A new threaded post on this topic can be found here. For previous posts about the Harreld hire, click the tag below.
05/20/20 — I put on a HAZMAT suit yesterday and calibrated my Geiger counter, then dutifully plowed through the most recent Daily Iowan interview with illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld. Beyond the usual blather, ass-covering and self-aggrandizing rhetoric, I detected two significant radiation leaks from Harreld’s head.
First, here’s Harreld lying to the DI staff, which is something he does with regularity, but seldom so nakedly:
Last week, somebody tweeted incorrectly what I’d said that you know I’m hopeful that we’ll start football practice June 1 — I didn’t say we will… People wanted to interpret it as a ‘will’. I said ‘no we’re prepared, we’re set.’
Here is specifically what Harreld said, and if you are dubious about the transcription or curious about the greater context, you can hear Harreld himself here:
“But right now, June 1 is the date — we’re gonna get back to practice, and here we go.”
When I say that J. Bruce Harreld is lying trash, this is a mundane example. I can understand why he might be embarrassed about promising that Iowa football practice would begin on June 1st, when it very well may not, but the fact that his response to his own idiocy is to then tell an easily disprovable lie once again goes to the heart of why this man is not and never was suited for the job he holds. Which, unfortunately, now entitles him to deploy said idiocy in service of getting people killed by COVID-19 — which he will then lie about.
Second, here is Harreld saying something so completely insane that he should be fired and committed in a single seamless societal act of self-preservation:
If one assumes that the virus, the pandemic, will come to a close, anytime in the next two weeks. And I think that’s possible.
For context, note that this DI interview was conducted on May 6th, meaning two weeks from that date would be…today. In his wisdomatic assessment of the coronavirus pandemic, which was and still is spreading around the globe — and killing more than 10,000 Americans per week for the past two months — the super-colossal business brain known as J. Bruce Harreld believed “the pandemic” could “come to a close” by today. (And in fact, in the above quote that’s the latest he thought that might happen.)
The fact that this cretin is in charge of leading the University of Iowa’s response to COVID-19 should scare the hell out of everyone.
* Speaking of business genius and cranial radiation, yesterday the University of Iowa took an important proactive step to make the school safer for students, faculty and staff when the campus reopens in the fall. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: University of Iowa seeking bids for branded face masks.
The University of Iowa — preparing for a new normal across campus this fall — is seeking a supplier to make up to 10,000 UI-branded cloth masks or other face and neck coverings.
The UI recently issued a call for proposals for the Hawkeye-branded coverings — as masks and the like have been advised, urged and even mandated by local, state and national experts to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
Now, as it happens, I actually made an absurdist joke about this on Twitter, back on April 26th:
But that’s the difference between an MBA like Harreld and the rest of us. Even in the middle of a global pandemic, highly trained and battle-tested entrepreneurial types are always looking for branding opportunities. And indeed, only a week after Harreld’s DI interview, in a feature on the UI response to COVID-19, there Harreld was in a “contributed” photo, wearing a branded mask:
While most college and university presidents are probably — and understandably — focused on preventing illness and death when their campuses reopen in the fall, J. Bruce Harreld is thinking ahead to how he can forever tie the university’s vaunted brand to that illness and death. And of course what could be better than slapping Iowa’s trademarks all over masks that will be used fitfully if at all, thrown away as a matter of routine, and inevitably come to litter the campus?
All of which brings us, as ever, to the question of who will actually pay for that branded litter. From Miller’s report:
The University of Iowa sent out its bid request Thursday, requiring responses by May 29. It says the UI is interested in buying up to 10,000 individual face coverings “with the option to purchase additional products in the future.”
Coverings include masks, neck gaiters or tubes and are to be created using the UI brand.
“These would be used by employees and students,” according to the UI request for proposals, which did not specify whether the campus would sell the products or distribute them for free. UI officials did not answer that question from The Gazette.
So let’s game this out….
If UI doesn’t intend to charge for the masks, that means the university will be blowing money it already says it doesn’t have on fancy masks, resulting in fewer masks for those precious pandemic dollars.
If UI does intend to charge for the masks, then by the very nature of the branding process that will increase the price of the masks for students, faculty and staff, even if the masks are sold at cost.
If UI intends to charge for the masks and make a profit, then everyone involved in this branding exercise should be fired.
As you can see, there are no good options here. While it is understandable that the idea came up, central administration should have had the conversation we just had in this post, and realized that branded masks would almost certainly end up being a very bad literal look for UI. And that’s all before people at UI inevitably get sick and possibly even die, and people start posting pictures of Hawkeyes wearing the masks inappropriately, and the masks start clogging toilets, and people from rival schools start doing horrible, awful things with those masks on social media, and the time-consuming and costly 2020 branded-mask program has to be discontinued as a result.
Run it like a business indeed.
05/18/20 — The full text of the most recent Daily Iowan interview with illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld was posted late last night. From that we can confirm that Harreld’s recent self-aggrandizing remarks about his mid-March, health-and-safety-first response to the coronavirus pandemic do post-date his eager-beaver desire to shove the UI football team back out on the practice field, as exhorted in late April. (See the 05/13/20 and 05/15/20 entries below for more.) I will have more to say about the interview after I steel myself to yet more idiocy from UI’s blithering administrator-in-chief, but here I want to point first to a prior comment, then a related article posted to the DI website last night.
Quoting from the 03/09/20 entry here:
* Am already anticipating someone at UI saying the market crash and coronavirus pandemic represents a tremendous buying opportunity for the $1.17B loan the university will close on tomorrow. The only real question I have is whether Bro Bruce Harreld himself will make that nauseating claim, or someone else will do it.
From the DI’s Marissa Payne, late last night: UI utility system P3’s $999 million in net proceeds remain in ‘short-term instruments’ as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on economy.
Harreld said the short-term instruments don’t generate as much money as the UI anticipated, though university officials already modeled conservative rates of return in drafting the deal.
“Most of the portfolios of endowments across the United States have actually taken a 10 percent haircut. We haven’t had that,” he said. “So we’re fortunate to have a lot of cash. You could argue that if we’re smart investors, we should be able to buy it at a low and make some positive returns over the next year.”
Though it’s unclear when the economy will return to normal, Harreld said, the UI’s in a good position with this fund.
“You could argue that we’ve got a real opportunity here to even create more wealth for ourselves, but that’s all speculative at this stage,” he said.
One of the basic ruies of investing is that if your investment advisor encourages you to borrow $1.17B from a French energy consortium during an unfolding global pandemic, then you don’t go back to that investment advisor and ask him what to do with all of that money. Which is to say it isn’t surprising that UI’s deranged president would try to put a gloss on the situation the university now finds itself in, which is precarious to say the least. Not only does UI have to make $2.3B in loan payments over the next fifty years, but it has to generate that money by putting the $1.17B at risk in the marketplace. Only now UI can’t do that because not only is the market itself at severe risk, but in general the losses initially sustained when the pandemic took hold have been temporarily erased, meaning UI would be buying in at a high before the coming expected collapse.
Hence the need for Harreld to park $1B in short-term instruments — but when do you dive in? Even if you plan to ladder your investments — committing a set amount at set intervals, to reduce risk — what will the markets and global economy look like in a year, or two years? If we don’t have a vaccine, and we have a pronounced second wave from the coronavirus, where will demand come from? How many tens of millions of people will be out of work in the United States alone?
As it stands right now, the clock is ticking and UI’s plan to generate cash from a massive endowment is dead in the water. At best — at the absolute best — Harreld and UI can try to time the market, but that isn’t a strategy, it’s gambling. All of which is why I wrote this on 12/06/19:
So much information about the UI P3 was disclosed over the past two weeks, including the 1,800 page contract, that it is going to take a while to log everything, let alone understand it in context. The good news is that we now have a better understanding of the lies that were told during the development process, including Harreld’s consistent and utterly inexplicable lie that the P3 would not involving leasing any state assets. The bad news is that the Iowa Board of Regent is effectively its own governmental oasis, and if it wants to abet the deception of the public by its own employees there is no other agency which can curb the board’s excesses and abuses. The upshot is that we now simply have to wait to see if Harreld’s gamble pays off or cripples the university, but that in itself goes to the heart of the problem. No concerned steward of state resources would have suggested or approved that gamble in the first place.
The University of Iowa is sitting on a billion dollars in cash, which represents a loan against future earnings from the proceeds of an endowment that will be funded by that loan. The university quite literally borrowed money to gamble with that money in a marketplace that is now teetering on the brink of global depression unlike anything we have seen in the U.S. since 1929. And yet, because the university has never acknowledged that it did in fact borrow those funds, one of UI’s spokespersons was reduced to this — as quoted in Payne’s article:
The UI faces $76 million in expenses and lost revenue through August from responding to the coronavirus, Harreld has told the sate Board of Regents, but [UI media-relations Director Annes] Bassett said funds from the public/private partnership will not be used to supplement any lost funding.
“The university has been clear that these resources are to be used to invest in the future success of the university,” she said. “Utilizing these funds to backfill a budget hole would rob future generations of the benefit of these resources, so the UI must and will practice discipline in allocating these resources.”
So let’s be clear. The University of Iowa is already bleeding out financially and the situation will get much worse. The reason UI cannot touch that $1B in cash, however, is not because it “would rob future generations”, but because that money was borrowed against future returns which must be leveraged in the markets. That $1B is not ready cash, but a massive crater on the UI books, and will remain so until Iowa invests those funds and generates a positive return — even as the school is hemorrhaging hundreds of millions of dollars due to the coronavirus pandemic. And that is yet another reason why you don’t hire a private-sector shyster to run a public-sector research university.
05/17/20 – A lot of well-educated people in academia seem to believe that college campuses can, on a modified basis, be safely opened for the coming fall term, despite the coronavirus pandemic. Assuming for the sake of argument that they are not simply saying what they are being paid to say, but genuinely believe effective social distancing and mitigation can take place in an inherently transient community, how do we evaluate these claims? No one currently in any decision making role has had to deal with a domestic pandemic before, so what faith should we have that these well-educated academics can keep campuses safe?
One way we can assess the likelihood of success is to look at prior efforts to rid college campuses of a scourge, and here I think attempts to eradicate sexual assault in higher education prove instructive. Where the COVID-19 virus is quite literally mindless and only 120 nanometers in size, the people who commit sexual assault are thinking organisms and considerably easier to detect. And yet, as history clearly shows, preventing those very large organisms – who can usually be identified on an individual basis, arrested and even imprisoned – from injuring others remains a persistent problem.
In that context, and given that the COVID-19 virus moves sight unseen, what are the odds that social distancing or other measures will prevent infection on a given campus, or even a sizable outbreak? And of course the question answers itself. If we can’t keep people safe from other human beings on a college campus, then we won’t be able to keep them safe from a virus – and particularly not when that virus is as easily transmissible as COVID-19. (And all the mascot masks in the world won’t change that.)
* And speaking of higher-ed and sexual assault, arch-fundamentalist Bossy DeVos finally rolled out her precious new federal regulations, which increase protections for abusers.
* After the University of Iowa College of Public Health (COPH) began assessing the coronavirus pandemic, the governor’s office and the university reached a rather unique legal agreement. in exchange for granting the governor the right to keep COPH research secret for up to a year, the university was not only given nothing in return, but agreed to the censorship of life-critical knowledge for the political benefit of an elected official.
On this past Friday we learned that two unknown COPH whitepapers were turned over to the governor several weeks ago, but were kept secret until someone leaked knowledge of their existence:
05/04/20 — COVID-19 Iowa Situation Update.
As far as I can tell, even now there has been no posting of those documents anywhere on the UI website, including the COPH site, and that speaks volumes about the degree to which the University of Iowa has collapsed as an academic institution under the crony leadership of illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld, and is now little more than a political appendage.
From the Gazette’s Erin Murphy and the AP’s Ryan Foley: University of Iowa researchers project hundreds more coronavirus deaths.
“Evidence shows that COVID-19 will continue to spread in Iowa, likely at an increasing rate,” the team led by Dr. Joseph Cavanaugh, head of the university’s biostatistics department, concluded in a May 4 paper.
In April, the same group warned of a “second wave” of the disease and recommended that preventive measures stay in place.
Days after receiving the report, however, Reynold allowed malls, restaurants, gyms and other business to partially reopen in 77 Iowa counties. This last week, she extended that to include the other 22 counties, which contain Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.
Governor Reynolds’ leadership has been a malevolent obscenity, but not a surprise. What is a surprise is that someone at the University of Iowa agreed to give the governor veto power over the publication of publicly funded research. That deal now allows the governor to keep reports secret for weeks or even months, at which point she can then discount those reports as being out of date. Beyond subordinating the university to the governor’s political interests, this academic submission undercuts the very premise of higher education, and is a yellow stain on the university’s reputation.
* Despite Harreld’s endless talk about turning UI into a “world-class” university, the search committee for a new dean at the UI Tippie College of Business announced last week that they are not simply extending the timeline because of the pandemic, but opening the search up to new applicants. Make of that what you will, but it is axiomatic that the initial search did not attract a candidate who was commensurate with the position. (Given that Bro Bruce is an MBA baby, and hailed from the private-sector when one of his old business cronies lined up the UI job for him, that can only be seen as a shiny black eye for the school, and for Harreld personally.)
* It would not be hyperbole to say that the entire sporting universe is watching Germany right now to see if the Bundesliga can prevent outbreaks among its soccer teams:
After a two-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Bundesliga will become the first major European soccer league to return to action, resuming the 2019-20 season this Saturday. There’s still a lot of anxiety and uncertainty with the proceedings — not every player loves the idea, and second-division team Dynamo Dresden had to enter a two-week quarantine last weekend following a couple of positive tests — but thus far, the first division’s tentative schedule for completing its final nine matchdays remains a go for launch.
Note also that the Bundesliga is playing to empty stadiums while maintaining strict mitigation and social distancing off the field of play. Given Germany’s well-deserved reputation for rigor, if they can’t prevent outbreaks then there isn’t a chance in hell that America’s football, basketball and baseball teams can do so either – whether in the professional or collegiate ranks.
* As with the response to the pandemic itself, it is clear that there is no national higher-ed plan, or even consensus, for the coming academic year. From the NYT: Campus Life in the Fall? A Test With No Clear Answer.
* An op-ed from William G. Tierney at Inside Higher Ed: Preventing the Collapse of Higher Education.
* A primer from U.S. News on deferred college admission.
05/15/20 — In the previous entry I detailed illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld’s foray into storytelling, in which he painted his mid-March response to the coronavirus pandemic as something akin to Dwight D. Eisenhower rallying the beleaguered Allies in advance of D-Day. Today, I want to explain why that is not merely another example of Harreld’s emotional neediness, but how one particular assertion exposes Harreld as an exuberant fraud.
Here is Harreld’s characterization of himself and his thinking during that mid-March meeting, as reported yesterday by the Daily Iowan’s Marissa Payne:
“I kind of pounded on the table to make it very clear that we are going to do a lot of damage to a lot of things across the institution, but the one thing we’re not going to do damage to are the people.”
“We are going to make sure our students are safe, our faculty is safe, and our staff [is] safe.”
“Once I got fixed on the guiding principle in the middle of March, I will say things didn’t get easier but they got clearer. I don’t think people come here as students or join our institution as faculty or staff or anything else to put themselves in harm’s way.”
In Harreld’s telling, this focus on people and safety became his “guiding principle” in responding to the pandemic, and for the sake of argument we will take him at his word. As previously noted, prioritizing the health of human beings during a pandemic does not seem like a particularly difficult conclusion to reach, and it is a bit concerning that Harreld thinks this was a great realization — or perhaps grand concession — in his role as a leader, but okay. As of mid-March, J. Bruce Harreld was one-hundred-percent committed to keeping the UI community safe.
Given that steely resolve, then, how do we explain the following statement from J. Bruce Harreld a month and a half later, at the tail end of a regent meeting in late April, in response to a regent question about the upcoming football season? (You can hear the entire extended exchange here.)
Our plan of record in the Big Ten is we need about six to eight weeks of good practice to keep our players safe. Once again, I’m sure our coaches would love a lot more time so they can make them winners. But the key issue here is safety. We need six to eight weeks. We have a moratorium on all team related activities until June 1. So we are ever so hopeful this virus will be behind us at that point, and we’ll be able to get back into what we normally do.
We missed spring practice. And I guess to answer your question, if we got to the worst of the worst, would we let the players play with no fans? I don’t know. Because if we’re at that stage with this virus, we’d have to do a lot of testing of the individual players. And I’m not going to go yes or no on that. I’m going to refer to the experts. But right now, June 1 is the date, we’re going to get back to practice, and here we go.
Three things to note here. First, when Harreld says, “we need about six to eight weeks of good practice to keep our players safe”, he does not mean safe from the pandemic, but safe from the rigors of football itself. And we know that definitively because a month earlier Head Coach Kirk Feretnz said the UI team would need four weeks of training, minimum, before returning to “full-scale, on-field practicing“. So Harreld’s concerns about safety in the passage above have nothing to do with COVID-19, and everything to do with blown-out knees.
Second, in the six weeks between Harreld’s triumphant administrative meeting in mid-March — during which he committed to the safety of the UI community above all — and the regent meeting at the end of April, the coronavirus pandemic exploded across the country. What was only feared in mid-March became a lethal reality across the United States, and on April 30th the U.S. death total reached a staggering 63,856. Even in Iowa, where COVID-19 took hold more slowly, all of the metrics at that point were bad and growing worse, yet Harreld was hoping the virus would “be behind us” by June 1st.
Third, as the final sentence in the above quote makes clear, Harreld did not hedge about the start date for football practice at UI. He did not offer qualifiers, he did not talk about the protocols by which the university would keep players, coaches and support personnel safe from the coronavirus, and he did not explain how the university would “do a lot of testing of the individual players” if the pandemic persisted. Despite having the same information on April 30th that everyone was digesting about the deteriorating situation in Iowa, J. Bruce Harreld committed the university to football practice on June 1st.
With all that in mind, here is the obvious question. If, back in mid-March, as Harreld now tells it, he committed to protecting the UI community from COVID-19, how is it possible that he also committed the UI football team to practice on June 1st? Because there is no conceivable narrative universe in which someone would do both the former and the latter, unless they were mentally unstable or lying.
Yet even that assessment radically understates the magnitude of dissonance between Harreld’s professed statement in mid-March, and his on-the-record statement at the late-April regent meeting. If we compare Harreld’s timeline for UI football practice to other schools around the country, we not only find that Harreld was an eager beaver among the regent universities in Iowa, but he was the first higher-ed president in the entire country to commit to a start date, let alone one that was only a month away.
Indeed, on the same day that J. Bruce Harreld shot his mouth off to the Iowa Board of Regents, it was noted in a press write-up that Indiana University President Michael McRobbie — who also leads a Big Ten school – felt that even allowing students to “return to campus for in-person learning…is ‘highly unlikely’.” Across the entire United States, in the professional ranks and at colleges large and small, even the most ruthless proponents of athletics were hesitant to commit to a start-date for football, while the guy who just claimed that his “guiding principle” from mid-March on was the safety of the UI campus was ready to shove players, coaches and staff out the door.
Again, to restate the question — if you are a university president, and you are genuinely committed to the health and safety of the people on your campus, how does this ever come out of your face in the middle of a global pandemic?
But right now, June 1 is the date, we’re going to get back to practice, and here we go.
And the answer is that it doesn’t.
05/13/20 — We still don’t have the full text of the most-recent Daily Iowan interview with illegitimate University of Iowa president J. Bruce Harreld, but today we get yet another glimpse of Bro Bruce in a feature story from Marissa Payne: ‘We have to keep people safe’: Hawkeyes at the heart of University of Iowa’s COVID-19 response. As you’re reading the piece, note how Harreld stands out for his ceaseless theatrics, and particularly the degree to which he casts himself as the hero of the story. That won’t come as a surprise to long-time readers of this blog, because Harreld’s emotional neediness is legendary in these parts, but it is particularly revealing given that only weeks later he promised that the UI football program would return to practice on June 1st, without explaining the protocols that would allow the team to remain safe when no other college or professional team had solved that problem. And as of today we still don’t have that explanation, and we’re not going to get it because Harreld doesn’t have it. Yet neither that nor the self-evident risk to players and personnel prevented him from shooting his mouth off when he sensed glory.
Update 05/13/20: On more occasions than I can count I have found myself stupefied that anyone with J. Bruce Harreld’s cognitive deficits could possibly be the president of an R1/AAU public research university — at which point I remember that he was appointed not on the merits of his candidacy, but because he was Jerre Stead’s little buddy. Re-reading Harreld’s theatrics in today’s Daily Iowan, I am not only aghast all over again, but also grievously wounded that the president of the America’s writing university is a pathetic storyteller. And yet, that incapacity is also revealing.
One of the reflexes you develop when you learn the craft of storytelling is a sixth sense about preparation and context. Whatever a character does at a given moment should be grounded in the reality of their existence, because that’s where meaning comes from. Action without context is meaningless, and inherently produces little or no dramatic effect.
I found myself thinking about all of that this afternoon, after posting my initial response to Payne’s piece this morning. What was it, exactly, that prompted Harreld to start chewing the scenery in his comments to the DI? In order to answer that question, I put together the following timeline.
04/30/20 — Harreld not only goes mad in an Iowa Board of Regents meeting, blurting out that the UI football team will begin practice on June 1st, but he expresses the belief that the pandemic will largely be an afterthought by then:
University of Iowa pres said athletes planning to resume practice, including footballers, June 1. ‘We’re hopeful that this will be behind us at this point.’
04/30/20 — Mere hours later, Harreld issues a clarification which clarifies nothing:
On Thursday evening, Harreld issued a statement to clarify his comments to the board
“As I said, in conjunction with our fellow members of the Big Ten, we are exploring all options,” Harreld;s statement said. “But our first priority is the health and safety of our student athletes and fans.”
05/06/20 — The Daily Iowan publishes a story by Eleanor Hildebrandt, which begins as follows:
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld said in an interview with The Daily Iowan Wednesday that the university is considering several potential solutions to address how to safely resume campus operations, especially for the upcoming fall semester, amid COVID-19.
May 6th was in fact the Wednesday in question, meaning the interview in question took place a week after Harreld stubbed his face on the twin issues of football practice and the end of the pandemic. Perhaps not surprisingly, in Hildebrandt’s report Harreld was quoted numerous times emphasizing the university’s concern for student safety, which was also the theme of the non-clarification that Harreld was compelled to issue a week earlier.
05/13/20 — Payne’s feature is published in the DI, and includes this note:
“What we’re doing is trying to trade off things,” [Harreld] told The Daily Iowan, recalling his struggle to come to terms with the tough decisions that lay ahead of him and his team. “I kind of pounded on the table to make it very clear that we are going to do a lot of damage to a lot of things across the institution, but the one thing we’re not going to do damage to are the people.”
Again, setting aside the action-movie theatrics — including the great man galvanizing his bewildered, over-matched administrative team with the radical epiphany that they should prioritize human life over other considerations — what we are interested in here is the part where Payne says that Harreld told these things to the DI as a matter of recall, meaning his comments post-date the mid-March meeting he’s describing. It isn’t clear whether Payne’s quotes from the same March 6th interview Hildebrandt referenced, but that would be in keeping with Harreld’s past practice of giving a number of extensive sit-down interviews to the DI over the course of the academic year.
In any event, we should have the answer to that question soon enough, but assuming that Payne’s quotes did come from the same May 6th interview, we can see the arc of Harreld’s response over the past two weeks. After his face-plant on April 30th, he quickly began spinning the narrative of a sensitive man who cares only about the health and safety of University of Iowa students. There are problems with that narrative, of course — including his jaw-dropping belief that the pandemic will “be behind us” in two and a half weeks — but for now the idea that someone with such a demonstrable incapacity to lead has not only recast himself in the press as a hero, but has the lives of tens of thousands of people in his blithering hands, is wearing on me. (The same man who purportedly pledged back in March that he is “not going to do damage…to the people” at the University of Iowa, has already committed to opening the campus up in August, and is still poised to start football practice on June 1st.)
05/12/20 — In a recent entry (see 04/29/20 below), it was noted that college and university administrators are still in the ‘denial phase’ of the coronavirus pandemic. The risks are clear, the minimal methods by which those risks can be mitigated are also clear, yet all of these otherwise very smart people continue to live in a fantasy world in which campuses can be opened in the fall and everything will magically work out fine. And of course that includes collegiate athletics, and particularly football, which the University of Iowa’s scandalously illegitimate president, J. Bruce Harreld, said would be back on the practice field on June 1st — a mere twenty days away. (Harreld later gave himself a mealy-mouthed out in anticipation of changing that delusional timeline.)
Fortunately, because a few people are still tethered to reality, and time itself often has a clarifying effect on our collective consciousness, we are already starting to see the facts of the coronavirus pandemic forcefully intrude on the fantasies of those who generate revenue from corporate athletics — whether at the amateur or professional level. From a 05/11/20 column (yesterday) by Peter King, who has been reporting on and shilling for college and professional football for decades:
Toward the end of a 20-minute telephone interview Saturday evening with America’s COVID-19 expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, I asked a question about testing, and about NFL teams playing football this fall.
“Suppose,” I asked, “you test a team of 53 players on a Saturday night and four are positive. Is there a level at which—”
Fauci, the director of the National Institutes for Health since 1984, interrupted. “You got a problem there,” he said. “You know why? Because it is likely that if four of them are positive and they’ve been hanging around together, that the other ones that are negative are really positive. So I mean, if you have one outlier [only one player testing positive], I think you might get away. But once you wind up having a situation where it looks like it’s spread within a team, you got a real problem. You gotta shut it down.”
Shut it down. Quarantine the team, he means. For 14 days. The next two games for that team? Cancelled or postponed. That could be life in the NFL in 2020.
As King subsequently noted, there is nothing particularly surprising about this if you’ve been paying attention, but college and university presidents across the country are currently doing everything possible to ignore the obviousness of their fate. Instead of acknowledging that this is the new reality for the foreseeable future, they argue — as King subsequently does — that we can’t predict what the future might hold, even if the future is only three months away. Well, I’m here to tell you that even if the NFL figures out how to cobble something approaching a full season together, that’s never going to happen at the collegiate level.
To understand why, pay particular attention to this passage:
“But once you wind up having a situation where it looks like it’s spread within a team, you got a real problem. You gotta shut it down.”
Shut it down. Quarantine the team, he means. For 14 days.
As disruptive as it might be to pull an entire NFL team out of the league for two weeks, you can at least imagine that it could be done because the players are all professionals and employees. In the college game, however, what are you going to do with your entire team when you have to go into quarantine for two weeks? Where are those players going to go, and how are they going to continue taking classes while they’re precluded from putting on pads and sending each other to the hospital by normal, non-pandemic means? (Like their academic-only peers, many college football players live off-campus, so you would either have to commandeer a single facility to house them all, or trust that a bunch of bored, high-energy individuals would be scrupulously compliant.)
From the point of view of the coaching staff and money-grubbing administrators, the obvious fix on the academic side would be to allow those student athletes to continue their education via online coursework, perhaps abetted by tutors or faculty who have already tested positive for COVID-19. But of course that would recreate the very scenario you rejected — virtual classes — in order to open the campus as a whole. And you did that because you needed all of the students on campus to legitimize the football season, which you would now be protecting by offering only the athletes on the football team the option of sterile coursework, while the rest of the campus was stil exposed to COVID-19.
Whatever the likelihood is that a given college team would suffer an outbreak during the upcoming season, the chances are through the roof compared to a professional team precisely because college athletes regularly interact with the greater student body. Meaning, ironically, that the very act of opening the campus — which administrators feel compelled to do in order to legitimize the football season — inevitably puts the season at greatest risk. And yet in making that rather banal observation we find a solution to the greater problem.
Were college and university administrators honest with themselves about what they really care about — meaning football revenue, as against providing an education — and honest about the likelihood of an outbreak on their team during the upcoming football season, the solution would be self-evident. First, leave the campuses closed for the fall and commit to online-only instruction for all students. Second, for student athletes only, have them come to campus under strict quarantine for the entire semester, thus guaranteeing disease-free games and millions in television revenue, even if the stands remain empty. Because the campus would be vacated there would also be plenty of places to house all of the athletes and staff under the watchful eye of the university, and because everyone would already be taking courses online there wouldn’t be a need for separate coursework for the athletes.
In fact, no matter how crazy you think that proposal is — and it would certainly encounter pushback on a number of fronts, including uncomfortable questions about the priorities of higher education in general — it is still more sensible than the current proposal at the University of Iowa, which involves opening campus in the fall to on-site instruction, while also magically preventing outbreaks on a team that includes well over 100 players and personnel. Which is to say, at best, that every other college football team taking the field this fall is simply waiting for an outbreak to occur, at which point they will then have to solve the quarantine problem outlined in King’s column, which they won’t be able to do because there won’t be any viable means of sequestering the players.
Finally, note that the solution colleges and universities are pushing right now — meaning aggressive and perfect testing, which, as of this date, does not exist even at the White House — will do little or nothing to prevent an outbreak on a football team. By the time testing can detect an infected individual, even if administered daily, that individual will have come in contact with dozens of other members of the team, thus knocking that team out of the schedule for a minimum of two weeks. And that’s only if a full quarantine takes place immediately, for everyone associated with the team, which will be impossible to implement without also transitioning the team to virtual instruction. (And that will lead to lying about test results, which teams will also do because there’s just so damn much money involved, and without that money they can’t afford to fund football or any other collegiate sport.)
* Speaking of reality, we got an unexpected and monumental dose this afternoon from the Cal State system: California State University campuses to remain closed through fall semester.
CSU Chancellor Timothy White made the announcement Tuesday, which will affect all 23 of its universities.
“This virtual planning approach for the next academic year is necessary because of the evolving data surrounding the progression of COVID 19,” White explained to CSU trustees.
White said non-partisan researchers and health experts forecast additional waves of infection coupled with the flu season in the fall. He added the public immunity rate is very low, and it is not likely a vaccine will be developed during the academic year.
Needless to say there are plenty of smart people involved in higher education in California, at both the CSU system and the multi-campus University of California. If CSU can’t solve the coronavirus problem for the coming academic term then it can’t be solved, and that means anyone who does try to open their campus in the fall will be faking it. The virus isn’t going anywhere between now and then, and opening campuses means putting people at lethal risk — yet as of today the Iowa Board of Regents is already on the record saying the three state university campuses will be open in the fall. (Natch.)
After today, however, it will be damn hard for the Iowa regents to blithely assert that they can push ahead without detailing a plan — but of course there is no plan. So that should be fun to watch. (If they were honest they would just say they were doing it for the money and don’t care who dies, but they’re not so we’ll have to listen to a lot of lies. Having said that, before we get to any nitty-gritty details the regents also have to resolve the question of legal liability, perhaps with an able assist from the Iowa legislature, which is supposed to reconvene this Friday, but may extend the suspended session for a fourth time.
* Speaking of the University of Iowa, we have an interesting development this evening, as reported by the Daily Iowan’s Josie Fishcels: UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences planning for large classes to be at least partially virtual.
The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is planning to conduct fall classes with 50 or more expected enrollees in a semi- or full-online format to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) is the largest college by far at UI, and handles the great majority of core courses for undergraduates on campus. Given the numbers involved it isn’t surprising that UI would attempt to diminish in-person exposure for all concerned, but this is the first official admission we have had that the school can’t simply go back to the way things were before. And that has implications not only for every decision yet to be made (or at least revealed), but for factors such as cost to the students. If UI is charging full freight, but half of the classes that a typical undergrad might take end up being partially or primarily online, then UI is pretty much screwing those students simply because it can.
It’s also interesting that this is being announced now, far in advance of the fall term, and specifically in an email to faculty. Because there is increased risk with increased age, it is perhaps understandable that the university would want to indicate that it won’t require professors to confront hordes of students when doing so could prove lethal. Whether this announcement will pacify faculty (and staff), however, is another question, and one I don’t think we can answer right now. A lot can change in the coming months, and as the reality of even small in-person courses comes into focus, there may be more people at UI — and at campuses across the country — who have second thoughts about their exposure.
As to the merits of the plan itself, there are few. Again, however, we are getting our first look at the methodology Harreld and his minders at the board intend to employ in order to force the campus open in the fall. At every juncture, marginal accommodations will be made to drive down what we will call ‘exposure hours’, to whatever amount the regents believe gives them the greatest amount of tuition revenue coupled with the fewest expected fatalities. At that point they will throw money at the relatives of anyone who dies, after first dragging out the legal fight as long as possible, in order to drive the price down as much as possible.
* From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: University of Iowa warns of potential reassignments, staffing changes.
Setting aside the crony corruption at the Board of Regents and in central administration at UI, the coronavirus pandemic is going to blow through every facet of the economy, probably for years. Here, I think, there are real opportunities to manage the crisis in ways that protect employees and the institution, and on some level everyone is going to feel pain.
* From the Daily Iowan’s Will Fineman, a closer look at a subject we previously discussed on 04/21/20: Big Ten universities form infectious-disease task force.
05/11/20 — In keeping with rhetorical tradition, a couple of weeks ago the Iowa Board of Regents couched its reckless determination to open the state campuses in the fall in terms of providing predictability. One of the problems with being clear about your intent to expose students (and faculty and staff) to the ravages of a pandemic, however, is that the students may decide that a predictable risk is still a risk they don’t want to take.
* From the Boston Harreld: Coronavirus expected to trigger plummeting Massachusetts college enrollment, revenue. At the national level, the numbers are getting worse:
Enrollment for the next academic year will drop by 15%, the American Council on Education predicts. The council estimates a decline of 25% for international students. The 15% enrollment drop would trigger a $23 billion revenue loss.
“Next year looks like it will be a rough year for colleges with many students taking gap years,” Reynolds said. “There will be extra pressure on universities to entice people in a variety of ways.”
So far the Iowa Board of Regents is leaning heavily on its monopolistic power and statutory authority, but at some point that has to give. Even if the regents are determined to offer on-campus instruction, they are going to take a tremendous beating, and could still be forced to close one or more campuses again.
* The Des Moines Register’s Ian Richardson posted an extensive analysis of Governor Reynolds’ claim that Iowa ‘flattened the curve’, which she is now using as justification for relaxing restrictions and ‘opening up’ the economy. Setting aside the conclusion that Richardson’s reached, which omits one critical piece of relevant information that was obscured in the change to the new state website for COVID-19 statistics, I did find the following quote interesting:
The Des Moines Register reached out to researchers at the University of Iowa for this article, but spokesman Dan McMillan said faculty would not have time to respond to the Register’s request.
We are still waiting on Joe Cavanaugh and his team at the UI College of Public Health to produce a slate of coronavirus models that the governor requested, and for the State Hygienics Lab at UI to validate the new testing machines that were purchased in the $26M Ashton-Kutcher-brokered deal with tech bros in Utah, and of course for UI football practice to kick off (ha) at the beginning of June, as promised by illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld. Which is to say that on one hand we are waiting for a lot of information from the state’s flagship public research university, and on the other hand that formidable institution seems to have fallen mute on multiple fronts. I wonder why that could be….
05/10/20 — While we wait for the most recent Daily Iowan interview with illegitimate University of Iowa president J. Bruce Harreld to drop, or for any other administrative lunacy to take place at UI or at the Iowa Board of Regents, it is worth remembering that the original sin of the 2015 presidential search that led to Harreld’s rigged appointment was not the claim that a private-sector executive* could do some things better than a seasoned higher-ed administrator, but the conceit that there was nothing important about higher-ed administration that such an exec would have to know in order to do the job — and, critically, to be able to respond to a crisis. Indeed, the premise of the entrepreneurial class is that the only thing that really mattes is money, and if you know how to push piles of money around you can run any business, even if you know absolutely nothing about that business. Because of that arrogance, and the sympathetic arrogance of the Board of Regents, the University of Iowa is now saddled with a man who has neither the temperament nor expertise to respond to the coronavirus pandemic with anything other than pompoms and a budgetary axe. (As noted in recent entries, it is quite likely that Harreld is now spending most of his time figuring out how to use the pandemic to obliterate the administrative structure at UI in ways that were previously thwarted.)
[*As we contemplate the toll that the coronavirus will take on the UI campus, partly as a direct result of the incompetence and malevolence that Harreld will demonstrate in his response, it is worth remembering that J. Bruce Harreld was never the CEO of anything before he was given the presidency at UI. Instead, he was a career senior executive who never had the guts to start or run a business on his own, and who always took orders from someone else. Which is to say that if you are expecting or hoping that Harreld will rise to the moment, you have the wrong guy. He does what he’s told, and often does it quite poorly.]
* With regard to opening the UI campus in the fall — along with the other two regent campuses in Iowa — there are two related factors keeping that hope alive, along with the stark economic imperatives previously discussed. First, all of the people trying to make that happen are relatively smart, and will thus assume they can solve any practical problems if they just concentrate hard enough. Second, three months seems like an eternity in the current context, and it is impossible to predict whether there might be some miraculous advance or change which really does put the virus on its heels. (That’s not likely, certainly, but whether we call it optimism or wishful thinking, there is no question that people are assuming a measure of good fortune will occur between now and then.)
And yet if we look around today for any indication that an organization or industry is making headway in re-establishing even minimal normalcy, we find no such evidence. Outside of groceries and other deliverables — meaning, broadly, logistics — we find nothing but impediments even as leaders at the federal and state level encourage people to go shopping, to dine out, to go to the movies, to go to the dentist, and on and on. Restrictions are being lifted, but even in the planning stages the obstacles to implementation are not simply daunting, they are self-evidently risky because the virus is as potent and prevalent as ever.
As to the difficulties awaiting education, this short Twitter thread on the issue of childcare is instructive, because the very premise of such an undertaking flies in the face of social distancing. To whatever extent toddlers are more difficult to control in a group setting, however, older students — and particularly college students — will inevitably be less compliant in the aggregate precisely because they will have more autonomy. And that’s before we talk about drunk students, high students, aroused students and students coping with myriad stresses.
05/07/20 — Apparently there is a new extended J. Bruce Harreld interview in-process at the Daily Iowan, so while we wait for Bro Bruce to drop a thousand words about how he wasn’t actually promising UI football practice on June 1st — after promising UI football practice on June 1st — I thought we would catch up on the world of hurt that lies ahead for those who are determined to trade human lives for television and gate revenue….
* In a CNBC Battleground poll this week, which overall showed a high degree of partisanship between Republicans who favor opening the economy and Democrats who favor continued virus-mitigation, the activity that all respondents were least-likely to engage in was: “Attend a large sporting event”. Only 20% said they thought doing so would be safe, versus 68% who said it would not be safe. (Again, you can tell people it’s okay to do something, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to ignore their own self-interest.)
* As to why people might be particularly concerned about large sporting events, a helpful “COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning tool” was also released this week, courtesy Georgia Tech. Choose your state, then plug in the audience size, and you can see the percent chance that someone at an event of that size will be positive for COVID-19.
* While glad-handing administrative baboons like Harreld are doing their best to make college football seem inevitable this fall, anyone with more than a baboon brain realizes there are considerable obstacles to putting players on the field, let alone putting fans in the stands. Amazingly, however, people who do not have a vain interest in submitting players, coaches, staff and fans to an increased risk of infection do not have any trouble identifying those problems.
From an article by Zachary Binney — an epidemiologist — on NFL Injury Analytics:
What about college vs. pro sports? Is one harder than another?
I would say bringing back college sports is probably harder because they take place in the context of a college that has to be operating. If students aren’t back on campus could you really still have a college football season? Theoretically, sure, but college sports leaders don’t seem to be planning on it.
There’s more, and as one might expect in a global pandemic it’s pretty much all bad. Only an insane person — or a glad-handing baboon — would try to stage a large sporting event in the current healthcare crisis, but unfortunately those are both desirable traits among the higher-ed brain trust in America….
* On the enrollment front the national numbers are starting to tail off, and particularly so with low-income students. From Forbes:
Completions of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) are down sharply this cycle, spelling potential trouble for college enrollments in the coming fall semester.
Almost 250,000 fewer returning college students from the lowest-income backgrounds have renewed their 2020-21 FAFSA application, and overall FAFSA renewals are off about 5%, which translates into more than 350,000 students who have not filled out the federal form.
I cannot imagine the economic wreckage we will be dealing with by the time August rolls around — and college and university campuses across the country are welcoming the coronavirus with open arms — but the toll is already being felt by those students and families with no little or no financial reserves. What I can say is that looking ahead to the 2020-2021 academic year there will be two connected crises in play. First, there will be the pandemic itself, which provides a whopping great disincentive for people to congregate in populations drawn from across the country. Second, there will be the economic fallout, which will accelerate and deepen until the U.S. is unlike anything any living American can recall. And then the calendar will flip to June and it will get worse.
* Speaking of pathetic low-ball offers that governing boards seem to think will help them survive this double-barrel carnage, we have this from CNBC: Colleges consider a tuition freeze amid pandemic. I don’t even know if it matters whether governing boards cut students a temporary break — as the Iowa Board of Regents intends to do in early June, for one entire guaranteed semester — because everyone knows they will go right back to strip-mining money from student bank accounts as soon as those boards feel they have suffered enough. Meaning they’re still going to get that money — they’re just letting students hold onto it for another six months or more.
What I think we can say is that unlike the Great Recession, students are not going to flock to school during this economic downturn, because flocking to any college or university campus presents a demonstrable healthcare risk — and no price cut is going to change that. If governing boards really want to protect enrollment and revenue, they’re going to have to aggressively address the healthcare component, and I haven’t seen a single school do that yet. I’ve seen plenty of them talk about it in aspirational terms, but nobody has the goods — and students know they don’t have the goods.
* This is what negotiating looks like, and it’s happening right across the Missouri River: University of Nebraska will freeze tuition for two years.
The Iowa Board of Regents operates with monopolistic impunity and myopia. While Iowa residents will not enroll at Nebraska because the out-of-state costs would be crushing, if you’re an out-of-state student considering Iowa’s state schools you may now give Nebraska a long look. What the Iowa board is offering is a joke on its face, yet perfectly encapsulates the miserly and domineering nature of that body — even in the middle of a protracted global healthcare crisis.
05/06/20 — We have talked a lot about how the lust for college football is playing a big part in the push to open campuses in the fall. While there is a lot more to get to on that front, here I want to point to another dynamic that suddenly became clear after reading this article by the Daily Iowan’s Mary Hartel: Nonresident University of Iowa students concerned about out-of-state tuition rates amid online instruction. As the article notes, and as has been discussed in these virtual pages on innumerable occasions, out-of-state students at UI pay three times as much as in-state students, and indeed ultimately subsidize the cost of in-state education at the university.
At least on a theoretical level you can kind’a see how higher rates might be justified because resident families pay taxes, and thus deserve a discount for helping to fund the school, or because doing so promotes a public good for in-state residents, who might be motivated to stick around and make the state a better place to live. And yet that differentiation only works if out-of-state (and at times international) students are getting in-class, on-site instruction on the UI campus. If out-of-state students suddenly find themselves paying three times as much simply to log in to virtual programs, then charging a higher price — let alone on the order of an additional $20K per year — suddenly has no validity because the product exists only in a virtual space.
In that context — which is the current context, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic — either the price of virtual learning needs to be flat for everyone, or out-of-state students will almost certainly turn to virtual offerings in their home state. In either of those scenarios, however, a school like the University of Iowa would inevitably lose out on a massive amount of tuition revenue that can be charged for in-class, on-campus instruction, and that alone may be the single biggest reason why a bunch of higher-ed administrators who should know better are lining up to open their college and university campuses in the fall.
From Hartel’s report:
According to spring 2020 enrollment numbers at the UI, nonresident students, both undergraduate and graduate, make up 39.8 percent of the total student body.
For the 2019-20 academic year, tuition and fees were $9,605 for Iowa residents and $31,568 for nonresidents, according to documents from the state Board of Regents.
To be clear, it is not just that colleges and universities do not want to give up charging outrageous out-of-state rates, they literally cannot afford to do so, and that’s particularly true for public schools, which have shifted the bulk of their revenue from state appropriations to tuition and fees. Without the massive windfall that such schools get from out-of-state tuition — which, at UI, is almost 40% of the student body — they can’t afford to educate in-state students.
To the university’s dubious credit, however, the school came right out and said as much in denying out-of-state students a partial tuition reimbursement for the portion of the current semester that is being conducted through virtual classes:
UI media-relations Director Anne Bassett said in an email to The Daily Iowan that students will not receive discounted tuition rates regardless of residential status for spring 2020 in order to cover university costs.
“Full tuition is necessary to cover the University of Iowa’s ongoing operations, including retaining the faculty and staff needed to provide virtual instruction and online student support services,” Bassett said. “The university’s faculty will continue to deliver excellent instruction virtually, which allows students to receive course credit and stay on their educational path toward degree completion and graduation.”
Given other student lawsuits popping up around the country, and the amount of money and number of students involved, my guess would be that at some point this question will be decided in the courts, but looking ahead to the fall term it’s pretty clear that the University of Iowa has no good option. If it does the right thing — the prudent, responsible, adult thing — and begins the fall semester with online classes, then no out-of-state student in their right mind will pay an extra $20K to take courses (likely from home) that provide no consequent benefit. And of course that would mean not only losing the residency surcharge, but the entire haul from that student.
As Hartel’s report makes clear, the university can squeeze out-of-state students who have already made a major commitment, but for new students — including those transferring in from a two-year college — what is the value proposition of paying out-of-state rates for virtual classes? Indeed, the question answers itself so readily that you can see why otherwise disparate schools are moving in unison to open their campuses in the fall, because none of them can afford to take that kind of it. (At the same time, most of them are painfully aware that they are not prepared to compete in a virtual higher-ed context with the best offerings in that space, either on price or content.)
I honestly don’t know what the solution is, but one thing is clear. The coronavirus pandemic has revealed higher education to be a dangerously leveraged industry, and the smart schools — the ones with genuine leadership — will do the opposite of what everyone has been doing for decades. Instead of trying to increase the number of cash-rich out-of-state students, the smart schools are going to try to decrease their reliance on out-of-state tuition precisely to avoid this kind of predicament in the future. And by ‘the future’ I mean starting this fall, because absent a miracle vaccine COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere, and students aren’t going to put up with being exploited or exposed to the virus when there are additional outbreaks. (It may very well be that college and university campuses will become the meatpacking plants and long-term care facilities of autumn.)
Having said all that, it seems to me self-evident that regardless of any compulsory need to open up the UI campus in the fall, the coronavirus pandemic is such a wild card that any senior administrator who is not working full-time or more on a plan to have robust virtual instruction in the fall — even if that plan proves unnecessary — is objectively derelict in their professional responsibilities. Even if it seems economically impossible to forgo out-of-state tuition and charge a flat or even reduced fee for online instruction, there is still a chance that a so-called ‘second wave’ or worse could compel that administrative response, at which point the school would be caught completely flat-footed if it does not take advantage of this summer to prepare.
* In a late report today from Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan, Harreld does seem to be sounding the right notes, yet after his football-practice flub last week I can only read his responsible rhetoric as defensive in nature. When he says all options are on the table, I hear, ‘I don’t want to say anything I could possibly be held accountable for’. Also, not a word — at least in this excerpt from what is a longer interview — about football.
* From the Daily Iowa Editorial Board: Editorial: One-semester tuition freeze isn’t enough for Iowa students.
* From Hillary Ojeda at the Iowa City Press Citizen: UI Public Safety Director to stay through calendar year due to coronavirus outbreak. This is a good move by all concerned. Trying to conduct a first-class search in the middle of a pandemic would be ridiculous, and Beckner provides important continuity. The fact that this decision was made, however, does make clear that central administration at UI does not expect the fall term to be business as usual.
05/05/20 — On an quiet day in which, thankfully, no one at the University of Iowa or the Iowa Board of Regents made news by saying something stupid, I thought I would re-up the following tweet-quote from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, in light of the fact that today the state crossed 10,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 400 hospitalizations and 200 deaths — while also setting a single-day high of 19 Iowans deceased:
University of Iowa pres said athletes planning to resume practice, including footballers, June 1. ‘We’re hopeful that this will be behind us at this point.’
That was six days ago, on April 30th, quoting the brain-dead UI cheerleader also known as illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld. Then again, what do I know? Maybe the coronavirus pandemic really will clear up in the next twenty-seven days, and I’ll have an apology to make for saying that this man’s mind exists at the Venn-diagram intersection of vanity and idiocy. Which would be fine if he wasn’t also making life-or-death decisions for 35K to 40K innocents.
05/04/20 — At 10 a.m. this morning the Iowa Board of Regents had the first and final reading of its tuition policy for the upcoming fall term, as required by statute. The virtual meeting lasted 2 minutes 30 seconds, and you can hear the gripping audio here.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is in early June, and as of today that meeting is now being described thusly:
June 4, 2020
Virtual Meeting originated from the University of Iowa
I don’t have any idea what it means to have a virtual meeting “originated from the University of Iowa”, because if it’s virtual I would assume everyone just calls in or is beamed in as a hologram or something. In any event, I remain completely flummoxed (not really) as to why the largely-aged Board of Regents is still insisting on holding a virtual meeting when the aged illegitimate president of the University of Iowa already announced that the football team will begin practice on June 1st. If the pandemic is over and the campus is safe for student-athletes, staff and coaches, one would think it would be safe for the regents.
05/03/20 — The Iowa Board of Regents will hold a virtual meeting tomorrow, May 4th, to give a first reading of proposed tuition and fees for the fall 2020 term, which constitute an across-the-board freeze at all three state universities. There is nothing else on the agenda, and the meeting itself is compelled by statute to take place one month before the final vote, so it may simply be procedural, but it will stil be interesting to see if there is any comment/update on J. Bruce Harreld’s claim that UI Football will begin practice on June 1st. By making that impromptu commitment, not only did Harreld move the fall pandemic-remediation timetable up two months, but he obligated the university and board to answer a bunch of questions that Harreld himself acknowledged he did not have answers to in last week’s meeting.
* From Forbes: Big Ten Universities Estimate $1.7 Billion In Losses From The Coronavirus. It’s a big number, but that’s only to-date. Looking ahead to the fall 2020 semester, and depending on enrollment and whether courses are in-class or online, the potential aggregate Big Ten losses through the end of the year could easily run to $10B or more. (General education fund revenues at the University of Iowa — which is not a particularly large school by Big Ten standards — run about $750M, roughly 30% of which comes from state appropriations, and $65% from tuition and fees.) As the world is finding out, the last business you want to be in during a pandemic is the hospitality business, and brick-and-mortar universities — like those in the Big Ten — are essentially higher-ed resorts. Their goal now is to convince students and families to pay full freight while increasing student exposure to COVID-19, which will not only be a heavy lift but is unethical in every way.
* From CNBC: As traditional college campuses shut down, online schools get their chance to shine. On the enrollment front, this is particularly interesting:
One in 6 students who have already made deposits no longer plan to attend a four-year college full-time, according to new data by the consulting firm Art & Science Group, which polled more than 1,000 high school seniors from April 21 to 24.
We have talked about this on multiple occasions, and the problem for online learning during a pandemic is that A) just about everyone agrees that online learning sucks compared to in-class instruction and B) as soon as the pandemic is over online instruction will inevitably go back to being a niche product. Having said that, someone will also inevitably take market share in the next year or two, and it may well be an established higher-ed brand with a brick-and-mortar presence somewhere in the country. Whether they can hold that advantage over the next decade is a separate question, and may have as much to do with how long COVID-19 hangs around as anything else. (I have taken two online classes in my life, both of which had considerable resources behind them, and they were not good.)
05/02/20 — Coming up on forty-eight hours since illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld shocked the world by announcing that Ui would commence football practice on June 1st, there has not been a single peep from UI AD Gary Barta, UI Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz, or even an unsigned press release from the Athletic Department. No one — not one single person in the entire regents enterprise — has confirmed what Harreld said, which tends to support the hypothesis that ol’ Brucey got a little over-excited and forgot his place in polite athletic society.
This is not a particularly difficult problem for Harreld and his minders to solve, but it is another glimpse into just how completely ill-suited the man is to preside over an institution based on reason. The Big Ten Conference is itself in a bit of disarray about the coming academic year — with Indiana President Michael McRobbie taking a much more cautious and responsible position than either Harreld or in-state rival Purdue — so some point they will all adopt the same self-serving and liability-limiting schedule, which will in turn allow Harreld to save face by lying about having a wild hare up his ass.
Then again, the day after Harreld shot his mouth off — meaning yesterday — the NCAA released a statement listing nine “Core principles of resocialization of collegiate sport“:
2. State and local authorities must have in place a plan for resocialization.
a. In accordance with the federal guidelines, such a plan assumes the following state/local GATING CRITERIA have been satisfied:
i. A downward trajectory of influenza-like illnesses reported within a 14-day period and a downward trajectory of COVID-like syndromic cases reported within a 14-day period.
ii. A downward trajectory of documented cases of COVID-19 within a 14-day period or a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percentage of total tests within a 14-day period.
iii. Hospitals can treat all patients without crisis care and there is a robust testing program in place for at-risk health care workers, including emerging antibody testing.
Currently none of these requirements have been met in Iowa, and they are unlikely to be met in thirty days. So they will simply be ignored.
And speaking of recklessness in pursuit of revenue…if you haven’t heard the audio from the Board of Regents meeting this past Thursday, take a moment and listen to this cued link. During that segment of the meeting all three of Iowa’s university presidents were super-determined to express how eager their students are to get back to campus, even in the middle of a global pandemic. (If it helps, think of all three as CEO’s of brick-and-mortar resorts and their ‘advocacy’ for their ‘customers’ will make a lot more sense.)
* From Robbie Sequeira at the Ames Tribune: How the absence of an active university and its students looms large over Ames economy during COVID-19. Interesting (and rare) insight into the business dynamics in Ames/Story County, and particularly the influence that Iowa State has on those communities. To the extent that the area is suffering because students are gone, bringing more than 36K students back to campus means drastically increasing the risk of a serious outbreak, both at the school and in surrounding businesses that are hurting. (Currently Story County has 32 confirmed cases, while Polk — the state’s largest, which sits just to the south — has 1,350. One month after the Ames campus is opened, a serious outbreak should be expected in Story County.)
* From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Report: Higher education enrollment was falling even before coronavirus. A lot of interesting info here, yet I think we’re not going to know how this all turns out well until after the fact. Normally a drop in employment would drive enrollment up, but if colleges insist on charging full price for on-campus classes, how many people are going to consider that option? Even in states that are starting to lift restrictions, not only are consumers reluctant to accept more healthcare risk by dining out, but some restaurant owners are not opening up when they could. Meaning you can tell people the government won’t stand in their way, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to ignore their own self-interest and engage in risky behavior — like going to college. (The economic toll from the coronavirus pandemic is going to be absolutely staggering, meaning even enrollment could eventually become a marginal concern.)
05/01/20 — Continuing our analysis of yesterday’s showstopping production of Iowa Board of Regents Theater….
Act IV: Had illegitimate University of Iowa president J. Bruce Harreld not unleashed his inner diva toward the end of the third act of yesterday’s confab with the Board of Regents (see 04/30/20 entry immediately below), and suddenly announced that UI football would commence practice on June 1st — thus setting the sports world on fire, before belatedly ‘clarifying’ his comments with a murky revision — the big story coming out of that meeting would have been the announcement by regent president Mike Richards, in scripted remarks delivered at the end of the proceedings, that the regents will not raise tuition or fees for the fall 2020 term. To be specific, the board left open the possibility of increasing tuition and fees for spring 2021, but in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic the regents are willing to concede that now might not be the best time to stick it to the students as usual. (Several years ago the board granted itself the right to raise tuition a minimum of 3% per year for five years, plus inflation protection which would further increase tuition if state appropriations did not compensate. So while the regents are temporarily taking some money off the table here, in that larger context it should be clear that they will be coming after the students with a vengeance, as soon as they think they can do so without cratering enrollment numbers.)
Having already announced that the state campuses will be open for in-class instruction in the fall — and having done so at least in part to shore up enrollment at each school — the regents are now making what, to them, must seem like a tremendous pricing concession, particularly given the losses the universities have logged in the span of only a few months. (Toward the end of the meeting Richards gave those totals as: UNI -$28M, ISU -$89M, UI -$76M, UIHC -$70M, total -$263M.) And yet holding tuition and fees flat for a single term, while at the same time requiring students to mingle on a plague-ridden campus — let alone in a state that seems to be doing everything possible to perpetuate and exacerbate the initial tide of infection — is hardly an enticement. At best it may stanch the bleeding in terms of overall enrollment losses, but performance also matters here over the long haul, and the board is making a colossal gamble that there won’t be a significant second wave that compels the state schools to close again. (I understand why the board might be overwhelmed, but as we will see in a moment the regents are not that overwhelmed, and should be factoring in the future risk of additional or worse outbreaks from COVID-19.)
Prior to yesterday I didn’t really understand the point of this particular meeting, which was abruptly announced only a few days before it took place. Between the agenda items having to do with bond offerings, and the largely scripted reports from the ‘institutional heads’ of the state schools, there was nothing that seemed imperative. The state legislature had just kicked the budgetary can down the road another two weeks, extending suspension of the current session until May 15th, but that convinced me all the more that the board wouldn’t make any sudden movements until the appropriations picture was clarified — and that still hasn’t taken place. (At least not publicly or officially, but of course all of these people are constantly talking behind the scenes.)
My confusion lifted when Mike Richards began reading his own prepared remarks at the end of the meeting, which is when it became obvious — as ever — that the bulk of yesterday’s meeting was simply a theatrical pretext for those concluding remarks. With regard to the one-off, single-semester tuition freeze, the board will meet again in four days to give that plan a first-reading, and the freeze will be passed at the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting in June. (More here from the Daily Iowan’s Kelsey Harrell, and here from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller.)
With all that said, at the tail end of Richards’ closing remarks there was another announcement which will prove to be of considerably greater consequence in the coming years, and I don’t think it bodes for the state schools, either individually or collectively. As I have remarked on more than one occasion since the pandemic began (most recently in the 04/21/20 entry here), an emergency also opens the door for considerable abuse by bureaucratic thugs:
First, whatever transpires, there is going to be a lot of administrative mischief over the next six months or so, as bloodthirsty college and university presidents use COVID-19 to plausibly destroy people and programs that they always wanted to get rid of.
Despite my well-earned cynicism, as ever it turns out I was woefully modest in assessing the opportunities afforded by the pandemic. Because along with announcing a trivial short-term tuition freeze for the coming fall term, Regent President Richards also announced that he was forming a four-regent “advisory group” which will:
“…be charged with looking at administrative and academic collaborations and efficiencies, and providing recommendations to the full board to consider at the November meeting.”
So yeah — pretty much six months on the nose, but at a vastly greater level of administrative aggression than anticipated.
There is more to the advisory group, of course, but you get the idea — and were these people known for their integrity there wouldn’t be anything wrong with making such an assessment, or forming such a group. Unfortunately, the track record of the Iowa Board of Regents over the past five years, regardless of individual make-up, is one of duplicity, corruption and fraud. And the very fact that this advisory group is being empaneled and empowered during a global pandemic makes clear that opportunism is at least part of the motivation.
As noted only a few days ago (see 04/27/20 below), in the summer of 2017 the board launched a four-person Tuition Task Force ostensibly for the purpose of gathering feedback about tuition rates at the state schools. After the task force reported to the full board, however, the board simply used that grand theatrical production as justification for implementing the abusive tuition policies it wanted to implement anyway. I don’t expect this advisory group to be any different, and indeed it is stocked with newer heavyweight members, suggesting they will be the ones who ultimately implement whatever demolition the board has already decided to perpetrate under cover of the pandemic. (The executive director/CEO of the regents is Mark Braun — a Putin-like puppet master who pulls strings throughout the regent enterprise, but is almost never heard from directly — and this advisory group reeks of his stealthy administrative malice.)
As to the board’s long-term objective — and I would encourage you to listen to the cued link above for more — there is some merit in the idea of reducing overlap among the state universities, but that will involve a lot of heavy cutting along the way. For example, given that UNI’s core strength is education, why does the University of Iowa need a College of Education? And between Iowa and Iowa State, which one deserves to have a College of Business? (Iowa recently killed off its full-time MBA program, but Iowa State did not — meaning students who want that in-state option now have to go to ISU.) It is even conceivable that down the line there may really be only one state university with multiple specialized campuses, following the system model in other states. That in turn would mean one president, plus several chancellors, ostensibly at reduced rates — but probably not, because administrators make sure they always get paid.
* A question for J. Bruce Harreld, about opening up football practice at UI on June 1st. Who is going to do all of the necessary ongoing testing to keep the student athletes and athletic department staff safe? Particularly in a state with limited testing capacity, which also just contracted with a company that can’t deliver the goods, any increase in testing for the football team is going to mean a decrease in testing somewhere else. So who gets fewer tests when the all-important football practices begin? Healthcare workers? Prison workers? Meatpacking plant workers? University administrators?
* From the NYT: As Students Put Off College, Anxious Universities Tap Wait Lists. One of the things the Iowa university presidents ranted about yesterday, during the regent meeting (see below), was just how much students love the experience of college — meaning the dorms and socializing, and probably also the boozing and heaves. What’s interesting about that, and about how self-aware college administrators are about that aspect of what they’re selling, is that it really does firmly place them not in the education industry but in the hospitality industry, which is of course being crushed by COVID-19. And yet even as there is clear awareness that that’s a big part of what they’re charging for, at vastly inflated prices, there doesn’t seem to be any real understanding that the coronavirus doesn’t care how smart you are, it just cares how close you are to the next person, so it can make that jump. And college administrators are determined to facilitate as much jumping as possible.
04/30/20 — Okay…so that was an interesting virtual meeting of the Iowa Board of Regents, which played out in four distinct acts — the fourth of which we will deal with at some length tomorrow. (You can listen to the audio here.) For the most part the scripted stuff in the first three acts went as expected, but in a flurry of late questions and answers, Bro Bruce Harreld made some news he probably wishes he hadn’t made.
Act I: The ‘institutional heads’ as they are called — meaning the presidents of the three state universities, and the superintendent of Iowa’s schools for the deaf and blind — spoke about the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on their campuses, and the first to do so was the superintendent. Although enrollment at both of his schools is tiny, listening to him describe the difficulty of transitioning those disabled students from in-class instruction to virtual instruction was genuinely moving, as is the difficulty of bringing those students back to campus while the coronavirus is still active. For those students in particular there is no good solution, because the things that make their education appreciably better also clearly increase their risk of illness. In that context, however, it was also clear that any attempt to do the same thing at scale — even with more able students — will inevitably fail upon implementation. There is simply no way to conduct personal, in-room instruction and ensure everyone’s safety, and yet that is obviously what the regents have already promised to do.
Act II: Next up were the presidents of the University of Northern Iowa (Mark Nook), Iowa State University (Wendy Wintersteen), and the University of Iowa (J. Bruce Hamster), in that order. Apart from a few specific financial numbers, the bulk of their comments echoed the hopeful, enthusiastic, but noncommittal remarks they made at the last virtual regent meeting back on April 1st. Ever the prima donna, however, during and after Harreld’s prepared remarks he made a number of lengthy discursions, each of which was more about meeting his insatiable ego needs than passing along information of any import, or even relevance. (If you have never heard Harreld ceaselessly attempt to position himself as a humble hero, do yourself a favor and listen to his presentation. None of the other institutional heads ever talk like that, and Harreld talks like that all the time.)
Fortunately, toward the end of Harreld’s rambling disquisition, Regent David Barker — a former economist — asked Harreld about enrollment, which Harreld had oddly omitted, even though he spent a solid ten minutes wandering off into the weeds. By Harreld’s hedging account, enrollment for the incoming freshman class will be down about 9% (so roughly 4,500 students, instead of the targeted 5,000 for that class) and there will also be some loss among international students. Harreld did say the numbers are still preliminary, and clearly didn’t want to pin himself down, but a 500-student hit is still a significant revenue loss.
Act III: After getting through all of the pro forma blather, the interesting part of the meeting was apparently over, and the agenda was set to move to several bond offerings. At that point, however, there were a few more questions for Harreld, and after Harreld was done impressing himself with another 50,000 bumbling-mumbling words, ISU President Wintersteen chimed in to stress that her school was also doing all of the right things for heroic reasons. And that’s where we would have left off if Regent Barker had not followed up with one more question about the prospects for fall football, even if the universities were unable to seat an “audience” in the stands. (This question was implicitly aimed at ISU and UI, because both schools generate significant revenue from football.)
Wintersteen’s initial response was quite funny — and she laughed whens he said it: “Well, I just want to say that I haven’t said anything about football….”
After finishing her short reply, however, Harreld once against started talking, then he got excited about talking, and then — out of nowhere — he suddenly announced that the University of Iowa would be starting fall football practice on June 1st. (Full context here.)
From a tweet moments later by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller:
University of Iowa pres said athletes planning to resume practice, including footballers, June 1. ‘We’re hopeful that this will be behind us at this point.’
Now, if you have followed Harreld’s presidential tenure at all, you know he loves the big, self-aggrandizing announcement. If he knows something, and he thinks it will make him look good, even if he’s supposed to keep his mouth shut it just eats at him and eats at him until it busts out. And as you might imagine, this particular bust-out is already turning into national news — at least in the sports world — because it marks the first Division I football school that has made such a declaration. (I honestly expect his statement to be walked back or ‘clarified’, but we’re a couple hours out now and it hasn’t happened yet.)
indeed, from his prepared remarksabout how painstakingly responsible UI is being in assessing classes for the fall term, you can see that football was not on the agenda. And yet here we are, suddenly blazing an impromptu trail while the state of Iowa has yet to hit its ‘first peak’. Even for a crony tool like Harreld that’s a problem, because if ‘student athletes’ can come back to campus from all points of the compass, why can’t regular students return? (Also, even if we assume that younger people are less likely to die, head coach Kirk Ferentz is sixty-four years old, and if Harreld ends up killing him that’s obviously a bad look.)
Despite all of the commentary during the scripted portion of the regent meting, about how everyone is doing everything right, and prioritizing safety, and nobody is making any firm commitments until all of the facts are known, J. Bruce Maniac just up and announces that football is back on. And that should tell you everything you need to know about whether UI can safely open the entire campus in the fall, and the answer is that it cannot. No matter how diligent and exhaustive the plan, and how sincere the attempt, any protocols will fail on implementation, if not sooner, and that’s before we get to shoot-from-the-hip administrative precedent that Harreld just established.
Finally, in case you’re wondering, no — not a single person mentioned or asked about the $1B in cash that UI is sitting on, even as everyone was perfectly happy to talk the many tens of millions that each school has already lost due to the coronavirus. If you’re expecting this crew to have an honest conversation about the coronavirus pandemic, you are going to be deeply, deeply disappointed. Let the mid-summer UI COVID-19 outbreak begin….
Update 04/30/20: And there it is — in just under five hours! From a tweet by ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg:
Statement from #Iowa president Bruce Harreld: “I would like to clarify my comments from earlier today. As I said, in conjunction with our fellow members of the Big Ten, we are exploring all options. But our first priority is the health and safety of our student athletes and fans”
Lololol! (There’s nothing quite like a J. Bruce Harreld clarification.) Gonna be some sad faces in the sports world tonight — until they realize it was Harreld who got their hopes up, at which point they will turn on him.
Update 04/30/20: It’s a measure of how normal this kind of idiocy is from Harreld, that it takes a while to realize that what just happened is not simply absurd, but also shows a reckless disregard for human life. In a moment of spontaneous vanity, Harreld ordered student athletes and athletic-department staff to begin football practice in the middle of a lethal global pandemic — which, only today, a former director of the CDC characterized as, “on the order of the 1918, 1919 influenza pandemic”. There is no normally functioning mind that would do something like that, yet by virtue of in-bred political corruption in Iowa, J. Bruce Harreld’s mind unfortunately presides over an R1/AAU public research university, which is also home to the only Level 1 Trauma Center in the state. In a just world what Harreld did today would be grounds for immediate dismissal, but of course the Iowa Board of Regents like their presidential pets.
(And it doesn’t matter why Harreld did what he did. What matters is that he did it, and couldn’t stop himself from doing it.)
04/29/20 — There was a little bit of enrollment news out of the University of Iowa late last night, courtesy the Daily Iowan’s Mary Hartel: University of Iowa anticipates drop in new international-student enrollment for fall 2020 due to COVID-19. Because international students are, by definition, not residents of Iowa, they pay through the nose to attend UI, and indeed help subsidize the cost of a college education for in-state residents. Not surprisingly, for that very reason, international students are highly valued by university administrators, and even in the best of times it is not good news when international student enrollment falls of — as had been happening recently at Iowa’s regent universities.
While it is hardly surprising that international enrollment might fall off even farther because of the coronavirus pandemic, it is worth noting that what the headline above implies is a bit different from what Ui administrators are saying. Rather than international enrollment falling off as a direct result of healthcare concerns, UI administrators are making the very narrow and specific case that it will all be Donald Trump’s fault:
President Trump signed an executive order limiting immigration into the U.S. for 60 days on April 22 in response to the global spread of COVID-19.
Ganim said this order, additional immigration bans, and xenophobic rhetoric could create a chilling effect and deter future international students from choosing to study in the U.S.
Now, Ganim isn’t the only one at UI making the case that a downturn in international enrollment at UI will be the fault of the Trump administration, but at the same time the degree to which equally if not more plausible rationales are being scrupulously avoided makes clear that they are framing this argument to avoid angering a certain screeching banshee in the governor’s mansion in Des Moines. Because whatever roadblocks Cheeto Jesus has put up for international students who might still want to come to the United States to study, those students would probably still want to assess the relative safety of a given campus in the context of the coronavirus pandemic. (College students and their families are funny that way, particularly if they’re planning on traveling abroad.)
Unfortunately, one very big non-Trump problem for the University of Iowa, and for the other two regent universities, is that even a cursory examination of the public record will show that among all of the individual states that make up America, Iowa has had one of the most backward, self-defeating mitigation strategies, and as a result we are still increasing in cases and deaths with no first peak in site. And yet despite all of that, the Iowa Board of Regents — which craves that international money like a vampire craves blood — has already decided that the state campuses will be open in the fall, because why not?
I don’t know how many foreign students — new or currently enrolled — will travel to U.S. colleges and universities this year, but unless they have a total disregard for their own health they won’t be coming to Iowa, and they will be right not to come. But UI administrators can’t admit that because they all get paid by the state, so the problem is xenophobia and immigration bans. Here in Iowa the pandemic is pretty much over, and everything is just fine.
* From the Daily Iowan’s Kelsey Harrell: UI Faculty Senate elects new officers, announces senators and councilors. Despite the brevity of the piece, and the lack of surprises in the election of new officers — who always move up in predictable assembly-line fashion — there was a good deal of interesting commentary from new UI Faculty Senate president Joe Yockey. (if that name sounds familiar, he was one of the faculty who were unveiled at the last minute as vouching for the UI P3.)
Yockey said during Tuesday’s meeting that as Faculty Senate president he wants to focus on strategic initiatives to help empower faculty advancement. The first such initiative will be to create a commission specifically for faculty advancement through developing ideas for how to improve the lives of faculty.
The two areas the commission will focus on are faculty morale and faculty recruitment and retention, Yockey said. His goal is to find ways to better recognize faculty achievement and create more opportunities for meaningful social, emotional, and intellectual support, Yockey said.
The faculty recruitment and retention aspect of this initiative will focus on faculty members of underrepresented groups and ways to improve rates of diversity recruitment and retention, he said.
The second initiative will involve working toward a university-wide system for faculty to submit annual performance reviews for deans and associate deans, giving faculty a greater voice within their colleges and departments, Yockey said.
“If faculty have legitimate questions or concerns about the competence, values, qualifications, or decisions of their college administrators, they deserve a means to provide critical feedback to someone who’s in a position to make a change,” Yockey said. “We need now more than ever, the right people in positions of authority.”
There’s a lot going on here, but the overarching point would seem to be obvious. When J. Bruce Harreld was hired in 2015, he shot his mouth off a lot about prioritizing faculty, and after four-plus years Harreld has basically delivered on nothing. Yes, a few pet faculty members have prospered, but Harreld’s private-sector pedigree ultimately won out, and instead of building up the core of the UI faculty he eroded tenured positions and increased the workload for what are called contingent faculty — who have little if any pull, but often do the bulk of the in-class instruction. (What Harreld has effectively been doing, at the behest of the Iowa Board of Regents, is turning the University of Iowa into a glorified, money-making community college.)
The fact that Yockey wants to build a system which allows for forceful feedback from faculty to administration is also interesting, because administrators at UI and at the Board of Regents have been treating the faculty like stooges for as long as Harreld has been on the job. (During the rigged 2015 presidential search, which ended with Harreld’s done-deal appointment, faculty were marginalized on the search committee, then invalidated en mass during the appointment process.) If you’re on the faculty at UI you probably tried to work with Harreld, and you probably waited to see what he would do for you, and in the end you got nothing — except the opportunity to pitch your ideas to the gong-show committee that will now funnel proceeds from the UI P3 endowment to entrepreneurial initiatives on campus.
In addition to all that, however, we also get a little visibility into Yockey’s evolution on these points from the recently posted minutes for the March 3rd meeting of the Faculty Council:
Vice President Yockey added that the Senate officers are beginning to build the program for the annual Faculty Council/Administrative retreat, to take place in August. He explained that his original plan for the retreat focus was the collegiate entrepreneurship that the university’s new budget model seeks to foster, in order to find new sources of collegiate revenue. However, following the January Council meeting, he is now considering building the retreat focus around some of the topics discussed then. He asked for ongoing feedback about the retreat focus.
So in early March, just before the UI P3 closed on the 10th, Yockey was down with the whole entrepreneurial thing, but something made him change his mind. And now he’s the president of the UI Faculty Senate, and seems determined to use that position to make a difference for his fellow faculty, including by holding administrators at UI to account. Assuming he doesn’t end up being just another painfully compliant play-toy for central administration…good for him.
* From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Iowa State explores array of mitigation efforts in fall return. The Iowa Board of Regents is using ISU President Wendy Wintersteen to lead the campaign to open the regent universities, but given the crony hooks the board has into that school that’s not really a surprise. (I don’t know what J. Bruce Harreld is doing, but other than this very stiff expression of administrative thanks, he has been largely invisible for months.) It also wouldn’t surprise me if this Iowa State info was pushed out to the press to set the table for tomorrow’s abruptly scheduled regent meeting, but I guess we’ll find that out soon enough. (Wintersteen also published an op-ed in the Des Moines Register on Monday, covering ISU’s contributions to the coronavirus war.)
The plan — which must protect the health and safety of students, faculty and staff — must be communicated to the broader campus community no later than midsummer but must also be nimble enough for continual adjustment in response to shifting COVID-19 circumstances.
It must include strategies for getting everyone back on campus in the fall — including students in the residence halls, athletes with their teams and faculty and staff in the classrooms and research labs.
“It is not expected that all risk from COVID-19 can be eliminated,” according to the document.
There is no instruction manual for any of this, of course, but clearly the Board of Regents started with the conclusion they wanted to reach, and now they’re searching for a way to make that conclusion seem reasonable and responsible when it is neither. We really are in the middle of a pandemic, and the disease itself is not going away by August, and more people in smaller spaces makes transmission more likely, but hey — let’s open up the state campuses anyway.
The most interesting part of Miller’s piece, however, is this effective denial of the fact that ISU is a public university:
In all the campus’ fall decisions, ISU leadership must consider “the budgetary impact and financial resources.
“This includes considering not only the short-term financial impact of planning decisions, but also the long-term financial health of the university,” according to the ISU guidance. “The university’s short term COVID-19 response cannot irreversibly impact the long-term financial viability of the university.”
As a state instituion Iowa State cannot go broke unless the state goes broke, but even then the state could generate new revenue from taxes and fees, including tuition. Private colleges and universities very well may go under as a result of the pandemic, but that’s not going to happen at ISU, UI or UNI. (Were Iowa State obliterated by a tornado it would be rebuilt at state expense. Even if it took fifty years to pay off the resulting debt, the state could and would keep the school running, and a pandemic is no different.)
* Whatever you think about the so-called five stages of grief, in that context, college and university administrators are still in the denial stage about enrollment for the 2020-2021 academic year. Instead of acknowledging the reality of how the pandemic will affect the higher-ed marketplace, almost all of them are offering students one of two bad options:
— On-campus instruction with increased coronavirus risk
— Virtual instruction at the cost of on-campus instruction
The obvious solution would be offer virtual instruction at a discount, but of course administrators aren’t concerned about who gets sick, they’re concerned with generating as much revenue as possible. (They probably don’t want people to die, but only because that would leave the school openly to a costly lawsuit.) With regard to supply and demand, however, and the market factors which drive student decision making, students themselves are not confused in the least.
An overwhelming majority of students agree with public health officials that canceling in-person classes is an important part of social distancing and containing the virus, but that doesn’t mean they are prepared to invest the same amount of time and money on a different educational experience.
From the perspective of both education and healthcare, the solution is clear and students want that solution. Unfortunately, the higher-ed extortionists who make up the bulk of administration don’t really care about education or health, they care about money, and they’re not giving up a single dollar if they don’t have to. Making the problem considerably worse is the fact that between the denial and bargaining stages, we have to go through the anger stage, and I’m guessing that isn’t going to be pretty. (There will be some administrators who channel their anger into cutting costs, using the pandemic to justify abuses of power that they would never consider, and never get away with, at any other time. The better administrators will take their economic lumps and persevere.)
* The University of Georgia, which is a big-time football school, has announced — surprise — that it intends to hold in-person classes in the fall. And yet….
But things could change, [UGA President Jere Morehead] warned.
“However, I would emphasize that this situation remains a fluid one, as the USG monitors developments related to COVID-19 and receives counsel from state public health officials,” he wrote.
Again, I have some sympathy for the pressure these schools are under, and I understand that they have to choose their battles, but none of the liability issues that necessarily follow from such a decision have been resolved, and that’s apart from the possibility of a significant resurgence, or ‘second wave’. Worse, schools which compel students, faculty and staff back to campus will also be that much more reluctant to go online again, even if it is warranted.
04/28/20 — Ever since former regent president Bruce Rastetter and a small cabal of co-conspirators used a fake, taxpayer-funded presidential search to jam J. Bruce Harreld into the president’s office at the University of Iowa, UI has been little more than a doormat in state politics — routinely rolling over for, and providing cover to, a corrupt crony political machine that has long sought to compromise that institution. In that context, the recent engagement of the university with the governor’s office and the Iowa Department of Public Health, on the subject of the COVID-19 pandemic, posed a risk of further discrediting the university not only as an organization, but as an academic institution. Fortunately, today brings very good news on that front, because researchers at the university are not playing politics with their estimate of the damage coronavirus can do.intends to hold in-person classes in the fall
From the Des Moines Register’s Barbara Rodriguez: University of Iowa researchers warn ‘a second wave of infections is likely’ if COVID-19 mitigation efforts are lifted.
Researchers at the University of Iowa warned Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration in a report submitted last week that it should keep COVID-19 mitigation efforts in place within the state or “a second wave of infections is likely.”
Days later, Reynolds announced plans to begin reopening parts of Iowa’s economy.
During the four-plus years of Harreld’s lapdog tenure as president, this is by far the most significant and public break with the political machine that has been stuffing $50K a month into his pockets. To their great credit, researchers at Iowa refused to knuckle under to the governor, or to whitewash their results, and that is not only a very good sign for academics at UI, but perhaps an indicator that the university is tired of putting up with Harreld’s crony antics.
Included in Rodriguez’s report are links to two documents that the UI researchers prepared, which were mentioned in yesterday’s notes below:
The document properties for those .pdf files reveal that the summary of modeling efforts was created on 04/20, and the critique of the IHME model was created on 04/08. Meaning although the documents were just released, they were — as indicated by Rodriguez’s reporting — clearly in the governor’s hands at an earlier date. This in turn lends credence to concerns that the reason the governor put the UI College of Public Health under contract for an Iowa-centric model that has yet to be released, is that the governor wanted to control whether that information, or perhaps any additional information compiled by UI, would be released to the public. (Just because UI isn’t playing ball with the governor, that doesn’t mean she won’t do what it takes to muzzle UI.)
* While we wait for Thursday’s spine-tingling board meeting, at which the regents and university presidents will tip their hands about how they plan to ruthlessly exploit the pandemic to advantage, it is worth nothing that Governor Reynolds is hemming herself in by advocating for two diametrically opposed policy positions. Not surprisingly these positions are grounded entirely in economic concerns, with only a pretense to concerns about healthcare, yet separately and in combination they pose problems for the governor down the road — particularly with regard to state employees.
First, from the Associated Press: Coronavirus in Iowa: State tells workers to return to jobs or lose their benefits. Forcing people to choose between their own health and their job is obviously sinister, but that’s our governor. Given that there will be massive job losses it doesn’t really matter to her who goes to work, as long as she can kick everybody else off unemployment on the grounds that they refused.
Second, from Julia Shanahan at the Daily Iowan: Gov. Kim Reynolds said Iowans must use their best judgement as parts of the state reopen on May 1. While the governor is compelling workers back to work — even as the state legislature has excused itself until the middle of May — she wants average citizens, who are also consumers, to use their own best judgment about what is safe. Not only is that obviously contradictory, but the governor’s objective is simply to void claims of liability that might be directed at her or at the state.
In combination, the problem with these two contradictory policy positions is that the workers you encounter at any business will likely be either desperate for money or reckless in their disregard for their own health or the health of others, which is obviously what you don’t want if you want to encourage consumers to buy goods. And that in turn means that Reynolds is likely laying the groundwork for a great deal of mistrust throughout the Iowa economy, which may very well last for a year or more. As for state workers, however — and particularly those at the state universities, which the board of regents has already promised to open in the fall — it is not clear that the state is in a position to replace thousands of highly trained professional staff and faculty who may not want to show up for work, when one of those state universities is openly questioning the competence of the governor to make such decisions.
* From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: University of Iowa announces new Children’s Hospital chief administrator. Following three years of foot-dragging, UIHC finally hired someone to run the new Children’s Hospital after the former chief administrative officer bailed on the job. I have no idea what UIHC did during that extended time frame, but if I had to guess I would say there were a lot of administrative bodies that needed to be buried because of mismanagement and cost overruns (totaling more than $100M), and it took almost three years to make all of those potential problems disappear.
* College enrollment watch:
Wall Street Journal — Harvard to Have a Fall Semester, but Details Unclear.
The headline is goofy (like Harvard wouldn’t have a fall semester), and the story is paywalled, but the lede provides enough information to track the story to its source, which is this statement from the Harvard provost: Planning for Fall 2020. Even better, in that statement we find the quote used in the lede to the WSJ piece, which in turn poses a bit of a problem for Iowa’s regent universities:
Our goal is to bring our students, faculty, postdoctoral fellows and staff to campus as quickly as possible, but because most projections suggest that COVID-19 will remain a serious threat during the coming months, we cannot be certain that it will be safe to resume all usual activities on campus by then. Consequently, we will need to prepare for a scenario in which much or all learning will be conducted remotely.
There are of course two key differences between Harvard and UI. First, Harvard is absolutely loaded, and has an endowment greater than the GDP of many countries. Second, Harvard does not derive a great deal (or probably any) revenue from football, and as such is giving nothing away by conducting the fall semester remotely.
While the Iowa regents have already promised that the state schools will be open in the fall, and the university presidents are in agreement — albeit with an escape hatch handy — it is important to note that UI and ISU are not only football schools, they are R1/AAU research universities, of which there are only a few. And if smart-school Harvard says opening its campus in the fall would be a mistake, it is going to be a bit awkward when two other purportedly smart schools decide to go the other way, so sweaty athletes can bash into each other for tightly packed fans.
(And speaking of the upcoming regent meeting, pay careful attention to whether UI’s J. Bruce Harreld — who, ironically, has a Harvard MBA — mentions the fact that Iowa is sitting on a billion dollars in cash, thanks to the UI P3.)
04/27/20 — Imagine that you are in an abusive relationship. Nothing crazy — nothing criminal — but because of power dynamics you are routinely taken for granted, trivialized, patronized, and at times even exploited. In classic fashion, at times your abuser says all the right things, even expressing affection and support, but the abuse always comes back, and often when you least expect it.
Now imagine that you have gathered the courage to confront your abuser. You lay out in painstaking detail the incidents that have hurt you, and how these attacks seem to come out of nowhere. You not only feel abused, you feel destabilized, and you want it to stop.
Now imagine that after listening respectfully to your concerns, your abuser decides that it’s not so much the abuse that you mind, but rather the randomness of the abuse. To rectify that stress, and to let you know you have been heard, your abuser promises to schedule your abuse well in advance, so as to make your abuse predictable. Would you feel that solution addressed your concerns?
Before you answer, note that this preposterous scenario is precisely how the Iowa Board of Regents addressed concerns about tuition hikes in the summer of 2017. After a series of abusive and erratic hikes — several of which were implemented during unexpected state budget shortfalls — the board put together a Tuition Task Force, invited everyone to give their thoughts, then reached the same conclusion. In the board’s estimation it wasn’t the amount of the tuition increases that students and families were complaining about — even though many testified to that concern directly — but the fact that the board kept raising tuition at the last minute, or multiple times during a single academic year.
In order to rectify the problem of uncertainty — while doing nothing to hold down costs — the board not only granted itself the right to raise tuition a minimum of 3% for five years in a row, it also granted itself revenue protection if the legislature failed to offset inflation. Meaning the board could increase tuition more than 3% if the state faltered in its appropriations, thus shifting even more of the cost to students and families. Ironically, however, that legislative determination isn’t normally made until the spring, thus negating any predictability provided by the board’s five-year grant of revenue increases.
And speaking of the Iowa legislature — it was announced today that the suspension of the current session, due to the pandemic, will be extended to May 15th. That in turn is less than three weeks ahead of the next regularly scheduled regent meetings in early June, at which the next round of abusive tuition hikes will be approved. (The regents did post notice today that a special meeting will be held this week, on Thursday, April 30th, “to provide an update on the loss of revenue and increased expenses related to COVID-19 on Regents institutions…”, so that should be fun.) We will address the next round of tuition hikes when they happen, of course, but in the meantime it is worth considering how the board’s (faux) concerns about predictability factor into the board’s determination to open the state’s university campuses to business as usual in the fall.
On its face that bold assertion from regent president Mike Richards — who championed predictability in tuition while sticking it to Iowa’s students and families — also seems to promise predictability in attendance, but is that really the case? Notwithstanding the self-serving and feeble lies of illegitimate University of Iowa president J. Bruce Harreld, there is no question that in-class education is qualitatively superior to anything that can be delivered online, and everyone would be better off if the campuses were open and the pandemic was over. To that we can also add crushing pressure from athletic departments across the country to open campuses for the cash-rich football season, which in turn funds virtually every other collegiate sport on campus throughout the calendar year. Unlike tuition hikes, however — which the board has statutory authority to impose at any time, in any amount — how much predictability can the regents actually guarantee when it comes to reopening the state universities?
Whatever stresses and vices are in play behind the scenes in Iowa, compelling Richards to promise that the university campuses will be open in the fall, the possibility that unexpected and uncontrollable outside events may negatively impact that determination is more akin to a certainty. From second-wave outbreaks over the summer, to third-wave outbreaks in the fall, to a full-on explosion of COVID-19 cases when winter sets in, the regents have absolutely no control over what will happen, and that is the antithesis of predictability. (We are already assuming that we have seen the worst of this pandemic, yet the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919 shows that diseases can return with renewed vengeance.)
The most cynical approach — and thus the most likely approach by the Iowa Board of Regents — would be to jam the football season in on open campuses, thus generating maximal revenue before once again closing the campuses if necessary. But is that really a viable plan if it means the spring 2021 term would also be online? What institutional damage would be done with a second closure of the state schools?It’s easy to get overwhelmed/confused by coronavirus data.
Put another way, in promising today that the campuses will be open for the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, what the Iowa Board of Regents are actually promising is that the schools will be open for the entire year, yet there is no way they can possibly guarantee that will be the case. Meaning the decision to make that promise isn’t about prioritizing predictability, but prioritizing profits. (Shocker.)
If the Board of Regents — or any other governing board across the country — is serious about prioritizing predictability, then they will announce now that they are planning to go with online courses in the fall, at a discount for new and returning students. If the pandemic suddenly lifts, or there is a miracle cure, then in-class instruction will be reintroduced, but at the very least students and families will know the rug won’t be pulled out from under them again in the coming months. (An early commitment to online education would also allow the schools three solid months to improve offerings, and improvements could continue during the fall term. At that point, if the pandemic did intensify again, the state schools would be well-position to take care of their own students throughout the academic year.)
More likely, however — as was the case with the formalizing of tuition abuses following the Tuition Task Force — regent president Richards will characterize his risky commitment to opening the state schools this fall as once again offering predictability to students and families. And it will all sound great right up until COVID-19 kills one or more students, staff or beloved faculty on one or more of the state campuses, at which point the board will say all the right things, then blame the victims for their own deaths. And yet even that lethal miscalculation will pale in comparison if the pandemic does reignite, and one again Iowa’s universities are forced to close their campuses and disperse students, faculty and staff to the wind.
* From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, a bit more on this week’s pop-up regent meeting: Regents seek update on coronavirus impact on university campuses.
* As noted in prior updates, the governor’s office and Iowa Department of Public Health recently contracted with the University of Iowa College of Public Health (COPH) — for no money — to produce a predictive model for the coronavirus pandemic in Iowa. As of two weeks ago the state had not yet sent any data to UI for modeling, but shortly thereafter the state did reportedly follow through, at which point he clock started ticking at UI. But it turns out that isn’t the full story.
As reported this morning by the Des Moines Register’s Barbara Rodriguez, the COPH has submitted at least one report predicated on data that was not provided by the state:
Joe Cavanaugh, head of the biostatistics department at the university’s College of Public Health, told the Des Moines Register that the report given to the Iowa Department of Public Health includes “Iowa-specific models” using data from publicly available sources.
Cavanaugh confirmed the report’s existence to the Register on Thursday afternoon. The Register has since made multiple requests to IDPH for the report, which has not been made public.
It’s unclear how long state officials have had the report. Pat Garrett, a spokesman for Reynolds, said on Monday morning in an email that the governor’s office and state public health officials are “in the process of reviewing the model and plans to share this information with the public.”
In addition, Rodriguez referenced a second report which seems to have been produced to rebut another university’s projections, which Governor Reynolds has taken issue with on a number of occasions:
Cavanaugh said his team also turned in another report, as part of the first phase of its work, that critiqued a frequently cited model developed by researchers at the University of Washington.
The model, known as Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model or IHME, has been providing national and state-specific projections for COVID-19. For weeks, Reynolds and public health officials said the model did not take into account the state’s mitigation efforts in closing businesses and schools.
While there is nothing to prevent Iowa’s governor from using the state-funded UI College of Public Health to marshal arguments against another school, one wonders if that was the best use of anyone’s time….
[Cavanaugh] says @uiowa lawyers are reviewing whether these findings can be released under FOIA or are subject to the terms of the IDPH contract, which bars the UI from disseminating its research w/o state approval for one year
As Foley noted, one of the curiosities in the governor’s contract was the right to prohibit UI from making its findings public for an entire year. If you’re asking a state university to provide you with unbiased modeling based on state data, why would you do that? One possible answer, again, is that the governor wanted to turn UI into an extension of her own messaging operation, and you can’t just let state employees say what they think when you’re approaching a global pandemic like a political problem.
* Enrollment panic roundup:
Lafayette Journal & Courier — Citing ‘zero lethal threat’ to students, Purdue works to reopen college for fall 2020.
The president of Purdue is Mitch Daniels, a supremely arrogant and smirky man who used to be the governor of Indiana, and before that White House Budget Director for George W. Bush. The fact that he went on the record and said that college students aren’t at risk — when college students have already died from COVID-19 — tells you everything you need to know about what his priorities are, and right now his number one priority is preserving the fantasy of his fiscal ideology. Daniels has always been a super-slick piece of political garbage, but this is panic-grade lunacy masquerading as a responsible plan.
Cincinnati Enquirer — Despite coronavirus pandemic, Xavier University on pace to meet enrollment projections.
Inside Higher Ed column — What We Know and Don’t Know.