Take a look at this face:
That’s the face of J. Bruce Harreld, the current president of the University of Iowa. That’s also the face of crony corruption in higher education — not only in the state of Iowa, but across the United States.
Where most people have to earn the job they have, and are at risk of termination if they fail to perform, that’s not the case for J. Bruce Harreld. He got his job thanks to an old friend and mentor, who also happens to be a rich and powerful alumnus at UI. Now, three and a half years later, after proving himself variously pedestrian, incompetent and dangerous, Harreld has been given a contract extension and pay increase despite his demonstrable failings. (If you ever wondered if it pays to have rich friends in high places, it pays in the millions.)
If you are not familiar with the backstory — perhaps because you’re new to the Iowa campus — here’s a quick rundown. In early 2015, UI megadonor Jerre Stead contacted the then-president of the Iowa Board of Regents, Bruce Rastetter, and suggested that Rastetter hire Stead’s old friend and long-time mentee, J. Bruce Harreld, as the next president at Iowa. (Stead made this recommendation despite the fact that Harreld was not qualified for the job, and had no experience in academic administration or the public sector.) After authorizing a fake presidential search that ran in parallel — thus providing the appearance of a legitimate search, at a cost to the state of more than $300K — Rastetter took Stead’s advice and hired Harreld in early September of that same year. Six weeks after Harreld took office in early November, he then turned around and granted the naming rights to the new children’s hospital to Stead, with Rastetter once again facilitating that crony transaction.
Flash forward three and a half years, and the Board of Regents — which is now presided over by Rastetter’s crony buddy, Mike Richards — just announced that it was extending Harreld’s initial five-year contract by another three years. That means Harreld now has another four and a half years to engineer similar crony deals for anyone he is beholden to, or anyone who makes it worth his while. Speaking of which…the regents also increased Harreld’s compensation package, so he will now be making $1M a year starting in 2020.
As to the board’s rationale for showering Harreld with more money over a longer time frame, here’s how the regents justified that decision:
“President Harreld has provided steady, deliberate, and thoughtful leadership over the past three-and-a-half years, advocating strongly for increased funding from the state, predictable tuition, higher faculty salaries, and a greater investment in student success,” says Regents President Mike Richards.
As regular readers are well aware, most of those claims are platitudes, but some are actual lies. For example, other than lip service in university press releases, Harreld rarely advocated for more legislative funding. In fact, to the consternation of the UI community, in early 2017 he made a rather startling pronouncement to the contrary. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 02/02/17:
“I’m not sure we need much more money,” [Harreld] said. “We just need to use it more wisely. And we actually need to change our mindset. That, in fact, these are our assets, and we should understand how to leverage them and use them for the long run.”
To remove any doubt that Harreld was specifically talking about legislative funding, Harreld repeated his assertion on 03/10/17 — as reported by the Press-Citizen’s Jeff Charis-Carlson:
“I’m not so sure from our state we need more money as much as predictability,” Harreld said Thursday.
He also said public universities need to move beyond a past culture of dependency — in which they were always turning to the state with their hands outstretched — and begin more aggressively seeking new options for revenue.
As for “aggressively seeking new options for revenue”, on that point Harreld was true to his word. While no president in UI history probably did less to compel the governor and legislature to increase funding, Harreld and the regents quickly converted his call for “predictability” in legislative support into a call for “predictable tuition”. The end result is that even as Harreld publicly insisted UI did not need any new money from the governor or legislature, he and the regents would raise tuition five times in just under four years. And that includes implementing a new long-term plan last month, which will not only increase tuition 3% per year regardless of any actual need, but over and above the cost of inflation.
Harreld’s Actual Track Record at UI
Objectively, Harreld’s leadership at Iowa has been neither steady, deliberate nor thoughtful, save his resolute fixation on strip-mining money from students and families. For example, during his 2015 candidate forum on the UI campus, which took place only two days before his appointment, Harreld repeatedly stressed that he would take the university from “great to greater”. Setting aside the fact that the search itself was a sham, in appointing Harreld the board specifically referenced Harreld’s sloganeering vision for the future. From the Gazette’s Miller, on 09/03/15:
blockquote>Regents President Bruce Rastetter, acknowledging the “tough decision” of picking a president, said the board wants to see the UI “become larger and greater” under someone with Harreld’s business credentials.
“And so what we wanted to do and what we ended up with is someone who has spent his life providing leadership … in terms of collaboration, in terms of teambuilding, in terms of reaching out to disparate groups and involving them and developing a strategic plan on how you can be better, how you can go from great to greater,” Rastetter said.
During his contentious forum Tuesday, Harreld used that phrase — “great to greater” — to describe his vision for the UI. And after his selection Thursday, he repeated the message that “great institutions don’t stay where they are.”
“You either go up or go down, and I think we have all the opportunity in the world here to go from great to greater,” he said.
The college rankings compiled by U.S. News are one of the most widely used metrics for determining success in higher education. While such rankings are inherently flawed, any concerns about their validity did not prevent Harreld from repeatedly mentioning the U.S. News rankings — and insisting the he would improve Iowa’s standing in those rankings — during his first two years in office. Over the past year and a half, however, Harreld has had much less to say about Iowa’s U.S. News rank, and it’s worth looking at those rankings to understand why.
Here are the U.S. News rankings covering Harreld’s presidency so far. The first year, 2016, spanned the 2015-2016 academic cycle when Harreld was hired, and as such reflected his predecessor’s policies. The fourth year is the current 2018-2019 academic year, which concludes in two days. The first number in each ranking represents Iowa’s standing against all universities; the second number reflects Iowa’s rank among public universities.
2016: 82; 34
2017: 82; 33
2018: 78; 31
2019: 89; 38
After an uptick in Harreld’s second full year on the job (2018) — which was within the margin of error for the U.S. News methodology — Iowa’s rankings fell off a cliff in the current fiscal year, following three years of “steady, deliberate, and thoughtful leadership” by Harreld. What Harreld sold as “great to greater” became ‘great to crater’, thanks to his policies and leadership. (Also note that those drops occurred despite a massive infusion of new, unrestricted revenue from serial tuition hikes, which Harreld could spend as he saw fit — including gaming those rankings.)
As for advocating for students, at the same time Harreld was asserting that the university did not need any more state funding, not only was he aggressively imposing serial tuition hikes, but Harreld also set into motion a plan to defraud thousands of UI students and families of $4.3M in scholarships that the university was legally obligated to pay. From the P-C’s Charis-Carlson, on 02/24/17:
The original award notification received by Ben Muller and other students in 2014, 2015 and 2016 said nothing about the multi-year scholarships being conditional upon the university’s financial situation.
“There is nothing that we’re aware of – not one thing – that indicates that when these students made their decision to accept their scholarship there was any ‘out’ for (UI) based on finances,” [Attorney Steve] Wandro said. “Where (UI) is coming from on this, we just don’t know.”
Last month, however, UI changed the terms and conditions language on its scholarships website to reflect the likelihood of UI experiencing a mid-year cut in state funding, according to [UI spokesperson Jeneane] Beck.
Beck said the follow[ing] sentence was added to the website Jan. 18: “In the event there are reductions in state funding for the University of Iowa, support for institutional scholarships and grants may be impacted. If that happens, academic awards may be reduced within the academic year accordingly.”
In any other setting this naked attempt to defraud thousands of students and their families would have triggered a law enforcement investigation and criminal prosecution. Because the University of Iowa is part of state government, however, and the regents are crony appointees of the governing majority, the regents said nothing even after it became abundantly clear that Iowa had attempted to defraud its own students. Fortunately, as a result of two immediate class-action lawsuits, Harreld and UI quickly backed down. From the Gazette’s Miller, on 03/01/17:
In the face of widespread blowback over its decision to cut millions worth of scholarships from thousands of students, the University of Iowa backtracked Wednesday.
The scholarships for students already expecting them will be reinstated, UI President Bruce Harreld said in a statement. But the five programs in question will end after that.
The announcement comes after a barrage of criticism from lawmakers and after two students filed lawsuits in hopes of getting a judge to force the university to uphold awards it made to more than 3,000 students.
Because Harreld folded in the face of legal challenges, we still don’t know who added the text to the UI website, or who ordered them to do so. The fact that we don’t know, however, is yet more evidence that the Board of Regents is looking the other way instead of holding Harreld accountable. As for Harreld bringing his vaunted private-sector business experience to bear in non-criminal ways, we find multiple examples in the events surrounding the opening of the new children’s hospital — which Harreld could not wait to name after his crony benefactor, Jerre Stead.
In November of 2016, a little over a year after Harreld bestowed the naming rights on his old friend, Stead himself arrived on campus for the dedication of the new children’s hospital, which was running tens of millions of dollars over budget and in danger of missing its opening date. In anticipation of the dedication an open house was also held for the public and press, ten days or so before the official ceremony. What would not be reported until later, however, was that in anticipation of the open house and dedication, someone authorized the construction and subsequent demolition of fake fronts for those events. As reported by the Gazette’s Miller, on 05/10/18:
Temporary fixtures and facades for a November 2016 open house at the new University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital cost nearly $300,000, according to information obtained by The Gazette in a public records request.
The $360 million hospital wasn’t as far along as administrators had let on, making the facade necessary.
Days after tens of thousands toured the hospital during the Nov. 5-6 open house, some of the building’s temporary ceilings, carpet — even a sprinkler system — came down.
Despite the fact that construction was behind schedule and over budget, someone wasted more time and money on fake construction, either in an effort to keep up appearances, or to mislead the public about the pace of progress. Although the hospital had been scheduled to open in December of 2016, and construction crews were purportedly working overtime, progress was delayed and money wasted on institutional vanity. Not surprisingly, it soon became clear that the mid-December move-in date would be missed, thus giving Harreld a chance to pontificate on the sophisticated art of scheduling large construction projects. From the Daily Iowan’s interview of Harreld on 12/08/16:
And so anyway — with the ribbon cutting. December 10 was the target and to be honest I always said to a couple people, why do you pick a specific date for such a complex project? And if you’re going to pick a date to give yourselves a lot of room and it didn’t feel like we were giving ourselves a lot of room. So at any rate, sure enough, we started having issues [because] the building just isn’t complete. So now, what do we do? We could try to rush this, and we could bring the Fire Marshal in and the Fire Marshal and team could go through the certificate of occupancy and say it’s not ready, well if we’re a hospital — patient care, kids — that’s crazy.
… And so we said ‘woah, we are now in a danger zone’ so we said ‘let’s catch out breath’. We said let’s not make it so close again. So we said late January, early February, we’ll do it the right way, we’ll make it first class when it opens.
Here, clearly, Harreld was bringing his vast private-sector experience to bear for the university, which was precisely why the Board of Regents hired a former business executive — even though he had never been a CEO — instead of hiring a qualified academic administrator. While Harreld was a bit enthusiastic about throwing his own executive administrators under the bus, and clearly took great delight in explaining how he would have handled that problem, it was undeniably a perfect opportunity to justify his ‘non-traditional’ hire. Flash forward to February, however, and not only was the children’s hospital still not open, but Harreld was suddenly mum on the opening date.
Sure enough, not only did “early February” come and go — meaning Harreld missed the entire six-week window he had given himself — but on February 18th the university’s VP for Finance and Operations, Rod Lehnertz, announced that the hospital would not be opening, at the earliest, until sometime in March. That delay was due in part to a flurry of change orders during construction — including the fake construction that was installed and subsequently torn out — as well as a simmering legal dispute with a contractor. From the Gazette’s Erin Jordan and Vanessa Miller, on 02/18/17:
Even as it was becoming obvious the long-awaited Children’s Hospital would not be done in time for its announced December opening, UI officials spent undocumented sums on temporary facades to make the hospital look finished for November open houses — only to have those facades torn down afterward so real construction could continue.
Now, nearly two months after the hospital was scheduled to start accepting patients, Rod Lehnertz, UI senior vice president for finance and operations, said the hospital opening still may be more than a month out.
“It will be a spring opening,” Lehnertz told The Gazette, adding that construction crews still are at work in the 14-story building. “Folks in administration in the hospital are going to announce that as soon as they feel they’ve got it. It is upcoming and it will be the right date.”
When the Iowa Board of Regents approved the initial project budget in June 2011, it was $270 million. The cost sneaked up to $291 million by June 2012 and skyrocketed to $360 million in September 2015 as the UI added tornado-resistant glass, an emergency elevator and more spaces to isolate patients exposed to infectious diseases, regent records show.
It’s typical for a project of this scale to have midstream changes that redirect construction and add to the cost, said Jerry Hobart, business manager for the United Association of Plumbers, Fitters, Welders and HVAC Service Techs Local 125, based in Cedar Rapids.
What’s not typical is for a conflict over payment to end up at the Iowa Supreme Court — where the UI plans to take the dispute with Modern Piping.
Mere hours after Lehnertz’s statement appeared in the press, however — and following a flurry of behind-the-scenes emails — the university again changed course, and suddenly announced that a few units would be opened on February 25th. That news quickly diverted the public’s attention from the fact that Harreld had a plateful of eggs all over his face, but over the next two years Harreld’s propensity for hubris and recklessness would rear its ugly head again and again as he led the university into a protracted, costly, and very public legal battle with Modern Piping. A bitter fight that Harreld would go on to lose on every front.
By the spring of 2019, the charred remains of Harreld’s scorched-earth litigation strategy were on full display. Not only did UI lose every single court case, and incur millions of dollars in interest charges after refusing to pay court-ordered awards, but the contractor in question initiated garnishment and asset-forfeiture proceedings against the school. In response, Harreld repeatedly alleged, in open proceedings before the Board of Regents, that the contractor’s work was so shoddy that the new children’s hospital was at risk of leaks or explosions, thus leaving the state open to massive liability if anything did go wrong. In the end, however, not only was Harreld once again forced to back down, but he was also compelled to publicly apologize for being “unprofessional”, and to pay the long-delayed and court awards.
And yet, even that self-inflicted flogging does not begin to account for the total cost to the university. Over and above the runaway construction budget, Harreld’s failed legal strategy may end up costing an additional $5M, along with $4M that he spent in order to blackball Modern Piping from another campus construction project. As for reputational damage — which should have been a particular concern for the regents — a local business columnist actually called UI the “institutional equivalent of a deadbeat dad” — and then things got worse.
Despite all of the above, however — and so much more that has been documented in these virtual pages over the past three and a half years — the Board of Regents reaffirmed their crony support for Harreld, rewarding him with a new contract and a massive increase in compensation. It did not matter that Harreld failed to make UI “greater” in any sense, or that the school’s rankings plummeted, or that he tried to defraud thousands of students, or that he threw away millions of scarce dollars on a failed legal strategy which negatively impacted the reputation of the state’s flagship university. With a year and a half yet to go on Harreld’s current contract, and the opportunity to hire someone qualified, stable and competent looming on the horizon, the regents could not throw more money at Harreld fast enough.
Tuition Revenue and Suicide Attempts
So what’s the attraction? Given his dismal track record, why is the board so enamored of Harreld? As it turns out, there is no mystery.
Befitting his status as a former business executive, Harreld was hired not to lead Iowa from “great to greater”, but to maximize revenue by any and every means, including defrauding students and families. To that end, and along with marginal gains from kicking long-time employees off the books, Harreld has pushed through five tuition hikes in under four years, all predicated on claims that ‘the state’ was disinvesting in higher education. What the regents and Harreld do not want anyone to think about, however, is that the entire regents enterprise is a department of state government, which the board is now turning to the symbiotic non-educational tasks of economic development and profit generation.
While the legislature did cut funding in two of the past four years — as a result of a statewide budget collapse — Harreld and the regents used those cuts to loot student and family bank accounts. Specifically, at the end of the upcoming fiscal year (FY20), UI will have lost approximately $55M in legislative support since Harreld was hired (FY16), while generating roughly $180M in new, unrestricted tuition revenue. That’s $3.2 in new tuition revenue for every $1 in funding cuts, and all of that new money comes from increasing the price of tuition for students.
Because that isn’t enough for Harreld, however, the board has also approved four additional annual tuition hikes of 3% each, which will take place irrespective of any legislative cuts or increases in support. Those hikes also have inflation protection built in, meaning any year in which the legislature fails to compensate for the cost of inflation, that cost will be also passed on to the students. Meaning instead of only increasing tuition to compensate for funding cuts — as endlessly insinuated by Harreld — the regents are now using their crony president to generate a profit for the state.
In that context, it doesn’t matter that Iowa’s rankings fell off, or that Iowa’s reputation was damaged, or even that Harreld threw millions of dollars down the drain on a failed legal strategy. The only thing that matters is the bottom line, and on that score Harreld and the regents are making out like the bandits they are. And that in turn is why the board decided to kick back a hefty cut of those profits to their crony president, starting in 2020. As long as Harreld keeps cutting costs and generating revenue, he’s doing the only job he was hired to do.
Unfortunately for the students Harreld is preying on, that job has nothing to do with education. Fortunately, for Harreld and the board, most of the negative effects of UI’s hikes on students will not take effect for years, and even then the literal cost will largely be out of sight. Students who enrolled when Harreld was hired in 2015 will end up paying an extra $5K to $6K for the same degree they were earning at the time, while students who enroll this year will pay an extra $10K to $12K. Because much of that additional cost will be paid for with increased debt, however, it won’t show up in the regent financial reports for years, and no one will ever dig into those documents and connect the dots.
Still, there is one area where stress is showing on the UI campus, and in that specific case Harreld has done an excellent job of increasing a critical metric — albeit one which portends mental torment and even death. From the Gazette’s Miller, on 02/27/19:
Suicide-related indicators jumped on the UI campus, according to the most-recent 2018 National College Health Assessment report. The percentage of students reporting self-harm in the past 12 months rose from 5.7 percent in 2017 to 9 percent; the percentage who reported seriously considering suicide spike from 8.4 percent to 13.4 percent; and the rate of those who actually attempted suicide more than doubled from 1.4 percent to 4 percent.
There are more than 32K students at the University of Iowa. If 4% of those students “actually attempted suicide” over the twelve-month reporting period, that’s 1,280 total suicide attempts, or 3.55 per day. And yet despite that sudden epidemic, there is no outrage on the part of the Board of Regents, let alone any public concern that this potentially catastrophic statistic has exploded on Harreld’s watch.
Not surprisingly, with Harreld’s fleecing of the students there has also been a recent dip in graduation and retention rates. From the Daily Iowan’s Kelsey Harrell, on 03/04/19:
One reason for the slight dip in retention and graduation rates could be affordability, said Mirra Anson, the director of academic support and retention in the University College. To try to combat this issue, the UI created the Hawkeye Completion Grant to help students of junior or senior status graduate on time, regardless of financial barriers they may have, she said.
It is inevitable that the price of a college degree will increase over time, if only as a result of inflation. What is not inevitable is the wholesale financial predation that J. Bruce Harreld has implemented at the University of Iowa, largely to fund pursuits which have nothing to do with so-called ‘student success’. In 2015, the Iowa Board of Regents hired Harreld to pursue an agenda of economic development at the University of Iowa, and to meet that goal Harreld has turned the students on campus into cash cows to be exploited, even if it kills someone.
J. Bruce Harreld is a Made Man
If any of this information about Harreld comes as a surprise, there’s a crony reason for that. Along with being a $6B division of Iowa state government, the Board of Regents and each of the state’s three universities come with a communications staff which produces only the information that the regents and universities want to make public. And one thing they do not want people talking about is the scandalous amount of money that has been generated over the past four years, even as the entire corrupt regent machine has been pleading poverty.
At the university of Iowa alone, $180M in new tuition revenue will have been generated by the end of the coming fiscal year. Subtract $55M in legislative cuts over that time, and Harreld will have banked $125M in unrestricted revenue that he can spend on anything he wants. Where is that money going, and where has it gone so far? The board and Harreld aren’t telling because they are not obligated to account for that massive slush fund, as they are with restricted funds appropriated by the state legislature or federal government.
In truth, it only took two years for the board itself to expose the sham of Harreld’s hire. What was sold as a necessary radical departure from prior academic norms in 2015, to meet a nationwide crisis in higher education, was revealed to be nothing more than a convenient lie in the fall of 2017, when academic lifer Wendy Wintersteen was promoted to the presidency at Iowa State. Instead of ushering in a wave of similar hires, Harreld was appointed at the behest of his business-sector mentor, to turn the University of Iowa to the task of revenue generation. And the simplest and most lucrative way to accomplish that goal was to jack up the cost of a UI degree, completely out of scale to any funding cuts.
Until Harreld’s appointment was exposed as pure crony corruption, the premise of his hire was that he alone could take UI from “great to greater”. Three and a half years later, however, there is no evidence — none, even from his most ardent supporters — that he has done anything that any other president would not have done as a matter of course. Except perhaps attempting to steal $4.3M from students and their families. Or waging a pubic, corrosive, costly and failed litigation campaign against a local contractor. (Even the claim that Harreld instituted a new business model is deceptive, because that model — RCM — was first implemented forty-five years ago at Penn, and has been permeating higher-ed ever since. Whatever Harreld did, he certainly didn’t bring any new ideas with him from the business world.)
In short, had the board hired anyone else in 2015 — including any of three eminently qualified academic administrators who were duped into participating in the board’s sham search, and callously used as stooges to give that search the appearance of legitimacy — the University of Iowa would either be right where it is now, at worst, or significantly better off. And that’s particularly true given the multiple hits to the school’s reputation that Harreld and the board have caused. Then again, that was part of the plan in decapitating UI as an academic institution and installing a former business exec at the top of the org chart. Once Harreld was in charge, he controlled the entire communications apparatus, and could order up a narrative of his own success — which UI and the regents have been pushing for the past three-plus years.
For all of those reasons, some people were probably surprised by the board’s decision to extend Harreld’s contract, but they shouldn’t have been. In his most recent interview with the Daily Iowan, back in May, Harreld delighted in coyly acknowledging that he wanted to continue as president, past his original five-year deal. Having watched Harreld closely over the past three-plus years, it was clear at the time that the only way he would have exposed himself to potential rejection was if the deal was already consummated.
To say that Harreld will be emboldened under his new contract is an understatement. Even in his May interview Harreld used the word “mandate” to describe what a contract extension would mean, but being protected by a corrupt governing board is not a mandate. That’s how crime families function — not public institutions of higher education, which are premised on reason, collegiality and shared governance.
To that point, the UI campus has now been put on notice that Harreld is a ‘made man’ in the corrupt machinery of state government. True to the spirit of fear and intimidation — which Harreld himself embraced during his years at IBM — the board was all but explicit in stating that they expect the UI faculty and staff to fall in line. From the Press-Citizen’s Aimee Breaux, on 06/06/19:
“We want to be clear and transparent to all that this is the team we want to be here now and in the foreseeable future,” board president Mike Richards said after two closed session meetings to discuss campus president compensation.
In making that statement, and in rewarding Harreld for his conduct and performance over the past three and a half years, the regents made clear that any abuse of power will be overlooked as long as Harreld generates more revenue in the process — which the governor and legislature can then either siphon off, or use to free up taxpayer revenue for other uses. It doesn’t matter to the board if Harreld triggers an epidemic of suicide attempts, or even kills a few students in the margins, as long as he keeps the money flowing.
A Duty To Warn
Because the regents have statutory authority to set tuition there is nothing to prevent Harreld from exploiting the students, but running roughshod over staff and faculty will prove more difficult. Still, backed by his new crony ‘mandate’, Harreld will certainly revisit previously frustrated efforts to weaken the university as an academic institution, or to concentrate power in the hands of those who support his economic development agenda. For example, having initially failed to kill off the UI Labor Center, Harreld now has another four and a half years to accomplish that goal, which dovetails perfectly with the self-funding timeline that the Labor Center agreed to earlier this year. Likewise, although Harreld and his interim provost failed to break up the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (CLAS), he just installed his own hand-picked dean at that college — which is the largest on campus by far — who will probably be amenable to any changes Harreld wants to make.
The one person who can stand in Harreld’s way is the new provost — whom Harreld also selected — because the provost on a university campus is the highest-ranking academic administrator. While Harreld owns the executive suite, and can do a lot of damage, until he controls the academic heart of the school his abuses will be mitigated. Although Harreld’s long-term plan is to convert the University of Iowa into a knock-off of Mike Crow’s ‘knowledge enterprise’ at Arizona State, and he will need a crony provost to get that done, there is an outside chance that he screwed up and hired a real person, instead of a tool like himself.
Specifically, the new provost is Montserrat ‘Montse’ Fuentes, and she has an interesting background:
Fuentes received BS degrees in mathematics and statistics and in music and piano from the University of Valladolid, Spain, in 1994, and a PhD in statistics from the University of Chicago in 1998. She completed postdoctoral studies in environmental sciences at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in 1999. She is a first-generation college student.
There are a lot of jaded academics in the world, and there are a lot of college students who are just doing what’s expected by their family. I have never met a first-generation student, however, who was not ferociously appreciative of the educational opportunities which manifestly changed their lives. The fact that Fuentes’ academic interests span both the arts and STEM disciplines is also of particular benefit to Iowa, which is not merely strong in both, but has departments which are legitimately world-class. [TEDx talk here; bilingual profile here.]
It can be fairly presumed that Fuentes did her due diligence about the university, and about the job, and that her contract protects her from executive abuse as much as possible. But how extensive was her due diligence about Harreld? Does she know that sooner or later he will lie to her face? Does she know that Harreld will expect her to shift resources and priorities to focus on profitability, including starving departments and programs he disdains? Does she know Harreld’s history, including his malevolence toward contingent faculty on the UI campus? And most of all, does Fuentes understand that despite all of Harreld’s talk about diversity and inclusion, that his relentless tuition hikes necessarily impact poor students the most, many of whom are persons of color, and many of whom are first-generation students?
I don’t know the answer to any of those questions, but I think we will find out soon enough, because today was Fuentes’ first day. While Harreld now has more time to turn the University of Iowa into an economic development engine for the state, he won’t waste any time using his new ‘mandate’. Sooner rather than later he is going to give ‘his’ new provost a loyalty test, and attempt to enlist her in putting profits first, at the expense of the university’s academic mission and reputation. That’s when we’ll know how the next four and a half years will play out.
— Mark Barrett