A new threaded post on this topic can be found here. For previous posts about the Harreld hire, click the tag below.
08/28/16 — The Inevitable Damage to Come From J. Bruce Harreld’s Ranking Obsession.
08/26/16 — J. Bruce Harreld in Three Days: Confused, Compliant and Caustic.
08/23/16 — On Bruce Rastetter, Oversight, Politics, Business and Biofuels.
08/21/16 — The Moment When J. Bruce Harreld Sold Women Out and Went All-In on Gary Barta.
08/18/16 — Regents Appoint Abuser of UI Students, Faculty and Staff as Co-Chair of UNI Search.
08/15/16 — The Iowa Board of Regents Sics the Iowa AG on a Teacher the Board Abused.
08/14/16 — Iowa Regent Larry McKibben Tells a Lie Within a Lie Within a Lie.
08/12/16 — On Presidential Searches, Funding Splits and Regental Incoherence.
08/10/16 — Governor Terry Branstad Corrupted the Iowa Board of Regents.
08/08/16 — A Brief Administrative History of Bob Donley and Mark Braun. Updated.
08/06/16 — What You Don’t Know About 2016 UNI Presidential Search Firm AGB.
08/03/16 — Comparing the 2015 UI Presidential Search to the 2016 UNI Search (So Far). Updated.
07/31/16 — Bruce Rastetter and the Common Application Portal Scam.
07/26/16 — On the Iowa Board of Regents, Fairness and the UNI Search.
07/23/16 — J. Bruce Harreld and Big Data. Part 1. Part 2. Updated.
07/21/16 — The Iowa Board of Regents and the UNI Search Firm Search.
07/19/16 — The Iowa Board of Regents as Crony Political Machine.
07/17/16 — Ten Months of J. Bruce Harreld’s Mendacity in One UI Press Release.
Last September, when J. Bruce Harreld was fraudulently appointed as president of the University of Iowa, the Board of Regents’ justification for their betrayal of the UI community was that Harreld was a proven transformative business leader whose experience was desperately needed at a time of great crisis in higher education. In the weeks and months following Harreld’s scandalous appointment, it was subsequently revealed that a small cabal of co-conspirators lied Harreld into office because he could not win the job on the merits of his own candidacy. Thus the great crisis in higher education — at least in Iowa — was in turn revealed to be rampant corruption at the highest levels of state government.
The only remaining mystery about J. Bruce Harreld is why he in particular was chosen by the conspirators who jammed him into office. The individuals involved are not people who would risk crippling or even destroying their own reputations just to give a mopey, down-and-out former business executive a job, so there must be some greater goal. While we don’t yet know what that goal is, not only won’t that keep us from speculating about Harreld’s secret mission in an upcoming post, but it’s clear from Harreld’s administrative machinations over the past ten months that he has been laying the groundwork for that mission in his own typically disreputable and devious manner.
Amid a flurry of corruption news emanating from the Iowa Board of Regents, Iowa State and the University of Iowa this past week, one thing I did not expect was a single banal press release which documented, step by step, Harreld’s bureaucratic machinations over the past ten months. Having discussed many of Harreld’s intentionally deceptive maneuvers in prior posts, it was almost disorienting to see his entire bureaucratic offensive laid out in mundane words. Yet had I not known what those words actually meant, I had to admit I would have been either mildly reassured by the messaging, or narcotized by the slew of facts therein.
The title was straightforward, but the subhead promised “new guiding principles”. Since I think most people would agree that it’s good to have guiding principles, and most people seem to prefer things that are new rather than old, the prospect of “new guiding principles” was tantalizing.
Unfortunately, no “new guiding principles” there — just a heads-up about the upcoming board meeting, and a reminder that the board would be voting on J. Bruce Harreld’s proposed tuition hikes. Speaking of which….
Now, if you’ve been following the news at the University of Iowa at all, you know that in response to a legislative shortfall in supplemental funding, the Iowa Board of Regents is about to vote on tuition hikes at all three of the state’s schools. What was never clearly articulated, however, despite endless numbers being tossed about, was exactly how much revenue Harreld’s tuition hikes would raise at Iowa. And once again, in the above quote, we see that specific number omitted.
From the wording of the text — which was released last Wednesday — it almost seemed as if the tuition hikes would raise $30.9M for fiscal year 2016, but that was not what the text actually says. More importantly, $30.9M would be an absolutely shocking number relative to anything that had been previously announced. In fact, for a recent post I looked at all of the UI budgeting numbers I could find, trying to answer that obvious question, yet the closest I came was an article by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, which put the total money raised from the proposed tuition hikes at all three regent schools at only $21.1M.
And yet somehow, as if guided by an unseen hand, the press release quoted above also avoided specifically stating the projected total of Harreld’s tuition hikes, even though the vote was only days away. In fact, the omission was so glaring that it was almost as if someone didn’t want that obvious and germane total to be put in play before the vote. Fortunately, the Gazette’s Miller followed up with news on Thursday that UI’s take from Harreld’s egregious tuition hikes would be a whopping $27.2M!
So what does Harreld intend to do with that massive cash-grab from students and their families — and how exactly do Harreld’s “new guiding principles” fit into the equation?
Again, if you’ve been following the carnage of Harreld’s first year in office, you know that “world class” has become a persistent tic in Harreld’s oratory. Despite making him sound like a late-night infomercial huckster, the man can’t go five seconds without talking about “world-class” this and “world-class” that, which may be an artifact of his long private-sector experience as a marketing weasel. On the other hand, anything that’s “world-class” usually costs a pretty penny, so Harreld’s mercenary determination to screw students out of money they don’t have does have a certain cold-blooded logic to it, at least from a purely actuarial perspective.
The bigger problem with Harreld’s focus on “world-class faculty”, of course, is that because of the AAUP’s recent sanction of the University of Iowa, it’s unlikely that any world-class faculty will be signing on with a school run by an illegitimate president and a corrupt governing board. Instead, Harreld is much more likely to attract faculty who are either hard-up for a job or looking to cash-in themselves, and that’s particularly true if prospective faculty do their homework — say, by reading this post and following the helpful links.
The facts in the above paragraph are correct. There was a shortfall in legislative funding relative to Harreld’s supplemental request. The intimation that Harreld now intends to be “more creative with resources” as a result of that shortfall, however, is manifestly false. The only creative response Harreld has had to UI’s $3.2M shortfall in appropriations is to use that as a trumped-up pretext for jamming his grubby mitts as deep as possible into the pockets of students and their families.
Assuming for the sake of argument, however, that Harreld’s indefensible tuition hikes are approved, and he walks away with almost ten times the amount of the funding shortfall which purportedly triggered those hikes, what does Harreld plan to do with his bounty?
Behold, finally — four “new guiding principles” for resource allocation!
And may I say, what an uplifting quartet of guiding principles they are. Who could possibly oppose “student success”, “quality”, “values” or “shaping the UI’s future”? In fact, given such laudable goals, what could be wrong with tying the allocation of precious UI resources to the pursuit of those values?
The problem is that not only was the collaborative budgeting process a sham engineered by Harreld, but Harreld’s four guiding principles were shaped by Harreld himself over a couple of weeks, for the express purpose of obscuring his actual budgetary intent. From the time of his appointment until a few months ago, J. Bruce Harreld made it abundantly clear that his main objective in reallocating resources at the University of Iowa would be raising the school’s national college rank. Not only did he talk openly about doing so, but he also tied his original $4.5M funding request to that goal, which he hoped to achieve by improving what he called “faculty vitality” — meaning faculty pay.
What was particularly odd about Harreld’s ranking fixation, however, was that it was not actually something he was hired to do. Instead, after being appointed, Harreld simply adopted that as his own personal mandate or “charge”, and he’s been pursuing that self-appointed goal with single-minded determination ever since. Over time, however, Harreld did realize that his vanity project of gaming the school’s ranking using scarce resources sounded pretty bad, so like a good marketing weasel he began changing the words he was using while remaining true to that goal.
Where Harreld previously used the word ‘ranking’, by late spring he had replaced that crass term with “quality indicators”. Likewise, what was previously and accurately described as ‘student outcomes’ — which are another metric pertinent to a school’s national rank — became “student success”. Even better, at least from Harreld’s point of view, the guiding principles of “values” and “shaping the future” were not even quantifiable, meaning when all four goals were considered together they still only furthered his goal of raising the school’s national college rank.
All of which should make clear exactly how Harreld’s new “collaborative budget process” actually works. If a budget proposal will help improve the school’s national ranking, then it will be considered. If not, then it is obviously lacking in the proper “collaborative” spirit.
Who exactly is the “leadership” that decided to set aside almost $11M? Well, that would be J. Bruce Harreld, and J. Bruce Harreld alone. Yes, Harreld has a team, and committees, and toadies out the wazoo, but when it comes to who’s calling the fiscal shots — particularly about discretionary funds — that’s former business executive and current fanatical rankings-raiser J. Bruce Harreld.
Assuming that Harreld’s rapacious tuition hikes pass, then, he will have successfully used his new “collaborative budgeting process” and his “new guiding principles” to set aside an $11M slush fund to be tapped at his sole discretion. In fact, we know that Harreld himself will be in charge of all that money because in a UI press release back in April, only days after the regents’ legislative funding shortfall was announced, that same exact fund was literally described as the “president’s strategic initiative fund”. Now, only a couple of months later, following a little weaselly tweaking, the Strategic Initiative Fund doesn’t seem like it belongs to anyone in particular, let alone to the weasel himself, but as we just learned, Harreld’s words can be deceiving.
One thing that was missing from that earlier press release, and from every other UI press release, was any notice that the Strategic Initiative Fund would be financed by students, from last-minute tuition hikes passed on a pretext. Hikes that until only a few days ago were absolutely critical for hiring “world-class faculty”. But it gets better.
Whatever you think of J. Bruce Harreld and his ceaseless mendacity, the idea of hiding a slush fund inside a slush fund is pretty clever. Even better, that smaller slush fund is aimed squarely at “one-time commitments”, meaning no-bid contracts which — thanks to the ongoing intentional erosion of fiscal controls at the Iowa Board of Regents — can now be dispensed up to $50,000, as opposed to the previous $25,000 limit. (Don’t worry, though — if there’s an emergency or a special case, and Harreld really wants to give someone a second $50,000 contract, all he has to do is call Mark Braun at the board, because under the new rules Braun is the sole determiner of what is and isn’t okay.)
So a slush fund for internal use and a slush fund for external use. What’s not to love? Now all Harreld has to hope is that the board will actually give him the go-ahead to strip all that money from the students.
Does Harreld have five votes on the nine-member board? Well, given that the board was packed with political cronies by Governor Terry Brandstad, who also appointed Rastetter, who in turn went way out of his way to fix the search for Harreld, the odds are in Harreld’s favor. Still, Regent Larry McKibben, who is so philosophically committed to keeping costs down that he didn’t want UI to raise its minimum wage, even though Iowa City is the most expensive place to live in Iowa, might balk, and if that happens others might follow. Much more likely, of course, is that McKibben will ingratiate himself to the masses with a ceremonial no vote, knowing all the while that five yes votes are in the bag.
As noted in the above quote, however, even if tuition hikes are approved, there could be a last-minute glitch in Harreld’s carefully orchestrated caper….
In a recent post I suggested that UI’s student leadership amend their previous compromise to include the full funding and hiring of eight mental health staff for students prior to the end of the upcoming fall term. In light of the projected haul from Harreld’s outlandish tuition hikes, however, I think they should also amend their across-the-board hike to $100, down from $200.
This now brings us to the final paragraph of the press release, which was either a non-sequitur, or was included to set the stage for the thrilling announcement of a new contract for football coach Kirk Ferentz.
So let’s review. Harreld not only withheld the magnitude of his proposed tuition hikes until only a few days before the regents’ vote, intentionally pulling world-class cashmere over the eyes of the student body and its leaders, but Harreld’s collaborative budgeting process was a lie, Harreld’s plan to be “creative with resources” was a lie, Harreld’s “Strategic Initiative Fund” is a scam, and tying it all together are Harreld’s “new guiding principles”, which are also a lie. So that’s lie, lie, lie, scam and lie.
Truly, it’s an impressive body of work for less than a full year. And yet it’s all there in one pedestrian press release, as long as you know the whole story. Which is of course the last thing that the visionary J. Bruce Harreld wants you to know, which is why he keeps transforming his verbiage to cover his tracks.
Again, none of this tells us what Harreld’s co-conspirators hired him to do. All it tells us is how, over the past year, step by step, Harreld has leached his parasitic administrative toxins into UI so completely that the budgeting process has been turned into a loyalty oath, the school’s “new guiding principles” are an Orwellian pledge of fealty to college rankings, and Harreld is only hours away from generating an eight-figure slush fund on the backs of hard-working students and their families. This should be an interesting week.
That’s awesome. Notice that the graft pile is, you know, a small amount. Notice too that specific “no, this cannot go back into the graft pile” amounts haven’t been laid out for those other things. Who’s up first for a million-dollar bribe, I wonder?
I’m reminded, too, of that corporate communications whosis person he supposedly hired from his “own money” a year or so ago. My guess is that this person(s) is actually the PR horror(s) who’s writing all this stuff, because I’m not persuaded that UI comm staff really have the chops for the serious thieving baloney. Who was that hire, anyway? That should tell us something about what we’ll likely hear next.
Also, to be fair, the paralyzing toxin didn’t have to be all that strong.
You wouldn’t know it from observing the crony politics at the Iowa Board of Regents, but it is possible to administer a function of government without politically exploiting that responsibility. That there is a collective benefit to doing so, in fact, is why the first section of the statute governing the Iowa Board of Regents reads as follows:
Because he is a politician it’s perhaps not surprising that Governor Terry Branstad decided to pervert the intent of that statue by packing the board with political cronies, but the fact that he did so should not be overlooked simply because it confirms our worst fears about his failed leadership. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 03/03/15:
Since Miller’s piece was published, Regent Mary Andringa resigned abruptly, just prior to widespread reporting of a scandal involving a no-bid contract which the University of Iowa approved for a company at which Andrigna served as a paid director. True to form, however, Governor Branstad simply appointed another political crony in Andringa’s place, keeping the totals consistent with those previously reported.
You also wouldn’t know it by watching the crony politics at the Iowa Board of Regents, but it is actually possible to be fiscally responsible in administering a function of government without turning that responsibility into either a profit-making enterprise in itself, or using one’s authority to enrich cronies by bleeding money from that system. That is of course why governments usually come with all sorts of rules and regulations, including the size of no-bid contracts that corrupt government officials can give out like patronage candy.
An that point, and following hundreds of thousands of dollars of no-bid contacts that were improperly authorized by the state’s schools, the Iowa Board of Regents recently took a very close look at that problem and came up with a unique solution. Instead of tightening controls they loosened them, doubling the amount of money that can be spent in a single contract, while also channeling all authority for oversight of no-bid contracts through a single board administrator. Instead of $25,000, crony no-bid contracts can now be freely dispensed up to $50,000, with variances granted equally freely for emergencies and other easily abused excuses.
From the point of view of the $5B enterprise that is the Iowa Board of Regents, changing the maximum amount for a no-bid contract from $25K to $50K seems trivial. The problem, however, is that from the point of view of anyone receiving such a contract, not only does that represent a full 100% increase, but relative to the cost of living that additional $25,000 means a single contract now potentially represents a living wage, after taxes. Meaning not only can state schools now shell out $50,000 whenever they want, but in doing so they can buy crony loyalty off the rack.
By statute the Board of Regents is meant to be politically neutral if not apolitical, and by function the board is supposed to ensure that every available penny goes to education and research at the state’s schools. In practice, however, under the jaundiced leadership of Governor Brandstad and his single largest political donor, Bruce Rastetter — who also happens to be the president of the regents — the board functions as little more than a crony political machine.
This is not to say that such perversions are not common in government. Of course they are, and have been throughout history. Get two or more small-minded, ethically challenged people in the same room, and they will, if not immediately, soon or later get around to the subject of how they might join forces in order to rip-off everyone else by any means available. That such perversions are common, however, and have become the norm at the Iowa Board of Regents, does not and should not excuse them.
Sticking it to the Students
With the above as context, Monday’s meeting of the Iowa Board of Regents revealed itself to be little more than a crony operation administrated by political appointees, particularly regarding tuition hikes at the state’s schools, and the Rastetter-Leath land deal. On the subject of the tuition hikes, the board’s performance was admirable, and generated the desired headlines.
Factually, the regents backed off a bit from their planned $300 tuition hike on resident students at all three schools, dropping that number to $250. And yet, if you’ve been following the tuition hikes at all, you know that the proposed hikes were so completely out of scale to the legislative funding shortfall which purportedly triggered those hikes — and particularly so at the University of Iowa — that the board’s last-minute reduction was stage-managed for political reasons, not because it was the right thing to do for the students.
The political messaging at Monday’s meeting began immediately with the announcement that neither illegitimate UI President J. Bruce Harreld nor beleaguered ISU President Steven Leath would be receiving pay raises during the year. Except that’s not actually what the board said. From the Press-Citizen’s Jeff Charis-Carlson, on 07/18/16:
So what’s the premise here? That Harreld and Leath each independently came to this magnanimous decision on their own, then informed the board? Or did Harreld and Leath talk about it together, then inform the board? Or, given that the board was about to screw every student at the state’s schools, did the board suggest to its presidents that it might be a bit unseemly to shovel yet more money at them, then allow them to save face by claiming not to have wanted any more state money in the first place?
While the latter option seems most in keeping with the board’s current modus operandi, that may be precisely why Regents’ President Rastetter felt compelled to come out forcefully in denial of any such linkage. From the Gazette’s Miller, also on 07/18/16:
It’s also important to note that nowhere in the regents’ comments about their selfless university presidents was there any mention whether those men might receive a future pay increase which was retroactive to this year, or perhaps additional deferred compensation, which seems to be all the rage at the crony board. (It’s also possible, of course, that any future increase in pay will simply be adjusted upward to help these poor men recoup any wages lost to the indignity of having to pretend to be decent humans being.)
Now, if all that seems a tad unfair, let’s remember that J. Bruce Harreld is being paid a minimum of $4,000,000 over five years for a job he could not have attained without the corrupt search process engineered by Rastetter, former Interim UI President Jean Robillard, and others. And of course there’s still the possibility that Harreld will be given tenure in the Tippie College of Business, which would currently pay off at more than $300,000 per year. As for Leath, at the same time that former UI President Sally Mason was being frozen out by Rastetter and his cronies on the board, Leath was granted a massive new contract, tenure, and a pay raise three times that of his peers at the other state schools.
The students, on the other hand, did get sucker punched despite the $50 decrease for resident undergrads. In fact, it’s entirely possible that the reason for the tuition hikes was engineered by Regents’ President Rastetter, who went out of his way to avoid putting a hard number on the appropriations necessary to preclude tuition hikes, and also by Governor Branstad, who did nothing to make sure that the legislature reach Rastetter’s purported necessary minimum. And of course once given the green light by the regents, Harreld and Leath had no problem proposing massive tuition increases which greatly outpaced even the largest numbers mentioned by Rastetter.
Enter now Regent Larry McKibben, who introduced the motion on Monday to reduce the across-the-board hike on resident undergrads from $300 to $250. From a separate report by the Gazette’s Miller, also on 07/18/16:
So how much is that ceremonial $50 hit going to cost J. Bruce Harreld? What horrible fate will befall his plan to fund his own presidential rank-raising success on the backs of students and their families?
At UI, the total cost of the regents’ PR stunt will be $700,000 lost, out of a total of $21.1M for all three schools. (The collective dollars raised, and the dollars expected to be raised for UI alone, still don’t add up. For example, I can’t tell if the $21.1M is from the resident undergrad hikes alone, because once again the state-funded Iowa Board of Regents and the state-funded University of Iowa have gone out of their way to make it impossible to actually follow public policy. It’s almost like they don’t think of themselves as governmental agencies, but more as private concerns.)
Can poor J. Bruce Harreld get by without that $700K, or without personally profiting after having been denied wink a raise wink by the board wink? Well, I’m sure Harreld has taken a bit of an ego hit what with not being able to stomp his way through the citizenry of Iowa on his way to student-funded presidential glory, but when you serve a crony political machine, those are the breaks. If a long-time crony regent like Larry McKibben has to put his faux reputation as a fiscal conservative on the line, you know something has to give. From Dar Daneilson, on 07/18/16:
So there you have it. After doing nothing to compel further appropriations from the legislature during the previous year, the entire crony political apparatus of the Iowa Board of Regents turned around and gave the green light to presidents Leath and Harreld to strip-mine money from the students. In recognition of the fact that the proposed tuition hikes were a complete screw, however, that same crony political machine made the crony political calculation that denying raises to its complicit university presidents, and making a token concession on the tuition hikes, would make them look a little less like outright thieves, so they shaved $50 off the across-the-board undergrad resident increase, while leaving all of the other hikes in place.
This is fiscal stewardship and administrative resolve at the Iowa Board of Regents. In one of the most important decisions they’ve made since they fraudulently appointed J. Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa, the board sided fully with the crony Governor and his crony political benefactor, and against the students. (To their credit, the student leaders at UI and ISU get what this was all about.) This is the Iowa Board of Regents functioning not as a well-oiled governmental machine that exists to provide an education to the citizens of Iowa and others, but as a brutish crony political operation designed to wield political control over, and exploit, a $5M governmental enterprise.
The Rastetter-Leath Land Deal
Compared to the deft and practiced administrative cynicism displayed on the tuition-hike front, the on-the-record responses Monday regarding the Rastetter-Leath land deal bordered on willful collective delusion. While the words were all positive, and there was no lack of support for the idea that Steven Leath did nothing wrong because he’s Steven Leath, at least one regent also took the opportunity to take a big step back.
Along with being a former Republican legislator and current unrepentant political crony on the board, Larry McKibben is also an attorney. Which is why, despite all of his support for Steven Leath as a fine upstanding individual who would never do anything wrong, the most important quote coming out of McKibben’s mouth on Monday was this, as reported by the Press-Citizen’s Charis-Carlson, on 07/18/16:
Whatever else Larry McKibben may be, he’s not an idiot. Despite weighing in later to pronounce the land deal perfectly fair and square — a pronouncement with no legal gravity whatsoever — it’s telling that McKibben took such obvious pains to distance himself from any future personal liability. Whatever else McKibben wants you to know about what a what a great humanitarian Steven Leath is, the one thing he really wants you to know is that he has absolutely nothing to do with the current jam Leath is in. And he wants you to know that because, as an attorney, he knows that Leath is in real trouble, and that an investigation of the Rastetter-Leath land deal could blow up all over the Board of Regents, and Rastetter in particular.
Speaking of Rastetter, here’s his own chin-quivering version of assuring the world that nothing improper happened when he floated the president of Iowa State $1.15M to purchase land that Leath couldn’t otherwise afford:
Just as it’s apparently also normal for Iowans to front their subordinates over a million dollars in cash, on one week’s notice. Speaking of which, despite all of Rastetter’s babbling uplifting quotes on the subject from Monday, nowhere will you find him repeating his prior claim — as related by Summit Farms President Eric Peterson — that he himself was “not involved” in the transaction.
The question is not whether the land deal between Regents’ President Bruce Rastetter and Iowa State President Steven Leath was unethical or a conflict of interest, because by any definition of those terms it was both. On Iowa State’s own website, on the page titled “Code of Business and Fiduciary Conduct” — which was updated/revised on January 1, 2016 — we find the following:
Follow the link to the “Conflicts of Interest and Commitment” page, and we find this:
Follow the link to the Gifts — ISU Policy page, and we find this:
Because Steven Leath could not afford to purchase a property that his wife fell in love with, Leath either asked Rastetter for, or Rastetter volunteered his company to provide, $1.15M to purchase that property. Which means the only question left is whether Leath’s solicitation of, or acceptance of, financial support from Rastetter’s company, was an actual violation of law. Like the crony political machine that it is, however, the Iowa Board of Regents is rallying around its beleaguered president at Iowa State, while simultaneously ignoring the fact that the other half of the unethical land deal — which implicitly involves a conflict of interest — is the president of the board, who is now singing Leath’s praises.
By very virtue of the fact that Rastetter has not recused himself from the board’s authority over Leath, and insists on speaking on behalf of Leath in his own capacity as president of the board, the crony political machinery driving those imperatives is laid bare. No one in any position of authority in government would ever try to pull the same stunt, yet for Rastetter the response is reflex. Control, exploit, omit, deny, lie.
The Only Remaining Hope
By rights the Iowa Attorney General’s office would look into such matters, forcefully, in order to avoid the taint of partisanship. Unfortunately, one of the perks of working for the Iowa Board of Regents is that when you do cross the line, the Attorney General’s office is obligated to defend you against charges, presenting the AG with a clear conflict of interest should it then need to investigate you. (This is, truly, Rastetter’s great gift. He can spot a weakness to be exploited a mile away, whether in a human being or a bureaucracy. By giving Governor Branstad a big bag of money, then asking to be put on the board in return, Rastetter bought himself the protection of the single most powerful law enforcement agency in the state.)
The only remaining hope is that the legislature will get involved, and will do so despite attempts by the board’s crony political allies to portray any investigation as a partisan witch hunt. But here’s the thing. If there are people in the statehouse who are willing to take the initial heat, it’s not going to take long before the evidence they present convinces the public that something is seriously wrong. At which point all of the brave political cronies rallying around Rastetter will pull a McKibben and take a very big step back.
As noted in multiple prior posts, the cronies exploiting the Board of Regents and the state’s universities are not people who ask what’s right or wrong, they only ask what they can get away with. And the bottom line with these people is that they will never admit they did anything wrong. Even when you can prove it — when you can show that they lied, on the record — the most they’ll do in response is either fall silent or deny, deny, deny. Absent a criminal or civil case being brought against them, no matter what they’ve done, they know they can continue to wreak havoc with impunity if they simply refuse to admit their guilt.
If you are in state government, whether on the legislative side or in the Attorney General’s office, you need to make a decision. None of the warning shots that anyone has fired has done any good. If nothing else, the hijacking of the UI presidency and the Rastetter-Leath land deal — to say nothing of the crony jobs being handed out by Leath at ISU — prove that these people are not going to stop doing what they’re doing until forced to do so through investigation and prosecution.
gawd bless ‘merica, plagiarism and all
Leath is now the 8th highest paid college prez in Merica. Wonder if he needed to hide that tax wise in a land purchase
Rastetter then said his employees were hunting with Leath (haha) and then lunch and that is how the deal went down
So here’s the other thing – Leath is apparently out hunting with “ISU grads” who happen to be Summit employees.
Why is he out hunting with Summit employees? With people from the president of the BOR’s company? And why in hell would Bruce want him fraternizing with Summit employees? Why, in fact, has he met Summit employees at all? They’re ISU grads, Bruce says. So are hundreds of thousands of other people. I’m sure Leath doesn’t have anything to do with most of them. Are these Summit employees tremendous personal donors to ISU? Is he there perhaps courting them as ISU alumni donors, and if so, where are ISU’s development people in the party? What exactly is it that these fresh-faced ISU grads do at Summit?
Did Leath accept any gifts from them while hunting with them? Nice meal? Gear?
And what about Ruud and Mason? Did they socialize with Summit goons? How about Harreld? Ski with them or what?
How about the AG? Does he also hunt with Summit goons? You know, in Rhode Island, when you’re an AG who goes out in the woods with somebody’s goons, you don’t come back. Maybe the Iowa AG intends to dodge any such invitation from Summit. I mean even the vice president of the United States has hunting accidents.
I’d really like to hear more about this sporting relationship between the regents’ university presidents and Summit employees.
You can see how Leath might get confused. One minute Rastetter is asking him about his wife. The next minute Rastetter is asking him about something at Iowa State. The next minute Rastetter is asking him about a public-private partnership with SummitAg.
One minute Rastetter is Leath’s friend, one minute Rastetter is Leath’s boss, the next minute Rastetter is Leath’s P3 CEO .
It wouldn’t at all surprise if me if Leath didn’t simply start thinking of himself as a public-private partnership with Rastetter, which is why he may be confused about how his crony land deal was not only unethical but potentially unlawful. If everything you do or say revolves around Rastetter, it’s got to be hard keeping your mind on the fact that you’re actually the president of Iowa State.
This article from Storm Lake explains alot:
They’re playing a game at our expense
Submitted by on Wed, 07/20/2016 – 8:34am
By ART CULLEN
Fair enough, but what the hell does he want with UI, then? We can’t do his business any good. If we’re the timberland, then sell us o– ah.
That’s such a great piece. Thanks for posting that.
The Waterloo Courier has an editorial that sure sounds like it reads Ditchwalk.
A question, since UNI’s coming into it:
What precisely is the BOR’s charge? In Iowa Code words?
Because in the end, the three universities are a public trust, are they not? And if they’re being quietly, seriously mismanaged, then this would be a breach of public trust. And yet I’m guessing there is nothing in law that addresses the possibility of the concerted mismanagement of trust.
Rob Hogg might be doing some finger-wagging, but it seems to me that if there is a question of BOR impropriety or malfeasance, and there’s an absence of Code to deal with such matters, it would be a legislator’s job to write some and start maneuvering it through, and not just scold in the newspaper.
There are examples of other trustees who have run their universities into the ground while chasing profits. The one that comes immediately to mind is Cooper Union, in New York. Real estate schemes, there. Nearly sank the school entirely and killed off its tuition-free model. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/06/11/president-and-five-trustees-quit-amid-bitter-unrest-cooper-union
My guess, given the “law? What law?” behavior we’ve seen over the last half-year, is that substantial damage has already been done to all three institutions (and UIHC), and that all of them have exposure that would shock your average Iowan. But we need mechanisms not just for investigating frauds and thefts but for prosecuting them timely. What happens, for instance, if it’s demonstrable that the BOR is corrupt, but Branstad refuses to get rid of them? I think these are things worth knowing.
Your question about the BoR’s charge is on the money. I’ve read through that entire section of the code multiple times, and one specific session was devoted to trying to find the board’s mandate. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist.
The simplest explanation for that omission is that the mandate should be obvious to everyone who wants to do right by the state’s schools, but of course that overlooks the crooks who are focused on larceny. (Again, that is Rastetter’s gift — spotting an opportunity for exploitation a mile away.)
The individual members of the board are protected by Branstad. He could ask them to step down and it would be almost impossible for them to refuse, but because he’s a big part of the corruption that’s not going to happen. The legislature could step in and yank the bad eggs out, but so far it’s shown no inclination to take a real stand for reasons that baffle me — if only in a political context.
I would also point out that the failure of the state’s politicians on all sides to confront Rastetter is not solely related to his abuses of power. The insane feedback system that has been implemented — laughably called a ‘public forum’ — is an abomination to democracy and government accountability. And yet it persists, without a single public official pointing out that it is the very definition of bureaucratic menace.
I think some are waiting the clock out, hoping Rastetter will quit when his current term ends in 2017. I don’t see Rastetter walking away, but even if he does that changes nothing. Brandstad will simply appoint the next Rastetter, who will outlast the next governor’s first term.
Apart from Subhash Sahai’s comments after the vote, and statements made by Mary Louse Peterson after Harreld’s sham appointment, there has been nothing but silence from people whose voices would matter most. And don’t get me started on the AG, and how important an investigation would have been even if it concluded that there was nothing illegal about Harreld’s hire. (And as I think I’ve made clear, I think there was.)
I think that’s a reprint of the Register’s editorial, but even if that’s the case the fact that it’s being reprinted is a big deal. The Register’s response to the Rastetter-Leath land deal was on the money, and I’m glad that more papers are calling out the corruption. This is a state-wide, systemic problem, and it’s not going to get better until people are put on notice that there’s a price to pay for such behavior.
It was incredibly telling that Leath’s first response was haughty indignation, as if he could quite literally glower the Register into silence. If nothing else, I think he’s gotten a big wake-up call over the past week or two, that that little fantasy bubble he’s been living in with Rastetter has popped. Iowa State is not a subsidiary of SummitAg, no matter how much those two men would prefer otherwise.
Blood in the water….
DMR comments on the Regents ‘Dr Bob’ ‘s gross overpay
However I do not see these editorials changing things w Branstad in charge.
I do not know what to make of this. One of the Koch’s lays out the case that America is becoming closed minded, with some emphasis on hostility to academic freedom.
This is a byproduct of the collapse of the Republican party. Koch has been out in the press about this for several months, including this piece in the WaPo:
The bottom line is that when Koch talks about ‘science’ he’s talking about approaching business and governance from a rationalistic perspective wholly slaved to making money, as differentiated from the fundamentalist majority on the right. As a libertarian Koch doesn’t care about ‘social politics’ per se, except in so far as he and his brother are allowed to do whatever they want when they want.
Still, invoking ‘science’ is clever, and will confuse a lot more people about Koch’s motives, which are as laser-focused on profit as ever. (Koch doesn’t want to use science to discover truth, he wants to control science in order to define truth.)
It was guys like Koch, a hundred years ago, who gave big money to science because they not only wanted exploitable technology but Improved Man. You see their descendents all over (aged 30-50, lean, big on performance cycling, with shaved heads, less than maximal social awareness, and many devices tracking their every medical and fitness move) talking about about efficiency and being Better. The old eugenics-happy business types gave a hell of a lot of money to biological sciences, esp. early genetics, and psychologists (their descendants are the ed psychologists with a a zillion tests for every kid and the jokers who want to give you a personality inventory before they interview you for a job). The only thing they braked for was Hitler, who gave eugenics a bad name for a while.
These guys have tremendous difficulty imagining the perspective of people who aren’t themselves, and not much incentive to try. These are the nice guys who’re sure racism and sexism aren’t serious things because after all they don’t see any.
On Tuesday the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller updated the Iowa Board of Regents’ progress toward filling the vacant presidency at the University of Northern Iowa. Specifically, Miller detailed the process by which the board will select a search firm, perhaps by as early as the end of next week. As always with the Board of Regents, however, the devil is in the details, and in this case it’s a devil we already know.
From the lede to Miller’s piece, on 07/19/16:
Only two paragraphs in we learn that that the board couldn’t follow through on its own guidelines for choosing a search firm. The deadline was this coming Friday, one of the search firms purportedly begged for more time, and because the board is benevolent in its ways the deadline for proposals was moved to Monday.
In a world without liars we could simply take this adjustment at face value. One of the four submitting search firms got in a jam, somebody missed a plane, a dog ate somebody’s USB thumb drive, whatever. In response to that new and completely honest information the board could have given everyone an extra weekend to get their submissions in order — or at the very least a little extra time to retrieve that thumb drive. By the same token, however, the board could have said tough noogies and stuck with their stated timeline, asserting that any company unable to meet the agreed-upon terms had disqualified itself.
In reality, of course, the world is full of liars, and the Iowa Board of Regents has them right at the top of the food chain. As such it isn’t even particularly cynical to wonder why this change in plans is happening at the last minute, who requested the change, and who approved the change. None of which, of course, the board feels like sharing.
Had the Board of Regents made this adjustment with several weeks to go, it could reasonably be assumed that all of the search firms were still working on their proposals. With only three days to go until the original deadline, however, it’s entirely possible that some of the companies — meaning particularly those that felt honor-bound to treat the board’s deadline like, you know, an actual deadline — may have already submitted their proposals, only to now be effectively punished twice by the last-minute change of plans. (First, because they’re getting less time than they otherwise might have, and second because they will now be competing against at least one firm that should have either been disqualified or forced to turn in an unfinished proposal.)
The board being its usual slippery self, however, not only was an extension granted to a company that apparently couldn’t meet the stated terms, but as it turns out there never was a hard deadline to begin with. How can that be? Well, here is the absolutely unambiguous deadline from section 9 of the regents’ RFQ, as it would have appeared prior to the recently granted extension:
If you keep reading that paragraph, however, you’ll find that the board’s crystal-clear bolded and underlined deadline is not actually a firm deadline. And here to teach us that important lesson, about how the regents actually do business, is Josh “We’re Not Concerned About The Resume” Lehman, also from Miller’s report:
So, not only can you get an extension if you say the right magic words or do the right magic things to make that happen, but there’s even a possibility that you can blow the deadline outright and still have your proposal accepted. I don’t know what specific arguments or acts might convince the board to extend the deadline or allow you to submit a proposal past the deadline, but the important thing is that it is possible, as a matter of board policy, to negotiate such things with the board. All you have to do is find the right inducement and you’re in, even if you failed to meet the submission criteria that everyone else was held to.
Now, if you’ve been following the fraudulent hire of J. Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa, and that wishy-washy, board-friendly clause rings a bell, you’re right. We’ve seen that before, during the search which led to Harreld’s sham appointment, which was managed by Parker Executive Search. From a post on 01/22/16, looking at the UI presidential search timeline, and Parker’s role in that corrupt search:
During the UI presidential search, not only was there no hard deadline by which candidates had to submit their paperwork, there wasn’t even a hard deadline by which candidates had to declare their candidacy. Meaning after all the other conscientious candidates submitted their applications and supporting documentation on time, and went through the cut-down process, and even after four finalists were picked and sent to the board, the board’s own rules allowed new candidates to apply for the job because — according to wording which seems to have appeared in the ad and ad alone, which almost no one would have been referencing at that point — the position was to “remain open until filled”.
Does that strike you as fair? Or does it sound more like a back door that was intentionally added to the rules, which then allowed a shady shyster at the board to sneak a stealth candidate in to the search at the last minute? Speaking of which, to this day nobody knows when J. Bruce Harreld actually declared his candidacy, or when his scant paperwork (a resume only) was submitted to Parker Executive search, or even if Harreld’s resume was submitted to Parker Executive Search. (One big clue that Parker may never have seen Harreld’s resume is the fact that even people with no experience vetting candidates recognized that his resume was a disaster.)
On the question of hiring a search firm for UNI, then — and remembering that the current president of the Iowa Board of Regents really did run a sham search at taxpayer expense in order to fraudulently elect J Bruce Harreld, which itself hinged on non-existent deadlines that were used to slip Harreld into the process at the last minute — what’s the worst-case scenario? Well, if you’re a conniving administrator, and you suddenly grant an extension to all companies based on one company’s last-minute request, then you would be in a position to leak information about any proposals that you had already received to the company that requested the extension. And that would then allow said company to tailor its own belated submission to advantage.
Crazy? Of course — who would do such a thing? That would be cheating!
And yet, as it stands right now — and believe me, I know nothing about submitting proposals to anybody for anything, let alone how search firm proposals work — it is a certainty that at least three of the firms submitting proposals for the UNI search are already convinced that if Parker Executive Search is the fourth company in the hunt, that PES will get the job. And of course if PES turns out to be the company that requested and was granted an extension, and PES also gets the job, then no matter what you think or what I think, everyone who works for those other three companies is going to feel like they got royally screwed. Much like how the other three final candidates for the presidency at Iowa felt when they found out the Iowa Board of Regents ripped them off.
Now, the board’s perpetual justification for never actually having a real deadline, whether or not a deadline is stated or implied, is that they might miss out on the best of all possible solutions simply be sticking to an arbitrary date. And I guess in some alternate universe, where the best people or companies are oblivious to offers until the last possible second, then need special accommodations to do what everyone else had no problem doing, maybe that’s possible. The reality, however — and particularly the reality at the Iowa Board of Regents — is that deadlines are omitted and voided precisely to allow the board and its minions to manipulate each selection. Not to administer a fair process, but to exploit what looks like a fair process in whatever way is most profitable at the time.
Having said that, one big reason why there may be no sinister motive behind the extension of the UNI proposal deadline is that somewhere in the criteria for selecting the winning proposals, there will be an equally ambiguous clause which allows the board to choose whoever the hell they want regardless of the merits of the proposals or any previously stated criteria. Again, J. Bruce Harreld had no experience in academic administration, he had not been a business executive for eight years prior to applying to be president at Iowa, his documentation was a joke, and yet he was unanimously appointed.
When it comes to choosing a lowly search firm to handle the UNI search, the board is going to pick whichever search firm it wants to work with, using whatever criteria it wants to employ in making that choice. In fact, here’s Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard, speaking directly to that point in the context of coaching searches, from a CBSSports.com article by Jon Solomon, on 04/12/16:
Yes, Parker Executive Search does have “a long relationship with the state of Iowa”. As Miller noted in her story, not only did Parker perform the prior presidential searches at each of Iowa’s three state schools, but the Harreld search netted Parker over $300K, which was two to three times more expensive than any prior regents’ presidential search. All of which brings us to the real point of this post.
Whether anything hinky is going on with the UNI proposal submissions or not, nothing about the process for submitting those proposals will have anything to do with which firm is selected. There are no deadlines at the Iowa Board of Regents, there are no hard and fast criteria, there are no rules. Everything is ambiguous, on purpose, because ambiguity allows the greatest amount of leeway in corrupting the process. Whether you’re a candidate for a job at one of the state’s schools, or a company looking to do business with the board, the one thing you can be sure of is that you are never, ever going to get a fair shake on the merits.
As to what you might do to actually land the position or contract you’re seeking, I can only suggest that you study J. Bruce Harreld or Parker Executive Search for clues to their success.
This will seem obvious, but for the purposes of this post it needs to be stated explicitly. The problem with people who have no compunction about lying to your face is that you can’t simply ask them what they’re up to. When you encounter an honest person you can say, “Why are you here?”, or, “What are you doing?”, and they will tell you. When you encounter a dishonest person, any and all such questions merely prompt whatever lie that individual feels like telling, or whatever lie they were told to tell.
Unfortunately, because J. Bruce Harreld, the fraudulently appointed president of the University of Iowa, will lie to anyone’s face, we can’t simply ask him why he wanted the job so badly that as a candidate he spent tens of thousands of his own dollars flying himself back and forth to Iowa on private chartered jets. That shouldn’t be the case with the leader of an institution of higher learning, of course — and particularly one at a major public research university — but liars have a way of weaseling themselves into all kinds of positions they’re not qualified for, and J. Bruce Harreld is a stellar example. Despite having no experience in academic administration, and having spent the prior eight years not at the top of his game as a business executive but as an adjunct professor and lecturer, Harreld nonetheless parlayed his complete lack of qualifications into a job that now pays him almost $800,000 per year in total compensation. (According to a recent report by the Chronicle for Higher Education — that would rank Harreld as the #13 highest-paid such administrator in the United States.)
The most obvious answer as to why J. Bruce Harreld wanted the Iowa job, then, would seem to be money. He was completely unqualified and unprepared for the job, but maybe he was sick of being just another number as a part-time prof. What was he to say when someone offered to fix the search process and election in his favor, making him not only president, but also netting him more than three quarters of a million dollars for each of the next five years? Even better, because everyone would know he was a neophyte, no one could possibly complain about his bumbling job performance.
It’s a good theory, but there’s one small problem. By any measure J. Bruce Harreld was already wealthy when he left the East Coast at the end of 2014, ultimately headed to Iowa by way of Colorado. We know that because even if he was cash-poor at the beginning of that year, he sold two multi-million-dollar homes in 2014. Combine that infusion of cash with Harreld’s habit of flying himself around on chartered jets, and the fact that he decided to hold on to a third home worth $2.6M on the beach in Jacksonville, Florida, and we can infer that J. Bruce Harreld not hurting. Yes, he might just be greedy, and you can probably never have too much money lying around what with the cost of jet fuel, but unlike some of the students he would soon be ripping off with abusive tuition hikes, the man was clearly not going hungry.
So what else might have convinced Harreld to weasel his way into the president’s office at the University of Iowa? Well, over the past ten months Harreld has repeatedly demonstrated the temperament of a pugnacious brat, in toxic proportion to a deep-seated need to be the center of attention. Compared with being an out-of-work business exec or an adjunct professor, the appeal of once again being surrounded by a staff that was contractually obligated to do whatever he said would seem obvious.
One big problem, however, with assuming that the only reason Harreld became president at Iowa is because he couldn’t confront his declining years with any degree of grace, is that there is no motivation for anyone to offer him the job on that basis. Sure, if it was Harreld University, and his father or uncle had been at the helm for forty years, you can see how Harreld might have slid in under the cover of dynastic nepotism. But the University of Iowa is a billion-dollar research university, under the watchful eye of the Iowa Board of Regents, which is itself an arm of state government. People don’t just hand out public university presidencies to someone like Harreld without expecting a considerable return on their investment — meaning over and above slavish loyalty.
So in asking why Harreld became the president at Iowa, we’re really asking a different question, which is why a small cabal of co-conspirators installed Harreld as president even though he was completely unqualified for the job. And what is it that those people expect from Harreld, now that he’s the illegitimate captain of the ship? Fortuitously, in reframing that question we make it considerably easier to divine the truth. First, we already know who Harreld’s co-conspirators were, though there could be others we still don’t know about. Second, and more importantly, because Harreld himself is never going to fess up, we can blessedly stop trying to figure out what he was thinking.
J. Bruce Harreld Tips His Hand
From the time Harreld was appointed in early September until now, the publicly stated rationale for his ‘non-traditional’ hire has been that he would use his business experience to advance the university at a time of great upheaval in higher education. Over that eleven-month span, however, Harreld has so far done nothing but lay the groundwork for whatever he was actually hired to do for his minders. And yet, characteristically, Harreld has shown no reluctance to take credit for things he has not actually accomplished.
From an interview with KCRG-TV, on 05/17/16:
At the time of that interview — as well as before and since, for that matter — Harreld had not put forward any plans, at all, about where cuts would be made or resources reallocated. As such, he has so far demonstrated nothing about his slash-and-burn proclivities. In fact, Harreld’s sole business-like initiative to-date was his just-concluded campaign to strip as much money as possible from students and their families through predatory tuition hikes, thus providing himself with a war chest for whatever his plans actually are — including an $11M slush fund that he can disperse at his sole discretion.
From a UI press release this past week regarding those just-passed tuition hikes:
As noted in multiple prior posts, Harreld’s “collaborative budgeting process” is a lie, the “unit leaders” at UI have been given responsibility with no consequent budgetary authority, Harreld himself has betrayed “shared governance” on multiple occasions, and yet as of this date he still refuses to disclose his plans for reallocating resources. And despite Harreld’s professed “respect” and “understanding”, not only did Harreld himself insist on the egregious tuition hikes which were just passed, but once again the UI press release quoted above contains a barrage of data, but no accounting of exactly how much money those draconian tuition hikes will generate.
Over the past ten months, Harreld has kept his cards — or, rather, the cards of his minders — so close to his vest, that despite everything I have read (which is almost everything that has been written), I can only point to one sentence in one article which presents anything I would even remotely characterize as new information about his plans. As it happens, that article was referenced in a prior post because it also contained Harreld’s sputtering response to the recent AAUP sanction of Iowa — a response which we will now revisit for reasons other than sheer incredulity:
No matter what you think of J. Bruce Harreld, by any measure that response — to a reporter, following the AAUP’s sanction of the university that Harreld presides over — is the definition of failure. Harreld makes almost $800,000 a year in guaranteed compensation, he is the president of a major research university, he is purportedly the reason why IBM did not go bankrupt when then tech boom caught that stodgy company by surprise, and yet the above quote is the entirety of his on-the-record response to the AAUP’s unprecedented action against a school of Iowa’s standing. And this is the same man who is now poised to order and implement new resource allocations across the University of Iowa campus.
That dissonance – between Harreld’s striking incompetence on one hand, and the magnitude of the transformational authority that he was given by his minders — suggests that whatever Harreld is about to do, he will simply be following orders. We know that because nobody in their right mind would actually allow someone so utterly incompetent to have a free hand in re-imagining the University of Iowa. Yes, in the margins Harreld will have discretionary authority to crush programs and people who do not please or appease him, but in the main even those abuses will be geared toward freeing up resources which can then used to implement his minders’ plans.
From that same article, here is the only information about Harreld’s still-secret agenda that caused me to sit up and take notice during the entire ten-month span between his appointment and the publication of that piece:
While there is a lot to digest in that small paragraph, there are two words that don’t seem to belong in a conversation about the University of Iowa, and those words are “big data”. It’s a given that Harreld is going to open up UI to exploitation by corporations, if not sell it off piecemeal under the guise of partnerships, much the same way that Iowa State is now controlled by ag interests. It is also known that Iowa has a world-renowned hydraulics lab, which is housed in one of the coolest buildings on campus. I can even see how the “professional education” (continuing education) angle might work, particularly with regard to UIHC, the healthcare space, and charging professionals big bucks for trendy CEU’s. But “big data”? Where did that come from?
It’s also worth noting that Harreld’s recent quote about “big data” was not given to or unearthed by the regular beat reporters covering Harreld, the University of Iowa, or crony political crime in the state. Instead, that new information comes to us from the Corridor Business Journal, which, as the name suggests, covers the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids business corridor. As such, it seems that Harreld may have gotten a bit chatty upon finding himself among friends instead of among academics — at least until the impertinent CBJ reporter prompted Harreld to swallow his tongue by asking about the AAUP sanction.
Big Data and the University of Iowa
In the absence of any other information, and knowing full well that J. Bruce Harreld may be lying about his interest in “big data”, we’re going to pick up that single thread and give it a tug. In doing so, we’re not only going to see where that thread leads, but how tightly woven it is into information we already have available. Does the idea of Harreld pouring resources into “big data” fit with what we already know?
The most obvious question, of course, is what “big data” means, and not just to Harreld. When I read that term in the CBJ report I understood it to mean the search for meaningful signals in large amounts of aggregated data. The more information you have at your disposal, and the more granular that information, the more likely it is that you will spot new tendencies or trends — provided, of course, that you know how to look. Big data is about how to look.
Most people are probably familiar with the concept of big data from analytics in sports, where more and more information is being compiled and analyzed in the quest for any possible performance advantage. Big data is also important with regard to healthcare, particularly in terms of pointing researchers at important and/or profitable areas of study. And, obviously, at the heart of many such studies is the question of scale:
Whether you like that explanation or not, big data is clearly a thing. The next question, then, is what J. Bruce Harreld meant by big data, when he said he would “concentrate resources internally toward” that area of study. And that’s an interesting question, because whether you’re a creaky old alum or a recent graduate, I’m willing to bet that you never thought of the University of Iowa as a hotbed of big data. Big hangovers, maybe. Big tuition hikes, apparently. But big data?
When I first ran across Harreld’s quote I did a bit of digging, including a sophisticated internet search using the terms ‘University of Iowa’ and ‘big data’. What I found, when cross-referencing the first page of hits for both recency and relevance, was this article, published less than a month ago on 06/27/16, from, of all sources, the Corridor Business Journal:
In the context of Harreld’s comments about reallocating resources toward big data, and perhaps even engaging in partnerships with corporations, the above quote is obviously a treasure trove of information. Again, however, it’s a bit odd that we’re hearing about this specific administrative pivot — the first I can recall Harreld announcing anywhere — from the CBJ, as opposed to one of the mainstream news outlets that Harreld and UI are constantly plastering with press releases. Still, we clearly have an answer as to what Harreld means by big data, plus more information to boot.
At Iowa, big data means, at a minimum, the Business Analytics and Information Systems (BAIS) degree program in the Tippie College of Business. And of course reallocating resources to that hot ticket — like shifting marketing money to a hot product — should bring in even more students, which will generate even more revenue, which will be doubly great because Harreld just socked the crap out of business (and engineering-slash-hydraulics) students with extra tuition hikes. (Yes, those differential hikes on business and engineering students could make it impossible for low-income students to participate in those programs, but because J. Bruce Harreld is a complete neophyte, he can hardly be held responsible for failing to account for namby-pamby concerns about diversity or fairness.)
While Harreld himself is not quoted in the CBJ article about the BAIS degree, there can be no confusion about what Harreld meant by “big data” when he was quoted using those exact words only six days earlier, in another CBJ article. Because confirmation is always a good thing, however, here’s a quote from a 04/20/16 article on CIO.com, titled “8 Universities at the Forefront of Big Data“:
So okay — the University of Iowa is a player in big data, and Harreld intends to expand that presence, perhaps even making a run at ‘owning the space’ as biz execs say. But again, how did all of that happen when most Iowa grads probably don’t think of Iowa as having a prominent big data program? Well, the answer may have more to do with a recent change in terminology than anything else.
We can see that by rolling the clock back almost a year, to publication of a prior article on UI and big data — this time by the Gazette’s indefatigable Vanessa Miller. What’s interesting about Miller’s piece is that it appeared on 08/06/15, two days after the UI Presidential Search and Will-Never-Screen Committee cut down the list of candidates for the Iowa presidency from 47 to nine. Those nine candidates then went on to be interviewed in Chicago in order to determine the four finalists, and as we now know J. Bruce Harreld made both of those critical cuts.
Another thing that’s interesting about Miller’s report is that even though she uses the phrase ‘big data’, at the time that’s not how UI was talking about the concept internally:
I don’t know how far back the term ‘informatics’ goes, but that is a word I’ve heard before at UI, particularly with regard to information analysis at UIHC. Even back in the day I knew it was a cutting-edge discipline, but as Miller’s report makes clear, it has only recently become a focal point across the university:
So when Harreld talks about throwing more UI resources at big data in the summer of 2016, what he’s talking about is not only the BAIS program but the UI3 initiative. Interestingly, however, in the entire CBJ article from only a few weeks ago, the term ‘informatics’ or ‘UI3’ is absent, and the emphasis really is on ‘big data’. That change in terminology suggests that perhaps Harreld, in his role of chief marketing weasel, is already hard at work, sexing up the terminology in advance of a major move.
Big Data and J. Bruce Harreld
It’s the premise of this post that J. Bruce Harreld was placed at Iowa by a person or persons who intended to use him as a tool to accomplish some goal. As a tool, then, it’s worth asking whether J. Bruce Harreld is the right tool for the job. You don’t pick up a screwdriver when you need a wrench, so why would you go out of your way to grab a Harreld if you’re planning on using him to push big data at the University of Iowa?
While Harreld spent the eight years prior to being hired at Iowa not as a muscle-flexing business executive but as an adjunct professor, it’s important to note the subjects he was teaching. And here for once Harreld’s dilapidated resume actually proves helpful:
Leaving aside the orphaned quote mark, which has no closing twin, the fact that Harreld used to teach a course called “Building New Businesses in Established Organizations” is intriguing vis-a-vis his job at Iowa. (Still, if Parker Executive Search lands the contract for the UNI search after allowing Harreld’s disastrous resume to pass muster, the Iowa Board of Regents and PES both need to be investigated.) In researching the “Building New Businesses in Established Operations” course, we find this mention in a Harvard Business Review article by Michael L. Tushman, on 07/18/12, appropriately titled Exploring and Exploiting Your Way to Growth:
In terms of Harreld’s fitness as a tool, one thing we should note here is that Harreld and Tushman were teaching an “Executive Education” course, which dovetails nicely with Harreld’s CBJ quote that he intends to reallocate resources toward “professional education”. Meaning out of Harreld’s three proposed areas of future revenue focus, we see that Harreld is familiar with two of them from his own professional past. And of course from his resume we also know that Harreld’s undergraduate degree was in engineering from Purdue, which would also seem to explain his impending support for the hydraulics program.
It’s also worth noting, in the CBJ article about Iowa and big data, that the BAIS degree program at the UI Tippie College of Business is described as follows:
So big data at Iowa not only means gathering and analyzing data, but also the hardware and code of the systems which are used to accomplish that goal. That in turn fits with Harreld’s mention that he was on the Harvard Business School’s “Faculty I/T Advisory Committee”. If Harreld intends to grow big data/informatics at Iowa, as a tool he’s certainly got all the bases covered. From the course title we also know that Harreld knows how can build parasitic businesses inside a still-functioning host system — including, presumably, by siphoning off resources from other parts of that system. (At which point those other parts would inevitably fail, thus proving they weren’t worth saving in the first place.)
Moving on we come to Harreld’s thirteen years at IBM (or ‘BM’) in various roles, and here Harreld’s fit for the Tippie BAIS big-data program could not be more obvious. IBM was and is heavily invested in both hardware and software, and at one point in its glorious history may have been (and may again become) the world-wide leader in big data.
From Harreld’s resume:
Not only is tech right in Harreld’s wheelhouse, but reallocating resources away from programs that might be lagging, toward programs that might make a lot of money, is pretty much Harreld’s core strength. Which may in turn explain the abusive tuition hikes he just forced on the students at the University of Iowa, which he defended at a meeting of the Iowa Board of Regents by saying the following….
As quoted in a Des Moines Register article on 06/09/16:
And as quoted in the Gazette, also on 06/09/16:
Leaving aside whether Harreld just pulled a fast one by ripping off students school-wide in order to fund his minders’ plans for big data at UI, it should be clear that Harreld’s experience at IBM would be central to that cause. In fact, if you were, say, a member of the UI presidential search committee in 2015, or perhaps even a prospective member of said committee back into 2014, and you were president-shopping for just the right tool to shift a whole bunch of money toward your pet cause of advancing big data at the University of Iowa, then from only the first two items on Harreld’s resume it’s already hard to imagine coming up with a better candidate. If that’s the job, then J. Bruce Harreld is the right tool, and the rest of Harreld’s resume confirms that:
All the talk about Harreld being a transformational leader and helping the University of Iowa steer a course through troubled waters in higher education is a crock. But if someone had a specific mission, and that mission involved growing a big-data program inside UI by first pilfering and reallocating resources to that cause, not only is that the core strength of J. Bruce Harreld’s business expertise, but that’s pretty much exactly what he has accomplished in his first eight-plus months on the job.
For Part 2 of J. Bruce Harreld and Big Data, click here.
This is Part 2 of J. Bruce Harreld and Big Data. For Part 1, click here.
Big Data and the Tippie College of Business
In terms of fit, the synergies between J. Bruce Harreld as a former business exec and the UI business college are obvious. That’s Harreld’s academic home base, as demonstrated by his eight years as an adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Business. Given Harreld’s background as a marketing weasel, it also wouldn’t be surprising if he almost reflexively ditched the word ‘informatics’ in favor of the concept of bigness.
I don’t know the history of informatics at Iowa, but I know it goes back quite a ways, including particularly at UIHC, where you can see the obvious utility. If you want to cut down on, say, post-op infections, nothing is better than having reams of data which account for all possible variables, making the critical factor(s) that much easier to identify.
On the Informatics/UI3 website, there’s a page that talks about “our future home” on the 5th floor of the College of Public Health Building, which — after a short delay — seems just about ready for business. What’s particularly interesting about that new informatics space, however, is that it’s on the west side of the UI campus, which, apart from sports, is ruled over by Vice President for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard. Robillard, who also recently appointed himself dean of the college of medicine, was also the chair of the Harreld search committee, and the interim UI president during the Harreld search, and the key traitorous UI administrator who enabled Harreld’s fraudulent hire. By contrast, the Tippie College of Business, which hosts the BAIS program, is on the east side of campus, and is presided over by Dean Sarah Gardial under the administrative auspices of J. Bruce Harreld.
So, how to explain this territorial divide? Well, here’s the entire text from the ‘About’ page on the UI3/Informatics page website, which also includes a diagram referenced in the first sentence:
[The links on the UI3 web page are broken because of an unnecessary ‘ informatics/ ‘ in the URL. I have fixed both links in the quote above.]
Informatics at Iowa, then, including the UI3 initiative, is internal. Follow the two links above and you’ll see that the integration of informatics at UI is also extensive, as it almost certainly should be. The BAIS program at Tippie, on the other hand, trains students to take jobs in informatics, analytics or big data, including perhaps at UI. To that now add all of the big-data professors teaching the BAIS program on the east side of campus, and all of the professionals implementing informatics solutions on the west side of campus, and among those groups will also be individuals researching and generating new solutions, which may not only have applicability for UI but also be of value to other institutions.
On the UI campus, then, it’s not that there are two separate but similar groups involved in big data, but that there one big-data ecosystem already up and running, which might be repurposed for other things, including making a profit. Unfortunately, as they say, it takes money to make money, and that’s where J. Bruce Harreld comes in.
In order to exploit the profit potential in the synergies between Tippie and the Informatics program, those programs would normally have to lobby for a greater share of increasingly scarce campus resources. That’s also true if they wanted to hire someone like Harreld — or maybe even Harreld himself — to oversee such a program. There would have to be planning and budget meetings and on an on, and the whole thing would get mired down in administrative red tape.
Now look at what’s happening. Despite his manifest illegitimacy, J. Bruce Harreld is the president of the University of Iowa, and as such he can simply ‘find’ the money for a UI big-data program by either ripping off the students with big tuition increases, reallocating money from other programs, or both. And as of today he’s already halfway there.
In terms of fit — as a tool — J. Bruce Harreld’s claim to fame is not taking venture capital and building new businesses from scratch. Instead, Harreld is a cannibalistic infiltrator, specializing in reallocating resources from within, purportedly as a means of salvation for struggling organizations. That, in turn, explains why Harreld and his co-conspirators were so eager during the search to portray higher education as being in crisis. If UI wasn’t broke, they couldn’t have hired Harreld to fix it.
Big Data and Harreld’s Masters
Again, it’s the premise of this post that J. Bruce Harreld was placed at Iowa by a person or persons who intend to use him — like a tool — to accomplish some task. Assuming that Harreld was and is the right tool for the big-data job, as seems to be the case from all of the above, one question we haven’t asked yet is who would have known where to find Harreld.
If you’ve been following the Harreld hire at all, you know there were three key co-conspirators involved in Harreld’s sham appointment: Bruce Rastetter, then and now the president of the Iowa Board of Regents; Jean Robillard, previously discussed in a multiplicity of administrative roles; and Jerre Stead, an accomplished and wealthy alumnus. While Rastetter and Robillard were central to the administrative machinations that levered Harreld into office, and Rastetter served on the search committee that Robillard chaired, Stead was also a member of that committee.
From J. Bruce Harreld we have the most recent version of his origin story as a candidate, which has gone through multiple iterations in the past ten months. Purportedly, an anonymous individual at Boston Consulting — where Harreld worked after snagging his MBA at Harvard — spontaneously tipped Rastetter off about Harreld’s existence. After Rastetter cold-called Harreld and was shot down, Rastetter somehow spontaneously knew to ask Jerre Stead to call Harreld one week later, to beg Harreld to at least consider meeting with Rastetter. Sometime later, Stead arranged a face-to-face meeting between Rastetter, Robillard, then-Chief of Staff Peter Matthes and Harreld, in a hotel conference room in Cedar Rapids. (Stead was scheduled to attend himself, but backed out at the last minute.)
Now, although Harreld has changed his candidate origin story multiple times, it is a constant that the one person who was absolutely not responsible for Harreld finding out about the open presidency at Iowa, or anyone at Iowa finding out about Harreld, was Jerre Stead. And yet when we actually look at Harreld’s past, among Rastetter, Robillard and Stead — if not also every single human being even remotely connected with the University of Iowa — the one person who actually knew about Harreld and his suitability as the perfect tool for pushing big data, is Jerre Stead.
Not only do Stead and Harreld go back over twenty years or more as business executives, including having worked on projects together, but Stead’s business in Denver is only a hundred miles or so down the road from Harreld’s home in Avon, Colorado. Because the Steads have long been at least part-time residents in Colorado, and Harreld and his wife have deep familial ties to the Denver area, it’s also not too hard to imagine social interactions as well. And yet somehow, no matter what origin story Harreld has told about how he found his way to the Iowa campus, Jerre Stead was absolutely not the person who pulled him out of the toolbox and put him to work.
Just knowing of J. Bruce Harreld wasn’t enough, however, because in order to sell the others on Harreld’s suitability to the task, the person who put him forward had to authoritatively speak to Harreld’s credentials. While Rastetter might agree that Harreld was the right tool, Rastetter’s background in agriculture and commodities hardly positioned him to know that Harreld was the right tool. Likewise for Robillard, whose career in medicine and administration has certainly brought him into contact with people from many different professions, but has hardly made him an expert on big data.
But what about Jerre Stead? How qualified would he have been to judge Harreld’s fitness for pushing big data at UI? Well, to answer that question, let’s take a look at how Jerre Stead’s company, IHS Markit, is described on the company’s ‘About Us’ page:
Well…golly. That there pretty much looks like an exact description of big data, without using those words. Still, we don’t want to leap to any conclusions, so what size of a company are we talking about? I mean, is IHS Markit operating out of a garage or what?
Oddly enough, Jerre’s former company (IHS) just closed on a major merger with Markit, another ‘analytics’ company based out of London. Now with a global reach, the pre-deal market cap for IHS Markit was pegged at about $13B, meaning when it comes to big data and informatics, Jerre Stead clearly does know what he’s talking about.
It’s also worth noting that Jerre Stead is in his mid-seventies, and has been in business at a high level for close to fifty years. If there’s one person involved in the Harreld hire who had an almost infinite number of contacts around the world, who had worked with hundreds if not thousands of executives, who would know almost reflexively how to find the exact right tool for the job once he understood what the job was, it’s Jerre Stead. In fact, if there wasn’t an actual university surrounding the big-data program that Harreld seems poised to unleash, he might actually have been the right tool for that job.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why would Jerre Stead, bazillionaire, go out of his way to help Rastetter and Robillard target and hire J. Bruce Harreld? And I don’t have an answer for that. What I can tell you, however, is that the day after Harreld’s appointment was announced, on September 3rd, 2015, Jerre Stead, future CEO of IHS Markit and member of the UI presidential search committee, did a very strange thing. He lied to the press about when he first learned that J. Bruce Harreld was a candidate.
I know, I know — it hardly seems possible, but it’s true. Which of course raises all sorts of questions about why Jerre Stead, head of IHS Markit, might himself want to install J. Bruce Harreld, IT nerd and entrepreneurial parasite, as president of the University of Iowa. In the abstract, of course, you can see the appeal. IHS Markit is on the cutting edge of big data in commercial applications, but their ability to stay on the cutting edge relies on constant innovation. While they could do all that in-house, that would also cost a pretty penny and divert resources. Much better might be a taxpayer-funded or partially funded entity which not only researched and prototyped new solutions, but also trained workers in those new solutions.
So what about that? Does UI alum Jerre Stead have any ties to the Tippie College of Business? Well, as it turns out, Jerre donated $25M to the college in 2003, which apparently prompted such appreciation that he was given his own web page right on the school’s website. From the ‘About’ page of the UI Stead Technology Services Group:
Did you catch that at the end there? “Within the limits of available resources.” If only the Stead Technology Services Group could find more resources!
While the IHS Markit merger closed only recently — as in 12 days ago — initial talks between Stead and Markit CEO Lance Uggla began as early as 2014, before Markit went public in the United States, on 06/16/14. From an IHS Markit conference call on SeekingAlpha.com, published on 03/21/16:
Although Markit is in London and IHS is in Denver, prior to the merger Markit already had other UI alums in the fold. For example, on the old-but-still-live Markit site, the Head of Equities for Markit Financial Information Services is listed as Rob Flatley, who has an BBA in Accounting from UI. Likewise, from a LinkedIn search hit titled Top 25 Project Manager Profiles at Markit, we find that 2 of the 25 are Iowa grads, and both are listed not as working in London, but in ‘greater Denver’.
How deep the ties go between Stead/IHS Markit and UI’s Tippie College I do not know, but it would be interesting to know how many UI grads have found homes at both of those now-joined companies. It would also be interesting to know whether the gaudy claims of placement for UI BAIS grads correlate with hires from either or both of those companies. From the CBJ article on big data at UI:
Now, I am not at all suggesting that the Tippie College of Business may have primed the pump on the success of its BAIS program by pipelining grads to an alum’s company. Because obviously that would be an egregious wrong among a list of wrongs that just keeps growing and growing in the aftermath of the Harreld hire. Speaking of priming the pump, however, here’s J. Bruce Harreld himself, from the CBJ report in which he referenced big data as a priority at UI:
Among the questions which come to mind about Harreld selling UI off to corporations, is IHS Markit one of the companies that Harreld has “fielded inquiries” from? You know, as if IHS Markit’s CEO didn’t already know that Harreld was at UI, and that Harreld was planning a major reallocation of resources toward big data? Also, have there been any discussions about a public-private partnership between UI and IHS Markit, and if so, when did those conversations first take place?
Big Data and the Iowa Board of Regents
Having seen how UI traitor Jean Robillard fits into any big-data plan at UI, and how central big data is to Jerre Stead’s business success, we’re left to ponder how Bruce Rastetter figures in the big-data aspect of J. Bruce Harreld’s sham hire — particularly given that Rastetter was the chief architect of that administrative con. From a distance it doesn’t seem like there’s much of an incentive on Rastetter’s part, although there are a few connections. For example, among Rastetter’s many charitable donations — some of which he has actually followed through on, and not simply taken credit for, is this:
Okay, so four scholarships to Tippie. Good for the kids, good for the tax deduction, win-win. Yet not nearly the kind of association that we find with Robillard and Stead.
As noted in a number of recent articles and editorials in the press, and even in a lawsuit against the regents stemming from the Harreld hire, Rastetter tends to devote most of his campus-corrupting influence to Ames, which is not only much closer to Des Moines, but also home to offices for his own company, SummitAg. And yet, as discussed recently in an extensive post, a central tenet of Rastetter’s rule over the state’s schools is that he doesn’t want any competition for resources. Instead, he wants all three schools to function like a crony state-controlled system of higher education, which means any big-data program at UI would also be ported to the entire regents enterprise.
On the other hand, that would mean existing IT infrastructure and programs at the state’s other schools would have to undergo significant change. Speaking of which, what’s that going on over in Ames?
Not only did ISU President Leath engineer the hire of yet another political crony in order to avoid having to advertise that IT position, but as you may have heard recently, Leath is also up to his neck in an unethical and perhaps even illegal crony land deal with Rastetter. And yet while all of that has gotten a lot of attention as you might expect, ISU has also been gutting its IT department, and so radically so that it has actually been paying people to sit around and do nothing.
While ISU’s tech upheaval purportedly relates to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), it’s also true that one of the pressing problems in IT is figuring out how to merge ERP with big-data analysis. As such, any individual or organization that does solve that problem is going to be in heavy demand for both solutions and expertise. (Short of a power outage, the world is never going to produce less data than it is now, and even today the amount of data being produced is overwhelming available IT solutions.)
For a glimpse at how big data could apply to ISU more broadly, as well as to Rastetter’s private-sector agricultural interests, there’s also this, from a UI press release only a few months ago:
If it’s not clear by now, dig-data analytics are useful in almost any field. It’s a legitimate profession, it’s a legitimate area of research, and it’s a legitimate area of study. If it wasn’t the focus of resource allocations by the illegitimate president of the University of Iowa, who has close personal ties to a mega-donor whose business is big data, along with crony ties to Robillard and Rastetter, in theory it might even be a good thing.
The problem, of course, is that you can’t separate out the sleaze. In this instance it’s baked into the cake by virtue of Harreld’s fraudulent hire, and the complicity of those three men in that fraud. Which, oddly enough, brings us to a lingering IT issue from the Harreld search.
One of the unique features of the 2015 presidential search at Iowa was a snazzy new automated feedback system that Parker Executive Search put together in exchange for part of their whopping $200,000 flat-fee price tag. (At last count, total expenses for the search were $300,000+ and climbing.) As far as I can tell, no search in Iowa had ever used such a system before.
As a practical matter, like much of the rest of that search, the feedback system was designed not to actually produce the best candidate, but to shelter Harreld from criticism by allowing him to appear at the last possible moment at every step in the search process. Last to declare his candidacy, last to be interviewed in Chicago, and last to present in the candidate forums only two days before the final vote.
The pretext for the PES system was that data would be collected and transmitted to the board at the speed of light, where it could be analyzed prior to the vote. In practice the data was summarily ignored by the board, if the board ever saw it, and that’s particularly true of the extensive comments that many respondents submitted. In fact, given the time crunch it’s not at all clear that the regents could have digested all of the feedback even if they had wanted to.
It will be interesting to see if the regents insist on the same snazzy data collection and feedback system for the upcoming UNI search, but in either case there remains one lingering question about the UI search. Whose idea was that?
Big Data and Personal Profit
Whatever is about to transpire at the University of Iowa — wherever Harreld is going to reallocate resources, and wherever he is going to make cuts if not swing his axe — as a result of both his abusive tuition hikes and his budgetary manipulations, for the first time since he was fraudulently hired Harreld will be flush with cash, and all of it other people’s money. He will not have done anything to earn that money, and he will not have had to put any concrete plans in place to justify access to that money, he will simply be granted control over all that money because he was jammed into office by a small cabal of co-conspirators who had that intermediate goal in mind all along.
Right now, as you read this, J. Bruce Harreld is poised to make good on whatever promises he made to his co-conspirators, and nobody on campus has the power to stand in his way. His actions will be an implicit injustice, but they will be touted by the UI and regent media machines as visionary and transformational. Yet there is still one important question worth asking, and that’s who will be allowed to profit from Harreld’s coming machinations. And by profit I literally mean make money.
Is Harreld allowed — as a matter of rule or law — to profit? Rastetter? Robillard? Stead? What about spouses? Family? Friends of the family? If big data is poised to take off at P3 Company X, or a startup is being spun off by UI and looking for early investors, who gets to know about those opportunities, and when? Can people who are currently employed by UI or the state simply slide into the CEO chair at a UI startup?
We know that Rastetter has frequently co-mingled his roles as regent president and SummitAg CEO, all the while professing no possible conflict of interest. We also know that Rastetter has done so in order to profit financially. Robillard may have any number of clauses in his contract, including performance bonuses, or may be be allowed to invest in businesses associated with or spun off from UI or UIHC. And of course Jerre Stead hails from the private sector, where making money is the whole point.
We still don’t know — and unlike the IHS Markit merger will probably never know — when Jerre Stead and J. Bruce Harreld first talked about the Iowa job. We also don’t know when Jerre Stead and J. Bruce Harreld first talked about the IHS Markit merger. If IHS Markit and UI are going to partner in any way in the future, it might be worth asking whether J. Bruce Harreld or anyone in his family has a position or stake in IHS Markit, and when that position or stake was acquired. Then we could ask the same questions of Rastetter and Robillard, and of all three concerning any other P3 opportunities embraced by UI. (And then we could ask whether Harreld still has a position in IBM, and whether IBM is one of the companies that has come calling.)
Because all of that is speculative, however, and J. Bruce Harreld may have wanted guaranteed income as compensation for his administrative larceny, there is one other way that Harreld might profit from bringing big data to UI by hook or by crook, and that’s by triggering tenure for himself. If you didn’t know, Harreld’s current contract provides for the possibility of tenure at a rate equivalent to the highest-paid professor on the Tippie staff at the time, which would currently net Harreld $330,000+ per year. As you may or may not also know, although Harreld has poo-pooed the idea, his poo-pooing is just another carefully scripted lie.
To see that clearly, consider the following:
That seems pretty definitive, doesn’t it? J. Bruce Harreld “has no plans to seek tenure”, and “would not demand a tenure position as a condition of his employment”. And yet the seeds of Harreld’s deception are in plain sight.
To begin, after declaring that “he would not demand a tenure position as a condition of his employment”, Harreld somehow still ended up with a tenure provision in his contract. How did that happen? Well, purportedly no one at UI knew anything about that provision until after the contract was signed, which means it must have been included by someone at Rastetter’s Iowa Board of Regents.
Again, when Jeneane Beck from the UI Office of Strategic Communications says that “Mr. Harreld did not make tenure a condition of his employment and will not seek tenure,” that may be factually correct, but the whole point of the specific words she’s using is to leave open the possibility of tenure. To make the lie apparent we don’t have to parse Beck’s words, however — all we have to do is add a wee-little bit of emphasis:
Do you see the dodge? It may be that Harreld will not seek tenure himself, but that doesn’t preclude someone else from giving him tenure — say, as a thank-you for reallocating funds from other departments and colleges, and showering those funds on the business college. In fact, we know that’s how Harreld will get around Beck’s apparent iron-clad statement because that’s exactly how Harreld ended up with a tenure clause in his contract in the first place.
Click here and you’ll see candidate J. Bruce Harreld, back at his candidate forum in early September, making it absolutely clear that he would not — as specifically quoted by Jeneane Beck above — make tenure a condition of his employment. And yet by some incredible miracle, when Harreld’s contract was signed it contained a tenure provision. And that provision stipulates not that Harreld must meet the requirements for tenure generally, but that he must meet the requirements for tenure specifically in the Tippie College of Business, whose coffers he will have filled with his big-data largesse.
Given Harreld’s background it makes sense that if he were to be given tenure in any college, it would be the business college. Harreld, however, does not have a doctorate, which both Leath and Ruud held when they were first hired by the board, and yet neither Leath nor Ruud were given the possibility of tenure in their initial contracts. Harreld also had no prior experience in academic administration before being hired, again unlike Leath and Ruud, which means not only was the tenure provision in his contract undeserved, but the mind boggles at what the regents thought Harreld would have to do to actually earn tenure under those conditions.
Two months before Harreld took office, however, and thus long before he ever began assessing which programs deserved more resources and which would be cut, someone at the Iowa Board of Regents had the foresight to add a tenure provision to Harreld’s contract which specifically tied him to the Tippie College of Business. An act that should not have taken place for multiple reasons, including the million-to-one possibility that Harreld could earn tenure as a neophyte without a Ph.D, was nonetheless perpetrated as if tenure was a serious possibility. Because of that savvy anticipation, all Harreld has to do to now to pocket that extra money is wait for Dean Gardial of the Tippie College of Business to round up the necessary faculty votes and give Harreld tenure because he’s been such a great friend to the school.
Update 07/24/16: As was pointed out to me, the director of the UI Institute for Hydraulic Research is Larry Weber. In early 2015, Larry Weber was one of twenty-one individuals named to the search committee that went on to nominate J. Bruce Harreld and three others as finalists for the UI presidency. Following Harreld’s shocking nomination, Weber had this to say:
Hydraulics is one of three areas at UI which Harreld has targeted for increased resource reallocations. True to Rastetter’s crony administrative ethos, everybody gets paid.
Good post. You have stayed with this story longer than anyone, and know more than anyone too.
I do wonder if some of this is a head fake.
Rastetter (and Branstad’s cronies) know that they want the status quo. Rastetter is making alot of money with agribusiness. And what can protect the status quo?
You can buy politicians (and buy a BOR position, obviously) but sometimes despite all your machinations, and gerrymandering, the vicissitudes of the ballot box throw you a setback.
If you capture those non-elected government positions, then you really have something. The bureaucracy is one place to start, but the nonelected Govt institutions might be better.
.If you get the SCOTUS you get Citizens United, You dress down the voter’s rights acts, you can almost take down public health. Non Elected and powerful.
At a state level you can gain the courts. Better yet, capture the universities — lots of monies and influence there. And non-elected. Appoint a university president beholden to you and you have influence for at least 5 years, if not 10 or 15. And alot can change in that time.
What is the big threat to Agribusiness and Rastetter? I don’t know all, but environmentalists would be,. He reacted very strongly to climate change research at the UIowa. He controls Ag research at Iowa State (see Harkin). So what is there to suppress at UIowa – environmental studies unfavorable to Ag: liberal views; shared governance.
Therefore I would be careful in that alot of this are head fakes. Promote AG safe research and Ag safe teaching. Suppress environmental research and teaching. Make your aims something else (like big data) which means you can dismiss profs you do not like because ‘limited resources and not our focus right now’.
Wait and see. These are slow subtle changes and often sneaked into an agenda adroitly. Announcements of retirements. Faculty leaving. Weekend proclamations without oppositions. Stacking adminstration with your operative and your cronies.
Pretty soon you have neutered your opposition and replaced it with favorable sycophants (like the fine UIowa Senate President). No more unfavorable to Ag research. Lots of sweetheart deals to plunder the treasury. Lots of students to indoctrinate and plunder.
And pretty soon you have a red state that displays the Confederate flag proudly — like Rep Steve King, that pollutes the waterways, and that fouls the air.. And no one to keep watch or object.
It would be naive to think there is no larger context in play, but I reflexively return again and again to Occam’s Razor. We know that a small cabal of co-conspirators stole the presidency at Iowa. That is beyond dispute. As to why they did that, we can leap to macro concerns like libertarian opportunism, but there are prior factors.
First, you don’t do something like that unless you think you’re above the rules that apply to everyone else. You also don’t do something like that unless you feel that lying is a justifiable means to an end. So before we attribute some shadowy political or business agenda to these people, we can say that they are also afflicted with common human failings such as ego and vice.
What distinguishes them, of course, is the scale of the theft, but that’s really a byproduct of the power they wield — and yet another reminder that nothing is more important than leadership. Put corrupt people in positions of power and you get more corruption.
As to the political or economic agenda behind the theft of the UI presidency, it seems fairly straightforward. Turn every possible aspect of the school into a money-making venture, treat the school’s resources as your own personal startup incubator, and profit wherever possible — both financially, and in political terms.
Again, that fits with the corruption of the individuals involved. To them an uncorrupted, unexploited bureaucracy is simply a waste.
The more I thought about your points, the more I agree with your positions on this mess.
You likely know more about this than anyone, and have synthesized the known facts to delineate an explanation that fits.
When is the journal article/book coming out?
If you’ve been following the fraudulent hire of J. Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa, you know that Regents’ President Bruce Rastetter has repeatedly insisted that the search process leading to Harreld’s appointment was fair. Rastetter initially made that claim in the fall of last year, when his abuses of power were first reported in the press, and he continues to do so to this day. For example, here he is a little over a month ago, following the AAUP’s sanctioning of the university for abuses committed during that sham search:
As a purely factual matter, Rastetter’s assertion that “the Board of Regents ran a fair process” is false. Rastetter has been able to stick to that false claim, however, because the administrative workings of the 2015 UI Presidential Search and Select Committee were and remain covered by a confidentiality provision. As a result, even after the search was concluded, neither the disbanded committee nor the regents were obligated to “show their work” — as an incisive Gazette staff editorial demanded on 09/12/15, only nine days after Harreld was appointed. In fact, despite paying Harreld almost $800,000 per year, the regents have never been obligated to document Harreld’s path through the search and selection process, including when and if he ever declared his candidacy, or whether his disastrous resume was vetted by the search firm that was hired to perform that and other critical functions.
Although there is a great deal we still don’t know, the mechanics of the fraudulent 2015 UI presidential search are quite clear. At every step, J. Bruce Harreld was given advantages and special treatment which were not offered to other candidates in the search process. We know that by clear inference, but we can’t prove many specifics because we do not have access to the emails and communications which were sent by the committee and/or the board. By the same token, however, we also have no evidence that there were any rules which determined how the committee would conduct itself in such matters, suggesting that from an administrative perspective, and by malicious intent, there may actually have been no formal committee. Instead, there was a gaggle of individual members charged with “aggressive recruitment” of candidates, which was itself an administrative dodge designed to obscure the inherent unfairness of the search.
For example, under the pretext of “aggressive recruitment”, J. Bruce Harreld and his wife were invited to campus on July 8th, 2015, by search chair Jean Robillard. While Harreld presented to a roomful of UIHC and UI bigwigs, including Regents’ President Rastetter, Harreld’s wife was given an extended tour of the campus. Harreld then chatted with four members of the search committee at a “VIP Lunch”, during which at least three people at the table — Harreld, Robillard and Rastetter — knew he was there as a stealth candidate for the UI presidency, yet that fact never came up in conversation with the other members of the committee.
While the intentional deception which took place at the “VIP Lunch” is bad enough, neither before or afterward has there been any indication that the committee or the regents sent emails to the other candidates and members of the committee, letting them know that such opportunities and contacts were available. And we know that because after the search was over, several members of the committee stated that they did not know Harreld had visited the campus in early July of 2015.
The same withholding of information also occurred when J. Bruce Harreld purportedly demanded to meet with “at least four regents” — which somehow then compelled Rastetter to set up those meetings at his own place of business in Ames. Not only did no one other than Harreld, Rasteter and the four regents know about those meetings until after Harreld’s appointment — including other members of the board, who were kept in the dark by their peers — but those meetings eventually triggered a lawsuit contending that Rastetter and the four regents violated the state’s Open Meeting laws.
Although those meetings may have been a violation of state law, in the context of the search there is no evidence that Robillard or Rastetter notified the other candidates or the nineteen other members of the search committee that the committee or board viewed such meetings as compulsory when requested by any candidate. Indeed, on 03/22/16, Rastetter asserted in an interview with the Des Moines Register that any or all regents would have gladly met with any candidate who wanted such meetings, yet to date he has produced no evidence that the committee ever communicated that policy during the search.
At the very least, then, with the UNI presidential search looming, it does seem relevant to ask what standard of fairness the Iowa Board of Regents holds itself to when communicating information to all parties during a search. Unfortunately, although I looked for that information over the past year, I was not able to find anything which obligated the board to demonstrate such fairness precisely because the regents routinely shield themselves with confidentiality agreements during searches. Or at least that was the case until a few days ago, when I was reading through the board’s Request for Qualification for search firms interesting in managing the presidential search at the University of Northern Iowa. From the bottom of page 5:
This policy of immediately communicating information to all interested parties is of course completely sensible. If the board makes a new determination regarding the UNI search-firm hiring process, all search firms will be notified of that change as soon as possible. If one firm asks a question relevant to the board’s search for a search firm, then all search firms will be provided with the answer in order to ensure fairness.
In the context of the 2015 UI presidential search, however, not only do we not have any similar statement concerning the administration of the search, the administrative conduct of both the search chair and the president of the board, who was also a member of the committee, shows that they did not hold themselves to that same standard. When Harreld and his wife were invited to campus in early July of last year, to meet the two most powerful administrators involved in the search, we have no evidence that other search members or candidates were told that meetings were available with those key individuals. Several weeks later, when Rastetter arranged meetings between Harreld and four other regents on July 30th, 2015 — including two regents who weren’t even on the search committee — we again have no evidence that Rastetter and/or Robillard notified the other committee members and candidates of the regents’ availability, let alone of Rastetter’s willingness to arrange and host such meetings at his own private place of business. (In fact, that notice should have gone out as soon as Rastetter and/or Robillard decided that such meetings were allowed.)
Given that Rastetter orchestrated the fraudulent search which led to J. Bruce Harreld’s sham appointment, it’s not surprising that he would be reduced to lying in order to avoid answering for his abuses of power. What remains perplexing, however, is why the press has exhibited blanket incuriosity with regard to Rastetter’s false assertion that the search was fair, when it was clearly not. In fact, given that Rastetter’s political crony and protector, Governor Branstad, just spit in the eye of every reporter in the state, it’s perhaps time for the editors and producers who determine which stories get told, and which stories get squelched in return for access, to reassess their journalistic priorities.
All that’s needed is for a member of the press to ask the Board of Regents whether — during the 2015 UI presidential search — notices of regent availability were sent to all members of the search committee, and all of the candidates, once it was known that Harreld was to be granted meetings with four regents at Rastetter’s private place of business in Ames. It’s a very simple question, and the only dodge available to the board would be to assert that such communications were privileged. At which point the press could then contact any of the other candidates who applied for the Iowa job and ask them if they received notice from the committee about the availability of the entire Board of Regents to meet with them, as was recently asserted by Rastetter in his interview with the Register. Even if the board lawyers up, as it did when the AAUP investigation was first announced, that conspicuous silence could then be reported, putting the public on notice that the question of the board’s fairness during the 2015 UI presidential search has never actually been established.
Now, given that it’s almost eleven months since Harreld was fraudulently appointed, you may be thinking that the issue is too far removed to demand attention, but that’s exactly the point. Because Rastetter’s claim has never been verified, it still exists not only as an important story relative to the UI search, but as an important story going forward. Again, Rastetter’s most recent assertion that the regents ran a fair search was on 06/19/16 — only a little over a month ago. At the time that assertion of fairness was not only central to Rastetter’s response to the AAUP sanction, it was the only substantive response he offered. That in turn raises legitimate concerns about whether the board knows how to run a fair search, which is of critical importance regarding the imminent UNI presidential search.
If the press can’t or won’t investigate the 2015 UI presidential search based on Rastetter’s repeated claims that the search was fair, then it will fall to the legislature to do so. In that eventuality, however, the legislature will have one significant advantage. Where the Board of Regents can simply refuse to talk to the press, shielding themselves behind claims of confidentiality, the legislature faces no such impediments even if the board turns hostile. Armed with subpoena power, the only way for Rastetter to avoid turning over the accumulated work product of the 2015 UI Presidential Search and Screen Committee would be for him to order or personally see to the destruction of that information, assuming he hasn’t done so already.
According to the board’s RFQ for the UNI presidential search, the interviews of the final firms that are still under consideration will end Wednesday, with the awarding of a contract to take place no later than Friday. Even at this late date relative to the UI search, it’s important to ask questions about that search in order to make sure the same abuses of power are not repeated during the UNI search. Beyond nailing down whether the board was fair in its communication of opportunities to other candidates, it’s also worth following up on Rastetter’s claim that any and all members of the Iowa Board of Regents were standing by to meet with candidates during the UI search, and how that same availability will be implemented during the UNI search — assuming, of course, that Rastetter’s offer holds for all of the state’s schools.
If that is the case, it would seem prudent for Rastetter and the board to explain how the regents intend to make such meetings equitable among all of the UNI candidates, while also scrupulously avoiding any violation of the state’s Open Meeting law. Practical concerns include scheduling, the cost of reimbursing candidates for travel to such meetings, and making sure that all candidates are eligible whether they have officially declared their candidacies or not. (There is no evidence that Harreld declared his candidacy prior to meeting with the four regents in Ames, and considerable evidence to the contrary. At that late date Harreld may not even have filled out any of the paperwork required by the search firm overseeing the search. As to travel expenses, Harreld may or may not have been reimbursed for his regent meetings, but if he wasn’t reimbursed that’s likely because he never submitted a request. On multiple occasions during the search Harreld traveled to and from the state on a private jet at considerable personal expense, which would not have been reimbursed in any case.)
scroll down to the map..where it says attending ISU increased 71% from 97 to 07/ Wonder what happened the next 9 years?
In the past year I’ve come across graph after graph from UI and the BoR which shows the economic upheaval that happened in 2008, but then ignores it. I’ve also come across graphs which purport to show a big spike in demand after 2008, but which also ignore the economic upheaval that sparked that demand. (It wasn’t great branding — the world economy collapsed.)
As for Iowa and student debt — man, we’re killing those kids.
As a general comment about the corporate university.
HRC says she will work with Bernie Sanders to make college tuition free for middle class students (and lower I presume)
If someone wants to make universities less attractive to the Rastetter type vultures and Harreld type dilettantes, take away the corporate university. Take out the profit motive that attracts these guys like road kill attracts buzzards.
(Trump U as example A)
The amount of college debt is crippling young Americans. This debt has escalated since the advent of the university incorp. And the universities are now an instant teller for the Rastetter/Harreld/Leath crew. Need a grant? Hit up your underling univ. Need land? Weasel a deal with your rich uncle/BOR boss. Need to put a crony in a 250,000 job. Land him a no-compete job at your State U.
On 06/03/15, the Press-Citizen’s Jeff Charis-Carlson reported on the development and impending implementation of the Iowa Board of Regents new ‘common application portal‘:
That $290,000 cost, however, was only the buy-in:
As for the impetus driving the portal, the only stated goal was providing a service to prospective students:
As for justifying the program’s $290,000 first-year cost, the board’s own data showed marginal demand:
As for any cost savings to applicants for using the portal, there was none.
As for being a one-stop shop, the portal also failed that test:
As for the rollout, here’s how that was described:
By all accounts the portal went live on July 1st, 2015, and has been available for use by prospective students since that date.
Revisiting Bruce Rastetter’s Long Game
As you probably know by now, on 09/03/15 the Iowa Board of Regents fraudulently appointed J. Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa. Prior to that time I only paid passing attention to the school as an alum, and no attention whatsoever to the board. After Harreld’s appointment, however, I began looking into the abuses of power behind his sham hire, and along the way I started learning about the key players involved in that conspiracy. Included in the group was Regents’ President Bruce Raster, who I had never heard of before, but who was apparently a well-known “kingmaker” in Iowa politics.
Just a little over a month ago, after reading up on Rastetter and the board for the better part of a year, I put up a two-part post titled Bruce Rastetter’s Long Game at the Iowa Board of Regents. In that post, I came to three conclusions.
First, that Rastetter and the board were intent on eliminating academic competition between that three state universities. While an arguable pursuit in itself, that goal portended ill for redundant programs at schools which failed to claim the mantle for a given discipline. For example, because education is UNI’s core strength, it’s entirely possible that both UI and ISU may end up dismantling their education departments over time, whether as a result of attrition and atrophy or brute bureaucratic force. The same goes for business, engineering, the arts, and on and on.
As it happens, between writing that two-part ‘Long Game’ post and this post, I ran across an extensive Iowa Press interview from 2012 (transcript here), featuring then regent President Craig Lang, and then President Pro Tem Bruce Rastetter, who was appointed to the board the previous year. In that interview, both Lang and Rastetter were explicit about their intent to eliminate academic competition between the state’s schools:
The second conclusion I came to in the ‘Long Game’ post was that Rastetter was determined not only to eliminate competition between schools, but to impose a ‘system-like’ administrative structure on the schools. Effectively, the board — and specifically the board president — would wield authority over all of the state’s schools, while the putative presidents functioned as de facto chancellors. Exhibit A in reaching that conclusion was J. Bruce Harreld himself, who was and remains entirely unfit to preside over a major research university. Equally compelling, however, was Exhibit B, which was the fact that the one state university president who truly advocated for his school — UNI’s William Ruud — recently resigned after the ruthlessly passive-aggressive Rastetter refused to offer him a new contract.
The third conclusion I came to was that while Rastetter was seeing to all of that as president of the regents, he was also intent on exploiting opportunities for personal, professional or political gain — as has been nauseatingly demonstrated over the past year by far too many examples. Factoring into that calculus was Rastetter’s central role in Governor Terry Branstad’s crony political machine, and Rastetter’s close personal and professional ties to Iowa State University in Ames, which in turn has close ties to Rasteter’s company, Summit Agricultural Group. (SummitAg is located in Alden, just north of Ames, but also maintains an Ames business office minutes from the ISU campus.)
As egregious as Rastetter’s conduct has been, however, and as questionable as the strategy of building centers of excellence may be in terms of what’s actually best for the state’s students, for the purposes of this post it is the second conclusion above that is germane. The Iowa Board of Regents, under Bruce Rastetter, has implemented an undeclared, unbidden plan to centralize control over the state’s schools. Instead of acting as a facilitator and steward for the state’s universities, Rastetter is determined that the Board of Regents should take active administrative control over both inter-university and intra-university decision making. (As noted in prior posts, the appointments of Steven Leath at ISU and Harreld at UI speak to that intent, and the payoff is clearly reflected in their slavish obedience to Rastetter’s rule.)
The Common Application Portal at One Year
On this past Thursday, 07/28/16, the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller published a report on the common application portal’s use during its first year of operation. The results were not encouraging:
Over fourteen months ago, in the Charis-Carlson story, several thousand students were expected to use the new application portal. One year after launch, and after throwing a projected $290,000 at the project, little more than a hundred people had taken advantage of the site’s functionality. As Miller herself pointed out, that translates to a cost to the regents — and thus the state — of $2,788 per use.
So what could possibly explain the anemic 0.2% use rate by prospective students?
While noting for future reference that Braun’s comment is so utterly meaningless as to constitute a willful attempt to mislead, a more pertinent point at this juncture would be that the Iowa Board of Regents could not have done a worse job of letting students know the site was available, even if they set out to do so. Which is of course a very odd thing given both how much state money the regents invested in the portal, and how super smart and competent all of those tech-savvy people are at the regents’ office.
To underscore how difficult it is to actually find the regents’ $290K common application portal, Miller posted this tweet on Friday:
Having been to the regents’ site many times, I assumed I would be able to find the portal with a little bit of digging. I was wrong. While I did find a few dead links and 404 pages, I didn’t come close to locating the portal. Performing an internet search to locate the portal fared no better, and even when I performed a site-specific search using terms like ‘portal’ and ‘application’, I found nothing.
Only after digging into a slew of newspaper articles on the portal, dating back to 2014 when the project was approved, and reading various docs on the regents’ site about the portal’s progress, did I notice that at a very late date the name of the project changed from ‘common application portal’ to a more formal ‘Iowa Public Universities Application Portal’. Plugging that descriptor into a search engine finally revealed the URL to the site, which then allowed me to confirm that you cannot link to the portal from the regents’ site. If you do not know the subdomain — apply.regents — you cannot get there from the regents own site. (If you perform a search today you may have success simply because the search engines are responding to Vanessa’s story, to her challenge, or both.)
As damning as all that clearly is, however, the most important part of Miller’s story was a series of quotes from a former regent who served on the board for twelve years:
In a post last October I was hard on Downer because he seemed to be siding with Jean Robillard’s preposterous and self-serving argument that the 2015 UI search was flawed because it was semi-open, when it was flawed because Robillard betrayed the school and helped Rastetter steal the presidency. While I don’t know how much Downer actually knows about the conspiracy behind Harreld’s fraudulent election, I do know that Downer was on the board when the common application portal was discussed and approved, so he should clearly understand the long-range intent of that project.
As noted in the earlier Charis-Carlson piece, the common application portal was purportedly implemented as a convenience to students. As noted in the Miller piece, however, nobody — including the Iowa Board of Regents, which is presided over by Laird Rastetter — ever publicized the availability of the $290,000 portal, even though it was up and running well over a year ago. So how to explain that disconnect?
Downer’s comments as a former board member are perfectly consistent with the premise that the common application portal was designed and implemented for the benefit of students alone. And as someone in the room Downer should know what the discussions were, and what the basis was for authorizing that expenditure. And yet if you dig into the actual board documents supporting the development of the common application portal, that’s not what you find. Instead, what you find is a long-term plan that includes letting the site idle for several years, at an annual cost to the state of $100K or more.
The Iowa Board of Regents and Deloitte
In early 2014 the Iowa Board of Regents hired Deloitte Consulting to implement an extensive TIER review of the state’s entire higher-education enterprise. As recently noted in a separate report from the Press-Citizen’s Charis-Carlson, the Iowa Board of Regents does not actually have it’s own budget, but instead bills the state’s schools for its expenses, whether those expenses are legitimate, questionable, or a crony rip-off:
That’s right — the same Mark Braun who gave a flippant response when asked why the common application portal was never advertised, also happens to be the board’s highest-paid employee. Or at least Braun is normally the highest-paid employee, except when the board goes out of its way to evade state law and throw $300K+ at XD/CEO Bob Donley. All of which helps explain why Rastetter and other members of the board were perfectly happy to support recent tuition hikes which soaked the students, instead of tightening their own damn belts and living within their means.
All that payroll larceny pales in comparison, however, to the cost of hiring Deloitte and other associated TIER consultants — which, as of last count had surpassed $5M, all electively expensed by the board at a commensurate cost to the schools. And of course there was also that whole debacle about the regents demanding actual receipts for an unsubstantiated $200K bill from one the consultants that they were paying to help them save money, and then Deloitte suing the regents to keep state records closed. But the important thing is that after blowing all of those scarce funds, Deloitte delivered pieces of paper in exchange for their millions.
If you want to actually see what millions of dollars in consulting fees and bloated expenses buys you these days, click here to view the board’s Catalogue and Prioritized List of Opportunities. While there is a lot to look at, however, if you skip down to the ‘Board of Regents’ section on page 88, you’ll find a discussion of the board’s Key Strengths and Challenges. For example, here’s a key strength:
Hilarious, obviously. The ‘key challenges’ section is even better, however, because each purported challenge has nothing to do with problems at the board, and everything to do with empowering the board to greatly expand its power and authority over the state’s schools:
Now, I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that when you’re being paid millions of dollars as a consultant, a fair amount of the money you’re getting is in exchange for telling the client exactly what they want to hear. As previously noted in the two-part ‘Long Game’ post, that is in fact why Rastetter routinely hires consultants at the board, and on that score Deloitte clearly outperformed. Not only did Deloitte give Rastetter a veritable mandate for assuming administrative control of the state’s three schools — which is what Rastetter wanted all along — but in the process Deloitte scrupulously avoided any of the real shortcomings at the board.
The Common Application Portal Business Case
Proving that the precious millions the regents spent on consultants over the past few years were not a total waste, however, Deloitte took the time to break a number of suggestions out into separate business cases, which are listed on page 95 of the above doc. The second-to-last case is, fortuitously, a student service designated SS-05: Create a Common Application Portal. That case can be read in its entirety here, and on page 14 of that doc, under a section titled Future State Solution, you will find the following two bullet points:
As you can see, not only is a 2-3 year delay built into the very concept of the common application portal, but the plan assumes that the application process at each school will be partly if not entirely facilitated by the common portal at the end of that period. That new information in turn prompts a number of obvious questions, including why former regent Bob Downer did now know that was the plan all along. Here again is part of what Downer said, from Miller’s report on Thursday:
It is entirely possible that Downer simply forgot the details of the plan. What is not possible — unless Downer is lying, and there is no reason to believe that’s the case — is that Downer knew of the long-range plan, yet still gave Miller the quote above. If Downer remembered or even suspected that the portal was going to run in parallel with the current application process for two or three years, he would simply have said so, and perhaps also explained that the portal would eventually take on a portion of — or all of — the application process at each school. On the other hand, it’s also possible that all of the executive-level discussions at the board really did highlight the student service angle, yet that possibility brings us right back to the fact that the regents went out of their way to avoid promoting the site. If you’re implementing something as a convenience you don’t hold back, you push it out and make sure people know about it.
What I do believe, however — whether Downer ever knew or simply forgot about the actual plan for the portal — is that there was never a day when Rastetter did not know what the long-term objective was. Which means the board and its office staff, including Mark Braun, did not simply forget to promote the site, they made a conscious decision not to do so. Again, as of a few days ago you literally could not link to application portal from the regents’ site, or from any of the three universities, and yet the board shelled out $290,000 for the site for the first year, and will pay another $100K for each of the next 2-3 years.
So why doesn’t the board want people using the site? Well, a small amount of traffic — say, a hundred people a year — would be beneficial in terms of testing and bug fixing, but ramping up for heavier use would require more resources, to say nothing of prompting administrative infighting before the board is ready to impose its authoritarian will. Allow the board 2-3 years to compel the necessary administrative change at each school, however, cutting positions and compelling acceptance — particularly through the hiring of toady presidents — and the application portal won’t simply be available to students who are applying to multiple state schools, it will become the gateway and control point for a single unified regent application system.
In fact, there are two good reasons for believing that was the plan all along. First, consider the following, from page 13 of the same business case:
As you can see, the board elected to spend $290,000 for the first year, and $100K for each year after that, based on no firm data. Even assuming heavy advertising of the site, in any given year it would be used by several thousand students at most, which would constitute marginal utility by any measure. In terms of a return on investment, then, and even assuming that the Iowa Board of Regents is all about the students — which the Harreld hire and the subsequent approval of his egregious tuition hikes proves they are not — there is no conceivable measure by which the common application portal could ever be deemed cost-effective.
Even with several thousand students using the portal at a minimum cost to the state schools of $100K per year, that would equal a per-use cost of $50 per applicant. Although the regents are charging $40 per application to each school — or, potentially, $120 per applicant if an individual applies to all three state of the state schools — those fees must also pay for the entire application process. If that process costs more than $70 for such students, or $23 per school, then the state will lose money.
There is, however, an even better reason to believe that solving a marginal student inconvenience was never the actual goal of the portal, and that has to do with the first conclusion I reached in the ‘Long Game’ post about Rastetter — which was subsequently confirmed by a prior Iowa Press interview. If you intend to segregate the state’s three schools by specialties, as the board clearly does, then over time it will become less likely that any given student will want to apply to more than one of the state’s schools. For example, even if a prospective student has only the faintest thought that they might want to go into medicine, that’s going to steer them to UI. The same goes for becoming a teacher (UNI) or a veterinarian (ISU), and decreasing the competition among other school programs will only sharpen those divides.
Still, if you stand back and look at what Rastetter has accomplished with the application portal, it’s pretty impressive. Without a budget of his own he nonetheless managed to use the state schools to build a system that the board can now use to take over the applications process at each of the state’s schools. Rastetter also managed to justify that expense by meeting a marginal unmet student need which was purportedly identified by his own high-priced consultants, who gave the idea the appearance of objectivity even as they cited no supporting demand. Finally, in keeping with Rastetter’s personal, political and professional allegiances, he sited the portal at Iowa State, which is already effectively under his control.
Bruce Rasetter’s Long Game and Iowa State University
If anyone still needed convincing that Regents’ President Bruce Rastetter’s heart is not with higher education in general or with the regents’ enterprise overall, but almost exclusively with Iowa State as an extension of his own power base, confirmation arrived in spades when it was recently revealed that Rastetter’s company, SummitAg, purchased a $1.15M parcel of land for Iowa State President Leath and his wife, which the smitten Leaths could not otherwise afford to buy for themselves. Cementing his personal commitment — if that was ever in doubt — Rastetter’s company not only acted on the Leath’s behalf after only a week’s notice, SummitAg handled all of the surveying and subdividing of the parcel before selling the Leaths only the acres they wanted. (While the Rastetter-Leath land deal was a clear breach of state and ISU conflict-of-interest rules, it may also have been a violation of the state’s Gift Law.)
The cozy relationship between Rastetter and Leath extends from the personal realm well into ISU’s administration and public policy positions. Not only has Leath taken on multiple former pols aligned with Rastetter’s politics, giving them jobs which were never advertised, but Leath also took the point on behalf of Rastetter’s failed performance-based funding model. Sold as a long-overdue updating of the historical legislative funding splits for the state’s schools, the plan was actually a naked attempt to short the University of Iowa millions if not tens of millions of dollars — the bulk of which would have been transferred to ISU in Ames.
The premise of the performance-based funding model was that it would reward the state schools, in part, based on the number of enrolled resident students. Not so coincidentally, President Leath turned ISU into an educational confinement operation in the preceding years, stockpiling resident students at every opportunity in anticipation of a windfall when the plan was implemented. What is particularly important to note about the performance-based funding model, however, is that it was designed to hurt UI in two ways. First, by taking legislative dollars away from Iowa. Second, by then compelling Iowa, alone among the state’s schools, to raise tuition to make up for that sudden precipitous shortfall. Those UI hikes would in turn price Iowa higher among the state’s schools, decreasing enrollment particularly among the very resident students that the performance-based funding model favored, further magnifying the loss of revenue and making it that much harder for UI to compete.
In that context, the board’s tuition freezes over the past few years were not about doing what’s right for the students, but about eventually relieving the pent-up revenue demand at ISU and UNI with appropriations which would normally have gone to UI. When that plan failed, however, Rastetter and the board were forced to instigate the recent tuition hikes at all three schools, at which point — incredibly — J. Bruce Harreld himself stepped up and abused the UI students by raising tuition out of all proportion to the hikes at ISU and UNI. While doing so does net Harreld more funds for his own yet-to-be-revealed plan of attack on the school, Harreld’s tuition hikes also not-so-coincidentally replicate the performance-based funding outcome that Rastetter desired.
Compare the recent tuition hikes for both business and engineering students at UI, and you’ll see that Harreld not only introduced division increases — meaning hikes targeted at one student group — but those increases are two to three times those of similar groups at either of the other state schools. At Iowa State, upper division resident business students were hit with a 2.93% increase in tuition, and in combination with mandatory fees will pay $9,951 for 2016. At Iowa, upper division resident business students were rocked with an 8.91% increase, and, in combination with mandatory fees, will now pay $11,509. At Iowa State, upper division resident engineering students were hit with a 2.73% increase in tuition, and in combination with mandatory fees will pay $10,667 for 2016. At Iowa, upper division resident business students were rocked with an 8.49% increase, and, in combination with mandatory fees, will now pay $11,347.
J. Bruce Harreld’s justification for his abusive hikes on business and engineering students was that those programs are more expensive to run, and in the division hikes at ISU we see some confirmation of that premise. It is in the magnitude of Harreld’s increases at UI, however, that we not only see Harreld stuffing as much money as possible into an administrative slush fund under his discretionary control, but also consistently positioning Iowa as the more expensive state school to attend for those two disciplines. And that’s on top of the fact that Iowa City is already the most expensive place to live in the state.
The upshot of J. Bruce Harreld’s divisional tuition hikes is that ISU is now clearly the better bargain for prospective business and engineering students, and over time that differential will inevitably convince more students, and particularly more in-state students, to go to ISU for the cost savings alone. If you can get your business or engineering degree and save thousands of dollars in the process, if not more when the cost of living is factored in, why wouldn’t you? That incentive ensures that ISU’s preference for growth above even the quality of education available on campus — which, much to the delight of Regents’ President Bruce Rastetter, recently turned ISU into the state’s largest school — will continue unabated.
In the context of the fraudulent Harreld hire there are a number of questions worth asking about Rastetter’s determination to promote ISU at the expense of the other state schools, but none are more important than whether UI alum Jerre Stead knows about all this. Because apart from helping Rastetter find the right puppet to head up the University of Iowa, Jerre Stead has given tens of millions of dollars to his alma mater, including $25M specifically to the Tippie College of Business. That’s the same college that Stead’s pal Harreld just priced well above ISU’s business school, and if there’s anyone in this sorry saga who knows how that pricing will affect future demand it’s Jerre Stead.
It’s also a given in discussions about Iowa and Iowa State that cultural and political differences between the schools and their home towns will inevitably intrude on the conversation. What’s important to note about those differences, however, is that they are most often actively promoted by people who are determined to pervert the state’s system of higher-education for their own ends. What those people want — from Branstad to Rastetter to the crony ex-pols that Leath keeps putting on his payroll — is to redirect state funds in ways which aid their crony business and political interests, meaning it’s about the money not about ideology.
As president of the Iowa Board of Regents, Rastetter’s dream seems to be moving the status of Iowa’s flagship university from UI to ISU. In hiring J. Bruce Harreld, Rastetter found a man willing to raise prices on Iowa students to such an extent that ISU now has a clear competitive advantage in enrolling business and engineering students. That in turn feeds into the board’s stated goal of building centers of excellence around specific programs, meaning the UI should expect more erosion of those programs in the future.
Again, segmenting the state schools by academic disciplines may be more efficient from the regents’ top-down perspective, but it also necessarily means students will have fewer choices. That in turn further exposes the lie that the common application portal is a student service, because it will be needed less and less as time goes on. As a central point of administrative control for the board, however, the portal is consultant-perfect, and from Rastetter’s perspective all the more so because it is being hosted at Iowa State.
Whether you’re Jerre Stead, former regent Bob Downer, or anyone else who cares about the University of Iowa, it’s time to wake up and realize that Bruce Rastetter’s personal, political and professional interests are all aligned with empowering ISU, and thus furthered by doing everything possible to undermine UI. Even if you’re not an indignant alum, but hail from the Iowa City or Johnson County business community, or even the IC-CR Corridor, Rastetter’s machinations represent an intentional administrative looting in the same way that performance-based funding was a blatant attempt to shift millions and millions of dollars to Ames. Even hiring J. Bruce Harreld to run UI is part of that plan, because Harreld has no allegiance to the city or the school, not allegiance to liberal arts and the humanities, and no allegiance to ethics.
Yes, if you’re lucky J. Bruce Harreld may throw a little money your way, but while you’re delighted at that pittance millions more will be diverted to ISU by Rastetter and the regents, until that school becomes the fulcrum for higher education in the state. That will happen without any formal discussion on the subject, without any hearings or votes in the state legislature, and without any investigation into the abuses that Rastetter has already perpetrated. Instead, Rastetter will orchestrate all of those changes himself — just as he orchestrated Harreld’s fraudulent hire — while perhaps also position himself to appoint a third toady president, thus completing the set. The regents’ application portal scam — which could end up costing Iowa taxpayers more than half a million dollars over its first three years of intentional minimal use — is simply another artifact of Rastetter’s relentless consolidation of power.
Excellent thought– perhaps the intent was to centralize admissions all along. Still not sure to what end, but this is where we seem to be.
The shenanigans with ISUs IT personnel are almost certainly tied up in this portal. It’s the 3 Universities that were tasked with developing this portal. My guess is that ISUs crony IT leadership drove this bus and likely swallowed up a higher proportion of the $290,00. How on earth this particular portal can cost $100,000/yr to operate is rather mind boggling. That’s a full time IT salary, yes?
In JCC’s story about the portal from last year, he had this about staffing:
If you go to the FAQ for the portal, however, you find this:
Assuming that those instructions were online when the site went live last year, there’s clearly no ‘help desk’ function being offered. Even when using the portal, prospective applicants are first steered to the school admissions offices for help. The only help option for someone using the portal is a web form, with the promise that someone will respond 1-2 business days.
I think we can all agree that is not the kind of service that will make people want to use the site, and certainly not the kind of service one would expect from a site that was specifically designed to make applying to multiple schools easier for prospective students.
The obvious question, of course, is whether a full-time staffer was hired specifically for the site. It’s entirely possible that plans changed after JCC reported the quote above, and that the regents decided to automate the help process when they realized they were going to effectively idle the site for a couple of years.
On the other hand, it’s also possible that ISU went ahead and hired someone for the job, then had them either do something else, or just sit back and collect a paycheck for doing nothing. (Even if every person who used the portal in the past twelve months also used the web form to ask a question, that would still only be one question every three days.)
After reading JCC”s and Vanessa’s reports several times, it seems as if the cost of the portal — whatever it was actually billed at — was over and above all the other IT/staffing costs already associated with the applications process at each school. How the three schools split that cost, and who got paid what, I don’t know.
The BOR spends money like it grows on trees (old Iowa saying)
It is especially galling that despite the state’s deteriorating support, and despite the tuition increases, the marketing/business geniuses (and there are alot) continue to pump up their salaries.
The oft mentioned Mark Braun pulls in 240,000 plus complementary car. “Dr” (night school) Bob the “CEO” of the BOR managed to dodge the law for his 250,000. So administration (making the tough decisions like the common portal, or hiring Deloitte for a few million) pay themselves knowing they have that almost bottomless source of funding called tuition.
We know the AG is scared of the Branstad/Rastetter pol machine, but is the state legislature skeered too?
As an aside I wonder where the money the state has pulled from the universities goes?
The DMR article from last year, profiling Rastetter, is quite clear. Rastetter’s ethos is that those who stick with him get paid, and we see that at the BoR. For Braun and Donley — no expense is too great, and no state law too restrictive, for Rastetter’s fixers at the board office.
As for the legislature, I don’t get it. Even on the banal subject of fiscal responsibility anyone could take the BoR apart, but there’s nothing. Not even crickets.
The trend in Iowa for 20 years or so is to drain resources and power from the outposts, the countryside, the boonies of Iowa to Des Moines.
Nothing against the capitol city itself, but it seems a little too smug and too haughty and the population and power growth.
If you look at Iowa, resources have moved inward: mental health, employment, wealth, population, medical, and political.
This moving the educational power to a central location continues this trend. ISU in Ames is the Des Moines school. Iowa is Eastern Iowa and Chicago; UNI is NE Iowa.
– Rastetter has publicly depreciated the student diversity at Iowa, he hates not only the Illinois student, but seemingly the international contingent;
– Rastetter denied presidents of UNI and Iowa raises while pumping up the ISU pres;
– When the Des Moines business college donated it’ campus to UIowa there was wailing and gnashing of teeth (ISU) until the campus went from UIowa to ‘Regents;
– There are some subtle medical education moves to Polk CO (and also the protection Branstad gives his former presidency at Des Moines U to Polk CO)
Iowa City, Dubuque, Davenport, CR traditionally vote Democratic; Rastetter and cronies hate Democrat and worse yet liberals.
What school produces those dang liberals: UIowa.
Your points fit in with this thinking. UIowa is slowly being bled of resources; slowly being controlled by Rastetter political cronies like Braun, Matthes, etc. UIowa has a weak, irrelevant, inexperienced, clueless new president who will easily be hoodwinked and bled of resources.
Within 5 years the entire system will be ruled from Des Moines by the BOR staff, and a new President (Leath) dominating 3 chancellors (Ames, Iowa City; CF). The momentum is already established. And when it happens the bullet points will have been shot into the story: Efficiency; Cost Savings; Coordination: Improvement in Quality; Better Customer (like students are customers) Satisfaction.
Just as medical school was once in Keokuk and Davenport I believe, then moved to the more powerful Iowa City, I predict significant programs will be moved to Polk CO – medical, PhD program, and maybe even law in some form. All roads will lead to Rome, er Des Moines and central Iowa.
There’s this very weird thing going on now with the business schools at UI and ISU. Harreld is talking about making UI/Tipped a bastion of ‘big data’, which fits with Stead. But Harreld also jacked up prices at Tippie so high that ISU’s biz schools is now the clear winner in terms of cost.
And now, just a couple of days ago, the BoR announced <a href="http://www.businessrecord.com/Content/Default/-All-Latest-News/Article/-ISU-to-launch-entrepreneurship-major/-3/248/74220"this:
So ISU is now the low-cost ‘entrepreneurial’ school, and UI is the high-cost ‘big data’ school? Again — does Jerre Stead know about this?
Specializing is one thing, but if you’re looking at building enrollment I think ISU is clearly staking out the winning strategy (With Rastetter’s help, of course.)
Mark, here’s the thing.
I actually do not think that specialization is a bad idea, or that the universities manage in any way to compete with each other to any considerable degree when they’ve got similar programs. If you live in Dubuque, for instance, and you don’t have any particular ed-degree goals beyond “I want to be a teacher”, you’re not wandering around comparing campuses and faculty like some edge-hunting family in New Jersey; you’re probably going to UNI because your friends are going there and it’s an easy drive home. And in a state with only 3M people to begin with, I don’t see the point of the duplications.
I don’t even worry that students won’t be exposed to “everything a university has to offer”. You’re only there four years. It doesn’t matter how much a university has; there’s only so much you can do with 60-odd courses when most of them are going to be connected with your major. And you are going to be alive, likely, for a good 60 years after graduation — knock yourself out on edX or at the library if you want more.
The part that concerns me is the part to do with the quality of the programs. We keep circling around humanities, which are now uneasy tenants at UI; we haven’t had a president who came from the humanities in 20 years, and the dean of CLAS hasn’t been a humanities person since…uh…before that, I think. I can’t even remember who was dean before Maxson. To a substantial degree the university admin doesn’t know what the humanities are anymore, and could not possibly know whether or not they were being done well.
When the marketing and sales people are in charge, as they are now (and oh boy, are they — this is felt all the way down to student level) things get even worse, because there’s no benefit at all to actually doing things well. The marketing people don’t care whether you’re doing things well. They care whether you have something they can promote, and the two are not the same set.
And the faculty know this. Vanessa reported not long ago that UI’s had record faculty resignations this year, with 100 professors blowing this taco stand. I don’t think she really made clear in the story just what that means, though: how hard it is to get a faculty job elsewhere, why professors stay put if they can find any excuse to do so. 100 professors leaving means things are B-A-D in the sense that they feel they cannot do their work here. Do not have the freedom to do their work and advance their careers. And/or that the hits UI has been taking to reputation as these clowns whack away at the university are damaging their own reputations, and they want to distance themselves from UI.
The problem, in the end, is that all these guys — the Bruces, the BoR — are amateurs. They genuinely can’t hear the difference between a functioning department full of smart professors and a bunch of people flailing around and pretending to get things done: they have to wait to see metrics, and then they don’t really know what the metrics mean. None of them have the faintest idea how research really does or doesn’t turn into products. They’re still running around with some inane idea about online education, blind to the difficulties and expense of competing in that space. And they are slow, slow, slow to hear of the new fashions, and then they take the fashion as wisdom.
The smart thing, it would seem, would be to step back and say, well, all right — we’re hundreds of miles from anywhere, we haven’t got much money, our students are poor, what shall we do — and then make a thrifty plan based on those facts. I suspect, though, that given the amount of institutional debt and new fancy building we’ve taken on, thrift is no longer an option. We’ve already committed to the McMansion 75 miles from work. It’s starting to look to me like that’s where we are.
Dormouse– I agree with all that you are saying here especially about the marketing and lack of attention to quality that goes with it.
There is one thought that I hope is worth mentioning. I don’t know where the narrative about faculty attrition originated. However, I am suspecting that the release of this information as ‘news’ originated at the UI or Regents administrative level. It fits into the narrative of faculty salaries as a key quality metric. However, I don’t think any of us honestly believe that the narrative ends with higher salaries for faculty in the humanities or liberal arts in general. Do we really believe that anyone in Central Administration cares about the attrition in CLAS? Is there even one person in the Central Administration with any advanced degree in a CLAS field? I can’t think of any. It’s an upsetting thought given the history.
What it does is to set the stage for something to happen at the Colleges of Business and Medicine. People filling positions in both of those colleges have ample opportunity to enter into the private sector and earn even more money.
We know that the College of Medicine is the main driver for the UI faculty attrition metric. What we don’t really know is how their attrition rate compares to similar schools across the country. Additionally, we haven’t seen how many of those are Clinical Faculty (which are faculty, but not tenure track).
My only point here is that there is something fishy behind the faculty attrition/faculty salary narrative coming out of the central administration and we need to be suspicious of where this is headed.
It’s a good point (about the attrition), and a maddening reminder that you can never get straight numbers/data from UI. Everything is massaged by the marketing weasels, and as such you can never really tell where the problem areas are. (My nightmare scenario is that even the marketing weasels get massaged numbers, so nobody is ever operating from the truth.)
Even after the tuition hikes went through, you cannot find a simple calculation of the amount of money that they raised — which is of course going right into Harreld’s discretionary slush fund.
1. Look at how Rastetter operates (it is well documented): he develops projects — hog confinement, ethanol – generally deceives the public about the consequences (smell) sucks up resources, then bails out just before the operation goes belly up. (he even screwed the Kochs). It is almost Trump-like: take benefits from the public and Govt then hand someone else the bag of crap. Why expect anything else when he operates the Regents schools?
2. Why the controversy about specilization? It obviously happens. Both ISU and Iowa have engineering, both one deals more with civil mechanical etc while the other supports biomedical. There are not duplicate law, medical, and pharm schools? So where is this crisis in education?
3. Certain classes are needed on each campus to meet accredidation. Does anyone think Rastetter even knows that?
4. Agreed about environment for the humanities…..it is ignored…because to an agribusinessman that is an area of academics very hard to monitize.
5. It appears to me that although the BOR talks about plans, strategic or otherwise, the have consistant overall plan that is rock solidly supported.
Agree with these points: Rastetter, Harreld, and even Dr. Night School Bob, are all rank amateurs in this however they are pros at sucking resources and $$$$$, as well as pros at weaseling benefits out of organizations.
By appointing Harreld, Rastetter esp thumbed his nose at professional educators. Fits with his personal and political philosophy.
And yes those marketing weasels want to sell a product on anything but the merits of the product. Therefore they need an academic star or two, a huge number of cheap faculty, and winning basketball and football.
We’ve talked about the specialization angle before, and we agree. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept, at least in theory. If ISU wanted to start its own Writers Workshop, or UI wanted to start its own veterinary program, there would literally be no point. And I agree that it’s probably good for each campus to have a core strength — UNI/teaching, ISU/ag, UI/LA&S, UIHC/medical.
As TV points how, however, there’s also a built-in floor to that idea having to do with accreditation, such that each school needs an English department and a math department, etc. I would go a step further, however, and say that each school also needs to cover the basics — whatever those are — in terms of providing the standard fare/offerings that one would expect to find at any school. The reason for that is reason that high schools don’t usually specialize, which is you just never know which kid is going to be sent off by introducing them to new ideas.
Yes, maybe at the grad level you can really bear down, but at the undegrad level it’s too damn early to be turning kids into worker bees, which is of course the only thing that Rastetter, Harreld and their narrow-minded ilk are concerned about. So I guess I disagree about your point that kids are only there for four (or five, or six) years. Make sure you cover the bases so kids who might be turned on by a discipline have a greater chance of having that happen. (Again, competence is fine; not everyone can be the best.)
CLAS has indeed been getting short shrift at UI, and part of that has to do with the long-term tilt toward Tippie on campus. Despite no end of business gutter trash blowing the economy to smithereens over and over (dot-com bubble, mortgage crisis, etc.), people want to get stinking rich and buy gold door knobs, and you can’t talk them out of it. Which is of course where leadership should come in, but as you point out — and as the fraudulent Harreld hire proves — UI hasn’t had that kind of leadership for far too long. (Again, in order to install Harreld his co-conspirators quite literally had to lie and cheat. That’s the business ethos in action.)
Harreld’s pathological fixation on rankings, and the preeminence of marketing weasels at the board and at each school, is a big problem. The only solution is putting adults in charge, but Harreld’s clearly not here to play that role. Instead, it’s about exploiting opportunities for profit, both financial and political, and he’s well on his way. (I gotta wonder what the upper-division resident undergrad biz students are thinking, now that he just stuck them with an extra grand each for this year.)
I would also say that the marketing weasels are doing damage at UIHC. Look beneath the latest rankings (and yes, rankings are a scam), and you find far too many areas which are “worse than average”. That speaks directly to your point, where money is shoveled at specialties which are sexy or already good, and non-performing areas are left to rot:
Seriously, if they don’t yank Robillard out of there and put someone in charge who can see these problems, there’s going to be a point of collapse. $68M cost overrun at CHI, and on top of that he was a key conspirator in the fraudulent Harreld hire, so what do they do? They also make him dean of the College of Medicine.
In September of 2015, when news first broke of J. Bruce Harreld’s fraudulent appointment as president of the University of Iowa, I knew absolutely nothing about academic searches at the state’s three regent schools, or anywhere else for that matter. Now, closing in on a year later, I know a great deal more but even at that I’m still learning, and as such I keep seeing the 2015 UI search in new ways. In this post we will look at the timeline of the 2015 UI presidential search, then compare it to the unfolding timeline of the 2016 UNI presidential search, and in so doing shine a light on something I noticed a long time ago but did not comprehend.
We don’t know exactly when Sally Mason decided to retire at UI, or when she first communicated that decision to anyone at the Iowa Board of Regents — or, alternately, when that information was communicated to the board by a third party. We do have Mason’s commentary on that timeline, however, so we’ll use that as our starting point. From a UI press release on 01/15/15:
For the moment we’ll simply note in passing that although Mason announced her retirement in January she would stay on until August 1st, six-and-a-half months later. By “the holiday break” I assume Mason meant the break ending with New Years Day, which would have concluded at the earliest if she returned to work on 01/02/15, which was a Friday. The earliest the regents could have known that Mason would be stepping aside, then, was on that day, which then prompted public notice of Mason’s decision two weeks later.
In response to Mason’s decision, the board set about requesting qualifications and proposals from search firms interested in managing the search, while also putting together the search committee that would work with the firm that was selected. On 02/02/15, only two weeks after the official announcement of Mason’s retirement, and one month from the earliest date at which the board could have known that Mason was retiring, the Iowa Board of Regents made the following announcement:
Although there is no Request for Qualifications (or Proposals) on the board site, we know from other documents that the deadline for search firms to respond to the board’s request was also 02/02/15 (see p.12) — again only two weeks after Mason’s official announcement, and one month after the earliest date on which she could have given notice.
Three days later, on 02/05/15, the board released a list — by title or class — of the people who would be filling the twenty-one slots on the 2015 UI presidential search committee. Included in that list were two slots for members of the public at large, which the board requested nominations for on 02/06/15 (see p. 126). Those nominations due no later than 02/12/15, or only six days later.
On 02/16/15, only two weeks after the deadline for search firms to respond to the board’s RFQ, and one month after Mason’s official retirement announcement, the regents announced that a search firm had been selected:
On 02/25/15, just under six weeks after Mason’s official retirement announcement, and two months since she notified the board of her intent, the regents announced the entire twenty-one person search committee:
On 03/13/15 the board signed its contract with Parker Executive Search, approximately two months after Mason’s official retirement announcement, and two-and-a-half months after the earliest date on which she could have notified the board of her intent. On 03/18/15 the board announced that the first meeting of the search committee would be on 03/25/15. From that point on, and with some small tweaks in the coming months, the schedule for the rest of the search was as follows (see p. 26):
Again, some of those dates shifted a bit later, but as of late May that’s how the full schedule looked. From its official beginning in late February, to its fraudulent end in early September, the 2015 UI presidential search was expected to take just over six months.
The 2016 UNI Presidential Search (So Far)
On 05/18/16, in a story that seemed to catch everyone by surprise, the Des Moines Register reported that UNI President William Ruud was leaving to take a similar job at a school one tenth the size of Northern Iowa. While we don’t know when Ruud first tipped off the regents about his impending resignation, his appointment at Marietta College in Ohio followed a quiet search, meaning it is entirely possible that the board had little if any notice. That is not to say, however, that the board had no inkling that Ruud would be leaving fairly soon, insofar as they had refused to offer him a second contract, and his initial three-year deal was due to expire only two weeks later, on 06/01/16.
With the debacle of the 2015 UI presidential search hanging over the announcement of Ruud’s unexpected resignation, thoughts turned to the administrative process by which his replacement would be selected. On 05/25/16, roughly one week later, Regents’ President Bruce Rastetter put out the following statement, without irony:
On 05/31/16, two weeks after Ruud’s announcement, it was reported that the regents would appoint UNI Provost Jim Wohlpart as interim UNI president, at the next board meeting on 06/09/16. (Wohlpart had been hired at UNI only a little over a year earlier.)
On 07/01/16, a month and a half after Ruud’s unanticipated resignation was made public, the regents put out a request for qualifications for search firms interested in managing the UNI presidential search:
The deadline for responding to the RFQ was 07/08/16. The deadline for submissions was initially 07/15/16, but was extended to 07/18/16 due to a request for more time from one of the applicants. On 07/19/16 it was reported that four companies would be vying to manage the UNI search, and that a selection would probably be made by the end of the following week (07/29/16) — the same date specified in the RFQ timeline for awarding the contract.
As of today — Wednesday, 08/03/16 — there has been no announcement about which search firm was selected, or whether any firm was selected. Also as of this date, almost two and a half months after Ruud’s surprise resignation, and a full two months after his actual departure, no information has been communicated about when a search committee will be impaneled, or even about how that process will unfold. (Both of the previous two links currently lead to ‘access denied’ pages on the UNI site.)
Comparing the Pace of the UI and UNI Searches (So Far)
While there are certainly numerous variables involved in any search for a university president, and there are considerable differences between UI and UNI over and above differences in scale, and the UNI search has only just begun, if we pull back and looking at the general pace of the 2015 UI presidential search and the 2016 UNI presidential search, we can already come to a couple of interesting conclusions.
First, here’s a compressed timeline for the first two months of the 2015 UI Presidential search:
01/15/15 — Sally Mason announces impending retirement.
02/02/15 — Jean Robillard announced as chair of search committee
02/02/15 — Deadline for search firms to respond to RFQ
02/03/15 — Board releases list of slots on the search committee
02/12/15 — Cut-off date for nominations of members of the public
02/16/15 — Regents announce PES selected as search firm
02/25/15 — Regents announce individuals on search committee
03/13/15 — Regents release signed PES contract for search
03/18/15 — Regents announce first committee meeting to be 03/25/15
As you can see, it only takes one month from the date of Mason’s retirement announcement until a search firm is selected, and the full search committee is impaneled before six weeks have passed.
Now here’s the timeline for the first two months of the 2016 UNI search:
05/18/16 — Ruud announces resignation
05/31/16 — Regents announce UNI Provost Wohlpart will be interim president
07/01/16 — Regents announce RFW for 2016 UNI presidential search
07/08/16 — Deadline for responding to RFQ
07/19/16 — Regents announce four companies vying for search
That’s it — that’s the sum total of progress that has been made with the UNI search in the two months following Ruud’s surprise announcement. In order to even get to the originally scheduled announcement of the winning UNI search firm we would have to extend the timeline another two weeks until last Friday — meaning ten weeks total — whereas the entire search-firm hiring process at UI only took four weeks for a much, much larger school. (I delayed this post several days in that hope that the announcement of the winning UNI search firm would be made, thus saving me from having to write these last few sentences.)
Again, there are clearly a lot of variables in play, including the fact that it’s summer, meaning it may be a little more difficult to round up all of the right people for impaneling a committee. On the question of hiring a search firm, however, summer clearly does not factor into the process, as the timeline in the RFQ makes clear, yet it has already taken four weeks longer to hire the UNI search firm than it took to hire the firm for the 2015 UI search. Too, the last presidential search at UNI was less than three years ago, meaning a template clearly exists as to how to move forward, yet to-date there has been almost no progress at all. (Prior to the 2015 search, the most recent search at UI occurred eight years earlier.)
By the thirty-day mark in the 2015 UI search, not only had the committee chair already been announced, but the search firm had been selected and announced. At the forty-day mark the entire committee was announced, and by the sixty-day mark the first meeting of the committee was only a week away.
By contrast, at the thirty-day mark in the 2016 UNI search the only decision that had been made was that Wohlpart would become the interim president. While clearly necessitated by the imminent departure of Ruud, that decision did not preclude progress on the search front, yet as of the sixty-day mark not only had the winning search firm not been announced, as scheduled, but there had been no announcements at all about the composition of, or process for defining, the UNI search committee.
So what accounts for the UNI delay? Well, during the board’s 06/09/16 meeting, when Wohlpart was approved as interim president, the board signaled slow progress:
Again, the idea that summer might intrude on the planning process seems to make some sense, though almost anyone critical to the process is only a phone call away even if they’re on the other side of the world. And yet even two weeks earlier, in his 05/25/16 press release regarding Ruud’s announcement, Rastetter was already signaling a leisurely pace:
While taking “the proper time to put together a process that will ensure the best possible candidate” sounds great, the 2015 UI presidential search reveals an intractable contradiction. Even allowing for the ready availability of key personnel and constituencies on the UI campus in 2015, the regents blew through the entire preparation phase in only forty days, meaning they could have done so at UNI by the end of June if they had put the same process in play. Unfortunately, in terms of equating the time taking to establish the search process with the hiring of the best possible candidate, the blitz-like roll out of the 2015 UI search would seem to signal that either they weren’t interesting in hiring the best candidate at UI, or that there was actually no correlation between the time taken and the quality of the eventual appointee.
As for the idea that the board wants to move slowly at UNI so all constituencies can be fairly represented, that is an actual joke in the shadow of the recent cash-grab tuition hikes at all three universities, which were jammed through while the students were home for the summer. It is even likely that the tuition hikes themselves were compelled by manipulations by the board, and it is known that the board and the university presidents — and in particular, J. Bruce Harreld — were not forthcoming about their plans when they should have been. (To date neither Harreld, the board or the UI has ever published the total revenue raised from Harreld’s egregious tuition hikes.)
To further expose inconsistencies between the two searches, all we have to do is ask whether the summer break or any other factor would have stopped the board from proceeding as they did at UI in 2015, and the answer is of course no. Again, only two weeks following Mason’s announcement in mid-January of 2015, the board announced that UI administrator Jean Robillard would chair the search committee before the committee had even been selected. By that same precedent, the board could have easily announced the chair of the 2016 UNI search committee by the time Ruud left and Wohlpart took over at the beginning of June, but there’s been nothing on that front.
The two-month timelines for each search show absolute zeal by the board in 2015 at UI, and veritable lethargy with regard to UNI in 2016. But of course as we now know, in 2015 the board was eager to rig a fraudulent search at UI, which was greatly abetted by the traitor Robillard in his role as search chair. So eager was the board to finally replace Mason, in fact, that they had everything ready to go a scant sixty days later, at which point the search suddenly fell idle for several months. Conversely, despite a longer time frame to-date, the UNI search has hardly progressed, and seems destined to be a long, drawn-out affair.
The Interim President Angle
From the outside it seems as if replacing a university president is as straightforward as replacing a burned-out light bulb. As I have learned over the past year, however, and continue to learn, the appointment of a new president is not only an administrative task but a political one, and that’s assuming a best-case scenario in which all of the key players are persons of integrity and good conscience. If instead there are bad actors in the process, the search for and appointment of a new university president can easily become a tortured, mendacious, corrupted endeavor.
In retrospect, the main reason for the board’s zeal in ramping up the 2015 UI search, and particularly in appointing the traitorous Robillard as search chair after only two weeks, was the desire to finally install a toady president who would weaken the school from the inside out. So eager — so constipated by that desire — were Rastetter and others, that they sped through the preparation process as if they had collectively taken a double dose of administrative laxatives. And yet, once they had all their ducks in a row, they then fell idle for almost two full months, before embarking on another two months of advertising to attract candidates. Why the hurry-up-and-wait?
Sally Mason announced her impending retirement on 01/15/15, effective 08/01/15, meaning the board had more than six months — and probably closer to seven months — to appoint her replacement. While it’s probable that the board needed to appoint an interim president to cover the gap between the hiring of a new president and that person’s first day on the job, as we know that’s not what happened. Despite long advanced notice, the search schedule extended one month beyond Mason’s retirement date, meaning the interim UI president would also preside over the school during the critical final thirty days of the search.
As noted above, the announcement of the first meeting of the 2015 UI search committee came on 03/18/15, with that meeting held on 03/25/15. Also on 03/25/15 the Board of Regents made the following announcement:
Following that announcement, however, the search committee did nothing for the next thirty days or more — equaling the thirty-day overlap at the end of the search, when the traitor Robillard would be both chair of the search committee and interim president. Alternatively, had the search committee proceeded apace, Mason would have been president through the end of the appointment process, with Robillard taking over shortly thereafter. (Robillard was approved as interim president on 04/24/15.)
That odd lag — particularly after the fanatical pace of ramping up and locking down the UI search process — is something I noticed long ago, but until recently ascribed to administrative factors outside my ken. I now believe, however, that that one-month (or more) lag was intentional. In fact, given what we now know about the conspirators behind Harreld’s fraudulent hire, and the corrupt lengths to which they went to jam him into office, it is not only not difficult to imagine that Rastetter and Robillard strung out the search so that Robillard would be interim president during the final critical month of the process, that is perfectly in keeping with their orchestrated betrayal of all of the constituencies involved in the search process.
Not so coincidentally, in all that there is also a remarkable connection to a previous search disaster at the University of Iowa, which took place during the tenure of another malevolent board president. Even today the 2007 UI presidential search — which ultimately resulted in Sally Mason’s appointment after a complete reboot — is remarkable for its protracted length and administrative abuses. What is not much discussed, however, is that during that protracted search, interim president Gary Fethke made a number of decisions which would seem to have been inappropriate for an interim president to make. One of those decisions, ironically, was the appointment of Jean Robillard as Vice President for Medical Affairs, without opening up the position to applications or a nation-wide search.
If you’re keeping score, then, the last two presidential searches at the University of Iowa involved interim presidents pulling fast ones on the UI community while the Board of Regents — dominated by a malevolent president in league with the interim president at the time — went about the business of delaying the search process. Even as a purely administrative matter it is not possible that Fethke appointed Robillard without then-board president Michael Gartner’s approval, and in fact Gartner was not only in support of Fethke’s decision, but wholly in support of unilateral decision making at every step:
The mind boggles that such a decrepit line of reasoning comes to us from a man who was, less than a decade ago, president of the Iowa Board of Regents. Gartner’s assumption — that great leaders always know the best people available for any job, and thus have no need of looking for them — is so arrogant and contemptuous in its implications that it encompasses every conceivable permutation of crony corruption without a hint of self-awareness. “Good executives operate” that way, therefore that’s how government should function — which, at UI in 2015, leads to the board’s appointment of a thoroughly unqualified and pugnacious business executive named J. Bruce Harreld, solely as a result of a “sham” search orchestrated by the sitting president of the regents.
Unfortunately, that same individual — Bruce Rastetter — is still president of the board, which means any questions about the pace of the 2016 UNI search begin with the possibility, if not the inevitability, that Rastetter is slow-walking the search for some reason. Again, given the history of the two previous searches at UI, and the damage the interim presidents at that school were encouraged to do while no one was looking, the reason why Rastetter might delay the UNI search seems obvious. The Iowa Board of Regents may be moving at a glacial pace on the 2016 UNI presidential search because they plan to do damage to UNI through interim president Jim Wohlpart, and as of last report Wohlpart himself is also eligible to apply for the open presidency.
Whenever the regents actually learned of Ruud’s impending departure, they could not possibly have been surprised because they knew well in advance that his contract ran out on 06/01/16. In that context, it strains credulity that the board simply waited to see what would happen instead of taking proactive steps to manage Ruud’s forced farewell — including, perhaps, talking with Wohlpart about taking over as interim president in advance of Ruud’s announcement. That in turn may mean, at least for the time being, that the Iowa Board of Regents already has the president they want at UNI, and that accommodation from Wohlpart during his interim presidency may be exactly what the board is looking for as they continue to assert administrative authority over all three state schools.
In 2015 at the University of Iowa, the traitor Robillard was interim president from the beginning of August to the beginning of November, or three months. At UNI, having become interim president on 06/03/16, Wohlpart has already served in that capacity for two months and counting, and the search process has not yet been defined. If the schedule for the 2016 UNI presidential search also takes a full six months, as it did at UI, and the process is announced tomorrow, then by the time an appointment is made Jim Wohlpart will have been interim president for eight months. If he also serves another two months after that, to allow the new president time to transition to the job, Wohlpart will have served as president of the University of Northern Iowa for the majority of the 2016-2017 academic year.
If Jim Wohlpart proves particularly accommodating to the board, he may have the inside track when the regents finally get around to conducting a search at UNI. In fact, by virtue of those personal and professional connections, he may even become the next done-deal university president in the state of Iowa, without all of the unpleasant Harreld aftertaste.
Update: On 08/04/16 (the day after this post), the Iowa Board of Regents announced that it had selected AGB, from Washington, D.C., the run the 2016 UNI presidential search. That decision took eleven weeks, compared to four for the 2015 UI search which was (mis)managed by Parker Executive Search. PES did not apply to run the 2016 UNI search.
Apparently PES and the BOR are not buddies anymore.
I never understood why people like the AD and groups like the Iowa BOR need search agencies anyway. Aren’t they supposed to keep up on stuff like this? I bet if regular readers of this blog worked on it, we could form a search group, advertise, interview and submit 4-5 good names for a president.
How hard is it anyway? You have a limited pool of serious candidates (Harreld is not one). You make some phone calls to knowledgable ppl, and move on.
Wasted money and resources!
As the search process gets underway to find a new president at the University of Northern Iowa, the battle lines are being drawn between those who believe in propriety, integrity and transparency, and the corrupt Iowa Board of Regents. Indicative of that tension, on this past Friday UNI Professor Christopher Martin published a letter-to-the-editor in the Des Moines Register, which included the following assessment after a damning list of the board’s malfeasance:
On this past Thursday, after blowing its own timeline by a week, the Iowa Board of Regents announced the awarding of the contract for managing the 2016 UNI presidential search. From the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier’s Christina Crippes, on 08/04/16:
Although former UNI President William Ruud announced his resignation in mid-May, and was gone two weeks later, it has taken eleven weeks to choose the firm that will handle the administrative and logistical end of the 2016 UNI search. By comparison, although former UI President Sally Mason stayed on another six and a half months after announcing her resignation in mid-January, the regents hired Parker Executive Search to run the 2015 UI search after only four weeks.
Though no specific timeline for the 2016 UNI search was announced by the board, Crippes’ report included the following information:
So AGB will help with or lead on most aspects of the search, with the exception of packing the 2016 UNI search committee with enough crony votes to compel the inclusion of whichever candidate the regents may already have decided they are going to choose when they cast the final vote. Leading AGB’s participation in the search process is James McCormick, whom neither I nor most of the people reading this post has ever heard of before, which in turn gives AGB the appearance of having no possible conflicts of interest, but only the best interests of the UNI community in its $85K (plus expenses) heart.
Unfortunately, given the routinely sleazy business practices of the Iowa Board of Regents, it’s worth asking if anyone else works for AGB that might have some bearing on the outcome of the search, and here we find two interesting employees. First, there is former UI President Sally Mason, who joined AGB sometime in 2015. Having announced her resignation in mid-January of that year, then having officially retired as president on August 1st, we will assume that Mason joined AGB in the second half of 2015. Still, that could have been as early as August 2nd, or, just two days over a full year before the UNI search was awarded to AGB.
In fact, however, the timeline of events surrounding Mason’s departure from UI, and the awarding of the UNI contract to AGB, is considerably tighter. Although Mason did retire as president on 08/01/15, she remained a member of the UI faculty until quite recently, as reported by the Press-Citizen’s Jeff Charis Carlson two weeks ago, on 07/20/16:
So while Mason was hanging on at UI and cashing out over the past year, she was also — as Charis-Carlson noted in his piece — in the employ of AGB for much of that time. The final date of Mason’s employment at UI seems to be 06/30/16, although the letter she sent declaring her intent to resign was dated one week earlier, on 06/23/16, as helpfully volunteered by UI spokesperson Jeneane Beck. In any case, by the most amazing cosmic coincidence, and after dragging their administrative asses for six weeks — which is two weeks longer than it took to actually hire PES during the 2015 UI search — the Iowa Board of Regents finally put out a request for qualifications for the UNI search exactly one day after Mason stopped working for the University of Iowa, on 07/01/16:
Now, I don’t know anything about the law, or about what the board, Mason or AGB needed to do to be legally eligible to apply for the regents’ 2016 UNI RFQ, but if any obstacles existed, they seem to have miraculously disappeared less than twenty-four hours before the release of the board’s RFQ. Which of course raises an interesting question, which is whether the regents delayed the release of the 2016 UNI RFQ so Mason could get paid and clear at UI, thus making AGB either eligible for — or, if we momentarily lapse into cynicism — the intended recipient of the board’s UNI search contract.
Admittedly, those are loaded questions, but it’s not just the incredibly close timing that’s a problem, it’s the fact that the regents had nothing to say about Mason or even the potential appearance of impropriety in awarding the contract to AGB. In fact, other than Charis-Carlson’s piece about Mason’s retirement, I can find no mention — not even in passing — of Mason’s employment by AGB in any of last week’s stories about the awarding of the board’s 2016 UNI search contract to AGB.
Even if only in a ‘small world’ context, it seems that someone at the board would have mentioned that Mason worked for AGB, but that didn’t happen. Instead, all we got is deadpan boilerplate commentary from Mulholland, as quoted above, about a “proven track record” and “successful searches”. Nothing about Sally Mason at all, let alone about the timing of Mason’s resignation from the University of Iowa.
Which brings us to the second employee at AGB who seems to have slipped Mulholland’s mind, and that’s Constantine (Deno) Curris, who was himself president of the University of Northern Iowa for twelve years, from 1983-1995. That in turn is a particularly odd omission given that Mulholland herself has three degrees from UNI (’69, ’80, ’89), with the last one having been entirely earned during Curris’ tenure as president. [There are two other members of the current board who also received degrees from UNI: Larry McKibben (’70), and Subhash Sahai (’70).]
Although the majority of Curris’ presidency occurred prior to the rise of the internet, a perusal of his time at UNI concludes with the renaming of the Business Building in his honor. Following that business thread in turn leads to Curris’ longtime association with Sigma Chi, a fraternal organization which describes itself as follows:
Leaving aside the fact that the above quote is also a perfect description of an old boys’ club, in 2010 Curris was listed in the Sigma Chi annual report as a leader at Sigma Chi, and by 2015 he was listed as a Governor Emeritus. By great cosmic happenstance, in those same reports we also find illegitimate UI president and Sigma Chi ‘Significant Sig’ J. Bruce Harreld, who is listed as one of six members to have donated between $500K and $1M by 2010, and one of eleven members to have given between $1M and $2M by 2015.
Now, I’m not sure how J. Bruce Harreld abetting his own fraudulent hire at UI fits into the ‘justice’ and ‘character building’ aspects of Sigma Chi, but as the entire fraudulent Harreld hire revealed, it’s not what you actually do that matters to the Iowa Board of Regents, but who you know. And in the context of the 2016 UNI presidential search, what we now know is that the company the board just hired to oversee the UNI search includes both the most recent president of the University of Iowa, who finally cut her ties with that school exactly one day before the regents’ RFQ was released, and a long-time president at UNI, who also has long-standing fraternal ties to the current illegitimate president of the University of Iowa.
In a vacuum it might be possible to ignore all of those coincidences, but the 2016 UNI presidential search is not taking place in a vacuum. It’s also a certainty that all of those long-time administrators would respond to any questions about those coincidences by rising in high dudgeon and blasting anyone who dared to question their professional integrity — which they would then attest to for each other. The problem, of course is that the 2016 UNI presidential search is inherently corrupt because it is being run by the same Iowa Board of Regents which ran and then covered up a fraudulent taxpayer-funded search at the University of Iowa in 2015, and that board includes four members (Mulholland, McKibben, Dakovich and Rastetter) who intentionally denied other board members information about the potentially illegal meetings they (and a fifth, recently resigned regent) had with then-candidate J. Bruce Harreld. In that light, unless you are the sunniest of optimists, it has to be assumed that the Iowa Board of Regents also intentionally omitted any mention of AGB’s deep ties to higher-education in the state of Iowa, and particularly to UNI.
The point here is not that the Iowa Board of Regent is sometimes less than forthcoming, it’s that it’s always less than forthcoming if not outright corrupt. And it’s not just big-ticket items like presidential searches that cause the board to lie, they lie about everything. Again, only a few days ago there was the story of a $290K web app which was never publicized by the board. In response to questions about that oversight, Mark Braun — the (normally) highest paid member of the board office staff, who is also the board’s Chief Operating Office — gave a wise-acre response which omitted the fact that the board’s own plan was to idle the site for several years in order to generate administrative momentum for change. Meaning either Braun intentionally avoided answering the question, or he doesn’t know what the hell is happening around him when that’s his job.
Read Professor Martin’s LTE for more. Between crony revolving doors, secretive dealings and special favors, the Iowa Board of Regents has proven it cannot be trusted. Whether AGB can be trusted is now also in question, as is the degree to which AGB is aware of the abuses the regents committed during the Harreld hire. How often do ‘Significant Sigs’ Curris and Harreld talk? Has Mulholland stayed in touch with Curris over the years? Did the board stall the release of the 2016 UNI RFQ until Mason was no longer a UI employee?
It’s not only possible that the board just awarded another done-deal crony contract, it’s entirely possible that Mulholland and her board cronies already know who they want to appoint — meaning it’s only a question of stacking the search committee with loyalists and blowing $100K in taxpayer funds on another sham search. Maybe they regents want to give the job to Interim President Wohlpart, maybe they’ve got someone else in mind, but the one thing you can count on is that they’re never, ever going to tell the truth. Which is precisely why you’re finding out that Mason and Curris both work for AGB here, instead of from the Iowa Board of Regents or AGB.
All of this will need to go into digest form so that prospective students and hires can read it, Mark. I am still persuaded that the serious trouble is in the institutional borrowing, but obviously the corruption just steps on the gas. These kinds of goings-on tend to end abruptly in events that damage students’ and employees’ lives, and of course we haven’t begun talking about what might be happening at the hospital, where the stakes are a little more immediate for the people who go for care. The guys at the top will walk away, of course, but their victims will not come out fine. Your posts are good but long and convoluted, and it would help if someone gave them a journalistic treatment.
I share your concerns about UIHC, and will get into some of my own in an upcoming post. The borrowing, even at very low interest rates, is a problem, as is the opening that presents to bondholders to dictate terms to the school and the regents regarding administrative and even academic matters. That the regents are themselves wholly corrupt and more than happy to use borrowing to turn the entire state higher-ed system into a minor league farm team and startup incubator for corporations obviously does not help.
I’m generally bullish on the reporting by the press over the past year, but there are moments of almost uniform impotence that completely baffle me. The most recent example I can think of was Rastetter’s repeated assertion that he had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that his own company bought a $1.15M property at the behest of Steve Leath and his wife, and in less than one week’s time. I mean seriously — how did nobody follow up on that statement?
Having said all that, however, it’s worth remembering how much has changed over the past year. The absolute zenith of the board’s corruption was the moment when they fraudulently appointed Harreld as president of the University of Iowa. Only weeks later, the board and Robillard and Harreld started taking serious hits, and since then the hits have just kept coming. (The paralysis that Harreld exhibited in the face of the AAUP sanction was telling.)
Throw in the sudden resignation of Regent Mary Andrigna and I see no rebound from the Harreld hire, and in fact the future seems to point in the other direction. If anyone in politics from either party decides to open up on the board, it’s going to be a free-fire zone, and that’s only taking into account the stuff we know about. Throw in all the corruption behind the scenes, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see more regents hit the bricks in the next twelve months.
I do not see any evidence the Iowa BOR will be rebooted:
– A semi-senile Terry Branstad has shown no remorse for any corruption in his second regime. He has screwed Medicaid, mental health, the Iowa BOR, schools, maybe clean water etc..
– AG Tom Miller needs professional Viagra, apparently impotent in all this…..or he defends corruption against outside lawsuits
– The state legislature has put out some whimpers about the Leath deal, but otherwise is AATW.
– Despite negative editorials, stories, etc, there has been no movement of anyone in state Govt or in the BOR (other than Andringa who must have been really scared) as a result of the press. They appear immune to pressure.
The political cronies and Iowa agribusiness oligarchs are in charge and not threatened by the voters nor the regulators, nor the press.
And I will add UIowa’s AAUP sanctions landed in the dumpster with a huge thud. Not even a blink from the BOR other than a sycophantic letter from the UIowa Senate President.
I understand your sentiment here, but I think it understates the impact of the AAUP sanction. The AAUP has no power to move the board, but the board could have adopted any number of responses, including a vigorous defense. Instead, Rastetter once again retreated behind his false claim that the search was fair, which was tantamount to an admission of guilt.
As I’ve noted in other comments and posts, what’s happening now is a hollowing out — a weakening from within — that won’t look any different until something gives way. But there is no question that the Iowa Board of Regents is significantly weaker than it was a year ago, and that the key players at the board have all been thoroughly discredited, particularly with the press and the non-crony legislature. (Don’t forget Grassley Jr.’s tweet about the tuition hikes. He saw that boondoggle for what it was.).
Today’s aggressive Des Moines Register editorial about the Iowa Board of Regents is important in its own right, but also broadens areas of inquiry that need to be addressed by investigative journalists. Specifically, although Regents’ President Bruce Rastetter clearly remains the locus of and impetus for crony corruption at the board, there is now sufficient evidence to question the role played by key members of the board staff as well:
Mark Braun’s recent cavalier response to the press about the board’s ‘common application portal’ scam shows that he’s part of the problem. Until now, Braun and XD/CEO Bob Donley have mostly kept their heads down, playing the staff-flunkie role while Rastetter sets the agenda. In fact, it’s remarkable how seldom XD/CEO Bob Donley is ever quoted in the press, as if he literally does not have the leadership role at the board office that he actually has. (SHEEO recently appointing Donley national chairman of their organization, despite both the corruption at the board and the end-run the board used to boost Donley’s 2016 salary to twice the amount permissible under state law.)
As for Braun, not only are there questions about the manner of his most recent promotion at the board, but there are legitimate questions about whether he and/or Donley knew about the fraudulent presidential search that Rastetter and UI administrator Jean Robillard ran in 2015. Because if either Braun or Donley did know about any part of that plan, it’s hard not to see at least some of the extra money they’ve pulled down in the last year as either payment for services rendered or payment for their silence.
While Donley has been a fixture at the board office since 2008, when he was hired as Executive Director, Mark Braun has been ping-ponging between the board and the University of Iowa for close to two decades. Hired in 1998 as UI’s Director of State Relations, Braun became a State Relations Officer for the board in 2004. In 2008 — six months after Donley’s hire — Braun then headed back to UI as chief of staff for the recently hired President Sally Mason. (It’s not clear whether Mason wanted Braun in that role, or whether the board — coming off the protracted and corrupt 2007 search which ultimately led to Mason’s legitimate appointment — imposed Braun on Mason as a minder.)
In November of 2012, Donley and Rastetter started what would soon become a trend at the Iowa Board of Regents:
In subsequent years that same tawdry administrative drama would play out with multiple political cronies at Iowa State, culminating recently in a $1.15M land deal between Rastetter and ISU President Steven Leath, which Rastetter also claimed to have nothing to do with.
In February of 2014 Donley also played a key sandbagging role in exacerbating tensions between Mason and the board following a controversial comment that Mason made about sexual assault.
In May of 2014, Braun added the title of Vice President for External Relations to his Chief of Staff duties at UI, with a commensurate bump in pay. That same dual-title administrative role would soon be handed to Peter Matthes, who, in 2015, was exposed as having overseen multiple no-bid crony contracts at UI. What remains unclear is whether any of those crony contracts were facilitated by Braun while he was in that same role. (As for Matthes, in penance for his abuses of power the incoming illegitimate UI president, J. Bruce Harreld, would almost immediately promote Matthes to one of his Senior Advisors, with the full blessings of the board.)
In August of 2014, Braun took a leave of absence from his duties at UI to head up the regents’ multi-million-dollar TIER review process. One recommendation of that process was for the board to create and then idle a ‘common application portal‘ at a projected cost of close to a half a million dollars, yet only last week Braun had nothing to say about the board’s long-term plans for that application.
In mid-January of 2015, Sally Mason announced her impending retirement effective August 1st. In early March of 2015, approximately one week after the announcement of the full search committee impaneled to replace Mason — which included regents Rastetter, Mulholland and Dakovich, as well as Matthes and Donley in an ex officio capacity, and would be chaired by the traitorous Robillard — it was announced that Mark Braun would soon be returning to UI in yet another role:
Less than four months later, however, and quite literally on the eve of the secret regent meetings between J. Bruce Harreld and four regents at Rastetter’s private place of business in Ames, it was announced that Braun would again be leaving UI for yet another new job at the board:
Mark Braun stepped out of his most recent job at UI just as Mason’s retirement became official, and just as search chair Jean Robillard assumed the role of interim president. Even though Braun was only on staff at UI for less than four months, however, Braun’s brief tenure as VP for Operational Efficiency and Regulatory Compliance coincided with the secret Kirkwood meeting between Rastetter, Robillard, Matthes and Harreld in June, and with Harreld’s 07/08/15 appearance and presentation on campus at a UIHC “VIP Lunch”.
It is not currently known whether Bob Donley or Mark Braun attended Harreld’s presentation at UIHC, or whether either knew about it. It is also not known whether Donley or Braun knew about the secret Kirkwood meeting, or about the secret regent meetings between Harreld and four regents on 07/30/15, which may have constituted a violation of state law. What is currently known is that if either Donley or Braun had any knowledge of the serial improprieties or potential illegalities which took place during the 2015 UI presidential search — at a cost of over $300K to state taxpayers — neither one of them has had a damn thing to say about any of it.
Update: On the heels of the Register’s editorial, Governor Terry Branstad took a big step back this afternoon from his own crony-packed Board of Regents:
While the governor appeared to break lockstep with the regents over the recent tuition hikes at the state schools, that was merely a bit of post-boondoggle positioning, entirely designed to distract people from the fact that neither Branstad nor Rastetter lifted a finger to prevent those hikes from taking place. By contrast, these comments go to the very heart of state government, to the role the legislature plays in setting state salaries, and to the degree that the board is overstepping its authority.
One year ago Branstad was backing the corruption at the regents full-tilt, including the sham hire — at taxpayer expense — of J. Bruce Harreld at the University of Iowa. A year later Branstad is positioning himself as the wise old governor, so people will forget that he is the progenitor of the board’s corruption.
Interesting comments by the Gov-for-life.
I do wonder if TB is only positioning himself for deniability, or truly believes what he said. As most behaviors in Govt are behind the scenes, wonder what else there is to discover.
If the legislature is sniffing around the BOR shenanigans, TB might understand not only could this be politically embarrassing but potentially illegal.
Someone in the press really needs to put together a comprehensive expose` on the Iowa BOR excesses. (thinking Spotlight-like work). The investigator could start with all the references here. Considering the stakes (huge public debate about higher education, huge student loan debt etc.) it could be award winning work.
Keep up the pressure Ditchwalk.
Rastetter and Branstad to advise Trump on how the crisis clinic campaign is going to go over the waterfalls while on fire, during a nuclear attack, while ‘2nd amendment people’ take of Sec Clinton….
Maybe Rastetter can detail for Trump how to build a yuge wall around a university (made of corn and pig manure) and make the university pay for it.
Could a script writer write these things????
From the article:
“Rastetter, whose support Christie once obtained in part by his veto of a Garden State ban on pig gestation crates, has made becoming secretary of agriculture a “life goal,” according to one top Iowa GOP donor who’d previously backed Christie.”
NO WAY! Imagine, Bruce Rastetter and cronies running the US Dept of Ag. ISU President Leath is going to get a great deal on about 1000 acres of Yellowstone National Park!
The timing of this story — about Branstad and Rastetter becoming players in the Trump campaign — could not have been worse given Trump’s assassination comments. I have been genuinely surprised that both Branstad and particularly Rastetter — as president of the regents — have been able to show open support for a man who espouses views which are hostile to decency on multiple fronts.
In any case, it doesn’t say anything good about either man, apart from their crony corruption of state politics.
The past several years a coup has played out in Iowa higher education:
1. Sally Mason UIowa Pres (was forced out) retired in 2015
2. BOR counsel Thomas Evans was suddenly and surprisingly dumped as chief counsel in June 2015 under suspicious circumstances http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/education/2015/06/29/regents-legal-counsel/29451959/
3. UNI President Rudd was essentially shown the door in 2016
This left Leath the senior president, and Branstad/Rastetter operatives free to give themselves fat raises, easy no bid contracts, crony jobs/contracts (apparently Andringa’s was too obvious), sweet real estate deals, and lots of plunder. Looks like some banana republic…
I’m really intrigued by how the BoR will handle the UNI search. It must be incredibly tempting to play it straight in order to shut up all the people who were enraged by the Harreld hire, yet that would squander the opportunity to hire that key third toady.
Which will win out? Self-preservation or vice?
Ah, I was wrong about Branstad,’s semi-feeble performances. This quote from the Miller article suggests he continues to swing the political rapier: http://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/education/higher-education/governor-to-iowa-board-of-regents-be-careful-with-the-level-of-spending-20160808
“Branstad pointed to “significant progress” over the last five years in addressing the rising cost of higher education.
“I would contrast to the Vilsack years when we had double-digit increases, sometimes as high as 17 to 18 percent,” he said. “I don’t want to see us go back to those bad old days.” ”
1. Is this true?
2. Is Branstad trying to cut Vilsack down to size, considering the former Iowa Gov and current US Sec Ag appears to be very very tight with the Clintons. Now the HRC train appears to be on track for a record setting win, could Vilsack move up in the cabinet, and thus Branstad is positioning Vilsack in a negative way?
Tom Vilsack was not my favorite, esp after he blew the previous Iowa Presidential search trusting it to Michael (I blew up NBC News) Gartner. A friend of mine however countered:
“When I worked as a staff at the UIowa under Branstad 1 we barely made a living wage. It was terrible. When Vilsack came along he raised the common UIowa worker’s wages to at least a livable range. I will support Vilsack forever’.
Always another side to the story.
Branstad should look further into the dwindling state support and the increasing university budgets:
1. How much of the increase is due to administrative bloat?
2. How much of the increase is due to crony contracts and crony hires (related to #1)?
3. And why, despite spending millions on Deloitte Consulting for TIER the saving don’t seem to keep up with the consultant fees?
(almost 3,000,000.00 plus 300,000 expenses http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/investigations/2014/10/08/regents-demand-deloitte-receipts/16892561/ : and a resulting lawsuit http://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/education/higher-education/deloitte-suing-iowa-board-of-regents-to-keep-records-secret-20150803)
4. Why did the Board move on to Chazey Partners, and Wilshire then even another consultant Marquette? http://www.pionline.com/article/20160127/ONLINE/160129863/iowa-board-of-regents-picks-marquette-as-new-consultant
The board even hired a consultant to monitor the consultant: Huron (at 900,000.00) monitored Deloitte http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/education/2015/07/29/reports-universities-savings-may-take-longer-less/30839619/
“Mark Braun, who has been overseeing the TIER process, said Wednesday that the implementation approach being suggested by the current consultants “is not as fast and aggressive as Deloitte recommended doing it.” Yet the process, he said, “was on track to reach those larger estimates.”
“It’s not a race to the finish line,” Braun said.
The report from Huron Consulting represents the first of several waves for the savings to be reached, Braun said. Deloitte, in contrast, never broke down its total estimates for the individual waves.”
Notice Mr Braun is the master of smart-arse statements that say nothing.
Did Vilsack spend 3-4 million on consultants who delivered far less than promised? http://www.kcci.com/news/report-costsavings-at-universities-not-as-much-as-projected/34423206 http://cogs.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/DUMP-DELOITT2.pdf
Maybe Braun could add up all those 0000000000s. Should be something like 5-6 million in consultant costs alone.
And maybe he could hire a PR firm (as Harreld did) to soften his sarcasm, then hire another PR firm to monitor the first PR firm…..the onion PR plan.
Someone, please examine the books!
I think Branstad reaching all the way back to invoke Vilsack was a panic move. He tried to change the conversation in a way that made him (Branstad) look good, but all it really did was make him look desperate.
I think you’re also right to highlight the degree to which Braun initially hyped, then a year later walked back, the impact of those pricey consultants. It’s been reported, but I don’t know if people really understand that it’s a tacit admission that some of that money was wasted. (The board wanted objective correlation of its own ill intent, and it had to pay a premium to get it.)
Branstad and Rastetter now fully onboard with Trump, named as economic advisors. Rastetter also being mentioned as possible ag secretary.
This was a telling moment of overreach, quickly countered by Branstad only hours later. It was also interesting that Branstad once again distanced himself from Rastetter (via his spokesperson’s comments).
In only a matter of weeks this is the third time Branstad has tried to put distance between himself and Rastetter. Whether Rastetter is trying to vault himself out of state politics, or he’s simply naive to the implications of Branstad’s change of heart, I expect the distance between them to continue to grow.
Also, whether Branstad would ever pressure Rastetter to resign, and whether Rastetter would ever agree to do so, those questions no longer seem hypothetical.
For a politician, Vilsack’s a remarkably decent guy, something that’s marked his tenure at Ag. I’m not saying he’s been terrifically effective, but he’s not a hideous person.
And yes, tuition went up steeply in the early ’00s. Very. The excuse at the time was the same as everyone else’s: you had to compete for the best [fill in type of person] with non-prisonlike dorms, the fancy gym, the fancy etc. Then down came the rain and washed it all away.
On Sunday evening the Des Moines Register posted an editorial which effectively characterized the Iowa Board of Regents as a rogue operation in state government. Although charged with doing right by the state’s three universities, the board has repeatedly skirted state law to enrich board staff at the expense of the students, faculty and staff at those schools. Couple those abuses of power with crony deals between high-ranking officials, and with the dispensing of crony jobs to former political operatives — to say nothing of the fraudulent appointment, at taxpayer expense, of J. Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa — and the Iowa Board of Regents under President Bruce Rastetter has proven consistently and unrepentantly corrupt.
On Monday, less than twenty-four hours after the Register editorial was published, Governor Terry Branstad attempted to distance himself from the regents’ serial malfeasance by positioning himself as a responsible statesman in sync with the Register’s point of view:
While a laudable sentiment from any other quarter, coming from Branstad that statement was a perverse joke because the governor himself diverts money from the state’s schools to paper over budget items he does not want to put on the books. Included in such administrative abuses is the leaching of patient care dollars for state prisoners, who are often treated at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Instead of reimbursing UIHC for those costs, the state stiffs the state-run hospital — of which the Board of Regents are trustees.
In that recurrent vein, only a week ago the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller reported the exact same fiscal sleight of hand with regard to a state-mandated reading program. Instead of including the program’s cost in his budget, Branstad simply left it out, then cobbled together funds from multiple state institutions of higher education to cover part of the cost. Not surprisingly, the Board of Regents stepped up to do its part, both indirectly and directly:
Governor Branstad is the last person who should chastise anyone about being “very cognizant” of state budget limitations. And yet just as he did on Monday, only a few weeks ago Branstad also made a show of distancing himself from the abusive tuition hikes proposed by the regents’ university presidents, which were fully backed by Rastetter. In fact, when he had the chance Branstad did nothing — and demanded nothing from Rastetter — that would have made up for the minimal legislative funding shortfall that purportedly triggered those egregious hikes. (Even that threshold turned out to be a lie, however, as Rastetter never actually committed to a hard fiscal target so as to keep his options open for forcing the hikes.)
All told, after a purported shortfall of only $1.7M, the regents voted to raise over $20M by increasing tuition at all three schools. At that point the board then turned around and soaked the schools for its own expenses, including the bloated end-run salaries that were the focus of the Register’s editorial. Throw in $5M spent on consultants over the past few years (and still climbing), and the regents’ cavalier attitude with state funds actually makes a mockery of the TIER process that the board has repeatedly used as justification for hiring those same consultants.
In Monday’s comments, Branstad followed his budgeting hypocrisy with a bit of deflection dressed up as a stately teaching moment:
In talking about being “separately governed”, Branstad’s inference is that the Iowa Board of Regents and the state universities exist in some alternate governmental universe immune to his own administrative influence. While the board is indeed independent by statute, even a cursory check of the facts shows that not only is the board governing in lockstep with Branstad’s political philosophy, the board is quite literally an extension of Branstad’s political machine. Nowhere in state government is Branstad’s own crony influence laid bare as it is at the Board of Regents, which is precisely why Branstad is now trying to position the board as somehow removed from his gubernatorial powers.
To see the extent to which Branstad’s has intentionally corrupted the board, here is the sentence in the Iowa Code which describes the permissible political make-up of the nine-member Iowa Board of Regents:
Now, keeping in mind that only two days ago Branstad cautioned the regents about working around state law to pay members of their own office staff more than the legislature intended, let’s take a look at how Branstad went about packing the board with political cronies despite the above statutory restriction:
In order to skew the board toward his own political leanings, Branstad had no problem betraying the intent of a state law — as he showed again recently in appointing a non-journalist to the Iowa Public Information Board. In fact, only a few months ago Branstad appointed yet another Republican to replace Mary Andringa, who resigned suddenly after only a year as a regent, just before it was publicly revealed that she was being paid by a company which secured a multi-million-dollar no-bid contract with UIHC. At the time Andringa was the chair of the regents’ UIHC committee, with direct oversight over the hospital, yet as testament to the depth of corruption at the board that same crony contract was initially portrayed as a TIER success story.)
Branstad’s key addition to the board, of course, was political ‘kingmaker’ Bruce Rastetter, who simply requested his appointment after becoming Branstad’s largest campaign donor. In fact, so eager was Branstad to make sure Rastetter not only joined the board but became its president, that in an unprecedented move the governor bulldozed the sitting president and president pro tem out of the way, clearing the way for Rastetter’s eventual ascendancy.
The Lone Democrat
The one constant at the board is that Governor Terry Branstad has politicized and corrupted the regents at every conceivable opportunity. Even the presumed political independence of the lone Democrat on the board crumbles when looked at from the point of view of crony politics — which makes a lot of sense given that no one has been more loyal to President Rastetter than President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland.
So how did Katie Mulholland, Democrat, find her way to the Iowa Board of Regents when Branstad was determined to pack the board with political cronies? By allowing herself to be promoted by a series of crony Republicans who thought she would be perfect for the job:
So who is Katie Mulholland’s husband?
As for Kraig Paulsen, if you’ve been following news reports about the rampant corruption at the board his name will be familiar:
So Republican political heavyweight Paulsen pitches Democrat Mulholland for the regents, then years later a cushy job is not only invented for Paulsen at one of the regent universities, but Paulsen doesn’t have to compete for the position because it’s never advertised. And while it is true that the Mulhollands have never donated directly to Branstad, and Republican Ed Mulholland has never donated to Paulsen, in an odd twist Democrat Katie Mulholland gave $2,575 to Paulsen in thirteen separate donations between 2006 and 2014.
No matter where you look in Branstad’s political machine you not only find crony cockroaches, you find the same crony cockroaches. Years before Paulsen landed himself a cushy job at ISU, with the explicit approval of ISU President Steven Leath and the tacit approval of the regents, Paulsen was pulling strings to get Mulholland appointed to the board. Demonstrating a spirit of bipartisanship which again undermined the intent of state law, Branstad was happy to appoint a Democrat to the board as long as he knew that individual would roll over for Rastetter’s crony abuses of power, and Katie Mulholland has certainly met that test.
The Harreld Hire
To see the degree to which Branstad himself is not simply the architect of the corruption at the board but its committed champion, consider the governor’s reactions — plural — to the outcry at the University of Iowa, after Rastetter and a majority at the board forced the unqualified and illegitimate J. Bruce Harreld on that school. Instead of taking a step back and asking why there was such immediate outrage, or why that outrage grew as more and more information about the sham search came to light, Branstad not only sided with his crony appointees on the board, he did so in unabashedly condescending fashion:
Less than a week later, after that bit of snot-nosed paternalism blew up in his face, Branstad played the folksy betrayal card:
True to crony form Branstad ignored the fact that he could simply ask the corrupt regents to resign, and instead chose to pile on the victims of Rastetter’s regental abuses. All of which proved even more corrupt when it was subsequently revealed that Branstad himself played a role in Harreld’s fraudulent appointment. Even better, that moment was actually captured by a film crew:
Despite being fully aware that there was more than one candidate running for president at the University of Iowa, Branstad agrees to subvert the board’s hiring process without even batting an eye. Branstad never asks if he should call the other candidates, but instead reflexively agrees to help his biggest political backer run a stealth candidate for the position. In that instance, as in so many others, Branstad stands not apart from the corruption at the board, but as the critical factor facilitating that corruption.
The Bad New Days
Over Branstad’s record-six terms as governor it would be impossible to find a more pure expression of his political malice than the current Iowa Board of Regents. Not only did Branstad appoint all nine members of the board, and not only did he take unprecedented steps to make his biggest political contributor president of the board, but without the slightest bit of hesitation Branstad then worked with that president to fraudulently appoint J. Bruce Harreld as president of his alma mater at a cost of over $300K to state taxpayers. Given current press coverage it is understandable that Branstad is now backing away from the monster he created in order to protect what’s left of his tattered legacy, but as a factual matter there is no difference between how the board has conduced itself and how Branstad has conducted himself as governor. More to the point, it has to be assumed that if anyone was taught how to perpetrate abuses of power and administer crony corruption in state office, it was the six-term governor doing the teaching.
In the following comment, also from Monday, you can see wily old Governor Branstad distancing himself from the board while simultaneously reframing the conversation in partisan political terms:
What Branstad does not want to talk about, of course, is that in the here and now the Iowa Board of Regents is corrupt. He does not want to talk about that because that’s exactly what he intended when he loaded the board with political cronies and paved the way for the state’s most ruthless political fixer to become board president. Bruce Rastetter may have crawled out of a pig-urine lagoon determined to burrow his way deep into state government, but Rastetter needed Branstad’s help on multiple occasions to make that crony dream a reality. All of which means the Iowa Board of Regents is not a rogue operation in need of sage advice from the governor, but a corrupt governmental body which stands as testament to the governor’s own crony political machine.
Terry Branstad is Scott Walker, except he’s not running for president, so he knows he’ll be more effective if he keeps his mouth shut.
It’s been very interesting watching developments in three states — Iowa, Wisconsin (as you rightly note), and Kansas. Iowa has the seen the subtlest assault on education and government, Wisconsin is the middle-ground case, and Kansas has been a barbarian invasion. Perhaps not surprisingly, voters in Kansas are pushing back against the wreckage wrought by Brownback, but elsewhere the weakening of government services proceeds apace. And other than a change in the voters, I don’t really see a way to stop it.
Semi-senile Terry Branstad is a genius compared to Scott Walker. Terry has both undergraduate and law degrees. Walker has an ummmmm bad haircut.
Do we actually have an Attorney General? Has any reporter asked him directly why he is not investigating the BOR and Terry’s actions here?
I remain utterly baffled by the IA AG’s complete lack of interest in corruption (and potential criminality) at the Iowa Board of Regents. It almost seems that not only is the board its own administrative world, but in that world there is no regulatory or legal oversight. Does it take a federal crime to get someone with investigative powers to look into the regents? If there is a Gift Law on the Iowa books — and there is — and someone violates that law, who is supposed to investigate and prosecute that law? Who investigates abuses of ethics at the board or at one of the state universities? Who watches the highest-ranking administrators to make sure they’re not corrupting or squelching investigations?
I don’t know enough about state politics or government to explain it, but I do know that the regents are using the AG to respond to Gerhild Krapf’s lawsuit about the secret regent meetings, meaning the office of AG is working for the exact same governmental body that may have broken the law on multiple occasions.
As you point out, this is baffling the way AG Tom Miller handles things. He acts as the defender of all things, corrupt or not, in State Govt.
Imagine this kind of inaction, laziness, or corruption in Michigan. The AG there would be defending the criminals who contaminated the Flint water.
Or New York, where Cuomo, rather than indict corrupt New York legislators, would defend them.
Miller has become part of the problem. Voters should let him know this is not in the public interest.
Again, there needs to be a ‘Spotlight’ type of award-winning journalistic investigation into this acrid corruption.
As the Des Moines Register continues to publish scathing editorials about the obvious corruption of the Board of Regents and as the State Attorney General and the State Legislature continue to do nothing about it one is reminded of the infamous quote that was later attributed to Karl Rove.
“The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
The date of that quote is October of 2004 and in the next month George Bush was re-elected. The invasion of Iraq started in March of 2003. That quote is now seen as evidence of hubris and the re-election likely tipped that hubris into serious delusion as Iraq spiraled into chaos and a deregulated Wall Street descended into financial chicanery.
Is there any current evidence that Bruce Rastetter will be held accountable as he continues to act and create more corruption in the BOR and the UofI whether or not it is exposed? Why shouldn’t he consider himself to be the next Secretary of Agriculture in that case? This hubris will take it’s course and we have yet to see the full extent of the damage his delusions will inflict on the University of Iowa.
In practical terms, if there is enough pressure to dislodge Rastetter, I think he’ll be allowed to walk without facing any charges, or even having a bad day in front of a microphone. Same for Robillard at UIHC, who will be celebrated even as he is pushed into retirement. Harreld is the tough one, because if he leaves before his five years are up that’s going to look like a defeat, and Harreld is all about projecting himself as a winner.
What genuinely bothers me is that the lies required to compel an actual investigation of these people have been apparent since last fall, and yet not even the press has picked up those threads and pursued them. There seems to be no will to enforce the rules and the laws, and that’s disturbing. Either people don’t care, or they’ve given up in the face of this rampant crony corruption.
The BOR now knows there are no consequences to their corruption, they aren’t even trying to follow the law.
“On Wednesday, after notifying the public of Thursday’s meeting on the issue, a Board of Regents attorney sent Aranza an email to let him know the board was going to “meet tomorrow to vote to reject the adjudicator’s decision.”
When Aranza asked her if the board already had discussed the issue — potentially violating open meetings laws — board attorney Aimee Claeys clarified her initial message.
“I apologize if my email was inartfully drafted,” she wrote. “I was simply notifying you that the board will be meeting to consider the matter tomorrow.”
This is why the board fired the old attorney last summer. They wanted a lackey attorney to ape and cover their nefarious actions.
(from the Gazette) Aranza said he doesn’t know whether or not regents violated any laws.
Maybe Drake law school dropout and presumptive US Sec Ag B. Rastetter can represent them.
In an upcoming post we will take a close look at the inherent incoherence, if not reflexive malice, of yesterday’s decision by the Iowa Board of Regents to go to war with two long-time teachers at the Iowa School for the Deaf. In digging into that issue over the past day or two, however, I was reminded not only that the decision making at the board perpetually lapses into incoherence when subjected to even a modicum of scrutiny, but that in the fall of 2015 I ran across a particularly glaring example of that incoherence while trying to get up to speed on all of the damage that crony board President Rastetter was doing to higher education in Iowa. Specifically, in looking at the regents’ most recent presidential searches at each of the state’s three universities, including Rastetter’s fraudulent appointment of J. Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa in September of 2015, I was struck by how those searches completely contradicted the rationale that Rastetter, ISU’s Steven Leath and UNI’s recently resigned William Ruud put forward in advocating for their vaunted performance-based funding model — at least until the legislature told them all to stuff it.
The main reason I did not point this contradiction out earlier was because I did not know — as was indeed asserted by the regents, in defense of the 2015 UI search — if the market for university presidents had changed substantially in the past five years, but the recent contract with AGB for the 2016 UNI presidential search makes clear it has not. Where the regents paid a flat fee of $90K (plus expenses) in 2011 for the search which begat Ruud’s short-lived presidency at UNI, only a few weeks ago the board signed a contract with AGB which will pay a flat fee of $85K (plus expenses) to replace Ruud. If anything, then, the trend in the market for university presidents in Iowa — slight as it might be, and derived from an extremely small sample size — seems to be recessionary.
With regard to the failed performance-based funding model, which the board invented in 2013, then pushed aggressively in 2014 and early 2015, here is the most cogent explanation of that plan that I have been able to find over the past year. Perhaps not surprisingly, it comes to us not from the board itself, but from the office of Rastetter’s then-future crony land-deal partner, ISU President Leath:
That explanation is excerpted from a much longer point-by-point justification which was prepared by Leath’s media machine at ISU, forwarded to the regents for Rastetter’s personal blessing, then distributed far and wide to explain why it was perfectly okay to strip tens of millions of dollars from the University of Iowa using a rigged system solely designed to accomplish exactly that goal. (More on the performance-based funding scam here and here.) Setting aside Rastetter’s long-stand personal animus toward UI, however, and his equally naked bias in favor of ISU, and even the understandable self-interest of ISU President Leath — particularly given the rapacious rate at which he was stockpiling resident undergrads in order to make out like a bandit when the performance-based funding plan was eventually approved — it’s important to focus on the core of their self-serving performance-based funding argument.
The short version is that there used to be an arbitrary historical 40/40/20 legislative funding split between the three state schools. Over time the legislature got away from that in Iowa’s favor until the splits were 46/36/18, and the performance-based funding model was crafted to correct that deviation based on purportedly objective metrics. In fact, not only were the metrics themselves rigged to shift money to the other two schools and give the board much greater discretionary authority over state appropriations, but the performance-based funding model would have over-corrected the historical splits to UI 37%, ISU 40% and UNI 22%. (Again, you can see why the crony ISU home team of Rastetter-Leath loved the idea.)
Flash forward now to the early stages of the fraudulent 2015 UI presidential search, and to the board’s announcement that Parker Executive Search was being hired for the third straight time, only at the eye-popping price of a flat $200K fee, plus expenses. Here is how then-board Communications Director Sheila Koppin responded to an inquiry about that unprecedented contract (p. 69):
Note specifically Koppin’s caution about comparing the cost of the three PES searches to each other. What Koppin is specifically warning against is the idea that each search should cost the same — which would indeed make the cost of the UI search truly remarkable. Instead, Koppin points out that the differing search costs for the three PES searches reflect relevant differences at the schools, including the school’s size and mission, and so on.
In fact, because the same company (PES) managed each of the previous presidential searches, and those searches encompassed all three of the state schools, and did so under the same fee-plus-expenses structure, the proportional difference in the cost of each search gives us a simple and direct way of seeing how the regents themselves have judged the relative value or importance of each school over the past five years. That in turn exposes the contradiction implicit in the board’s proposed splits under the purportedly objective metrics of the performance-based funding plan.
For the 2015 UI search the Iowa Board of Regents happily paid PES a flat fee of $200K, versus a flat fee of $95K paid for the ISU search in 2011, and a flat fee of $90K paid for the UNI search in 2012. Even allowing for a 7.2% increase in inflation between 2011 and 2016, and any of the other variables cited by Koppin in the quote above, the 2015 $200K flat-fee UI search was almost exactly equal to the cost of the 2011 ISU search and the 2012 UNI search combined. (As of last count, when factoring in expenses, the 2015 UI search had passed $300K. By comparison, in 2011 the $95K ISU search topped out at $135K.)
To make the contradiction in the board’s reasoning even clearer, we can express those PES search fees in percentage terms. When we do that — without adjusting for inflation — we find that the UI search was 52% of the total of all three searches, the ISU search was 25% of the total, and the UNI search was 23% of the total. Even if we do adjust the cost of the ISU and UNI searches to constant 2016 dollars, however, Iowa’s 2015 $200K search still represents 50% of the total for all three searches.
Although the board has contracted with a different firm for the 2016 UNI search, the flat fee for that search was recently reported at $85K, or $5K less than the $90K 2012 UNI search. Adjusted for inflation that disparity actually increases to roughly $10K (reflecting a $95K 2012 UNI search in 2016 dollars), meaning in the board’s own eyes UNI’s relative valuation has actually gone down over the past four years. And of course why wouldn’t it, what with the board closing the Malcolm Price Laboratory School and generally hacking away at UNI whenever possible.
As you can see, when the Board of Regents wanted to strip money from the University of Iowa by any means available, they had no problem manufacturing new metrics and funding splits which either put UI and ISU on the same level, or gave ISU the edge. On the other hand, when the regents wanted to explain why they paid twice as much for the 2015 UI search compared to the prior searches at either of the other two state schools, they made it perfectly clear that UI differs in its “size and mission” and other factors, and on that basis deserved a much more costly search. (Unfortunately, having now identified the board’s search-firm split as a metric, the value of that metric going forward is zero because the board will be incentivized to pay lavish search fees for whichever schools it favors.)
The real irony in all this, at least with regard to UI, is that when adjusted for inflation, the 50% funding split suggested by looking at the cost of the most recent searches at each school is only 4% higher than the 46% funding split currently dictated by the legislature. In that context — which seems to have more to do with objective reality than the disingenuous metrics of the performance-based funding plan — it’s also clear that the one school getting royally screwed is not ISU but UNI. UNI should be getting 23% of total state appropriations, but only receives 18%, while ISU receives a whopping 36% when it should top out at 25%.
So there you go. The next time someone starts whining about how the University of Iowa gets too much state money, you remind them that under the regent’s own search-firm splits, Iowa should be getting at least 50% of total appropriations, but is already making do with 46%. As for ISU and UNI, I honestly don’t know how UNI will ever be treated fairly with Rastetter running the board — greasing not only state appropriations for ISU, but private land deals for ISU President Leath — but hopefully the good people at UNI will fight like hell for their due. And that starts with compelling the corrupt and perpetually incoherent Iowa Board of Regents to hire a real university president for the University of Northern Iowa, instead of a third Rastetter toad.
One week ago, on 08/07/16, the Des Moines Register published an editorial entitled Iowa’s Board of Regents has spent itself into a hole. Here are the opening paragraphs:
That is all true. The Board of Regents can simply bill the state’s institutions of higher learning for any costs it incurs, and do so with relative impunity. In this instance, however, the impetus for the Register’s editorial sprang from the fact that on two separate occasions the regents intentionally worked around state law to provide office staff with pay far in excess of what the legislature intended. In fact, those personnel expenses warranted an earlier Register editorial on 07/21/16, titled Regents’ CEO is grotesquely overpaid, despite law:
As you can see, that’s all pretty damning. The board voted to give its XD/CEO, Bob Donley, twice the pay allowed by law in 2015, and its COO, Mark Braun, a salary higher than the statute-capped pay for the XD/CEO. The board then paid for those elective expenses by first raising tuition on the students at the state’s schools, then diverting some of those scarce funds to cover the board’s additional payroll costs. While obviously a windfall for Donley and Braun personally, the entire progression only confirms the rank and rampant cronyism that is the one true hallmark of the current board.
All of which may be why, on Friday evening — five days after the Register editorial about the regents spending themselves into a hole — Iowa Regent Larry McKibben published an LTE in the Register, refuting the paper’s charge that the board was behaving irresponsibly. Because McKibben is a key part of the crony majority on the board, however, and because the facts are clearly against him, McKibben’s did what the Board of Regents seems to do best, which is lie to the people of Iowa. Specifically, as a seasoned bureaucrat, McKibben followed the well-worn footsteps of his duplicitous peers by perpetrating not lies of commission, but serial lies of omission — meaning electively withholding information in order to deceive.
Here is the opening paragraph of McKibben’s LTE:
One of the things Larry McKibben devoted time and attention to just over a year ago was meeting in secret with then-candidate J. Bruce Harreld, at Regents’ President Bruce Rastetter’s private place of business in Ames. McKibben and another regent met with Harreld regarding his interest in the open presidency at the University of Iowa, in one of two tandem meetings which may also have violated state law. What we know for a fact, however, is that after McKibben and at least three other regents met with Harreld on that day, McKibben and at least four other regents kept those meetings secret not only from the press and the public until well after Harreld’s rigged appointment, but from at least one and perhaps as many as four of the other regents on the board.
McKibben’s next paragraph:
From this we now know that McKibben is a lawyer. Except we already knew that from reporting about the crony Rastetter-Leath land deal, which McKibben vigorously defended in the press while also distancing himself in terms of his own potential legal exposure. We also know that in defending the Rastetter-Leath deal, McKibben did not call for an independent investigation, but instead simply felt comfortable telling the people of Iowa that nothing improper happened based on his minimal understanding and distorted recitation of the facts.
The next graph from McKibben’s LTE:
If Regent McKibben has been consistent about anything during his three years on the board it is in keeping a closed mind, dispensing with if not withholding facts, and consistently rushing to judgments which protect his crony peers and those crony members of the office staff that the regents are intent on enriching. Again, as a regent and attorney, Larry McKibben intentionally withheld critical information from other regents on the board in order to abet the fraudulent appoint of J. Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa. From crony jobs for political operatives to crony no-bid contracts for political operatives to crony business transactions between the board president and the president of Iowa State University, Regent McKibben has never sought the truth.
As already noted, the Des Moines Register had its facts straight, both in its reporting and in its editorials. The regents gave permission to the state’s universities to raise tuition on the students — in significantly greater amounts than necessary to make up for a negligible $1.7M legislative funding shortfall — then turned around and used a chunk of that money to pay for its own excesses. So what does McKibben specifically have to say in defense of the board’s actions? Nothing.
As far as it goes McKibben’s statements here are accurate, but who exactly is “the state legislature”? Well, as it turns out, one of those hatchet-wielding legislators was Larry McKibben himself, who was a member of the state senate from 1997-2008, including serving as president pro tem and chairing the powerful Ways & Means Committee. So when McKibben talks about a “pass-the-buck mentality”, he’s actually talking about himself.
(As to how McKibben became a regent, in 2012 he came out of political retirement to challenge an incumbent state senator in a newly reconfigured district. Unfortunately, McKibben didn’t even make it out of his own primary, losing to the candidate who then lost to the incumbent. True to Governor Branstad’s determination to leave no crony behind, however, one year later McKibben was appointed to the board.)
Again, the near-doubling of in-state undergraduate tuition which McKibben refers to was the result of massive cuts in state support, and the 2001-2010 time frame almost perfectly coincides with McKibben’s time in the senate. As for the tuition freeze imposed by the board, that was done not for the benefit of the students, but in anticipation of the passage of a performance-based funding model that would have shifted tens of millions of dollars from the University of Iowa to the state’s other two schools. When that funding plan was axed by state legislators who saw the scam for what it was, only a year later the Iowa Board of Regents went back to raising tuition more than necessary, in part to pay the exorbitant salaries of its own staff.
Here we have McKibben’s overarching lie. After being part of the problem for more than a decade, slashing at funding that was critical for the state’s schools and the board office, McKibben is now turning around and pleading poverty on behalf of the board, while simultaneously ignoring the windfall he and his crony peers gave XD/CEO Donley, or the end-run salary awarded to COO Braun. As for “mandated services” being the cause of the board’s increased costs, the current board wastes taxpayer funds constantly, and does so almost always in service of crony agendas that are not in the best interest of the state. For example, the Iowa Board of Regents routinely compels the Iowa Attorney General’s office to defend it against its own abuses of power and violations of state code, the board ran the sham Harreld search at a cost of over $300K, the board elected to give the completely unqualified and illegitimate Harreld one of the top-fifteen compensation packages in the country on an initial unprecedented five-year deal, and the board paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for development of a ‘common application portal‘ that was never promoted. And as for maintaining “proper oversight”, it should be clear by now that the last thing McKibben has ever advocated for or demonstrated is proper oversight.
One of the many things McKibben leaves out here is that the Iowa Board of Regents has minimized staffing not to control costs, as is clearly evidenced by the exorbitant end-run salaries of both Donely and COO Mark Braun, but to concentrate power, particularly in the office of president. That focusing of power in very few hands — meaning also very few checks and balances — is part of the board’s plan to take administrative autonomy away from the state’s three schools, and transfer it to the political appointees who control the board. While being sold as “efficiency”, this usurpation of power is in fact a coup, and is being aided by those “dedicated and hardworking professionals” who willingly accept payment in excess of state law.
As noted by McKibben, the administrative mechanism of the board’s insurgency is its tireless (and tirelessly selective) emphasis on efficiency in operations. What McKibben leaves out, for reasons that will soon be made apparent, is that he himself was the main driver of many of the purported efficiency initiatives at the board, including the spending of more than $5M on TIER consultants. In early 2014, less than a year after being appointed to the board, McKibben and Rastter began setting the table for the consolidation of power they would engineer over the next two years, including the fraudulent hire of the utterly unqualified J. Bruce Harreld. Three months later, the regents — including TIER Committee Chairman McKibben — announced a projected TIER savings between $30M and $80M. Several months later, Mark Braun — future recipient of a salary end-run around state law — was named as the board’s Transformation Project Manger for TIER. In early 2015, McKibben took on implementation oversight of the administrative recommendations provided by the board’s paid consultants. Then, in the summer of 2015, Mark Braun drastically reduced the prior estimates of TIER savings, while simultaneously pushing the implementation timeline out to infinity to avoid having to explain the drastic shortfall.
In all this we see McKibben’s lie within the lie. Despite being intimately involved in the TIER process, McKibben studiously avoids engaging the entire point not only of the Register’s most recent editorial about board costs, but the earlier editorial and reporting about the board intentionally evading state law in order to enrich its own staff. Nowhere — nowhere — does McKibben answer that charge, or even obliquely refer to it. Instead, he positions the board as a victim of policies which he himself implemented in the state senate, while intentionally omitting any mention of his own central role in the board’s TIER process.
And this is why:
This is McKibben’s lie within the lie within the lie. The “independent study” that McKibben references is actually the final report prepared by Deloitte, the main consultant McKibben and the board paid millions to during the first phase of the TIER process. As noted in a recent post, the Deloitte findings with regard to the board are comical, consistently validating the board’s determination to expand and consolidate power by taking authority and resources from the state schools. In no sense can Deloitte’s findings be considered “independent”, yet Larry McKibben — the chairman of the board’s TIER committee — goes out of his way to omit that connection, and even to avoid identifying the source of his quotes.
So what does any of that have to do with the board’s serial determination to enrich members of its own staff by evading state law? Nothing. In fact, as noted earlier it works against the premise of those huge payments to Donley and Braun, who are — somehow — both being handsomely paid for overseeing the board’s tiny office.
Here McKibben again omits any mention of a laundry list of elective regent expenditures which belie his efficiency mantra, including the issues raised by the Register editorial to which McKibben was purportedly responding. Instead of relevant information about why Donley and Braun are making out like bandits in defiance of state law, or even a feeble justification for those expenditures, McKibben offers propaganda, deception and evasion.
What all Iowans deserve is a Board of Regents free from corruption and deception. Unfortunately, the board’s premeditated determination to avoid state law in compensating its own employees — at the direct expense of the students and the universities the board presides over — makes clear that the current regents do not feel likewise. In rising to the board’s defense, then, and in omitting critical information necessary for the Register’s readers to make their own informed judgment about that issue, Larry McKibben proves only that he is the one with the less-than-hidden agenda.
McKibben is a very good sophist isn’t he? I do believe his reasoning could be called circular — ‘we are responding to an independent consultant (which we hired) who commended us on our austerity while charging us an exorbitant rate for their recommendations on austerity’. It isn’t even circular but more like the programming ‘recursive’ but I am not sure that is correct either.
Destroy the village to save it?
McKibben is part of the crony gang which you nailed. Branstad as Don or Boss and Rastetter is the Consigliare (although you could say McKibben is the Sig which moves Rastetter to Underboss). Members of the gang (GOP operatives with connections to the legislative and executive groups in Des Moines) include Braun, Matthes, Olson, Kutenbach, Paulson and others.
Another branch of the family infiltrated Iowa Medicaid privatization.
Leath heads up the Academic Family which includes Capos Harreld and TBN at UNI.
Of course the gangs intermix when top consul to the Dons – McKibben — recommended that land and money laundering deal Leath could not refuse.
This gang pulls the same old con games — no show jobs, sweetheart deals, construction fraud, shy-locking (student loans) and protection schemes.
And look how angry underboss Rastetter gets when you get in his way. Figurative bodies in the trunsk or in confinement shoes….
On several occasions over the past six months or so, in among the steady stream of reports about corruption at the Iowa Board of Regents, a story popped up about two long-time teachers who were suing the board for reinstatement, after having been fired mid-year from the Iowa School for the Deaf (ISD). As a general rule, personnel disputes are a nightmare to judge in the same way that it is difficult to know what really happened when a marriage falls apart. There are indeed two sides to every story, and in workplace disputes there are often limitations — for good reason — about who can and cannot comment on matters of discipline or litigation.
On this past Wednesday (08/10/16), however, that particular story took a decidedly objective turn when the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller reported that a state-appointed adjudicator from the neutral Public Employment Relations Board had sided overwhelmingly with one of the terminated teachers:
Now, as anyone knows who has been following events at the board over the past year — since President Bruce Rastetter and a small cabal of co-conspirators rigged the 2015 University of Iowa presidential search in order to fraudulently appoint J. Bruce Harreld — this ruling is perfectly in keeping with how the board does business under Rastetter’s rule. If you’re loyal, you get fat checks and promotions paid for by the taxpayers of Iowa. If you’re disloyal, or simply in the way, you get discarded, and if you fight back you get punished for your insolence.
After noting that the board would meet the next day (Thursday, 08/11/16) to discuss the ruling, Miller provided more quotes detailing the adjudicator’s findings:
Again, anyone who has paid even passing attention to the Iowa Board of Regents over the past year will note that this is perfectly in keeping with how Rastetter does business. Setting punitive time limits, constraining appeals and feedback, dictating terms in a highly biased manner — those are all hallmarks of Rastetter’s leadership style, and have, over the five years since his appointment, permeated through the board and its crony staff. If you are a friend, you get a pat on the back or a $1.15M loan to buy property you couldn’t otherwise afford, as ISU President Steven Leath found out recently. If you are not properly subservient you will find yourself without a contract offer or an official explanation as to why you’ve been left hanging, as recently resigned UNI President Bill Ruud also found out recently.
Miller also reported that in communicating the board’s meeting on Thursday to Murdoch’s attorney, board attorney Aimee Claeys stated that a decision had already been made:
Again, if you’ve been following the board over the past year you know that this is perfectly in keeping with Rastetter’s modus operandi. Despite even momentous events, there is almost never any substantive discussion of the board’s decisions, yet votes are routinely taken which indicate that issues must have been discussed. As a result the board is less like the deliberative governmental body it was intended to be, and more like a corporate office, disclosing only the bare minimum of information as required by law.
To be clear, all governing bodies need work sessions or other opportunities to discuss issues and debate the impact of decisions. At Rastetter’s Board of Regents, however, the tendency in every aspect is to minimize transparency, accountability and public involvement. From the Orwellian ‘public hearings’ which no regent attends, which require individuals to speak into a camera in order to tape a message that regents are not obligated to view, to the board’s consistent disinterest is questioning the conduct of its own members — including particularly its leaders — to the consideration of a recent plan to reduce the number of meetings overall, the board has shown one clear tendency, and that is to act as if it, and the individuals on the board and in the board’s office, have no obligation to the people of Iowa. (The board eventually backtracked on its plan for fewer meetings, and instead accomplished the same goal by proposing more but shorter meetings.)
Even the number of board emails released to the public has plummeted since a rule was instituted to provide more transparency regarding board deliberations, because members of the board subsequently shifted their means of communication in order to avoid such compulsory disclosures. In fact, as also reported by the Gazette’s Miller, “last year the board posted just 12 emails that went to a majority of board members, eight of which were meeting notices.” Clearly the board must discuss issues that it rules on, and just as clearly the board under Bruce Rastetter does not want those deliberations made public.
The Case Against Murdoch and Tighe
Again, personnel issues are tricky because even when they are openly contested that may result in an asymmetric release of information. The earliest report of the punitive administrative actions taken against Murdoch comes from a story by Mike McKnight, of WOWTV, in early 2016:
Given that Murdoch and Tighe were suspended in the middle of the year, and that the suspensions caused elementary students to be relocated to the high school, the ISD must have uncovered particularly egregious and alarming conduct on the part of the teachers. And yet in Miller’s story on 08/13/16, the state adjudicator makes clear that’s not the case:
Despite the fusillade of charges leveled by the ISD, which were used to justify suspensions in the middle of the academic mid-year, the adjudicator’s finding proves that Murdoch at least did nothing to warrant such drastic action, let alone the tarnishing of her reputation that will inevitably follow. So what could possibly explain the actions by the ISD?
One clue comes in the timing of the letters. Only a couple of months into the 2015-2016 academic year, both teachers received letters announcing that they were suspended pending termination. While the Board of Regents’ fiscal year begins on 07/01, it’s possible that taking the teachers off the employment rolls before the end of 2015 produced some economic savings for the school. While that would obviously have nothing to do with the teachers’ performance — meaning the ISD, and by extension the regents, were lying about the teachers’ conduct simply to save a few bucks — cutting payroll costs to save money has been a time-honored tradition not only down through human history, but particularly in terms of recent history at the Iowa School for the Deaf.
1990: Murdoch hired.
2000: Tighe hired.
2003: Rebecca Gaw hired as ISD High School Principal.
2008: ISD Superintendent Prickett proposes firing two ISD faculty pursuant to Faculty Reduction in Force Policy and Procedures.
2008: From ISD Superintendent Prickett:
2009: ISD Superintendent Prickett proposes firing three ISD faculty pursuant to Faculty Reduction in Force Policy and Procedures.
2011: ISD Superintendent Prickett proposes firing five ISD faculty pursuant to Faculty Reduction in Force Policy and Procedures.
2011: Gaw hired as director of the Scranton [PA] School for Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Children.
2012: ISD Superintendent Clancy proposes <a href="http://www.regents.iowa.gov/Meetings/DocketMemos/11Memos/April2011/0411_ITEM05.pdf“>firing two ISD faculty pursuant to Faculty Reduction in Force Policy and Procedures.
2014: During the April 23-24 Iowa Board of Regents meeting, Gaw is rehired as principal at ISD Effective July 1st. [Gaw’s previous position at ISD was principal of the high school, which, by 2014, no longer seems to exist as a separate job title. Prior to her appointment, Gaw was already serving as the Sign Language Communication Program Coordinator at the Iowa School for the Deaf. It is not clear when Gaw returned to ISD from her job in Scranton, PA, or why she left that job after less than three years.]
2014: During the April 23-24 board meeting, Steve Gettel is hired as the new Superintendent of both the ISD and the Iowa School for the Blind, effective August 1st, 2014.
2014: As reported by Jeff-Charis Carlson in the Des Moines Register on 08/11/16, during the 2014-2015 school year Murdoch is assigned to teach pre-school, “which at that time she had not taught for eight years.”
2015: In mid-March of the 2014-2015 academic year, Gaw sends a memo to Gettel recommending that “Murdoch’s contract not be renewed for the 2015-16 school year.”
2015: “Murdoch’s contract was renewed, however, and she was assigned to teach fifth grade in 2015-16, for the first time in her career.” [As per Miller’s reporting, the contracts Murdoch and Tighe signed in 2015 were for less than the year before.]
2015: In November of the 2015-2016 academic year, ISD Principal Rebecca Gaw suspends Murdoch and Tighe, pending termination.
So for twenty-four years Tina Murdoch is a perfectly acceptable teacher at ISD, until 2014, when recently returned administrator Gaw determines that Murdoch should not be offered a contract for the upcoming year. Between 2008 and 2012, however — during which time Murdoch is a perfectly acceptable teacher — the ISD superintendents fire a minimum of twelve teachers for budgetary reasons alone. (It is possible that there were more faculty terminations at ISD than those listed on the board site, which may have been accomplished in a manner that did not require disclosure.) After Gaw is overruled — apparently by Gettel — and Murdoch is rehired for the 2015-2016 academic year, less than three months months into the year Gaw notifies both Murdoch and Tighe that they have been suspended not for economic reasons, but for cause.
Had there been some sudden, documented problem with Murdoch’s teaching, Gaw’s actions might make sense. Given that the ISD had been steadily dispensing with staff for years, however, and for purely economic reasons, it’s hard not to suspect that was Gaw’s motive as well. And that’s particularly true given that Gaw didn’t simply suspend Murdoch, but Tighe too — meaning either two teachers went dangerously off the rails at exactly the same time, or Gaw simply decided to get rid of two veteran teachers in order to balance her books.
(One question I was unable to answer from all of the reporting on this story — and the reporting was substantial, particularly after the board meeting on Thursday — is whether Murdock and Tighe were the longest-tenured and/or highest-paid teachers on staff at the time. Again, Murdoch had 25 years in, and Tighe 15, when suddenly they were both painted as health hazard to the students at ISD — a claim the state adjudicator took particular pains to reject in concluding Murdoch’s case.)
Of particular note is the fact that the actions taken by ISD after Tighe’s suspension do not fit the assertion that Murdoch and Tighe were removed because of concerns about their performance. Specifically, if Tighe had to be suspended to protect the kids — and not for economic reasons — why wasn’t someone hired to finish the school year in Tighe’s classroom? Instead, not only was Tighe let go, but her class was moved to the high school, where the elementary kids had to spend time with those much older students.
From McKnight’s WOWTV report:
Take a moment and imagine your own seven-year-old child suddenly being dislocated from their classroom in mid-year — let alone a deaf child — and finding themselves in a high school setting, including spending time with high school kids during a “well supervised 45 minute period”. Now consider that although the actions taken against Murdoch and Tighe were deemed to be in the best interests of the students, we have clear evidence that the students were negatively affected by the ISD’s decision. If performance really was the problem — as opposed to an administrative determination to slash costs by any means available — then ISD should have demonstrated its concern for the students by hiring a teacher to replace Tighe in Tighe’s classroom, but that clearly did not happen.
The Meeting Will Come to Order for Three Minutes
As the Gazette’s Miller reported, on Wednesday the board posted a Meeting Notice for the next day, along with the Agenda for the meeting:
As yet another way to subvert transparency, Rastetter’s Board of Regents often reverts to closed session. In fact, almost the entirety of the sham committee process that was used to fraudulently appoint J. Bruce Harreld at Iowa was conduced under a blanket confidentiality policy, which the board then continued in force regarding Harreld, even after he was hired. Still, in an otherwise just bureaucracy there are valid reasons for discussing personnel issues in closed session, and probably particularly so in a situation where the governing body has just taken a ruling on the chin.
The audio from the Thursday meeting can be heard here, and I encourage you to listen to it if only to corroborate the observations and comments that follow. (The entire audio file is only 3:47 long, the last twenty seconds of the file are dead air, and the substantive portion of the meeting ends at the 3:00 mark.)
For context, three important reminders. First, the adjudicator’s ruling was on August 2nd, meaning the board had time to consider the implications of the ruling both at the office and board level, however informally. Second, the board’s attorney, Aimee Claeys, did indeed give Murdoch’s attorney advance notice that the board would vote to reject the adjudicator’s findings, even though Claey’s statement was subsequently walked back. Third, the board meeting and vote was compulsory under state law and the policies of the board, otherwise it would not have taken place.
The audio starts with President Rastetter calling the meeting to order, then calling the roll. Eight of the nine board members are present, with Regent Johnson absent. At the 0:42 mark Rastetter declares that there is a quorum and that the meeting can proceed. At the 0:45 mark Rastetter states the following:
At the 0:55 mark Rastetter asks if there is a need to enter into closed session. Dead air follows until the 1:05 mark, when Regent Sahai begins speaking: “I have looked at the, uh….” Rastetter interrupts Sahai at the 1:07 mark and Sahai stops talking. Dead air follows until the 1:16 mark, when Rastetter again asks if anyone has an interest in entering closed session. Dead air follows from 1:20 to 1:26.
With no one calling for closed session, Rastetter moves on to item #3, the “teacher termination matter”, and calls for a motion and second to reject the adjudicator’s findings. At the 1:49 mark two regents, speaking over each other, both move and second the motion, which Rastetter sorts out and accepts by the 2:04 mark. At that point Rastetter calls for “any discussion”, but by 2:20 mark there is no call for discussion, so Rastetter initiates a role-call vote. All eight regents vote yes, and at the 2:50 mark Rastetter declares that the motion is approved.
Rastetter then asks if there is any more business to come before the board. A few seconds later, just as Rastetter is about to conclude the meeting, one of the regents pipes up and reminds everyone that “the Iowa State Fair is on, so get yourselves down here; it’s going to be fabulous.” Laughter follows. At the 3:18 mark Rastetter adjourns the meeting.
What can we conclude from that solid three minutes of board officiation? Well, on the substance of the matter three points seem obvious. First, however much Aimee Claeys may have wanted to revise her email to Murdoch’s attorney after the fact, the board did indeed do what Claeys said they would do and vote to reject the adjudicator’s findings. Second, it’s clear from the complete lack of any discussion during the three-minute board meeting that a determination must have been reached earlier, particularly given that all eight regents approved the motion without any on-the-record or closed-session conversation. (That in turn puts the lie to the assertion by Claeys and Lehman — and even by Rastetter in his statement of the purpose of the meeting — that the word “consider” had any relevance. In no sense did the board “consider” anything except whether to accept or reject the adjudicator’s findings, and given that no discussion was undertaken, it can only be assumed that all of the consideration in the matter took place beforehand.) Third, in approving the motion to deny, the board offered no rationale for its unanimous decision, or any other insight into why individual regents believed that decision was appropriate or important.
The Incredibility of Rastetter’s Board of Regents
To reiterate, personnel matters are tricky. In this specific instance, however, the board was responding to a ruling which was so overwhelmingly in favor of Tina Murdoch that there are only two possible explanations for the board’s unanimous vote to reject the adjudicator’s finding. Either there is some bombshell information that only the board is aware of, or the board’s response does not spring from the facts of the case.
At this point there is almost no possibility that the board knows something substantive about Murdoch that the adjudicator does not know, particularly given that it was the board who limited Murdoch’s testimony, not the adjudicator. Even if the board is relying on information from Gaw that was not presented to the adjudicator, that in itself would seem to be problematic. And yet clearly the board was insistent — for reasons that no regent made clear — on going to war with Murdoch. Why?
As noted in the timeline above, the ISD was shedding faculty at a prodigious rate until just a few years before Murdoch and Tighe were suspended in the middle of the academic year. During all of those years no one claimed that Murdoch and Tighe were failing in their duties, and indeed in Murdoch’s case the evidence seems clear that she was doing a good job. If the ISD wanted to get rid of Murdoch and Tighe for financial reasons I don’t know why they were not terminated in the same way the previous twelve teachers were fired. Maybe something changed in the past couple of years so that wasn’t an option, but that only makes Murdoch’s hire in 2015 — after Gaw recommended she not be rehired — all the more confusing. The opportunity to not hire Murdoch was there, Murdoch was hired anyway, then Gaw suspended Murdoch and Tighe only a few months later, impugning their integrity as teachers in order to do so.
It’s one thing to get rid of someone because you’re cheap, but okay. It’s quite another to paint someone as incompetent and question their capabilities and qualifications, particularly in caring for and education deaf children. And yet even after a neutral arbitrator ruled that Murdoch was treated unfairly by both ISD and the regents, the board unanimously voted to double-down, leading to a perfunctory three-minute meeting compelling the Iowa Attorney General to take the case.
Again, why? What was the thought process, or was there any? Even if this is simply about money, litigation is not cheap. Did any of the bright administrative lights at the board office — including the XD/CEO and COO, who are both beneficiaries of lavish salaries which the board intentionally structured so as to avoid state law — do a cost-benefit analysis regarding a protracted legal battle? Or is the board simply hoping it can crush Murdoch with legal challenges, even though it clearly seems to be in the wrong?
The nightmare scenario, of course, is that this was not a reasoned decision, but instead represents a “petty vendetta” on Rastetter’s part. While that possibility would seem to be at odds with the eight unanimous votes, it’s possible that some or perhaps even all of the other regents did not actually think about the matter, and instead simply took their marching orders from the board’s leadership, including Rastetter. What remains unarguably true is that the board did vote to go to war with Murdoch, at considerable expense to the state, despite having already lost with the adjudicator. Because we’ve been given no rationale for that decision by anyone on or at the board, we’re left to consider that decision on the merits, and in the larger context of the board’s actions over the past few years.
In doing so it seems self-evident that the most likely reason for the board’s decision is that it is led by a president who rules primarily through interpersonal dynamics, as opposed to any understanding of genuine governance. Start with the register’s profile of Rastetter last year, move to Politico’s profile written at almost the same exact time, then dig into the web for more quotes, and you’ll find the same thing over and over. As long as you’re loyal to Bruce Rastetter, he’ll be loyal to you. Unfortunately, while wildly successful at building allegiances, that particular trait is not only inherently antithetical to fairness — which most people would agree is central to the board’s mission — but also breeds institutional toxicity as crony connections replace objective qualifications and performance expectations.
In that light it is not surprising that crony corruption has become the one true hallmark of Rastetter’s board, which is in turn a result of the governor’s determination to corrupt that governing body through crony appointments. Even when human beings aspire to fairness and justice there is an innate tendency for people to form associations and alliances, which then impacts decision making. That is in turn why it is particularly critical that governing bodies remain immune to such forces, so disputes which percolate up from the front lines can be dealt with fairly and efficiently.
Unfortunately, in the Murdoch case it seems clear that the board has decided to play favorites by siding with an administrator. It may be that the board is worried about some sort of precedent, but having already suffered a defeat with the adjudicator that excuse doesn’t make a lot of sense. Instead of taking the hint and cutting its losses, the board unanimously voted to spend scare state resources fighting a battle it already lost. Then again, when you can recover your own costs simply by taking more money from the students you purportedly represent, what disincentive is there to pursuing a “petty vendetta”? In fact, if you don’t like the answer you get from a neutral government body, why wouldn’t you throw the full legal might of the state at the problem if you have that option available?
If the board is playing favorites in siding with Gaw against Murdoch, that also opens up the possibility that it was the board itself which gave Gaw the authority to suspend both Murdoch and Tighe in mid-year. In fact, after Gettel apparently overruled Gaw about rehiring Murdoch, the only two possibilities would seem to be either Gettel having a change of heart after several months and allowing Gaw to suspend the two teachers, or Gaw going over Gettel’s head to the board.
In the end, however, the most relevant context for the Murdoch case is the fact that Regents’ President Bruce Rastetter engineered, implemented and oversaw a sham presidential search at a cost of $300K to state taxpayers, which ultimately resulted in the fraudulent appointment of J. Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa. In the aftermath of that administrative abuse of power, not only did the regents not investigate Rastetter, but over the past year the regents have not called for the Iowa Attorney General to investigate any of Rastetter’s crony activities, including the highly suspect if not illegal land deal between Rastetter and ISU President Steven Leath. Yet the board had no problem siccing the AG on a teacher who spent twenty-five years working with deaf students.
Anyone willing to go to the lengths that Rastetter went to in order to hire Harreld, which required a full-on betrayal of the people of the state and the very premise of service on the Board of Regents, would have to be viewed as capable of doing the same thing at any other juncture. That in turn means the most likely explanation for why the board decided to sic the Iowa AG on Tina Murdoch, over what is a relatively trivial matter in the board’s sphere, is probably the worst possible explanation that can be imagined. That Rastetter was able to round up seven votes in advance of the meeting, in support of his own vote, tells us that either the entire board is equally corrupt, or that Rastetter has turned the board into nothing more than a rubber stamp.
The ability of the Iowa Board of Regents to use the Iowa Attorney General’s office to target individuals for retribution, while itself remaining immune to investigation from the AG’s office for its own flagrant and repeated violations of policy if not also state law, stands as testament to the complete perversion of justice which has taken place at the highest levels of state government. Tina Murdoch gave twenty-five years of her life to teaching deaf students in service of the state, and her reward for that dedication was not only to be jerked around by the administrators at the ISD, but to have the corrupt crony Board of Regents unanimously reject the findings of a neutral adjudicators and side with those administrators. That the board ended its three-minute vote to persecute Murdoch with giggly frivolity about the Iowa State Fair, to which Bruce Rastetter gave $1M to have a building named after him, was simply another reminder the board sees no human beings under its purview — just pawns to be pushed around.
The ISD situation is indeed bizarre. Hard to explain.
The indisputable issue is administrative bloat and administrative exorbitance.
Rebecca Gaw, who lasted about 1-2 years at her Penn job. came back to some administrative position (sounds like a place to warehouse her) coordinator of squat at 55,000 a year. When the old ISD prinicpal retired, Gaw was shuffled into that position at 95,000. She now makes 111,000.
So apparently at least a 10-15% raise for causing this big stink. And 110,000 as principal of aa school with 110 students. That’s right about 1000.00 per student to spit all over her teachers. http://www.iowaschoolforthedeaf.org/just-for-parents/qa-faqs/
So theoretically a school with 1000 students would pay a principal a million.
The ISD Superintendent too blew up his salary from 160,000 to 200,000! A 20% increase in one year. 200,000 for 110 students. damn! (although ISD sports more programs than just on-site school, but so do other Iowa schools) That’s nice scratch for herding 110 students and a handful of teachers.
Someone here has incredible political clout. Gaw (who obviously wants to dominate everything ISD — google it) was unhappy in PA running back to Iowa in about a year. (The reason there is no principal for 2 years is that ISD was ‘searching’ for a person; when Gaw came back the placeholder (Slater) retired)
One explanation for dumping 2 teachers is that ISD has to come up with salary money of at east 50,000 (Gaw plus Gettel’s raises)….or firing one full time teacher.
Obviously that coup was to fire Murdoch in spring 2015. That (apparently) Gaw move didn’t work. The new superintendent was either too timid, or perhaps not yet corrupted. So Gaw got her wish mid 2016 school season, with some trumped up BS.
My fantasy is that Tighe, a respected co-worker of Murdoch saw this for was it was and raised a stink, standing against corruption. I suspect (without data) she took on Gaw and Mettel, perhaps even went up to the Regents. Thus she sealed her fate, and was thrown in the meat wagon to the executioner too.
It also looks like Gaw and Rastetter had long been allies. Taking on administration of the BOR means execution — with prejudice. Therefore these two teachers were unjustifiably ‘fired’ their reputations smeared, and the newspaper headlines trumpeted their ‘firing’. (someone’s PR machine went into overdrive at this point with PR releases to smear them). The teachers hired an attorney who represented them and you know the rest.
Why did Rastetter react this way?
– He gets really pissed at subordinates who oppose him
– He knows the entire episode is trumped up, and unjustified; therefore it must be covered-up and hidden so data is not discovered for court — go into executive session
– You also see how Rastetter controls dissension on the BOR: crushes it. You oppose Oberfuhrer Rastetter and you are executed.
Certainly Tighe and Murdoch’s attorney will bring defamation suits against Gaw, ISD, Rastetter, and the BOR; any smearing of their reputations (google them, they are outstanding) is a tortious defamation. So the BOR has to keep this quiet.
So I am thinking this is a financial let-go of teachers, and likely retaliation for subordination. Or the final episode of long-standing feuds. To prevent future defamation suits, the BOR has to crush the teachers, and thus bring in the Iowa AG. Not only does that leave legal tracks it starts exhausting their resources for lawyers….how long can 50,000 a year teachers hire an attorney?
My impression of the Murdoch case is that the regents are fighting the adjudicator’s finding not on the basis of the facts of the case, but on the premise that they even have to pay attention to the facts of the case.
They simply want statutory authority to do whatever the hell they want whenever they want to do it, and they’re going to piss away more state funds pursuing that right when they should settle.
On Monday three Iowa state senators, each of whom chairs a committee or subcommittee with oversight of the Iowa Board of Regents, sent a letter to the board asking for information and reassurances about the upcoming UNI presidential search. Here is the full text of that letter:
The assessment of the state senators regarding the 2015 regents’ search, which culminated in the appointment of J. Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa, is clear. That search “did not adhere to the high standards Iowans expect….” In support of that assertion, the senators specifically mentioned the AAUP’s involvement, which included an investigation and eventual sanction of UI:
Three critical terms appear in the senators’ letter: “fair”, “transparent” and “shared governance”. None of those terms applied to the fraudulent UI search engineered, implemented and overseen by Regents’ President Bruce Rastetter, and abetted by multiple co-conspirators including other members of the board. While the letter from the state legislators takes it as a given — as proven – that the UI search was a betrayal of fairness, transparency and shared governance, there has been no such acknowledgement from either the Iowa Board of Regents or the traitors at the University of Iowa who abetted the board in that fraud.
Here is the entirety of every single statement from Bruce Rastetter regarding the AAUP sanction:
Here is the entirety of every single statement from J. Bruce Harreld — who himself abetted his own fraudulent hire — regarding the AAUP sanction:
Here is entirety of every single statement from UI administrator Jean Robillard — who was both the chair of the 2015 search committee and interim university president when Harreld was appointed — regarding the AAUP sanction:
Despite being a key player in the betrayal of the students, faculty and staff at UI, not only has Robillard never suffered any consequence for his abuses of power, he has never commented on the AAUP’s sanction. In fact, other than Harreld’s quote, the entire response from the University of Iowa came from the current and former Faculty Senate Presidents, who dutifully stepped up and denied any involvement on the part of the university.
Despite the AAUP’s findings and sanction, and despite the assumption of failure if not wrongdoing in the senators’ letter, there has been no acknowledgement or admission of improper conduct by any of the people who stole the UI presidential election in 2015. Not one single individual has suffered any negative consequence as a result of their deceit, nor has any individual admitted that a fraudulent search took place. Instead, while the entire world knows that an abuse if not crime was perpetrated by the board, the Iowa Board of Regents and its co-conspirators insist to this day that the search was fair and transparent, and that the board honored its obligations to shared governance.
The Regents Respond
Instead of the regents’ reply coming from board President Rastetter, the response was sent by President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland. On first reading the general tone of Mulholland’s rhetoric seemed positive, if not conciliatory:
Note, however, that in explaining how the UNI search will proceed, Mulholland entirely omits the 2015 UI search from the board’s history. Instead of promising fairness, transparency and shared governance “very similar to” the last presidential search — meaning the 2015 UI search — Mulholland specifically cites “the last UNI presidential search process”. In Mulholland’s world the UI search simply never happened, and thus does not need to be accounted for.
Equally promising was Mulholland’s announcement in her response to the senators that one of the co-chairs of the search committee would be a member of the AAUP, who was also a critic of the 2015 UI search:
Unfortunately, belying the optimism of Mulholland’s letter — if not also betraying the nefarious intent of the board — was the revelation that Power’s co-chair would be none other than Mulholland herself. In practical terms Mulholland’s appointment negates Powers’ authority on the committee because she functions as a perpetual standing veto. Relative to the senators, however, who wrote the board insisting on fairness, transparency and an upholding of shared governance during the 2016 UNI search, Mulholland’s appointment can only be seen as a provocation because she proved last year that she either has no conception of what those words mean, or that she could care less what they mean.
Mulholland and the 2015 UI Search
As constituted by the Board of Regents itself, the 2015 UI Presidential Search and Screen Committee included three regents: Rastetter, Dakovitch and Mulholland. None of the regents chaired that committee, however, because it was apparently known well in advance that UI administrator Jean Robillard would happily sell out the school at every possible turn. Still, during the search all three regents on the committee did play an important part in fixing the search in Harreld’s favor, yet none of those regents has ever acknowledged any wrongdoing in that regard.
Specifically, on July 30th, 2015, Mulholland, Dakovich and two other regents who were not on the search committee, met in secret — in two meetings of two — with J. Bruce Harreld at Rastetter’s private place of business in Ames. While those meetings subsequently spawned a lawsuit alleging a violation of the state’s Open Meeting laws, even the facts that are currently known about those meetings betray the willingness of Mulholland and the other regents to subvert the search process in two distinct ways. Not only did none of the regents insist that all of the other candidates be afforded the same opportunities to meet with members of the board — meaning the meetings were unfair — but all five of the regents who factored into those meetings kept those meetings secret from at least one other regent until well after Harreld’s fraudulent appointment, meaning there was no transparency even at board level.
With that in mind, here is how Regent Mulholland reacted when the secret regent meetings were finally reported in the press:
Having gone to the personal trouble of driving hundreds of miles to participate in a secret meeting with Harreld, and having kept that meeting secret from the pubic, press and even fellow regents, when Mulholland’s betrayal was finally exposed she simply denied that her actions were of any relevance to Harreld’s sham appointment. As to any commitment on her part to shared governance, after the regents betrayed the faculty, staff and students at UI by appointing Harreld over the overwhelming objections of the UI community — thereby triggering the AAUP’s investigation and eventual sanction — Mulholland had this to say:
Whether Mulholland was incompetently oblivious or willfully hostile to the meaning of shared governance, she again denied complicity to any wrongdoing even as that wrongdoing was baldly apparent. Less than a week later, the AAUP pointed out that she was indeed wrong in her assertion:
When the AAUP investigators arrived on campus to investigate Harreld’s fraudulent hire, Mulholland not only stonewalled, she took the point in blocking the AAUP investigators from speaking to any of the co-conspirators:
Even when the AAUP sanction was finally ratified, Mulholland joined Rastetter, Harreld and Robillard in having nothing to say about what was an unprecedented punishment for a university of Iowa’s standing:
By her own conduct, Regent Mulholland either knows nothing about or cares nothing about fairness, transparency or shared governance. She is, instead, an abuser, and it is a measure of the regents’ undiminished arrogance and malevolence that they have appointed her as co-chair of the 2016 UNI search. Indeed, as promised by Mulholland herself, the Iowa Board of Regents is speaking with its actions, and what it is saying is that despite the abuses the board perpetrated only a year ago, it can still do whatever it wants, whenever it wants.
Enabling An Abuser
The appointment of Katie Mulholland as co-chair of the UNI search means the board has no intention of ceding power that it is not forcibly compelled to relinquish. Again, there has never been a single word or act on the part of the board which acknowledges responsibility for the abuses which led to the AAUP’s explicit sanction of the University of Iowa, and its implicit sanctioning of the regents. Even now, Regent Mulholland simply elides over the UI search as if never took place. Again, from Mulholland’s response, yesterday, to the letter from the three state senators:
In the context of the 2015 UI search that statement from Mulholland is vile mockery. It is an appropriation — a taking — of authority from the AAUP, which is yet another organization she willfully betrayed and worked to impede only a year ago. Now here she is, after effectively granting herself authority to speak on behalf of UNI, simultaneously ignoring her complicity in an undisputed violation of the AAUP’s guidelines while touting those same guidelines as testament of her administrative integrity.
Reading Mulholland’s quote above you would not know that between the UNI search in 2012 and the UNI search in 2016, the regents also conducted a presidential search at UI which culminated in a premeditated and remorseless betrayal of shared governance on that campus. Speaking of which, here is how the 2015 UI search was sold in its earliest stages, from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 01/25/15:
As we now know, what Bruce Rastetter said about the UI search a year and a half ago was such a monstrous lie that he should have been — and still should be — thrown out of the Board of Regents for his own flagrant violations of the board’s core values. And yet, not only is Bruce Rastetter still president of the regents, one of the people who helped him subvert the 2015 UI search just named herself co-chair of the 2016 UNI search.
The unstated premise with the upcoming UNI search is that the Board of Regents will straighten up and fly right, and in so doing demonstrate that they finally learned their lesson. The reality is that not only have the individual members who perpetrated the 2015 sham UI search refused to acknowledge their complicity or show contrition, but Mulholland’s appointment as co-chair of the 2016 UNI search is a flagrant and hostile act of defiance. It may be that the political and governmental dynamics surrounding the search are obscuring that reality, but Mulholland’s appointment as co-chair, if not her appointment to the committee itself, is clearly a repudiation of the goals the senators have for the UNI search.
To see why, imagine that in 2015 Katie Mulholland was a member of a governing board with administrative authority over children, women, or minorities. Now imagine that Mulholland did not simply look the other way when those children, women or minorities were abused, but that she materially participated in that abuse. Would anyone suggest that Katie Mulholland be allowed to go back to her position of authority on that governing board, let alone be allowed to appoint herself co-chair of a committee responsible for making a critical hire? In fact, wouldn’t the first step in any process of rehabilitation be admitting to and accepting responsibility for wrongdoing, if not also showing contrition?
Such questions answer themselves, yet here we are not only with President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland calling the shots regarding the UNI search, but taking control of the search by appointing herself co-chair — while all the while denying any complicity in the 2015 debacle at UI. In what world is that permitted? In what world does someone commit any kind of abuse — whether an abuse of power or an abuse of individuals, such as the three finalists at UI who turned out to be mere window dressing for a search the AAUP described as “”nothing more or less than a crude exercise of naked power” — then get to step into the exact same situation all over again as if nothing happened?
The bottom line regarding the current crony majority on the Iowa Board of Regents is that they have created an environment hostile to fairness, transparency and shared governance, and Katie Mulholland is one of the regents directly responsible for that hostility. That she will now be the co-chair of the 2016 UNI search is not simply arrogant or contemptuous on her part, it is an administrative invalidation of the objective conclusions which have been reached regarding the fraudulent 2015 UI search. To anyone genuinely concerned with fairness, transparency or shared governance, seeing Katie Mulholland name herself co-chair for the UNI search is as repugnant as it would be to see any abusive individual retain and wield power.
Silence is Complicity
We do not allow abusive individuals to continue perpetrating their abuse. If we do — if we simply fall silent, as has happened far too often in human history — we are not only complicit in any further abuse, but we forfeit the right to complain about past abuses. And that’s the real danger in allowing Katie Mulholland to make herself co-chair of the 2016 UNI search. The University of Iowa is still saddled with an unqualified and illegitimate president as a result of Mulholland’s abuse, and allowing her to co-chair the UNI search committee makes it much more difficult for that community to seek appropriate relief.
The great irony in all this is that nothing Katie Mulholland says about the 2016 UNI search will have any legitimacy because all the right things were said in advance of and during the 2015 UI search, which turned out to be a $300K scam at taxpayer expense. As should also be abundantly clear, Regent Mulholland did not appoint herself co-chair to make sure the search is fair, transparent and respectful of shared governance, but to make sure the regents get their preferred candidate, whether or not that candidate is already known to them.
The only reason why the regents named Power as co-chair was for the publicity value, because Mulholland as co-chair negates his authority. With twenty total members, all the regents have to do is stack the committee with ten solid votes and they will get the candidate they want, while Power and the other eight committee members give the rigged proceedings the appearance of shared governance. Then again, the damage done by allowing Mulholland to serve as co-chair will not be limited to the internal dynamics of the search.
While the board would prefer to deny the reality of the abuses it perpetrated in 2015, not only is the entire world aware of those abuses, but the AAUP sanction was clearly directed at the board as well as UI. As such, it can already be assumed that the pool of candidates interested in working for a such a corrupt body — and university presidents in Iowa work for the regents, not the schools they preside over — has been diminished, if not skewed in favor of precisely those candidates who would happily take a six-figure paycheck in exchange for selling the UNI faculty, staff and students down the river. The fact that Katie Muholland — she of “shared governance is different from shared decision making” fame — is now not only co-chair of the committee, but was free to make that appointment, tells prospective candidates everything they need to know about who is still in power when it comes to higher education in Iowa. But that’s not the worst of it.
Because of the manner in which William Ruud was driven out at UNI — as a result of the board’s passive-aggressive refusal to offer him a new contract — even the most hopeful members of the 2016 UNI search committee will be negotiating against themselves before they begin to recruit and vet candidates. Because the board has never explained its treatment of Ruud, and because the UNI community will rightly hope to avoid losing yet another president in three years, the committee will find itself settling for candidates who can get along with the toxic leadership at the board, instead of searching for candidates who can best lead the school. (As to the particular qualities that might satisfy the board over time, the UNI committee has only to look to the crony toads at ISU and UI.)
The sad fact — as evidenced by the ease with which Mulholland appointed herself co-chair — is that until the corrupt crony core of the Iowa Board of Regents is driven from office, nothing is going to change. Simply by virtue of the presence of Rastetter, Mulholland, McKibben and others, the candidates that Iowans would most hope to attract to higher education in the state will be the candidates least likely to apply. That the board has not suffered one whit for its rampant cronyism — to say nothing of the demonstrable fraud perpetrated during the 2015 UI search — tells even a casual observer that the board’s power remains undiminished.
If there is any will to oppose the board, the first act must be removing Regent Mulholland as co-chair of the 2016 UNI search, giving sole responsibility for the committee to Dan Power, who is clearly qualified in that regard. Ideally, proceedings would then also be brought against Mulholland and other regents for their repeated betrayal of the core values of the board, if not also to establish the basis for a criminal investigation into whether the $300K 2015 UI presidential search constituted actual fraud. What is not acceptable is acting as if the abuses which took place during the UI search did not happen. That the board clearly believes it can do so, and that it can install Mulholland as co-chair of yet another presidential search after her complicity in, and refusal to take responsibility for, the fraudulent 2015 UI search, makes clear that the Iowa Board of Regents still does not believe it is accountable to anyone.
One thing the BOR may have improved is the search agency they chose: AGB. That search firm appears to be less secretive and more principled than other firms. Of course the BOR are master manipulators who will carry out their agenda — look for some puppet to be appointed as president of UNI.
Mulholland is an interesting case. She was a domineering, know-it-all superintendent in her prior career. She is deceptive and conniving: she changed political affiliation in a lame attempt to balance the BOR; She was openly hostile to the AAUP investigation; and her quotes are not only seriously silly, but deflective of the issues.
You can bet Mulholland dances to the music Rastetter and Branstand play in smug arrogant way.
Agreed, her appointment is a crude attempt to control the search while superficially pretending to be open and fair.
This may be somewhat off-topic but I am struggling to put the corruption that you document into a larger political context.
As the Board of Regents continues to act as a political cabal that is accountable to no one it is interesting to consider that in the larger context of the radical political realignment of this election year. The President of the BOR, the governing body of public higher education in Iowa, has aligned himself with the GOP Presidential candidate who is clearly acting as the leader of a white nationalist movement and making the Republican Party their home. In an academic context Trump repeatedly declares that “political correctness has gone too far.”
As students return for the fall semester think about what that means on a public college campus governed by a President that was fraudulently appointed by Trump supporter Bruce Rastetter. Attacking “political correctness” has been the thirty year conservative attempt to delegitimize the academic documentation of the past and current realities of racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination.
Four things about political correctness can be true at the same time. 1) Racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination are historical and current realities. 2) Academic discourse regarding all forms of discrimination sometimes spirals into theoretical blather in the hothouse of late adolescent moral development. 3) Nearly every college student, including white males who benefit from discrimination, experience phases of using some sense of victimhood of discrimination to escape personal responsibility and nearly all of them outgrow it. 4) Many white males of all ages, whether they benefit directly or indirectly from discrimination, use inflated and distorted examples of academic discourse to discredit and deny the realities of discrimination. Rinse, repeat.
Now throw a white nationalist Presidential candidate with his supporter and advisor Bruce Rastetter into that multicultural adolescent moral hothouse. Add in the fact that a significant portion of undergraduates, graduate students as well as residents, fellows and staff doctors at UIHC are foreign born from every corner of the globe including many non-resident Muslims. Then you can add in the star quarterback on the football team who was an apparent supporter of Trump during primaries into the mix as well as many Trump supporting football fans who will make several inebriated pilgrimages to their shrine on campus this fall.
Whether or not he wins Trump is mainstreaming white nationalism into every corner of our culture. How the hell does Bruce Rastetter think he can govern public academia in this state while supporting a potential President who is a white supremacist? How delusional do you have to be to think you can square that circle? Do we fully understand how explosive this October may become on campuses as well as every major city? Does anybody think that Bruce Harreld is capable of competently managing a campus with these potential conflicts?
I think your questions are all inevitable, particularly because we don’t have a working rationale for the corruption which is so evident. We see it, but we don’t see how it fits, so we look for that over-arching theme.
Some of these issues you raise have come up in the comments before over the past year. As you note, however, things have taken a decidedly ugly turn with Rastetter’s open support of what is rapidly becoming a de facto white-supremacist/nationalist presidential candidate.
Generally, I think most Americans respect everyone’s right to have their own political views, even if those views are nauseating. What is and should be problematic for Rastetter (and Branstad as well) is that he’s not simply a passive observer waiting to cast a vote, but a contributor to what has become an anti-American, anti-Constitutional, anti-democratic political movement.
The main reason why I think Rastetter is getting a free pass is because everyone (rightly, in my view) assumes he’s simply supporting Trump because he (Rastetter) is a mercenary. He holds no allegiance to anything except exploiting the moment, and if he had the chance he’d do the exact same thing no matter who won the Republican primary.
Personally, I have two reasons for side-stepping such issues. First, the defining characteristic of the co-conspirators who engineered Harreld’s fraudulent appointment is that they’re liars and cheats, and that’s pretty much all I need to know. Second, those liars and cheats would very much like to transition the conversation to questions of ideology and politics, instead of the fact that they’re liars and cheats.
As for Harreld, he lied himself into office, he sucker-punched the students with tuition hikes while they were off campus, and now he’s positioning himself with photo-ops showing him helping students moving into the dorms. It can fairly be assumed that he is completely incapable of being anything other than a front for Rastetter’s policies, which is of course why he was hired in the first place.
I take your point that ideology and politics can be a diversion from the corruption and cronyism in the BOR. But consider that Rastetter could have declined to openly support Trump as many Republicans have. That is what I would expect most governing officials of academia would do in any election. It would be prudent to do so, as GHW Bush would say, especially considering that Trump is a polarizing public figure who will probably lose and may drag down his supporters with him.
The fact that he did choose to be an open supporter and advisor begs the question; why? If he is trying to divert the conversation away from cronyism then perhaps he is feeling some degree of heat for his actions thanks in part to your continued scrutiny. But diverting the conversation by supporting a white nationalist seems like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. If that is the case, congratulations for helping to fry his ass.
Another possibility is that he thinks Trump may win and the upside of being on the Trump train outweigh the risks. Or that Trump may lose but he represents the future of Republican Party and Rastetter gains status as a power broker by openly supporting him.
Overall it seems to indicate that he probably wants to rid himself of the BOR (after he appoints another crony at UNI) so he can be a more overt political actor. If that is the case it probably doesn’t change the corrupt direction of the BOR until there is a major criminal investigation or a significant political change in the Statehouse.
I think the biggest problem in thinking about all this is that you have to ignore the veneer of respectability these people maintain. Whether Rastetter, Robillard or Harreld, the only question they asked during the 2015 UI search was, “What can I get away with?” Not what was right, not what was best for the students, not even what was ethical or legal, but only what each of them could do to exploit that search in their favor.
That’s the level of corruption that is in play. So when Rastetter looks at the 2016 presidential race, he doesn’t do anything except ask the same question, and the answer is obvious. Nobody holds him accountable for anything he does, so if he sucks up to the party establishment at the worst possible time they’re going to remember him two or four years from now. And that’s really all there is to it.
There may be an over-arching philosophy in the background, but the impetus is the failed part of each man’s integrity which allows him to simply lie and cheat in order to get what he wants. If Rastetter, Robillard or Harreld did the same thing to you on the street they would be rightly labeled punks or con artists. Put them in blue blazers and give them power,. however, and they become the guiding lights of higher education in Iowa, immune even to serious scrutiny from the press.
Got it, now I understand why you keep the focus on corruption.
It should also be pointed out that the academic side of the Iowa BOR is flailing and failing:
1. The Iowa BOR blew opportunities for foreign studies. http://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/education/higher-education/iowa-regents-drop-ball-on-study-abroad-recommendations-20160815
2. Talk about cronies in the sandbox, unadvertised hires: http://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/education/higher-education/university-of-iowa-iowa-state-hired-hundreds-without-searches-20160814
3. And with fanfare Guv-for-beyond-life Branstad announced his anti-bullying center at UNI; he forgot to fund it. http://wqad.com/2016/08/18/branstads-bullying-prevention-office-has-zero-funds/
That report on the collapse of the ‘study abroad’ program was telling. I can imagine Rastetter taking one look at that program, immediately realizing he couldn’t exploit it for any possible gain, then throwing it on the scrap heap.
The BoR no longer exists to educate students, the students exist to fund Rastetter’s (and Branstad’s) burgeoning crony higher-ed empire. If the students, faculty and staff aren’t performing as expected, they either need to be incentivized to make more money for the machine, or incentivized to leave.
The Iowa BOR corruption when put into context means:
1. Rastetter loves being a power broker which enhances his public profile (he personally interviewed all the GOP candidates at his AgFest); he really needs to be seen at the man who revitalized Terry Branstad and now wants to be the man who controls the (arguably) highest profile entity in the state — the state’s universities.
2. Like despots everywhere, Rastetter and Branstad need their operative and their agents in key positions. Thus you see Leath as president of ISU, Braun effectively running U of Iowa (or the BOR) along with the unqualified Harreld, and PR people clearly in Bruce and Terry’s pocket.
3. This fits with ALEC’s game plan of controlling hearts and minds: you eliminate critics and opponents of say, climate denial, you privatize all aspects of public enterprises, and you guarantee continued power.
4. This all leads to power, influence and importantly monie$ for you and your cronies. Your cronies all owing you favors.
What happens next? Look at the overall game plan of these operatives: privatize public initiatives; selling off public assets; consolidating power; and operating as much as you can under the cover of hidden agendas.
Expect more sweetheart contracts for cronies, more crony appointments, more centralized power in Des Moines (and I believe with Leath named as Chancellor of the Iowa BOR), more elimination of distasteful faculty and courses, and more selling off parts of the system — likely medicine, etc.
Not Ken Burns says
Don’t forget Wisconsin. Scott Walker and his ilk are dismantling public higher education. Just take note of the comments of its senior senator who is up for reelection this year:
“We’ve got the internet ― you have so much information available. Why do you have to keep paying differently lecturers to teach the same course? You get one solid lecturer and put it up online and have everybody available to that knowledge for a whole lot cheaper? But that doesn’t play very well to tenured professors in the higher education cartel. So again, we need destructive technology for our higher education system.”
“If you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers that kind of know the subject, or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns Civil War tape and then have those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done? You keep duplicating that over all these different subject areas.”
A simpleton’s solution to a nonexistent problem. Why? To kill off those liberal professors who are profiting from the ill-gotten gains of their “cartel.”
Not Ken Burns says
More about this foolishness here:
Almost a year ago now a small cabal of high-ranking administrators at the Iowa Board of Regents and the University of Iowa conspired to fraudulently appointed J. Bruce Harreld as president of that school. Two months later, in early November, Harreld finally took office after conducting interviews with the local press in which he completely rewrote his origin story as a candidate, while also revealing yet another of the secret meetings that he held with his co-conspirators in order to poach that job. Despite Harreld’s manifest illegitimacy, however — which prompted actual censure by the UI faculty before he could take office — the former business executive took the helm at Iowa and began making the kind of bold changes that only a visionary leader can make.
For example, after only being on the job for two months — and apparently being hungover from Iowa’s invitation to the 2016 Rose Bowl — J. Bruce Harreld negotiated and signed a massive contract extension and pay raise for Iowa’s athletic director, Gary Barta. What made that contract particularly noteworthy at the time — beyond the fact that no one in UI administration even acknowledged the deal until a month later, and then only after it was outed by two intrepid AP reporters — was that Gary Barta and the UI athletic department were facing not one but two federal investigations into complaints of gender discrimination:
From the Gazette’s Max Walker, on 06/03/15:
Following on that complaint, which was filed in May of 2015, a second and related complaint was filed with the OCR in September of 2015 — meaning after J. Bruce Harreld was fraudulently installed as president. So whatever else Harreld did or did not know at the time about the University of Iowa, or academic administration, or campus sexual assault, when January of 2016 rolled around and Harreld started shoveling piles of money into Gary Barta’s bank account, he knew that Barta was a potential legal liability to the school, to say nothing of an alleged discriminator on the basis of gender. (If you dig into the decisions Barta made, and how he retaliated against individuals, it’s not pretty.)
There was one key difference between the two federal complaints, however, and Harreld knew about that difference when he negotiated Barta’s new contract. Unlike the first complaint in May, the September complaint was not divulged to the university. Other than notice that a complaint had been filed, UI administration knew nothing about the contents other than the allegation of gender discrimination.
For that reason, in November of last year the university — at that point under the direct stewardship of visionary business executive J. Bruce Harreld — contacted the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education and requested the release of the complaint through the Freedom of Information Act. After the university’s request was denied that meant not only did Harreld know that his AD was facing two potential investigations when he gave that Barta a fat new contract, but Harreld knew he was flying blind with regard to the seriousness of the second complaint. Yet Harreld went ahead and made it rain on Barta anyway.
At almost the exact same time that Barta’s new contract was finally being disclosed in the press, and belatedly acknowledged by UI, the OCR announced that it would be visiting the UI campus to conduct a broad investigation triggered by the second gender bias complaint. From the AP’s Ryan Foley, on 02/12/16 — five days before Foley also helped break the story of Barta’s new contract:
It is entirely possible that Harreld decided to sit on news of Barta’s contract because he learned in the interim that a much broader federal investigation was coming down the pike. Still, in a post in mid-February, summing up the blur of storylines, DesMoinesDem at Bleeding Heartland flagged two important points. First, Harreld was not required to give Barta a new contract in the face of the ongoing investigations, but he did so anyway despite the chilling effect that might have on women involved in athletics. Second, the fact that the University of Iowa was rebuffed in its attempt to get its hands on the September complaint was itself richly ironic. As reported by Foley:
As DesMoinesDem noted, Reasoner had previously refused to make information about crony contracts and polls available to the press. As for Reasoner’s insistence on due process, it seems self-evident that if the University of Iowa had done more than close ranks around AD Barta, the federal government probably wouldn’t be conducting multiple gender discrimination investigations, nor would the Office of General Counsel — including the General Counsel herself, Carroll Reasoner — be contending with gender discrimination lawsuits. (The very fact that Reasoner’s boss, J. Bruce Harreld, and Reasoner’s former boss, interim president Jean Robillard, both conspired to hijack UI’s presidency at taxpayer expense, would also seem to undercut any claims of injustice on Reasoner’s part.)
One big reason why Harreld may have decided it was safe to enrich Barta despite the potential liability and risk to the school, let alone to Harreld’s reputation, is that Harreld had the full faith and support of Regents’ President Bruce Rastetter — who also happens to be the architect of the fraud that catapulted Harreld into office. Rastetter’s support may have been particularly reassuring when Harreld learned, in early March, that UI was about to be hit with the second of two gender discrimination lawsuits, pairing up nicely with the two federal gender discrimination investigations. From the Press-Citizen’s Jeff Charis-Carlson, on 03/03/16:
When your boss tells you it’s okay to ignore gender discrimination investigations and lawsuits while throwing piles of state money at the target of those investigations and lawsuits, you’re probably going to feel confident about your decision making. On the other hand, it’s worth noting that Rastetter also stuck Harreld with full responsibility for rewarding Barta despite the alleged abuses — which is curious given that Harreld had only known Barta for a few months at the time the new deal was signed, while Rastetter had known Barta for years. (Among other pursuits, Rastetter is a half-hearted Hawkeye sports booster, and for close to a decade has happily touted a $5M donation he gave to the Iowa athletic department. As of last report, however, Rastetter had actually contributed only $1.5M.)
In mid-April, with two gender discrimination lawsuits and two federal investigations in play, and with a team of OCR investigators on campus pursuant to the second undisclosed complaint, J. Bruce Harreld and UI Provost P. Barry Butler sat down for an extended interview with the school newspaper, the Daily Iowan. On the subject of the ongoing investigation, both Harreld and Butler portrayed the OCR’s visit not as a serious concern, but as a fabulous opportunity to get feedback on the athletic program — as if the federal investigators were the functional equivalent of a focus group:
Note the complete absence of concern regarding the actual basis for the investigation. Between them Harreld and Butler do not mention gender discrimination at all, and instead talk as if they hit the jackpot by getting a free government inspection. In fact, when Harreld says, “And it’s good for them,” he goes so far as to suggest that the university is doing the feds a favor.
Whether you are an ardent Hawkeye sports fan or not, if you are a woman on the campus of the University of Iowa and you read that interview, there is no way you did not notice that the highest ranking administrator (a man) and his trusty sidekick (another man) were downplaying even the possibility of wrongdoing on the part of the AD. Again, somehow, after only six months on the job, without even knowing the basis of the second complaint — and despite his explicit responsibility to support gender equity — J Bruce Harreld had become so completely allied with Gary Barta that there was no daylight between them.
A little over a month later Harreld cemented his allegiance to Barta in spectacular fashion during an interview with KGAN reporter Karen Fuller, on 05/27/16. From a previous post on Fuller’s story:
The bar for filing a gender discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is fairly low. Triggering the kind of full-blown, on-site investigation that descended on the University of Iowa only a month earlier, however, required meeting a much higher test. So when J. Bruce Harreld said that “…the way he’s run the inst…the athletic department, is world class…” there is no way for him to walk that back. The moment when those words came out of Harreld’s mouth — fully informed as he was of the magnitude of the investigation that was under way — J. Bruce Harreld sold out every woman on campus in order to pledge his personal and professional oath of loyalty to Gary Barta.
All of which brings us to this story from the Gazette’s Erin Jordan on this past Friday, 08/19/16:
So what prompted the UI OGC to try to pry the complaint loose a second time? More from Jordan:
This is what administrative panic looks like. After pooh-poohing the on-campus investigation in April, and going full-on groupie over Barta in late May, two weeks later the feds requested more information. That in turn prompted the OGC to try to get its hands on the September 2015 complaint for the second time, but once again the OGC got stuffed.
The fact that the OCR investigation is continuing, but the university has no idea where that investigation is headed, must be a real nightmare to everyone at the school. (Maybe like the kind of nightmare people go through when they are mistreated and persecuted on the basis of gender or race, or discriminated against in any way that is prohibited by federal law.) And that’s particularly true for Harreld now that football season is here, because that would seem to give Harreld the best chance to suck up to the bro culture that has been the gateway to his own success over the years.
If the feds have the audacity to drop the hammer on the athletic department in the next four or five months, not only isn’t there going to be anywhere for Barta to hide, Harreld will be even more exposed. When you’re the AD everyone expects you to cut corners and rig things in favor of the power sports, so being a gender-discriminating weasel is par for the course. When you’re a university president, however, you’re not actually supposed to sell out half of the population on your campus, even if you actually do believe that women are somehow less deserving.
Whether Harreld’s minders on the Board or Regents, or a rabid pack of powerful alums, or a screechy voice in his head, compelled Harreld to give Barta a rich new contract after only two months in office, nobody forced Harreld to trivialize the OCR’s on-campus investigation, and certainly no one forced Harreld to squint his eyes and declare that Barta was “world class”. If Harreld had any genuine leadership skills, or just plain human decency, he would have withheld judgment on Barta so as not to appear biased himself, even if he genuinely believed that the accusations of gender discrimination were patently false. But Harreld didn’t do that. Instead, with violations and illegalities yet to be determined, Harreld went on television and declared that not only was Gary Barta his man, but that everyone should be “really, really proud” of Gary Barta.
From that moment on Harreld forfeited any right to say that he’s disappointed or shocked or surprised if the feds do determine there were civil rights violations in UI athletic department, because Gary Barta is no longer someone Harreld inherited when he took office, Gary Barta is someone J. Bruce Harreld personally and professionally vouched for as president. And I think Harreld gets that, because for the second time he tried to get his hands on the September complaint, and not because he’s suddenly concerned about doing the right thing for women on campus. The reason Harreld wants to see that file is because the investigation isn’t going the way he thought it would, and Harreld himself is massively exposed to any negative findings.
If the feds do determine that Gary Barta discriminated on the basis of gender, any governmental penalties will be the least of Harreld’s problems. Not only will Barta lose his job, but that will make the two gender discrimination lawsuits harder to fight as well. To all that we can add another big hit to the school’s already rocky gender-equity reputation, which will take years to improve. And that’s assuming the corrupt Iowa Board of Regents and the corrupt administrative leadership at Iowa are willing to hire an AD who will move the athletic department beyond being the old boy’s club it has clearly become. (If Barta gets canned, the people hiring the next AD at Iowa will be the same people who ran the fraudulent presidential search that resulted in J. Bruce Harreld.)
This is how university presidents fail. They play politics and favorites when it is their job to ensure that everyone on campus is treated fairly. Making matters that much worse for Harreld, the stakes are never higher than they are with collegiate athletics. In fact, Harreld got an important lesson in that regard only a week after taking office, when the Harvard-trained, business-centric president of the Missouri System was forced to resign after open revolt on the football team. Less than six months later, for whatever reason, J. Bruce Harreld decided the time was right to give AD Gary Barta the squinty-eyed bro hug of all bro hugs, and in so doing Harreld sold out not only every woman involved in UI athletics, but every woman on campus.
Spending time over the past year looking into the fraudulent hire of J. Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa has taught me more than I ever wanted to know about the entrenched crony corruption that defines state government under Governor Terry Branstad. Where there should be a system of checks and balances protecting the citizens of the state, there is instead a crony bureaucracy devoted to corporate welfare at the expense of the state’s citizens. For example, on this past Sunday, 08/21/16, Barbara Rodriguez of the Associated Press reported that the state of Iowa simply stopped enforcing its own Medicaid regulations during the transition to private, for-profit delivery of those critical healthcare services:
How does a decision like that get made, when it is literally antithetical to the purpose of the IDHS? Well, to grasp the mindset involved, all you have to do is stop thinking of citizens as a relevant constituency, and instead concern yourself with the companies who are making money off of those citizens:
What should be a shocking lapse in judgment is just another example of the thorough perversion of state government that is Governor Branstad’s legacy. Not only is the IDHS under the governor’s executive purview, but it is overseen by the Council on Human Services, which is comprised of seven individuals appointed by the governor. Unfortunately, because the governor and his political cronies are more interested in proving that his for-profit “collaborative approach” to healthcare is a smashing success than they are with ensuring a minimum basic standard of service, such betrayals are inevitable. (Because any failings on the part of those for-profit companies would make that “collaborative” project seem like less than a rousing success, the state of Iowa simply looked the other way for two months.)
Despite staring at the brazen fraud of the Harreld Hire for close to a year, it only recently dawned on me that the entirety of state government in Iowa is dictated by a corrupt, crony ethos in which there are no checks on abuses of power. If citizens want accountability in government — if they want their government not to be corrupt — then they are obligated to initiate the policing process by complaining about any injustice. Unfortunately, such citizen complaints are usually heard by a board which was appointed by the governor, which also usually has the unilateral right to ignore such complaints without initiating even a cursory investigation. And of course absent such a complaint, no one in state government will do anything to challenge even the most blatant of governmental lies.
For example, as has been documented here endlessly, on the day of his fraudulent appointment J. Bruce Harreld told a flat-out lie about the origins of his candidacy, which he then replaced with a new candidate origin story two months later, just before taking office. That lie by Harreld in turn exposed Regents’ President Bruce Rastetter and UI VP for Medical Affairs (and then-interim UI president) Jean Robillard as key members of the conspiracy which engineered Harreld’s fraudulent hire — at a cost to Iowa taxpayers of over $300K for the sham search, and $800K per year for Harreld’s illegitimate services. Given other documented improprieties surrounding Harreld’s appointment, including lies on his resume, you might think someone in state government would have looked into Harreld’s lie about how he came to be appointed, but there is no law enforcement or regulatory agency responsible for doing so. In fact, as I have learned, the Iowa Attorney General does not actually work for the citizens of the state, but exists to defend the state against citizen complaints — including, for example, a lawsuit that was filed against Rastetter and four other regents for secret meetings they held with Harreld in July of 2015. (That lawsuit is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow [08/24/16] at 8:15 a.m., room 210, of the Polk County Courthouse.)
As to the Board of Regents itself, given that it was responsible for both the fraudulent search and Harreld’s sham appointment, you can imagine that the individual board members and the highest-ranking employees at the board office would not be eager to investigate their own glaring and indefensible abuses of power. Unfortunately, such oversight failings are not an aberration, but instead reflect an intentional systematic weakening of state government that has taken place under Branstad. For example, only a few weeks ago Jayson Clayworth of the Des Moines Register reported that Branstad appointed a nonjournalist to a board seat which is supposed to be held by a journalist:
Here, in a single act, we have a pure distillation of the crony corruption that exists as a result of Branstad’s diseased governing philosophy. The board which is responsible for ensuring compliance with the state Open Meeting law, and ensuring the availability of public records, was not only corrupted by Branstad’s appointment, but in a single stroke Branstad also gave that same individual authority over transparency matters. Even though the IPIB goes to the heart of the ability of the free press to do its job, Branstad showed no hesitation in appointing a career crony administrator to a seat reserved for a working journalist. (Of equal concern is the fact that Branstad elicited almost no blowback from the press when that appointment was announced, despite the fact that it was an affront to every working reporter.)
Bruce Rastetter and Conflicts of Interest
Given the lack of self-policing in state government, combined with the conversion of the state’s oversight boards into ideological checkpoints dominated by political cronies, it’s not surprising that Regents’ President Rastetter — himself a ruthless political fixer for the Branstad machine — has had an entirely free hand in corrupting the Iowa Board of Regents. Because Rastetter has oversight of the entire regents enterprise, he can not only turn a blind eye to the abuses and lies of Harreld or Leath or any other crony on the regents’ payroll, but conveniently ignore his own abuses as well. (Again, as president of the regents, even the Iowa Attorney General works for Rastetter.)
Because there are no laws preventing the following simultaneous associations, Bruce Rastetter is currently both the president of the Iowa Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s three public institutions of higher learning, and an advisor to the presidential campaign of a candidate who is fomenting voter intimidation efforts across the country. Where some state officials are actively banned from being involved in politics, no such prohibitions apply to the Board of Regents, giving Rastetter free reign not only to exploit his position on the national stage, but to broker political power across the state.
Because each regent is a volunteer in state service, it is assumed that the members of the board will have day jobs or other pursuits in life. For example, Regent Johnson is a student at the University of Northern Iowa, and Regent Sahai is a physician. What may never have been anticipated, however, is that someone like Regent Rastetter would come along, whose line of work is brokering power in both business and political contexts. As such, while a corrupt version of Regent Johnson might avail herself of a few board paperclips, and a corrupt version of Regent Sahai might borrow a set of scrubs from UIHC after a board meeting on the UI campus, the actual living, fire-breathing, crony version of Regent Rastetter is perfectly positioned to exploit every facet of the $5B Regent Enterprise for economic or political gain, either directly or indirectly.
Strictly in terms of business, Rastetter’s company — Summit Agricultural Group, including its subsidiaries — has long had a close if not intimate relationship with Iowa State University. So close, in fact, that after giving ISU President Steven Leath and his wife a personal tour of land in the surrounding area, Rastetter’s company made a $1.15M real estate purchase on their behalf with only one week’s notice, after it turned out that the Leaths could not afford to buy that land themselves. Perhaps not surprisingly, as the person with oversight of such issues, Rastetter has so far declined to take a close look at the matter to see if he violated ethics guidelines at the board, or to see if Leath violated ethics guidelines at ISU.
In order to goad any governmental inquiry into those same questions, an enterprising citizen would have to file a complaint with the politically appointed Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board. As with many aspects of state government in Iowa, the obscure IECDB not only has oversight regarding particular statutes, but authority to rule on complaints without conducting an actual investigation. As also seems to be the case with many facets of state government, even if you know a particular board has responsibility for enforcing a particular state law, that board may not make it easy for you to allege a violation. (On the home page of the IECDB there is no clear link for filing a complaint, even though the board is the only agency charged with handling complaints about violations of the state’s Gift Law. You will find information about how to file a complaint on the site’s FAQ, but only if you scroll down to the very last question.)
Setting aside politics and state government entirely, the number of questions that could be and should be asked about Rastetter’s business relationships with entities governed by the Board of Regents is almost endless. For example, to what extent do Rastetter or his partners gain a competitive advantage because Rastetter is the president of the regents? In that position he not only learns but actually determines where funding will be directed before anyone else has that information, giving him a leg up in positioning himself or his cronies to take advantage.
From a Des Moines Register editorial at the beginning of August, titled “Corporate Welfare Run Amok‘:
Given that Rastetter’s company has engaged in research affiliated with a state school — both prior to and during Rastetter’s tenure as board president — have any of Rastetter’s companies filed for a Research Activities Credit as a result of doing business with the Board of Regents? How about business partners or associates, or members of Rastetter’s family? Or would that be a matter for the board itself to look into?
On another front, the growing influence of business interests at the board has repeatedly led to talk about the value of student internships at the state’s schools, yet it’s never clear what the students are getting for the work they put in. Conversely, given that internships are free labor it’s not at all hard to see how businesses might be eager to get their hands on student interns in large numbers, perhaps even on a perpetual basis.
Even the recent appropriation of the AIB campus by the regents has been sold on that basis:
Have Rastetter’s companies ever used student interns, and if so how often? How about Rastter’s family members and business partners? (Rastetter’s brother owns a company that makes gestation crates.) Are student interns from the regent schools getting course credit for their work, or some other tangible benefit, or are they just hoping that whatever they’re doing will be of benefit down the road, or perhaps lead to a job opportunity at that company? Across the entire regents enterprise, is anyone keeping track of the total number of intern hours put in by students enrolled at the state’s schools, and which companies are involved?
Rastetter’s business reach, to say nothing of that of his friends, associates and partners, is so great, that every deal the Board of Regents makes could conceivably involve a conflict of interest. For example, the Gazette’s Erin Jordan and Vanessa Miller reported last week that a food contract between Sysco and UIHC would remain secret. A check of the partners page at Rastetter’s company turns up an alt-img tag which reads “Sysco”, but the image it is associated with refers to a different partner:
The most likely explanation for that tag is that Sysco used to be a partner of SummitAg, but when that link was repurposed someone forgot to change the associated tag. While it’s of course entirely possible that SummitAg no longer does business with Sysco, it’s also possible that SummitAg still has business ties to that company, which may have been a conflict of interest when the UIHC deal was signed. (Only a few months ago another regent, Mary Andringa, resigned abruptly just before news of a conflict of interest was reported in the press.)
Bruce Rastetter and the Business of Biofuel
To see how pervasive Rastetter’s potential conflicts of interest truly are, consider this otherwise innocuous report back in mid-April, from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, after the University of Iowa received permission from state regulators to “expand its use of biofuels and continue experimenting with environmentally friendly options”:
Seizing the media moment, fraudulent president J. Bruce Harreld tossed in his two cents, including mentioning one word that he has no business using:
While I think everyone agrees that getting Iowa off of coal and making use of renewables would be a good thing, most informed individuals would also agree that one of the last people anyone should trust is J. Bruce Harreld — albeit perhaps just ahead of Bruce Rastetter. And that raises an interesting question. Who exactly will be providing the biomass for all of those “environmentally friendly” experiments? And of those providers, how many will be taking a Research Activites Credit as a result of doing so? (From a certain cynical point of view, biomass experimentation at the University of Iowa could be seen as a Research Activities Credit generator, with any actual power being generated representing an ancillary benefit.)
blockquote>The UI began using oat hulls as biomass fuel in its main power plant more than 13 years ago. Since then, the main power plant has expanded its use of biomass fuels to include wood chips and Miscanthus grass. UI Facilities Management and the UI Office of Sustainability continue to investigate and develop other innovative biomass fuel sources.
Now, if you were paying attention during the run-up to the Iowa Caucuses, you may have noticed that Iowa Governor Terry Branstad — who packed the Iowa Board of Regents with political cronies, including his biggest political contributor, Bruce Rastetter — came out in pointed opposition to one particular Republican candidate for one specific reason:
About that “renewable fuels summit“, it turns out that Branstad’s oldest son was a key organizer. It also turns out that Bruce Rastetter is interested in biofuels. So much so, in fact, that at one time he considered it his solemn crony duty to pass along commercial propaganda in an attempt to influence scholarship at the University of Iowa:
As for the claim that Rastetter is getting out of the biofuels business, that seems to be contradicted by a recent story about Rastetter’s company helping to build a $100M ethanol plant in Brazil:
So — given all of that heavyweight crony involvement, and UI’s ability to now experiment with various biofuels, along with the Iowa Board of Regents’ propensity for both tolerating and engineering no-bid crony contracts, what assurances do the people of Iowa have that this new and laudable variance by state regulators will not simply be milked for whatever it’s worth by corrupt individuals who have demonstrated that intent in the past? And the answer, of course, is none.
Now factor in the regents’ newly relaxed crony contract rules, which are managed solely at the discretion of yet another crony in the board office — and can now be granted at up to $50,000, instead of the $25,000 previous limit — and it’s not hard to imagine that there will be a line of people who are eager to provide biomass to the University of Iowa at non-competitive crony prices. Will anyone check to see who’s involved, or what they’re being paid? Will anyone check to see if Rastetter is taking advantage of the program, either directly or indirectly?
One thing we can say for sure is that there is no way the DNR would have approved that permit if Branstad’s political machine did not want it approved. Whether that means somebody is up to something or not, given how many projects are undertaken at the state’s universities, this one example should make clear the scale and gravity of the oversight responsibilities faced by the Iowa Board of Regents. That the current president of the board actually went to the trouble of running a fraudulent search at taxpayer expense in order to install his own toady president at the state’s flagship school should also make clear that the last person interested in effective government oversight is Bruce Rastetter.
From the moment of his fraudulent appointment in early September of last year, to the final days of the 2015-2016 academic season in May, J. Bruce Harreld had what anyone would call a rocky start to his presidency at the University of Iowa. Whether commenting that someone “should be shot“, holding an antagonistic town hall (and only one, after promising three for the year), categorically declaring that there was “no there, there” with regard to a high-ranking administrator’s run-in with local law enforcement, or, most recently, failing to respond to, let alone take ownership of, the unprecedented AAUP sanction against the school, Harreld’s performance as president was exactly that — a performance. And it was a shockingly bad performance at that.
To put Harreld’s failings in context, however, it must also be remembered that upon becoming the illegitimate president at Iowa, Harreld was gifted with the UI Office of Strategic Communications as a media minder, and with the full faith and support of the Iowa Board of Regents, and even the backing of Governor Terry Branstad’s political machine. And yet week after week, month after month, Harreld kept putting his foot in it, coming off less like a president and more like a pugnacious brat. So apparent was Harreld’s unfitness for office, in fact, that he himself hired a private media advisor to help him burnish his image, only to then suggest days later that people who weren’t prepared to do their jobs should be shot. (And no, Harreld never realized that he himself was the poster boy for his metaphorical call to arms.)
Over the course of the 2015-2016 academic year, again and again, J. Bruce Harreld proved that he simply does not have the temperament to be a university president. From premeditated lies on his resume, to the orchestrated lie that Harreld told to obscure the conspiracy which appointed him, to the compulsive lie he seems to have told about having a “severe spinal problem”, Harreld demonstrated a persistent inability to be honest. At the same time, Harreld betrayed an emotional need to hit back at anyone who questioned the legitimacy of his illegitimate presidency.
Having had the summer months to step back and reassess, however, and having myriad media advisors at his beck and call, it seemed likely that Harreld would figure out some way stop embarrassing himself and the school every time someone asked him a simple question. And that assumption in turn shows just how wrong a person can be. While Harreld did indeed generate a bit of positive momentum this past weekend, as a result of carefully staged photo-ops and appearances — including helping a few students move into their dorms despite his “severe spinal problem” — in reporting from the first three days of the 2016-2017 academic year, J. Bruce Harreld reverted completely to form.
J. Bruce Harreld and the AAUP Sanction
In mid-June the AAUP sanctioned the University of Iowa for abuses committed during the 2015 presidential search. Subsequent to that sanction not only did J. Bruce Harreld — the sitting president of the University of Iowa — having nothing official to say, he foisted the school’s entire response onto the current and former presidents of the Faculty Senate, who dutifully stepped up and perpetuated the lie that the university itself was not equally complicit in those abuses. (One of the two main drivers of the sham search which led to Harreld’s fraudulent appointment was UI VP for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard, who was also — by the good graces of the Iowa Board of Regents — the chair of the search committee and interim UI president at the time.)
Until a few days ago, the only on-the-record comment from Harreld regarding the AAUP sanction came from an obscure story in the Corridor Business Journal, on 06/21/16:
Given that AAUP sanctions are potentially crippling, and that it is virtually unheard of for a school of Iowa’s prestige to be sanctioned, in that context Harreld’s sparse comments were the equivalent of administrative drool. Which is why it also seemed a safe bet that Harreld and his crack media team would sit down over the summer and come up with a better answer than the one offered above, should the subject of the AAUP sanction came up again. (A particularly likely event, given that Harreld had consistently made himself unavailable on the issue to the beat reporters covering UI.) Yet once again, what seems to have been an eminently safe assumption proves just how wrong a person can be.
On Monday of this week — which was also the first day of classes for the 2016-2017 school year — J. Bruce Harreld was indeed asked about the AAUP sanction during a radio interview. From a Press-Citizen story by Jeff Charis-Carlson, on 08/22/16:
Now, if you knew nothing at all about the AAUP, Harreld’s answer might sound coherent. But as Charis-Carlson pointed out in his report, Harreld failed to make an important distinction.
Again, Harreld and his crack media team had over two months to come up with a coherent response to the AAUP sanction, yet what Harreld uttered on the first day of classes was simply an extended version of his prior comment that the sanction was “bizarre”. Considerably worse for Harreld, however, is the fact that there are only two possible interpretations of Harreld’s answer, and they’re both bad. Either Harreld does not understand the difference between the AAUP functioning as a bargaining unit on one hand and as a widely respected professional association on the other, or, he does understand the difference and intentionally misled listeners about that distinction.
Remember — this is the same man who purportedly saved IBM from “near bankruptcy”, who earned a snazzy MBA at Harvard, and who was deemed so great at transformational change that his co-conspirators risked their own personal and professional reputations to jam him into office using a fraudulent taxpayer-funded search. Yet somehow, even with months to get up to speed on the AAUP prior to the sanction, and months afterward to come to terms with the AAUP after the sanction, J. Bruce Harreld — towering business genius — still cannot articulate the difference between the AAUP as a bargaining unit and as a watchdog. So which is it? Is J. Bruce Harreld a blithering idiot, or an opportunistic liar? (Careful readers would be correct in pointing out that Harreld could be a blithering idiot and an opportunistic liar, but here we are concerned specifically with his incapacity to comprehend the AAUP as an organization.)
Lending irony to Harreld’s professed confusion, at the exact same moment when he is either demonstrating or feigning ignorance regarding the AAUP’s function as a standard bearer, the members of the Iowa Board of Regents, as well as those involved with the ongoing presidential search at the University of Northern Iowa, apparently have no such problem. In fact, while Harreld is mistakenly or malevolently focusing attention on the AAUP’s role as negotiating body, the UNI search committee has just agreed to stringently abide by the AAUP’s standards for academic searches. Why the former business exec turned illegitimate president at Iowa is still confused, while so many status-quo academic types at UNI seem to have no trouble comprehending the importance of the AAUP’s guidelines — and, by implication, why it would be wrong to summarily ignore those guidelines — remains a mystery.
J. Bruce Harreld and the SummitAg Seminar
Whether you believe J. Bruce Harreld is too stupid to grasp the difference between the AAUP’s organizational functions, or you believe Harreld used his prominence and standing as president of the University of Iowa to intentionally mislead Iowans about the difference between those functions, the fact remains that the AAUP sanction came about because a tight-knit cabal of co-conspirators ran a sham search which culminated in Harreld’s illegitimate hire. (And Harreld himself is one of those co-conspirators.) As such, it might be assumed that those co-conspirators would now do everything possible to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, but because said co-conspirators possess a level of arrogance that defies credulity, that assumption would once again prove spectacularly wrong.
On Tuesday of this week, 08/23/16, the Press-Citizen’s Jeff Charis-Carlson published an extensive and incisive look at the issue of cronyism between university presidents and the boards that oversee them. In that report, Charis-Carlson also broke news of an extended presentation J. Bruce Harreld gave at Regents’ President Rastetter’s private-sector business:
The Iowa Board of Regents met in Ames on June 8th and 9th, and during those meetings, in his role as president, Harreld updated the board on the University of Iowa. The day before, on June 7th, apparently also in his role as UI president, Harreld spent at least five hours giving the “top four leaders” at Rastetter’s business what amounts to a private seminar on “culture change” at no cost to Rastetter himself. While UI spokesperson Jeneane Beck is undoubtedly correct that Harreld was not paid by SummitAg, however, that does not mean Harreld was not compensated for his time.
To see why, note that June 7th was a Tuesday, meaning a regular business day. Unless Harreld performed his five-hour song and dance after hours, we can conclude that the meeting at SummitAg took place during business hours. (An assumption supported by the fact that the presentation was on his presidential calendar.) We also know that J. Bruce Harreld makes $800K a year ($200K in deferred compensation), which, over a standard 2,000-hour work year equates to an hourly rate of approximately $400. (As a salaried worker Harreld may work more than 40 hours per week on average, though vacation time would also have to be taken into account.) Five hours of genius-grade talk at $400 per hour would mean J. Bruce Harreld pocketed $2,000 from the taxpayers of Iowa during the course of his ‘free’ speaking engagement at SummitAg.
Rather than exonerating Rastetter, the fact that Rastetter’s company did not pay Harreld any money — meaning Rastetter got five hours (or more) of sage business advice from Harreld for free, while the taxpayers of Iowa picked up the tab for Harreld’s time — raises obvious questions. Chief among them is why the president of the University of Iowa spent the better part of a work day giving a free five-hour seminars to any group, let alone a small group of businessmen who work for his boss. Is that part of Harreld’s job description? Is that what the state legislature expects Harreld to do with his time? Is that what the people of Iowa expect? While it’s clear how Rastetter benefited, how, specifically, does that five-hour expenditure of time and taxpayer funds help Iowa as a school? Was there nothing better that Harreld could have done with those five hours — like boning up on the AAUP’s various roles in higher education across the country?
And the questions keep coming. Why is Harreld giving free five-hour seminars on “culture change” to small groups of businesspersons, while UI students have to pay tuition to get the same content and access? Is Harreld willing to give a free five-hour seminar to four students in a dorm room, simply because they ask him to do so – as was purportedly the only reason Harreld spent five hours at his boss’s private place of business? If not, what criteria are used to determine who gets free, five-hour seminars from Harreld? Also, how many free, five-hour seminars has Harreld given to private places of business since he took office, and which businesses received those taxpayer subsidized seminars?
As for Harreld’s visit to Alden, were any travel or meal expenses reimbursed apart from those related to the regents’ meetings the next two days? And what about travel time? While Harreld was scheduled to be at SummitAg for five hours, he had to be on the road or in the air to get there, further increasing the amount of time lost to the university, at $400 per hour.
Is it any reason people think the Iowa Board of Regents is corrupt, and that Harreld is nothing more than a tool of the board, and in particular of Bruce Rastetter in all his incarnations? If J. Bruce Harreld has given no other five-hour talks to private companies, let alone five-hours talks to four individuals or less at a private company, the only reasonable conclusion is that Harreld did so at SummitAg not because it was part of his job, but because his appearance ingratiated him to the man who writes his checks. Less than a year after Rastetter arranged for secret meetings between Harreld and four other regents at Rastetter’s SummitAg offices in Ames, a compliant J. Bruce Harreld schlepped his way to Alden, Iowa to give away knowledge that students at the University of Iowa are obligated to pay for. Why Rastetter’s “top four leaders” did not travel to Ames instead of compelling Harreld to travel to them, or did not travel to Iowa City — either for a private seminar with Harreld, or to audit lectures Harreld was scheduled to give — remains a mystery.
J. Bruce Harreld and the Reflexive Need to Retaliate
On Monday of the first week of classes at the University of Iowa, business super-genius and $800K-per-year president J. Bruce Harreld either couldn’t comprehend or lied about the AAUP sanction. On Tuesday of the first week of classes it was disclosed that business super-genius and $800K-per-year president Harreld spent five or more hours, at taxpayer expense, helping his boss’s private-sector employees make more money. That of course brings us to Wednesday, which featured business super-genius and $800K-per-year president Harreld’s inner brat busting out at the mere mention of a perceived indignity the year before.
As we have discussed on multiple occasions, J. Bruce Harreld simply does not have the temperament to be a university president. He is used to the established hierarchical chain of command common in business, and the implicit expectation of deference if not obedience such hierarchies assume. In an educational setting, where truth at least theoretically outweighs any mercenary means of getting ahead, Harreld falters when forced to defend words and deeds that he would clearly rather forget — and would order everyone else to forget if he could.
As reported on Wednesday, 08/24/16, by RadioIowa, J. Bruce Harreld had this to say about the new academic year:
Harreld’s reference to the campus being “calmer” is of course true. Last year, after Harreld’s shocking appointment, and two months later, when Harreld finally took office, there were indeed protests by people who felt betrayed by Harreld and his co-conspirators at the board and university. Now, a full year later, and following on the sanction by the AAUP, it is not only clear that those protests were justified, but that greater revolt would likely have taken place had everyone known then what they know now. Meaning J. Bruce Harreld and his co-conspirators got off easy, at least for the time being.
Despite that reality, however, note how Harreld reflexively trivializes the outpouring of frustration from those who were the victims of his co-conspirators’ abuse. Instead of offering any understanding by linking the obvious fact of the protests with the equally obvious fact of the sanction, Harreld uses the word “calmer” to imply that anyone who protested his appointment was hysterical or irrational. Being J. Bruce Harreld, however — and perhaps sensing that he didn’t get his pugnacious point across as strongly as he would have liked — Harreld then doubles down on his belittling of the protests by characterizing the protesters as “running around campus complaining about things”. Is that how a university president talks, even if that’s how he feels? Or is that more like how a petty, vindictive crank talks when he thinks he’s been slighted on the respect he deserves?
Again, if you only look at the facts, the people who were “running around campus complaining about things” turned out to be more right about the violations (if not actual crimes) which occurred than they knew at the time. Meaning they were right to complain — or, more appropriately, to sound the alarm — as anyone should in response to abuse of any kind. Are people who report fires “running around” and “complaining”? How about people who report sexual abuse or theft?
Where is the diplomat, the peacemaker, in the quote above? Where is the ‘bigger man’ in J. Bruce Harreld? And of course the answer — as demonstrated repeatedly over the entirety of last year and the first three days of this week — is that there isn’t one. J Bruce Harreld is neither a great leader nor a transformational visionary. He is, instead, a petty, punitive man who, almost a year after the fact, could not stop himself from compulsively discrediting and invalidating people who had been proven factually correct in their “complaints”.
However much credit you want to give Harreld for his prior business experience, J. Bruce Harreld has shown that he will lie to your face, then turn around and blame you for expressing outrage at having been deceived. Then again, despite purportedly being an expert on managing culture change in large organizations, the only culture change Harreld has brought to the University of Iowa is the culture of cronyism and corruption that defines the people who installed him in office. (If Harreld is willing to spit reflexive bile at a reporter on the record, after having had all summer to work on his media manners, he must be a real piece of work behind closed doors.)
Finally, as to the “real issues” that in Harreld’s view “count much more”, what Harreld means is gaming Iowa’s national college rank so he looks like a success to people who only pay scant attention to his performance. Not only has that objective been his solitary focus since before taking office, Harreld now has millions of dollars at his disposal in a slush fund financed on the backs of students as result of the recent tuition hikes. In fact, because Harreld finally has the means to push his self-serving agenda throughout the entire school, in the next post we’ll look at the inevitable damage J. Bruce Harreld is about to do as a result of his single-minded obsession.
(J. Bruce Harreld managed to get through Thursday without reminding everyone why he is unfit for a job that he’s being paid $800K to perform — meaning when he isn’t otherwise called away to give private on-site seminars at his boss’s company. How Harreld managed to avoid calling even more negative attention to himself for the first time this week — other than perhaps by simply keeping his mouth shut –remains a mystery.)
Here is an good overview of where academia is headed from the econ blog Naked Capitalism;
Especially liked this comment, couldn’t Rastetter find a cheaper neoliberal robot than Harreld?
August 25, 2016 at 1:12 pm
Is anyone working on automating the work of the administrators? Seems like it would save tons of money and be fairly easy to boot. Rather like Zaphod’s suggestion about replacing Arthur Dent’s brain with an electronic one: “All you would have to do is program it to say ‘What?’ and ‘I don’t understand’ and “Where’s the tea?’ and who would know the difference?”
Or are those jobs sacred due to friend of a friend of a friend, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours networks?
August 25, 2016 at 2:06 pm
Ha. The only thing that can’t be automated is teaching — the squillionaire fad for MOOCs died fast — and that’s just what they want to get rid of.
In fact, yes, they can automate administrators. If a college president can leave the college for weeks or months and not have their absence noticed, a forward-thinking administration could just purchase a dummy and have it periodically emit random neoliberal platitudes.
Perhaps the Japanese sex doll manufacturers could branch out.”
I’ve tried to get my mind around where a lot of the costs are coming from in higher-ed, and every time I go down that road I end up at the explosion of the administrative class, and in particular administrator’s salaries — which they bestow on each other.
It’s been overlooked, but Harreld is now in the top fifteen in presidential compensation in the U.S., as a result of Rastetter’s largesse. There’s no justification for the money he’s making, but he’s still making it.
As I’ve said before, this is a looting on so many levels.
Uh…as I recall, this year we saw the largest number of profs jumping ship that we’ve seen in quite a while. It’s not because the market for professors has improved. On the contrary, that gets worse and worse.
When your key employees can’t get away from you fast enough, this is not “calming down”. Sounds to me like Harreld’s giving one of those Snowball/Napoleon-type speeches about progress.
I’ve been fighting this weird vibe the last day or two about Harreld’s response to the AAUP sanction, because it is beyond incompetent. Take your average press intern on a political campaign and they could string a couple hundred words together which meant nothing and admitted nothing but sounded lofty. Harreld’s had two shots at it now, and both times he crapped his pants.
It’s like I’m missing something that has him paralyzed, but I don’t see it. Which then convinces me that he really is just incapable.
That Harreld is still talking about making lots of “world class” hires into the teeth of the AAUP sanction may explain part of his incapacity, because that was his entire justification for raising tuition — and his main means of raising Iowa’s school rank. But still, it’s pretty shocking to see how bad he is at something so basic.
(And yes, I agree about the exodus. And it’s not going to change if the regents manage to avoid abusing UNI. If I’m the AAUP I don’t life the UI sanction until the regents hire a real prez at that school.)
Let me digress for a second.
A friend of mine went to the UIHC emergency room recently. Despite being seriously ill, he was not given a bed but was wheeled into a hallway, along with 10-12 other patients.
This is the United States of America…with the best educational system the greatest research, best health care, the largest army and navy, arguably the most powerful modern country and the UIHC cant even find a curtain for 20% of the patients in their emergency room.
As you say the UIowa president makes 800,000; Robillard and the UIHC CEO make about 1,000,000 each. There is a shiny new multi-million dollar hospital for children. And poor devils who are seriously sick, get wheeled into a hallway like it is Syria.
Utter failure of leadership, from Branstad’s cronies to Robillard’s deception, to the wholly unqualified corrupt university president.
Not only are student’s parents and citizens screwed, patients too.
My concern with UIHC is that all of the things that should be going one way seem to be going the other way. Patient care, cost overruns, faculty leaving in droves, and on and on.
I don’t know if the legislature is truly aware of the blind spot they now face with Rastetter acting as Robillard’s enabler, and neither man having any accountability to anyone. I also don’t know if there’s anyone at UIHC with the guts to out Robillard — and given the conspiracy of silence regarding Robillard’s central role in the Harreld fraud, I seriously doubt it.
If you look around Iowa City you see new UIHC buildings, new clinics, each extending the reach of UIHC, but also requiring staff, support, resources. If you go to UIHC, you see the effect — dimmer lights, duller paint, clinics that don’t have any patients in them, long wait times to see doctors, long wait times for appointments.
Just as Rastetter is trying to destroy the higher-ed ecosystem in the state, Robillard is so fixated on big-footing competitors in IC that he’s over-extended the hospital, which is saying something.
I am seriously, seriously concerned about where this is headed.
1) UIHC has record-breaking revenues right now. There is no possible way this could be happening unless Branstad’s Medicaid fiasco was designed to line crony pockets, including UIHC. Also, someone really needs to look carefully at Ken Kates in all of this.
2) Robillard has over one million dollars that he is planning to use to “invest” in one or two physician faculty rock stars he plans to bring to campus. This means not investing in junior faculty development and support that would keep faculty on campus. Faculty UIowa brings here as rock stars will almost always leave within 5-years. Junior faculty with potential to be rock stars who are mentored and supported sometimes stick around. But rock stars will certainly drive up the rankings.
It’s much more that $1M!
At least one big name is already on the way.
If there’s enough money, then a few medical school ‘stars’ will come here to establish their empires. All the while, the ‘core’ of UI will continue to wither.
I trust you on the numbers, Paula, but I’ve also learned that nobody at UI/UIHC reports all of the relevant financial data. It’s entirely possible they’re making money hand over fist in terms of income, and yet expenses are whittling that down significantly. (I just don’t know.)
The damage done from concentrating on ‘stars’ as opposed to making sure the entire organization is healthy is not just limited to business. You see the same effect in entertainment/TV, where stars are brought in to shore up sagging shows, and sports, where a start player can put people in the seats even though the team is going nowhere. None of that solves the underlying problem.
My concern about UIHC only grows. This is not an institution that should be experimenting, except through clinical research. It should be refining and stabilizing practices that feed the core mission and competencies. Instead, Robillard is treating it like his personal business laboratory, focusing almost entirely on profits — to Rastetter’s glee — and neglecting his most basic professional obligations.
My guess is that it’ll be necessary to find someone who’ll pay for an independent audit of FOIA-able UIHC records, including the weirdness of the investment records. Which in the end are probably not weird when set against what similar institutions are doing; just weird, which is to say unconscionable, when one considers the mission of a public hospital.
That’d be quite specialized work, of course. And they’d be the ones who’d make the list of what documents would be necessary to request, at which point the real yelling would begin. I wonder who does that work.
Oh, that doesn’t look all that difficult. You could probably make do with a former senior auditor for one of the companies that does internal audits — Anderson, PwC, those places — but it’d probably be better to find a former senior person from a hospital CFO’s office, preferably someplace on the same scale. Then it’s just a matter of paying them to tell you what to ask for and how to respond to the various lies about why you don’t need it and can’t have it.
Then it’s just a matter of finding the money to pay them, which won’t be trivial, but…heh. Well, I can think of some interested parties, also watchdog groups. It might take a little while to set up, but it seems like it ought to be doable.
Anyway, yeah, the world-class whosis. Words. They’d better find at least one or they won’t be able to make a parade float about it.
One possible silver lining is that if Robillard is looking to do something splashy, that might signal that he’s either thinking of getting out or being eased out. The nightmare scenario is that Robillard will hire or appoint his own successor, and I don’t see anyone who could stop him. He could simply announce it, and threaten to roast Harreld and Rastetter over the 2015 search if they opposed him.
What a mess.
You give Robillard too much credit. He is a wet puppy. He will name the person suggested by whichever-big-boy-he-seems-enamored-with-at-the-moment (probably someone Stead declares to be good). It’s unfortunate that the CoM executive dean has so many X chromosomes. It’s possible she could be a good dean, though prone to cronyism in certain circumstances. Probably not one to run the hospital though. Mess indeed.
[on a side note, they have taken steps to make more bed-space available so hopefully there won’t be so many people in the hall. Thanks Obama.]
In a couple of weeks U.S. News & World Report will release its college rankings for 2017. (One of the ways U.S. News monetizes its freely distributed annual rankings is by secreting data from prior years. Instead of adding new web pages by calendar or academic year, U.S. News overwrites rankings each year, making prior data unavailable without payment. For that reason, some of the links in this post will remain live but point to the wrong information when the 2018 rankings are released.)
As regular readers know, from the moment when J. Bruce Harreld first spoke to the University of Iowa community at his candidate forum last September, his singular obsession as a prospective president — and later as the fraudulently appointed president of the school — was aspiring to greatness. In subsequent talk after talk, month after month, Harreld defined greatness in practical, attainable terms as nothing more than gaming Iowa’s national college ranking. Repeatedly, ceaselessly, before he knew anything of substance about the University of Iowa, Harreld hammered home the importance of spending critical time and scarce resources on improving Iowa’s college rank, purportedly as a means of attracting and retaining “world class” faculty.
To whatever extent J. Bruce Harreld and his co-conspirators may have genuinely hoped that diverting money from students and education to gaming the U.S. News rankings would make it easier to hire “world class” faculty, those hopes were dashed when the AAUP sanctioned the University of Iowa for abuses committed during Harreld’s sham hire. As a result, prospective faculty the world over has now been put on notice that both Iowa and the Iowa Board of Regents are run by corrupt individuals who care nothing about shared governance, integrity, fairness or honesty, and that includes J. Bruce Harreld himself, who abetted and actively covered up that fraud.
Still, from Harreld’s obsessive rhetoric, and his belief that programs and people are either “world class” or garbage, it has been made abundantly clear that Harreld still intends to pursue the gaming of Iowa’s college ranking, if only to demonstrate his worth to people who will otherwise pay little or no actual attention to his performance as president. (Put another way, Harreld’s ranking crusade is a marketing gimmick for Harreld himself.) This manic pursuit was in turn the reason why Harreld recently jammed punitive tuition hikes down the throats of the students at Iowa, raising millions of dollars for a slush fund that will be administered at his discretion. Now, finally armed with the economic leverage to which he has clearly long been accustomed, Harreld has the means of compelling, inducing and extorting change among faculty who would otherwise prefer to focus on their actual jobs. As a result, Harreld is now poised to turn the entirety of UI administration to the task of gaming Iowa’s ranking, using proven corrupt strategies which we previously detailed in an extensive post on that very subject.
In 2015, Iowa’s U.S. News Ranking was 71, which is essentially what it was for five straight years under Sally Mason. In 2016, Mason’s last official year, Iowa’s U.S. News Ranking fell off a cliff to 82, raising questions not only about what changed, but whether someone at UI administration cratered the rankings so as to make Harreld look good when they inevitably bounced back. (If that sounds insane, remember the fraud that was orchestrated in order to hire Harreld, and the lie that Regents’ President Bruce Rastetter orchestrated with regard to Iowa’s 2015 legislative funding request, simply to make Harreld look good after his rigged appointment.)
Although Harreld was on the job at UI for the majority of the 2015-2016 academic year, he probably did not have the leverage or resources necessary to move the ranking needle much over that time. That does not mean, of course, that Harreld won’t claim responsibility for any gains, just as he will point to a continuing slide as justification for whatever shifty plan he already has up his sleeve. What it does mean is that the real damage Harreld will do by devoting time, attention and precious resources to gaming Iowa’s ranking starts now, as Harreld begins his first full year on the job flush with student cash, and now much more aware of the pressure points that he can exploit among the faculty and administrative staff.
The National College Ranking Lie
If you’ve only been on the internet for five minutes in your entire life, you know that human beings like rankings. Best car in a given class. Best restaurant in a given city. Best movie in a given year. Best ranking of bests on a given topic.
The obvious problem with rankings is that subjectivity is almost always involved, and quite often dominates. Even when results are objective, however — as is the case in athletics, where winners and losers are clearly determined — agreeing on the ranking of best teams or individuals in a particular sport can still be fraught with legitimate debate. Even when head-to-head playoffs determine a champion — as opposed to relying on a final year-end poll, as was the case until recently in college football — key injuries or random bad weather may factor into the outcome.
Compared to the relative objectivity of sports rankings, then, it should be apparent that no matter which criteria are used to determine the rankings of colleges and universities, and no mater how objective those rankings may seem, the entire process is subjective because it hinges on which factors are and are not included. For example, if there’s no place to include the number of sexual assaults on campus, or the reporting of sexual assaults is not standardized across schools, then a college could be highly ranked even though its campus is a predator’s playground.
Another problem with rankings is that they are almost always numerical, leading to the false perception that there must be substantive differences between any two ranks. While everyone would probably like to be 1st in a pertinent ranking, it’s entirely possible that ending up 1st or 2nd could be the result of nothing more than noise in the formula used to calculate the result. And if that’s the case (and it is), it’s all the more likely that the difference between being 81st, 82nd or 83rd is meaningless, yet in a numerical list those differences appear absolute. (At Iowa’s current rank of #82 among four-year universities, movement up or down of four spots or less in this year’s ranking will most likely be the result of statistical noise, not a reflection of any substantive change is Iowa’s academic value or worth.)
In a moment we will get into why J. Bruce Harreld’s determination to game Iowa’s college rank is a failure of leadership, but for now it’s important to understand that the fuzziness of such rankings precludes any real determination of the educational quality being delivered. Yes, the schools at the very top of any ranking will certainly have some advantages, but as anyone knows who has been in high school or even junior high, there is a massive difference between being an esteemed or veteran teacher and being a good teacher. For every high-flying faculty member at a highly-ranked school there are tens if not hundreds of equally qualified and better teachers on a given subject at colleges and universities around the country. (At the bleeding edge of any academic discipline there will be exemplary departments, and those are often clustered around money and prestige, but most college rankings concern undergraduate education, not graduate-level programs.)
While it’s possible to rank almost anything, it should be equally clear that many if not most rankings have no real utility. Not only will nobody to decide to go to the University of Iowa because it is 82nd instead of 83rd, no one will decide not to attend UI because it is 82nd instead of 81st. Of primary concern, rather, will be tuition cost, distance from home, cost-of-living, and myriad other factors, only some of which will affect the rankings. Meaning that apart from making money for the people who generate and promote said rankings, and giving the marketing weasels at every school another mushy metric to promote, college rankings produce almost no useful benefit — and that’s true even if they are organically derived, as opposed to being intentionally manipulated, as Harreld intends to do.
Were rankings genuinely intended to be useful to students, the first change you would see would be grouping similarly ranked schools by category instead of ranking them numerically. At the top you would have schools like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton and a few others, which seem to have more of the top faculty. The remaining categories, in no particular order, would be schools grouped by sizes and types, within which all schools would be of the same academic standard, just as with the schools at the top of the heap.
To be clear, it is undeniably useful to be able to compare ‘sticker prices’ for schools, just as it is with motor vehicles. It’s also undeniably useful to have some sense of the ‘features’ at a school, as it is when buying a new car or truck. However, the factors that go into a given student ultimately choosing a particular school are as varied as the factors that go into choosing a particular make and model of four-wheel transport. (You might prefer to drive a sports car, but if you live on a gravel road, chances are you’re going to need ground clearance, four-wheel drive, and durability.)
Complicating matters to the point of obscurity is the fact that education as a product is incredibly nebulous. While some metrics which are used to produce a given ranking could conceivably help students avoid truly awful schools, by and large the academic benefit for any student is determined not by where they go but what they themselves put into the educational process. If a student attends one of the best schools in the country but is drunk or high half the time, that student may still get great marks because of grade inflation, and land a high-paying job because of networking among alums, but that student will have learned nothing. Conversely, a student forced by life circumstance to attend a lesser-ranked school may still transform their existence through single-minded devotion to that academic task.
Even coming to conclusions about the benefit of a particular school over a given student’s lifetime is impossible because of all the variables involved, which makes rankings in themselves all the more absurd. If a four-year education was somehow critical to an individual’s immediate well-being it might be worth delving into ranking differences, but that’s not the case with education. Yes, any consumer wants to make a good purchase as opposed to a bad one, and that’s particularly true given the massive amount of time and money involved in acquiring even an undergraduate degree, but in terms of immediate risk there just isn’t any correlation. Going to one of the best schools in the country won’t guarantee your success in life, nor will attending an average or middling school doom you to mediocrity.
Unfortunately, that fuzziness makes it that much more difficult to perceive the damage J. Bruce Harreld is about to do by perverting the University of Iowa’s academic mission. If the strength or weakness of an education cannot in itself be quantified, let alone predicted over a lifetime, then any negative effects from changes which are made to specifically improve a school’s rankings will also be virtually impossible to perceive. That does not mean there won’t be negative effects — just that it will be very hard to detect them unless you specifically know what to look for. (And as the gatekeeper-in-charge, Harreld isn’t going to provide the information necessary to make such determinations — just as he has precluded UI from releasing the total amount raised by his abusive tuition hikes.)
One way we could lift the veil a little bit, however, would be to look for similar failings in rankings which are both more vital and informative, and by chance we can do exactly that without even leaving the University of Iowa campus. Because while the 2017 academic rankings for UI are not yet out, and Harreld is only now embarking on his first full year as the school’s illegitimate president, across the Iowa river the 2017 rankings for the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics were released a couple of weeks ago, and UIHC has been under the control of the same man for close to a decade.
UIHC’s National Hospital Rank
If you’re familiar with UIHC or its reputation, take a moment and think about the criteria that would make you feel good about receiving care at that hospital. (If you’re not familiar with UIHC, think instead about any large general hospital you’re familiar with.) What would you consider to be positive indicators of care, and what would be a red flag?
On 08/02/16 the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller reported on the 2017 UIHC rankings by U.S. News and World Report. Here is the headline and subhead of her story:
University of Iowa hospitals again ranked nationally in seven specialties
Some programs drop, others climb
If you’re familiar with UIHC that will all seem par for the course. Not only is UIHC the largest hospital in the state, by far, and not only does it have an excellent reputation in the Midwest, but it includes medical departments which are respected around the world. It is also inevitable that in any ranking system some programs will rise and fall, perhaps by a little as a result of noise in the data, or by a lot if there are substantive changes in a particular department or its personnel.
Now here are the opening paragraphs of Miller’s piece:
If anything stands out it’s the plunge in the rankings for gynecology and neurology, but absent a deep dive into the data those changes could be caused by almost anything — meaning it’s hard to know if they’re consequential in terms of patient care. In fact, if you’re looking for a gynecological or neurological consult, the downward trend is probably more concerning than the numbers themselves, but even at that there’s also nothing that would keep you from seeking treatment if you were in need. For the same reason, it would also be difficulty for Miller or any other reporter to say something truly useful about the meaning behind those specific numbers without doing additional reporting and writing an extensive article.
As a result, what gets the most notice — and what is intended to get the most notice — is the headline, subhead and opening paragraph or two, which, in combination with the very nature of rankings themselves, tends to paint a rosy picture. You can see that persistent effect by doing a Google search for other stories about UIHC’s rankings, which use the same headline keywords over and over: “Nationally Ranked”, “Among Nation’s Best”, “Among Nation’s Elite”. And it’s all factually true — but it’s not the whole story.
To be clear this is not a problem with Miller’s reporting, or the reporting of any other reporter. It is, inherently, a problem with rankings, which are often for-profit, meaning the parasitic ranking agencies are themselves motivated to spread positive news because it ingratiates them to the institutions being ranked. (The same inherent conflict of interest affects stock analysts and bond-rating agencies.)
You can see that effect simply by clicking on the U.S. News and World Report for UIHC, and perusing the specific rankings. Were I a prospective patient, I would indeed find a lot of useful information displayed on the UIHC page. It is also conceivable that the same overview for another hospital might contain some very bad news indeed. On the UIHC page, however, there are no apparent red flags, which is of course reassuring. To be sure there are some oddities, but even those are countered by apparent positives. (For example, the UIHC Ophthalmology Department — which has consistently ranked high over the years — scores only 11.7 out of 100, but is listed as the 7th best ophthalmology program in the country.)
Toward the bottom of the main UIHC page there is a section devoted to specific procedures, and again UIHC seems to do pretty well – meaning there are no apparent red flags. In fact, in most areas UIHC is good and in some areas it seems to be great. As it happens, however, while writing this post I read a story about how colorectal cancer was the number two cancer killer in the U.S., so I naturally clicked on the ‘scorecard’ to see how UIHC ranked for Colon Cancer Surgery.
While U.S. News rated UIHC as “High Performing” for that procedure, here is what I found when I clicked the link for details:
Now, momentarily setting aside your reaction to that information, imagine that you’re a patient with colorectal cancer and you’re researching different medical facilities where you can have that procedure. Are you going to UIHC, or are you running in the opposite direction?
If you’re in Iowa, one of the most likely places you would flee would be to the Mayo Clinic, just across the state line in Rochester, Minnesota. While Mayo gets the same “High performing” rating from U.S. News for colon cancer surgery, if you click on the ‘scorecard’ for that procedure you will find that Mayo bests UIHC in exactly those areas you would be most concerned about as a prospective patient. (The fact that U.S. News considers both Mayo and UIHC “High performing” for colon cancer surgery, despite wide variance in outcomes, is yet another example of how the rankings themselves are often presented with positive spin.)
Also, note how much more useful “Worse than average” is in making your decision, compared with a numerical ranking. Were the U.S. News college rankings broken into five groups — “Much better than average”, “Better than average”, “Average”, “Worse than average”, and “Much worse than average” — that would be significantly more useful to prospective students than having to figure out what the difference was between schools at #38 and #55. (Because that would be considerably less useful to the marketing departments at those schools, however, numerical rankings persist.)
I am not by my nature easily shocked, and I am not claiming that my eyes popped out of my head when I read that UIHC was “Worse than average” for a common procedure performed on a high number of patients. What I can tell you is that it never, ever occurred to me that UIHC would be rated “Worse than average” for any procedure. I will also add that such a poor rating was not unique to colorectal cancer surgery. Here’s what I found on the ‘scorecard’ for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Repair, which U.S. News also rated UIHC as “High Performing”:
Worst? Worst??? Again, I don’t want to go off the deep end here, but it never occurred to me for a second that UIHC could be “Worst” at anything in terms of national rankings. Maybe not “Best”, but definitely not “Worst.”
My first thought was that perhaps the rarity of AAAR skewed the results, but no — UIHC saw between 57 and 91 cases. My second thought was that unfortunately AAAR is not the kind of problem where you get to consult rankings and pick and choose who solves that problem. If you’re lucky, you might live long enough to get to a hospital where someone knows what to do, but even then the odds say you still won’t make it.
As a matter of basic public health, then, if not also reputation, you would think any hospital even remotely qualified to perform AAAR would do everything possible to be at least average at the surgery — as UIHC is — and average at preventing readmissions, which UIHC clearly is not. (Which also suggests that the rating for the success of the surgery may be overly optimistic.)
Are there a lot of factors that go into those alarming UIHC ratings? Yes, of course. By the same token, however, some factors which might point to problems apart from medical practice can also be ruled out. That’s particularly true on the nursing side, where UIHC has been designated a Magnet Hospital three times running, and the UI College of Nursing is perennially highly ranked. Whatever the ultimate reason for those poor procedure ratings, however, the responsibility ultimately falls to the leadership at UIHC, which brings us back to the one man who has had iron-fisted control over that institution for close to a decade.
Jean Robillard and the UIHC Rankings
Along with being Vice President for Medical Affairs at UI — and, incidentally, one of two key co-conspirators behind J. Bruce Harreld’s fraudulent appointment as president — Jean Robillard currently is and previously was the Dean of the UI College of Medicine. So to whatever extent Robillard is or is not involved in day-to-day operations at the hospital (no pun intended) — which is run on the business side by CEO Ken Kates — Robillard clearly has a great deal of influence over, and buck-stopping responsibility for, the performance of the entire UI medical-industrial pipeline.
As we have also just seen, it is incredibly easy for UIHC to tout its achievements and successes while trusting that the rankings agencies will bury bad news or red flags behind multiple clicks at the bottom of a web page. Likewise, because reporting in the press often comes from press releases that the hospitals themselves put out, only when you drill down into the details — and then only if said details are reported — can you get a real picture of how good a hospital is at actual procedures they might perform on you.
Note also that money does not factor into hospital rankings, while it is a key component of academic scores. There are ethical reasons for that, of course, but it is also an indicator of how critical healthcare is compared to higher education. Although college ought to be available to everyone, it is still an elective pursuit, not an existential imperative. The pertinent question in a medical context is whether the physicians and hospitals being ranked are good or bad at the procedures being rated, and in the two examples cited above UIHC is clearly below par, if not well-below par.
So how does that happen? How does a prestigious hospital, highly if not nationally if not globally ranked in specific departments, end up being “Worse than average” or “Worst” at anything? In fact, those results are all the more inexplicable given the totality of circumstances at UIHC.
Headlines declaring that UIHC is the best hospital in Iowa may seem impressive, but UIHC effectively has no competition in the state. There are other good hospitals in Iowa to be sure, but in terms of scale and breadth of services, nothing close. (The closest in the region would again be the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.)
Unlike many if not most other hospitals across the country, UIHC is also a state-run institution. Because it functions under the auspices of the Iowa Board of Regents — and here we will momentarily ignore the rampant crony corruption at the board — and is tightly integrated with the UI College of Medicine, UIHC not only profits by being vertically integrated into the state’s healthcare network, but it is backed by the full faith and credit of the state. (The latitude afforded by that standing was recently demonstrated when Robillard blew the construction budget of the new Children’s Hospital by $68M, then solved that problem by raising prices 6% across the board. Because UIHC provides so many state and specialty services, and has limited competition, it effectively holds a monopoly on a large number of patients, which it can squeeze whenever it wants.)
One of the inherent problems with gauging leadership is that you can never do an apples-to-apples comparison. With seed crops you can plant different varieties in the same ground and compare yields, but you can’t put multiple individuals in the same leadership position and compare their performance. Largely for that reason alone, Jean Robillard is often touted as a great administrator — again, ignoring the premeditated conspiracy he perpetrated in order to hire Harreld — when even a cursory review would suggest that whatever Robillard has accomplished, he’s done so with the odds heavily stacked in his favor. And yet somehow UIHC is still rated as “Worst than average” or “Worst’ for critical procedures. How can that not be the result of failed leadership?
Given that most hospitals face intensive competition, and UIHC does not, and most hospitals would be rocked by a $68M cost overrun, and UIHC was not, how is it that most hospitals do better at performing colon cancer surgery, while UIHC fares worse? As for being ranked “Worst” at anything, that fact alone calls into question what Jean Robillard is concerning himself with as VP for Medical Affairs and dean of the UI College of Medicine, if not making sure that all care at UIHC is at least “Average”.
Fortunately, as it turns out, we can actually answer that question. From a 02/25/16 Gazette article by Vanessa Miller, regarding Robillard’s unilateral decision to kick Debra Schwinn to the curb and claim the deanship of the College of Medicine for himself:
If you haven’t been following the aftermath of J. Bruce Harreld’s hire last fall, the first thing you need to know here is that Bruce Rastetter is the other key co-conspirator who fraudulently jammed Harreld into the UI presidency. As such, when these two men talk in public about big plans for the future, you can be guaranteed that A) they laid the groundwork for those plans long ago, and B) they’re up to no good.
The second thing you need to know is that one of the big reasons why Rastetter loves hims some Robillard is that Robillard’s successes have come from leveraging UIHC’s market muscle to expand services and crush competition. To anyone concerned about actual patient outcomes — including those people unfortunate enough to have their abdominal aorta explode — the idea that Robillard is about to speed med students through school in three quarters of the normal time probably seems horrifying. Because Bruce Rastetter made all of his money in hog lots and ethanol, however — meaning commodities, as opposed to services — such a plan makes “intuitive” sense. (If there is one person on the face of the earth that you do not want determining your medical care, or the educational preparedness of the doctors who treat you, it is Bruce Rastetter.)
Leaders determine which issues get attention and which issues are ignored. The very fact that UIHC is receiving below average marks for any common procedure in the U.S. News & World Report rankings screams negligence, particularly given all of UIHC’s institutional advantages as a state-controlled teaching hospital. Yet as we’ve just seen, UIHC is not even average in some life-critical procedures and outcomes relative to the rest of the country.
As if to drive that point home with emphasis, a little over a week ago — after I had most of this post blocked out — Vanessa Miller reported the following story in the Gazette, on 08/19/16:
The idea that the former governor of the state, and current Secretary of Agriculture, came to Iowa City and ripped UIHC for falling behind in fighting one of the most obvious current public health concerns is beyond embarrassing. Along with Robillard’s radical plan to re-imagine medical education — which no one but Bruce Rastetter is calling for — and potentially fatal weaknesses in specific medical procedures, the evidence would seem to suggest that Jean Robillard is the problem at UIHC, and now also at the UI College of Medicine.
Unfortunately, there is absolutely no chance that anyone will be able to hold Robillard accountable. In fact, ever since he and Rastetter conspired to fraudulently appoint J. Bruce Harreld, Robillard has effectively functioned as a fourth regent president, as opposed to the vice president of anything.
Ironically, in the run-up to the hiring fraud perpetrated by Rastetter and Robillard, Robillard not only frequently talked about Harreld’s visionary capacity for transformational change, Robillard tied that ability to current issues at UIHC, even to the point of inviting Harreld to campus to speak to 40 or so movers and shakers in UIHC administration. On the eve of taking office, however, Harreld suddenly announced that he would not be involved in the decision making at UIHC, because Robillard had everything under control. From an 11/01/15 article by the Press-Citizen’s Jeff Charis-Carlson:
Had J. Bruce Harreld been elected president on the merits of his candidacy and experience, he would now have authority over Robillard and everyone else at the University of Iowa. Because Harreld is instead a puppet hired by Rastetter and Robillard, he has no authority except that granted to him by those two men, which is why Robillard now functions like a rogue president at UIHC. Adding to the irony is that the very premise Robillard used as cover for the fraudulent appointment of J. Bruce Harreld — that the university needed someone with a fresh perspective — is exactly why Robillard is failing University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
J. Bruce Harreld and UI’s National College Rank
The damage Jean Robillard has done to UIHC by taking the focus off medical procedures and patent care, and instead paying attention to a demented new vision of medical education, is the same damage J. Bruce Harreld is about to do to the rest of the campus, and for the same reason. Where Robillard is more concerned with turning out medical warrior entrepreneurs and expanding the UIHC footprint than with delivering the best healthcare services possible, Harreld is concerned with turning a profit and improving Iowa’s national ranking as opposed to delivering the best educational services across the entire campus
Again, nowhere in the run-up to Harreld’s sham appointment was there any emphasis on improving Iowa’s national rank. That was not the focus of the search committee, it was not in Rastetter’s charge to the search committee, and it wasn’t the focus on the conversation surrounding the search. And yet, in only a matter of days, president-elect J. Bruce Harreld — who knew literally nothing about the University of Iowa when he was hired — unilaterally decided that school resources would be devoted to his pet cause to the exclusion of any other concern. (We know this because Harreld later rigged the budgeting process to force all administrative plans to comport with his determination to raise Iowa’s collegiate rank.)
Like Robillard, Harreld will focus attention where he wants it, allowing other aspects of the school — including core education — to languish. The less important a given aspect of study or educational services is to Iowa’s U.S. News ranking, the less attention those aspects will get. Unfortunately, unlike basic medical procedures at UIHC, no one will ever have visibility to the resulting damage, or to Harreld’s manifest responsibility for same. Like Robillard, however, any improvements in UI’s ratings will be touted as success, even as key parts of the school rot.
So deeply has Harreld managed to burrow his self-invented mandate that the new UI Five-Year Strategic Plan — which Harreld initially tried to rush through in only a matter of weeks, after the previous plan took over a year — specifically defines Harreld’s obsession as a long-term objective:
Fortuitously, scholars have actually researched what it takes to raise a university’s ranking from the mid-thirties to top-twenty:
It is inevitable that there will be parasitical publications ranking everything under the sun, including colleges and universities. The single most critical defense against the toxicity of such rankings, however, is leadership which protects the parts of the school which are not measured, but which are still important. Instead, the two corrupt administrators who went out of their way to run a fraudulent presidential search in 2015 ended up hiring a man whose sole administrative vision is gaming the University of Iowa’s national college rank by any available means.
Administering to a school ranking is as derelict as teaching to a test. It is an admission of incompetence, if not a declaration of outright hostility to the entire premise of education. Any college or university president who devotes time, attention and critical resources to gaming their school ranking is demonstrating not leadership but salesmanship, and fully embracing the mantra of marketing over the obligation of teaching students how to think and learn. Unfortunately, because he is an inveterate snob, J. Bruce Harreld sees the world only in terms of “world class” and failure, meaning anything that is not “world class” might as well go in the trash. (And by “world class” Harreld of course means ‘good for UI’s national ranking’.)
About the only positive difference between Robillard and Harreld is that Harreld’s narrow-minded focus on rankings probably won’t kill anybody. What it will do, however, is short-change students on the education they could have gotten in exchange for funding Harreld’s self-aggrandizing pursuit of a meaningless number. And yet given Harreld’s long history as a marketing weasel, as well as the fact the he had no prior experience in academic administration when he was hired, it can’t even be said that his obsession is a surprise. What is clear is that anyone who has remotely considered spending time and money on improving a school’s U.S. News ranking has concluded that doing so is a mistake.
Here is what the president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) — an advocacy group whose board of directors is a rogue’s gallery I would not expect to agree with on any issue — had to say about the appointment of J. Bruce Harreld, on 09/04/15:
While ACTA probably did not know that Harreld was fraudulently appointed, or that Mitch Daniels would play a now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t role in Harreld’s sham hire, it’s worth noting that ACTA’s views on the gaming college rankings, and specifically the U.S. News & World Report rankings, are quite clear. From 09/09/14:
(Other entertaining ACTA reads include Study the Liberal Arts: You Can Get a Job!, and the essential America Has to Stop Paying Lip Service to STEM.)
If J. Bruce Harreld’s obsessive interest in Iowa’s national ranking lies outside the bounds of ACTA’s ideology, it can safely be said that Harreld himself is the outlier. And yet his fetish isn’t really surprising given that one thing bonding Rastetter, Robillard and Harreld together is their fixation on exploiting every aspect of higher education for profit, as opposed to student (or patient) outcomes. Which may be why the other thing those three men have in common is that they all lied and cheated in order to give J. Bruce Harreld the job he now holds, which he could not have acquired honestly on the merits of his own candidacy. (If you know anyone at ACTA, they might want to know that their poster boy for transformational change turned out to be a sham in more ways than one.)
UI’s flirted with “get a degree without hardly going to college” arrangements before; they vanish pretty fast because in the end the kids figure out they’re garbage. It doesn’t hurt that everyone they talk to from secretaries to full professors tells them that yes, the program exists, but is basically hooey and a bad idea if they want to get into a reasonable grad program. I can see Robillard trying to set up a deal that’ll guarantee kids admission to med school if they do well in the 3-year baloney program — they like pluses in these things, so maybe it’ll be a 3+3, three years of undergrad and three years in med school — but I don’t know where you’re supposed to go from there. In the end you still have to do a residency, and you’re competing with everyone else, so you actually have to be at least as competent as the next frightening fresh grad. If you aren’t, the residency institutions will figure it out pretty fast.
If you actually look at med school curricula, it does at first blush look like there’s plenty to cut. I mean how often will your GP have to consider biochemical aspects of your illness, rilly? Or read path slides? Or, or, or. But the answer is “depends on how much he or she really wants to save your life”, because medicine is still a generalist’s game. Knowing a lot about a lot is still important. Otherwise…well, otherwise your ranking is Worst.
The other thing is that boosterism only goes so far. I came here from a place that was well aware of its own cruddiness. Iowa, when I got here, wasn’t at all cruddy. Really pretty darn well-maintained. But the boosterism generated in a time like that does eventually run out, and people do figure it out, especially in a time of rapid communication with Outside. Where a game like that ends is in massive brain drain, leaving those who genuinely can’t go anyplace else standing around in a circle hung with banners and assuring themselves of how great they are anyway, if unappreciated, and lamenting the fact that the feds are on their backs and not giving them money. I mean you can just drive straight south and see what it looks like.
What would be helpful, though, is for Jeff or Vanessa to do a nice story on those subscores.
At the national level it’s been a little frightening seeing how easy it really is for a fascist movement to take hold. (Were it not for democracy and the free press, I have no doubt that Trump supporters would have already organized themselves into local bands of enforcers, roughing people up who disagreed with them.)
At the state level, I’m still gobsmacked by the pervasive corruption coming from Branstad and his machine — which includes Rastetter and the regents. There is no real oversight, and as a result there is no accountability.
Locally, at UI, my biggest disappointment is how eager people in key positions of power were to either participate in the hijacking of the presidency, or to simply go along to get along. This was not a routine expression of political power in an administrative context, it was a theft — a hijacking — of millions of dollars in salary alone.
I don’t know who will finally put all that together in the press, but somebody will, and when they do it will stick. Even if no new facts are disclosed, there’s already enough in play to bring these people down.