A new threaded post on this topic can be found here. For previous posts about the Harreld hire, click the tag below.
11/04/19 — The J. Bruce Harreld Experiment Has Definitively Failed at UI.
11/03/19 — Paralleling an in-process post, this weekend the Gazette published an LTE from Shelton Stromquist about the privatizing of the University of Iowa, and a staff editorial titled “What’s going on at the University of Iowa?” What’s going on is that we’re four years into J. Bruce Harreld’s tenure as the illegitimate president of the school, and the damage from that corrupt act is ongoing.
10/23/19 — Four University of Iowa Presidents and a Prevaricating Narcissist.
10/13/19 — J. Bruce Harreld’s Unilateral Public Statements About TaJuan Wilson’s Resignation, in Context.
09/29/19 — J. Bruce Harreld Marches to the Beat of His Own Broken Drum. Updated 09/30/19.
09/25/19 — So it’s been about 48 since the first UI P3 ‘information session’ was apparently held, and about 24 hours since the second session yesterday, yet I can’t find a single report or tweet or stray mention that either of those meetings actually took place. I’m hopeful there will be press accounts of those sessions after the marching band fiasco dies down, but what I can say is that UI never announced those new, rescheduled ‘information sessions’ to the UI campus. If Harreld wanted to keep people from showing up and asking questions, he could not have done a better job. (In comments to the DI about the assaults perpetrated against the UI marching band, Harreld did manage to blithely mention his globe-trotting efforts on behalf of the P3, while humbly casting himself in the role of administrative superhero.)
09/23/19 — I have no idea yet if the first ‘information session’ on the UI P3 took place today. What did transpire on campus is that Harreld gave a sit-down interview to the Daily Iowan about the assaults that were perpetrated against members of the UI Marching Band, in which he lied about calling off the investigation. DI interview here, related Twitter thread here.
09/22/19 — I kept an eye on this page through last week, and as of today the only ‘information sessions’ that the UI community will ever receive about the UI power-plant P3 are still scheduled for Monday (tomorrow) and Tuesday. What is particularly concerning about the sequencing of those meetings is that administrators at UI have already stated that nothing will be definitively known until later, meaning the ‘information sessions’ are not so much about informing the campus of specifics, but about checking off an administrative obligation to pretend to have informed the campus.
From a report by the Daily Iowa’s Brooklyn Draisey on 07/11/19:
“Please remember, as stated from the start, the UI is exploring a P3 involving its utility system through a deliberate and measured process — and no final decision has been made,” Bassett said in the email. “The UI won’t know the value of the utility system P3 until the RFP process is completed and a concessionaire agreement is signed.”
From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, three days ago, on 09/19/19:
Although administrators haven’t finalized any decision to move forward — and they’re still vetting potential partners — Harreld said an endowment made possible through the collaboration could yield $14 million annually.
Because the university still has not chosen a potential partner, and because the specifics of a deal won’t be known until after the deal is signed, I’m not sure what useful information will come out of these ‘information sessions’. What I am sure of is that as soon as those meetings have been concluded, administrators at Iowa will claim that the UI campus was fully informed about deal that had not yet been consummated.
09/21/19 — One of the benefits of hiring real leaders as opposed to bureaucratic tools, is that when there’s a problem real leaders tend to do the right thing by default, while bureaucratic tools have to be forced to do the right thing. If you told me that Iowa band members would get assaulted at Ames, yet between them J. Bruce Harreld and AD Gary Barta would turn that straight-forward problem into yet another public relations disaster for the University of Iowa, I would have…obviously believed you, because they’re bureaucratic tools. When you read the details, however, as provided in this comprehensive report by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, it’s not remotely funny. And again, not only did the Iowa Board of Regents just extend Harreld’s contract, including a $200K increase in compensation, but Harreld immediately turned around and gave Barta a similarly sweet new deal. For this they should both be fired.
09/19/19 — As of this evening the ‘information sessions’ for the prospective public-private power-plant project (P6) are still scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. Toward the end of a report today by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller — which largely concerns the next round of abusive tuition hikes that the Iowa Board of Regents will impose for the following academic year — we get our first visibility as to how Harreld will foment greed on the UI campus, in order to galvanize support for what will almost certainly be a money-losing venture:
To ensure “we maximize the use of these proceeds,” Harreld unveiled a proposed grant process.
Grants of up to five years would be available, and existing work groups, steering committees and the university’s budget review board would consider applications, Harreld said.
“Anyone on campus could apply for a grant so long as it specifically and directly impacts the strategic plan,” he said.
More to come, but so far it’s basically a game show in which UI borrows money, puts it in an endowment at interest, then spends the proceeds on fabulous prizes, as opposed to meeting any critical or even demonstrable need. And yes, this man is making $800K per year, and will soon be pulling down $1M.
09/16/19 — The Administrative Week That Was and Wasn’t at the University of Iowa.
09/08/19 — J. Bruce Harreld Goes Missing in Action at UI. Updated 09/10/19.
08/26/19 — J. Bruce Harreld, TaJuan Wilson, and the UI Employment Practices Review. Updated 08/28/19. Later update 08/28/19.
08/22/19 — I’ll have more to say about this when I get my head around it, but the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller just published an update on the TaJuan Wilson resignation:
For the next five months — or until he lands a job outside the University of Iowa — the campus’ short-lived head of diversity, equity, and inclusion will telecommute for his “special assignment” and be allowed to “job search during working hours,” even while continuing to earn his $224,000 salary.
So not only is there still no permanent AVP-DEI on the UI campus after two years, but Harreld is now paying someone full freight not to do that job. This is what you get when a small cabal of crony co-conspirators hires a carpetbagging dilettante to run an R1/AAU research university. (See also the prior post for more info.)
08/19/19 — J. Bruce Harreld’s Pretense to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at UI. Updated 08/19/19. Updated 08/20/19. Updated 08/21/19.
08/06/19 — J. Bruce Harreld and the Instinct to Lie.
07/25/19 — J. Bruce Harreld and the Power-Plant Lease That Is Not a Lease.
In roughly six weeks it will have been four years since the corrupt appointment of J. Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa. Had the Iowa Board of Regents kept to Harreld’s original five-year contract, which guaranteed him an obscene $4M over that span, we would have one year left before a new and hopefully qualified president was hired at UI. Instead, as you probably know, the corrupt board recently extended Harreld’s contract for another three years, while also increasing his pay package to a staggering $1M per year when that extension kicks in. All of which means we now have another four-plus years of Harreld to look forward to, including a steady stream of stories revolving around his ego needs, and his determination to turn UI into a student-subsidized engine of economic development. (In grateful appreciation for demonstrating how to corrupt an academic institution from the inside out, the University of South Carolina recently used the crony Harreld hire as a template for its own corrupt presidential search.)
The obvious concern with giving an ethically compromised and incompetent man like J. Bruce Harreld eight full years to leave his mark on the University of Iowa, is that the resulting stain may never come off. As regular readers know, the reality of student life at UI is darkly divergent from the sunny appraisals in Harreld’s ghost-written press releases and Daily Iowan interviews. For example, in October of 2016 — almost a full year after Harreld took office — a well-informed UI administrator described suicide on campus as “nothing short of an epidemic“. Flash forward to the most recent twelve-month reporting period — a full three years into Harreld’s tenure — and according to the university’s own data, “those [UI students] who actually attempted suicide more than doubled from 1.4 percent to 4 percent“. Out of 32,000 students on the UI campus, that’s more than 3.5 suicide attempts per day, every day of the calendar year — but of course you won’t ever hear Harreld himself talk about that potentially lethal legacy.
Powered by the board’s new contract — which is even more nakedly corrupt than Harreld’s original deal, because we now have a consistent track record detailing his mediocrity, if not menace — Harreld will certainly be emboldened over the next four-plus years. In fact, in his most recent interview with the Daily Iowan, back in early May, we got a preview of what Harreld expects going forward, and that includes the entire campus accepting him as the legitimate president of the school, even when he is, provably, a liar and a cheat.
It’s telling that Harreld cuts himself off just as he is about to articulate the fact that the only reason he was hired was because of crony friends in high places. Instead, Harreld suddenly develops the same amnesia that he has encouraged others to adopt when it comes to his old buddy, Jerre Stead, who not only greased the job for him, but in doing so put millions of state dollars in Harreld’s pockets.
Having now been retained, will the UI campus finally rally around Harreld and embrace him as their rightful leader? No, but that’s partly because university presidents are largely incidental to the education and research at the heart of any institution of higher learning. If they’re not corrupt, university presidents can play a useful role, but they’re not integral.
If they are corrupt, however, university presidents can do real and lasting damage by perverting the aspirations and objectives of the institution they lead — which Harreld was clearly hired to do at UI. The very fact that he was appointed with zero experience in academic administration or in the public sector makes clear that the regents assumed the university could largely take care of itself in terms of accreditation. Instead, they hired Harreld on the narrow basis on his purported business expertise, because they wanted to turn the university to the goal of generating revenue for the state. As a factual matter, Harreld has indeed accomplished that objective, but not by starting news businesses or leveraging IP or otherwise bringing private-sector knowledge to bear. Instead, he has repeatedly increased the cost of tuition on the hostage student body, which academic administrators also do as a matter of routine.
Tellingly, despite decades in the private sector, no one ever saw fit to make Harreld the CEO of anything, and he himself never demonstrated the initiative to launch a company and assume the responsibilities of a CEO. Instead, at the end of his professional career, Harreld spent six years slumming as a part-time lecturer at Harvard before embarking on a short-lived sole-proprietorship as a consultant. Still, as a senior executive, Harreld did indeed work for a number of major corporations, and also earned a vaunted Harvard MBA along the way, so he clearly does know something about business. Whatever deficits Harreld may have as an academic leader — which he has repeatedly demonstrated at UI — one thing we can say with confidence is that when it comes to managing the financial complexities of an organization with a $4B annual budget, that’s where Harreld would shine.
The OSU Power Plant P3
As to what “needs to get done” at UI, the next big item on Harreld’s crony to-do list involves turning the university’s power plant, chilled water facility and water treatment plant into a public-private partnership (P3) with a private-sector energy company. That partnership, which is already in the planning stages, will be modeled after a similar deal at Ohio State University, which was concluded in 2017. The first public mention that UI was exploring a similar P3 came in early February, and in the initial reporting it was clear that the OSU deal was particularly relevant to Iowa’s interest.
From the Daily Iowan’s Marissa Payne, on 02/08/19:
Given the insatiable demand for funding in higher-education, the impetus to consider a similar public-private partnership at UI is obvious. A billion dollars that could be spent on anything, plus another $150M in targeted commitments, would be a boon to any school — or any state. As to the merits and mechanics of such transactions, we will dig into all of that in an upcoming post. In this post we will instead focus on something quite odd that J. Bruce Harreld said in his first public comments about the prospective UI P3.
From Daily Iowan reporters Katie Ann McCarver and Kelsey Harrell, reporting on the February Board of Regent meetings, on 02/28/19:
Note the categorical specificity from Harreld. The UI P3 will not involve the leasing of its utility system, and will not involve the sale of that system. So what is the proposed deal, if it is not a lease or a sale?
Given that he was appointed because of his vast private-sector business experience, to say nothing of his Harvard MBA, this would seem to be a fairly simple question for Harreld to answer. Per usual practice, however, Harreld has not talked much over the intervening six months, and has instead shielding himself and the UI P3 from scrutiny. Fortunately, however, because the UI P3 is premised on the Ohio State deal, we can look to that partnership to see how it was described to the public.
From the Dayton Daily News, on 03/30/17:
From The Lantern — which is the 138-year-old student daily on the OSU campus — on 03/30/17:
From Cleveland.com, on 04/06/17:
One valid concern with these consistent press reports of a lease is that they may have all come from a single official press release, which may or may not accurately characterize the deal. And indeed, when we track down the official OSU press release announcing the impending deal, which was issued on 03/30/17, the word ‘lease’ does not appear in the text. So where did the press get the idea that the OSU P3 includes a 50-year lease of OSU facilities?
On the OSU Energy Management website, on a page titled “Details of the Partnership“, we find the following:
On the Overview page for the same website, we find this on page one of a 27-page summary of the OSU concession agreement:
Under the subheading of “Concession and Lease” on the same web page, we also find a 205-page document which fills in some of the literal blanks in the summary. Here is the title page of that expansive text, which is linked to as “Concession and lease agreement, and Schedule 1 (board resolution and summary)“:
Under the same sub-head on the same web page we also find a document described as Schedules 13-23. Here is the first part of the first page of that 225-page document:
On the basis of all of the above, we are going to go out on a limb and conclude that the Ohio State energy deal — which is the template for the UI P3 — involved leasing the OSU power plant and various other facilities to a private-sector partner. That does not mean the UI deal will necessarily involve a lease, and we have Harreld on the record saying it will not, but that disconnect certainly raises some obvious questions. And of course the first question is whether Harreld actually knew what he was talking about when he told his employers at the Iowa Board of Regents that the UI P3 would absolutely, positively not involve a lease.
The Missing Piece of the UI P3
In attempting to resolve this substantive disconnect between the OSU and UI P3’s, one possibility, however remote, is that the DI reporters misquoted Harreld. Perhaps, in his presentation to the board, he actually said the UI P3 would include a lease, but not a sale, thus bringing UI into agreement with the OSU partnership. Fortunately, because the board provides recordings of its meetings, we can check that quote ourselves.
When we do, we find that the Daily Iowan article is correct — as we would expect from any reporters working for that esteemed publication. Harreld’s commentary about the UI P3 begins at the 1:01:54 mark of the February 28th regent meeting, and we find the quote in question at the 1:02:18 mark:
Another, and perhaps more likely possibility, is that Harreld simply misspoke. He got excited about someone giving him half a billion dollars to blow on economic development, then inadvertently went off script and said UI would not be leasing its facilities. Fortunately — and again thanks to the Daily Iowan — we can also confirm that Harreld did not misspeak. From one of Harreld’s semi-regular DI interviews, two weeks later, on 03/12/19:
Two important things to note here. First, when Harreld spoke before the board at the end of February, he clearly did not misspeak when he said UI would not be leasing or selling its power plant, or any other facilities. Second, despite confirming that UI will not lease any facilities, the above statement by Harreld is incoherent on its face.
If the University of Iowa is not leasing or selling its power plant, how can the plant “revert back to our ownership” in the future? And of course it can’t, which means regardless of the details and sophistication of the UI P3, the regents just agreed to give a contract extension and a massive pay raise to an imbecile. (And because that decision was made months after the above quote, that means the regents are imbeciles too.)
Still, setting aside the crony corruption and idiocy, we should have complete confidence that whatever becomes of the UI P3, none of the school’s facilities will be leased or sold to a private-sector partner. Harreld made that clear assertion twice, including once to the board that employs him, and from then until now there has been no official correction on that point.
As for unofficial corrections, however…a little over a month ago, in late June, a former member of the Iowa Board of Regents popped up with a wildly enthusiastic op-ed in support of the UI P3. In that op-ed — which was written by David Fisher, and appeared in the state’s largest paper — the UI deal was explicitly described as a lease. From the Des Moines Register, on 06/24/19:
The link in that quote implies that we will find supporting evidence of Fisher’s claim when we click through, yet that link merely takes us to the 02/08/19 DI article by Marissa Payne, which was published the same day that UI issued its first notice that a public-private partnership was being considered. And nowhere in Payne’s article do the words ‘lease’ or ‘leasing’ appear. So where did a former regent get the idea that the UI P3 would involve a lease, after UI president J. Bruce Harreld — who should know — specifically said, on two occasions, that it would not?
The most obvious answer is that Fisher simply made an errant assumption. And yet if that’s the case, it seems equally likely that at some point his quasi-official pronouncement would have been corrected by someone at the board or UI, lest the public become confused. As far as I can tell, however, no one has corrected Fisher’s claim, and no one else has countered Harreld’s claims, which leaves us with a but of a conundrum.
Given that the Register is Iowa’s statewide paper, and Fisher is a former regent, another possibility is that someone at or even on the board asked Fisher to counter Harreld’s prior assertions, because the UI P3 will involve a lease. Months after the fact it is likely no one would remember Harreld’s prior quotes — which few people even read at the time — and Harreld could then simply move ahead as if a lease was part of the plan all along, without the board or Harreld having to backtrack. As to why the question of a lease is so important, consider this vague yet tantalizing passage from the most recent official UI progress report, on 07/11/19:
With one notable exception, this two-sentence description perfectly encapsulates the Ohio State P3 as well. The notable exception, of course, is that the OSU deal involves a lease, while this press release, and every other official communication from UI, says nothing about a possible lease. And yet that silence is a big problem in the context of the two sentences above.
The first sentence seems to be factually true. UI will not sell its power plant, or any other facilities, to a private-sector company, meaning it will retain ownership. It also seems factually true that a private-sector partner will enter into a “professional services agreement” with UI, taking over the operation of specific facilities. What is not explained in the above quote, however, is why UI will receive an up-front payment in exchange for paying a company to run its utilities.
If you hire someone to do a job for you, that’s the equivalent of the “professional services” part of the prospective UI P3. What you would expect in such an agreement is that you would pay for work to be performed, just as you might pay someone to mow your lawn. So why does the University of Iowa expect that a private-sector energy partner will provide UI with an “upfront payment” in exchange for performing a service for the university? I mean, if you hired someone to cut your grass, and they turned around and offered you a bunch of cash, at the very least you would probably expect that you would end up paying that money back — and perhaps then some — through sharply higher lawn-care service costs.
While such a transaction might seem pointless — taking money from someone, then passing it right back — there can be real advantages. With the lawn care example, it’s not hard to see how an up-front payment might generate business, because there are always people in need of ready cash. Such a promotion would probably run afoul of regulatory authorities, however, because in reality that transaction would be a poorly disguised loan, but until you got thrown in the slam you would definitely have a lot of people who were interested in having you cut their lawn — wink wink.
Even if the UI P3 is just a disguised loan, there is nothing inherently wrong with the university borrowing money. Not only does the school do so all the time, by issuing bonds approved by the Board of Regents, but those bonds often come with tax advantages for the people who buy them. Investors get a safe and reliable return, but that profit may also be exempt from local, state and/or federal income taxes, increasing the effective yield. At the same time, the board gets a big pile of cash which can be used to fund new construction or other projects on the regent campuses, then repaid over time with taxpayer revenue, or revenue generated from tuition or patient care.
Irrespective of the specifics, in any public-private partnership we should be able to identify the advantages for both parties, but so far that’s not the case — either with the UI P3, or even the OSU P3. We know there is a substantive difference in terms of leasing facilities, but both plans involve a professional services agreement, and both plans involve a massive up-front payment that seems to materialize out of nowhere. It makes sense that OSU and UI might want to pay a private-sector partner to run their utilities, but where is that up-front money coming from?
If you read all of the official P3 statements from UI, not only is there no mention of leasing UI facilities, but there is also no mention of an effective loan. Instead, the language used to describe the overall deal implies that a private company will give the university half a billion dollars because the school is allowing them to operate a super-cool power plant. And if you think I am joking on that point, I am not.
Consider Harreld’s immediate response to the central question of reciprocity, as put to him by the Daily Iowan reporters on 03/12/19:
We’ll get to the rest of Harreld’s answer in a moment, but first, note that this is the exact right question from the DI staff. What does UI have to give to its private-sector partner to make the deal work? And yet Harreld’s immediate, calculated response was fatuous at best, and dishonest at worst.
No private-sector company is giving UI a massive up-front cash payment in exchange for the “the right to operate a pretty well-honed machine”. And of course Harreld knows that, which is why he followed up by laying out what he saw as the key components of the prospective deal:
Here we seem to have all of the pieces of the proposed UI P3, though some are less than clear. In the first sentence Harreld is talking about the money UI will pay its private-sector partner to operate the utilities — meaning the professional services part of the contract. In the second sentence I don’t know what Harreld means by a “very high credit” (perhaps in the credit-debit sense; perhaps not), but the “organization” he references may be something similar to Ohio State Energy Partners, which was formed as a result of the OSU P3.
Only when we get to the third sentence, however, do we find out what the private-sector partner will receive in exchange for the massive up-front payment to UI, and we shouldn’t be surprised that it involves tax breaks. We don’t know what those tax breaks are for, but what we can say is that they must be some hellacious tax breaks because half a billion dollars in cash is not only a massive amount of money to recoup, it also represents a massive amount of future profit that must be compensated for as well. (Even assuming the most conservative of investments, the interest/profit on a billion dollars in cash over 50 years would be a whopping amount of money, which UI’s private-sector partner would also expect to recover.)
Only a few lines later, in the same interview, Harreld asserts for the second time that UI will not be leasing any of its facilities, which is a claim no one else at the university or at the board has confirmed before or since. With regard to the importance of tax breaks to the UI P3, however, we have multiple confirmations from other sources at the university.
From the Payne article in the DI on 02/08/19, reporting on the first official mention of a possible P3:
From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 03/07/19:
Because the UI P3 has yet to be consummated, we cannot dig into the details to see how those tax breaks would convey to a private-sector partner, but that isn’t the case with the OSU P3. That deal closed in 2017, which means we can look at reporting and other documents to see what advantages that deal conferred upon OSU’s partner, which fronted a staggering $1B in cash. Did the OSU P3 hinge on tax breaks in any way, and if so, what were those tax breaks for?
From page 1 of the 27-page OSU summary referenced earlier:
As you probably know, even if you never avail yourself of such opportunities, tax law can be complex and inscrutable, and here we have a perfect example of both. In a state context, the OSU P3 “is a lease of the land and the facilities”, but at the federal level the same transaction is a “lease of the land and a sale of the facilities”. While I am not a lawyer, or an accountant or tax specialist, the fact that the OSU P3 is being treated in two different ways for tax purposes suggests there must be some advantage in doing so, which conveys to the private-sector partner.
The problem with the UI P3, however, is that Harreld has repeatedly stated that the deal will not involve the lease or sale of any UI facilities. If that is the case, how does Iowa convey the ability to “depreciate utility system assets” to its private sector partner? If the partner doesn’t lease the utilities, or own the utilities — as is the case at Ohio State — and only performs a service under contract, how does UI convey the tax deductions by which Harreld expects to receive a massive up-front payment in cash?
Because that sounds a lot like saying a lawn care company could take a deduction for your property taxes or home mortgage simply because they cut your grass. Although tax law can be arcane, and there are all sorts of special exceptions and deductions, to gain the kind of tax advantages that Harreld is talking about you usually have to have an ownership stake — either by leasing or owning outright — as the OSU P3 makes clear. So how will that work at UI?
To Lease or Not to Lease
As to whether the UI P3 will include the sale of any facilities, a P3 FAQ on the UI website is categorical on that point:
While the UI FAQ specifically addresses the possibility of a change of ownership, however — which Harreld himself has ruled out on at least two occasions — the P3 FAQ is conspicuously silent on the question of leasing. Not only is there no dedicated question about whether UI will lease its utility system, but the words ‘lease’ or ‘leasing’ do not appear in the FAQ. Given Harreld’s repeated pronouncements, which have also ruled out a lease on at least two occasions, why was that question not also asked and answered?
It is inevitable that the UI P3 will differ from the OSU deal in some respects, particularly because of differences at the state level. Yet even allowing for such differences the deals are almost identical, with two obvious exceptions. The first difference is simply one of financial scale — a billion up-front for OSU, a projected half billion for UI — yet even that difference reinforces the idea that UI is implementing the same deal that was implemented at OSU. As noted by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 03/01/19:
Also from Miller, five days later, on 03/06/19:
From these statements by multiple university officials it is abundantly clear that they are following the OSU P3 template, and the only reason UI will likely get less is because Iowa as an academic institution is smaller than Ohio State. Were UI the same size or larger, UI administrators would expect to command a similar up-front payment, if not more.
The second difference between the OSU and UI plans concerns the firmly established fact that Ohio State has leased — and, in the context of federal tax law, even sold — its facilities, in order to pass along the tax advantages which were critical to that deal. At Iowa, however, Harreld insists that there will be no transfer of ownership, either by lease or sale, yet somehow its private-sector partner will still reap tax benefits from the UI P3. So how do we resolve this substantive inconsistency, in an otherwise consistent replication of the OSU P3?
We know that Harreld was not misquoted and did not misspeak. We also know, however, that over the past six months, other than J. Bruce Harreld not a single UI administrator, press release or document has used the words ‘lease’ or ‘leasing’ in the context of the UI P3. In fact, the only other person who has mentioned a lease in that context is a former regent, who came out a month ago and emphatically stated that the UI P3 would involve a lease. In the aftermath, not only has there been no official repudiation of that claim, either by the board or UI, but Harreld himself has not reiterated his prior claims since mid-March.
To put that all as plainly as possible, over the past six months — since news broke that the University of Iowa was considering a public private partnership for its utilities — only two people have weighed in on whether the UI P3 would involve a lease, and those two people flatly disagree. In Harreld’s favor, this complicated public-private partnership is precisely why the Board of Regents instituted a fake presidential search in 2015, to obscure and legitimize his crony hire. As the board made clear at the time, only someone with Harreld’s incredibly rare business acumen could guide UI through the crisis that had befallen higher education — if not nationwide, then at least on the UI campus — so we have to assume that Harreld has been intimately involved in the planning for this P3. Between decades as a senior executive at major corporations, and earning his vaunted Harvard MBA, it is literally impossible that Harreld would not know whether UI plans to lease any facilities or property, and he has clearly said that is not the case.
Unless Harreld is lying. As to why J. Bruce Harreld would lie about leasing UI facilities to a private-sector energy partner, I have no idea, but if there’s one thing we have learned over the past three and a half years, it’s that J. Bruce Harreld will lie about anything, and particularly so if it advances the agenda of the conspirators who put him in office. Whether it was lying about his relationship with Jerre Stead during the 2015 presidential search, or lying about his relationship with Stead after he was appointed, those lies will also end up putting $7M in Harreld’s pocket by the time he is done — unless the board again extends his contract.
What is particularly notable about Harreld however, is that he also lies about trivial issues. After his first town hall went up in flames, Harreld bailed on his promise to conduct three campus meetings per year, only to then turn around and claim that he did participate in three town halls. Likewise, when he was preparing to blow $10M on a new, donor-funded clubhouse at UI’s Finkbine Golf Course, Harreld said that UI was one of the only Big Ten schools with a single 18-hole course. Not only was that an easily disproved lie, but it was completely unnecessary because no state or tuition dollars were targeted at that indulgent construction. (And that’s all before we get to the endless lies of omission, which are a Harreld specialty.)
I don’t know why Harred said the UI P3 would not involve a lease, but he was pointedly hired because no one with a background in academic administration could make such critical and complicated decisions in the best interests of the University of Iowa. Perhaps there is some double-secret business reason why Harreld does not want to use the word ‘lease’, even if the deal will involve a lease. Maybe it would cause problems for the board, or compel disclosures that Harreld doesn’t want to make.
What we do know is that we still have no apparent mechanism by which a private-sector partner will be able to reap the tax advantages that Harreld himself has identified as critical to generating the massive up-front payment that everyone at UI is salivating over. Where OSU used a lease and even a sale of state assets, at least on paper, the University of Iowa has sworn off both, which again raises the possibility that the entire UI P3 may be little more than a thinly disguised loan. The good news is that we won’t have long to wait to find out whether a lease is involved or not. The bad news is that the breakneck pace of the UI P3 is clearly designed to jam the project through to completion before anyone has any idea what is involved or what it will ultimately cost.
And if you think I’m joking, consider this. Ohio state released its request for qualifications (RFQ) on 02/16/15. Almost two years later, on 02/09/17, OSU released a request for proposals (RFP), and the winning submission was chosen two months later. At the University of Iowa, the RFQ was released on 04/01/19, then the RFP was released ten weeks later, on 07/11/19 — and that included a delay in the original hyper-aggressive schedule. As it stands now, lease or no lease, the entire process will conclude by the end of the fall semester, which is only five months away.
In the next two posts we will take a closer look at the University of Iowa’s prospective public-private power-plant deal — which already seems to be a foregone conclusion, despite the fact that no clear explanation of the financing has been offered — and also consider the possible causes of an anomaly in the 2020 UI budget. Specifically, while tuition and enrollment are both increasing this year, overall tuition revenue is projected to decrease. While those divergent outcomes have been confirmed by both the university and the press, the problem is that there are not a lot of plausible explanations for that divergence. (One possibility is that lucrative non-resident enrollment has fallen off a cliff. Because UI has not released its enrollment estimate for the 2020 academic year, however — unlike the other two regent universities, which did so weeks ago — we do not have any breakdown of the enrollment numbers.)
In this post we will once again shine a bright light on a particularly concerning trait in the president’s office at the University of Iowa, which is the tendency of J. Bruce Harreld to lie. In the previous post here is how I described that trait:
In the past, in trying to understand Harreld’s instinct to lie, I actually looked up the definitions for pathological lying and congenital lying, but it turns out there isn’t any consensus about what those terms mean. Relative to absolute truth everyone tells an occasional ‘white lie’, which may be excused because it is intended to protect another person’s feelings — as opposed to deceiving them in pursuit of a goal. With Harreld, however, he clearly does tell lies to further his objectives, yet even in that nefarious context some of his lies are gobsmackingly daft — as if he doesn’t have any control over when he deploys a lie in service of an objective. Is that pathological? Is that compulsive? Is there any meaningful difference?
Setting aside any clinical implications, as a practical matter it would seem counterproductive to have a demonstrable liar in the president’s office at a major public research university. At the very least, one would think the amount of money that the Iowa Board of Regents is throwing at Harreld — currently $800K per year, and soon to be $1M per year — would buy a better class of liar, but again we have Jerre Stead to thank for imposing Harreld on the UI campus. (If you’re intent on hiring a snake, you should still conduct a fair search to make sure you hire the best snake you can get.)
On this past Thursday the Iowa Board of Regents held its annual August meeting, at which the presidents of the state’s three public universities presented their budgets for the upcoming academic year. In their comments to the board, both Iowa State’s Wendy Wintersteen and Northern Iowa’s Mark Nook noted that enrollment at their schools would decrease, while Harreld said there would be a “meaningful uptick” at Iowa. Because that was apparently insufficient, however, Harreld then added this — as reported by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 08/01/19:
If you know nothing about the University of Iowa, Harreld’s statement might sound responsible and reassuring. More students will be living on campus, so Harreld and his crack administrative team — which exists only to do right by those incoming students — has been moving heaven and earth to find a place for them to study and sleep. As it turns out, however, everyone at UI and at the Board of Regents already knew that UI has plenty of rooms available — and it’s not just me saying that.
From Kelsey Harrell and Marissa Payne, reporting for the Daily Iowan the very next day, on 08/02/19:
When you’re the president of a major research university, and your own school newspaper can take you apart in less than twenty-four hours, you have a credibility problem. Were Harreld a complete slacker we might posit that he simply did not know what he was talking about, but not only was he hired because of his visionary managerial chops in the private sector, Harreld is the person who specifically ordered Iowa’s enrollment to be reduced after he took office in late 2015.
From the Press-Citizen’s Jeff Charis-Carlson, on 09/08/16:
From the Des Moines Register’s Kathy A. Bolten, on 09/06/18, reporting on enrollment for the 2018 academic year:
From the Daily Iowan’s Elianna Novitch, on 09/13/18:
Between 2016 and 2018, the University of Iowa intentionally lowered the size of the incoming freshman class from 5,643 to 4,806 students — a decrease of 847, or 15%. And Harreld clearly knows this because it was his idea. And yet only last week, Harreld testified before the board that he is now scrambling to find places to house students on the UI campus, when he knows full well that there are plenty of beds.
From less than a year ago, on 09/25/18, here’s Kelsey Harrell reporting on the Mayflower dorm — which, at just over 1,000 students, is one of UI’s largest residence halls:
From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 02/28/19 — meaning five months ago:
Were Harreld honest, he would have told his regent employers that while enrollment at the University of Iowa was increasing, there was plenty of excess capacity in the residence halls to meet demand. Instead, because Harreld seems to lie almost as a matter of reflex, he not only lied about the need to find additional housing, he told that lie with a self-aggrandizing flourish. It’s not just that Harreld is making sure, logistically, that every student has a place to sleep — which is already covered — but he wanted the board to know he was doing that “very creatively”.
Who does that? More to the point, who does that over and over again? Who takes a simple situation, then lies about it in order to make himself look good? He’s already got the job, he’s already making millions, he already knows the Board of Regents will never hold him accountable for anything, and yet time and again he lies when it is both obvious and unnecessary.
Even if there was an explosion in freshman registration at UI, as noted above the state schools have housed students in residence-hall lounges before, so that wouldn’t require any creativity on Harreld’s part — and yet he still told that lie. Everybody at the board and at the university knew he was lying when he said it, and he knew they knew, and yet that still lie came out of his mouth. And again I ask — who does that?
Even Harreld’s grade-school use of ‘very’ as an intensifier is a glaring tell:
Every ten-year-old knows they should limit use of the word ‘very’ when trying to communicate the importance of something, because the word itself often undercuts that intent. And yet there that word was in Harreld’s testimony, despite his Harvard MBA, his Engineering degree from Purdue, his long experience in the private sector, and the board’s assertion that he was the only person who could save the University of Iowa from a nebulous crisis in higher education. Instead of pretending to think “creatively” about where to put all of the UI students this year, Harreld had to make it “very creatively”, even as there was no problem for him to solve.
Were we more charitably disposed — and perhaps oblivious to the stream of lies that Harreld has told before — we might characterize this as harmless boasting by someone with unmet ego needs. Even in that context, however, the fact that Harreld felt compelled to tell such a needless and easily disproved lie should concern everyone, because Harreld is in position to tell truly damaging lies to the press, to the UI community, to the people of Iowa, and even to the Iowa Board of Regents. (My nightmare scenario is that the board thinks Harreld is lying for them, but will never lie to them.)
The big issue before Harreld and the board right now is privatizing the UI power plant and other utilities, at a cost that Harreld will be left to explain. Can he be trusted to do that, or should he be required to document any claims that he makes, so the state can be sure it isn’t being taken to the cleaners by its private-sector partner? And that’s all before we get to any concerns about whether Harreld, any other UI or regent employees, or any political or business cronies, will profit from such a transaction themselves.
In the previous post I brazenly predicted that the next two posts would look at the University of Iowa budget, and at the prospective public-private power-plant project (P3) on the UI campus. In making that brash scheduling announcement, however, it turns out I was naive in two respects. First, I thought the university would have announced its enrollment projections by now, along with publishing its official budget for the upcoming academic year. In fact, neither of those things have happened, leaving me with the nagging feeling that those numbers are being stalled to get as close as possible to the next milestone in the P3 process. (That involves conducting two information sessions on campus in mid-September, at which misleading and incomplete financial info will be conveyed to those in attendance.)
The second naive assumption I made was that UI’s illegitimate president, J. Bruce Harreld, could get through the entire summer without having another administrative train wreck. And no, I’m not talking about Harreld giving Athlete Director Gary Barta a cushy new contract, which both extends Barta’s deal and raises his total annual compensation to a million dollars per year. (That is essentially the same deal the Board of Regents gave Harreld a few months ago, which he has now passed on to his bestie bro at UI.)
As regular readers know, Harreld bestowed this reward despite the fact that Barta cost UI $6.5Min two gender discrimination lawsuits a few years ago, along with wrecking the careers of two women under his administrative authority. And of course there’s also the fact that Barta can’t seem to increase revenue in Iowa’s two most-profitable sports, which is one of his core responsibilities as AD.
Despite promises from the regents to the contrary, four years after Harreld’s rigged appointment purportedly ushered in a new era of profit-making expertise at the University of Iowa, what we have instead is a firmly established bro-culture of mediocrity. In particular, if you’re a white male you can expect to be richly rewarded even if you are found to have discriminated against others in a court of law. But I digress….
With classes at UI set to start next Monday, I am confident that no one expected last week’s surprise announcement from TaJuan Wilson, the UI Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, that he was resigning his position. While people come and go with regularity at UI — especially under Harreld, whose appointment triggered a veritable exodus of respected administrators and institutional knowledge — it is obviously uncommon for any college or university administrator to quit at the commencement of a new academic year. And yet, that may be one of the least remarkable things about the Wilson announcement.
Without question the most remarkable aspect of Wilson’s resignation is that he was only hired four months ago, in mid-April, and only began working at UI seven weeks before he quit. Even in the Harreld era that is some spectacular crazy, but in context it gets much worse, for two completely separate reasons.
The first reason has to do with the history of that position during Harreld’s tenure as president, and that history is not good. For all that Harreld claims to be a proponent of diversity, equity and inclusion, he has been grinding people of color through that VP job since he took office, and Wilson is simply the latest casualty. Specifically, when Harreld took office in late 2015, the position now known as the Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (AVP-DEI) was an AVP position called the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), and that role was held by Georgina Dodge.
From a 09/03/15 article by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on the day of Harreld’s rigged appointment:
One year and ten months later, in late June of 2017, the university announced that Dodge was leaving to become “associate provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Bucknell”. A month or so later, UI announced that Lena Hill — who also served on the search committee that nominated Harreld for the presidency — would move into the Chief Diversity Officer position on an interim basis. (In this video you can see a jaunty and beaming Harreld introduce Hill for a talk on diversity, equity and inclusion.)
Ten months later, UI announced that Hill was leaving to “become dean of the College at Washington and Lee University”. Sliding in to replace her — again on an interim basis — would be Melissa Shivers, who was already serving as UI Vice President for Student Life, and had only been in that position herself for less than a year. Notably, in saddling Shivers with a second job as AVP-DEI, Harreld and UI also let slip that they had not yet begun the process of replacing Dodge on a permanent basis, even though Dodge resigned the year before:
One month later, in August of 2018, the University of Iowa finally put a search committee together to hire a permanent replacement for Dodge, including hiring an executive search firm to aid in the process. Six months later, at the end of February, 2019, the committee announced three candidates for the AVP-DEI position, each of whom would visit the UI campus over the following month. (At the time of that announcement, the title of the position officially changed from Chief Diversity Officer to Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.)
Importantly, this was the final line of the press release announcing the three campus visits:
In March of 2019, the following candidates conducted open forums and introductory meetings on the UI campus:
* Meenakshi Gigi Durham, then serving as “associate dean for outreach and engagement and director of diversity in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences”– who was also a former member of the 2015 search committee that nominated Harreld. Durham held her campus forum on March 7th.
* Domino Renee Perez, an “associate professor in the Department of English at the University of Texas at Austin”. She visited UI on March 14th.
* TaJuan Wilson, “executive director of Student Programs and Diversity and assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina”, who visited the UI campus on March 25th.
Three weeks after the final visit, in mid-April, the university announced that TaJuan Wilson would be the new Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, with a start date of June 28th. Almost two years after Georgina Dodge left UI Harreld finally hired a permanent replacement — who then suddenly resigned late last week, after less than two months on the job. From the Gazette’s Miller, on 08/15/19:
Not only is Wilson not talking, but the university has clammed up as well. In addition to their concerted silence about Wilson’s resignation, however, the disposition of the AVP-DEI position also seems uncertain. Where Wilson describes the role as an “opportunity…for the right person”, Miller’s reporting suggests that the job itself is being phased out, and that any attendant administrative responsibilities will be dispersed across the UI campus.
Even if we never find out why Wilson resigned, we can say that something is clearly wrong at the University of Iowa. Georgina Dodge served as UI’s Chief Diversity Officer for seven years, from 2010 until mid-2017. In the two years following her departure, Harreld first appointed an interim CDO who lasted ten months before also leaving UI. Because Harreld also failed to launch a search for Dodge’s replacement, he then had to appoint a second interim CDO — only this time he got free work from Melissa Shivers by having her do two jobs at once. Finally, after two years, Harreld appointed a permanent replacement for Dodge, who worked seven weeks and quit.
At the very least you might think that people who are concerned about diversity, equity and inclusion on the UI campus would ask for an explanation from business genius J. Bruce Harreld, but Harreld is far too sophisticated at bureaucratic infighting to leave himself vulnerable to criticism. Instead, he has implicitly pointed the finger at the UI provost, and is letting her take the heat. From the second paragraph of the 04/15/19 UI press release announcing Wilson’s hire:
If you don’t know anything about Montse Fuentes that quote might seem innocuous, but note the part that says, “incoming UI executive vice president and provost”. Although Fuentes appears to have deep knowledge of Wilson, and was welcoming him to the UI campus, Fuentes herself had only been appointed a month and a half earlier, and would not actually start at UI until June 28th — which was also Wilson’s start date. From the UI press release announcing Fuentes’ hire, on 03/05/19:
When Wilson was hired a month and a half later, not only was Fuentes not yet on the UI payroll, she could only have been involved in the last month or so of the AVP-DEI search. And yet in the press release announcing Wilson’s hire, Fuentes was quoted as if she had considerable personal knowledge about Wilson. While she may have been asked for input on the three candidates, who all appeared at UI shortly after she was appointed, it is not only unlikely that she attended any of the campus forums, it is not possible that she made the final decision about which candidate to hire. Not only did an earlier press release make clear that Harreld would make the final decision, but Fuentes was not officially working for the university at the time Wilson’s appointment was made.
So what about J. Bruce Harreld, who did hire Wilson? In the press release announcing Wilson’s hire, his name appears only in the final paragraph:
Whether Fuentes had a voice or a vote in the decision, Harreld made the final call. At the time, Fuentes herself had only been appointed for six weeks, meaning she was not only outside the search process until the final month and a half, but was well outside the turnover that defined the position under Harreld’s tenure as president. (That constant upheaval is in turn more than a little ironic, because at the time of his bastard hire Harreld was touted as an expert in organizational change and strategic renewal.)
Flash forward to late last week, and in the UI press release announcing Wilson’s abrupt resignation, we find the following comments attributed to Fuentes — who had herself only been at the university for seven weeks:
TaJuan Wilson was on the job for less than two months, yet to hear Montse Fuentes tell it you would think he made significant contributions to diversity, equity and inclusion at UI. Sandwiched between the two paragraphs about Fuentes above, however, we also find this — which, in conjunction with Fuentes’ statements in the second paragraph, reinforces the idea that the AVP-DEI position is being discontinued altogether:
Whatever transpired behind the scenes with Wilson, one jarring administrative consequence is that there will apparently no longer be a single person responsible for diversity, equity and inclusion on the UI campus. Instead, that role is being subsumed by the provost’s office, and the actual administrative functions are being dispersed. What we also don’t know is whether any of this was Fuentes’ idea, or whether Harreld himself made that change for some reason — perhaps on an opportunistic basis — but it clearly does seem to be happening.
As for Harreld, the following quote from last week’s press release is the sum total of his commentary about Wilson’s resignation:
First, note that Harreld says literally nothing about the resignation of the man he hired only four months ago, into a position that now seems to be going away. Instead, Harreld’s comments are all about how Wilson is not needed, and how the provost will effectively subsume the AVP-DEI role. Second, as a sham university president one of Harreld’s favorite words is ‘alignment precisely because it sounds important but means nothing. In the quote above, Harreld uses that word to imply that UI is better off not having a single person oversee diversity, equity and inclusion, even though Harreld himself hired someone to do exactly that only four months ago.
One potential administrative complication going forward is that Harreld has now roped his new provost into this rolling multi-year debacle. Not only has he implicitly shifted responsibility for Wilson’s hire and resignation onto Fuentes, but only seven weeks into assuming the complex role of provost, she now also has to take responsibility for diversity, equity and inclusion, while getting up to speed on everything else.
All of which brings us to a passage in an article written two months ago by Eric Kelderman, for the Chronicle of Higher Education, on the subject of Harreld’s new contract extension at UI. From 06/20/19 (subscription required):
When he first took office Harreld went on a tear taking credit for anything that wasn’t nailed down, right up until his initial UI town hall blew up in his face. Not only did Harreld subsequently renege on his promise to hold three town halls per year, but he stopped talking to the local and national press, which is why interim UI Provost Curry was quoted by Kelderman, as opposed to Harreld himself. Instead, like the former private-sector executive he is, Harreld adopted a policy of shoving other people out the door whenever someone needs to be held accountable for one of his decisions.
As for Harreld’s views about diversity, equity and inclusion, we also find this in Kelderman’s article:
Maybe this is just me, but if you run off one person of color (Dodge), then grind through three more persons of color (Hill, Shivers and now Wilson), then finally just get rid of the position they all occupied, is that really “champion[ing] diversity and inclusion”? And of course on the administrative side, because Harreld is incapable of taking responsibility for whatever happened with Wilson, Montse Fuentes will now have to spend the next few weeks, if not months, answering a lot of questions about what happened and why, when she may not know what happened or why.
Were he a real university president, J. Bruce Harreld could stop all of that by explaining what happened, but because he’s simultaneously gutless and protected by the regents this incident will fester. Fortunately for Harreld, along with having thrown $100K down the drain on a job search that didn’t need to take place, he can now throw another $150K or so at Wilson while Wilson looks elsewhere for work. That money will in turn keep Wilson quiet, even as people may speculate that perhaps he wasn’t forthright about his qualifications or fitness for the position. (Which no one at UI would ever admit even if it were true, because that would not only mean the university failed to do its due diligence, but that it gave $100K to an incompetent search firm as well.)
Whatever happened with Wilson, this is not what leadership looks like in a healthy organization. This is what a train wreck looks like, and as of right now we are still in the middle of this one. As noted in Miller’s Thursday report about Wilson’s resignation:
Given Harreld’s recent contract extension and pay raise, the blindingly white members of the Iowa Board of Regents are clearly happy with the performance of the great white savior in the president’s office at the University of Iowa. Whether UI faculty, staff and students will be thrilled with Harreld’s decision making in this matter remains to be seen, but it is worth considering all of the above in the broader context of Harreld’s presidency. Specifically, if you were a shyster from the private sector, and had been hired to turn a public university into a for-profit corporation for your crony masters, how would you feel about obligations to diversity, equity and inclusion? Would you feel those were important organizational principles, or would those cultural obligations limit your ability to make the changes you were hired to make?
Even if you’re not a business genius like J. Bruce Harreld, you probably know that one way to reduce the effectiveness of a position or office is simply to keep that position or office in limbo. Drive out any long-term veterans who might push back (Georgina Dodge), then cycle people through on a temporary basis (Lena Hill and Melissa Shivers) until you find the right opportunity to get rid of the position or office entirely (your own boneheaded hire of TaJuan Wilson). String all that out over two years and you not only keep anyone from looking over your shoulder in the president’s office, you fracture cohesion on the UI campus around diversity, equity and inclusion — and then you can do whatever you want.
If you think that’s unfair, consider that back in January of 2016 — meaning only three months after J. Bruce Harreld took office — that Chief Diversity Officer Georgina Dodge was part of the presidential cabinet. In September of 2017, shortly after Dodge left and Lena Hill was appointed in an interim capacity, the CDO was still a cabinet-level position. Likewise, a year after that, when Melissa Shivers was appointed in an interim role, the Chief Diversity Officer was still a cabinet-level job.
Sometime between this past June 17th and July 7th, however — which spans the June 28th start dates for both Montse Fuentes and TaJuan Wilson — the CDO position was not only changed in name, it was downgraded and is no longer part of Harreld’s presidential cabinet. (You can see the current UI cabinet officers here.)
After TaJuan Wilson arrived on the UI campus in late June, the organizational chart for UI was updated to include his name and title. As of yesterday Wilson’s name had been scrubbed, but the position is still listed in the org chart (archived copy here). Note again, however, what Harreld said in the Thursday press release announcing Wilson’s resignation:
If you are not familiar with higher-ed administration, the provost is the highest-ranking academic officer at a college or university. The president, vice presidents and associate vice presidents in the executive suit wield considerable power, but they do not have authority over academics. Instead, they run the university as an operation, including interfacing with outside vendors, etc.
What no one seems to have noticed in the news about Wilson’s resignation is that Harreld not only kicked concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion out of his cabinet, but he has now kicked diversity, equity and inclusion out of the president’s office entirely. While the AVP-DEI position is still listed as ‘vacant’ in the org chart as of today, per Harreld’s quote above those concerns will now be addressed in the provost’s office — meaning only in academic operations at the UI. In the executive suite, finally, after four long years, businessman Harreld will no longer be hamstrung by having to take diversity, equity or inclusion into account.
Does that sound like a man who is deeply concerned with minority populations or discrimination? Does that sound like a man who should be leading a diverse $4B public research university, let alone one which is a member of the AAU? How many other university presidents have kicked diversity, equity and inclusion to their curb in their executive suites, thus giving themselves more room to discriminate in pursuit of profits? Is that common in academia these days, or even in the business world — or is that more peculiar to J. Bruce Harreld’s entrepreneurial way of thinking?
Making this premeditated expulsion of diversity, equity and inclusion from the president’s cabinet and president’s office all the more confusing is the fact that back in April, J. Bruce Harreld championed the development of a campus-wide action plan aimed at those same issues. From the Daily Iowan’s Marissa Payne, on 04/05/19:
From the introduction to the 33-page plan, signed by Harreld, Curry and Shivers [p. 3]:
This new plan was rolled out only days after TaJuan Wilson’s candidate forum at UI, and only two weeks before he was appointed. Unquestionably, driving “excellence through diversity, equity and inclusion” as a “core value” must have been in Harreld’s mind when making that hire, and in Wilson’s mind when he accepted. Yet after only seven weeks on the job Wilson not only resigned the AVP-DEI position, he is now parked in a make-work role in the president’s office, while the AVP-DEI slot is vacant and presumed dead. Even assuming that Wilson suddenly decided he wanted to move on, and is already sending out resumes while drawing full salary at UI, how does Harreld not keep Wilson in the AVP-DEI position to advance the very plan that Harreld touted and signed only four months ago?
Not only doesn’t any of this make sense, it is more alarming evidence of Harreld’s incompetence as a strategist, as an administrator, and as a leader. Whatever the board hired him to do, it wasn’t to run an AAU university, because even after four years of on-the-job training he doesn’t now how to do that. Instead, and despite hailing consensus plans left and right, Harreld is undercutting the values he purports to believe in and support, including diversity, equity and inclusion on the University of Iowa campus.
Update 08/19/19: While I was finalizing this post this morning the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller publishing an update to the TaJuan Wilson resignation:
The fact that UI is eating $25K that they are not obligated to absorb, while also paying Wilson full salary to camp out in the president’s office for six month, strongly suggests that Wilson did nothing wrong — or at least that the university does not want him talking about what transpired. As to what that might be, Miller also provides confirmation of the downgrading of the AVP-DEI position:
When Georgina Dodge was in the role of Chief Diversity Officer, that position was a direct report to the president, and also reported to the provost. Now, after having been downgraded to the AVP-DEI role, that position reports to the provost alone, meaning Harreld no longer has to waste his precious time on diversity, equity and inclusion. We don’t know what Wilson was told about the reporting structure at the time of his hire, or what Fuentes was told, but it is entirely possible that Harreld tried to pull a bait-and-switch with Wilson. That in turns raises the question of whether TaJuan Wilson was hired to do a job, or simply to be a friendly administrative face regarding issues that are not only of concern on the UI campus, but being fiercely debated across the country.
There is a difference between empowering people and using them as shield.
Update 08/20/19: In an email exchange with a reader, it was pointed out that Wilson may indeed have been terminated for some reason.
I confess to having discounted that possibility because UI is now throwing a massive amount of money at Wilson, including ‘forgiving’ the $25K moving allowance that he would have been required to return if he resigned. But of course getting fired isn’t resigning.
It is a measure of my perpetual naivete that I didn’t seriously consider the possibility that Wilson was fired, after which Harreld and UI decided to throw another $150K at the man by keeping him on the state payroll until he could find another job. In most organizations, if you’re fired you’re fired, but that would be perfectly in keeping with Harreld’s inability to accept responsibility for anything.
If Wilson was fired, it seems to me that we will find out sooner or later. If that is the case, and Harreld tried to cover that up with state money, he should be terminated for cause himself.
Update 08/21/19: In responding to another comment in this thread (see here), I was reminded of a bit of irony now that Harreld has parked TaJuan Wilson in the UI Office of External Relations, under Peter Matthes. Last year, when Harreld created the position of Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) — in order to give that job to a former Iowa basketball player, who was already serving as a consultant in that regard at a six figure salary — that new position was also installed in the Office for External Relations. (See org chart here.)
Reflecting Harreld’s priorities, however — and thus the irony — the new CIO position not only included a direct report to Matthes, but also a dotted-line report to Harreld. Because of course business genius J. Bruce Harreld is all about cutting deals and generating profits.
As for the AVP-DEI position, not only is that no longer part of Harreld’s cabinet, but when Wilson took over the DEI role no longer had any reporting access to Harreld at all. (Perhaps Harreld is so busy working with the new CIO that he doesn’t have time to worry about diversity, equity or inclusion.)
Your University of Iowa president, hard at work for you — as long as you’re white, male and connected.
She Isme says
I’m not sure if this piece is meant to reference that the AVP position was once a VP position, but if so, I just want to leave a piece of clarification:
This position has always been an Associate Vice President position.
Dr. Dodge was Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President (as well as the Title IX Coordinator). When Dr. Dodge left, and Dr. Hill took interim, the Title IX appointment went to the Office of the Sexual Misconduct Response Coordinator, however, Dr. Hill was interim Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President, as well as Dr. Shivers (Vice President for Student Life and Interim Chief Diversity Officer.) Dr. Shivers’ title then changed to Vice President for Student Life and Interim Associate Vice President for Diversity Equity and Inclusion, once the office name changed to the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. In short, the position was always an Associate Vice President from the beginning all the way through the hiring of Dr. Wilson.
Thanks for this. The bureaucratic minutia of higher education routinely shorts out what is left of my brain….
I remember the Title IX split under Hill. One thing that confused me about the AVP title was simply the name change from what was earlier called the Chief Diversity Officer. The other thing was that while Shivers was doing both jobs, she was still the VP for Student Life, but also the AVP for the Chief Diversity Office.
(There has to be a Joseph Heller novel in here somewhere.)
Update 08/20/19: I went through the post this morning and tried to make clear that the job was always an AVP role. What did change was not only the name of the position (from CDO to AVP-DEI), but also the reporting structure. Where the CDO was a direct report to Harreld, with a dotted-line report to the provost, the org chart currently shows the AVP-DEI position that Wilson vacated as a direct report to the provost only.
She Isme says
Thank you for updating this! There are a small number of people trying to justify this restructure and allowing rumors to float around in an effort to suggest Wilson did something wrong and that is simply not true. Your instinct and investigative reporting is spot on from what I see, and incredibly valuable. Thank you for taking the time to care. Truly.
There are really two completely distinct stories here:
1) Whatever happened with Wilson, and why he resigned.
2) Harreld’s determination to diminish diversity, equity and inclusion in the president’s office at UI.
On the first point, I spent time last night trying to game out reasons for Wilson’s resignation, and I can’t make sense of it from the facts as we know them. In such an information vacuum — which both Wilson and UI are maintaining — it is not surprising that some people would blame Wilson simply because there is no other plausible explanation.
Having said that, I also can’t see how UI would fire someone, or drive them out, then turn around and give them another five months at an annual state salary of $224K. I mean, if you’re fired, you’re fired, but clearly Wilson is still ’employed’ at UI.
What is equally clear is that Wilson himself had nothing to do with Harreld kicking the AVP-DEI slot out of his cabinet, or changing the reporting structure so that the AVP-DEI no longer has a direct report to Harreld himself. He clearly does not want to deal with obligations to diversity, equity and inclusion, and now his office doesn’t have to.
Finally — and this may seem a bit incongruous — I’m not a reporter of any stripe. I’m just an alum who is concerned about UI. Real reporters have to fight for every bit of information they get out of UI, and without them I would have no visibility to what is happening at my alma mater.
The university touts it diversity programs, but follow the money.
For example, the excellent “The Iowa Edge” program has existed for 20 years, is used in university promotional materials, and is bragged about by Harreld, but UI gives not one dime to it.
The entire thing is funded by one outside donor. Just one example of the faux commitment to diversity/equity on this campus.
My initial concern about Harreld’s hire in early September of 2015 — long before we learned that his appointment was rigged by the Iowa Board of Regents — was that he would simply bring a more sophisticated level of insincerity and deceit to the University of Iowa. What the private sector is particularly good at is maintaining facades, in part because everyone is financially motivated to do so. Keep your mouth shut and play along, and you’ll make more money — and plenty of people are fine with that. (And there are, unfortunately, plenty of people like that at UI.)
In Harreld’s presidential bio he touts his ‘accomplishments’ with Boston Chicken/Market. What he leaves out is that shortly after he resigned as president, that company cratered and flushed hundreds of millions of dollars down the drain in the process. (You can make a pretty compelling argument that the entire business model was a massive pump-and-dump scam.)
Now, in the hire and subsequent resignation of TaJuan Wilson, we have a perfect example of that kind of insincerity, but this time it not only seems to have played out while Harreld is still ‘president’, the hire itself belied his premeditated administrative demotion of the AVP-DEI position.
Whatever issues UI had before Harreld arrived, that’s a pretty revealing betrayal for someone who has, on many occasions, made a big deal of his commitment to those principles.
In the previous post we discussed the abrupt resignation of TaJuan Wilson, the University of Iowa’s Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (AVP-DEI), only seven weeks after his start date. This past Thursday, one full week after UI announced that Wilson had resigned, but would continue working at full salary in some nebulous capacity in the president’s office, we got an update on the terms of that legal separation, and a fuller picture of the grueling demands of Wilson’s new position. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 08/22/19:
In her report, Miller also noted that in signing the agreement Wilson waived his right to sue the university for a whole host of grievances and abuses, suggesting that whatever happened it was not only not Wilson’s fault, but may have been actionable on his part. Couple that with the fact that the Board of Regents and University of Iowa are now paying Wilson a six figure salary while he looks for work someplace else, and it seems glaringly obvious that his eminence J. Bruce Harreld royally screwed up, even as none of the parties are talking. Instead, with the board’s blessing, Harreld is using state money to obscure whatever abuse(s) took place, which in turn preserves Harreld’s tenure as president, instead of compelling the regents to terminate him for gross incompetence, if not worse. (The Iowa Board of Regents, in their abysmally finite wisdom, recently gave Harreld a three-year contract extension and a fat raise, and are probably equally loathe to admit that they also screwed up.)
As to what Harreld did to compel the state to shovel money at Wilson, to prevent him from roasting UI and the regents in a court of law, the mind reels. As detailed in the prior post, although Harreld says all of the right things about diversity, equity and inclusion, and positions himself as a champion of same, he also kicked the AVP-DEI position out of his presidential cabinet, out of his presidential office, and out of his presidential mind. While that certainly counts as rank hypocrisy, if not naked betrayal, it does not explain why Wilson was hired, why Wilson resigned, or why the university is now bending over backwards to keep him happy at significant cost to the state.
Although we have no official explanation, and will probably never get one, a sharp-eyed reader pointed out an interesting convergence of events in the administrative timeline at UI. Specifically, two and a half weeks ago, on 08/08/19, the University of Iowa put out a press release announcing that the school was moving to the next stages of its multi-phase, campus-wide employment practices review. As regular readers know, that comprehensive review was initiated immediately after UI was rocked by a $1.4M judgment in a discrimination case involving abuses by Athletic Director Gary Barta, and that amount soon ballooned into a $6.5M settlement to resolve that and another discrimination case in the athletics department.
The initial $1.4M judgment was awarded by a jury on 05/04/17, following a guilty verdict at trial. One day later, on 05/05/17, J. Bruce Harreld announced that the university would hire an outside law firm to conduct a campus-wide employment practices review, and that the review would start with athletics:
Three weeks later the university announced that it had settled both discrimination cases against Barta and UI for $6.5M. One week after that, on 06/01/17, the university announced the makeup of the committee that would oversee the employment practices review, including hiring the outside firm. Seven weeks after that, on 07/20/17, the committee issued a call for proposals, with submissions due in one month. Three and a half months later, on 11/09/17 — meaning six full months after the review was first trumpeted by Harreld — the university announced that it had finally selected a firm to conduct the campus-wide review:
Flash forward to 04/19/18, and the university announced that the contracted firm had submitted its first report, but that report turned out to be a university-wide review of employment policies, not the specific practices in force in the athletics department which led to the guilty verdict, seven-figure award, and subsequent settlement. On 05/18/18 — meaning just over a year after Harreld launched the review process — the university announced that it was extending the firm’s contract and committing more money to conduct the review of athletics department practices that had been promised twelve months earlier:
A cynic might wonder if the whole point of the review was not to detect ongoing problems or prevent future abuses, but to give the athletics department and the rest of the campus time to resolve or obscure other potential legal liabilities related to employment discrimination. Also worth noting is that no matter how time-consuming the review of athletics department practices turned out to be, that was by far the smaller of the four organizational entities mentioned in the quote above. (UI Health Care includes the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, which is a massive medical complex, and the academic and operational units at UI include thousands of employees.)
Four months later, on 10/24/18, the university announced that it was amending the review contract again:
Incredibly, what was touted in early May of 2017 as a comprehensive review of employment practices, starting with the athletics department, would not actually produce a single report on those practices until late January of 2019, almost two years later. Finally, on 01/31/19 — after giving AD Gary Barta twenty-one months to clean up any other potential liabilities — the university reported that its independent contractor found no additional problems with Barta’s administration of athletics:
At the same time, the report also noted that the university imposed conditions on the firm’s investigation, which limited their conclusions:
So what about the massive amount of work yet to do, covering the academic and operational units, plus UI Health Care? Well, that brings us full circle to the press release the university issued three weeks ago, on 08/08/19 — more than six months after the contracted firm finally gave a squeaky-clean bill of health to the athletics department:
And here’s what that actually means, as reported by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, also on 08/08/19:
Two years and three months after Harreld launched a very public campus-wide review of employment practices at UI, which was motivated by and explicitly concerned with the legal consequences of ignoring diversity, equity and inclusion, and with only the smallest portion of that promised review having taken place, on 08/08/19 the university announced that it would be diverting some of the funds earmarked for the bulk of that review to conduct prophylactic training. Between the persistent administrative foot-dragging and this erosion of commitment, we can not only fairly conclude that Harreld did not and does not want to investigate potential abuses of employment practices at the university, but it is also worth noting what happened the very next day. As the sharp-eyed reader noted in an email last week, 08/09/19 is the day TaJuan Wilson actually signed his settlement agreement with the University of Iowa. (Scroll down here; hosted copy here; archived copy here.)
What can we say about the administrative sequencing of those events on successive days? Well, clearly both outcomes were in the works well before August 8th and 9th, but just as clearly their back-to-back occurrence was not a complete coincidence, particularly relative to the preceding eight months of 2019. Hammering out Wilson’s settlement and memorializing the deal in a contract, to which signatures could be affixed on August 9th, certainly took time — probably on the order of a week or two at minimum. Because Wilson did not start work until June 28th, we know there was at most a three-to-four-week window before something turned Wilson against UI. He clocked in at the end of June, and by the end of July — only four weeks later — he was already at the point where UI and the regents were drawing up his settlement agreement. (When he signed that agreement on August 9th, TaJuan Wilson had been in the employ of the University of Iowa for all of six weeks.)
With regard to the employment practices review, the divergent steps that were announced on August 8th were likewise in-process well before that date, but here the possible span of time is significantly larger. Between announcing the completion of the review of the athletics department in late January, and announcing the watered-down review of the rest of the campus in early August, a full six months of public silence ensued, during which those new plans evolved. As noted in the previous post, however, that six month period also spans the arc of Wilson’s hire, from his campus visit to his appointment, to relocation in Iowa City (if that even happened), to commencement of work and his subsequent resignation.
01/31/19 — UI announces that the review of employment practices in the UI Athletics Department is complete, and characterizes the next phase of the campus-wide process as follows:
In retrospect, in Reardon’s comments we can see both the coming six-month hiatus, and the eventual subversion of the original purpose of the review to include training. As of the end of January, however, the official position was that the same review process would take place across the rest of the campus.
02/26/19 — UI announces that three candidates have been selected for the AVP-DEI position, and that the candidate forums will take place on March 7th, 14th and 25th (Wilson).
04/15/19 — UI announces that TaJuan Wilson has been appointed as the new Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
06/28/19 — TaJuan Wilson starts working at UI as the new AVP-DEI.
08/08/19 — After six months of silence, UI announces the next stages of the campus-wide employment practices review, which will include “developing a proactive training model”.
08/09/19 — TaJuan Wilson signs his settlement agreement after six weeks on the job. (J. Bruce Harreld, regents CEO/XD Mark Braun, and an attorney from the AG’s office all sign the agreement on 08/12/19.)
08/15/19 — The University of Iowa announces Wilson’s resignation, seven weeks after his start date.
While we don’t know what transpired behind the scenes after Wilson started work in late June, from this timeline it’s clear that the university fell silent about the employment practices review while the AVP-DEI hire was being made. Completion of the much-delayed athletics department phase was announced in late January, then nothing else was publicly disclosed until early August, by which time Wilson was already on the way out. Absent compelling evidence that there was another reason for the university to once again stall the employment practices review for six months — until after Wilson was locked into his deal — it is not illogical to conclude that those two administrative processes not only had something to do with each other, but something to do with why Wilson knew he wanted to resign after only working at UI for a month at the very most.
Although TaJuan Wilson has said exceedingly little about his resignation, one of the things he did say about accepting Iowa’s job offer was quite odd. From the mid-August UI press release announcing Wilson’s resignation:
Although Wilson’s prior employer was located in South Carolina, before that he spent five years in Missouri, so he clearly wasn’t feeling displaced in a cultural or regional sense, and he wasn’t at UI long enough to get homesick — wherever he considers home these days. Likewise, major research universities do not continue to pay people at full salary simply because they regretted taking a job and resigned, whether for personal or professional reasons. In fact, while no one can be compelled to stay in a job, if you quit without a compelling justification that’s usually a black mark on your employment history, which would make it harder to find work elsewhere.
Not only is it likely that Wilson considered that consequence before resigning his position at Iowa, but the fact that he proceeded suggests that he believes he did have a compelling justification for doing so. In fact, if we only look at what happened to Wilson following his resignation, it’s hard not to conclude that he must have had a very compelling justification. Unlike most former employees, who would simply be out on the street in that situation, not only will Wilson be paid a whopping $19K per month for up to five months — without having to work on campus, or even in Iowa — but the university has also forgiven his $25K moving allowance, which he was contractually obligated to repay if he resigned in his first year, which he clearly did. In order to get that kind of deal, someone at UI not only had to do something wrong, but Wilson must have evidence of that transgression, which he will be able to produce by way of explanation in subsequent job interviews.
(No one is walking away from a job at the University of Iowa with six figures or more, based on a he-said/they-said dispute. That doesn’t mean a crime was committed, or that Wilson was personally treated in a discriminatory manner, but there had to be a breach or betrayal of some kind, by someone in a position of authority. Something material, that UI doesn’t want to talk about, and doesn’t want Wilson talking about.)
Even if Wilson only did minimal research about the AVP-DEI position prior to applying, he would have run across the $1.4M gender-discrimination verdict in 2017, the subsequent $6.5M umbrella settlement one month later, and the immediate announcement by Harreld himself that a campus-wide review would take place. To whatever extent Wilson did or did not have conversations with Harreld about that review, or about anything else, it is inevitable that Wilson would have had questions about that process, and that people in the UI community — whether on the search committee, or working in various capacities on diversity, equity and inclusion — would have talked about the review as well. And yet throughout the critical final phase of the AVP-DEI search process, the university made no public announcement about its intention to short-circuit the remainder of the campus-wide review.
At the same time, and as noted in the previous post, when Wilson accepted the AVP-DEI position in April, that role was still part of the president’s cabinet, and that position was a direct report to the president, with a dotted-line report to the provost. At roughly the same time that Wilson started working at the end of June, however, both of those things changed. Not only was the AVP-DEI no longer a cabinet-level role, but it would report directly to the provost, and was thus excluded from the president’s bureaucratic obligations.
In sum, there is considerable evidence to suggest that the job TaJuan Wilson applied for in late 2018, interviewed for in March of 2019, accepted in April, and showed up for in late June, was not the job he was give when he arrived in campus. Whenever Wilson found out about all of those substantive changes, it had to be frustrating and maddening to realize that the single biggest obstacle to diversity, equity and inclusion on the UI campus was J. Bruce Harreld. Now, because of Harreld’s boundless capacity to screw things up, the university has not only lost the first permanent AVP-DEI it has had in two years, but the state is obligated to pay the person who was hired into that position not to do that job. At the very least, between the cost of the search and Wilson’s salary and moving expenses, the university may be out more than $200K, with nothing to show for that loss. Speaking of which….
While Wilson’s resignation should not have a six-figure price tag to begin with, comparing the total amount that will be spent on Wilson with the budget for the employment practices review to-date gives us additional visibility into how crippled the review was from the beginning. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 08/08/19:
Coming up now on two and a half years after Harreld ordered a campus-wide review of employment practices at UI, the entire cost for that multi-year process is still significantly less than the $224K that would have been paid to TaJuan Wilson if he worked for one year. Indeed, now that funds are being siphoned away from that ongoing review to “develop a proactive training model”, Wilson’s partial-year salary may still rival the total that is actually spent on the review process. ($19K per month x 7 months = $133K.)
Whatever else may have happened behind the scenes with Wilson — whatever Harreld or anyone did that was inappropriate, if not actionable — we know that Harreld ordered the AVP-DEI position removed from his cabinet and removed as a direct report to the president’s office. We don’t know when those decisions were made or communicated internally, but we do know they only became visible several months after Wilson accepted the AVP-DEI role in mid-April. Likewise, we don’t know when the decision was made to divert money from the already underfunded employment-practices review, but that change was announced to the public only after Wilson started working at UI.
All of which is to say that while Harreld was talking a good game about the employment practices review, and talking a good game about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, he was using his administrative authority to minimize the likelihood that there would be any real change for protected classes at UI. Adding insult to injury, the search for a new permanent AVP-DEI was delayed for a year, and the employment practices review has been running even longer, so there was clearly time to get the position description right before someone was hired into that role. So why didn’t that happen?
If Harreld wanted to empower the new AVP-DEI, he would have kept that position in his cabinet and as a direct report, thus signaling his priorities not only to the greater campus, but to other administrators at the university. Instead, Harreld cut his administrative ties to the AVP-DEI role, sending a clear signal that diversity, equity and inclusion were not priorities in the president’s office. Likewise, if Harreld wanted an aggressive review of employment practices at UI, he not only had the necessary authority, but by virtue of the pile of cash that is now being thrown at Wilson we know Harreld could have devoted sufficient revenue to fund a campus-wide review. Instead, the employment practices review has not only been repeatedly delayed and minimized, but its minimal funding is now being poached.
In bureaucratic terms it seems self-evident that Harreld pulled a scam with the AVP-DEI role, offering something of value — a job — that turned out to be significantly less than advertised. It also seems self-evident, based on the fact that UI is now paying to keep TaJuan Wilson from talking, that Wilson could prove in court that he was taken for a ride by the august and visionary former businessman who currently presides over the University of Iowa. And yet even if that’s all true, that only explains the mechanics of what happened.
The question we’re still left with is why this person —
— hired this particular person —
— into an administrative position that was being hollowed out and marginalized.
Unfortunately, that remains a mystery.
Update 08/28/19: One of the things I have learned over the past four years or so, while trudging through the debris field left in J. Bruce Harreld’s wake, is that much like the current occupant of the White House, the messaging operation at the University of Iowa is largely driven by deflection, distraction and sleight of hand, as opposed to any genuine desire to inform. Because the school is a massive enterprise there is always something to talk about, particularly when administrators would rather not talk about something else. Case in point….
Early this morning the Daily Iowan published a story about how the new diversity, equity and inclusion action plan will still be implemented, even though the associate vice president who was hired, in part, to implement that plan, decided to quit after six weeks. From Kayli Reese, on 08/28/19:
While it is obviously heartwarming that the University of Iowa will “carry on as planned” in the face of this sudden vacancy, it’s also worth remembering that the same administration that is now vowing to “carry on as planned” is the administration that couldn’t figure out how to keep the new AVP-DEI on the job for more than a month and a half. And just on its face that would seem to call into question the wisdom of allowing those same people to implement any action plan, if not also the wisdom of believing that they have the necessary competence or intention to do so.
Having a two-year action plan that may or may not reach fruition — let alone be sabotaged behind the scenes, or allowed to wither on the administrative vine — is no substitute for having a point person who is charged with ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion on the UI campus. To whatever extent the action plan is implemented, there will now be dozens if not hundreds of important moments and decisions that simply do not take place, because there is no one on staff who is charged with maintaining vigilance or compliance outside of the action plan. Then again, after watching how Harreld surgically removed the AVP-DEI from the president’s office over the past few months, it’s hard not to think this impending administrative neglect is by design.
Later update 08/28/19: I don’t know whether people are intentionally pushing this false narrative or are just uninformed, but it is certainly something that the university itself is not taking pains to clarify:
The questions here are obvious. When was the decision made to change the reporting structure, and who made it? (It is impossible to imagine that Harreld did not make the final call.)
When was the change in the reporting structure communicated to Wilson?
The worst-case scenario for Harreld is that he decided to change the reporting structure prior to Wilson’s arrival on campus, but did not inform him of that change until afterward — effectively pulling an ‘administrative fast-one’ on the new hire. In any event, however, it also seems clear that the reporting structure was changed after Wilson accepted the position in April, which is problematic in itself.
Prior UIHC employee says
I’m surprised that you didn’t focus on Dr Wilson’s second sentence of his commentary that was part of the UI’s press release re: his resignation, “I have great respect for the university and the work being done in diversity, equity, and inclusion and believe Iowa has the potential to be on the right path.” The fact that he states that Iowa has the potential to be on the right path clearly indicates that he does not believe that it is currently on the right path at this point in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and would lead one to believe that the law firm’s investigation of UI’s employment practices has been circumscribed to the point of being a pro forma affirmation that there’s nothing wrong with said practices across the campus.
I worked at UIHC for five years before leaving for another academic medical center, and I can say that in those five years, I repeatedly saw SOPs and university-wide policies being disregarded, and those administrators doing so would just shrug and make it clear that the wronged party would be foolish to raise the issue without resulting severe consequence. That was the atmosphere that ruled while I was there, so it would not surprise me if this was a more systemic problem spanning across UI.
I had the same initial reaction to that sentence that you did — that it was quite telling. While I was working on the post you responded to, however, I ran across this detail in a story by the Daily Iowan’s Marissa Payne, also on 08/26/19:
It didn’t surprise me that Wilson’s remarks where vetted by UI — particularly given that he continues in the employ of the school — but I could see how the university would make rhetorical excuses about having “the potential to be on the right path”. (‘We’re always seeking to improve’ — blah blah blah.)
It also seemed to me that the entire debacle underscored the fact that Harreld is not serious about diversity, equity or inclusion. And why would he be? He’s a rich old white man who had his job handed to him by a small cabal of rich old white cronies.
If we go back to the part where Harreld kicked DEI out of the president’s office, it couldn’t be clearer that dealing with people of color or the disabled or any federally protected class is just not something he’s interested in dealing with. So instead he pushed out an action plan, then foisted all it on his new provost — who can’t push back because she’s new in town, and owes him a debt of thanks for her job.
Long story short, I don’t disagree with your point, but the entire mess is so ugly that I decided it was effectively redundant. Clearly the University of Iowa is on the wrong path, and just as clearly that’s at J. Bruce Harreld’s insistence.
Were it not for the recent TaJuan Wilson debacle (see posts here and here), the 2019-2020 academic year at the University of Iowa would be getting off to a sleepy start. In reality, the only thing keeping a flood of important information from spewing forth is a great deal of administrative clenching in the president’s office. (And if you’re eating right now, I genuinely apologize for that imagery.)
On this coming Tuesday and Wednesday, September 10th and 11th, the university will finally hold long-promised ‘information sessions’ concerning a prospective but largely inevitable public-private partnership (P3). In that looming deal, a private-sector energy company will be hired to run the school’s utilities — including its power plant and water treatment facilities — and in grateful appreciation that company will give the school a massive up-front payment in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Unfortunately, the clandestine nature of the P3 means that little information will actually be conveyed at those ‘information sessions’, even as university administrators will subsequently claim to have dutifully informed the campus and public about contractual obligations which may bind the state to a long-term financial commitment of a billion dollars or more. (In refusing to communicate the true nature of the deal, the university will cite legal obligations to protect the trade secrets of its private-industry partner, and/or the fluid nature of negotiations.)
Along with all of that, we should also finally get the new enrollment numbers at UI, which have still not been released, and updated projections on the university’s financials for the concurrent 2020 fiscal and academic years, which have still not been posted. We don’t know exactly when that pent-up information will burst forth, but the next regularly scheduled regent meetings take place the following week — on September 18th and 19th — and it would be more than a little curious if that data was not published by then. (To be explicit, the P3 information sessions are taking place this week precisely to liberate the university and regents from having to communicate additional specifics as the deal progresses. Having purportedly informed the public about a deal that is ostensibly still in flux, the university and board will then be free to obligate state taxpayers to provide a private-sector company with a guaranteed annual profit for the next half-century.)
While there are a number of interesting aspects to this impending information avalanche, from the point of view of illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld, the most pressing concern by far — by orders of magnitude — involves pushing the P3 deal through to fruition, regardless of any cost to the people of Iowa. Landing a balloon payment of half a billion dollars or more will validate his corrupt crony hire with cash money, even if the state eventually ends up paying back more than twice that amount over the next fifty years. (Even better from Harreld’s point of view, everyone involved in approving the deal will be dead by the time it concludes, so no one will ever be held accountable if abuses of power or actual crimes are committed.)
It is of course part of the great entrepreneurial tradition to burden future generations by taking money up front and worrying about how to pay it back later. Unfortunately, because everyone currently on the UI campus will profit — either directly or indirectly — without having to pay a dime in costs themselves, there will be tacit if not rabid support for an immediate windfall, regardless of the long-term consequences. (The university will claim otherwise, but between advances in energy production and risks related to global warming, it is unlikely that the service component of any deal consummated today will survive for fifty years. Because of such uncertainties, it is inevitable that fine-print provisions will be written into any P3 contract which obligate the state of Iowa to repay any up-front payment, with interest, irrespective of any other aspect of the deal.)
From the more mundane data flows we will gain belated insight into how many students were added to the suddenly expanding rolls — after J. Bruce Harreld repeatedly pledged to “take enrollment down” in recent years — and how that influx of new students relates to a projected decrease in tuition revenue. Specifically, just over a month ago the university announced that even though base tuition increased 3.9% across the board (and more for many students), and enrollment showed a “meaningful uptick“, revenue from tuition and fees was projected to decline more than $5M for the 2020 fiscal and academic years. To whatever extent the P3 deal turns out to be a scam, a reversal of enrollment policy which precipitates a consequent decline in revenue raises a host of questions about Harreld’s purported brilliance as a business strategist and guru of organizational change.
The UI Student Housing Crunch
In a post at the beginning of August we dismantled Harreld’s claim that UI was “very creatively” looking for housing in response to a projected increase in enrollment. In itself, that self-aggrandizing assertion was laughable because UI has been housing dormitory overflow in lounges for decades. As more information has been reported in the press, however, not only does Harreld’s statement seem like a pointless lie, it is entirely possible that Harreld intentionally generated that dormitory overflow to maximize revenue for the school.
To begin, there are some obvious timing problems here. As a university administrator you don’t just suddenly realize you’re short of housing in early August, because you knew how many students you intended to enroll as far back as spring. You may not know exactly how many students will arrive on campus for the new year, but if you were intentionally “taking enrollment down” in prior years, you obviously have to consciously reverse that managed trend to see a “meaningful uptick”. Meaning not only did UI administrators know enrollment would increase because they themselves engineered that increase months earlier, but housing solutions should have been found long before Harreld was boasting about his creativity.
As noted in a recent Daily Iowan board editorial about the campus housing crunch, it turns out that the initial estimate of 6,200 beds for this fall was also wrong. Instead, in the past month Harreld’s administration apparently discovered that another 200 freshmen had secretly enrolled and requested housing, so the school would need 6,400 beds on campus, straining capacity that much more. As noted in the earlier post, however, just under a year ago, on 09/25/18, the DI’s Kelsey Harrell reported that one of UI’s bigger dorms — the Mayflower, with a capacity of over 1,000 students — was running at significantly less than full occupancy:
If Mayflower was at 60% capacity last year, and it has approximately 1,000 beds, that’s 400 empty beds that UI should have been able to immediately produce, without having to be “very creative”. On the other hand, being able to offer single-occupancy rooms might also command a price premium, so perhaps UI was disincentivized to convert those Mayflower rooms back into double or triple occupancy. In any event, despite considerable reporting we have no indication that the university filled Mayflower to capacity first, before stuffing any remaining students into lounges in other dormitories.
As to why the university may have intentionally created a housing crunch on campus, all we have to do is remind ourselves that the university doesn’t care about the students, it cares about the revenue it generates from the students. Given that the dropout rate for incoming freshmen is quantified on an annual basis, and relates to a key metric for college rankings that all university presidents are cognizant of, it would have been a trivial matter for Harreld and his crack team of administrative brigands to calculate the number of students who would survive long enough to be financially committed for the entire year, then simply enroll enough students at the beginning of the fall term to ensure full occupancy — and thus maximal revenue from tuition and board — into the spring term.
The specific ranking metric that all university presidents are concerned about is called the ‘retention rate’, and it describes how many students survive into their second academic year. Here is Harreld saying all the right things about UI’s retention rate back in early June, as an excuse for hitting UI students with their fifth tuition hike in four years:
“‘We are committed to increasing our first-year retention rates and improving the four-year graduation rate to minimize student debt,’ he said.”
Harreld’s cynicism here should be deeply disturbing to anyone who is genuinely concerned about student success. To justify taking more money from students Harreld cited a commitment to “increasing our first year retention rates”, yet at that time he had to know he was consigning freshmen to temporary housing for months, only to then be dislocated a second time if a room became available mid-semester. In both instances — meaning with the increase in tuition and the shortage of housing — the university stood to gain financially while students suffered, and yet in each case Harreld simply used empty rhetoric to cover his tracks.
As if that weren’t enough, it is also possible that Harreld originally decided to increase enrollment not only to maximize revenue from tuition, room and board, but as a defensive hedge against a number of private-sector developers who are adding thousands of additional student apartments near the UI campus. Because the university recently erected several new and very large dorms, in anticipation of increasing enrollment over a decade or more — which business genius Harreld immediately curtailed when he took office — it may simply be financially untenable to run the university at anything less than full occupancy, even if that disadvantages the students who are paying for rooms they are not getting. (If nothing else, we do know of a certainty that this housing crunch was created by Harreld, who decided to increase freshman enrollment.)
The $115M NASA TRACERS Grant
In the final calm days before the coming information storm, and in the remainder of this post, I want to shine a bright light on yet another indicator that J. Bruce Harreld’s presidency is a paper-thin facade. Where the university should have a fully qualified academic administrator and advocate leading the school — including challenging the board itself for the betterment of students, faculty and staff — after almost four years of on-the-job training Harreld is little more than a door mat. And we know that because a certain U.S. senator just left his boot prints all over Harreld’s face.
Back in the mid-June the university announced the “largest-ever research award” in school history:
To prove that the NASA award was greater than any prior grant, the university listed the other top-nine grants in the article quoted above. Unfortunately, because telling an impressive lie is apparently better than telling a less-impressive truth, no mention was made that inflation did not seem to have been taken into account in that assessment. (Had it been, the NASA grant would have come in tenth, but hey — we’re bragging here.)
One other oddity about the UI press release, however, was that Harreld’s name did not appear in the text. Having been hired on the pretext of his revenue-generating expertise, it seemed inconceivable that Harreld would not attach his name to what the university was calling its “largest-ever research award”, yet Harreld was neither quoted nor mentioned. Indeed, over the following few days the local and state press put out variations on the UI press release, yet not once — not even in passing — was Harreld’s name mentioned. (KCRG-TV, The Gazette, Press-Citizen, The Gazette (update), CBS2/FOX28, Daily Iowan, Press-Citizen (update), Iowa Public Radio, Radio Iowa.)
While it is not uncommon for media outlets to revise a press release and issue the same information in slightly different form, in some of the articles above the reporters elicited additional comments from the university, yet nowhere was Harreld quoted or even referred to by others. As an inveterate Harreld watcher I waited for him to take a victory lap well into July, until I finally realized I was being naive. Instead of crowing about the grant in the middle of summer, when the campus was empty, Harrled would bide his time until the fall term kicked off, then take a heaping helping of credit.
Sure enough, on 08/28/19 — meaning a few days after the fall term commenced — I came across an errantly posted Associated Press compendium of upcoming press events, which included the following:
Here, finally, everything made sense. Harreld kept his powder dry until he could step in front of a roomful of cameras and bask in the glory of having fulfilled the promise of his illegitimate presidency. Even the next day, when the university belatedly published Harreld’s traditional fall welcome, on 08/29/19 — after the university initially floated last-year’s welcome message to the press — I was not surprised that there was no mention of the NASA grant, or of Harreld’s impending star turn. Instead, I simply took that as confirmation that ‘his’ welcome statement had been ghostwritten by someone at the UI Office of Strategic Communication, who overlooked the press availability scheduled for the following day.
On the morning of Friday, 08/30/19, I imagined Harreld holding court in front of the assembled media, flashing his wan smile and waxing incoherently about his humble but crucial role in securing the NASA grant. Several hours later, however, when I came across the first report of the press conference, I was once again stupefied to find no mention of Harreld. Then, a short time later I found a series of captioned photos about the press conference, but again — not only was there no mention of Harreld in the text, but Harreld did not appear in any of the pictures.
This inexplicable omission proved so disorienting that I double-checked the AP notice, where Harreld’s name was clearly listed among the dignitaries scheduled to appear. So what happened? Was there a campus emergency? Was Harreld taken sick?
Over the remainder of Friday afternoon I looked through every article I could find, and there was a great deal of reporting about the press conference. In not one instance, however, was Harreld’s name mentioned, and there was no evidence he had attended at all. Then, late in the afternoon the Daily Iowan’s politics editor, Sarah Watson — who had published the first write-up of the press conference that I had read — issued the following tweet:
The idea that Harreld could not meet his obligations to students, while also appearing at a press conference that had been scheduled for days — if not far longer — was laughable on its face. If there had been an emergency of some kind, or he was called out of town at the last minute, that might pass the smell test, but it is not possible that J. Bruce Harreld could not attend the NASA presser “because of some meetings with students”. (And I am emphatically not questioning Watson’s tweet. I’m saying either the VP of Research lied to the Daily Iowan, or Harreld lied to the VP of Research.)
As regular readers know, Harreld is not shy about taking credit whether he was involved or not. The opportunity to appear with the state’s senior U.S. senator, and with the U.S. representative from the university’s district, would have been irresistible. To that we can also add the presence of Bridenstine, who is not simply an administrator at NASA, but the administrator of the entire agency. Given Harreld’s engineering degree from Purdue, the sex appeal of the NASA brand, and the university’s long-standing contributions to space research and the U.S. space program, it is inconceivable that Harreld would not have done everything possible to appear alongside that particular dignitary. (To say nothing of the fact that Harreld is also being paid an obscene amount of money to promote the university’s research capabilities, which helps to secure additional grants.)
To underscore the degree to which Harreld’s absence was and still is inexplicable, note that even in reporting on the press conference over the following days there was not a single mention of Harreld, including no official explanation for his absence. (Press-Citizen, KCRG-TV, WHO-TV, Radio Iowa, The Gazette, CBS2.) Even now, almost a week and a half later, all we have to go on is the quasi-official explanation from the VP of Research, which is that student meetings kept Harreld from attending the one non-athletic press conference that will probably generate more positive coverage than any other over the entire academic year.
The next day, however — on Saturday, 08/31/19 — there Harreld was at Kinnick Stadium, dutifully showing up for the first football game of the year. In fact, until a couple of days ago I could have proven that by linking to this tweet, but for some reason the president of the visiting Miami of Ohio Redhawks, deleted a photo of the two men and their spouses. (J. Bruce Harreld sure is being disappeared a lot these days.)
So Harreld couldn’t make a press conference with the head of NASA, but he can make the football game the next day? How do we explain this — by which I mean account for this preposterous occurrence, as opposed to making excuses. Did Harreld decide not to attend for some reason, or, is it possible he was asked not to attend? Then again, what force on earth could have kept Harreld from participating if he genuinely wanted to be there?
However we might gauge the magnitude of Harreld’s considerable ego, there seems to be a general consensus that few people develop a truly gravity-warping ego like aged U.S. senators. With an expectation of deference hardened by decades of ceremonial respect, even cantankerous buffoons come to think of themselves as deserving of reverence, and America’s longest-serving elected officials are no exception. Which is not to say that sitting senators do not wield considerable power, including the power to encourage the federal government to rain funding on their constituents.
By far the most likely facilitator of the $115M NASA TRACERS grant to the University of Iowa is Senator Charles Grassley, with perhaps an able assist from retiring Representative Dave Loebsack. Conversely, it is exceedingly unlikely that Harreld had anything to do with directing that substantial flow of federal funds to the school, which is why he may have been included as a formality, but was entirely extraneous to — if not inimical to — the greater aims of that press conference. (In effect, that media availability was a public relations event for Grassley and NASA, with Loebsack and UI playing supporting roles. Grassley is on the ball, he’s bringing lots of money home, don’t forget to vote for him if he decides to run again, etc., etc.)
Giving substantial weight to that interpretation, we not only find that the press conference was not open to the public, but reporters had to RSVP by the day before simply to get in. Likewise, despite taking place on the campus of an R1/AAU research university, there was no apparent attempt to integrate that press conference into academics, or to make the principals available to the students — either for questions, or simply to listen to the speeches. Everything about that glorified photo-op could have been done in D.C. or on a sound stage, but it was held on campus for publicity’s sake.
Even if all that is correct, however, and Grassley’s senatorial ego was blotting out the sun, it still doesn’t explain why Harreld did not make a servile appearance. What could have stood him in greater stead, as a toady functionary, than abasing himself before a U.S. senator — including profusely thanking Grassley for delivering $115M to the school? That is how things are done in public higher education, yet Harreld was nowhere to be found.
The idea that Harreld was told to make himself scarce probably sounds far-fetched, but it is actually quite possible — as is the possibility that Harreld bailed on his own, to avoid being glared at or harangued by Grassley. As to the point of contention between them, the obvious answer is China, and particularly China’s state presence on the UI campus. Although Harreld did set out to close a number of centers and institutes on the UI campus the year before — including the China-sponsored Confucius Institute — he is himself a big proponent of China for reasons related to his time as a business executive in the private sector, and to his extended family.
While Harreld spent the better part of last year waging a one-man war against the UI Labor Center, which barely survived and is still at risk, there has been no official confirmation that the UI Confucius Institute was ever closed, despite Harreld’s purported determination to do so. That an American university president actively sought to kill off an academic center devoted to labor rights in the United States, while largely ignoring an on-site outpost of a communist and authoritarian country, is not only a bitter irony for workers in both countries, but goes to the heart of concerns that Grassley has been quite public about since last spring. Specifically, after both the FBI and U.S. State Department issued warnings about China and its Confucius Institutes, Grassley followed up last April by requesting information about whether U.S. research institutions are vulnerable to Chinese intellectual property theft.
As reported by the Daily Iowan’s Katie Ann McCarver, on 04/02/19:
All Harreld had to do to inform himself about Grassley’s concerns was read the campus paper, yet that was only the beginning of Grassley’s targeted interest. Two months later Grassley followed up with a very public shot across Harreld’s bow, in the form of a pointed op-ed in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, on 05/31/19:
From additional reporting by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 06/03/19:
So was the UI Confucius Institute ever closed, as Harreld said it would be? And the answer is….I don’t know. The Confucius Institute link on the UI website leads to an ‘acess denied‘ page, but the UI website is so routinely broken that I don’t know what to make of that. It’s possible that the web page is being updated to reflect termination, or some new status, but it’s also possible that UI simply broke the link to avoid having to answer such questions. (Out of website, out of mind.)
As to Harreld’s affinity for China, the least-concerning explanation would be that as president of the University of Iowa, he feels beholden to that country for high-dollar Chinese students who contribute millions in tuition and fees to the university’s general education fund. With revenue expected to fall off by $5M this year, it’s understandable that Harreld might be more reluctant to upset or insult the Chinese government, which has considerable sway over where its students end up. Unfortunately, Harreld’s ties to China are considerably deeper, as ironically revealed in this report from Chinese media back in January:
The idea that any foreign country can buy an outpost on the campus of an R1/AAU research institution in the United States is obviously a concern. That China can apparently still do so after having been credibly accused of intellectual property theft for decades should be a scandal. That J. Bruce Harreld does not share Grassley’s national security concerns may provide some insight into possible tensions between the two men, and may indeed help explain why Harreld was not part of the NASA press conference. Then again, it’s also possible that Senator Charles Grassley just doesn’t like being told to “calm down” by snot-nosed bureaucrats working a crony grift.
Update 09/10/19: Apparently the P3 information sessions scheduled for today and tomorrow were changed at the last minute. As recently as a few days ago I believe they were still scheduled for the 10th and 11th [archived link], but per an update to the original notice — which was itself published back in early July, and will thus generate absolutely no awareness on the UI campus — the information sessions will now be held on the 23rd and 24th [cached link because live page was down]:
There sure are a lot of scheduling problems lately in the president’s office, aren’t there…?
What promised to be an informative and illuminating week at the University of Iowa not only turned out to be a bit of bust, but the expected and unexpected information that did come to light merely prompted additional questions. As noted in an update to the prior post, the information sessions about a public-private partnership (P3) for the university’s utilities were rescheduled from September 10th and 11th to the 23rd and 24th, ostensibly because of a “scheduling conflict for one of the presenters”. Whether that explanation was factually accurate or a feeble excuse for delay, it is worth noting in retrospect that the university did not seem to make any effort to alert the public to that change. (The only notice of the postponements that I came across was a very late update to the two-month-old web page linked above, which few people would have consulted.)
In advance of this week’s regent meetings, and in concert with the other two regent universities (Iowa State and Northern Iowa), the University of Iowa did finally release its fall enrollment numbers, but even then the messaging was garbled. Although Iowa’s sham president, J. Bruce Harreld, announced earlier this summer that there would be a “meaningful uptick” in enrollment at UI, it turns out he was only talking about the incoming freshman class, not the university overall. (That may seem self-evident, but each year the regent universities also take in thousands of transfer students from two-year community colleges and other institutions. Between the fall of 2017 and fall of 2018 those numbers fell off sharply [p. 6 here], so it was not unreasonable to think there may have been some bounce-back this year. As to whether that is the case or not, the 2019 numbers won’t be reported for another month or two.)
While it is normal for enrollment to rise and fall at every college and university, including collectively in response to regional or national economic trends, enrollment is always managed. Although it is impossible to anticipate every potential disruption, higher-ed administrators spend a great deal of time making sure they have a steady supply of students to support their institution. With measured increases in infrastructure, faculty and staff a school may make a push to increase overall enrollment on a permanent basis, effectively taking market share, but it is quite rare for an academic institution to intentionally downsize because of the severe effects of a consequent fall-off in revenue. (Once you build out your higher-ed institution, you’re effectively committed to filling those new seats.)
While administrators can always cap enrollment, however, they can’t manufacture students to order. If there are insufficient applicants to support operations, an individual college or university may be able to weather a short-term enrollment drop, but even a few lean years can lead to precipitous cuts in programs and staff. For that reason, most college administrators are wary of committing to policy changes which make it more difficult to recruit students when the market could be in short supply.
The fact that all three of Iowa’s regent universities are projecting a decline in enrollment for the 2019-2020 year is not necessarily surprising, particularly given that jobs are currently plentiful whether workers have a four-year degree or not. Just as higher-ed enrollment surged after the Great Recession, when jobs were scare, enrollment at colleges and universities is dropping off across the country because there is plenty of work to be had. For many schools this problem merely requires effective management because there are still plenty of students in the admissions pipeline, but the conspicuous “uptick” in freshmen at UI alone raises the alarming possibility that ISU and UNI no longer have that option.
Although overall enrollment will also decline at UI, Iowa was able to increase its incoming freshman class to help buffer that drop. As reported by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 08/01/19, that does not seem to be the case at the other two regent universities:
Wintersteen’s lament about decreasing revenue is valid, but it should be noted that Iowa’s regent presidents routinely express such concerns whether enrollment rises or falls. When enrollment decreases they decry the consequent loss of revenue from tuition, fees, and even room and board, yet when enrollment increases — thus apparently solving that problem — they claim they’re still losing money because each new student requires additional expenditures which cannot be covered by tuition and fees alone. To the extent that the state also supports the regent schools with annual appropriations in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the regent presidents still take every opportunity to decry legislative funding levels not only when they drop, but even when they increase.
For example, here’s UI president J. Bruce Harreld, from an interview with the Daily Iowan on 05/05/19:
For context, UI suffered actual funding cuts in the preceding two years, due to the collapse of the state budget, so any increase was a big deal, as Harreld noted. As to appropriations falling short, however, most of the appropriations process is little more than theater. The regents submit a request based largely on caprice, the legislature usually gives the governor cover by providing some money but not all that was requested, then the board and university presidents wail about how they didn’t get what they wanted, whether or not the original request was reasonable or justified. (The process for this year’s upcoming legislative session, which will determine funding for next year, kicked off in predictable fashion last week.)
It is true that over the past few decades the state has dramatically slowed the rate at which it has increased appropriations to the state schools, and that means those institutions are now relying more and more on tuition to fund operations. In fact, over the past four years — which included the two-year budget crunch — the regents increased tuition five times, and have already approved additional increases for each of the next four years. (The only uncertainty going forward is the total amount of each annual hike. Increase will have a floor of 3%, but increase from there if the legislature does not sufficiently boost appropriations to offset inflation.)
The nightmare scenario for the regent universities involves uncontrolled declines in student enrollment, because that would curtail the main source of revenue which is now powering the schools. Drops in out-of-state enrollment are particularly problematic because those students pay much more, but even a decline in resident enrollment represents a loss in raw dollars — and all three state schools are clearly confronting that reality. (One question the regents will never address is whether the unrelenting spate of tuition hikes has itself negatively impacted enrollment at the state universities, effectively auto-generating that nightmare scenario.)
The fact that UI was able to increase freshman enrollment, despite seeing an overall decline, will forestall the serious problems ISU and UNI are already facing. Yet even with that uptick, Iowa is projecting a $5.1M decrease in tuition revenue for the 2019-2020 academic year. Unfortunately, the fact that ISU and UNI cannot find new students is not only a concern for those schools, but suggests the same fate may eventually befall UI. That will then put additional pressure on the regents to increase tuition even more — thus potentially creating a vicious cycle in which tuition hikes decrease enrollment — or precipitate funding and program cuts that the state schools may never recover from.
In reporting the enrollment figures for all three state schools this past Thursday, on 09/12/19, the Gazette’s Miller also included this odd note:
Despite an increase of 180 students in the incoming freshman class, enrollment at UI will still be down 400 to 500 overall. But it would have fallen by roughly 600 to 700 if the school had been unable to attract new students, as was the case at ISU and UNI. While UI released the exact numbers for the incoming freshman class, however, it is more than a little odd that it did not want to “share the campus’ complete freshman count”. Why balk at providing the full enrollment picture unless you have something to hide? (As to what that might be, my only thought is that it might have something to do with the sudden housing crunch on campus, which UI triggered by increasing the size of the freshman class — but that does not fully explain the reported shortage of dorm rooms.)
Along with this year’s enrollment numbers, Miller’s report last week included an admission statistic that UI has increasingly touted over the past few years:
While that steady improvement seems admirable, at a public university it is also a concern. To understand why, note that there is a positive correlation between familial wealth and grades in high school and college, meaning on average GPA also serves as a proxy for the amount of resources a student has at their disposal. While it obviously makes sense that students do better in college if they did well in high school, focusing admissions on GPA means focusing on students who are more well-off, and for colleges and universities there are multiple advantages to enrolling wealthier students.
No only do students from wealthier families require less financial aid, which leaves more revenue for other priorities — including entrepreneurial initiatives in the president’s office — but wealthier students take out fewer loans, thus improving a school’s student-debt statistics. Because wealthier students tend to do better in college they also have higher retention rates after the first year, which is a critical factor in determining a school’s national college rank. Unfortunately, students who have fewer resources and lower GPA scores also tend to be from minority populations, which means prioritizing GPA is also inherently discriminatory.
While I don’t believe anyone at UI is emphasizing high school GPA for the express purpose of actively discriminating against minority enrollment, I do think administrators are aware that focusing on GPA can have that effect. They’re not trying to drive down minority enrollment, but in valuing GPA — and, by extension, familial wealth — above other factors, that may be the inevitable result.
Note also that other policy decisions can indirectly skew metrics like average high school GPA for an incoming class, with the same negative consequence. For example, it is not a coincidence that the regents launched their tuition-hike binge shortly after they ran a fake presidential search at UI to legitimize the done-deal appointment of J. Bruce Harreld. Indeed, the board’s rationale for hiring a candidate from the private sector was that there was a crisis in higher education, and only someone with extensive business experience could respond to that problem.
True to executive form, Harreld immediately advocated for increasing the cost of a degree at UI. Because higher tuition puts more pressure on students of lesser means, however, and students of lesser means tend to disproportionately be from minority populations, Harreld’s annual tuition hikes make it less likely that those students will even apply, which in turn could indirectly improve the average GPA of an incoming class. Whether that has happened or not we don’t know, but it seems unlikely that increasing the cost of a degree from Iowa over the past four years (up a minimum of 18%, and significantly more for many students) would lead to more students of lesser means applying, so it’s likely that tuition hikes in themselves have had some positive effect on aggregated GPA.
For the two prior years, during which freshman enrollment decreased, it is also possible that the average high school GPA improved from 3.69 to 3.71 because the class sizes were smaller, meaning lower-performing students in prior classes were simply not admitted in those years. Now that freshman enrollment has increased again, however, we would expect to see that number back a bit if that was the case, but instead we find a substantial leap — from 3.71 to a GPA average of 3.76. Even if tuition hikes contributed to that spike, it seems clear that UI is placing more and more emphasis on high school GPA, which in turn conveys the advantages noted above. What we do not currently have visibility to is whether that is negatively affecting the diversity of each incoming freshman class.
Speaking of data, despite the flurry of new numbers we still do not have the latest faculty resignation report from the Board of Regents, which would normally have been published six months ago. Instead, those statistics have been indefinitely delayed because that information will now be incorporated into the annual human resources report. (That the faculty resignation numbers went missing right when the regents decided to give Harreld a fat new raise and contract extension may be mere coincidence, or it may be a bureaucratic attempt to disconnect Harreld’s meager performance from his obscene compensation.)
With regard to this year’s national college ranking from U.S. News, which is partly based on metrics related to faculty make-up and compensation, those numbers were still somehow compiled and submitted by UI. For 2020 Iowa did bounce back from the cliff it fell off last year, but only partway. UI is still down since J. Bruce Harreld took over, and that’s particularly concerning given that he has almost certainly been more aggressive about gaming Iowa’s rank than any prior president. (After talking a great deal about rankings in his first two years, Harreld now pooh-poohs the idea of chasing rankings because “there are flaws in them“. Well, yes, there are — but donors and the press still follow UI’s ranking, and Harreld and his regent bosses care about that.)
While all of the numbers that were released last week were interesting, by far the most intriguing UI news concerned a story that popped up out of nowhere, which I still do not fully understand. This past Tuesday, on 09/10/19, the Press-Citizen’s Zachary Oren Smith published a report about a city council work session in University Heights, which is a small, independent community surrounded by greater Iowa City. Specifically, the councilors were looking at a proposed UI development that has been in the works for well over a year, albeit largely out of public view the majority of that time:
In prior posts over the past two years we took a close look at that specific development and at other improvements at Finkbine (see here and here — and also here for a fact-check on one of Harreld’s absurdly trivial lies). Over two years ago, on 07/25/17, the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller reported that UI planned to spend $10M on a snazzy new mixed-use Finkbine clubhouse. A little less than a year later, on 05/30/18, Miller also reported that UI was looking for a private-sector partner to help develop a large parcel of adjoining UI land:
In a post at the time it was noted that the UI real-estate proposal seemed to take a page from Mike Crow’s playbook at Arizona State University. (It is possible if not probable that Crow was the prototype the regents had in mind when they rigged Harreld’s hire in 2015.) In fact, in early 2018 ASU was already breaking ground on a public-private partnership featuring a senior-living facility on campus-owned land. True to his profit-obsessed focus, Crow justified the ‘Mirabella’ project by recasting the seniors who would live there as “lifelong learners“, thus expanding the conception of a student to include any demographic he might want to cater to.
At Iowa, planning for Finkbine and the contiguous real estate development fell quiet through much of 2018. Then, on 12/06/18, Miller reported that the $10M clubhouse was being scaled back. The development of the 44-acre tract, however, would remain obscured for over a year, until Oren Smith’s report last week:
While that sounds like a carbon copy of the ‘Mirabella’ project at ASU, on closer inspection there appears to be a critically important difference. At Arizona State the entire project was built by a private-sector partner, who simply leased the land from ASU. In the case of the Finkbine apartment complex, however — and presumably also the town homes — there does not seem to be a private-sector developer funding the project:
The question is not who is building the UI apartment complex, but who is paying for it, and that reads like UI is fronting the money itself.
From later in Oren Smith’s report:
While the ASU and UI projects are both senior-living facilities on university-owned land, the idea that UI might use state money to fund the Finkbine development would not only be a radical departure, I can’t conceive of the bureaucratic mechanism by which Harreld would have secured such permission in advance. At some point he will clearly need the board’s approval to spend state funds on a senior-living facility for golf fanatics — even if he intends to spend cash from the university’s general education fund — and that’s particularly true given the scale of the project. And yet it seems equally clear that a large amount of money is already being spent.
From the board’s policy manual:
After looking through UI’s capital improvement business transactions on the regents website as far back as the summer of 2017, I can find no approval for UI to begin planning this project. It is possible that Harreld and his crack team of academic real-estate developers want to get their entrepreneurial ducks in a row before they seek official permission, but at minimum they already have a builder involved, and must be working with an architect if they intend to build a very specific 120 units. Throw in the university’s desire to find someone to manage the new complex when it’s finished and the only thing missing is the money to pay for all that.
Is it possible that the university intends to ask the regents to fund an on-campus real estate development with state-issued bonds, as if it were simply putting up another new dorm? In a sane world the answer would obviously be no, but J. Bruce Harreld really is the president of the University of Iowa, even if a small cabal of co-conspirators did have to rig his appointment. The regents would not put a man with his business-sector pedigree in charge of a billion-dollar public research university if they did not want him to think outside the normal academic box — or, at least to emulate the original thinking of Mike Crow at ASU. Instead of teaching and housing students, Harreld’s grand vision for the University of Iowa may involve a new ‘dormitory’ for ‘lifelong learners’ over the age of 55, who also happen to like hitting a ball with a stick, which they can do at the neighboring golf course, which the university also owns.
On Wednesday and Thursday of this week the Board of Regents will hold regularly scheduled meetings. In the agenda items for those meetings there is no mention of the Finkbine real estate development, either under capital requests or capital improvements at UI. The university is obviously pushing ahead with the development of that 44-acre tract, but I cannot find any evidence that such a project has been approved by the board, has been presented to the board, or will be presented to the board in the future. And yet at the same time I would be genuinely astonished if the board had no knowledge of Harreld’s intent.
Speaking of entrepreneurial perversions of academia, on Monday and Tuesday of the following week we will finally get the P3 ‘information sessions’ that were rescheduled from last week. Unless they are rescheduled again.
Proving once again that I am endlessly naive, when the Iowa Board of Regents doubled-down on the corrupt hire of J. Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa — by extending his contract another three years, and bumping his annual compensation up to $1M when that new deal kicks in — I assumed there would be a new minimum level of competence in executing whatever corrupt ‘understanding’ the board and Harreld had between them. Instead, over the first forty days or so of the 2019-2020 academic year, we have seen a series of public relations disasters and deceptive disclosures which eclipse any similar period over the first four years of Harreld’s blighted tenure. Even at the height of the rolling disclosures about the corrupt 2015 presidential search process, which followed on the heels of Harreld’s rigged appointment in early September of that year — including particularly Harreld’s repeated lies to the press, the people of Iowa and the UI community, which abetted the conspiracy that led to his sham hire — we did not see this level of incompetence. (In retrospect, that is probably due to the rather salient fact that Harreld did not take office until the beginning of November, and was thus limited in the amount of administrative damage he could do at the time.)
Only a month and a half ago, on 08/15/19, news broke that the recently hired Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (AVP-DEI), TaJuan Wilson, had suddenly resigned his position, yet Wilson would continue to ‘work’ at full salary for UI for up to six months, while looking for a permanent position elsewhere. On this past Thursday, 09/26/19, the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller published an update on Wilson’s status, including the work product he must produce to continue earning his monthly $19K paychecks from UI:
As Miller noted in her report, the AVP-DEI position had been filled on an interim basis for almost two years, and Wilson was the first permanent hire into that role since 2017. After only six weeks on the job, however — as detailed in prior posts here and here — Wilson submitted his resignation for reasons that have never been explained. What we do know is that J. Bruce Harreld made the final hiring decision, and there is evidence to suggest he may have offered Wilson the position under false pretenses. In any event, if you are a genuinely competent and concerned university president, that is clearly not how you run a ‘world-class’ academic institution, let alone advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion.
Two weeks later, on August 30th, Harreld had the perfect opportunity to change the subject, and in so doing to suture his tattered credibility. On that date an impressive press conference was held on the UI campus, during which various political and governmental dignitaries celebrated NASA’s $115M grant to the school. Included on the schedule was UI president J. Bruce Harreld, who nonetheless decided to skip the proceedings, reportedly to meet with students about a nebulous matter that was never explained. As noted in a post on that topic, that is also not the kind of performance one might expect from a man who is being paid $800K to be the ambassador for UI. All he had to do was show up and say a few words, but Harreld couldn’t even manage to do that.
On the 10th and 11th of September, the university had scheduled ‘information sessions‘ about a prospective public-private partnership (P3) for the university’s utilities. With no public notice, however, those meetings were rescheduled for the 23rd and 24th, ostensibly because of a conflict with one of the presenters. Filling that sudden information void, on 09/10/19 the Press-Citizen’s Zachary Oren Smith reported on an unknown UI real estate development for a university-owned parcel of land next to UI’s Finkbine golf course. The details of that project included a 120-unit apartment complex for seniors, yet there was no explanation as to who would financing construction. (A similar senior-oriented housing development at Arizona State was financed privately, with the developer leasing the land from ASU, but that does not appear to be the case with the UI project.)
Four days later, on Saturday, 09/14/19, the University of Iowa football team traveled to Ames to play Iowa State, in an annual intrastate fall rite. Over several hours and multiple rain delays the UI Hawkeyes edged the ISU Cyclones by a score of 18-17, proving nothing of consequence. As is routine in sports, however, the narrow and sloppily decided outcome became endless fodder for conversation over the remainder of the weekend and into the beginning of the work week. At which point the real insanity began….
On Monday, 09/16/19, UI Athletic Director Gary Barta released a statement that “inappropriate actions” had taken place at the ISU-UI game. Barta’s statement was vague, but whatever happened the university was clearly investigating:
The next day, Tuesday, ISU AD Jamie Pollard released a statement that he was baffled by Barta’s claim, but that he too was looking into the vague accusations made by Barta. From Dylan Montz at the Ames Tribune, on 09/17/19:
The next day, Wednesday, both Barta and Pollard released a joint statement which said nothing about whether the ongoing investigation of the assaults against the UI Marching Band would continue or not. From Noah Rohlfing at the Iowa State Daily, on 09/18/19:
Also on Wednesday, however, both UI president J. Bruce Harreld and ISU’s president, Wendy Wintersteen, announced that any investigation into what actually happened had been concluded. As reported by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 09/18/19:
The next day, Thursday, Barta parroted the statements from Harreld and Wintersteen, and in so doing also spoke for ISU AD Pollard. From the Press-Citizen’s Aimee Breaux, on 09/19/19:
Following four tense days of finger-pointing, backbiting, administrative chaos and conflicting statements, all four principals at UI and ISU were finally on the same page. Something bad had happened, no one could possibly figure out exactly what transpired, there were bad actors on both campuses, and the investigating was over. Unfortunately for those highly paid administrators, however, it was at that point the the UI band members who had actually been victimized decided to speak out on social media, after their own university slammed the door in their collective faces.
From reporting the next day — Friday — by the Daily Iowan’s Anna Kayser, on 09/20/19:
From the Press-Citizen’s Aimee Breaux, also on 09/20/19:
By Friday afternoon the coordinated cover-up had collapsed, and the investigation that both UI and ISU had halted was ostensibly back on track. From the Gazette’s Miller, on 09/20/19:
From the Daily Iowan’s Marissa Payne, also on 09/20/19:
To say that this story descended into madness over the following weekend would be gross understatement, but it is important to understand why that happened. Social media being what it is, and college sports fans being what they are, it was inevitable that the majority of the conversation about the assaults against the UI Marching Band would be variously uninformed or biased. What was genuinely depressing, however, was that the vast majority of sports reporters — including journalists working for prominent papers and media outlets across the state — got basic facts completely wrong. Specifically, while the higher-ed beat reporters tended to fare better, the larger brace of reporters who cover sports, and often do so incestuously, repeatedly stated as fact that Barta and Pollard had closed the investigation on Thursday, when it was Harreld and Wintersteen who made that clear and public call on Wednesday.
Flash forward to the following Monday, and what had been a state-wide story was now national. In response, the University of Iowa’s $800K man — sham president J. Bruce Harreld — gave a sit-down interview to the Daily Iowan, in which he lied his ass off. As reported by the DI’s Marissa Payne, on 09/23/19:
Again, from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, five days earlier, on on 09/18/19:
There is considerably more in Harreld’s interview that is worth dissecting, but for now we will simply note, once again, that the president of the University of Iowa is lying trash. This insight will not surprise regular readers, of course, but it is worth nothing that the only reason Harreld had to lie about his attempt to cover up the assaults against the UI Marching Band, is because he tried to cover up the assaults against the UI Marching Band. Any other university president not named Wintersteen would have simply connected the abused students with the proper law enforcement officials, then set about making sure nothing like that ever happened again. Because Harreld is Harreld, however, he decided to throw the UI marching band and staff under the bus in order to present the appearance of administrative competence — which lasted all of two days.
Harreld’s solution to having been caught red-handed trying to cover up the attacks was to change the subject and threaten to cancel the intrastate rivalry with ISU. With that hook firmly planted in their self-interested cheeks, the majority of the easily-led sporting press dutifully followed Harreld’s lead, the governor subsequently weighed in, then UI and ISU administrators grudgingly agreed that the game would probably go on. As to the obvious question of who decided to kill the investigation, that didn’t seem of particular interest to anyone, even as Harreld, Wintersteen, Barta and Pollard all variously insisted in comments to the press that they did not make that decision. (Like Harreld, Barta stated that he never said the investigation was closed, when he said exactly that on the previous Thursday.)
Because Harreld is nothing if not petty, bratty and pugnacious, however, in his DI interview he did not simply stop at telling a bald-faced lie to cover his ass. Instead, while casting himself as the weary superhero of the ongoing UI P3 discussion, Harreld used that pretext to distance himself from the events of the week before:
If Harreld witnessed the end of the Iowa-Iowa State game, that means he was in Iowa City for the debacle that followed. But because J. Bruce Harreld’s singular purpose in life is never to be held accountable, in his own mind he was somewhere else, saving the university from a fate worse than his own presidency. Following that excuse-making Harreld then pivoted to the rather unique theory that anyone who wanted to know why he had closed the investigation was guilty of ‘victim blaming’:
While Harreld was doing what he does best — meaning lying to the press, the people of Iowa, and the UI community — on that same day the first of two rescheduled P3 ‘information sessions’ was taking place across campus. Based on two scant press reports so far (see here and here), on Monday the 23rd and Tuesday the 24th, UI CFO Terry Johnson apparently presented almost no new information about the P3. (We will take another look at the UI P3 in an upcoming post — in part because I am still hopeful that more reporting on those meetings will surface — but suffice to say it seems to be a done deal, even as the deal itself has never been, and probably will never be, fully explained to the public.)
Finally, and as a bracket to the TaJuan Wilson debacle six weeks ago, on this past Thursday the university announced that it was taking a third shot at hiring a new Dean of Students, after also having failed to fill that position on a permanent basis for over two years. Despite a globe-trotting university president who talks endlessly about UI as a ‘world-class’ institution, for some reason he has been unable to attract a candidate worthy of a role that is critical to the students on campus. From the Iowa Now website, on 09/26/19:
From Alexandra Skores at the Daily Iowan, also on 09/26/19:
From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, also on 09/26/19:
If we now step back and consider all of the above in sequence, it’s quite a streak. If we then aggregate those incidents and consider the totality of Harreld’s impact over that span, we see an inept and deceitful administrator at work. But consider also the patterns that emerge from all of the above.
In both the abrupt Tajuan Wilson resignation and the launch of a third search for a Dean of Students at UI, we see a basic incapacity to make critical hires which are central to the academic aims of the University of Iowa. That is in stark contrast with Harreld’s appointment of a new Chief Information Officer, for example, which he personally engineered by driving a former VP out of his job, then hacking that job in twain, then giving one of those bifurcated roles to a ‘consultant’ who was already working on campus, who then happened to be chosen after a dubious search process. When it comes to academics and diversity, and to the literal success of the students — which Harreld routinely touts in order to validate his entrepreneurial agenda — we find repeated failures of an absurd nature.
Likewise, in the 120-unit apartment complex and the UI P3, we find Harreld’s entrepreneurial focus driving those projects, yet both are largely secret. Who is funding the real estate development, and why is that project moving along without board approval? Regarding the P3, how will a private-sector partner exploit tax advantages if — as Harreld has said on multiple occasions — UI is neither leasing nor selling its utilities? Far too often, the deal-making that Harreld was hired to implement at Iowa’s flagship public university seems to rely as much or more on secrecy as anything else.
Speaking of the P3, Harreld apparently did not participate in the anemic ‘information sessions’ early last week, even though he was clearly in town — as attested to by his interview about the assaults on the UI Marching Band. Likewise, Harreld failed to participate in the press conference about the NASA grant, even though he was also reportedly in town. If the man can’t personally push his entrepreneurial plans to fruition, or take fat checks from the federal government, just what did the regents hire him to do?
As for the public relations disaster that Harreld precipitated by ending the investigation into the assaults against Iowa’s students and staff, Harreld’s sole interaction with the press in that instance was his interview with the Daily Iowan. As noted by one of the local higher-ed beat reporters, Harreld seems to have declined other interview requests, even when the story went national — meaning UI’s reputation was being debated across the country. From the Press-Citizen’s Aimee Breaux, on 09/23/19, making clear to her readers why she was unable to get answers to basic questions about the interrupted assault investigations:
In a straight news story that is a remarkable aside. And yet, here is the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller saying the exact same thing almost three years ago, on 11/06/16, in an explanatory companion piece to a profile that she wrote about Harreld after his first year:
Having been appointed without the requisite qualifications to lead an AAU/R1 research university, and having admitted that his “unusual background require[d] a lot of help, a lot of coaching”, four years on J. Bruce Harreld is still incapable of meeting with the media. That is not how a university president is supposed to function, even if that university president is a two-faced shyster, yet the only consistent public relations Harreld seems to generate for the school are dopey game-day snaps — which coincidentally do not come with difficult questions, let alone the threat of personal or professional accountability.
To whatever extent Harreld’s apparent performance has improved over the past four years, that is almost certainly the result of the UI bureaucracy coming to terms with his intractable deficits. For example, the Office of Strategic Communication is now more adept at covering for his gaffes and administrative debacles, like preemptively shutting down an investigation into the assaults against the UI Marching Band. (In a late-night news dump on Friday, the ISU police announced that a number of victims had filed reports through the UI campus police, which they would be investigating.) Other executives in central administration at UI are probably also used to taking up the slack for Harreld, yet as the TaJuan Wilson debacle proved there is only so much anyone can do when the leader of a university is inept or corrupt.
That we are now almost four years into Harreld’s tenure at UI, and he has shown no growth over that time, is amazing. That the Iowa Board of Regents showed no hesitation in extending Harreld’s contract and giving him a raise, thus validating his arrested leadership, is appalling. We will never know how Harreld’s incapacity damaged the university’s ability to educate and drive research, but the fact that he could not figure out how to appear at the NASA press conference says it all. The university received a $115M grant, which was an undeniable benefit to the school on every level, yet Harreld was nowhere to be found.
The upshot in all this is that over a six-week period we once again confirmed that J. Bruce Harreld is not a university president. By virtue of crony ties he does hold that title, but he is demonstrably incapable of performing basic parts of the job, whether meeting with the press or making hires which are integral to UI as an academic institution. What is truly astonishing, however, in the context of the entire 2019-2020 academic year, is that we have yet to breach October.
Update 09/30/19: Slipping in just under the wire on September, Bro Bruce and the University of Iowa were hit with a recent judgment in a long-ish running case about campus free speech. You can read the ruling here. I’m sure there will be more press about this judgment, and the possibility of Harreld being put on trial, in the coming days. (If they can get it, the plaintiffs will go for a trial because they’re looking for headlines — and Bro Bruce will certainly oblige.)
During the course of each academic year at the University of Iowa, the illegitimate president of the school, J. Bruce Harreld, grants a number of sit-down interviews to the student-run Daily Iowan (DI). One of the most important things we have learned from those interviews over the past four years — often as a result of Harreld’s histrionic performance of his duties — is that he simply does not have the temperament to be a university president. If you need a petty, bratty, vindictive executive who will impose someone else’s edicts on the UI campus in exchange for gobs of state pay, then Bro Bruce is your boy. On the other hand, if you are looking for a principled leader who will take the high road, even in the midst of controversy, you won’t find those traits in J. Bruce Harreld.
On 08/29/19 the DI published its first interview with Harreld for the 2019-2020 academic year. The first four questions from the DI staff concerned Harreld’s new contract extension, and why the Iowa Board of Regents asked him to stick around until 2023. As was the case during and after the rigged presidential search that led to Harreld’s sham appointment — when significant abuses of power were disclosed that advantaged his crony candidacy — Harreld’s rambling responses to the DI questions positioned him as a great man who needed to be convinced that others saw him as the transformational figure he believes himself to be. (Or at least purports to be, in exchange for his high-six-figure compensation package.)
Included among Harreld’s humble-brags, however, was this now-familiar lament, which we will take momentary note of here, then come back to later in this post:
As regular readers know, over his first four years in office Harreld repeatedly made this claim while relentlessly pressing for tuition hikes — resulting in five hikes so far, with additional annual hikes already approved for the next four years. Note also that Harreld specifically talks about “ten institutions”, which is material because UI actually has several different peer groups that it “benchmark[s]” against. (Having multiple peer groups allows UI administrators to pick and choose which grouping provides the most advantageous comparisons.)
The next three questions and answers in the DI interview were published as an excerpt a week earlier, and concerned the assaults that took place against the UI Marching Band following the Cy-Hawk football game in Ames. Having dealt with that debacle in the previous post, here we will simply note that after several band members spoke out, both UI and ISU hastily reopened investigations they had preemptively closed, and as of this date four assault complaints have been filed with the ISU campus police. (Unfortunately, that is the same campus police department which failed to detect that former ISU President Steven Leath was routinely violating state law by using state-owned aircraft for personal use, even after they were pointed to those crimes directly. So it will not come as a surprise if the ISU campus police concludes these investigations with another bureaucratic shrug.)
The next subject the DI staff reporters broached with Harreld concerned the TaJuan Wilson debacle, which we previously discussed here and here. To summarize that administrative train wreck — which remained almost entirely opaque until this interview — back in April Harreld finally hired a new Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (AVP-DEI), after having passed that job around on an interim basis for two years. Six weeks later, however, the candidate Harreld himself appointed — TaJuan Wilson — abruptly resigned, for reasons that have never been publicly explained.
As if that wasn’t enough, however, as part of his separation agreement Wilson will continue to be paid at full salary for up to six months, while looking elsewhere for work. (Wilson will earn about $19K per month, and he also gets to keep his $25K moving allowance — even though his contract required the allowance to be returned if he left in less than a year. For context, a full-time, minimum-wage worker in Iowa makes $15,080 a year.)
From the DI interview, here is the first brief exchange about Wilson, which is nonetheless quite illuminating:
Two points here. First, Harreld claims he has “some knowledge of the areas we’re working on”, meaning whatever Wilson is working on in exchange for his continuing compensation. Second, Harreld says he “saw [Wilson] the other day in town”, as if Iowa City is Mayberry, and Harreld bumped into Wilson at the only gas station — or maybe standing in line at the only bank, when they were both depositing their monthly, five-figure state paychecks.
The reality is that after Wilson resigned he was assigned to work under Peter Matthes, who is not only the UI VP for External Relations, but one of two Senior Advisors to Harreld. So when Harreld says he saw Wilson “in town”, what he likely means is ‘in Jessup Hall’, which is where the university’s executive offices are located. (As ever with Harreld — why tell the truth when you can lie?)
Even this trivial deceit is intriguing in the larger context of Wilson’s resignation, however, because the university will not officially disclose Wilson’s location while he is completing the make-work assignment he must complete to keep being paid, even though what he’s really doing is looking for another job at taxpayer expense. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 08/26/19:
As short as Harreld’s response was to the first DI question about Wilson, his response to a follow-up from the DI staff was uncharacteristically terse:
Only moments earlier Harreld claimed to “have some knowledge” of what Wilson was working on, yet when pressed for specifics he not only said he had no idea what Wilson was doing, he responded like a petulant child. The obvious inference would be that Bro Bruce did not want to be questioned about TaJuan Wilson — which would be consistent with the silence from UI following Wilson’s resignation — and yet, when the DI reporters actually changed the subject, Harreld clearly could not help himself:
While making the case that the AVP-DEI position (formerly known as the Chief Diversity Officer, or CDO) was demoted from his cabinet “almost from the day one [sic] I got here” — despite the fact that the CDO was clearly part of his cabinet as late as the summer of 2017, and no official notice of any subsequent change can be found — Harreld suddenly announces, without being prompted, that Wilson’s “offer letter” did not include a promise that Wilson would be part of the president’s cabinet. Whether Wilson did or did not have that expectation, Harreld’s public assertion about Wilson’s mindset at the time — “he knew that going ahead” — is deeply problematic. To see why, consider the following stipulation from the separation agreement that Wilson was obliged to sign in order to continue being paid for six months, which was also signed by J. Bruce Harreld:
Now maybe this is just me, but if I’m TaJuan Wilson — and perhaps also Wilson’s attorney — I’m wondering when we “mutually” decided that J. Bruce Harreld could shoot his mouth off about me in a published interview, while I am actively seeking employment elsewhere. In fact, Wilson’s resignation from UI garnered national notice precisely because he lasted only six weeks, so prospective employers will certainly have questions. Prior to Harreld’s DI interview, however, the only official and “mutually agreeable public statement” from Wilson and UI was that they parted ways for reasons no one would explain. Now, here Harreld eagerly volunteers that Wilson knew what he was getting into when he agreed to take the AVP-DEI position, even though the DI question was specifically about the position itself, and not about Wilson at all.
If Harreld’s unsolicited remarks about Wilson were not part of a “mutually agreeable public statement regarding Employee’s separation from the University”, then Wilson could argue that Harreld has voided the separation agreement. Because Harreld clearly did provide information about Wilson that went beyond “Employee’s dates of employment and positions held”, is Wilson allowed to publicly respond without penalty? That’s important because Harreld’s comments to the DI could be used by prospective employers to make judgements about Wilson, potentially even precluding the possibility of an interview, which is the point at which Wilson would be able to rebut Harreld in private. It’s also possible that Wilson has already made representations to prospective employers which diverge from Harreld’s comments, to say nothing of concerns that Harreld may actually be lying, or intentionally misrepresenting Wilson’s state of mind at the time.
So why would business-genius J. Bruce Harreld violate a state contract, which he himself signed, to talk about what TaJuan Wilson did or did not believe when he was hired? The answer, as ever, is that Harreld’s one true mission in life is to make sure he is never held accountable for anything. Whatever prompted Wilson to resign after only six weeks on the job, and whatever prompted UI to keep paying Wilson after he quit, Bro Bruce needs you to know it wasn’t his fault. And when I say he needs you to know, I mean he really needs you to know:
Harreld is correct that there was a dual report for the CDO/AVP-DEI position, but until recently the org charts also made clear that the primary report was to the president, not the provost. You can see the UI org chart at the moment Wilson was hired here, and the org charts under the three prior individuals who held that position here, here and here. In each case, all of those charts show a direct report to the president, while an asterisk notes that the CDO/AVP-DEI also reported to the provost. (The new org chart, which now shows a direct report to the provost alone, is here.)
As for Harreld’s contention that having a dual report may not be a “healthy practice”, let’s consider the genesis, a little less than a year ago, of the new Chief Information Officer position at UI, which Harreld both engineered administratively and rigged in terms of the eventual crony hire. From the Press-Citizen’s Aimee Breaux, on 11/21/18:
So having a dual report for the CDO/AVP-DEI was objectively bad, and necessitated removing that position as a direct report to the president, but Harrelld’s sexy new innovation administrator was given a dual report from the get-go, as part of a newly implemented reporting structure determined by Harreld himself. (Again — why tell the truth when you can tell an easily exposed lie, which then lends credence to the idea that you’re also lying about TaJuan Wilson? Yet another reason why the Iowa Board of Regents better hope this prevaricating clown never ends up on a witness stand.)
As for the new DEI action plan, that was publicly released in early April of 2019, only eleven days before Wilson’s hire was announced, and only a month or so after Montserrat Fuentes was announced as the new provost. Indeed, Fuentes and Wilson had the same start date, although Fuentes’ name was attached to decisions and documents prior to the beginning of her official employment — including the press release welcoming Wilson to a campus that she herself had yet to officially join. (In the interview Harreld makes it sound like the DEI action plan came out of Fuentes’ office, and that Wilson was hired later, but the plan was in the works long before either Fuentes or Wilson was hired, and the intent was clearly that the AVP-DEI would implement that plan no matter what the reporting structure.)
Because Harreld could not hold on to Wilson for more than six weeks, Harrld is now pretending that the action plan was the thing all along, and it doesn’t really matter whether there is one person who is charged with making sure that diversity, equity and inclusion are not merely buzzwords. (Unfortunately, Harreld now has Fuentes herself talking about how DEI is everyone’s responsibility, which sounds great until you realize no one will be held accountable if the plan fails, which means it will inevitably fail.) And yet even in that context — with Harreld tap-dancing as fast as he can, and trying to distract everyone from the fact that the person he hired as the new AVP-DEI resigned after six weeks — for the second time Harreld suddenly feels obligated to publicly state what Wilson knew at the time.
After deceptively explaining how, when and why the reporting structure changed, Harreld explicitly states that Wilson knew the reporting structure either was changing or had changed before Wilson took the job. And once again that is new information which was not disclosed in the “mutually agreeable” statement put out by Wilson and UI. Wilson himself has never publicly made either of the assertions that Harreld made in the DI interview, and those disclosures raise a host of questions. Is Harreld accurately characterizing what Wilson knew at the time, or is he wrong, or is he lying? What recourse does Wilson if Harreld made public statements about Wilson without Wilson’s consent? Is Wilson allowed to contest Harreld’s statements, or would UI consider that a breach and void the separation agreement, thus cutting off Wilson’s pay? And given that Harreld referenced Wilson’s offer letter, will the university release that letter to back up Harreld’s claims, or could Wilson do so unilaterally?
What is remarkable about Harreld openly talking about what Wilson knew at the time of his hire — which, coincidentally, also happens to exonerate Harreld of any bureaucratic incompetence or malfeasance — is that standard operation procedure in such situations is to treat personnel matters as confidential. That in turn raises the possibility that whether Harreld is or is not in violation of Wilson’s separation agreement, he may be in violation of the policies of the University of Iowa HR Department or of the Board of Regents. In fact, to see how such matters are usually handled, here is board president Mike Richards demonstrating this basic bureaucratic competency with specific regard to TaJuan Wilson’s resignation — from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 09/26/19:
If you do not routinely follow the trends in higher education, and particularly public higher-ed, trust me when I say this is the default response for everything that happens on a college or university campus. Were a mutant life form to break loose from a lab at UI, and rip half a dozen employees to pieces, the response from the spokespersons at the Office of Strategic Communication would be that they could not discuss the body parts strewn across campus because that was a personnel matter. So how does Harreld not know this — or does he not care?
The likeliest answer is that Harreld could not stop talking about Wilson because of Harreld’s toxic ego needs. Faced with the slightest suggestion that he may have botched the Wilson hire, and given the choice between adhering to policy and keeping his mouth shut, or violating a contract to which he himself was a signatory, Harreld’s documented history of failed integrity checks strongly suggests that he would violate the contract. And of course that same disregard applies to policies covering employment practices, which is doubly ironic for reasons we will get to in a moment. If Harreld wants to talk about TaJuan Wilson, he’s not only going to talk about TaJuan Wilson, he’s going to make sure he’s the definitive source on what TaJuan Wilson thinks.
Speaking of toxic ego needs…here is the next question from the Daily Iowan interview:
Before we get to Harreld’s reply, note the sequencing here. Earlier, of his own volition, Harreld mentioned UI’s peer groups in the context of tuition revenue:
Now, in the DI interview, we have a reporter taking the exact same approach — which Harreld has endorsed on innumerable occasions — and asking why UI is diverging from its peer group. Where most schools have the CDO/AVP-DEI report to the president, Harreld not only kicked that position out of his cabinet, but he shifted the reporting of that office to the provost, thus ridding the president’s office of concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion. So why did Harreld, as Iowa’s university president, decide to go against the tide at Iowa’s peer institutions?
As he is wont to do, Harreld tips his hand by comparing Iowa — which is a public research university — to a privately held corporation, which is what he seems to believe he is running. As he is also wont to do, Harreld presents an analogy which falls apart on expression. If diversity, equity and inclusion rightly belong in the human resources department at a private corporation, and Harreld sees that as justification for kicking DEI out of the president’s office, then why is DEI being taken over by the provost instead of Iowa’s HR Department? Indeed, human resources at UI is even mentioned in the clause which Harreld seems to have violated in Wilson’s separation agreement, and Harreld is certainly familiar with that department because he appointed the person who runs it without performing a search.
Setting aside the inanity of Harreld’s rationale for changing the reporting structure, he does inadvertently make the case that demoting the AVP-DEI position from his cabinet, and shifting the reporting of the position to the provost, would have some practical benefit, precisely because he couldn’t care less while the new provost does seem motivated to make progress. That’s not a particularly flattering argument, obviously, but to his credit, in putting forward that tortured logic, Harreld did avoid once again randomly informing DI readers about what TaJuan Wilson thought at the time of his hire. Instead, Harreld saved that for the next exchange:
What really jumps out here is that Harreld is still fixated on TaJuan Wilson, to the point of prompting rhetorical whiplash in the reader. What seems to be a new part of the interview, devoted to process questions about how UI will function going forward, was, in Harreld’s mind, still a continuation of his unilateral discourse on what Wilson knew and when Wilson new it. In fact, Harreld even goes the extra mile and tantalizingly references “the issue” that caused TaJuan Wilson to resign.
I don’t know if he was trying to get the DI interviewers to ask him what “the issue” was, or whether he was fighting the urge to blurt out the answer, but after the University of Iowa and Board of Regents went to great contractual lengths to obscure “the issue” that led to Wilson’s resignation — including paying Wilson an obscene amount of money to keep him quiet — Harreld teases that very question, without any prompting from the DI. Again, whatever else was going on in his head (or not), Harreld clearly wanted the UI campus to know that whatever “the issue” was, it had nothing to do with any decisions Harreld made — and you could take TaJuan Wilson’s word for that, as testified to by J. Bruce Harreld himself.
The fact that UI continues to pay Wilson while he hunts for a new job suggests that Wilson himself wasn’t the transgressor. And because Harreld has absolved himself, that means someone else must have done something which prompted Wilson to reconsider working at UI. As to who that someone might be I don’t know, but it’s definitely not J. Bruce Harreld — unless of course Harreld is lying, just as he lied to the press, the people of Iowa and the UI community during and after the 2015 presidential search.
Then again, if Harreld is convinced that Wilson can’t respond without violating the separation agreement, what’s the downside for Harreld? The problem for Wilson, obviously, is that Harreld is putting forward a public narrative which may adversely affect Wilson’s job search, but Harreld clearly doesn’t care about Wilson or he wouldn’t be talking about Wilson. In fact, as a long time business executive before becoming an incompetent academic administrator, Harreld knows full well that in making unilateral public statements about Wilson to the DI that he was making it harder for Wilson to find work elsewhere…and still he kept talking, and talking.
As for Harreld’s impromptu lecture about the importance of context, note that it was precipitated by a DI reporter who had the temerity to use Harreld’s vaunted peer groups against him. Because of that reporter’s commitment to preparation and research, every person who read that interview learned that seventy percent of the schools in Iowa’s ten-school peer group have a DEI who reports directly to the president — and that would be eighty percent if Harreld was not bucking that convention.
As for Harreld’s assertion that the reporter did not do their homework, or think the problem through very clearly, not only is it instructive that Harreld felt he had to tear down a UI student who put in extra effort, but his assessment of the reporter’s decision making was scandalously ironic. Setting aside the fact that Harreld’s rationale for booting DEI out of the president’s office was gibberish, it is not only pathetic that Harreld was incapable of providing positive feedback to the reporter who compiled that data, but Harreld himself routinely eschews the contextualizing that he suddenly felt the need to impress on the reporter in question.
And of which now brings us back to Harreld’s earlier comment about peer institutions and tuition:
What is particularly spectacular about this statement by Harreld is not only that it is completely devoid of critical context, but it is also factually wrong. (For an extended discussion about academic peer groups generally, and about Harreld’s use of UI’s peer groups to justify tuition hikes specifically, see this two-part post.) For example, here are two important contextual realities that Harreld never talks about when referencing Iowa’s peer institutions.
* Iowa’s academic peer groups are self-selected
Despite the fact that colleges and universities are — at least ostensibly — devoted to the rigorous, fact-based search for truth, when it comes to selecting peer institutions there is no Bureau of Academic Peer Groups which determines which schools are and are not valid institutional peers. In fact, academic institutions often include what are called ‘aspirational peers’ in their peer groups, meaning institutions that a school aspires to become at some point in the future. But of course that means those ‘aspirational peers’ are not actual peers at the moment, even though the schools that select those aspirational peers treat them as such.
* Iowa’s academic peers are not economic peers
You don’t have to have a Harvard MBA, as Harreld does, to know that the cost of living varies by location. Because Iowa’s peer schools are located around the United States, including areas of the country which have significantly higher costs, or in states which have substantially higher budgets or gross state products (GSP), comparing tuition alone says nothing useful about the total cost of attending a given school, or the relative burden that tuition places on students and families. Oddly enough, however, neither Harreld nor the board talks about such contextual concerns when they are beating up the regent students for more money. (You can see current state GSP’s here, which clearly shows Iowa lagging, which in turn suggests that Iowa’s families do not have as much money to spend.)
In Harreld’s case such routine omissions do not mean he is not “doing [his] homework”, or not “thinking through the [tuition] problem very clearly”. Instead, they mean he is an intellectual thug and a remorseless hypocrite, who has no compunction about ignoring context when it advantages him to do so. Because Harreld can also be a blithering idiot, however, in this particular case he also got his facts wrong. (Compounding the ironies, one of Harreld’s favorite sayings is, ‘Let’s get the facts right’.)
To see Harreld’s error, take a look at the new UI FY2020 Budget Video, which was posted on the UI Financial Budget and Management website in mid-September. Specifically, look at the graph which appears at the 2:02 mark, showing tuition at UI and fifteen of Iowa’s self-selected peers. In that larger grouping UI is third from the bottom, but even if we use the smaller ten-school peer group that Harreld referenced in the DI interview — which includes the University of North Carolina — Iowa is still not “at the bottom of the barrel” for this year.
Here not only did Harreld obviously fail to “do his homework”, but he also wasn’t “thinking the issue through very clearly”. While UI is third from the bottom in the UI graph — or second from the bottom among the ten-school peer group Harreld specified — the dollar cost of tuition at Iowa is roughly comparable to the eight lowest-priced schools comprising the bottom half of the graph. So is that important context? Or is context really just a rhetorical weapon, to be deployed as needed to win arguments and deceive people, including browbeating impertinent college students?
Returning to Harreld’s increasingly testy interview, the next DI question was particularly good. Despite all of the reporting about the TaJuan Wilson debacle — including multiple statements from central administration at UI, which were largely designed to shield Harreld from accountability — no one had ever specifically addressed the following obvious point:
After Wilson resigned, the impression from all of the official UI statements was that the AVP-DEI position was either being dispensed with entirely, or would remain vacant for the foreseeable future. Instead of having a single individual in a position of power, who was specifically charged with improving diversity, equity and inclusion at UI — after Harreld passed that responsibility around on an interim basis for two years — Harreld seemed to be seizing on Wilson’s resignation as an opportunity to gut leadership on that front. Instead of having an AVP-DEI whose job it was to implement diversity programs campus-wide, including the new DEI action plan, that responsibility would be handled by the provost’s office, which has myriad other critical responsibilities on the UI campus.
Incredibly, prior to Harreld’s interview, no clear official statement was ever made about whether Wilson’s suddenly vacated position would be filled, which is why the DI staff were right to pin Harreld down on that point.
We won’t linger on the word “appropriate” here, because anyone can grab the wrong word when they’re being held to account in an interview…but it does suggest that Harreld now feels TaJuan Wilson — whom Harreld appointed — proved to be inappropriate in some way. While Harreld does assert that a new AVP-DEI will be hired “eventually”, that rhetoric reeks of other administrative dodges that Harreld has employed over his first four years at UI, and in each case he did so to remove a potential obstacle to his own bureaucratic agenda. For example, not only did Harreld put off hiring a new provost for two years, while attempting to use his personally selected interim provost to dismantle the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, but he also intentionally left that college with a lame-duck dean and interim replacement over the same period, for the same nefarious reason.
In this case it seems abundantly clear that leaving the AVP-DEI position entirely vacant, without even appointing someone in an interim or custodial capacity, aids Harreld in transferring the DEI role to the provost’s office. And of course that means he will no longer be saddled with those touchy-feely concerns while pursuing his profit-making agenda. Again, however, and to their credit, the DI staff followed up with exactly the right question, which Harreld could only dance around:
What is particularly amazing about Harreld’s response is that it flies in the face of everything he has done to rid his own office of concerns about DEI. Whenever Harreld kicked the CDO/AVP-DEI position out of his cabinet, he did do that. And whenever Harreld changed the reporting structure so the AVP-DEI reports to the provost’s office, and no longer reports to him, it is equally that clear he did that. At every juncture Harreld has worked to free himself and his office of obligations to diversity, equity and inclusion, while foisting leadership on those issues onto someone whose position description is narrower than his, and largely concerned with faculty.
To all of that we can add that Harreld has been at UI for four years, while the new provost has been on the job for less than four months — meaning she would profit in her own pursuit of DEI if Harreld made it clear to the campus that DEI was a priority in his office. Indeed, if Harreld had kept DEI as a cabinet-level position which reported directly to him, nothing would have prevented the AVP-DEI from working with the new provost on the new action plan, but with Harreld’s added authority. Instead, Harreld did exactly the opposite, publicly devaluing DEI on multiple fronts, thus making it clear that DEI is of little presidential concern going forward.
Following another question about the bureaucratic practicalities of implementing DEI through the provost’s office, the DI reporters asked Harreld about the potential for a conflict of interest in that arrangement — at which point Harreld became noticeably pissy:
As regular readers know, Harreld tends to view questions as implicit insults to his authority, if not also his dignity. It is rare, however, not only for Harreld to allow his paranoia to show, but to lapse into belligerence on the record. Indeed, when Harreld says, “I don’t mean to challenge you” — after reflexively going on the attack and doing just that — one senses that Harreld was aware that he lost it, and was trying to recover.
Fortunately, the DI staff maintained their poise, and were able to restate the question so Harreld could see the hypothetical framing more clearly. In response, Harreld managed to blather his way to the answer he should have given in the first place, while still also casting grave doubts on the validity of asking hypothetical questions in the first place:
Because Harreld is such a big believer in context, let’s note here that after Harreld’s bestest buddy on campus, Athletic Director Gary Barta, destroyed the professional lives of two women in the athletics department, and the university agreed to pay $6.5M to settle both of the resulting lawsuits, Harreld immediately implemented a campus-wide review of employment practices at UI. After hiring an outside firm to conduct that review, Harreld then slow-walked the process for over a year, allowing Barta to clean up any other messes in the AD’s office before the independent investigators took a cursory look. After the review of the athletics department was completed, Harreld again stalled the review of the rest of the campus, the announced that some of the money targeted for rest of the review — which has still not taken place two years later — would be diverted to “strengthening supervisor training“. Meaning there will now be even less money to conduct the remainder of the ‘independent’ employment practices review, which might also have something to say about how Harreld handled the TaJuan Wilson hire, including publicly talking about Wilson in this interview, even after Harreld signed a separation agreement with a stipulation to the contrary.
The final two questions in the DI interview concerned the managing of enrollment, which has a direct effect on tuition revenue, and is of particular concern because the supply of college students is expected to decline nationwide over the next decade. From Bro Bruce’s perspective, however, he has it all under control — even though the other two regent universities saw enrollment dips for the current academic year, which they did not want:
This apparently comprehensive summary of the factors which are relevant to future enrollment doesn’t scratch the surface, in large part because it omits any reference to competition in the higher-ed marketplace. Harreld’s contention that the University of Iowa can simply will itself to whatever enrollment numbers he wants to maintain is false, and Harreld knows that, but because of his toxic ego needs he internalizes the question as yet another insult, instead of simply acknowledging that there are risks. Because this post is primarily concerned with Harreld foisting DEI onto the provost’s office, however, and absolving himself of any responsibility for TaJuan Wilson’s resignation, we will simply note that Harreld will not allow enrollment to fall off at UI for any reason, and see how that plays out.
As previously noted, the big surprise in this interview is the degree to which Harreld felt obligated not only to talk about TaJuan Wilson, but to state, on the record, in multiple instances, what Wilson was and was not aware of at the time Wilson accepted Harreld’s offer. To hear Harreld tell it, Wilson was clearly aware of the changes in the AVP-DEI role and the reporting structure before he accepted the job. Then again, what we must never lose sight of is that Harreld may be lying about what actually transpired.
To that point, consider the following Facebook post, from a couple of weeks after Wilson’s resignation was publicly announced:
At first glance the all-caps “BEFORE” seems to back up Harreld’s claims about what Wilson knew and when he knew it, but that’s not the case. Harreld’s claim is not simply that Wilson knew the AVP-DEI position was being “take[n] out of the president’s office” before Wilson resigned, but before Wilson was hired. In fact, the second clause of the third sentence — “[I] cannot say if this was a factor in his decision to resign” — makes clear that at least for the associated staff, they did not know the AVP-DEI position was being transferred to the provost’s office until after Wilson was hired.
Again, here are Harreld’s assertions about what Wilson knew, and when. First, about DEI being booted out of Harreld’s cabinet:
And about the change in the reporting structure:
The timeline Harreld puts forward is that the decision to take DEI “out of the president’s office” was made first, then Wilson was hired with that understanding, then Wilson resigned because of some other “issue”. The timeline put forward in the Facebook post is that Wilson was hired, the decision to take DEI “out of the president’s office” was announced, then Wilson resigned. What the person who wrote the Facebook post cannot say is whether the announcement caused Wilson’s resignation, but if that was the case we wouldn’t need some additional “issue” to explain why Wilson decided to leave after only six weeks on the job.
It is possible that Wilson knew about the change in the reporting structure before he was hired, but the decision was only announced after he was on campus. In that case, however, we might expect that Wilson himself would have communicated that change to the DEI staff, but again that’s not what the Facebook post says. Instead, the UI staffer who wrote that post is unsure whether the change in reporting structure compelled Wilson to resign, which she would not be if Wilson had disclosed that change in the context of taking on the responsibilities of the AVP-DEI role.
So which timeline is right? Here again is Harreld’s response to the DI question about the change in reporting for Wilson’s position:
Note that Harreld references both the new DEI action plan and the new provost, ‘Montse’ Fuentes, in the decision making process that led to the change in the reporting structure for the AVP-DEI role. As to the part where he says, “she should report to [her] at that point in time”, that seems to be a reference not to Georgina Dodge, who left UI in the summer of 2017, but to Melissa Shivers, who is not only the UI VP for Student Life, but was serving as the interim CDO/AVP-DEI when Fuentes was hired. All of that in turn lends credence to the idea that the reporting structure was changed before Wilson was hired, but that doesn’t mean Wilson was told about that change.
Here’s how Harreld’s timeline stacks up with all of that additional information included:
03/05/19 — Montserrat Fuentes announced as new provost.
04/04/19 — New DEI action plan announced.
04/15/19 — TaJuan Wilson hired as new AVP-DEI.
06/28/19 — Official start date for Fuentes and Wilson.
08/09/19 — TaJuan Wilson signs separation agreement.
08/15/19 — Wilson’s resignation publicly announced.
Because Fuentes was hired on March 5th, and Wilson was hired on April 15th, that gives Harreld and Fuentes a month or so in which to jointly decide that the reporting structure for the AVP-DEI role would be changed, and for Wilson to then be apprised of that change before he accepted the position. (There is some variability because we don’t know when Fuentes’ contract was signed, versus when her hire was announced, and the same also goes for Wilson.) Given the magnitude of the responsibilities that Fuentes was taking on, it does seem a little odd that the reporting structure for the DEI position would be high on her own list of priorities. Then again, I have no problem imagining that Harreld made it a priority, so as to relieve himself of any further obligations to DEI.
If that did not happen, however — if Harreld and Fuentes did not change the reporting structure in that short window — then Harreld is lying when he says Wilson knew about the change before he was hired. Fortunately, in Fuentes and Wilson we have two individuals who can easily corroborate Harreld’s claim. Specifically, Fuentes must certainly remember that she actively pushed for the AVP-DEI to report to her because of “the faculty issues”, and of course Wilson must remember being told of that change.
Unfortunately, while the DI published an extensive interview with Fuentes on on 10/01/19 — meaning two days after Harreld’s interview — the topic of the reporting change did not come up. What did come up, however, was an extensive conversation about just how bad things are on the DEI front:
Not very different from the students…and that’s probably why Harreld decided that diversity, equity and inclusion were an anchor around his entrepreneurial neck, and that the brand-new provost would be much better positioned to take on the responsibility of cleaning up a mess that Harreld himself helped create over the previous four years. Indeed, this succinct assessment from Fuentes destroys everything Harreld rambled on about regarding DEI in his own interview. What is happening on the UI campus would be — and clearly is — a five-alarm fire for any academic administrator, but because J. Bruce Harreld is a brigand from the private-sector, such concerns are extraneous to his goals. Meaning not only the profit-generating agenda he was hired to prosecute, but also his toxic ego needs, which include making sure he isn’t held responsible for TaJuan Wilson’s resignation, even if he has to violate a signed contract to do so.
While Harreld’s pettiness and brattiness are certainly unbecoming of the office he holds, the most alarming of all of Harreld’s toxic personality traits is his vindictiveness. Whatever actually happened with Wilson, the issue had been put to rest, and there was a contract in place which precluded Wilson from talking. All Harreld had to do was keep his mouth shut, but he couldn’t do it. Instead, over and over again, without any direct prompting, Harreld told the DI reporters what TaJuan Wilson knew and when he knew it, thus calling into question Wilson’s motivations and integrity.
As for Wilson, he probably assumed that the separation agreement they both signed would preclude Harreld from speaking to the press unless subsequent statements were “mutually agreeable” to both parties. Now, however — because that clause is apparently still in force, and will remain so unless Wilson contests it in court — Wilson is in the unenviable position of being muted by a contract that Harreld feels free to violate whenever it suits his ego needs. And that’s particularly problematic for Wilson because he is in the middle of a job search, and particularly damning for Harreld because Harreld knows that.
Harreld also knows that even if Wilson were to dispute Harreld’s claims, or assert that Harreld violated the separation agreement, any resulting litigation or public spectacle could taint Wilson as a troublemaker in the job market, even if he otherwise did nothing wrong. And again, it is decidedly unlikely that Wilson did anything wrong, else the university and regents would not have consented to pay him $19K a month to effectively do nothing while looking for work. Is that principled leadership on Harreld’s part, or is that a petty, bratty, vindictive man acting out, because even in old age he has no capacity for self-restraint?
As for Harreld’s decision to demote DEI from his cabinet and remove the AVP-DEI position as a direct report to his office, we will simply follow Harreld’s lead and consider the broader context. J. Bruce Harreld is a rich old white man, who was given the job he now holds not on the merits of his candidacy, but because three other rich old white men — including Harreld’s long-time mentor and friend — wanted him to have that job. If you’re a person of color, or belong to a federally protected class, are you going to consider working at UI as long as Harreld is in charge? And what about individuals who are already on staff or faculty, who, as Fuentes pointed out, are leaving in droves? Do they see Harreld’s demotion of DEI, undercutting of Wilson, and leaving the AVP-DEI position vacant for nine months or more, as positives — as Harreld clearly does — or might they perceive those decisions as an indication that their future is limited at the University of Iowa?
Among the homecoming events on the University of Iowa campus this past weekend, the UI Center for Advancement (formerly known as the UI Foundation) held a nostalgic panel discussion on Friday. Appearing together on the Voxman Music Building stage, along with the center’s president and CEO, Lynette Marshall, were the four previously and legitimately appointed presidents of the University of Iowa, plus the current and corruptly appointed president, J. Bruce Harreld. As such things go it was apparently an appropriately stuffy affair, ostensibly in celebration of adding three new portraits (Coleman, Skorton and Mason) to the UI presidential portrait gallery.
Apart from any money that the center may have shelled out to bring all of those dignitaries to campus, the only concern I had beforehand was whether Harreld would show up or not. (After he bailed at the last minute on the recent press conference for the $115M NASA TRACERS grant, anything seemed possible.) Because the closely affiliated but legally separate Center for Advancement is an important financial resource, however — and, in all likelihood, because an empty chair would have been a stark visual acknowledgment of the incapacity that this blog has documented over the past four years — Harreld did indeed appear as advertised and participate in the panel discussion. And yet, after reading multiple press accounts of Harreld’s contribution to the conversation, I have been given to wonder if the event itself was not staged, at least in part, to once again attempt to legitimize Harreld’s inherently illegitimate presidency.
To see what I mean, here is the lede to the report filed by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 10/18/19:
Summarizing the responses of the four previous UI presidents:
* Hunter Rawlings III (1988-1995) referenced the mass shooting which took place on the UI campus on 11/01/91, leaving five dead and one paralyzed.
* Sally Mason (2007-2015) recalled flooding that wiped out a picturesque swath of the UI campus in 2008, just as she was getting her administrative bearings.
* Mary Sue Coleman (1995-2002) talked about the fire that destroyed the iconic dome of the Old Capitol, which is the historical and symbolic heart of the UI campus.
* David Skorton (2003-2006), who served the shortest tenure of any of the presidents on stage, including Harreld, “…didn’t highlight any specific traumatic event while on campus. But he did echo his colleagues’ sentiment about the transformative nature of disturbance and the power of community.”
Whether the presidents were given a heads-up about that particular topic or not, it is not hard to imagine Harreld using that question to ingratiate himself with the former UI presidents, with the audience in the room, and with anyone reading about the event after the fact. Having been impudently hired by the Iowa Board of Regents on the basis of his decades-old private-sector business experience, Harreld could have talked about all of the opportunities for synergy and collaboration that he has found since he arrived, then pivoted to the lucrative promise of the public-private power-plant partnership that is projected to reach fruition in the next few months. And as the former head of global marketing for IBM, let alone a chatty business guru from his days as a part-time lecturer at Harvard, Harreld was certainly equipped to seize that opportunity.
In keeping with the somber tenor of the other president’s remarks, Harreld could also have spoken about the off-campus murder of Mollie Tibbetts, which not only galvanized the state and the nation, but prompted an opportunistic spasm of nationalism before her grieving parents put a stop to expressions of intolerance in their daughter’s name. Or perhaps Harreld could have talked about the suspension of eleven fraternities on campus, following wanton defiance of administrative controls that were triggered by an off-campus death from alcohol poisoning. Having been known for decades as a party school, confronting excesses and abuses in the Greek community at UI was long overdue, and is a rare feather in Harreld’s otherwise barren presidential cap.
Instead, however, J. Bruce Harreld decided to talk about himself:
Among the detestable higher-ed conventions that I was unaware of in 2015, when my attention was suddenly galvanized by Harreld’s shocking appointment, there is a code of silence which pervades the executive class. In order to maintain an industry-wide facade of integrity, every high-ranking academic administrator tacitly agrees not to hold any other administrator publicly accountable for anything, so they can all keep their CV’s in proper order. Add in six-figure payouts and payoffs when necessary — which are doled out like candy at public institutions, where taxpayers unwittingly underwrite those silences — and even genuinely troublesome, toxic or criminal administrators are simply allowed to move on to greener academic pastures. (Watching the entire apparatus of state government in Iowa, including the Board of Regents, do everything possible to avoid charging former Iowa State University President Steven Leath with crimes, was a particularly bracing lesson in that regard — particularly when he subsequently resigned and assumed the presidency at Auburn, at an even higher salary. Fortunately, Karma caught up two years later, but even then Auburn simply paid Leath off and wished him well.)
In that context I have no idea what the former UI presidents think about J. Bruce Harreld’s ‘non-traditional’ appointment, let alone what they think of him as an administrator or as a man. Maybe they don’t know that Harreld repeatedly lied to the UI community to cover for his crony hire, but even if they did — I honestly don’t think they would say anything. In the world of higher education one simply doesn’t talk about acts of bureaucratic piracy. Instead, one accepts the outcome or moves on, while at the same time assiduously ignoring the fact that such betrayals inherently undercut the rational basis upon which education itself is founded.
Ever the self=promoter, Harreld used that detestable convention last Friday to imply that all of the former UI presidents reached out to “[pat him] on the back and [boost him] up”. Not only did that paint Harreld as the victim of what was, in reality, a heavy-handed crony hire that benefited him, but Harreld was effectively daring any of the other president’s to publicly correct the record if they did not ‘reach out’ to him at the time. That in turn also made it seem as if all of the former presidents supported him despite the corrupt nature manner of his hire, which of course they would also be reluctant to dispute in a public forum.
Having thus made clear, by insinuation, that the former UI presidents accepted him as an equal, Harreld then pivoted to a new version of an old lie which is part of his own long and perpetually failed attempt to rewrite the history of his demonstrably corrupt appointment:
As regular readers know, this assessment by Harreld is fiction. In reality it was Harrled himself who frantically tried to turn the page, to escape the overwhelming evidence of his corrupt hire for blatantly self-interested reasons. Had he admitted that he lied, on multiple occasions, to obscure his relationship with Jerre Stead, he would have been disqualified from accepting the job he has now held for the past four years. Instead, by keeping his mouth shut and changing the conversation — with the blessings of the corrupt board that appointed him — Harreld has both profited and furthered the objectives of the cronies who rigged his hire.
The only “important dialogue” that took place after Harreld was imposed on the UI campus involved multiple protests in the face of stonewalling and lies by Harreld and the regents. When it finally dawned on everyone that they were now hostages to a corrupt governing board and sham president, a good many people decided to seek employment elsewhere, further weakening the school just as it was being taken over by a man who openly acknowledged that he was unprepared to do the job. (The exodus of talent and experience at UI has been crippling, and the deleterious effects of those vacancies on the student population continues to this day. Case in point, as this post was being finalized, it was reported that UI VP for Student Life Melissa Shivers was leaving UI after only two years on the job.)
Because Harreld is nothing if not a determined liar, however, he doubled down on the fantasy that there was some grand collective conversation which took place in the aftermath of his corrupt hire:
If you were in the Voxman audience last Friday, listening to Harreld describe the “very cathartic” effect “those dialogues” had on him, but you knew nothing about the actual facts of Harreld’s crony appointment, then his utterly banal conclusion probably sounded credible. In reality, however, not only were there no “cathartic” campus-wide “dialogues”, but Harreld’s one attempt to hold a town hall went down in flames precisely because he refused to talk about the abuses of power that led to his appointment. In fact, on multiple occasions, Harreld’s response to outrage about his hire was not to have a conversation, but to characterize those who were rightly angered as mentally unstable. In that context it was clearly to Harreld’s advantage to turn to conversation from “react[ing] to the past” to “own[ing] the future”, because Harreld himself helped poison the past.
As self-serving as that fictive history was, however, it doesn’t begin to describe the mendacity and/or derangement that Harreld displayed on Friday. It’s not just that Harreld decided, when asked about the event that most shaped his presidency, to talk about himself and his four-year-old appointment. And it’s not just that he lied about what happened after he was appointed, in a manner which painted him as a victim of completely valid opposition on campus. In addition to all that, it is critical to remember that Harreld aided and abetted the co-conspirators who perpetrated the abuses of power that put him in office, and that Harreld personally and professionally profited from doing so.
To see how contemptible Harreld’s remarks were in that light, imagine if Hunter Rawlings III had profited — not only figuratively, but financially — from aiding and covering up for a mass murderer on the UI campus. By rights Rawlings not only would have lost his presidency, he would have ended up in prison for the rest of his life. Likewise, imagine if Sally Mason helped conceal sabotage which led to the flooding of the UI Art Museum and Hancher Auditorium, and other facilities on campus, then claimed to have acted heroically during the rebuilding phase. Again we would expect that Mason would lose her presidency, then face criminal charges for her complicity. And of course the same holds true for Mary Sue Coleman and the burning of the Old Capitol dome. If she helped to conceal the cause, then directly or even indirectly profited as a result, she should have been fired.
Despite endless and absurdly credulous denials from Harreld, we know as a matter of objective fact — from the public record, in Harreld’s own words — that on at least four occasions Harreld lied to obscure his relationship to Jerre Stead, and that in turn helped both men achieve their objective of appointing Harreld to the presidency. Financially, because of the lies Harreld told about the 2015 presidential search, he will walk away with $7M in state money at the end of his current contract, all of which would have been forfeit if the Iowa Board of Regents were not equally complicit. To that windfall we can also add undeserved perks and prestige that Harreld has accrued during his illegitimate tenure, including the right to sit on a stage with four individuals who earned their way into the Iowa president’s office. (And then there’s perverse fact that for the past four years, Harreld the liar has been making life-altering decisions for thousands of people — all of whom face termination or expulsion if they don’t play fair.)
Harreld’s performance last Friday was lunatic-grade, but that’s what one does when one has victimized a population one now leads. ‘Forget the administrative atrocities I helped to cover up. Instead, let’s look forward to a brand new day, with me in charge. While it would profit no one to hold me accountable for being a liar and a cheat, if we agree to forget all that, I will provide appropriately pliant collaborators and loyalists with cushy new jobs or more pay.’
For those who are well-informed about Harreld’s narcissism, prevarication and profiteering, however, perhaps the most jaw-dropping aspect of everything Harreld said last Friday is simply that he acted electively. From the various press reports it doesn’t appear that anyone asked Harreld about his controversial hire, yet even after four years on the job, Harreld still can’t get past that debacle himself. All he had to do was project himself as the current president, and talk about how he’s doing great things to make the university better, but he couldn’t do it. Instead, he turned a golden opportunity to show that he stands shoulder to shoulder with his predecessors into yet another example of his lack of temperament, integrity and honesty — provided you know what really happened during and after the 2015 presidential search at UI.
Speaking of which…while we don’t know what the former UI presidents know about Harreld’s bastardized hire, there was one person on stage with Harreld who does know that Harreld and Stead publicly lied about their prior relationship, and that is none other than UI Center for Advancement president and CEO Lynette Marshall. We don’t know if she was aware of their deceit at the time, but over the intervening four years she certainly learned about their longstanding relationship, which both men obscured in concerted and coordinated fashion. And of course during the search, Stead himself was actually representing the UI Center for Advancement on the 2015 UI Presidential Search Committee, and Stead’s wife was and still is on the governing board of the Center for Advancement. (Also, one of Marshall’s lieutenants — Dana Larson — accompanied then-interim UI president and 2015 search chair Jean Robillard on a purportedly impromptu flight to pick up a chunk of money from Jerre Stead, only one week before Harreld was appointed by the Board of Regents. A donation which could easily have been wired to the UI Center for Advancement if Stead’s schedule really was “tight”, and all he was doing was being a generous and devoted Hawkeye alum.)
Given all of that cozy crony convergence, it seems entirely possible that Harreld’s participation in last week’s otherwise nostalgic panel discussion was also intended to shore up his standing in UI community. The current Iowa president shouldn’t need shoring up four years after his appointment, of course, but from Harreld’s self-absorbed oratory last Friday he is still clearly stuck in a time warp of his own making. As for Marshall, whatever her plan was for that event — and whether that plan originated with her or with Harreld — it is unlikely that she expected Harreld to spend his moment in the spotlight whining about his appointment, instead of looking to the very future he claimed the entire campus wanted him to pursue. (On the other hand, nowhere in the reporting on the panel discussion is there any evidence that Lynette Marshall pushed back on Harreld’s delusional fantasies about cathartic campus-wide dialogues, which Marshall knows did not happen.)
Of course from Marshall’s perspective as president and CEO of the UI Center for Advancement, whatever she can do to legitimize Harreld’s presidency will help drive contributions from alumni and donors, thus filling the coffers of the secretive organization over which she presides. In that cynical context, showing the UI community that four legitimate UI presidents have accepted Harreld as one of their own — and as a result of last week’s event, there are now plenty of pictures to prove it — would only benefit her fundraising, and that is what she is paid to do. If turning a blind eye to Harreld’s lunacy, complicity, and lack of integrity, honesty and credibility, helps raise money for the university that Harreld is leading into the future, then that’s just part of how Lynette Marshall shows her support for higher education.
As to how Harreld has done as a fundraiser, the PR from UI is that everything is great, but it’s not great. A charitable assessment would be that Harreld has been treading water over the past few years, but in looking at specifics — and particularly at the kind of fundraising that doesn’t get a lot of press — we see recurrent failure. For example, the “revitalization” of the UI College of Nursing was scaled back twice, then largely funded out of the UI general education fund, because Harreld was unable to drive sufficient donations to cover even the decreased project costs. Likewise, after a splashy announcement about selling off the naming rights to the new UI Art Museum for $10M, donations have stalled short of a $25M goal. (But everything is still okay!)
Having said all that, if there was one thing Lynette Marshall did not want Harreld to say last Friday — after she went to the trouble of cajoling and perhaps even inducing four former presidents to appear on stage with him — it was probably this:
If you’re quite literally sitting on a stage with the “past”, and the “past” is lending you credibility which you cannot otherwise generate on your own, then you probably don’t want to point out that “universities can be trapped in their past”. Because J. Bruce Harreld is all about J. Bruce Harreld, however, he was clearly oblivious to how his armchair philosophizing undercut the very premise of the event in which he was participating.
As for what Harreld said about “winners” and “losers”, that wasn’t even fresh material, but was recycled, low-grade guru-talk from his candidate forum on 09/01/15:
To truly understand how intellectually grotesque Harreld’s presidency is, remember that in his mind, and in the minds of the co-conspirators who used a fake, taxpayer funded search to jam him into office, the only way the University of Iowa can continue to be a “great institution” is by lying and cheating. Only by imposing their corrupt collective will on the UI community, and installing a prevaricating narcissist at the top of the org chart, can Iowa continue to be a “winner”. Even if Harreld had agreed to work for free — instead of pocketing $7M as a direct result of his own complicity — the method by which he came to power was inherently corrupt, which means as an academic institution the university itself is inherently corrupt.
Now, however, thanks to Lynette Marshall and the UI Center for Advancement, that corruption has leeched into the history of the University of Iowa as well. As a result of last week’s panel discussion, four prior UI presidents have now also given Harreld their blessing, if perhaps unwittingly, and it is hard not to think that they may have been exploited for that very purpose. Apparently, the only way we can collectively heal is also by deceit.
Update 11/02/19: See comment here about the source of funding for the renovations and upgrades at the UI College of Nursing.
Ann Rhodes says
I’d like to make a correction. The remodeling project at the College of Nursing was NOT paid for with general fund dollars. When the project was planned, the agreement was that it would be funded half by the general fund, which always pays the cost of remodeling classrooms, and half by the College of Nursing from funds generated by tuition from online classes. Before construction started, there was turnover in the university administration and they backed out of the commitment of general funds. So the project was scaled back and paid for with college funds and donations. At the same time, the university paid to remodel the former St Thomas More Catholic Church to provide more room for the UI Foundation.
Thank you for the clarification. When I was reading the reporting on the upgrades at the College of Nursing I found it hard to follow the money. (Not uncommon in stories about UI, where the source of funding is often obfuscated, whether by pooling in the gen-ed fund or other means.)
I made the assumption about gen-ed funding in this particular instance from this quote in the Gazette:
Given what I perceive to be Harreld’s reluctance to spend gen-ed funds on anything not related to entrepreneurial ventures, that largesse surprised me. It would make much more sense — particularly in light of recent changes to the budgeting process — if the college had to raise that money itself, and/or eat the cost of renovations out of the college’s overall budget.
I do remember the university paying to remodel the former church for the Foundation, and wrote a post about same a while back. It was never clear to me why UI was funding the cost of new space for the legally separate Foundation (now the Center for Advancement), and particularly why the Foundation would be allowed to opt out of the resulting lease before the renovation costs were recouped. (More on that project here.)
Continuing the theme from a recent post, I remain stupefied by the extent to which J. Bruce Harreld’s illegitimate presidency at the University of Iowa is defined by his incompetence and toxicity. After Harreld was given a three-year contract extension back in June, and a $200K raise when that new deal kicks in, I naively assumed that the 2019-2020 academic year would be defined by projects that were already in the pipeline, such as the pending public-private utilities partnership, and other entrepreneurial endeavors. Instead, we not only had the TaJuan Wilson debacle, in which the new UI Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (AVP-DEI) resigned after six weeks, but we also had the mauling of the UI Marching Band in Ames, which both Harreld and Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen clumsily tried to cover up.
Even the subject matter of the previous post — about a recent panel discussion featuring Harreld and four prior UI presidents — proved to be an unforced error on Harreld’s part, when it should have been an easy win. Because Harreld insisted on spewing a number of lies from the stage that night, he leeched his toxicity into the living history of the school, and called into question the integrity of the president and CEO of the UI Center for Advancement. (Either she and the former UI presidents on stage with Harreld knew he was lying about the circumstances surrounding his corrupt hire, in which case they were complicit in their silence, or they didn’t know, in which case Harreld was lying to them as well.)
The unavoidable reality at Iowa, as Harreld’s fourth year in office draws to a close, is not only that his corrupt hire continues to cast a pall over his presidency, but his manifest failings as a leader are now taking a toll on decisions that he himself made as president. Instead of building on the work of past presidents, and building on a foundation that he himself established in the first years of his own presidency, central administration at UI is crumbling around Harreld — and that’s his fault. (And I don’t see how he turns that around when he’s the problem.)
What I once again thought would be a quiet few weeks between the presidential panel discussion and advancing the UI P3 in mid-November, has already turned out to be anything but. News bombs have been dropping so fast it’s hard to keep track of them, but here we also benefit from an admirable influx of information about the current administrative thinking at UI. Specifically, the Daily Iowan published four lengthy interviews with key administrators in the past month, and those interviews provide us with context for the rapid pace of developments.
About a month or so after the fall semester got underway, an extensive interview with J. Bruce Harreld was published on 09/29/19. Three days later, on 10/01/19, the DI published an equally comprehensive interview with the new UI provost, Montserrat ‘Montse’ Fuentes. A little over a week later, on 10/09/19, the DI published another extensive interview, this time with UI VP for Student Life, Melissa Shivers. Finally, on 10/21/19, the DI published a fourth comprehensive interview, this time with the UI Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations, Rod Lehnertz.
In sum, all of those interviews were published in just over a three-week span, and are roughly a month old or less. Despite that recency, however, it is not only amazing how much information those interviews contain on their own, but how much they convey in the context of unexpected developments at the university. (As a related aside, every journalistic outlet should conduct and publish interviews like this from as many individuals as possible, precisely because they are so informative in the moment and so useful over time. Unfortunately, despite the capacity of the world wide web to essentially store infinite information, far too many news outlets continue to publish only excerpted or edited interviews, thus controlling — and often slanting — the resulting discussion. If media outlets want to craft a tighter version for official publication that’s fine, but every interview should link back to the full transcript, both to document the integrity of the editing process, and to provide all of the information that was communicated, even if some of it wasn’t newsy at the time.)
Along with those interviews from four key members of UI administration, we also got rare insight into the thinking at the Iowa Board of Regents recently with a string of reports about that secretive body. Normally mute to the point of absurdity, the board and board office were suddenly so forthcoming on a whole host of issues that I am instinctively concerned that they may be planning something truly nefarious. Is the corrupt crony board thinking of taking more active control of the state schools? Are the regents about to become even more aggressive in pursuing the anti-academic, pro-business agenda of Governor ‘Casino’ Kim Reynolds?
I have no idea, but compared to the board’s miserly disclosures over the past four years a recent string of reports from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller struck me as unprecedented in candor and access. From Miller’s report on 10/22/19 we got more information about the impending nationwide decline in student enrollment, which the board can certainly use as an excuse to dictate radical changes. In Miller’s report the next day, on 10/23/19, we also got hair-raising insight into the fact that the regents have always been hands off in terms of athletics at the state schools, but are now rethinking that grant of bureaucratic license — perhaps following the recent mugging of the UI Marching Band by thugs at Iowa State. Finally, on Thursday, 10/24/19, one of the regents commented specifically on the UI P3, and in doing so directly contradicted multiple statements from UI’s J. Bruce Harreld.
In the sections that follow we will jump between the DI interviews, Miller’s regent reports, and information from other sources, and in so doing highlight just how much has changed in a short amount of time, and how fragile Harreld’s administration is as a result. After four years you would think there would be some signs of forward momentum at UI, but as we will see the university is going backward on multiple fronts.
Melissa Shivers Departs
If the sudden resignation of TaJuan Wilson was an indication that something is seriously wrong in central administration at UI, the shocking news ten days ago, that UI VP for Student Life Melissa Shivers is leaving to take a similar position at Ohio State, is proof positive. Having been hired by Harreld only two and a half years ago, Shivers was an immediate asset to the school, and particularly so to Harreld himself, who has little interest in actually being a university president. Indeed, in her first year alone Shivers proved so capable that the local paper voted her ‘Person of the Year‘ in December of 2018. Now, less than a year later, she is leaving the University of Iowa.
Of all the decisions Harreld has made over the past four years, hiring Shivers was by far the best, and produced the greatest immediate benefit for the school. While I have reservations about Harreld’s motivation for hiring Shivers, she proved herself so capable and competent that I have no doubt she will become a provost at a major university sooner rather than later, and become a respected and successful president after that. Which is to say that Melissa Shivers is exactly the kind of person you make sure you protect and support, and do not drive away. Unfortunately, J. Bruce Harreld took the opposite approach, loading Shivers with responsibilities while cutting administrative support out from under her.
After the former Chief Diversity Officer, Georgina Dodge, left UI, and the subsequent interim Chief Diversity Officer, Lena Hill, left UI, Harreld decided that Melissa Shivers could do her own job and that job at the same time — because who doesn’t like doing an entire second job for an additional $30K per year. (Shivers was appointed VP-SL at $280K. When she assumed the interim CDO responsibilities her salary was bumped to $310K.)
While all of that was going on, the position of UI Dean of Students — which is a direct report to the VP for Student Life — was also being administered in an interim capacity. Indeed, the University of Iowa had been unable to fill that position on a permanent basis for two years, following an initial failed search, then an inability to come to contractual terms with the preferred candidate in a second search. At the beginning of the current semester, UI announced that it was taking a third shot at hiring a Dean of Students, at what is ostensibly a prestigious and rare R1/AAU public research university.
The symbolic icing on the dysfunctional cake, of course, was the almost immediate resignation of TaJuan Wilson as the new AVP-DEI, who took over what was previously the Chief Diversity Officer role under Shivers. Although that position was also kicked over to the provost’s office — meaning Shivers would not have to return to that role in an interim capacity — the upshot was that support for DEI and for her front-line responsibilities as VP for Student Life were perpetually cobbled together in Harreld’s administration. He was perfectly glad to have her take the lead and heat in dealing with contentious issues on campus, but when it came to providing the support she needed and deserved, Harreld spent his administrative time rolling out new six-figure administrative positions in pursuit of lusty entrepreneurial goals.
To be clear, Shivers has said none of this herself, and I don’t expect her to. As detailed in the previous post, higher-ed administrators always say nice things about each other, and no one ever leaves a college or university job for anything other than totally positive reasons having nothing to do with working for a fool. Still, here’s everything we do know about Shivers’ motive for leaving, as reported by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller on 10/24/19:
While that’s undoubtedly true, it’s also important to note than an administrator of Shivers’ caliber constantly receives inquiries and offers. (Behind the scenes, executive headhunters are perpetually sniffing around and making contact, precisely to see who might be unhappy and looking to make a change, because that’s how they make money.) The question in this instance — after only two and a half years at UI — is why Shivers decided to listen. And the answer, or at least part of the answer, is that sham UI president J. Bruce Harreld took her and her work for granted.
In that context, it’s equally important to remember that one of the things the Iowa Board of Regents claimed when they jammed Harreld down the throat of the UI community, was that his private-sector experience made him an expert at things like ‘organizational ambidexterity’ and ‘strategic change’. That buzzword mumbo-jumbo was supposedly a huge asset, and something Harreld could teach the stuffy higher-ed administrators who were oblivious to such concepts. In reality, there is no evidence Harreld has been an effective mentor, and every indication that people can’t wait to get away from the man — which brings us back to Shivers and Wilson.
Whatever else they may have had in common, Shivers and Wilson were both Harreld hires. He appointed them, and now they’re both out, and in combination with the greater exodus of talent at UI that can’t be an accident. Indeed, as Miller noted in her report, of the twelve deans on the UI campus — who all work under the auspices of the provost, on the academic side of the campus — there have been or will be eight departures since 2017, meaning a year and a half after Harreld took office. Even assuming a wave of initial departures immediately following his corrupt hire, and subsequent appointments in the ‘Harreld mold’, not only are departures accelerating, but people Harreld hired, or who initially supported his appointment, are leaving in droves.
While Harreld characterized the TaJuan Wilson resignation as inconsequential — and in fact used it as a cynical opportunity to disperse responsibility for DEI across campus — the VP for Student Life is a cabinet-level position in his office. As such, Shivers’ departure not only leaves Harreld with an administrative vacancy, it leaves him with a gaping leadership hole on issues he does not want to deal with himself. We see this not only in retrospect, in the way Harreld hid behind Shivers on issues of consequence to the UI community, but also in Harreld’s divergent responses to the departure of these two UI employees.
Having passed DEI off to the provost’s office it is thus no longer a concern to Harreld, and as such that position will be left vacant for the foreseeable future. Because the VP for Student Life is still part of his executive suite, however, and is critical to shielding Harreld from contentious issues, he is in full-on panic mode to find a replacement. As a result, instead of initiating a national search to replace Shivers — which would not only be appropriate, but was how Shivers was hired — Harreld convened a hastily constituted search committee to find an in-house replacement. And that search is expected to conclude “this fall”, meaning in the next month and a half. (If you’re not familiar with the normal pace of administrative change in higher education, that is hair-on-fire quick. It is also a clear indicator that Harreld knows who he intends to hire, and the ‘search committee’ simply gives that hire a paper-thin veneer of administrative legitimacy.)
The overarching reality is that the University of Iowa has been suffering administrative blood loss since J. Bruce Harreld was hired. What is truly remarkable is that four years into his eight-year reign of genius, that blood loss is getting worse, not better. Now, with the impending departure of Melissa Shivers, the ongoing personnel crisis has escalated to the point of bureaucratic organ failure, and Harreld clearly knows it. (For all the lip service Harreld gives to ‘students success’ — while at the same time taking more and more money from students each year through abusive tuition hikes — Melissa Shivers walked the walk and made student lives better. That includes particularly students of color and other minority populations, who are also paying through the nose, but often end up feeling like second-class citizens at the University of Iowa.)
Compounding the immediate problem of replacing Shivers, before her departure was publicly reported the university launched its third attempt to hire a new Dean of Students, which reports directly to the VP for Student Life. When Shivers’ announced her departure, however, that meant both positions would be open while searches were ongoing, and the university would be unable to tell candidates for either position who their administrative counterpart would be. That in turn would make it harder for potential recruits to determine whether either job was a good fit, even if a preferred candidate was known.
To underscore the rapid pace of change and sheer administrative panic that Shivers’ departure has triggered in central administration, I barely made it halfway through the first draft of this post before it was announced, this past Tuesday, that interim Dean of Students Angie Reams was being appointed to that role on a permanent basis. Again — and meaning no disrespect to Reams, who seems to have performed ably and earned that promotion — this is not how you run a top-flight organization. Instead, four years into his tenure, J. Bruce Harreld is still making it up as he goes along.
Two final points. First, to truly understand the magnitude of the Shivers loss, it is worth reading her interview with the Daily Iowan, which was published less than a month ago, and only a few weeks before her departure was announced. This is clearly someone who genuinely came to understand, and have a rapport with, the greater UI community in a very short amount of time, in stark contrast to J. Bruce Harreld — who, after four years on campus, still can’t be identified by half of the students.
Second, whatever it says about Melissa Shivers that she was named Person of the Year by the Iowa City Press-Citizen, after only one year in town, consider what it says about Harreld that no one would nominate him for that distinction. Between the two it is inarguable that Harreld has more resources at his disposal, were he to actively seek that award, yet Shivers achieved it as a matter of course, while performing her duties under less than optimal conditions. By contrast, over four years and counting, Harreld’s contributions to the local community include the bureaucratic equivalent of making bunny shadows with his hands and fart noises with his armpits.
A little over three weeks ago, on 10/11/19, the Daily Iowan’s Charles Peckman filed a report about J. Bruce Harreld’s speech to the Iowa City Noon Rotary Club. As with most of Harreld’s public appearances over the past year, that presentation included a round of hype for a public-private partnership (P3) that UI will almost certainly enter into for its power plant and other utilities. In that speech, Harreld remained consistent about whether that P3 deal will or will not involve the sale or lease of university assets:
Setting aside the fact that no energy company in the world will give UI a “massive upfront payment” for the privilege of then also running the university’s utilities, here we will focus on Harreld’s insistence that UI will not sell or lease any of it assets. We also don’t know how UI intends to convey a tax advantage to its private-sector partner, which UI has already said is a key part of the plan, but no matter. Harreld is certain that there will be no sale or lease of UI assets, and given that he has a Harvard MBA, and has been traveling the globe to put this deal together, he ought to now.
At the same time, however, that makes the following statement from regent David Barker particularly problematic — as reported by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller on 10/24/19:
Despite a year of active development and almost perpetual messaging on Harreld’s part, including, presumably, multiple status reports to the Iowa Board of Regents, there is still a significant difference of opinion about whether the UI P3 will or will not involve a lease. While Harreld is the UI president, and has been pushing the plan the entire time, and has an extensive private-sector background and Harvard MBA, Barker is also well-versed in business and finance, having previously served “as an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York“. (As to how Barker found himself on the Iowa Board of Regents, he did what the former and current board presidents did: he donated lots of money to the sitting governor, including flying her around on private airplanes at his expense.)
So who’s right — Harreld or Barker? Well, we don’t know, but looking at similar deals at other schools, the evidence suggests Barker is right and Harreld is wrong, which would be pretty spectacular given that Harreld was hired on the basis of his purported business acumen. In any event, this inexplicable incongruity has not prevented Harreld from selling the utility P3, or from teasing the possibility of other public-private partnerships across the UI campus. From the lede to Peckman’s report:
There are three important aspects to the shilling Harreld is doing here. First, Harreld’s constant bleating about de-appropriation gives us insight into just how concerned he really is with “getting the data right” — which is yet another Harreld refrain. In reality, Harreld doesn’t care about data, he cares about whatever cherry picked or invented numbers will help him sell the argument he’s making at the time. Case in point, here Harreld cites a time span of “20 years”, while only a few weeks ago — while registering the exact same complaint — he cited “the last decade”. (Perhaps because he was in the presence of four former UI presidents, who would have known he was lying.)
Second, while UI may engage in future public-private partnerships, it is unlikely any of them will come with a “massive up-front payment”, which is what Harreld is encouraging everyone to focus on so they won’t think about the price premiums, administrative costs and inherent risks in the pending utility partnership. It is that windfall of deceptively described ‘revenue’ that Harreld is really hyping — as opposed to the relatively boring world of P3’s — and it is an association between P3’s and large amounts of cash that Harreld wants to reinforce in the UI community. Never mind that P3’s often turn out to be a boondoggle for government entities that engage in them, in part because the government employees who end up agreeing to unprofitable terms may have been put in that position to sell out taxpayers in the first place.
(You know, like using a fake presidential search to install a crony toad in the president’s office at a major public research university, so he could then sign off on all kinds of deals — such as naming the new children’s hospital after his longtime mentor, or shepherding an energy deal to fruition using obfuscation and deception. It’s also possible that the government employees who consummate a P3 may get a financial bonus, which is both a blatant conflict of interest and something neither the University of Iowa nor Board of Regents has publicly ruled out. So who’s actually protecting the taxpayer’s interest as UI barrels ahead, intent on consummating its utility P3 by the end of the year? Apparently no one.)
Third, from Harreld’s quote above you might reasonably infer that the P3 involving the university’s utilities will be the first public-private partnership that Harreld has brokered at UI, and that it will inevitably reach fruition and be deemed a success. In reality, Harreld has already seen two P3’s go down in flames at the university, and there is no guarantee that the current project will get off the ground — let alone be good for the school or state over the long haul. (We will take a closer look at the complexities and risks of the UI utility P3 in an upcoming post.)
Back in May of 2018, the University of Iowa made a big deal out of soliciting proposals for a public-private partnership involving a forty-four-acre tract next to the UI Finkbine golf course. With a sky’s-the-limit invitation, including the possibility of putting up a hotel, the university set a deadline of August for proposals. Eight months later, however, in April of 2019, it was reported that the university “ha[d] not awarded the project“.
The Finkbine P3 went dark until a zoning issue popped up last month at a University Heights planning session, which was the first sign in well over a year that the project was still proceeding in some form. Commentary about that potential development by the UI SVP for Finance and Operations, however, from his recent Daily Iowan interview, was particularly squishy, and implied — but did not state — that a “third party developer” was helping to fund the project. In reality, UI may be paying the development costs itself, which would mean that “developer” is actually a contractor, and the project is not a P3. (Hiring someone to do a job is not a partnership, whether you’re hiring them to cut your lawn or run your utilities. And that in turn is yet another indicator that the UI utility P3 will inevitably involve the leasing of state assets.)
More recently, on 09/18/19 the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller reported on a public-private partnership involving dialysis treatments at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics:
One month later, on 10/15/19, Miller reported that the prospective dialysis P3 was dead:
Only four days earlier, Harreld had given his Rotary speech, which made it seem like the cash-rich utilities P3 would be the first such venture in his tenure, when he already knew about the other two attempted P3 projects, neither of which had gotten off the ground. Then again, why would Harreld stick to the facts when his boss-of-bosses at the Board of Regents was selling the exact same hype at the beginning of the fall semester:
The reality is that public-private partnerships are not new. Although the vast majority do not involve up-front payments in the hundreds of millions of dollars, even that aspect of the prospective UI utility P3 is not novel, but comes instead from a similar deal at Ohio State in 2017, in which OSU was given $1B in cash upon signing. In any event, however, there is zero chance that other branches of Iowa state government will go down the same road, using service contracts to obscure massive private-sector loans, and there is every reason to question whether the Board of Regents should be doing so.
The concept of a ‘bad boss‘ is so commonplace that raunchy movies have been made about the subject, yet that role exists in narratives across all media, including respected works such as Moby Dick and A Christmas Carol. Even if you have never worked for a toxic boss yourself, however, if you are reading this post you have probably worked with people who were incompetent, derelict or abusive, and it stands to reason that if those same individuals were in positions of power their noxious influence would be that much greater. Put an incompetent, derelict or abusive individual at the top of the org chart and inevitably the entire organization will be crippled by its self-interested obligation to compensate for that leader’s deficiencies.
Four years ago the deeply corrupt Iowa Board of Regents imposed J. Bruce Harreld on the University of Iowa, insisting that only a man of his private-sector caliber and real-world experience could save UI from a crisis in higher education. While that crisis was never specified, countless assurances were given that Harreld had skills and abilities far beyond those of stuffy academic administrators, including particularly a deep understanding of organizational strategy, and how to achieve institutional objectives in a perpetually and rapidly shifting environment. Four years later what we find everywhere we look at UI are not only signs of failure, administrative collapse, and incoherence, but we see a massive government bureaucracy which is now almost entirely devoted to covering up or compensating for the deficits of its feeble leader.
The pervasive degeneration at the University of Iowa was brought home recently when I read — then re-read — a press release announcing that engagement and outreach efforts were “transitioning” from central administration to the individual colleges on campus. Here is the first paragraph of that piece, as posted by the UI Office of Strategic Communication (OSC) on the Iowa Now website, on 10/24/19:
The entire press release runs 500 words, and is full of positivity, yet even after reading it twice I had no idea what was actually being described. Thankfully, several hours later the AP published a short article which explained what was actually happening:
While job cuts are not ideal, the University of Iowa is a massive organization, and it is understandable that institutional priorities will change from time to time, even under able leadership. In that context, the university’s press office should have been able to simply tell the truth, but they couldn’t do it, and the obvious question is why. Several hours after the AP story appeared, the Gazette’s indefatigable Vanessa Miller published a more extensive explanation, making it clear that the university had gone out of its way to say nothing about the job cuts, or about the change in emphasis regarding outreach and engagement:
One of the basic premises underpinning public higher education is that taxpayers pay for state colleges and universities — and particularly for research at the largest and most prestigious schools — because doing so results in a public good. For example, if you’re a gardener and have ever used the Iowa State extension office, or a similar office in your state, you have directly benefited from public support for higher education. Unfortunately, at far too many public research institutions, that premise is now being perverted by the same breed of entrepreneurial pirates who foisted Harreld on UI, such that the idea of a public good is now openly disparaged. Instead of producing a broadly distributed benefit, higher-ed is now expected to generate a profit — which of course benefits the profit-making weasels who espouse that view, who often redirect public funds into the bank accounts of their political and business cronies.
At UI specifically, you can still see romantic notions of engagement and outreach in the UI Strategic Plan [p. 17], but what Harreld means when he uses those terms is almost antithetical to the original intent. Engagement and outreach are now not about giving back, but about driving donations and money from donors and alums, many of whom were bled dry by tuition and student loans. That the former provost’s vision has been excised from central administration under Harreld is not surprising, but again, note how the OSC intentionally omitted any historical or employment information from the resulting UI press release.
Now, if all of this sounds vaguely familiar, you’re right. This is the same feel-good public relations playbook the university followed when TaJuan Wilson quit as the new AVP-DEI after only six weeks on the job. Instead of explaining why Wilson left, UI shoved new provost Montserrat ‘Montse’ Fuentes out the door to explain why it was awesome that responsibility for DEI was being assumed by her office, while implementation of DEI policies would be distributed across campus.
On messaging alone the toxic effects of Harreld’s presidency are becoming more and more apparent. Whether we’re talking about DEI, outreach and engagement, or anything else, the UI OSC — which is funded by the people of Iowa — should not only be empowered to tell the truth, Harreld should insist that it do so. Instead, the UI OSC works to obscure and cover for Harreld’s intentions and incompetence, and as such not only has has little credibility as a source of information, but betrays the very foundation of higher education as a search for truth.
Again, this is not how strong leaders function. Indeed, were we to compare the job performance of J. Bruce Harreld and Melissa Shivers over the past two and a half years, in terms of leadership Shivers would win across the board. Because Harreld is at the top of the org chart, however, he gets to stay while Shivers moves on.
If the Board of Regents had any self-respect — let alone concern for the downward trajectory at UI — they would call Harreld on the carpet about Shivers’ decision to leave, about TaJuan Wilson’s decision to leave, and about UI’s inability to hire a Dean of Students for two years. They won’t, however, because they don’t want to admit what is patently obvious to everyone, which is not only that the previously constituted board made a mistake in hiring Harreld, but the current board made an even more egregious mistake by extending Harreld’s contract six months ago.
Instead, the University of Iowa will continue to limp along under Harreld’s failed leadership. Even apart from concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion — which was the subject of a Gazette editorial this past weekend — UI is having trouble attracting and retaining qualified applicants from any demographic, which is damning for an R1/AAU research university. [More here on the disturbing implications for diversity at UI, from the Chronicle of Higher Education — subscription required.]
Again, after multiple failed searches the interim Dean of Students was just appointed to that role on a permanent basis. The AVP-DEI position, which was also held on an interim basis for two years, is now vacant because the new hire quit after six weeks. And with Shivers departing, Harreld has already announced his intention to hire an in-house replacement, without opening the position to outside applicants.
This should be obvious, but ‘world-class’ institutions do not have to cannibalize themselves to fill open positions. Truly great organizations attract an endless stream of applicants, from which the cream of the crop are selected. Yes, it is important to encourage in-house staff to learn and grow as well, but even the best organizations have to deal with turnover, and bringing in qualified people from outside is one of the best ways to help an organization keep pace in an ever-evolving industry. (In-house candidates who move up should also be as good or better than the outside applicants they’re competing against — not a fallback because the organization can’t attract top-flight talent, or even qualified applicants.)
What we are now seeing at the University of Iowa is systemic damage from Harreld’s leadership failings. The entire bureaucracy is cracking under the strain of perpetually compensating for Harreld’s deficits, but it’s even worse than that. Despite verging on a massive public-private partnership — which supposedly plays to Harreld’s strengths, and exemplifies why he was hired — Harreld and the regents are not on the same page about the basic structure of that deal. The best-case scenario for why Harrled thinks the deal will not involve a lease, while regent Barker believes it will involve a lease, is that Harreld has failed to adequately explain the deal to the very people who will ultimately approve any resulting contract. The worst-case scenario is that Barker wasn’t contradicting Harreld but correcting him, meaning even the Board of Regents is now covering for Harreld’s incompetence.
Despite being handed a vote of confidence with his new contract and pay raise, Harreld spent the first two months of the 2019-2020 academic year leading the university in reverse. From the Wilson resignation to the Shivers resignation, to trying to thwart an investigation into serial assaults against the UI Marching Band, to devaluing diversity, equity and inclusion, to making in-house appointments because no one wants to work at the institution he leads, the consistency of this regression is not simply an indictment of Harreld, it is a conviction. As a result, we can now say with certainty — and regardless of the outcome of the public-private partnership that is almost certainly the reason the regents agreed to keep him on — that the J. Bruce Harreld experiment has failed. The only question now is whether the damage he is doing will be permanent or not.