To say that the recently implemented presidential search at the University of Iowa is going well would be both an understatement and insufficient. It is an understatement because the Iowa Board of Regents not only seems determined to honor the letter of the 2018 agreement that was hammered out with the UI Faculty Senate in the protracted aftermath of the rigged 2015 presidential search — which resulted in the illegitimate appointment of J. Bruce Harreld — but also the spirit of that agreement. While the board obviously has a vested interest in ensuring that a competent and qualified individual is chosen to replace Harreld, and by statute only the regents can ultimately make that decision, the winnowing of applicants to a small slate of acceptable candidates is also a matter of self-determination for the UI community, which is now ably represented by a majority of the twenty-one committee members who are charged with that responsibility.
Indeed, in contemplating the initiation of the search, the composition of the committee, and the pace of the process so far, all signs are so uniformly encouraging that it is tempting to conclude that this search — unlike the 2015 search — cannot be corrupted. Unfortunately, while the 2015 search committee was subverted from the inside by a small cabal of co-conspirators, it is also possible for bad actors to negatively influence the current search from the outside. In fact, as noted in recent updates, we have already identified at least one individual extraneous to the current committee who, over the past two months, has repeatedly attempted to impose his will on the ongoing search, and of course that individual is none other than J. Bruce Harreld himself.
Making Harreld’s recurrent attempts to influence the search process all the more remarkable, when Harreld’s resignation was announced on October 1st, contingent on the appointment of his successor, the president of the Board of Regents issued an uncommonly blunt statement — which, as far as I can tell, has no precedent at the board. From Rylee Wilson at the Daily Iowan on 10/02/20:
Richards specified that although Harreld will remain president during the search process, he will not have input as to who is chosen as his replacement.
“I’ve had that discussion with him and he will not participate in any manner in the selection of the new president,” Richards said.
Despite Richards’ conspicuous and explicit prohibition, that has not prevented Harreld from repeatedly shooting his mouth off about the current search, including during the nine-minute board meeting at which Harreld’s letter of resignation was formally accepted. Between Harreld’s open-ended retirement date — as opposed to a date certain, which his predecessor, Sally Mason, specified when she announced her own departure — and his repeated comments about how the search should be conducted, as well as broadcasting his desire to hang around indefinitely as a mentor to the new president, everything Harreld has done over the past two months has increased uncertainty about the context in which the search is taking place. As we will see shortly, however, this impudence should also come as no surprise because Harreld has multiple overlapping motivations for influencing the outcome of the search, including the fact that Harreld’s own bastardized presidency resulted from an arrogant and elitist administrative mindset that is not only hostile to the academic tradition of shared governance, but which explicitly rejects fundamental precepts of equal opportunity.
J. Bruce Harreld Muddies the Water
To be clear, Harreld is not necessarily the only threat arrayed against the current search committee, he is simply the only threat that has been identified so far. The fact that regent president Richards has allowed Harreld to repeatedly defy his warning seems to signal weakness, but may instead betray effective complicity. While two regents have been assigned to the current committee, that means seven members of the board — including the president — will be free to attempt to influence or derail the search from the outside, whether individually or collectively. And what better way to obscure that intent than to pretend to take a hard public line against interference from Harreld, then look the other way while Harreld subverts the search?
As regular readers know, there were three regents on the rigged 2015 presidential search committee, including both the president and president pro tem. Despite obligations to confidentiality that constrained the non-regent members of the committee, the former board president directed the other two regents on the committee, and two additional regents who were not on the committee, to meet in secret with J. Bruce Harreld at the regent president’s private place of business in Ames. Not only did the public not learn about those secret meetings until well after Harreld was appointed, neither did the other four sitting regents, who were completely duped by their peers. (Under oath, all five of the duplicitous regents insisted they did nothing wrong, and that they never conspired to prevent the other four regents from learning about those clandestine meetings. Nevertheless, the other four regents did not learn about those meetings from their peers either prior to, during, or after the board’s final vote to appoint Harreld, and only belatedly learned about the meetings from the press.)
If the board leadership was willing to rig the Iowa presidential search process in 2015, and to collude with three other regents in doing so — including two regents who were not on the committee — then it isn’t too hard to imagine that even if the two regents on the current committee are sincere, one or more of the other seven members might betray them and the rest of the committee as well. And of course one great way to do that would be to aid Harreld, whether actively or passively, in confusing potential candidates about Harreld’s role going forward, thus making the position less attractive. Even if the search process remains inviolate, the discouraging of prospective candidates, and particularly highly qualified candidates, would make it that much easier for Harreld and/or the board to pass along a preferred candidate as one of the finalists, without interfering in the committee process itself. (As the rigged 2015 search made clear, once the preferred candidate is passed along as a finalist by the search committee, all it takes are five crony votes to appoint the next president.)
If the Board of Regents genuinely wants to aid the search committee in attracting and recruiting the best, most-qualified candidates, then the board should do everything possible to limit ambiguity and uncertainty about the scope of the position those candidates will be applying for. To that end, consider the following comments from J. Bruce Harreld in his most recent extended interview with the Daily Iowan, which was also published on 10/01/20:
President J. Bruce Harreld: … So, what the board will announce on Thursday, is the start of a process to find my successor. There will be a search committee. They have identified, with my work, two people on campus to co-chair that search, and I’ve agreed that I will stay exactly where — I’m doing what I’m doing until a replacement is found. And if that takes what you say tomorrow, they found a replacement, then we’ll figure out what I do next, and there are all sorts of things I could do. And if it takes two, two-and-a-half years, there [we’ll] be at the back end of my commitment and it won’t be a problem. And so we’re in that zone, that’ll get announced on Thursday, and I didn’t want you [The Daily Iowan] to and I asked you to embargo that so the board in Iowa will make that announcement and I don’t want you to trip that up so to speak. But I’d be glad to take questions. Is there anything there that didn’t make sense? Just so you know, I’ve been communicating this to all the deans and everybody else on it, by and large, most people say ‘thank you because we’ve had disruptions in the past with these types of transitions.’ And so now, I think the other thing that I didn’t mention that that could well happen, should happen, is we won’t have a specific timeline. We can search the country, the world for a great leader that fits us. And if that takes a little longer, we have the time. So, I’ve committed to stay with the board, all the way through my contract. Actually, I’ve even committed to stay longer if that’s necessary. …
If you are confused about Harreld’s future plans — and you should be — imagine coming across that rambling quote while doing your own due diligence as a prospective candidate. Is Harreld leaving when his successor is appointed, or is he planning to hang around for another two years, or more, even if a new president is appointed tomorrow? While Harreld’s initial five-year deal ran out a few weeks ago, at the beginning of November, he signed a two-and-a-half year extension in the summer of 2019, which ends in June of 2023. In that context we could perhaps read Harreld as saying he will remain until his contact runs out or his replacement is hired, whichever comes sooner, but note the following exchange from later in the same interview:
The DI: Just to clarify, when you signed your contract extension in 2023, until 2023, so you’ll still be here until 2023.
Harreld: Yes, if I’m wanted. So, I want to be very careful. I don’t want to get in the way of the new president and the new president doesn’t need to have me kibitzing, unless they would like me to, but also the board has raised whether I’d be willing to work on some issues at the board level, strategically.
When people announce that they are not only resigning from a job but retiring, that means they intend to ride off into the figurative sunset, leaving employment itself behind. Not only do I believe that’s what most people assume Harreld intends to do, but I think that includes most of the twenty-one members of the search committee who are charged with finding Harreld’s replacement. And yet, here we clearly have Harreld stating not only that he could be talked into hanging around by the new president, but that the Board of Regents has expressed interest in continuing to employ Harreld in some new, unspecified capacity, regardless what that new president might prefer.
Continuing, from later in the DI interview:
The DI: What would you say are five lessons that you’ve learned as president? What would you say, define the Harreld years?
After humbly pooh-poohing the idea of answering that question at all, Harreld then rattles off 250 words cataloguing his myriad successes. In a bit of a typographic non sequitur, we then get this direct and unambiguous confirmation that Harreld does not expect that he will be leaving Iowa and/or the regents enterprise any time soon, even if a new president is appointed in relatively short order. (Harreld’s rigged hire took six months in 2015, followed by a two month transition period before Harreld’s first day on the job.)
Harreld: Since I’ll be around another couple of years, you can ask that [in] a couple years I mean, it’s not like I’m going anywhere.
Whatever Harreld’s agenda may be in making these comments on the record, it is the responsibility of the Board of Regents to clarify all of the uncertainty flowing from those statements, because that uncertainty will inevitably be detrimental to the recruitment of candidates by the search committee. As things stand now we not only don’t know whether Harreld intends to step down when his successor is appointed, or only when his successor takes office, but we now also have Harreld stating that he will “…be around another couple of years…”, even after the new president is hired. Is the board considering hiring Harreld, either on a full-time basis or in some consulting capacity, after he steps down> If so, what projects will Harreld work on, and what authority will he have in that role? Will Harreld’s work infringe on or usurp the authority and responsibility of Iowa president? Does the board want Harreld to initiate additional public-private partnerships (P3’s) on the UI campus, and perhaps also at Iowa State and Northern Iowa? Does the board want Harreld to help the board merge all three state universities into a single integrated administrative system, and if so, how would that diminish the authority and responsibility of the university presidents?
After Sally Mason announced her resignation in January of 2015, effective August 1st of that year, she effectively disappeared from the University of Iowa campus, albeit in part because the board leadership wanted her gone. To whatever extent J. Bruce Harreld hopes to avoid institutional downtime by remaining active until his replacement is ready to take the reigns, what Harreld intends to do during and after the hiring process will matter greatly to prospective candidates. By maintaining an aggressive grip on power and being coy about his future plans, Harreld is not ensuring a smooth transition so much as locking his successor into Harreld’s preferred plan of action. Worse, only if the next president continues Harreld’s ongoing initiatives will there be any benefit, because if his successor heads in another direction that means the institutional effort devoted to implementing Harreld’s vision will have been wasted.
Any prospective candidate worth their administrative salt will want to know about Harreld’s post-presidential plans before they commit to an extended application process. To ensure that the best possible candidates apply for the position, the Board of Regents — not the committee — has an obligation to be explicit about Harreld’s future, regardless what Harreld might prefer. Is the board considering hiring Harreld after he steps down? If so, in what role and with what authority? (Providing clears answers to these questions is particularly important for the two regents on the committee, who won’t want to be left in the dark by their board peers, and won’t want to keep secrets from their committee peers.)
For the sake of the committee it would also seem prudent for regent president Richards to again remind Harreld that he is to play no role in the ongoing search, and that includes refraining from comments about his post-presidential future unless they are expressly authorized by the regents. On that point I would note that board CEO/Executive Director (XD) Mark Braun has also acknowledged that Harreld could take a teaching position at UI, which would give Harreld a backdoor way to earn out $2.3M in deferred compensation that will otherwise be forfeit when he retires. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, also on 10/01/20:
Just last year, Harreld agreed to extend his five-year contract past its original expiration date of 2020 — bringing it through 2023 and tacking on an extra $1.33 million in deferred compensation, upping his eventual payout to $2.33 million.
His new contract, though, stipulated that should he retire before the end of the contract, he’d be due only the salary and benefits accrued to that point, and the board would have no obligation to pay additional compensation. But it may not be that simple.
“Determiners of his deferred compensation agreement are that he needs to stay in continuous employment for the board until 2023 in order for him to collect his deferred compensation,” Braun told The Gazette. “The only way he could collect it is if he did something else for the board after a new president was in place.”
When asked whether Harreld could, under his contract, collect the full $2.3 million in deferred compensation by staying on as a lecturer or adjunct professor to teach a class — like he’s doing this semester — Braun said, “he could.”
“If he would remain in a continuous employment of the board, that would meet the terms of his deferred comp contract,” Braun said. “None of those details have been worked out in any way shape or form.”
Ignoring Braun’s oddly strenuous denial about “details” — meaning the board may have agreed to the outline of a post-presidential appointment in advance of Harreld’s retirement announcement — and setting aside whether the board should further enrich an employee who decided to quit with two and a half years left on his contract, any candidate for the job Harreld is allegedly vacating deserves to know if that same ex-president will be haunting the UI campus for years to come. And that’s assuming Harreld intends to otherwise keep his mouth shut about campus administration, and won’t set up his own little camp of bitter detractors and malcontents, all of them feeding Harreld’s perpetually toxic ego needs. (Even allowing Harreld to remain in office during the transition could be problematic if Harreld dislikes his successor, because Harreld could spend those months trashing the board’s choice and undermining the incoming president.)
Because most prospective candidates will assume that Harreld’s retirement means exactly that — that he is retiring from any future role with the university or the board — the regents have an obligation to publicly announce Harreld’s plans or potential plans, so that information is uniformly passed to all prospective candidates. That there is so much uncertainty about Harreld’s future despite his resignation and subsequent statements and interviews, and that Harreld, the board president and board CEO/XD have all left the door open to Harreld’s continued employment, should make clear to the committee members that all of these individuals are already undermining the search process. Whether they are doing so in concert, independently, intentionally or inadvertently, the obvious solution is for the board to quit playing footsie with Harreld and instead be explicit about Harreld’s future. If the board cannot or will not do that, that tells both the search committee and prospective candidates everything they need to know about whether the board itself can be trusted to be forthcoming.
J. Bruce Harreld Tells a Big Lie
Any prospective candidate looking at Harreld’s recent comments about the Iowa presidency will not only wonder what ongoing administrative role Harreld might play in the future, they will rightly wonder if Harreld and the board cut a deal so he won’t have to do the grunt work or be the face of the school, but will still make critical decisions about the institution. And of course if Harreld lingers long enough he will walk away with $2.3M in deferred compensation, plus any six-figure salary he can bargain for in the interim, while perhaps also snagging tenure from the faculty at the UI Tippie College of Business, thanks to a provision that was anonymously added to his original contract in 2015. Meaning conceivably, over the next two-plus years, J. Bruce Harreld — the ex-UI-president — could exercise more authority with, and draw more compensation from, the Iowa Board of Regents than the individual appointed to replace him over that same span.
Even assuming that the board does the right thing in the coming days, and fully discloses Harreld’s post-presidential future at the university and/or with the regents, we are still left with the problem of J. Bruce Harreld corrupting the search himself. Although board president Mike Richards was explicit that Harreld, “…will not participate in any manner in the selection of the new president”, there are obvious limits to what the board and search committee can control. Were Harreld a man of integrity, for example, the search committee might encourage prospective and/or declared candidates to seek out Harreld’s perspective, particularly if he otherwise intended to make himself scarce, as Sally Mason did in 2015. Provided the committee believed such conversations would be equitable and consistent, and they trusted Harreld to keep the committee informed about each contact, there would be no good reason to preclude those conversations.
Unfortunately, not only does Harreld plan to stay front and center as president until the last possible moment, if not longer, but in doing so he has positioned himself as the primary information broker about the Iowa presidency, over and above the search committee. Unfortunately, that’s a big problem because — as regular readers know — J. Bruce Harreld is an inveterate liar. Among the many problems the search committee will thus have to confront is how to make sure all information about the position is distributed equitably and accurately, even as Harreld works behind the scenes to undermine that cause.
(Imagine any candidate reaching out to Harreld on background and you can see the cascading issues. If there are no rules about candidate interactions, then Harreld could aid a preferred candidate by discouraging others, even if the others are — and particularly if they are — excellent prospects. On the other hand, if there are rules governing conversations between Harreld and prospective or declared candidates, not only should we anticipate Harreld breaking those rules, but such conversations would seem to violate the board president’s edict that Harreld, “…will not participate in any manner in the selection of the new president”.)
Because Harreld intends to remain at the center of university administration for the foreseeable future, while at the same time operating outside the confidentiality constraints that limit what members of the committee can say to candidates, he can and inevitably will act as a black market for inside information about the search, including information about competing candidates. Fortunately, to grasp the magnitude of the threat Harreld represents we do not have to dig into myriad posts over the past five years to document Harreld’s compulsion for deceit. Instead — and particularly for the edification of both candidates and members of the search committee — we can simply expose the brazen lie that Harreld told only two months ago to justify extending his tenure and influence.
In this cued video you can see Harreld himself tell this unadulterated, self-serving lie during the brief, October 5th regent meeting at which his contingent resignation was formally accepted. In text, here is the false statement as quoted that same day by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, with additional context:
Harreld vowed in his announcement to stay on until a successor starts, negating the need for an interim president. And Harreld said Monday he’d be willing to stay even longer to help a new leader acclimate.
“I’m also reminded of how I joined the university five years ago,” Harreld said. “At that point in time, I could have really used someone to have guided me around the issues, strategies, meeting people, [not only on campus, but also major donors]. Certainly I got through that. But it took a year, maybe a little more, to get productive.
“So I would like to, if my successor would like, I would like to help them in that transition,” he said. “It may not take that long, but I just don’t think it’s disappear. I think it’s some meaningful transition.”
Harreld’s sniveling complaint is that when he was initially hired, “…[he] could have really used someone to have guided [him] around the issues, strategies, meeting people, not only on campus, but also major donors”. As a factual matter, not only was that statement a deeply disingenuous and self-serving revision of his presidential tenure — and as such, yet another window into Harreld’s toxic ego needs — but the clear and inarguable objective of that gross deception was to allow Harreld to remain at the university beyond his successor’s appointment. In a single provably false sentence, uttered with premeditated intent, Harreld attempted both to divorce himself from his own presidential failings, and to position himself as a critical component of the next president’s success.
It is not particularly surprising that Harreld had difficulty getting up to presidential speed at Iowa, because he was both professionally unqualified and temperamentally ill-suited for the job. As for his assertion that his developmental delay was the result of a lack of support, however, that claim is laughable. In fact, in the 173-year history of the University of Iowa, it is likely that no president ever had more support before and after taking office.
As we now know, the entire 2015 presidential search at Iowa was a sham engineered by: mega-donor alumnus Jerre Stead, who was also an old friend and business mentor of J. Bruce Harreld; former regent president Bruce Rastetter, who was a major powerbroker in Republican Party politics in a state dominated by Republicans; and Jean Robillard, the long-serving UI VP for Medical Affairs and once and future dean of the College of Medicine, who also served as chair of the corrupt search committee, and as interim UI president for the final critical month of the search and the following two-month transition. During that rigged search, which cost the state more than $330K, Harreld was given: multiple secret meetings with key powerbrokers and regents, including regents who were not on the search committee; a “VIP Lunch” and speaking opportunity before powerbrokers at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics; and a one-on-one phone call from the governor, which Harreld ostensibly requested himself. No other candidate was given any equivalent opportunities or access, while Harreld’s purported search for “information” was accommodated in ways that violated the very premise of a fair and open search.
Although it is true that Sally Mason effectively disappeared from the UI campus following her January, 2015 retirement announcement, Harreld can’t even claim he was denied her counsel after he was hired. And we know that because of comments from J. Bruce Harreld himself, the day before he took office — as reported by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller on 11/01/15:
Among the institutional heads Harreld has talked to since landing the UI job is former UI President Mason.
In fact, Harreld said, he and Mason have known each other for more than a decade. Both Purdue University alumni, Harreld said he worked with Mason from a business consulting perspective while she was provost of Purdue from 2001 to 2007.
“We worked very very closely together,” Harreld said. “I purposefully and she purposefully didn’t reach out to one another at all during the process of the search or my consideration. I think that would have been inappropriate.”
But, he said, after he was chosen, they both attended a dinner and the two shared thoughts on the job.
“She was very warm,” Harreld said. “She made specific comments about the strength of the team here. And I agreed with her.”
Not only did Harreld acknowledge talking to other “institutional heads” after he was appointed — meaning they took his calls and answered his questions — but between meeting with Mason in-person and the ability to talk to her on the phone, we have no evidence that she was anything but accommodating and supportive. We also know that Harreld inherited a provost — P. Barry Butler — who had three decades of experience at the university, and that Butler remained in that role for a year and a half before becoming president at another school. (In one of Harreld’s first extensive Daily Iowan interviews Butler not only attended but participated, and in the text we can literally see him providing exactly the kind of hand-holding Harreld now claims he was denied.)
Along with having the governor of Iowa, the president and president pro tem of the regents, the long-serving UI VP for Medical Affairs, an old friend and influential mega-donor, and a veteran provost on tap for questions and concerns, other advocates of entrepreneurial administration also crawled out of the woodwork and expressed their enthusiasm for Harreld’s appointment. Included in that group were former interim UI president Gary Fethke, other major donors to the university, and local and state business leaders, all of whom would have supported Harreld if he had requested help. (More on Fethke in particular in a moment.)
As to why Harreld would now falsely claim the opposite — that he was left to struggle on his own during his first year, when he was in fact largely supported by the academic, political and business power structure in and out of state government, from the governor on down — there is no mystery. Not only is Harreld incapable of taking responsibility for his own failings, including enthusiastically accepting a position which then set the University of Iowa back years as the school waited for him to demonstrate even a modicum of competence, but this new mopey narrative provides Harreld with an excuse for hanging around longer than he otherwise could or should after the next president is appointed. As for the ongoing presidential search, the question is not whether Harreld will tell any lies, but what other lies he will tell that the search committee won’t know anything about — and the committee needs to be cognizant of that threat.
J. Bruce Harreld and Equal Opportunity
The moment Harreld is no longer on the state payroll he will not only stop receiving $50K monthly checks, he will forfeit $2.3M in deferred compensation. Though Harreld is a millionaire in his own right, and owns several multi-million-dollar homes, $2.3M probably still qualifies as real money in his world, and if he can get that lump sun without having to honor his current contract that would be ideal. Add in the opportunity to influence the new UI president in ways that advance the objectives of Harreld’s minders, while preserving the work of loyalists, and hanging around the UI campus to ostensibly mentor the new president would also allow Harreld to protect his legacy, including preventing people from learning about debacles that Harreld would prefer remain secret. And of course at the top of that list would be why Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Tajuan Wilson quit after five weeks on the job.
Every minute that J. Bruce Harreld remains in the president’s office at Iowa, banking $5 in state funds for sixty seconds of work, makes it that much harder to undo the reputational and organizational damage that Harreld has wrought and continues to wreak. It would be a mistake, however, for members of the current search committee to assume that replacing Harreld with a new president will solve the school’s administrative problems. Even though Harreld was complicit in his own corrupt hire, and the previous leadership of the board orchestrated that abuse of power, the injection of a private-sector executive at the top of Iowa’s org chart was merely symptomatic of the arrogant and elitist administrative mindset that was hinted at earlier.
It is not only that Harreld and his toxic ego needs will negatively influence the current search if he is not aggressively thwarted by the committee and the board, it is that Harreld is the living embodiment and local proponent of an illiberal belief system which led to his own illegitimate appointment. Fortunately, because arrogance is an intrinsic component of that belief system, we do not have to validate suspicions with inference and implication. Instead, we can directly quote its principals over the past fifteen years, and in so doing connect dots that not only lead us inexorably to J. Bruce Harreld’s corrupt appointment, but inform us about administrative decisions that Harreld himself has made in his attempt to perpetuate that arrogant perspective.
While the roots of this all-too-familiar sickness reach back to the dawn of human history, we can trace the origin of the most-recent outbreak in the regents enterprise to 2006, when former regent president — and legendary enfant terrible — Michael Gartner tried to rig a presidential search at Iowa in that year. After that attempt ultimately blew up in his face, Gartner constituted a second, faculty-led search in 2007, which culminated in the eight-year appointment of Sally Mason. (And after less than a year on the job, Mason proved the wisdom of that choice by ably responding to catastrophic flooding on the Iowa campus in 2008.)
Whether you are familiar with Gartner or not, he is known locally and nationally for a long career in journalism, for serving as president of NBC News, and for winning a Pulitzer for editorial writing at a paper in Ames. He is also known for his pugnacious, bullying and contemptuous attitude, which was on full display in a column Garnter wrote in 2011, shortly after leaving the Board of Regents. While the entire column is worth reading for context, here Gartner explains his deeply held convictions about how power should be transferred at Iowa’s public universities:
Search committees are costly and, often, a waste of time — or a sham. A board should have in mind one or two possible successors for each president, and a president should know whom he wants as his next lawyer or provost or finance person without having to go through a search.
Jean Robillard, the outstanding vice president for medical affairs at the University of Iowa, was not picked by a search committee but simply was tapped by Gary Fethke, who in 18 months as acting president of Iowa accomplished more than his predecessor or successor. “There was no search committee formed to pick Jean Robillard, just a few great conversations with a bunch of people who were on the same page,” says Fethke, who had been dean of the business school.
That’s how good executives operate.
Similarly, when Robillard wanted a dean of the medical school, he named Paul Rothman. “I didn’t want to do a formal search since I knew Paul and could probably not have found someone better in the country,” Robillard says. So why waste time and money?
Setting aside the fact that Gartner himself initiated a sham search in 2006, the subtext here is clear. The people in power — who are, incidentally, almost always white and male — have the absolute right to choose the people who will have that power in the future, almost all of whom will also be white and male. On Gartner’s watch the regents installed the then-dean of the UI Tippie College of Business, Gary Fethke, as the interim UI president for a year and a half, and Fethke used that good-old-boy authority to appoint Jean Robillard — who was already dean of the College of Medicine — as the UI VP for Medical Affairs.
Flash forward eight years to the conclusion of Sally Mason’s tenure as president, and sleeper-agent Robillard picked up right where Gartner and Fethke left off, not only serving as the chair of a rigged search committee that was purpose-built to pass presidential power to yet another hand-picked white male, but also as the interim president during the subsequent transition. Meaning that search was not only an abuse of power by the Board of Regents, but also by a trusted member of the UI community, who used his own conferred status to pass the presidential baton to the white-male pal of a powerful white-male Iowa donor, thus following the bureaucratic prescription that white-male Michael Gartner laid out five years before. No one put a gun to Robillard’s head and made him sell out the university, he did that willingly, eagerly, precisely to perpetuate the lineage of executive privilege that Gartner shamelessly championed.
In looking back now, of course, we see that the enthusiastic appraisals of Robillard by Gartner and Fethke were at best premature. Not only was Robillard’s reputation indelibly stained by his central role in the corrupt 2015 presidential search — though Gartner and Fethke undoubtedly approved — but also by $100M in cost overruns that plagued construction of the new UIHC children’s hospital. We also know that only five weeks after Harreld took office, former regent president Rastetter, Robillard and Harreld decided to name that new hospital after Jerre Stead’s family, on exceedingly short notice, for reasons having nothing to do with Stead’s equally critical role in installing his little buddy in the president’s office. And of course in 2017, when Robillard subsequently announced that he would step down from his dual appointments as soon as his successor was appointed (sound familiar?) — having dutifully passed the torch of executive privilege to Harreld — Fehtke and Harreld were among those who sang Robillard’s praises.
Although Gary Fethke retired in 2015, he popped up in press reports that year both in support of Harreld’s absurdly unqualified candidacy and following Harreld’s shocking appointment:
“President Harreld has shown a deep respect and personal appreciation for academic culture; his championing and support of that culture will provide us with much-needed credibility with those who provide funding,” [Fethke] says. “Does anyone really believe that students who come to the UI to obtain an education that will support them in the job markets are put off by having a president who has spent his life trying to create business value? Give our president a chance to succeed. He is open to learning. I believe there is a chance that we will learn from him.”
In reality, J. Bruce Harreld “showed his deep respect and personal appreciation for academic culture” by abetting and obscuring the rigged search that landed him in the president’s office at a major public research university. That crony conspiracy was in turn led by, among others, a long-time UI administrator who was elevated to a critical position of power by another long-time UI administrator, who was himself elevated to a critical position of power by a former president of the Board of Regents. Meaning in all that backroom deal making, the basic premise of equal opportunity — particularly at a public institution of higher learning — was repeatedly and willfully ignored.
Over a decade and a half the people who held power at the University of Iowa believed they had the right to pass that power along themselves. In 2015 the leadership of the Board of Regents even went so far as to orchestrate yet another crony transfer of power — after Gartner failed to do so in 2006 — by implementing an intricate fraud against the UI community, the press, and the people of Iowa. In doing so, however, note the following detail from p. 6 of the resulting investigation by the American Association of University Professors — which subsequently placed the University of Iowa on its list of sanctioned institutions for two years:
One of the faculty search committee members, Professor Dorothy Johnson, noticed that after the position posting was approved, it lacked the customary statement of the university’s commitment to equal opportunity and affirmative action. She raised this matter with the board’s staff and was told that, because this was a board of regents search, not a university search, the university policy requiring that statement did not apply. Professor Johnson related this response to Professor Tachau, who raised it with the board’s staff again only to be given the same explanation. When she informed the staff that the board’s own policy did require the inclusion of that statement, the posting was revised, and Professor Tachau was thanked for bringing the issue to the board’s attention. The incident appears to have been one merely of carelessness in administration; but, though small, it illustrates the regents’ total control of the process and is, perhaps, indicative of the difference in perception, and of distance, between the board and the University of Iowa faculty.
It will be left to the reader to determine whether the insistent omission of even a rote commitment to equal opportunity — let alone by the governing board of three public universities — was mere “carelessness in administration”, or something worse, but the fact that this debate took place only five years ago is not encouraging. That this omission also occurred only five years after former regent president Gartner expressed disdain for equal opportunity in administrative searches also makes the omission seem more like a pattern, if not the de facto policy of the board. While the regent-driven search committee did finally add the required equal opportunity statement in 2015, and did go through the motions of a national search to purportedly identify Sally Mason’s successor — including interviewing multiple semi-finalists, and nominating four finalists — as we subsequently learned that search was a state-funded fraud designed to obscure the fact that a small group of old white males had, once again, simply handed out a powerful administrative position to one of their own.
Quoting from p. 12 of the AAUP investigation:
We are persuaded that the search was structured and engineered by the regents’ leadership from the outset to identify a figure from the business world congenial to its image of “transformative leadership.” Once such a person was identified, the rest of what followed was only an illusion of an open, honest search.
Tellingly, it didn’t seem to bother any of the co-conspirators — including J. Bruce Harreld himself — that they had to lie, cheat, and burn through more than $330K in state funds to live up to Gartner’s ideal of “how good executives operate”. In fact, as we later learned from depositions in a tangentially related court case, the identification of Harreld as a “figure from the business world congenial to [the board’s] image of ‘transformational leadership'” took place in March of 2015, shortly after the search committee was announced, and almost certainly before the committee met for the first time. And of course that initial identification was made by Jerre Stead, who was not only Harreld’s longtime business mentor and pal, but also a member of the search committee. Meaning while the committee did eventually add an equal opportunity statement to the position posting, and did conduct a nationwide search, in reality — and in keeping with the views on executive succession espoused by Gartner, Fethke and Robillard — there was never any opportunity for anyone other than Harreld to become the next Iowa president.
J. Bruce Harreld Carries the Torch
What Jean Robillard was in 2015, J. Bruce Harred is now: a duplicitous insider, perfectly positioned to influence the current presidential search, thus perpetuating the elitist views of Michael Gartner and Gary Fethke. To be sure, Harreld doesn’t have the same crony advantages, including a stacked search committee waiting to pass a stealth candidate along to a predetermined vote by the board, but Harreld can still influence the search a great deal. Which is not to say that members of the current board, or of the search committee, are necessarily opposed to the patriarchal views of Gartner, Fethke, Robillard and Harreld, but so far no one has made a similar overt declaration, or even betrayed that intent. Indeed, board president Mike Richards — an old white male himself — not only seems to be facilitating a good search so far, but he is the one who publicly stated that Harreld is to have nothing to do with the search.
As for Harreld’s views about equal opportunity hiring practices and national searches, we find abundant examples in word and deed. Ideally, there would be no instances where Harreld denied equal opportunity when filling an open administrative position, and yet we find many. As recently as February of this year, Harreld went on an extended rant during one of his semi-regular interviews with the Daily Iowan, not only detailing why hiring from within is better than casting a wide net, but sounding more and more like Gartner, Fethke and Robillard as he spoke. In fact, now that Harreld has announced his pseudo-retirement, we can see in retrospect that he was laying the groundwork for promoting the next president from within, either instead of or despite conducting a national search:
DI: Does this mean with other searches going forward, you plan for more internal searches?
Harreld: I think we should really ask the question. I’ve actually said it to the board. Let me make it really clear. I’ve said to the board, ‘Do you want me, even to consider developing people to replace me?’ and I think you should.
To be equally clear, this preference for personally determining matters of administrative succession is not a new development for Harreld. When former provost P. Barry Butler moved on in 2017, Harreld elected not to launch a national or internal search, and instead installed a hand-picked interim for two years. Likewise, when the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — Iowa’s largest college by far — announced that he was stepping down, Harreld once again tried to appoint an interim dean for two years, but was ultimately rebuffed by concerned faculty. And of course after Harreld finally conducted a national search and hired a new permanent provost, who lasted all of one year, Harreld went right back to the Gartner playbook and appointed another handpicked interim provost who will now serve another two years. (As recurrently documented by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, the turnover under Harreld has been extreme.)
Equal opportunity in hiring practices also obviously relates to overarching and interrelated concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and on that administrative front Harreld’s record is considerably worse. For example, after the former Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) also left the university in 2017, Harreld again elected not to launch a national or internal search for two years, and instead foisted that responsibility on two other administrators for one year each — the second of whom Harreld also expected to do her own full-time job as well. Along the way Harreld also downgraded the role of CDO to Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (AVP-DEI), kicked the position out of his cabinet, and changed the reporting structure so the AVP-DEI no longer has a direct report to his office. There was no committee that recommended those changes, and yet Harreld went out of his way to push them through, thus liberating the university’s executive offices, including his own, from administrative responsibility for DEI.
When Harreld finally did get around to conducting a national search for a new, permanent AVP-DEI, as previously noted that individual — Tajuan Wilson — lasted all of five weeks before stepping down. While it was never explained why Wilson resigned almost immediately, in attempting to explain why it wasn’t his fault Harreld was conspicuously evasive about how the reporting structure was changed, and who removed the position from his cabinet. From Harreld’s interview with the Daily Iowan on 09/29/19:
DI: The associate VP for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion used to be in the president’s cabinet reporting directly to you. When Lena Hill and Georgina Dodge were here, their positions in the UI organizational chart were reporting directly to you, so why now are they reporting to the provost? Was that change intentional?
Harreld: No, we probably changed that quite a while ago and then Lena was actually on the cabinet and then Melissa was on the cabinet when she became interim and I started restructuring the cabinet from almost from the day one I got here. We had a number of other people on the cabinet as well, and I started making a tighter, smaller group, so it wasn’t with TaJuan or anything. We’ve been trying to get smaller and smaller as a group for a while now. We asked Melissa who was already on the cabinet that they take the DEI activities. So, I don’t view that one way or another as a substantive change. And to be sure, the offer letter that went to TaJuan never included that so that wasn’t a change. He knew that going ahead.
DI: So that was already at some point before where he was hired?
Harreld: Absolutely, and there was a reporting relationship change as well. I don’t know if you know this but there was a dual reporting relationship to me and to the provost for — Georgina reported to both of us in that context, and that was changed and TaJuan knew that at the beginning as well. Why was that changed? Well first of all, any time you have dual, it gets confusing as who’s giving the performance reviews and who they were reporting to so I’m not sure if that’s a healthy practice.
Despite repeatedly insisting that “we” changed the cabinet status of the AVP-DEI position, Harreld himself made that change because he does not believe diversity, equity and inclusion are cabinet-level concerns. Likewise, despite passively acknowledging the change in the AVP-DEI reporting structure — as if it simply happened by itself — Harreld implemented that change because he does not believe diversity, equity and inclusion are issues which warrant the attention of the illegitimate crony president of the University of Iowa. (Adding irony to insult, before Harreld decided that dual reports were not a “healthy practice”, he created a new six-figure job for a former white Iowa basketball player, which included a dual report to the president and another office. Which is to say that in characteristic fashion, when it came to Harreld justifying why he kicked DEI out of his cabinet and out of the president’s office, he lied.)
As to the suddenly-vacant AVP-DEI role, Harreld not only hedged about when it would be filled, he actually argued that filling the position would set DEI back on the UI campus, instead of advancing the cause:
DI: Is the UI looking to fill his position?
Harreld: I think eventually. I think we have a tendency to do, and I think Montse made this call, as well, and I completely agree with her that if we take another six to nine month hiatus to look for a new leader, we lose six to nine months of executing the action plan. So let’s get going, let’s get the emphasis right now on the action plan and specifically what we need to do. We will fill that position. We need to get energy not on getting a leader, on what we said we were going to do.
As promised Harreld left the suddenly-vacated AVP-DEI role vacant, then six months later, in January of 2020, the new and soon-to-be-former provost announced that a national search for a permanent AVP-DEI would launch in April — meaning the position would remain unfilled, at minimum, for well over a year. As to whether that role would report to the provost only, or also to the president, the provost stated, “…feedback from the campus community will determine exactly how we shape that position as we move forward.” While Harreld did eventually allow a national AVP-DEI search to go forward, he refused to appoint an interim, meaning the role was still empty when George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police in late May. With the search process just getting underway, and protests and riots taking place on campus and in the surrounding community — even though classes were entirely online as a result of the coronavirus pandemic — executive visionary J. Bruce Harreld suddenly had a change of heart in early July, apparently completely unrelated to the racial unrest sweeping the country.
From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller on 07/23/20:
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld said on Thursday he intends to appoint — within two weeks — an interim associate vice president to guide the UI’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
He said in a message to campus that he wants to make the appointment quickly “in order to have someone commit 100 percent of their time to leading our campus efforts.”
The campus has been without a diversity director since last August when TaJuan Wilson resigned after seven weeks on the job.
Harreld in his message acknowledged his role in system failures across campus but said, “We must move forward with our search.”
As you probably know the position of AVP for DEI currently reports to the Provost but will have a seat on the president’s cabinet. We considered whether to change the reporting structure, having the position report directly to the president, but this change would require us to rewrite the job description and restart the search.
We determined that such a delay is not acceptable. We are very encouraged by the existing pool of candidates and in return their interest in the university.
After Harreld kicked the AVP-DEI role out of his cabinet it was suddenly back in, without explanation, but the position would still only report to the provost — not because that was the right thing to do, but because changing the reporting structure would purportedly delay the ongoing search. While it was quite telling that Harreld only felt motivated to appoint an interim AVP-DEI after the murder of a Black man put the university at risk from social unrest, Harreld did follow through and appoint a qualified member of the UI community in early August, while the search proceeded apace. As it turned out, however, the question of the AVP-DEI reporting structure was not entirely settled, as Harreld himself claimed at the time.
From page 4 of the 09/01/20 meeting minutes of the UI Faculty Council:
Dr. Tovar responded that this new reporting structure (to the provost only) has likely been a drawback to attracting candidates to the position; throughout the country, most chief diversity officers report to their presidents. The new reporting structure may also inadvertently send the message that DEI is not valued at the highest levels by the UI. Dr. Tovar added that she is aware of recent conversations regarding moving the position under the president, but a final decision has not been made.
With the AVP-DEI search moving ahead, and an interim belatedly installed in that role, at that point J. Bruce Harreld demonstrated just how much damage he could do to a search committee by suddenly announcing that he intended to maybe retire, but only after his successor was appointed. Because of that impending but uncertain change in leadership, multiple applicants for the AVP-DEI position withdrew, and that in turn collapsed the search. Bringing the saga full circle there is now no plan to launch another nationwide search, and instead the university will “move forward” with the interim AVP-DEI that Harreld didn’t want to appoint in the first place.
One unexpected benefit of Harreld wrecking the AVP-DEI search, however, is that roughly half of the members of the disbanded committee felt free to take Harreld to task for his insistence on downgrading the administrative status, cabinet status and reporting status of the AVP-DEI role. From Sabine Martin at the Daily Iowan, on 11/01/20:
Nine of the 19 committee members signed the letter, which called for the next person to hold the position to have “necessary authority, resources, job security, and regular access to senior leadership to catalyze DEI‐related change and help create an anti‐racist campus and community.”
The group recommended the UI change the reporting structure of the head diversity officer, which leads three campus units, to report to the president instead of the provost, as is the structure now.
As a recommendation for the future of the three-unit Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the letter writers stated that the position should act similarly to other high‐level administrators at the UI.
“It is critical for the person in this position to report to and meet regularly with the President; to serve as a Vice President, rather than as an Associate Vice President; and to be a member of the President’s Cabinet,” the letter read.
With regard to what was the Chief Diversity Officer position when Harreld was hired, which Harreld then downgraded to the role of AVP-DEI, not only has Harreld’s decision making over the past three-plus years been relentlessly focused on limiting if not impeding the functioning and effectiveness of that important office, but the UI community has already compelled Harreld to reverse course on one point, and in all likelihood all of his efforts at diminishing DEI will eventually be undone, either by the next president or by Harreld himself. Why the Board of Regents would allow someone with that track record to stick around and taint the administration of the next president is not only a question the search committee should ask the board, it is yet another indicator that the board may be party to Harreld’s efforts to influence the ongoing search. Between Harreld’s obvious financial interest, his bureaucratic interest in protecting his own legacy and advancing the objectives of his on-campus and off-campus backers and loyalists — to say nothing of remorselessly lying in service of those objectives — the search committee is now obligated to neutralize J. Bruce Harreld as a threat to the fair and open, equal-opportunity search that I believe they intend to conduct, because there is no scenario in which J. Bruce Harreld himself will stand down.
J. Bruce Harreld and Breaking the Chain
The predominant narrative of the rigged 2015 presidential search at the University of Iowa is that the corrupt Board of Regents imposed an otherwise oblivious J. Bruce Harreld on the unsuspecting UI community, thus betraying shared governance. In reality a majority of the board, including the leadership, along with one of the most powerful administrators on the UI campus, and a big money donor and alum who also happened to be Harreld’s friend and business mentor, and even J. Bruce Harreld himself, conspired to rig that search because they believed they had the right to do so. Like Gartner and Fethke before them, they believed “good executives” choose their successors, even if those good executives have to lie and cheat to impose their will.
The primary objective of any presidential search committee is attracting the best possible candidates. Given that the current Iowa president and a majority of the regents may be planning to appoint an in-house candidate — which would go a long way to explaining the otherwise incoherent statements about Harreld’s future — it is particularly important that the search committee prevent Harreld or anyone else from making the Iowa presidency seem less attractive to outside applicants. To protect the committee from interference by J. Bruce Harreld, and to break the chain of executive entitlement that reaches back fifteen years, the board — and particularly President Mike Richards — must empower the committee to make two things clear to every applicant.
First, the committee must make explicit what was implicit in Richards’ admonition that Harred will have nothing to do with the search. Specifically, that despite being the sitting president, J. Bruce Harreld does not speak for the University of Iowa. The only people authorized to speak on behalf of the university, with regard to the presidential search, are the twenty-one members of the search committee. Any statements to candidates by Harreld, by other administrators, or by regents not on the committee, must be confirmed by the committee.
Second, J. Bruce Harreld will not only have no role in the search, but ideally Harreld will have no ongoing role at the university or at the board once a successor is chosen. Instead, and appropriately, the new Iowa president will inherent a clean slate. If the new president wants to call Harreld three times a day, every day, for the first six months, it is heartwarming that Harreld is eager to provide such support, but the choice to contact Harreld will be left to the new president.
Establishing the authority of the committee, and eliminating uncertainty about Harreld’s post-presidential plans, are critical to the validity and success of the search.