotic Due Diligence Dodge, for that sake of argument we’ll grant that the meetings on July 30th were all Harreld’s idea, and further grant that Rastetter was duty-bound to see that Harreld’s requests for due diligence were satisfied. Unfortunately, all that still misses the point entirely. Or rather, it misses two points entirely.
First, where does Harreld come up with the idea that any of this is even possible? Is he just sitting around thinking, gosh, I’d love to get in a room with two regents, and then meet with another two regents right after that? Does he call up Rastetter and say, set this up for me? Well — maybe he does. Maybe Rastetter doesn’t suggest any of that to Harreld, then turn around and pretend like he’s just a loyal worker bee.
But even if that’s how it went down, it doesn’t explain the second problem with this scenario, which is that as soon as Rastetter and the committee decided to honor Harreld’s bossy request, they had an obligation to let the other forty-five candidates in the pipeline know that such meetings were available. Unless the committee, or individual members on the committee, thought it would be fair to make each candidate guess what was and was not possible in terms of due diligence. Which would obviously not be fair, but okay — survival of the bossiest and all that.
Now, regarding dinner with Leath, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that Leath went out of his way to alibi Rastetter, and of course you’re right. Of his own volition Leath stated that it was his idea and his idea alone to host a dinner for Harreld. So okay, Rastetter’s in the clear on that. Unfortunately, that alibi, while admirable, or perhaps loyal, or payback, or something, is also beside the point.
To recap, Rastetter is such a humble servant of the search committee that he calls Leath to ask permission to pass Leath’s contact info to Harreld, so Harreld can continue to do his insatiable due diligence. Leath agrees, and then, entirely of his own volition, without even a hint of suggestion from Rastetter, offers to host Harreld for dinner. And if all we consider are those facts, or even what we imagine the real facts to be, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that.
But if we remember that the only thing that matters is fairness, and we remember that Rastetter is both a member of the search committee and the president of the Board of Regents, at some point we’re going to realize that even if that’s how everything played out, as soon as Rastetter knew that Leath had volunteered himself as a dinner host, Rastetter had an obligation to run that by the search committee to see if it was okay. If it was, he then had an obligation to notify all the recruiters and other candidates that Leath was available in that capacity.
How could Leath host forty-five dinners in a week, if everyone took advantage of that new opportunity? Well, I’m not saying Leath couldn’t pull it off, but obviously it would involve a lot of work. Would candidates see dinner with Leath as a big draw? Well, again, we’re talking about administrative eggheads for the most part, and Leath clearly belongs to that gender-neutral fraternity. If you’re thinking about applying to become the president of a university in Iowa, what one person could possibly know more about that job than Leath, except perhaps Sally Mason?
Finally, why didn’t Rastetter initially ask Leath for blanket permission to give Leath’s contact info to any candidate who requested it? If you’re trying to run a fair search — if that’s foremost in your mind, as it should be both as a member of the search committee and as president of the Board of Regents — do you even have to think about that? Even if Harreld asks Rastetter for Leath’s number first, doesn’t Rastetter take that request to the full committee to be addressed globally? You know, because he’s concerned about fairness and the legitimacy of the process?
The J. Bruce Show and VIP Lunch
On July 8th, J. Bruce Harreld and his wife were met at the airport by search chair and acting President Jean Robillard. They were chauffeured to Iowa City, where Harreld gave a talk to forty movers and shakers at UIHC, then had lunch with Rastetter, Robillard, Gardial and Bohannan, while Harreld’s wife toured the campus.
- When did the search committee discuss whether it would be appropriate for acting university president and search chair Robillard to extend an invitation for candidates to give a talk on campus?
- When did the search committee discuss whether it would be appropriate for acting university president and search chair Robillard to invite candidates to lunch with him, the president of the Board of Regents, and several members of the search committee.
- When did the search committee discuss whether it would be appropriate for acting university president and search chair Robillard to chauffeur candidates and their partners or spouses from the airport to the university?
- When did the search committee discuss whether it would be appropriate to give the spouse or partner of any candidate a tour of the campus?
- When did the search committee communicate to recruiters and candidates that any or all of those opportunities had been made available?
As should be clear by now, and was made explicitly clear in the previous post, no other candidate comes remotely close to getting this kind of red-carpet treatment and personal attention from any member of the search committee, let alone Robillard. If there’s one moment in the entire search when the committee needs to show its work, this is it. Thankfully, we not only know the date on which the event took place, there are multiple players who can document what we need to know.
Curiously, Harreld himself omitted any mention of having been in Iowa City when he appeared in an open forum just before to the election, let alone to having visited with his wife, who got a tour of the lovely campus. New reports immediately after the hire also make no mention of his presentation on July 8th, or of his meetings with regents and dinner with Leath on July 30th. Not until September 9th do reports of Harreld’s prior visit to Iowa City first appear in the press, yet even then the initial characterization of July 8th paints his presence not as a candidate doing due diligence, but as a business visionary giving a gratis presentation.
Where we saw Rastetter shape-shifting from regents president to mild-mannered member of the search committee regarding the events of July 30th, here we see Robillard eschewing both his humble role as a member of the search committee and his prestige as chair, and instead flexing his muscle as both the acting president and as a major player at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. In that context, here is how Robillard characterized Harreld’s visit to Erik Kelderman, for the Chronicle of Higher Education, in a report that appeared on September 14th:
Jean E. Robillard, Iowa’s interim president, its vice president for medical affairs, and the head of the 21-member search committee, was also familiar with Mr. Harreld. Earlier in the summer he invited the businessman to speak with some senior staff members at University of Iowa Health Care. Dr. Robillard did not recall how he had first heard of Mr. Harreld, but he brought him to the campus early in July to offer perspectives on improving health-service operations.
“We were looking for a different speaker — not a consultant — to come and tell us about what they did in a different enterprise, what they did to keep them at the top,” Dr. Robillard said. “When I heard his name, I said, This is the type of person that really I need to bring to give us a talk.”
Dr. Robillard stressed that Mr. Harreld was not a candidate to be Iowa’s president at that time. There were other visitors, he said, who were recruited to apply after similar speaking engagements on the campus. “We are a university,” he said. “We are dealing with different people all across the country, and it’s not unusual to have people who come to campus.”
So the sequence is clear. Robillard can’t remember when he first learned of Harreld’s existence, but once he did he was so enamored of the man’s mettle and ideas that he had to invite Harreld to the university to speak — but not as a consultant, and not as a candidate. Harreld appears, completely oblivious to the open presidency, then, at some later date, the crafty Robillard pounces and appeals to him to consider applying. Harreld is not at all interested in the open presidency on July 8th, he gives a talk, but not as a consultant, then Robillard aggressively recruits him.
Except…two days later media reports give an entirely different take on J. Bruce Harreld’s appearance in Iowa City on July 8th, as clarified by University of Iowa spokesperson Jeneane Beck. Here’s the Press-Citizen on September 16th:
Nearly two months before he was announced as the next president of the University of Iowa, Bruce Harreld visited the UI campus and met with the leadership of UI Hospitals and Clinics.
During a July 8 visit to campus, Harreld spoke to about 40 people, predominately UIHC leadership, according to UI officials. In addition to Jean Robillard, UI’s vice president for medical affairs, the hospital personnel present included the UIHC director of nursing, the finance team for UIHC’s chief operating officer and several physicians.
Robillard, who also at the time was chairing the UI Presidential Search and Screen Committee,” recently told the Chronicle of Higher Education that he had invited Harreld, a former IBM executive and Harvard Business School lecturer, to campus to offer perspectives on improving health-service operations.
Although Harreld was not a candidate at the time of his visit, UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck confirmed that UI officials were aware that Harreld was considering whether to apply for the position and that the visit was part of his decision-making process.
“Other eventual candidates in the presidential search may have been hosted by other colleges on campus,” Beck said via email. “Some candidates expressed an interest in coming to see the university and may have come on their own but did not ask for a meeting.”
So on September 14th Robillard is absolutely sure that Harreld was not even considering becoming a candidate, and on September 16th Jeneane Beck is sure that Harreld was at the UIHC, in part, to do due diligence regarding the open presidency. No matter how you slice it, that’s a pretty striking change in the official line, given that it completely undermines Robillard’s original narrative. So how do we account for what Robillard originally said, and what Beck said only two days later?
Well, the idea that Harreld was just there to speak, while Robillard and others sized him up, seems plausible at first. He’s been doing the freelance bit for five years, so he probably has a standard whiz-bang presentation that he tailors with individual buzzwords for each audience. And even though Robillard says he’s not interested in Harreld as a consultant, maybe Robillard senses an opportunity, what with forty of UIHC’s best and brightest in attendance. Except. Why is Harreld’s wife there?
Well, maybe she goes to all his gigs because they just like being together, and if so that’s awesome. But there’s still a problem. If she’s just there for the gig, why does he go to the meeting and the presentation, while she gets a tour of the campus, which has been specifically arranged for her, including an itinerary which is communicated by Robillard’s chief of staff in advance? Even if Robillard is doing aggressive vetting of Harreld himself, how does Harreld’s wife end up on a tour of a place that, at that point in time, she never plans to see again for the rest of her life?
The only way I can make the campus tour for Harreld’s wife fit is if I assume she’s doing her own due diligence about being first lady of the university, or whatever the right title is for the spouse of a university president. That would also explain the need for Beck’s revision to Robillard’s original narrative, but that revision also means Robillard’s original narrative was, flatly, a lie. When Harreld appeared in Iowa City on July 8th, Robillard knew that he was, at least in part, doing due diligence about the open presidency, which is why Robillard arranged for Harreld’s wife to learn something about the campus as well.
To be clear, there’s nothing illegal about any of that. But, on September 14th, Jean Robillard, the chair of the search committee, must be lying when he tells the Chronicle of Higher Education that Harreld was not a candidate. He’s not confused, he’s not misremembering a few dates or a stray fact, he’s making up a story about why Harreld is in town, and that story can only stand scrutiny for forty-eight hours.
Finally, note the last line from the Beck quote above: “Some candidates expressed an interest in coming to see the university and may have come on their own but did not ask for a meeting.” While that may be factually accurate, one of the reasons for asking the questions we’ve asked is to determine whether candidates opted out of opportunities that were available, or were denied knowledge of opportunities that Harreld was offered routinely. If they didn’t ask because they didn’t know meetings were available, Beck’s statement is still true, but for all the wrong reasons.
The Missing Committee
Although we now know that Robillard was lying when he said Harreld was only in Iowa City on July 8th to give a talk, we have yet to look at that event from the perspective of the search committee. Because even though Robillard was lying about Harreld’s reason for being there, that doesn’t mean Robillard was not also aggressively recruiting Harreld.
There were four members of the search committee in attendance on that day. We’ve already explored Robillard’s shifting perspectives, but what about Rastetter? Why did he think he was there — to learn nifty things about transformational change, to vet a potential candidate, or both? Unfortunately, I can’t find a single quote from Rastetter about July 8th, but I think it’s fair to conclude that he was vetting Harreld. If you’re having lunch with the chair of a search committee, and two other members of that same search committee, and you’re on that search committee, and you’re all talking to one guy who just flew into town to have lunch and give a talk, but not as a consultant, I’m not sure the agenda could be any clearer.
Okay, so what about Sarah Gardial, dean of the College of Business? Well, fortunately we do have her on the record. Here she is in the Gazette, on 9/16:
Gardial, dean of the UI Henry B. Tippie College of Business, said she assumed Harreld was a presidential prospect, even though neither she nor Bohannan had seen his name on any official candidate list. The application deadline was July 31.
“There was no other reason for me to be there,” Gardial said. “It was an opportunity to not just see a potential candidate, but to see him in action. I thought it was an interesting opportunity.”
Okay, so Gardial believes she’s vetting a potential candidate. But note, she doesn’t say that’s why she was there, she reaches that conclusion on her own. And she’s never seen Harreld’s name on any list of candidates, even though we now know Harreld was there doing due diligence, and that his wife apparently accompanied him for the same purpose. How is that possible? How is Harreld actively doing due diligence on July 8th, and Robillard knows he’s there doing due diligence, yet more than three full months after the search committee is impaneled on February 25th, Harreld is still not on any list of potential candidates?
Also note the emphasis that Gardial places on seeing Harreld in action. Not only does that makes sense in terms of vetting, it reinforces the plaintive cry that Robillard recently uttered, while attempting to portray Harreld’s appearance on July 8th as entirely about Harreld doing due diligence — which of course completely contravenes his original and almost immediately corrected position:
Robillard — who led the search committee — addressed those concerns Thursday, saying the group was charged with aggressively recruiting candidates.
“To recruit candidates, you have to talk with them,” he said. “Some of these people had never come to Iowa City. Are you to say you cannot come to Iowa City?”
Yes, that’s the Due Diligence Dodge again, in full fury, but still, Robillard and Gardial have a point. It’s to the committee’s advantage to see as many candidates ‘in action’ as possible. And yet, although after the election Robillard is lobbying hard for face-to-face meetings and getting people to Iowa, the only person he invited was Harreld. How was that fair to the other candidates? Also, given the first-class treatment that Harreld and his wife received, when did Robillard communicate the ground rules of such invitations to the full committee? Before July 8th, or after?
More from Gardial:
Harreld — who eventually would be chosen as the university’s 21st president despite dismal support from faculty, staff and students — spoke during the July visit about best practices for organizations that were successful and wanted to continue on that path, according to Gardial and Bohannan.
None of his talk to the larger group addressed the UI campus specifically, Gardial said, and his candidacy wasn’t expressly addressed during the lunch that followed.
“We did talk about the presidential search and the opportunities we saw on the campus for the next president,” Gardial said.
But leaving that lunch, Gardial said, she recalls not knowing which way Harreld was leaning or whether he had any interest in the job.
So Gardial is sure she’s there to vet Harreld as a potential candidate — even though Jeneane Beck will later clarify that Harreld was already a candidate, even though his name, somehow, had never come before the full committee. If the search committee was functioning as it should, how does Gardial not know that Harreld is already doing due diligence?
We’ll come back to Gardial in a minute, but here’s Bohannan’s recollection of July 8th, again from the Gazette on 9/16:
Bohannan said her context for Harreld’s visit and invitation to see him was even more clouded. She said Robillard simply called her and asked if she could come see a man invited to speak at UIHC.
“Given he’s chair of the search, I assumed maybe they were thinking he would be a candidate,” Bohannan said. “But I’m not sure anyone knew at the time exactly what this was about.”
She also said Harreld’s candidacy was never discussed during the lunch.
“I left that meeting not knowing what that was really about or if he was interested or anything,” she said.
Although Jeneane Beck will have to correct Robillard’s lie in only a few weeks, on July 8th it clearly seems as if Gardial and Bohannan both believe that Harreld is not there as a candidate and not doing due diligence. Which means Robillard didn’t just tell a lie to the press after the fact, he was telling a lie to members of his own committee on July 8th. And because this is a long post and your eyes might be a little tired, let me repeat that. On July 8th, Jean Robillard, the chair of the search committee, was lying to at least two members of his own search committee.
For some reason, Robillard presented the “VIP lunch” with Harreld as a presentation by a business consultant, instead of just admitting the truth — that Harreld was there, at least in part, to find out if he was interested in applying for the open presidency. Again, we’ll leave the question of why Robillard lied for the next post, but for now it’s enough to note that there does seem to be an entirely different reality to the search process any time Harreld is involved, to the point that search committee members themselves don’t know what’s going on because the chair of the committee is committing a crime of omission by actively withholding information.
While Robillard and Rastetter are perpetually missing in action on the question of fairness, after the events of July 8th are revealed, others see the problem clearly:
“We do not do this on searches,” said UI history professor Katherine Tachau. “It is incompatible with affirmative action/equal opportunity policies and practices, by which we try to give each candidate exactly the same treatment.”
Tachau said Bohannan herself referenced the need for fairness in a separate email related to scheduling of the on-campus public forums.
“We need to have the same schedule for all of the candidates to avoid unfairness,” Bohannan wrote in the email provided to The Gazette.
Bohannan told The Gazette she doesn’t know whether other members of the search committee knew of Harreld’s visit in July. She reported telling some of them after she returned from a trip overseas.
Now — however much you know about the Harreld hire, take a moment and try to imagine a fair search in which the chair of the committee hosts Harreld on July 8th, yet the full search committee is not aware that he’s in town. Because no matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine even the most minimally functional search committee failing to get that information out. Then again, Bohannan doesn’t specifically say that other members didn’t know, so maybe they did. Or maybe not.
Some members of the UI faculty have raised concern about Harreld’s July 8 visit to campus, questioning whether he — as an eventual candidate — had an unfair advantage over other prospects. Unlike three other finalists, Harreld has business — but not academic — leadership experience.
During a meeting Thursday of the UI chapter of the American Association of University Professors, faculty members discussed the summer visit. Two members of the search committee said they learned of it in the newspaper.
“I didn’t know … and I think there are others who were completely unaware of this,” said one of them, Dorothy Johnson, a UI art history professor. “I’m learning things in the paper I had no knowledge of even though I was on the search committee.”
Again, this is not some run-of-the-mill event. No other candidate receives anything like the treatment Harreld receives on July 8th — nothing remotely close — yet neither the chair nor the president of the Board of Regents can get word to the other seventeen people on the committee. How can that be seen as anything other than an intentional administrative crime of omission? By the time the events of July 8th take place they must have been in the planning stages for weeks if not longer, yet Bohannan gets a last-minute invite, and other members of the committee don’t even know the visit is taking place.
In order to stem the explosion of confusion resulting from disclosures about Harreld’s July 8th visit, including explaining their own presence at that event, Bohannan and Gardial release a joint statement through the university, which is incorporated into reporting by local media on 9/16.
Given the outcome of the presidential search, much attention is now focused on the details of the search process. It is important to note that the search committee collectively agreed, early on, to keep its activities and discussions confidential in order to recruit the best candidates and to encourage committee members to speak freely about those candidates. It would be a betrayal of that trust to divulge all of those details now.
Having said that, Search Committee Chair Jean Robillard has confirmed that President-Elect Bruce Harreld visited UIHC on July 8, where he gave a talk and had lunch. We want to acknowledge candidly that we attended those events at Dr. Robillard’s invitation. This was our duty as members of the search committee. The search committee was told to be aggressive in identifying, recruiting, and vetting as many candidates as we could to get the biggest and best possible pool. When the chair of the search committee invited us to come and hear someone talk, we made it a point to be there. It is our understanding that other candidates visited campus and talked to people at various points in the process as well. Such visits are not uncommon, especially in high-level searches. Search committee members, as well as many other members of the UI community, were actively engaged in this process, and we spent countless hours talking to and about many potential candidates throughout. We are proud of the hard work everyone put into this process and the deep commitment to the University that it reflects.
And that all seems to make sense right up until you think about the implications of these four words: “…it is our understanding…” How did Gardial and Bohannan know about Harreld on July 8th, but not about others who appeared earlier or later? Yes, the individuals on the search committee were empowered to be aggressive in recruitment, but where was the committee — the overarching body responsible for making sure that everything was orderly and fair?
No matter how hard I look, I can’t find it. Yes, there is a lot of committee-like stuff happening, and plenty of names get fed into the nominating hopper, but every time J. Bruce Harreld is part of the process all I see is a committee of two — Regents President Bruce Rastetter and acting Iowa President Jean Robillard, controlling and omitting information in administrative synchrony. From the point of view of the search committee members they feel like they’re working hard, and they are working hard, but everything they’re doing is simply a front for the committee of two.
In looking at the events of July 8th, their aftermath, and the testimony of committee members who were there and didn’t know why, and committee members who never knew the event was taking place, we can see that the entire apparatus of the search committee was a fraud. Within the greater search committee a committee of two — Rastetter and Robillard — devoted themselves to shepherding J. Bruce Harreld through the search process by administrative crimes of omission, so they could deliver him into the waiting arms of the Board of Regents, which Governor Branstad had corrupted with political appointees over the prior three years.
Still, all it takes for the regents, Robillard and Harreld to make this go away is to show their work and answer the ten questions above. While I don’t think they can do that, in a twist of irony I do think they’ve been showing their work all along. Every step of the way they did they did none of the things you would expect if there was a real search committee and that committee had even minimal interest in fairness. And it’s all on the record from search committee members themselves. July 8th wasn’t simply an instance of preferential treatment, it was willful fraud perpetrated against the committee by the chair himself — just as the events of July 30th would be willful fraud perpetrated against the committee by Regents President Rastetter. None of what they did was an oversight, or the result of aggressive recruiting or obligations to candidate due diligence. What they did — meaning what they intentionally did not do — was done to subvert the search process.
If you’re still not sure, consider the following. If the regents were able to show their work they would have already jammed every email documenting their fairness down the throats of the press and any doubters. We would see, in the record, that other candidates took the search committee up on the same opportunities that Harreld got. We would see other candidates having dinner with ISU President Steven Leath. We would see other candidates getting face time with regents. We would see other candidates getting a chat with the governor. And all of the search committee members would have known about July 8th, July 30th and Branstad’s phone call before the election took place.
Even if candidates were not officially informed of opportunities available to them, and the search process really did devolve into some kind of weird competition among members of the committee to get their favorite candidate to the finish line, we would expect to see events and opportunities like those given to Harreld all over the place, as people sought to promote their candidates. But that’s not what we see. At most we see one other candidate being hosted by the UI College of Public Health, and Robillard and Rastetter meeting one other candidate in Des Moines.
It may be that confidentiality concerns would have precluded some candidates from accepting some offers. But in order for the search to be fair, all candidates had to know what was available, and candidates with concerns about a current employer should have been offered reasonable protections if they wanted to partake. In any case, what’s necessary for the committee to show is that they maintained a level playing field and that candidates were allowed to make their own choices.
In reality it’s impossible to conclude anything except that other candidates did not know they could do the things that Harreld did. And, to come back to Jeneane Beck’s carefully phrased quote above, why would they ask? If you’re part of an orderly process, and you have no reason to assume that it’s anything other than fair, would you ask if you could meet with four members of the regents, or have dinner with Leath, or give a presentation, or bring your partner or spouse along for a campus tour? Don’t you expect that you’ll be told what’s available to you? In order to think otherwise you would have to assume that the search committee was intentionally keeping you in the dark, and who would think that about the position of president at a major research university? And yet that’s exactly what happened, which again betrays the entire search apparatus as a fraud.
If you’re keeping everyone up to date, and you’re focused on conducting a fair search, how do some members of the committee not know that Harreld was in town on July 8th? The president of the Board of Regents, who is on the committee, is in attendance. The chair of the committee, who also happens to be the acting president of the university, is in attendance. How does notice not get communicated to the search committee as a whole, unless someone consciously decides to commit a crime of administrative omission because it serves their ends?
Which brings us to a final irony. On July 8th we know why Harreld is in Iowa City. We know why Robillard is in attendance, we suspect we know why Rastetter is there, and we understand why Gardial is invited as dean of the business college. But why is Christina Bohannan there? Why was she invited to Harreld’s talk, when other committee members won’t learn about it until weeks after the election? On that day she isn’t even sure why she was invited, yet dutifully answers the call of the chair.
Why did Robillard invite her — assuming it was actually his idea? Bohannan has no authority over the search process, and she’s not in on the fraud, so her presence confers no benefit in terms of making sure Harreld wins. After he wins, however, the fact that she is in the room on July 8th confers tremendous benefits because it legitimizes the event and confuses those opposed to Harreld’s hire.
When Bohannan realizes what the regents are up to on the eve of the election, she sends an email warning them about the consequences of hiring Harreld.
Harreld, a former IBM executive with no experience in higher education administration, had “a clear lack of faculty support,” Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan told the Iowa Board of Regents in the Sept. 2 email. Choosing him over three other candidates who were warmly received would “destroy the goodwill” with faculty leaders and prompt calls for a no-confidence vote in the regents, she warned.
A day later, the regents voted unanimously to make Harreld the school’s 21st president and gave him a five-year contract, sparking protests from faculty and staff.
“It is hard to see how the Regents’ relationship with faculty could thrive under such circumstances,” wrote Bohannan, a law professor who was part of the 21-member committee that recommended four finalists to replace retiring president Sally Mason. The board released the email in response to an inquiry from The Associated Press.
A little over a week later, however, when Harreld’s July 8th visit becomes public knowledge, there’s Bohannan, front row center. The advantage to Robillard and Rastetter is clear, because it blunts the charge that they were up to something sneaky — which of course they were. Though the election was two months away, they knew even then that it would be useful to exploit Bohannan by inviting her to Harreld’s presentation, just as they knew it was to their advantage to invite shared governance from the faculty and staff, even though they were going to shove it down the collective throats of the university community when it came time to vote.
And yet…the very fact that they thought to invite Bohannan at the last minute is a tell. Because it really does mean they were already planning on electing Harreld on July 8th, if not earlier. Only by knowing that in advance could they have known that Bohannan, as president of the faculty senate, would be a particularly useful patsy. They wanted her in the room, they specifically invited her, and it paid off. Or did it?
Robillard and Rastetter got Bohannan in the room with Harreld, they lied to her about why he was there, they let her believe he wasn’t interested in the job, and then, when they hired him, they revealed that she was part of the vetting process. They damaged her credibility to the point that she and Gardial had to put out a joint statement to explain themselves, which allowed Rastetter and Robillard to give their done-deal hire the appearance of shared governance. As long as nobody asked the right questions about their administrative crimes of omission, they were home free.
But I think that’s where Rastetter and Robillard were too clever for their own good. People did ask questions — good questions, about fairness — and the press followed up. Precisely because Bohannan was in the room on that day, she was able to provide visibility into an event that would otherwise be as murky as the events of July 30th or the governor’s phone call are today. In answering questions about July 8th, even as her own participation created the confusion and uncertainty that Robillard and Rastetter hoped for, Bohannan — along with Gardial, and members of the search committee who knew nothing about the event — conveyed more than she knew at the time, and perhaps more than she knows even now.
Robillard and Rastetter abdicated their professional obligations to administer a fair search, and in doing so created a committee in name only. That’s why they can’t answer the ten simple questions in this post. At best that resulted in the fraudulent hire of J. Bruce Harreld to the be the next president of the University of Iowa. At worst it rises to the level of an indictable offense — and although I’m not an attorney, I think that’s actually a pretty easy case to make.
So. How do you steal an election, without breaking a law, betray yourself, and end up in prison?
— Mark Barrett