This past Wednesday and Thursday several important events took place in the ever-unfolding nightmare that is the election of J. Bruce Harreld to be the next president of the University of Iowa. Those events centered on and around the Iowa Board of Regents, which, in early September, reported a unanimous vote in Harreld’s favor, despite the fact that Harreld was manifestly unqualified for the position.
In previous posts we have looked at various dynamics involved in the search process, and we have documented the administrative fraud that occurred in the search committee itself. We have also pointed out, however, that the entire search process is not separate from the Iowa Board of Regents, but a function of the board, and as such any malfeasance is ultimately the board’s responsibility.
In this post we will look at the final vote by the nine-member Board of Regents, which took place after the conclusion of the search. In doing so it’s important to keep the following facts in mind. First, the board is not obligated to call a search. It can simply elect someone by whatever criteria it deems important. Second, if the board decides to initiate a search at taxpayer expense, for whatever reason, there is an implicit expectation that the search will be conducted fairly, so all candidates have an equal opportunity to present themselves throughout the search process. Third, in this search, when the committee concluded its business it sent four finalists to the board for a final vote. No other body, and no individuals other than the nine members on the Board of Regents at that time, had a say in who would be elected.
Initiating the Search
Each member of the Iowa Board of Regents is appointed by the governor:
The state board of regents consists of nine members, eight of whom shall be selected from the state at large solely with regard to their qualifications and fitness to discharge the duties of the office. The ninth member shall be a student enrolled on a full-time basis in good standing at either the graduate or undergraduate level at one of the institutions listed in section 262.7, subsection 1, 2, or 3, at the time of the member’s appointment. Not more than five members shall be of the same political party.
When one of the state’s universities needs a new president, it is the responsibility of the board to fill that vacancy. If the board elects not to simply hire someone, the search process officially begins when the board authorizes a search. The board officially took that step during a meeting on January 20, 2015:
University of Iowa Presidential Search
MOVED by DAKOVICH, SECONDED by MCKIBBEN, to authorize the Executive Director, with Board leadership, to develop a process and timetable for the presidential search, develop an RFP, select a search firm, and select a search committee. The Executive Director will give periodic updates to the Board as necessary.
AYE: Bates, Dakovich, Downer, Harkin, McKibben, Mulholland, Rastetter, Walsh.
MOTION APPROVED by ROLL CALL.
While the board is responsible for triggering the search, you can see that arranging for the mechanics of a search is the responsibility of the executive director — specifically, Dr. Bob Donley, who is also the board’s chief executive officer. In addition to Donley, the members of the board are supported by considerable staff, including a communications director and several staff counsels.
At regents’ meetings many of the board’s staff are also in attendance. As such it can be inferred that there is almost no action taken by the board which is not informed by and supported by government employees who are not only steeped in policy, but obligated as a condition of their employment to meet and enforce all state and federal regulations, including those related to the hiring of personnel. (As is often the case, topics are only generally noted in the board’s minutes, along with a few specifics when warranted. I do not know if board meetings are transcribed or recorded, but I assume so, and that the press has access to those records except when the board is in closed session. In the minutes posted on the board’s website, none of the reports to the board about the search occurred in closed session.)
On February 2, 2105, the board announces the search committee:
The Iowa Board of Regents has named the 21 members of the University of Iowa Presidential Search and Screen Committee. The committee is charged with identifying candidates for Board consideration, in conjunction with the search consultant, Parker Executive Search, to serve as the next president of the University of Iowa.
The chair of the committee will be Jean Robillard, who will become acting president of the University of Iowa when Sally Mason retires on August 1st. Also on the search committee will be three regents: President Bruce Rastetter, President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland, and regent Milt Dakovich.
During the next meeting the search again comes up, on February 4-5, 2015:
University of Iowa Presidential Search Update
Executive Director Donley provided an update on the University of Iowa presidential search, including comments on: (1) the Request for Proposals process to solicit a search firm; (2) process to gather input from the University of Iowa community and the public on characteristics desired in the next president; and (3) committee members.
President Rastetter said he appreciates the working relationship with the University of Iowa Faculty Senate and he looks forward to a successful search.
The Board received the update by GENERAL CONSENT.
On February 16, 2015, the board announces in a press release that Parker Executive Search has been hired to manage the search:
The Board of Regents has selected Parker Executive Search of Atlanta, Georgia, as the search firm for the selection of the next president of the University of Iowa. Parker’s role in the UI presidential search will be to define the goals of the search and develop the position specification and search timeline; identify and assess potential candidates; facilitate all candidate interviews; and negotiate and provide follow-up communications.
It will be noted in the press that the contract with Parker Executive Search is almost twice the usual fee, but no explanation for the increase in costs is given. The direct costs of the search, not including staff time devoted to support, will top $250,000. Parker will also apparently fail to catch typos, errors in usage, lies of omission and misstatements of fact on J. Bruce Harreld’s resume. (I say ‘apparently’ because it has not been established when, or even if, Parker Executive Search received Harreld’s resume, or what PES did to vet and “assess” Harreld as a candidate.)
By mid-February the full search apparatus is up and functioning. While the mechanism of the search is distributed among twenty-one search committee members and a professional search firm, there is never a moment when responsibility for the integrity of the search does not rest with the Board of Regents.
May Through August
As the search grinds on, the regents continue to meet. From March 11, 2015:
University of Iowa Presidential Search Update
Vice President for Medical Affairs and University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee Chair Dr. Jean Robillard provided an update on the University of Iowa presidential search process.
The Board received the update by GENERAL CONSENT.
From April 23, 2015:
University of Iowa Presidential Search Update
Presidential Search Committee Chair Dr. Jean Robillard provided an update to the Board on the status of the University of Iowa presidential search.
Dr. Robillard reported on recent meetings with various constituencies to gather input on qualities desired in the next president and responded to a question from Regent Sahai on whether certain qualifications stood out over others.
Regent Sahai requested at least four final candidates be brought to the Board.
The Board received the update by GENERAL CONSENT
On April 29, 2015, there is no search-related business.
From June 4, 2015:
University of Iowa Presidential Search Update
Presidential Search Committee Chair Dr. Jean Robillard provided an update to the Board on the status of the University of Iowa presidential search.
The Board received the update by GENERAL CONSENT.
Three new members appear in the minutes on June 4. The following nine members will vote for the next president in early September (new members in caps): MARY VERMEER ANDRINGA, Sherry Bates, PATTY COWNIE, Milt Dakovich, RACHAEL JOHNSON, Larry McKibben, Katie Mulholland, Bruce Rastetter, Subhash Sahai.
There is no board meeting in July. On July 8th, as a member of the search committee, Regents President Rastetter attends a presentation by J. Bruce Harreld at UIHC in Iowa City, followed by a “VIP lunch”. On July 30th, as a member of the search committee, Rastetter arranges for meetings between J. Bruce Harreld and four regents at Rastetter’s own place of business in Ames. One meeting on that day takes place with President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland and regent Milt Dakovich, who are both on the search committee. The second meeting takes place with regents Mary Andringa and Larry McKibben, who are not on the search committee. Rastetter does not attend the meetings. Sometime in August Regents President Rastetter also facilitates a phone call from Governor Terry Branstad to J. Bruce Harreld.
The regents meet again on August 5, 2015:
University of Iowa Presidential Search Update
Presidential Search Committee Chair Interim President Robillard provided an update to the Board on the status of the University of Iowa presidential search.
The Board received the update by GENERAL CONSENT.
While Rastetter is indeed a member of the search committee, there is never a minute when he is not also the president of the Board of Regents, and as such ultimately responsible for initiating, conducting and concluding a fair search process. While Rastetter himself seems to reserve the right to shape-shift into whatever role is most beneficial at the time, that is in fact not possible. When Rastetter arranges secret meetings at his place of business, which no other candidate receives, and includes two regents who are not on the search committee, he is not simply helping Harreld perform due diligence, or merely giving Harreld preferential treatment, he is defrauding the other candidates, the other members of the search committee, and the people of Iowa, who have an expectation that the search will be fair.
Rastetter’s only possible excuse is that he did not know that what he was doing on July 30th was so fundamentally opposed to fairness in the search and selection process that it constituted criminal fraud. Which brings us to the minutes from two telephonic meetings of the search committee, which were pointed out to me in a comment to another post, and can be found on Stephen Voyce’s FOIA site.
From the document titled, “Minutes of the meeting of the University of Iowa July 2 FINAL.docx” (the meeting actually takes place on July 1):
July 30 is the next update call. Previously access to candidate material was going to be made available on July 31, but in response to a request by the Chair to have earlier access, that material will be made available starting on July 24. Candidates have been told that they have until July 31 to provide materials and many will wait until the last moment. The conference call meeting on the 30th will be about the process to evaluate the candidates. A key meeting will be on August 4 here on campus from 3-5 pm to make decisions about the initial interviewees. The airport interviews are scheduled for August 11 and 12 in Chicago. On-campus interviews will take place between August 31 and September 3. On September 4 the Board will meet with the candidates.
Present during the conference call are regents Rastetter, Mulholland and Dakovich. The call itself describes the organized, regimented process by which PES and the committee will work together to identify candidates and gather information that can then be shared. Implicit in the entire structure of the search process is establishing a level playing field by which information is communicated to every member of the search committee at the same time.
From the doc titled, “Minutes 7 30 Search and Screen.docx”:
Professor [Larry J.] Weber wondered if we should only evaluate based upon the materials that were submitted.
Carroll Reasoner confirmed that the UI process is to review only the material submitted or rely on professional sites, not social media.
Present during the conference call on July30th are regents Rastetter, Mulholland and Dakovich. Carroll Reasoner is Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel at the University of Iowa, and is giving not simply search advice but legal advice. In order to ensure fairness, equal opportunity and a level playing field, the search committee members must all use the same resources and limit themselves to materials which are presented to the committee as a whole.
The conference call on July 30th takes place at 1 p.m. On that same day, four regents meet with J. Bruce Harreld at Regents President Bruce Rastetter’s place of business in Ames. Rastetter and two of the regents who will meet with Harreld necessarily know about those meetings when they are on that conference call, but neither Rastetter, Mulholland or Dakovich asks if those meetings are allowable or proper, nor did they raise any such questions during the conference call on July 1.
We know they did not because unlike the minutes from the regents’ meetings, the minutes from the search committee meetings on July 1st and July 30th are extensive, including question after question, in order. Whether the meetings with Harreld have just taken place or are about to take place, and despite question after question about policy and procedures, on July 30th neither Rastetter, Mulholland or Dakovich mentions the meetings with J. Bruce Harreld in Ames, let alone asks for any guidance, despite the fact that an attorney is present to answer such questions.
Either the three members of the search committee who are also regents do not know that those meetings are improper, or they do know. If they do not know and do not suspect, then the regents’ staff has failed to inform them of that fact and the regents staff should be fired for that oversight. If the regents do not know but do suspect, then their silence is confirmation of their intent. And of course if they do know the meetings are improper, including particularly the meeting between Harreld and two members of the board who are not on the committee, then by their silence they are guilty of conspiracy to defraud the taxpayers of Iowa.
Because only the nine members of the Board of Regents participate in the final vote, time spent with regent members of the search committee, to say nothing of regents who are not on the committee, carries more weight than time spent with non-regent members. Because of Regents President Bruce Rastetter’s machinations on July 30th, five members of the nine-member Board of Regents will have had face-to-face meetings with J. Bruce Harreld before the final vote is held in September — an opportunity that no other candidate, meaning also no other finalist, will receive.
On August 11th-12th the search committee holds “airport interviews” and reduces nine semifinalists to four finalists. At that point the committee disbands, leaving the finalists to be interviewed and voted on by the full board on September 3rd.
The Vote and the Aftermath
From the minutes of the Board of Regents meeting on September 3, 2015:
MOVED by MULHOLLAND, SECONDED by JOHNSON, to appoint Bruce Harreld as President of the University of Iowa effective November 2, 2015, and approve the following employment terms:
Provide an annual salary of $590,000;
Provide a five-year term of appointment; and
Authorize a five-year deferred compensation plan with an annual contribution of $200,000.
AYE: Andringa, Bates, Cownie, Dakovich, Johnson, McKibben, Mulholland, Rastetter, Sahai
MOTION APPROVED by ROLL CALL.
Regent Sahai expressed gratitude to University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee Chair Jean Robillard, search committee members, and President Rastetter for all of their hard work in choosing the candidates and encouraged everyone to support President-Elect Harreld.
President-Elect Harreld thanked the Board and expressed his desire to work together and make the University of Iowa even better.
Although the recorded vote was nine to nothing in favor of Harreld, on the day of the announcement Regents President Rastetter characterized the ninety minutes of debate before the vote as difficult. Within days the shock of the announcement on the Iowa campus turned into a protracted backlash, which culminated in several important events on Wednesday and Thursday of this past week.
With the regents holding public meetings in Iowa City on those two days, the university community had its first opportunity to confront the people who foisted Harreld upon them. Between four and five hundred protesters attended the meeting on Wednesday to voice their dissent:
After surrounding the board, UI student representatives told the nine regents their demands and handed over the group’s petition, which has amassed more than 1,000 signatures.
“Bruce Harreld is not fit to run the University of Iowa and should be immediately dismissed from the presidency,” according to the petition, which also requests a new “more democratic method” of electing a president that takes into account faculty, student, and community member opinions.
After the students spoke, the crowd erupted in loud applause and then protesters began shouting, “resign, resign.” The board sat mostly quiet during the protest, although Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter halted the board’s discussion about its system-wide efficiency review to acknowledge the protesters and accept their petition.
After the protests on Wednesday, Rastetter dismissed their relevance, apparently because the protesters did not weigh enough:
Rastetter said he has received “tons of positive reactions” to Harreld’s meetings with UI constituents.
The next day, Thursday, Regent Larry McKibben distinguished himself in responding to Wednesday’s protest by making three incoherent points back-to-back-to-back.
Regent Larry McKibben on Thursday also addressed Wednesday’s protests, saying he has received much feedback from constituents across the state on the selection of Harreld, and the critics are in the minority.
“We have a great opportunity to make a great institution greater,” McKibben said.
He praised Wednesday’s protesters for the peaceful nature of their rally, but he stressed that most of the campus community did not participate in the demonstration.
“We had more than 30,000 students, faculty and staff out and about doing their teaching and research and doing their learning while that was going on,” he said. “That’s the number that’s important to me.”
First, it should be obvious even to regent McKibben that polling people across the state about the University of Iowa means nothing. Given the cultural hostility that exists toward the university in some parts of the Hawkeye state — indeed, toward even the idea of a university — McKibben could get a fair amount of support for closing the school outright, but that would not indicate that he should do so.
Second, in parroting the marketing idiocy of President-Elect Harreld, McKibben joined the ranks of those who have yet to define greaterness. As a steward of both state funds and young minds, it seems fair to ask exactly how greaterosity will be measured, and how, once attained, greateritude will be maintained in perpetuity.
Third, in pointing out that there were only four or five hundred protesters compared to a majority who did not attend, McKibben exposed his hypocrisy toward the university community. To be fair to McKibben, however, he learned that last trick from Regents President Bruce Rastetter, who at one point also suddenly found himself enamored of faculty support when it suited his interests.
“I really appreciate all the positive comments we’ve heard from Iowa faculty members about the choice we made for president and our interest in improving the university and not accepting the status quo,” Rastetter said today. “I heard it again Saturday at the football game. There are literally hundreds of faculty members out there who are supportive and there’s obviously a few that are upset and we get that, but we’re more interested in moving the university forward in a positive way, working with the new president, and that’s what’s going to happen.”
Prior to the election, when 97% of the respondents to a survey said that Harreld was not qualified, Rastetter and the regents who supported Harreld ignored that 97%. After the election, when Rastetter reported pockets of support for Harreld among a faculty numbering more than 1,400, suddenly faculty support was integral to the validity of the regents’ vote.
While the regents’ cartoonish attempts to dismiss the protests on Wednesday are hardly surprising, it’s important to note that in almost two months since the election not only has the backlash grown, it has evolved in a critical way. Shortly after electing Harreld the faculty senate and students voted no confidence in the regents. After those votes, Rastetter made what he deemed to be an important distinction:
Rastetter shot down any suggestion that J. Bruce Harreld’s appointment as UI president could be reversed.
“He’s president elect to the University of Iowa, and I appreciate that the faculty and students did not have a vote in no confidence in President Harreld,” Rastetter said.
This past week, however, as noted above, the petition that was delivered to the regents did not ask for them to step down, though that was also requested by the protesters, and had earlier been demanded by the Faculty Assembly of UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Instead, the petition demanded that J. Bruce Harreld be dismissed. Instead of healing the divide that the regents created with their vote, time has deepened awareness that whatever crimes were committed during the search, J. Bruce Harreld is disqualified by that fraudulent process, if not complicit himself.
Regent Subhash Sahai
While reports from faculty members on the search committee have been important in proving that fraud was committed against the other candidates, against many members of the search committed, and against the state of Iowa, because the final regents’ debate prior to the vote occurred in closed session, there has been no visibility into the dynamics that produced the unanimous vote for J. Bruce Harreld.
On this past Thursday, in what can only be described as an act of courage, regent Subhash Sahai spoke out about how he felt when he discovered, after the election, that five of his fellow board members had met privately, during the search process, for relatively extensive periods of time, with J. Bruce Harreld.
Regent Subhash Sahai, a physician from Webster City, told his fellow board members Thursday that he was “angry, mad and most importantly sad” upon learning last month that a majority of the board had met with incoming UI President Harreld this summer before the search committee had begun evaluating applications.
“And I think my words at the time … were, ‘I am pissed,’ and that’s not the language I usually use,” said Sahai, who received his medical degree from UI in 1973.
Where Sahai had every reason to believe that all regents would have the same access to candidates at the proper point in the election process, he — along with three million other Iowans — only learned of Rastetter’s willful deceit after the election took place. Even as Sahai was faithfully performing his duties as expected, the president of the board on which he served was undermining Sahai by giving J. Bruce Harreld preferential access. Subsequent to the regent meetings with Harreld on July 30th, Rastetter and the other regents in attendance then committed administrative crimes of omission in order to deny other candidates those same opportunities, and to deny knowledge of those meetings to the other four regents.
In initially responding to Sahai’s remarks Rastetter fell back on one of the many dodges (lies) that he and Robillard have used to explain why they gave preferential treatment to J. Bruce Harreld, which they then denied to other candidates.
“Yes, Bruce Harreld also came to campus and Bruce Harreld wanted to do additional diligence work beyond what some of the other candidates did, which I would view as good,” said Rastetter, “when he wanted to talk to Governor Branstad to find out if there would continue to be increases in funding for the University of Iowa, that’s a good sign.”
Rastetter said the negativity that has come from the appointment is troubling because it’s “not close to the reality of what happens.”
Again, Regents President Rastetter was never free from his obligations as president of the regents during the entire search process. He was not compelled to give J. Bruce Harreld preferential treatment, and, whether Harreld’s interest was a good sign or not, it was improper to accede to such requests. Assuming of course that Harreld himself actually initiated those requests, instead of fielding offers from Rastetter. (Yet another can of worms to be opened by someone with a badge.) As for claiming that the reality of the search process is being overlooked, Rastetter has only himself to blame because he has not been forthcoming about the search process, the committee’s deliberations about candidates, or the final vote by the board.
Of particular interest in the reporting on Thursday, however, is a change that took place between two stories posted by Jeff Charis-Carlson. At 11:30 a.m. Charis-Carlson posts a story on the Des Moines Register site containing Sahai’s remarks from the morning session. At 9:03 p.m. that same day Chris-Carlson posts an extended version of the same story to the Press-Citizen site (both papers are owned by Gannett), in which Rastetter reframes and mischaracterizes Sahai:
Sahai did not return to the Thursday meeting after the lunch break, citing a previous engagement.
Rastetter told reporters after the meeting that Sahai — like the other six regents not on the search committee — had received the full resumes from the finalists about a week early.
“I think he did not get an opportunity to look at those until a couple of days before, so I think because of his total time constraints, and the way the process works, he felt he needed a little more time,” he said.
Rastetter also said Sahai was reacting to the pressure and intense negativity on display during the interruption of Wednesday’s meeting in Iowa City.
Rastetter’s comment that Sahai was limited in getting to know the candidates because of “total time constraints” is a sick joke given that Rastetter himself had hours of face time with J. Bruce Harreld, to say nothing of arranging face time with four other regents at his own place of business on July 30th. Yes, I’m quite sure Sahai felt he needed more time, particularly after he found out that Rastetter screwed him out of exactly that by excluding Sahai from that opportunity.
Even more contemptuous, however, if not borderline sociopathic, is Rastetter’s next comment, in which he blames the “pressure and intense negativity on display” for Sahai’s comments. Had Rastetter himself not initiated, overseen and concluded a fraudulent search, I’m confident there would have been no “pressure and intense negativity” during the regents’ meetings this past week. In fact, if Regents President Rastetter had not betrayed virtually every decent person involved in the search I’m confident he would not have had to perform damage control after Sahai’s comments, in a desperate attempt to paint them as anything other than what they were: a direct rebuke of Rastetter himself, and an open admission by Sahai that the search was not fair.
Also on Thursday Sahai gave some welcome visibility into the final vote:
Sahai says while the meeting may’ve given the appearance that the selection of Harreld was predetermined, he does not believe that is the case. “I want people at the university to know that we had impassioned, intense and rigorous debate about the choice of our candidate. I have always maintained that the decision of this magnitude requires unanimous support. To do otherwise would only stifle the function of the key people,” Sahai says. “Right or wrong, I stick by it and I think the majority of the people on the board at the time think that was the thing to do.”
Critically, Sahai acknowledges that the unanimous support for Harreld was compelled not by belief in Harreld himself, but by an unwritten rule that if one candidate had majority support on the board, then the other members would switch their votes to give the winning candidate an apparent mandate. Whether you believe in such machinations or not, and I do not, it’s clear from Sahai’s comments that the debate was contentious, but that he and any other dissenting regents were simply outnumbered. And how could they not be, when Rastetter had given Harreld face time with five regents, constituting a majority of the board.
Note also the qualifier in Sahai’s last sentence: “…at the time….” While Sahai is sticking with his decision, even as he acknowledges that he was deceived by Rastetter, and that the regents “dropped the ball” on the search, he implies that one or more of the other regents may no longer feel that way. Unfortunately, what was not clear on Thursday was whether the original vote was 5-4 or some other combination, though late Friday Sahai confirmed that four of the regents were unaware of the July 30th meetings prior to the vote.
Whatever the initial vote was, in terms of the final vote the only number that mattered was five because five constituted a majority. By great coincidence, J. Bruce Harreld had face-to-face meetings with five regents — considerably more than any other candidate. Given the board’s unwritten rule of speaking unanimously even when divided, a five-member majority is a unanimous vote — meaning even if your corruption extends all the way up to the bolts in your neck, you don’t have to worry about rigging the final four votes. If you can get to five you can screw the other four members with impunity because their votes will swing to your candidate.
However much time you believe each of the four regents had when they met with J. Bruce Harreld at Rastetter’s private-sector seat of power in Ames, consider what Sahai and the three other regents had to work with in gauging the candidates:
Sahai is speaking out about how the search for Harreld was conducted and is calling for changes.
“I only had 20 minutes with each candidate, which is not enough for such a big job. So I told the board people that I want more information the next time,” Sahai said.
That’s right: Sahai got twenty minutes. That means the four regents who met with Harreld on July 30th probably had three times as much face time, plus the twenty minutes they got during the final interviews. Other than Governor Terry and his sycophants, I’m willing to bet there are no people in the state of Iowa, of any political persuasion, who would call that fair.
The Only Question That Matters
To see the intrinsic corruption in Regents President Bruce Rastetter — how it seems to be the very fabric of his being as a remorseless bureaucratic terminator — let’s accept all of his disingenuous explanations for why the face-to-face meetings on July 30th, which he arranged and facilitated between four regents and J. Bruce Harreld, were not improper or unfair. Let’s grant that Harreld had the right to receive whatever he asked for in the guise of due diligence, and that as a member of the search committee Rastetter was obligated to eschew his standing as president of the regents and give Harreld whatever he asked.
If that’s all true, then by what rule does Rastetter omit notifying the other four regents that Harreld is in town? I mean, if Harreld wants regents, why does Rastetter only provide four? Isn’t that failing in his servile duty to meet Harreld’s request for due diligence? Sure, maybe some of the other four regents would have been busy, but doesn’t Rastetter have an obligation, under his own rules as just stated, to at least make the effort and contact all of the other regents? And if so, isn’t his failure to do so yet more evidence of partiality or unfairness — of selective application of his own tortured rationale for providing J. Bruce Harreld with preferential treatment?
Assuming that Rastetter is obligated to give Harreld face time with regents simply because Harreld asks, then the only thing keeping Rastetter from communicating Harreld’s interest to all of the other eight regents is Rastetter himself. There is no other party involved, there are no constraints, there are no prohibitions, there is just a failure to act. He could contact all eight, but he only contacts four. Why?
The answer, of course, is obvious. He only needs four regents to command a five-vote majority on the board, which will magically turn into a unanimous victory. And because he knows he only needs four it never occurs to him that even his corruption is unfair. (Could any of those five regents have initially voted for someone other than Harreld? Sure. Is there any reason to think that might be the case? No.)
We also know that the four regents who were invited to meet with Harreld on July 30th knew that Harreld was in town, while the other four regents who were not invited did not know anything about the meetings until after the election. Which means not only did Rastetter keep quiet about the meetings after July 30th, but so did the four regents who participated. And that in itself is proof of conspiracy.
In this post and others we’ve talked about crimes and lies of commission and omission. While the difference between them isn’t complicated, the distinctions are crtical to understanding what actually happens when Rastetter, Mulholland, Dakovich, Andringa and McKibben all fail to mention to the other four regents that they had prior personal contact with J. Bruce Harreld.
If you break a window that’s a crime of commission. You did something you weren’t supposed to do. But the act itself is finite. You break the window, it’s broken. If someone asks you if you broke the window and you say no, that’s a lie of commission. If nobody asks then you get away with the crime, but by your very silence you are telling a life of omission.
If you break a window one day, then take a day off, then break a window the next day, you are a serial vandal. All the same dynamics apply with regard to lying about your crimes of commission afterward, but your crimes have still ended. Even if you go berserk and break every window in a high rise, at some point you’re going to have to stop to eat or take a nap, or just wait until you can lift your arms again. And each time you stop, your crime spree ends.
Now consider a crime of omission — meaning not doing something you’re supposed to do. For example, imagine you’re a firefighter and the alarm goes off, but you just keep stirring your famous firehouse chili. As long as the alarm keeps ringing you are committing a crime of omission by not responding, because that is your job. You may not go to jail if you get caught, but you will get fired (no pun intended). From the moment the bell starts ringing until it stops, every indivisible moment in which you do not act you are committing an uninterrupted serial crime of omission.
Now imagine that instead of being a firefighter you’re a clerk. Your job is to call the nearest firefighter when an alarm rings, but one day, for some reason, you decide not to make that call. All you have to do is pick up the phone, but you don’t. Again, as long as the alarm is ringing you are committing a crime of omission, but in this case your crime is administrative. You’re supposed to pass some information along, and it’s expected that you will do so, but you decide not to do it.
That’s what Regents President Rastetter does when he contacts four regents, but does not contact the other four. Even by his own insane rules he is obligated to call the other four regents, but he doesn’t make those calls. And because that obligation starts the minute he knows he’s going to screw those four regents, his serial administrative crime of omission is effectively unending. Every day that he says nothing he’s committing a crime. Not just lying about it by commission or omission, but actively committing the same administrative crime of omission, endlessly, until the vote takes place a month later. (At that point those crimes of omission finally transition to lies of omission, which will later be exposed in the press.)
Now, it may seem as if we’re stuck with Rastetter’s denials and no way to move forward — and clearly Rastetter is stuck, because he’s repeating those denials — but there was an important change on Wednesday, after the protests. Whether it was a slip on Rastetter’s part, or the work of dogged reporters honing in on the inherent weakness of Rastetter’s denials, he said something that I don’t believe he’s ever said before — at least not on the record:
After the meeting, Rastetter told reporters he has no plans to resign and doesn’t know of any other regents planning to step down. He also stressed that Harreld will start as the UI’s 21st president Nov. 2, and he believes the search process that landed Harreld was fair.
Did you catch it? If not, here it is again, as a direct quote:
“I have no plans to resign, and I haven’t heard of any of the other members of the board who have plans to resign,” Board President Bruce Rastetter told reporters after the meeting. “We think the search was fair. We have a new president coming in. And we’re looking forward to that.”
Based on everything I’ve read, and innumerable internet searches — and I’ve been looking a long time — that is the first assertion by Rastetter that the search process was fair. While he has certainly implied as much since the election, as regular Ditchwalk readers know, the concept of fairness is something that both Rastetter and Robillard have stayed away from, for what should by now be obvious reasons. Instead, they have hidden behind various dodges (lies), or the entirely separate point of whether the search process should have been open, closed, or something in between. While we can certainly have that conversation any time — and, given the abuse that was just perpetrated against the University of North Carolina in a closed search, we certainly should — the only question that matters with regard to the Harreld hire is and always has been whether the search and election was fair.
Whether or not that is the first time that Rastetter claimed the search process was fair, that assertion on Wednesday presents Rastetter with a crushing problem, because the search process was not only by definition unfair, he is one of the two people who made sure it was unfair. Yes, Rastetter can simply deny, deny, deny, and apparently there exists no one in state or federal government who is able to compel him to do otherwise, but if there were, this is how long that would take.
Prosecutor: “Do you believe the search process that resulted in the election of J. Bruce Harreld was fair?”
Prosecutor: “Did you arrange for the governor to call J. Bruce Harreld during the search?”
Prosecutor: “Did you tell the other members of the search committee that you were going to do so, or that you had done so?”
Prosecutor: “Did you tell the other candidates that they could also receive a phone call from the governor?”
Prosecutor: “Did you notify any of the staff at the Board of Regents that you were going to facilitate a phone call from the governor to J. Bruce Harreld, or ask any staff if doing so was allowed?
Prosecutor: “Did you notify any of the other members of the Board of Regents that you were going to arrange a call between the governor and J. Bruce Harreld, or that you had arranged such a call?
Prosecutor: “So you arranged for the governor to call J. Bruce Harreld, you did not tell anyone on the search committee that you arranged that call, you did not tell anyone on the staff at the Board of Regents about the call, and you did not tell any other members of the Board of Regents about the call, but you believe the search process was fair?
Game over — and that’s the least corrupt thing Rastetter did during the search. If necessary, rinse and repeat for July 30th, which is, at a minimum, one thousand times worse because it involves secret meetings with four regents at Rastetter’s place of business, and two of those regents weren’t even on the search committee.
As noted in a post from a week ago, Rastetter’s best defense is simply that he wasn’t the chair of the search committee. Given that Robillard clearly lied when he brought Harreld to Iowa City on July 8th, it’s possible that Rastetter could feign ignorance about that meeting, then say Robillard ordered him to set up the July 30th meetings and the phone call with the governor. And yet, even if that was believable it wouldn’t get Rastetter off the hook because at no time did he stop being the President of the Board of Regents — the man who initiated the entire fraudulent search process, who had an ongoing obligation to ensure fairness and report any unfair or improper activity, who instead opted to defraud almost everyone, while also intentionally disenfranchising four voting members of his own board.
And while we’re on the subject, now that board CEO and Executive Director Dr. Bob Donley knows about the meetings on July 30th, does he think the final vote was fair? And on that point where is Communications Director Josh Lehman, who had no problem explaining that Harreld’s disastrous resume was “not a concern”? Also, why aren’t the attorneys at the Board of Regents on the record with their assertions about how fair the vote was? Or might they lack conviction because four board members were intentionally kept out of the loop during what is, unarguably, the board’s most important deliberative process?
The simplest solution to the corruption at the Board of Regents, and also the only honorable solution, is to get rid of the five regents who were involved in the meetings with J. Bruce Harreld on July 30th. Unfortunately, just when he’s needed most, Governor Branstad seems to have lapsed into political impotence, either because Rastetter is too important as a political firewall, or because Rastetter knows where all the bones are buried and will take Branstad down with him.
DES MOINES, Iowa — Gov. Terry Branstad says he wants to dispel the notion that he has any authority to remove members of a state board that oversees Iowa’s three public universities, following criticism over its hiring of Bruce Harreld as new University of Iowa president. He is a former business executive.
Branstad said he was shocked that the Faculty Assembly at the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences voted recently for the nine-member Iowa Board of Regents to resign. The faculty group also asked Branstad to dismiss the board.
Branstad, who appoints members for six-year terms, says Iowa code is clear that the board doesn’t serve at the pleasure of the governor.
Fortunately, we don’t care about the governor’s faux emotions, or even whether he survives this mess. We’re also not relying on the governor’s word that he’s powerless to act, because as others have pointed out, the good six-term governor is either improbably ill-informed or lying though his desperately clenched teeth.
The Definition of Malfeasance
The amount of damage that has been done by the Harreld hire is astonishing, and we’re only looking at the earliest returns. When the AAUP completes its investigation in several months it will almost certainly be obligated to bring the hammer down on the Board of Regents, not only affecting the University of Iowa but also the state’s other two institutions of higher learning.
Even if the penalty is light, what prospective faculty member in their right mind would choose Iowa if they didn’t have to? Rastetter, Robillard and Harreld have turned a great — and I mean great — public university into a destination of last resort, and the only way out of this mess is not to bury the problem but to expose it, excise it, and put the key co-conspirators on trial. We are now, incredibly, obligated to rebuild confidence in the reputation that Iowa had until these idiots turned what should have been a straightforward election process into a clown show.
Regarding the five regents who were central to the meetings with J. Bruce Harreld on July 30th, I don’t have any doubt that their conduct rises to the level of malfeasance, and as you may know that’s a critical threshold. Leaving aside the fact that the governor could simply ask for the resignations of Rastetter, Mulholland, McKibben, Andringa and Dakovich, the Iowa Code — which Governor Branstad has certainly heard of during at least one of his six terms — clearly states that the governor does have the authority to remove members of the Board of Regents:
The governor, with the approval of a majority of the senate during a session of the general assembly, may remove any member of the board for malfeasance in office, or for any cause which would render the member ineligible for appointment or incapable or unfit to discharge the duties of office, and the member’s removal, when so made, shall be final.
When the general assembly is not in session, the governor may suspend any member so disqualified and shall appoint another to fill the vacancy thus created, subject to the approval of the senate when next in session.
Nowhere does it say that malfeasance has to be proven in court, meaning a conviction is not necessary. Too, the words ‘any cause’ and ‘unfit’ are broad enough to cover just about anything an honest governor might deem injurious to the integrity of the regents and the state. So we’re all on the same page about all that, however, here’s the actual definition of malfeasance:
1. the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified, harmful, or contrary to law; wrongdoing (used especially of an act in violation of a public trust).
Compare misfeasance (def 2), nonfeasance.
And now here are the two specific ways you can commit malfeasance:
1. a wrong, actual or alleged, arising from or consisting of affirmative action.
2. the wrongful performance of a normally lawful act; the wrongful and injurious exercise of lawful authority.
1. the omission of some act that ought to have been performed.
Compare malfeasance, misfeasance (def 2).
Sound familiar? Crimes of commission, crimes of omission.
In demonstrating that the conduct of Rastetter and the four regents who met with Harreld on July 30th rises to the level of misfeasance and nonfeasance — collectively constituting malfeasance — we will start with the wrongdoing those regents committed as an affirmative act. To me, the most striking aspect of the meetings on July 30th, beyond the fact that they took place at all, is where they took place. Instead of scheduling the meetings at the board’s offices, or at another government site, or even a public location in the private sector, such as a restaurant, Rastetter chooses his own private place of business — his seat of personal wealth and power — where everyone on the premises works for him.
Almost like a feudal lord, Rastetter commands four regents to travel not to the place where they usually conduct business, but to his palace north of the capital. What greater expression of Rastetter’s power, and by extension, the power he derives from the governor’s office, could there be? What more pointed message could possibly be sent to the four lesser nobles who are summoned to meet the great visiting dignitary, J. Bruce Harreld? If Rastetter did not revere Harreld, would he orchestrate such an event? Given that he did not do so for any other candidates, what other conclusion could McKibben, Andgringa, Mulholland and Dakovich reach?
And what about the power dynamics at those meetings? Had the other four regents even been to Rastetter’s offices in Ames before? (Remember, Andringa only joined the board that summer.) In what room did the meetings take place? In Rastetter’s own office? In a conference room? Was J. Bruce Harreld given, or did he take, the seat of power behind Rastetter’s desk, or at the head of the table? How did any staff on the premises treat Harreld? What sort of amenities were provided?
We know that Rastetter did not attend the meetings because he had “other commitments“, but what does that mean? Down the hall? Was he not on the premises? Was he out of town? If he was out of town, does that mean halfway around the world or standing just outside the Ames city limits? Or was he hanging out with ISU President Steven Leath, prepping Leath on the dinner Leath would be hosting for Harreld that evening? Was Rastetter available to Harreld or the four regents by phone, either during the meetings, in between, or afterward?
And while we’re on that subject, were any of the three regents who were also members of the search committee at Rastetter’s place of business when they joined the conference call on the 30th? Was Harreld already at that location? Was Harreld in the room with any of the regents when that conference call took place?
No, we are probably never going to get answers to those questions, either because people clam up or lawyer up, or Rastetter asserts a preposterous right to privacy because those government meetings took place on private property. But the very fact that we can even ask those questions means misfeasance is staring us in the face. Regents President Bruce Rastetter arranged for four regents to meet in secret with J. Bruce Harreld. Rastetter can claim he was only helping Harreld do due diligence, but facilitating meetings between Harreld and two regents who were not on the search committee was malfeasance — an act in violation of a public trust.
As bad as that is, however, it pales in comparison to the serial and conspiratorial nonfeasance committed by Rastetter, Mulholland, Dakovich, McKibben and Andringa. After those meetings took place the affirmative crimes of commission were over. What began, however, were administrative crimes of omission — acts of nonfeasance — which continued until well after the election, when news of those secret meetings finally broke. We know that to be true because of Subhash Sahai’s statement that he was angered by that news, and by what it meant. Yet I’m not sure even now that he understands the implications of what he learned.
Subsequent to the meetings on July 30th, none of the five regents who interacted with Harreld on that day tell any of the other four regents about those meetings. Given that the nine regents are the only people who will vote on the next president of the University of Iowa, that collective silence toward the other four members of the board is in itself an act of conspiracy. If the meetings are improper, and they are, then that collective silence is an act in violation of the public trust. If the meetings are proper, as Rastetter asserts, then failure to notify all eight regents also constitutes an act in violation of the public trust, as does the subsequent silence from the four regents who were notified.
It’s not simply that the meetings take place, it’s that by taking place in secret, without the knowledge of the four regents in the minority, those meetings fix the outcome of the election. Provided that Rastetter and Robillard can get Harreld through the search process and into the final vote, the meetings on July 30th ensure that Harreld will be elected president because the Board of Regents is the only mechanism by which university presidents are elected in the state of Iowa. In refusing to apprise the other board members of the meetings on July 30th — by willfully, perpetually and collectively engaging in nonfeasance — the five regents who were involved betrayed not only the trust of the other regents, but the public’s trust, and that is the very definition of malfeasance.
How did all five regents know to keep quiet? Even without discussing the need to remain silent that information was communicated by the fact that Rastetter did not invite the other four regents to participate. Despite asserting that he was compelled to provide regents in accordance with Harreld’s demands for due diligence, he selectively applied that imaginary duty. Given that the meetings were also at Rastetter’s place of business, instead of the board offices, what clearer message could there be? You, the chosen four, are part of the team. The other four are not.
By allowing two regents not on the search committee to have significantly more face time with Harreld than four other regents, Rastetter rigged the election. That may not be indictable in the way that defrauding Iowa’s taxpayers with a sham search certainly is, but it easily vaults the bar of malfeasance by breaching the public trust. Whether the legislature is in session or not, the governor can and must initiate the process of removing those five regents, assuming they do not simply resign when asked. That these people are still making decisions for the state’s three institutions of higher learning only makes the governor’s ongoing failure to act all the more indefensible.
A Fraudulent Election
The sputtering refrain from Harreld supporters these days is that he deserves a chance. As I exhaustively detailed weeks ago, even on his own merits J. Bruce Harreld does not deserve a chance. He had a chance, he blew it, and that’s on him.
That we now know president-elect Harreld is about to take office as a result of election fraud, however, changes the dynamic. In a political election, if you commit fraud — which Regents President Bruce Rastetter clearly did by manipulating the vote of the regents through misfeasance and nonfeasance — you go to prison. If you’re the winning candidate in a fraudulent election and you knew about the fraud, you also go to prison. If you’re the winning candidate and you knew nothing about the fraud, you do not get to serve out your term in office. What you get, the thing that should have value to you, is that you do not also have to go to prison.
In speaking out last Thursday regent Subhash Sahai did all of Iowa an enormous favor. He exposed an election that was, at it’s core, a fraud. I don’t know what toll that experience has taken on him, but I am personally thankful for his courage, and I believe that he should become president of the regents when Rastetter is removed. My support, however, is not entirely predicated on the events of this past week.
In the minutes from the regents’ meeting on April 23rd it was Sahai who asked that the search committee return four candidates for the board to consider. Had that number been smaller, not only would Rastetter and Robillard’s machinations have been exponentially easier, but the contrast between the unqualified Harreld and the three other eminently qualified candidates would have been dimmed. And that stark contrast was, I think, the first real indicator of just how wrong the election was.
Given the amount of corruption that took place during this search it’s tempting to overreact, yet the solution is obvious. Stop allowing governors to appoint corrupt individuals to the Board of Regents. Nothing about the structure of this search was improper, it was the people who implemented the search who were at fault.
In an excellent article in the Register about a month ago, about how universities truly grow, it was noted that Iowa is never going to be a top-twenty or even a top-forty school. While that may be upsetting to some, that reality gives Iowa the opportunity to stick to its values and ignore the rat-race of rankings and grade-inflation and everything else that comes with being a wannabe Ivy.
The longstanding appeal of Iowa is not a ranking but a value system that was corrupted to its core in this election. By virtue of Iowa’s relative anonymity it can insist that it’s leaders not be elected in secrecy. If that’s something a candidate needs, then we already know that candidate is more concerned about their own reputation than they are about the values that Iowans hold dear. As the election of J. Bruce Harreld so clearly illustrates, no institution of higher learning should be led by someone who was chosen without the consent of the governed.
— Mark Barrett