A new threaded post on this topic can be found here. For previous posts about the Harreld hire, click the tag below.
02/28/21 — The Iowa Board of Regents held its first full meeting of the year last Wednesday, and as a result an avalanche of reporting spilled forth. The central and pointed theme of that meeting was Professions of Free Speech, which sounds downright patriotic. As detailed in prior updates, however, that star-spangled occasion was spurred not by genuine concern for that cherished right, but by disingenuous attacks from Republican radicals in the Iowa legislature, who incidentally have to power to lay waste to the state schools. To show appropriate deference to the right-wing nuts who hold the keys to the state coffers, the institutional heads of the regent universities devoted the majority of their presentations — and the board the majority of its meeting time — to making clear that they won’t cross the militant Iowa GOP.
Because illegitimate University of Iowa president J. Bruce Harreld remains one of the board’s institutional heads, pending appointment of his successor, he was recognized at the 3:19:02 mark and dutifully stumbled through predictably banal prepared remarks. Because Harreld is also a self-aggrandizing and inveterate liar, one otherwise innocuous passage deserves a closer look. From the 3:21:39 mark of Harreld’s presentation:
What I’ve always enjoyed prior to the pandemic were the marches, the demonstrations and public dialogue that was commonplace and encouraged within our community. These demonstrations and engagements ranged from political debate to issues with no political ideology…or — um…and often included students, faculty, staff and the general public.
As reported more than five years ago by KWWL’s Kristin Rogers, on 11/03/15, here is J. Bruce Harreld expressing unconditional support for free speech on his second day in office, after months of UI protests following his corrupt appointment:
A recent Board of Regents meeting was protested following the announcement of Bruce Harreld as University President.
Many people believe Harreld is not qualified for the job and the process to hire him was flawed.
“I think we’ve gotten a little over the edge here, I mean everyone has a right to express themselves, I have no problems with that. On the other hand I just want to make sure the citizens of Iowa know that here at the University of Iowa we’re a lot more professional that that, we can do better and they should ask more from us,” Harreld said.
In 2018, J. Bruce Harreld was so thrilled with protests on campus that he not only refused to meet with the protestors, he actually made up a lie about “tampering” to avoid doing his job. Only after his own executive staff pointed out that Harreld could legally meet with the protestors did he agree to do so, and even then only in the basement of the campus Department of Public Safety, with armed officers on the premises.
From Paul Brennan at Little Village on 05/09/18:
Around 6 p.m., Peter Matthes, senior advisor to President Harreld and vice president for external relations, and Laura McLeran, another senior advisor to Harreld and the assistant vice president of external relations, met with the protesters.
Following a lengthy discussion, Matthes and McLeran agreed in writing to schedule a meeting between representatives of Faculty Forward Iowa and university officials who can address the group’s demands. One of those officials will be Bruce Harreld.
Before committing to include Harreld, Matthes and McLeran checked with UI’s general counsel to make sure that despite what Harreld told the DI, the president could attend the meeting.
“So, now we’ve established that there isn’t any legitimate legal reason that President Harreld can’t meet with us,” Harding said.
As reported by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller on 10/18/19, here’s Harreld at a gathering with four former legitimate University of Iowa presidents, brazenly recasting the protests against his corrupt appointment as a campus-wide conversation:
“When I joined the university, there were a lot of people out there who were not very pleased about that whole process — to say the least,” he said, thanking his fellow panelists for reaching out then and “patting me on the back and boosting me up.”
“But that caused an important dialogue on our campus, which is where are we at? What’s been happening over the last decade? Given this change in funding that’s been going on for the last decade, what are we doing about it?” he said.
“And I think those dialogues, at least for me, were very cathartic,” Harreld said. “Because I think we all came to the conclusion that we need to own the future rather than react to the past.”
From Ditchwalk commentary on 10/23/19:
As regular readers know, this assessment by Harreld is fiction. In reality it was Harrled himself who frantically tried to turn the page, to escape the overwhelming evidence of his corrupt hire for blatantly self-interested reasons. Had he admitted that he lied, on multiple occasions, to obscure his relationship with Jerre Stead, he would have been disqualified from accepting the job he has now held for the past four years. Instead, by keeping his mouth shut and changing the conversation — with the blessings of the corrupt board that appointed him — Harreld has both profited and furthered the objectives of the cronies who rigged his hire.
The only “important dialogue” that took place after Harreld was imposed on the UI campus involved multiple protests in the face of stonewalling and lies by Harreld and the regents.
Finally, here’s J. Bruce Harreld attempting to invalidate another group of UI protestors — this time during a 02/16/20 interview with staff from the Daily Iowan:
DI: At the Feb. 5 Board of Regents meeting, some students, a few of them from the University of Iowa, protested tuition hikes and support for underrepresented students on campus. They shared that higher education access is limited with tuition rising, particularly to underrepresented students — creating a barrier. So, what is your response to those concerns?
Harreld: Well, they have all the right in the world. It’s really interesting because I frankly did not recognize any of our students. Clearly a couple said they were students of ours, and they clearly spoke up, so I’m not challenging that. But, I think one of the issues I’ve noticed is when I ask them where they’re from, they’ve been from other universities or other colleges in the state. So, I’m really not so sure. I counted 32, and I don’t know how many of them are from the University of Iowa.
Bro Bruce Harreld, champion of free speech — as long as he gets to choose whether to ignore it, or to characterize that speech in a favorable light.
* As for the board’s own ass-covering response to the recent free-speech muggings by Iowa’s Republican legislators, we have reporting on that from Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan — State Board of Regents recommend changes to syllabi, campus policies regarding free speech; and from Vanessa Miller at the Gazette — Iowa regents create permanent free speech committee, expect more changes. One historical irony about the board’s concern for free speech is that it wasn’t too long ago that the prior regent president, Bruce Rastetter — who would later engineer J. Bruce Harreld’s corrupt appointment — blasted a UI professor not only for speaking his mind, but for presenting academic research. And of course you will be surprised to learn that there weren’t any Republicans jumping up and down about that abuse of power, or demanding Rastetter’s scalp. From Laura Belin at Bleeding Heartland, back in 2013: Bruce Rastetter tried to educate distinguished Iowa professor.
* As we belatedly learned last Thursday — and as the board and Harreld certainly knew during Wednesday’s meeting — an administrative sacrifice was also offered up to appease Iowa’s angry, lesser, right-wing political gods. The main line of attack that Republicans used over the past few months was the charge that the University of Iowa College of Dentistry violated the free speech rights of a conservative student. While we could have a riotous debate about who scammed who in that instance, the larger point is that even if there was an error in judgment by a university employee, that mistake warranted an internal review and response by the school, not a public hanging by politically motivated thugs.
Unfortunately, while the dean of the UI College of Dentistry was taking heat from the right, he was also taking heat from students who felt that diversity efforts at the college were a sham, and we have reporting on that from Cleo Krejci at the IC-PC — ‘A long-standing tradition of discrimination and bias’: University of Iowa dentistry students demand change; and from Vanessa Miller at the Gazette — University of Iowa dental students demand change despite legislative blowback. With a full-on culture war breaking out at the College of Dentistry, and with the board and UI executives pissing themselves in response, it is not at all surprising that the dean decided to step down — or more likely, was forced out — ahead of his previously announced departure date. And for reporting on all that see Caleb McCullough at the Daily Iowan — College of Dentistry Dean David Johnsen to step down early after free speech controversy; Cleo Krejci at the Press-Citizen — ‘Ready for a change of pace’: Amid controversies, University of Iowa’s College of Dentistry dean announces plans to step down; and Vanessa Miller at the Gazette — After uproar, University of Iowa dentistry dean stepping down early.
* While the appeasement of nationalist and fundamentalist Republican state legislators — no less by a governing board dominated by straight-laced establishment Republicans — took up the bulk of Wednesday’s regent meeting, the most consequential part of that meeting, by far, passed without comment. Scan the agenda for last week’s meeting and you will find that most of the items fall under a ‘Consent Agenda’ subheading. Watch the video of the meeting, however, and you will see that all of those issues — from item ‘a’ through item ‘o’ — were passed by a simple motion and second, without discussion.
That is particularly unfortunate, because over time item ‘o’ will prove to be pivotal if not momentous in determining the future of the regent universities. The title of that agenda item was “Advisory Group Recommendations”, and regular readers may recall that back in late April of 2020 — as the pandemic was making inroads across Iowa, and dominating the news — the current board president, Mike Richards, did announce the formation of that group. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 04/30/20:
“We must look at whether administrative functions at all three universities can be consolidated,” he said. “We also need to consider whether to put a moratorium on new construction.
“Change is hard,” he said. “It is necessary. We will adapt. We will adjust. We will continue to provide an affordable, accessible, high quality education for all of our students.”
After hearing of the unprecedented challenges facing Iowa’s public universities and special schools, the board Thursday announced an advisory group of four regents tasked with reviewing administrative and academic collaborations and efficiencies.
The group — which will be broken into sub groups — will bring recommendations to the full board in November, Richards said.
As noted endlessly in these virtual pages, the Iowa Board of Regents does not ask questions if it does not already know the answers, and it does not create an advisory group or task force unless it already knows the conclusions it wants that panel to reach. Meaning initiatives like this specific ad-hoc advisory group are less about gathering information than they are about justifying and legitimizing decisions the board has already made, but not yet acted upon. A little over one month after the initial announcement, the board updated the ongoing ‘work’ of the advisory group, as reported by Kathie Obradovich at the Iowa Capitol Dispatch on 06/04/20:
Among the topics the advisory group may consider, according to Richards:
• Making “strategic investments to expand the opportunities for students at one university to take classes online from one of the other universities;
• Creating new online programs for non-traditional students;
• Expand the post-secondary enrollment option for high-school students;
• Consolidating other administrative functions at all three universities;
• Exploring a moratorium on new construction
• Exploring additional public-private partnerships
The advisory group has already had initial meetings and will make recommendations to the Board of Regents at its November meeting, Richards said.
Even a cursory examination of those rapidly constituted bullet points makes clear that the Board of Regents was contemplating significant changes to the overarching administration of the three state universities. And of course were the board not completely compromised by allegiance to the Republican Party, we could have an adult conversation about how the three state schools might profit from micro and macro synergies — particularly given that the pandemic has increased the need for near-term savings, because of the economic hit the schools have already suffered. Unfortunately, because the board is completely compromised by allegiance to the Republican Party, we have to assume — indeed, would be naive not to assume — that this pop-up committee was not only created to advance a political agenda, but to leverage the pandemic as a justification for administrative changes that were already in the pipeline. Indeed, given prior board commentary on the matter, it is likely that the board seized on the pandemic as justification for advancing changes that would have been imposed anyway, but will now be meet with significantly less institutional resistance. (Strike when the pandemic is hot.)
In mid-September the board announced the first of the telegraphed recommendations from the advisory group, as reported by Kelsey Harrell at the Daily Iowan: State Board of Regents advisory group proposes construction moratorium. To no one’s surprise that proposal passed a week later, and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic it certainly made sense. That then led to the November meeting and the big advisory-group reveal, during which several members of the group read from prepared texts about the additional conclusions they had ostensibly reached. (You can see video of that scripted presentation here.)
One oddity following that meeting, however, was that there was little to no reporting about the advisory group’s conclusions. One reason for that may have to do with another oddity of the November presentation, which is that it was described as a ‘first reading’ of the group’s conclusions, to be followed by a second and final reading at the next meeting — meaning last Wednesday. What is doubly confusing about that is that normally the only board business that requires a first and second reading, by statute (see section 19.a), is an increase in tuition. Yet even if there was some statutory obligation for a first and second reading regarding the advisory group’s recommendations, the board didn’t actually conduct a second reading at last week’s meeting. Instead, they just folded item ‘o’ in with the others and approved it without discussion.
Indeed, if you compare the November recommendations to the February recommendations they are virtually identical, meaning over three-plus months no changes took place. The board knew what it wanted to do back in November — if not back in April — but for some reason waited until February to confirm the acceptance of those recommendations, without additional comment. Perhaps not so coincidentally, one consequence of that delay and subsequent omission is that there has not been any substantive reporting or conversation in the press about the conclusions reached by the advisory group.
As to the totality of the advisory group recommendations, and their bureaucratic impact in the coming months and years, statements like this (p. 3) validate concerns that the entire initiative was a power grab by the board office, which increasingly exerts not mere oversight of the state universities, but operational control:
Recommendations 1 and 2 are directed to the Executive Director of the Board of Regents. The objective of these is to maximize the capacity of the Board office to support Board and institutional goals for consistency, transparency and providing access to exceptional academic programs to Iowans and beyond.
Recommendation 1 concerns the centralizing of “Digital Academic Delivery”, while Recommendation 2 has to do with “Collaboration with the Board Office” — including, notably, “Integrating Internal Audit budget and operations into the Board office”. The fact that the XD/CEO of the board is charged with these recommendations makes it more likely than not that these initiatives will fundamentally change the relationship between the university presidents and their schools. (You don’t centralize the auditing functions for all three of the state universities at the board office, if the board office is not going to serve as the executive office for all three of the state schools.)
In all of this there are also obvious and important implications for the ongoing presidential search at the University of Iowa. For example, the board may be looking to effectively downgrade the presidencies at the three state schools to the roles of chancellors, with a single president governing all three schools as a unified academic system. As to how quickly such a transition might take place we don’t know, but the nightmare scenario would be that the dim bulbs at the board have already decided to employ outgoing and illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld in some transitional operational role, perhaps consulting under the auspices of the board’s Executive Director/CEO — which would also then allow Harreld to earn out his $2.3M in deferred compensation.
In any event, if you or someone you love is thinking about applying for the presidency at Iowa, be sure to read up on the advisory group recommendations, and ask lots of questions of the members of the presidential search committee. (Again, the number of people who are working overtime to discourage the best applicants from applying for the Iowa presidency is something to behold, and that is yet another reason to believe that none of this is a coincidence. The last thing the board seems to be looking for at UI right now is a real leader, because without comment they just shifted a massive amount of organizational and operational power to their very own XD/CEO, who effectively answers to no one other than the politically appointed president of the board.)
* Speaking of audits, during the morning session of Wednesday’s regent meeting the Audit and Compliance Committee submitted their routine survey of Internal Audit Reports at the three state schools. Included on p. 3 was the following item:
University of Iowa
Issued February 24, 2021
The purpose of this audit was to determine if any level of formal succession planning is currently implemented across the University of Iowa (UI), including University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, as well as review potential barriers to this process. Formal succession planning processes are not yet included in UI’s strategic plan, but there is growing interest in implementing succession planning across the university. If management determines succession planning is a strategic initiative at the university, then audit recommendations include ensuring adequate resources, staff, and time are dedicated to implementing this process. Barriers to succession planning processes should also be addressed prior to full implementation. Follow-up is expected to be completed by December 2021.
Regular readers may recall that back in early October, when illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld announced his tentative retirement, he went on and on about the importance of succession planning. Not only was that inherently insulting given the corrupt nature of his own crony appointment — to say nothing of the board’s documented history of white men passing positions of power to other white men — but it didn’t make a lot of sense given that Harreld and the board have been conspicuously vague about Harreld’s possible post-presidential future. Whether this item even represents an actual audit is also a valid question, because once again the board seems to be using an administrative mechanism to justify changes that the board has already decided to make.
For example, if an outgoing university president decides that succession planning would be awesome, and blathers about it endlessly in various interviews and conversations with the board, is it really fair to then characterize that as a “growing interest in implementing succession planning across the university”? But of course that’s how rats operate, gnawing through bureaucratic ropes behind the scenes, until one day the whole premise of a pubic university collapses, only to be replaced by the academic equivalent of a for-profit corporation. Take a few tests, get your license or degree, pay at the window.
Again, it would obviously be beneficial to the board, and particularly to the Executive Director/CEO, to simply promote loyalists from within to a chancellor role at each school, then occasionally put on a rigged open search every six or seven years to hire a crony system president — but that’s not really succession planning at a public university. That’s more like corporate governance, which is why that is almost certainly the long-term objective behind this ‘audit’. (I kept the following story by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller open in a browser tab for over a year — Audit recommends University of Iowa speed up its review of human-subjects research — because the University of Iowa had tortured the word ‘audit’ to the point of perversion. Despite reading the article multiple times, the only conclusion I have ever been able to reach is that the university faked an audit process in order to administratively justify pursuing the most-profitable research, as opposed to unprofitable research that might only improve or save someone’s life.)
* Also at the board meeting, the regents finally filled in the missing faculty resignation reports for 2019, which you can see in graph form on p. 26 here. After an overall dip in 2018 there was a spike in 2019, then the numbers were down again in 2020 — perhaps in part because of the pandemic. (Where are you going to go if you leave?) For the University of Iowa, three of the past four years were almost perfectly flat, with a proportional spike in 2019.
02/26/21 — My original intent was to cover news from this week’s regent meetings in the next update, but I don’t want the following article to be obscured in that avalanche of reporting. One of the comical aspects of the otherwise grim legislative assault being waged by the Iowa GOP, is the fact that conservative businesspersons in the state are waking up to the reality — as the national Republican Party did under Trump — that they no longer control the Republican base. The maniacs pushing these repressive and vindictive laws are not interested in furthering commerce, they’re interested in imposing a cultural inquisition. And as you might imagine, that’s causing problems for people who are trying to sell Iowa to companies around the country.
From Michael Crumb at the Business Record: Controversial bills affecting Iowa’s image, hurting business and workforce recruitment, leaders say.
“Companies that I talk to outside of Iowa wonder what we’re thinking,” Tucker said. “One company who we were talking to, trying to convince them to come to Iowa, saw the bathroom bill and said, ‘What the [heck] are you thinking? Didn’t you see what happened in North Carolina when they tried to pass this bill?’ And they questioned if Iowa was really the right place.”
The entire article is hilarious, and touches incidentally on the attack on tenure at Iowa’s state schools. In purely political terms this is also an opportunity for Iowa Democrats to drive a wedge between the Iowa Republican base and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, who fancies herself an ambassador for business interests in the state. Unfortunately, the Iowa Democrats are currently concerned with protecting the caucus system and Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status, so my guess is they will waste this opportunity and fail to compel Reynolds to to choose between promoting businesses or coddling nationalists and fundamentalists.
02/22/21 — The first full 2021 meeting of the Iowa Board of Regents takes place on Wednesday, and you can see the agenda items here. Included is formal approval of Kevin Kregel as the permanent provost of the University of Iowa, without having to compete for that position, after having been handed the role on an interim basis by illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld. Meaning despite recent inroads by individuals who believe in the value of diversity, equity and inclusion, the board’s venerable legacy of white men handing out key jobs to other white men lives on.
* As noted in several recent updates, there are a number of right-wing bills making their way through the Republican-dominated Iowa legislature which aim to control and cripple Iowa’s pubic universities. While the sheer mass of that legislation constitutes a political barrage, in the interlocking specifics those bills also betray a concerted ideological offensive. In that context, over the past month I have become increasingly convinced that this offensive is aimed not only at disrupting and disabling public higher-ed at all three of the state universities, but specifically at crippling the ongoing search for a new president at the University of Iowa.
As it stands now, the twenty-one members of the search committee, along with the search-firm representatives who were brought in to facilitate the search, are trying to generate as much interest as possible in the Iowa presidency. And yet what do we find on a weekly if not daily basis, but more proposed legislation that would turn the University of Iowa into little more than a glorified community college, let alone one under perpetual bureaucratic threat from right-wing politicians. If the Iowa Republican Party wanted to dissuade the best academic administrators from applying for the president at UI, they couldn’t be better if they threatened them with physical violence.
Presumably everyone is hoping these bills will eventually be withdrawn, fail to receive sufficient votes, or be vetoed by the governor, but even if none of the proposed legislation becomes law the timetable for the legislature works against the timetable for the search process. Both the legislative session and the search are tentatively set to conclude in late April, meaning many of these bills may still be viable while applications are being accepted and the winnowing process is still underway. If the governor is still taking a hands-off attitude about the proposed tenure ban, and that bill is still in play, who in their right mind would risk taking the Iowa job?
The worst-case scenario is that the Republican-dominated Board of Regents is complicit in the timing and specificity of this legislative barrage, not because they necessarily want some or even any of these loony bills to become law, but because this rolling assault will diminish the pool of excellent outside applicants for the Iowa presidency. That in turn would make it easier to hire either a toady internal candidate from the UI campus, or a qualified but decidedly conservative external candidate. (It’s not that the Board of Regents had a change of heart after rigging the 2015 search, and is now philosophically opposed to imposing their own preferred candidate on the University of Iowa. They just don’t want to get caught again.)
To underscore the immediacy of the threat, the current timeline for the Iowa search has applications being due on March 15th — meaning only three weeks from today. The fact that competing measures to ban tenure passed out of both House and Senate committees means the resolution of that legislative assault will likely not be known by the time the search committee begins sifting through applications on March 16th. And the longer the uncertainty lingers about the tenure ban in particular, the more likely it is that some candidates may withdraw their applications at a later date, thus further disrupting the ranking and winnowing process.
The fact that Iowa’s governor, Kim Reynolds, refused to say whether she would veto a tenure ban should make clear that part of this Republican legislative attack involves keeping that threat in play for the time being. And the only direct effect that such a ban would seem to have over the coming month or two would be negatively impacting interest in the Iowa presidency. (Of course if the tenure ban passes you can forget hiring anyone of consequence either to president over UI or to teach there, because all three state schools will quickly become academic wastelands.)
* From Eric Kelderman at the Chronicle of Higher Education: Why Would Iowa Want to Kill Tenure? An incisive and ugly look at a state in the throes of cultural collapse.
* A quest opinion in the Iowa City Press-Citizen from David McCartney: Iowa Republicans’ push to abolish tenure would seriously undermine our system of higher education.
02/20/21 — There are so many crazy and daft elected state officials running around Iowa right now it’s impossible to tell the nuts from the numbskulls without a program. Continuing the ironic spree of Republican legislative assaults against the Republican-dominated Iowa Board of Regents, we have yet more bright ideas from Iowa’s endless supply of twenty-watt Republican bulbs.
* Vanessa Miller at the Gazette: Iowa lawmakers eye public university ‘public policy events’ directors.
Addressing Republican notions that Iowa’s public universities are liberal-leaning, more often promote Democratic views and recently have quashed conservative voices, lawmakers are pursuing a bill requiring the campuses to appoint a current employee to serve as a “director of public policy events.”
Duties of the new director would include, among other things, inviting speakers to campus who can “articulate perspectives on widely debated public policy issues otherwise poorly represented on campus.”
There is nothing higher education needs more than state-mandated minders telling people how to think and what to hear. Why not give everyone a Bible and mandate a few hymns?
Speaking of which….
* James Q. Lynch at the Gazette: Bill would have Iowa join other states in requiring Pledge of Allegiance in school.
Since the Republican Party is now, openly, the party of white nationalism and sedition, it shouldn’t be a surprise that right-wing legislators are eager to obscure their agenda with Cold War loyalty oaths. I still remember being compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school — in Iowa City of all places — until wiser adults realized that forcing kids to say things they didn’t understand was about as anti-American as you can get. What is particularly nauseating about this bill, however, is that so many Democrats eagerly gave Republicans cover, and none more so than our new local state representative, Christina Bohannan, who was the belle of that compulsory-patriotism ball.
From the lede to Lynch’s report:
As many times as she has recited it, Rep. Christina Bohannan still loves to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
“No matter how many thousands of times I’ve recited it, it always makes me feel reverent and proud to be an American,” the freshman Democrat from Iowa City said Tuesday in encouraging passage of a bill requiring Iowa K-12 schools to administer the pledge and show the U.S. flag every day.
To be fair to Iowa Democrats, it is undoubtedly a cynically savvy move to support the compulsory reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, just as it would be to knuckle under to any other form of patriotic virtue signalling as Republicans try to divert attention from their own attempts to undermine, subvert and destroy American democracy. But that doesn’t make it right.
* Continuing the theme of overt political control of thought, knowledge and education, we have this from the Gazette’s Miller: After Iowa State syllabus controversy, legislation would make universities post course info online.
House Study Bill 199 — which Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, introduced and a House education subcommittee passed — adds to a growing catalog of proposed legislation this session aimed at addressing Republican concerns over free speech suppression at Iowa’s universities, particularly suppression of conservative voices.
Lawmakers also have advanced a pair of widely-debated bills to make Iowa first state in the nation to ban tenure, and another requiring universities poll and report to the General Assembly the political affiliation of all of its tens of thousands of employees.
If it hasn’t already, it should be occurring to you right about now that Iowa is on the precipice of engineered cultural collapse. Speaking of which….
* Also from the Gazette’s Miller: Bill bans diversity training in schools, universities implying ‘Iowa is fundamentally racist or sexist’.
Senate Study Bill 1205 — introduced this week by Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton — would bar all K-12 public schools and public universities from offering diversity training that, among other things, teaches a person, based on his or her sex or race, “is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.”
The bill also explicitly bans training implying “the State of Iowa is fundamentally racist or sexist.”
I don’t think it’s a surprise that Iowa’s snowflakes, like America’s snowflakes, are in a panic about the changing demographics of the United States. Long-held associations between religion, skin color and power are breaking down, and a lot of narrow-minded people aren’t handling that transition very well. Unfortunately, in Iowa many of them also seem to be Republican state legislators.
* Catching up on the proposed tenure ban at Iowa’s public universities, the press recently asked Iowa’s Republican governor about that possibility, and in a telling reply she professed powerlessness to intervene on behalf of the state schools. What is particularly odd about that bureaucratic faint, however, is that if the Republican-led legislature does pass a ban on tenure, the governor will have to either sign that legislation, veto the bill outright, or take no action, which is the equivalent of a pocket veto. Unfortunately, the press was apparently powerless to ask what she intended to do if the bill passed, so we are left to wonder.
* Prior to last week I had the likelihood of a tenure ban at fifty percent, and the governor’s non-responsive statement marginally increases those odds. To be sure, however, the likely outcome for most anti-higher-ed legislation in the Iowa legislature is that it will not reach a full vote in both chambers. At some point, nonviable bills will be withdrawn or allowed to languish, and as of Thursday we had our first such casualty.
From Brian Grace at the Daily Iowan: Iowa lawmaker says bill to poll university professors on political affiliation won’t advance this session. The fact that some bills will be derailed is not all good news, however, because awareness of that legislative reality may lull opponents into a false sense of security that all such bills will fail. It may even be that some anti-higher-ed legislation was proposed precisely to make other bills — like banning tenure — seem reasonable in comparison. (Even the Democrats who represent districts which are home to the state schools have been conspicuously silent about many of these bills, whether out of laziness, inattention, or fear that open opposition might strengthen the resolve of their political foes.)
* Offering welcome academic pushback this week were Katherine H. Tachau, Edward Wasserman and Ann Rhodes, who authored a guest editorial in the Iowa City Press-Citizen: University of Iowa’s College of Dentistry dean wrong to apologize to lawmakers over Trump criticisms.
* Back in August, when illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld and Athletic Director Gary Barta killed off four Hawkeye sports, they insisted that they would never revisit that decision again, for any reason, ever, ever.
From Robert Read and Austin Hanson at the Daily Iowan: Iowa reverses decision to cut women’s swimming and diving program amid Title IX battle.
Vanessa Miller at the Gazette: University of Iowa to reinstate women’s swimming and diving, but not men’s sports that were also cut.
More from the Gazette’s Miller: Title IX lawsuit ongoing despite University of Iowa about-face on women’s swimming cut.
Because the university is being sued, this change of heart doesn’t make the Title IX court case go away, but it could be intended to lessen any punishment the court may impose if the case goes against the school. What we can say is that this reprieve is only temporary, until Barta figures out how to kill off women’s swimming and diving without getting hauled back into court. At that point he will then suddenly find plenty of cash to launch a new women’s sport — which will also lose money, but maybe not as much.
From Leah Vann at the Gazette: Gary Barta cites lack of funds as barrier to adding women’s wrestling at Iowa.
02/18/21 — As detailed in myriad posts over the past two-plus years, the University of Iowa entered into a public-private utility partnership with a European energy consortium, which was consummated in March of 2020. While the $1.12B in cash that the university received was described by both UI and the Iowa Board of Regents as an ‘upfront payment’, that money was in fact a loan against fifty years of annual payments backed by the taxpayers of the state. In exchange for an effective and guaranteed fixed interest rate on their funds, the consortium loaned UI $1B to gamble in the markets, underwriting the university’s belief that it can not only generate sufficient returns to repay the borrowed funds, but also turn a profit, which can then be spent on various financial wants on the UI campus.
There were and still are concerns about that transaction — some of which we will consider in a moment — but one obvious question was when the first payouts would take place on the UI campus, and what that money would be used for. Indeed, on several occasions last fall, including during the early October meeting at which the Board of Regents officially accepted his tentative retirement, illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld asserted that the initial P3 allocations would be made in a few weeks. Not only did 2020 come and go with no allocations, however, but January of 2021 slid by as well. (You can see Harreld make that specific assertion here, only moments after preventing himself from spitting up on his computer.)
It was not until early this month, in February of 2021 — almost a year after UI took possession of that $1B in cash and began making bets in the markets — that the university announced what it intended to do with the initial profits from that leveraged loan. In assessing that announcement, however, it is also important to consider the timing and context, because it turns out there was a lot going on that week. And speaking of context, note also that the UI P3 closed on March 10th of 2020, mere days before the COVID-19 pandemic compelled the school to shutter its campus and switch to online courses. Despite that sudden emergency, however, and despite the steep and ever-growing financial losses for the school, in his presidential wisdom J. Bruce Harreld insisted that profits from the P3 endowment would not be used to offset the normal cost of operations. Despite sitting on $1B in cash, which was at that moment generating a return on the university’s investments, none of that money would be used to respond to the pandemic.
As detailed in recent updates, by early February the new legislative session was in full swing, and various right-wing nuts were introducing numerous bill designed to harass and weaken the state’s public universities. Among the reports emanating from the state capital, however, one story stood out from the usual noise because it detailed a long-simmering lawsuit that no one outside state government knew existed. Specifically, on February 2nd, William Morris at the Des Moines Register reported that back in January of 2020, the Iowa State Auditor sued the Board of Regents to compel the board to disclose the names of a secret group of Iowa investors who participated in that deal. (More here from Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan.)
As Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand noted, although the auditor’s office has the legal right to review any financial transaction on behalf of the people of the state, there were clear reasons for the state to be particularly concerned about a deal in which the state became the guarantor for a $1B loan. From Morris’s report:
And given the unprecedented size and nature of the Energy Collaborative deal, Sand believes he has a right and an obligation to review it.
“While the auditor needs no justification for additional audits, the fact that the transaction agreement creates a huge financial liability for the agency and taxpayers makes it worthy of scrutiny,” according to the court filing.
Among obvious concerns about the secret Iowa investors is the possibility that instead of being mere passive investors, they may have been critical to closing the deal. For example, if the amount of money that the European energy partners were willing to loan to UI was less than the amount UI believed was necessary to generate the desired profits — while also covering increasing annual payments to the consortium over the next fifty years — then a third party may have been critical to closing the deal. In that case, the auditor would rightly want to know if those third-party investors got the same deal as the European energy consortium, or more favorable treatment; whether any of those Iowa investors had a conflict of interest; and whether anyone at the University of Iowa, at the Iowa Board of Regents, or in state government stood to profit as well. (For example, if the spouse or relative of someone at UI or at the Board of Regents was among the investors, that would clearly present multiple conflicts of interest.)
The timing of Morris’s scoop was particularly interesting because the very next day, on February 3rd, J. Bruce Harreld made his annual (and this time, virtual) pilgrimage to the Iowa statehouse, to go through the motions of begging the legislature for more money. Only this time, of course, Harreld was doing so twenty-four hours after the Register reminded everyone that the University of Iowa is sitting on a mountain of money equal to one eighth of the entire general fund budget for the state of Iowa. From Sabine Martin at the Daily Iowan, on 02/03/21: University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld calls for more support from state lawmakers as universities face COVID-19 revenue losses.
Harreld said the university has lost $83.4 million, after federal support, because of COVID-19. The UI responded to this loss with hiring and salary freezes, temporary and permanent layoffs, general savings, and the transition of Hancher Auditorium to be self-sustaining, Harreld said.
“We are highly dependent on the state of Iowa resources,” Harreld said. “As you know there has been a generational shift of who pays for public higher education from the state.”
Despite Harreld’s impassioned plea, we can probably all agree that if you’re going to beg the legislature for additional funds on the premise that there has been a “generational shift of who pays for higher education”, it probably doesn’t help if everyone knows you’re sitting on $1B in cash, plus whatever profits that money generated over the past year. Speaking of which, guess what the University of Iowa decided to announce the very next day? From Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan, on 02/04/21: University of Iowa’s first round of public/private partnership funding distributed.
On Thursday, the university announced it will distribute the first $7.5 million of the investment revenue generated by the deal. The funding will go to supporting initiatives that “bolster student success and develop and retain faculty,” according to the release.
The release said funding these programs is key to the university’s success and ability to compete with peer universities.
From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, also on 02/04/21: University of Iowa makes first distribution from blockbuster $1.165 billion utilities deal.
In a statement Thursday — one day after making his appeal to lawmakers for more state support — Harreld said, “The university entered into the P3 so we could fund the strategic plan, which we couldn’t do without additional resources.”
“These investments are the first step toward becoming a destination university that not only serves its home state but competes for the best students and faculty from across the nation and around the globe,” he said.
Setting aside the fact that Harreld’s reference to the UI Strategic Plan perpetuates one of the great rhetorical scams in the history of the University of Iowa, here we have Harreld asserting that elective allocations from the UI P3 should not be used to defray the immediate crushing costs of the pandemic, but should instead be spent on what is effectively marketing and positioning for the school. Harreld could allow or even insist that the $7.5M be spent on fighting the pandemic, or on faculty salaries, or anything else, but instead he’s determined to spend that money on initiatives which would not be listed among the Top 100 Needs of the university. And he did all of that one day after the telling the legislature that Iowa desperately needs more state money to meet critical needs.
As interesting as the new P3 disclosures were in themselves, however, it was the bang-bang timing of those bracketed stories that really stood out. Did the University of Iowa have advance notice that the Register story was going to drop on the 2nd, right before Harreld’s remarks to the legislature, or were they caught off guard? In either case, who tipped the Register off to the long-simmering lawsuit between the auditor and the regents, and why? As for announcing the P3 allocations, was that the plan all along — to beg for money from the legislature on the 3rd, then pass out $7.5M like candy on the 4th? Doing so may have protected Harreld from embarrassing questions by elected officials, but even the idiots would have noticed that grift the next day, when that $7.5M in spending was disclosed.
While J. Bruce Hamster and the Iowa Board of Rodents would love to run the state’s public universities like private corporations, the fact remains that those institutions belong to the people of Iowa. On that basis alone the university and board should be forthcoming about business deals like the UI P3, but from the protracted intra-governmental legal fight that has been taking place behind the scenes for over a year, we can clearly see that is not the case. For whatever reason, the university and the regents are frantically trying to avoid answering to the state auditor, which seems incriminating in itself.
On Tuesday that dispute reached its eventual terminus when the case was argued before the Iowa Supreme Court. (You can see the first part of the oral arguments here, right up until the feed dies.) The day before, on Monday, the Gazette’s intrepid Vanessa Miller published an extensive report on the case, including a detailed timeline of efforts to prevent the auditor from learning the identities of the Iowa investors: Iowa Auditor Rob Sand accuses regents of ‘bad faith’ in keeping utilities deal secrets.
One thing that stood out during the oral argument by the board’s counsel was a professed concern that disclosing the names of the secret Iowa investors back in December could have put the deal at risk. And yet from Miller’s reporting the day before, it’s also clear that the university and regents intended to keep that information confidential even after the deal was finalized:
Sand reported the regents directed his inquiry to a separate individual — identified in court records only as “John Doe” — who on Dec. 13, 2019, informed Sand the documents he sought were “confidential pending completion of the process.”
Sand reminded the board that as state auditor he’s “expressly granted access to confidential information.” But it continued to resist and said he’d get the documents after “financial close, with confidential information redacted.”
Because Iowa state government is pervasively corrupt I not only do not know how the courts will decide the case, I am not confident it will be decided on the legal merits. (If you told me one of the justices stood to profit from the UI P3, I wouldn’t be surprised.) I also don’t know when the case will be decided, but while we wait for a ruling it’s worth pointing out that irrespective of the law, the adamant demand for secrecy by the university and the board was always objectively incoherent.
When the winning bid for the UI P3 was announced in December of 2019 — and the presence of secret Iowa investors was disclosed — the deal was effectively consummated at that time, and only the so-called financial close remained. The only way that the disclosure of the names of the Iowa investors could have blown the deal would be if the investors themselves demanded secrecy as a condition of participation. (In other university deals large and small, not only are the names of the principles disclosed as a matter of course, but that includes winning bidders whose identities were withheld during the bid process.)
What we’re left with is a preposterous assertion by the university and by the regents, that while the UI P3 is an unambiguous good for the citizens of the state of Iowa, not only can the citizens never know the identities of the third-party Iowa investors, the university and the board were also never obligated to inform the state auditor of those identities. (As a factual matter, their identities may have been conveyed to the auditor’s office by now, but neither party is talking pending the outcome of the court case.) If everything is on the up-and-up with the UI P3, and the Iowa investors received no special consideration or treatment, and there are no conflicts of interest, it would actually seem advantageous to all parties to disclose the names of the patriotic Iowans who helped conclude the deal. Instead, however, the university and regents are fighting like dogs to prevent the auditor’s office from having the right to learn those names — and, presumably, to prevent the names from being subsequently disclosed.
Notwithstanding the final ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court, there doesn’t seem to be any doubt that the Iowa State Auditor was right to bring suit against the university and regents for failing to comply with his requests for information. Even if the third-party investors insisted on secrecy as a condition of participation, they could not grant that secrecy to themselves. Instead, they would have needed someone inside state government to act on their behalf, and it’s worth wondering why the university and/or regents might feel so inclined. (Start with kickbacks and go from there.)
As to who specifically might be going to the wall for the Iowa investors, fighting tooth and nail to deny information to the state auditor, regular readers may remember that a few years ago J. Bruce Harreld went legally berserk on a local contractor, following massive cost overruns during construction of the new children’s hospital. In that instance Harreld used university and state legal resources in similar fashion, first refusing to pay moneys owed to the contractor, then refusing to pay moneys owed to the courts as well, until — like the current case — every avenue of appeal was exhausted. (True to form, Harreld lost every case he brought, and incurred the wrath of the courts along the way.)
We may never know the names of the third-party Iowa investors, because the state auditor is asserting what the auditor’s office is allowed to know, not what his office is allowed to disclose. Still, there are significant questions about how those third-party investors were brought into the deal, and what the terms of their participation were, so I hope the auditor discloses as much information as possible. The citizens of Iowa should be fully informed about the $1B gamble the university and regents took, and about anyone who stands to profit from that gamble.
Having said that, if the names of the Iowa investors are eventually disclosed, I will be surprised if there is no crony association or naked conflict of interest that compelled the granting of secrecy. No one goes to such extremes to keep benign information from the public. (Subsequent reporting on the oral arguments here, from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller.)
Update: This morning the University of Iowa announced the administrative process by which next year’s P3 allocations will be determined: Campus can submit letters of intent to apply for P3 Year 1 funding. That notice contains a password-protected link to the ‘UI Strategy Team’, but you can see the membership of that deliberative group here. The overall P3 allocation process, as originally envisioned, can be seen on p. 22 here. That document in turn hails from the staged ‘informational webinar’ that was given to the Iowa Board of Regents on December 3rd, 2019, in advance of approval of the UI P3 by the board. (For newer readers, the P3 allocation process — like the UI Strategic Plan — is a front for funding for-profit initiatives at UI, so do your best to couch your proposals in those narrow terms.)
Update 02/20/21: From the Gazette’s Miller we also have subsequent reporting on the oral arguments before the Iowa Supreme Court: Justices pepper regents about withholding utilities deal secrets. As Miller noted after multiple quotes from the proceedings, counsel for the regents seemed to agree with the justices that the defense had no defense, so why contest the case? The whole dispute, from mid-December of 2019 until now, seems like one giant stall — but for for what reason? Did someone really do something crooked while the UI P3 was being implemented? Is somebody trying to cover up whatever happened, and they need more time? Why does it matter if the investors’ names are disclosed or not?
02/14/21 — In the previous update we looked at a fit of reactionary, anti-higher-ed legislation that is already moving through the Republican-dominated Iowa legislature. In this post we will focus on reporting about the University of Iowa over the first three weeks of the spring term.
* After various hints and rumors that the University of Iowa would implement entry testing, asymptomatic testing and/or surveillance testing at the beginning of the spring term, the school once again simply threw its doors open wide, as it did in the fall, without any new testing whatsoever. And that’s true even as more aggressive strains of COVID-19 are appearing across the United States, and are already disrupting other university campuses. In fact, two weeks ago the Daily Iowan’s Rachel Schilke reported that the more-easily-transmitted UK COVID-19 variant was already in the area: United Kingdom strand of COVID-19 found in Johnson County.
* While we wait to see if the University of Iowa will take any corrective action after one or more of the new COVID-19 variants have established themselves in the local community, or even on the UI campus, it’s probably a good idea to talk about the rollout of new stages of vaccine distribution — which are going about as well as you would expect at a massive R1/AAU public research university with an absentee president and a lingering credibility problem due to that president’s illegitimacy. For example, after a slew of new information and reporting, here is the state of vaccine distribution at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, as summarized in these chronological headlines:
Rachel Shilke at the Daily Iowan: Students advised not to call pharmacies, health care providers for COVID-19 vaccine.
Vanessa Miller at the Gazette: University of Iowa will begin ‘patient vaccination’ next week.
Sabine Martin at the Daily Iowan: UIHC health official says vaccine supply is short, but ‘we can handle this’.
Sabine Martin at the DI: UI cautions employees, students that COVID-19 vaccine supplies remain ‘extremely limited’.
Sarah Watson at the Daily Iowan: UI students roll up their sleeves for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Miller at the Gazette: University of Iowa starts taking names for community vaccination.
Given the alternative it is obviously a blessing that multiple viable vaccines exist which drastically reduce the likelihood of hospitalization or death from COVID-19. It is also understandable that vaccine distribution is proceeding in fits and starts, given that the prior federal response was run by diseased vermin who minimized the pandemic for political benefit. Having said that, while the Biden administration has only been in office for four-plus weeks, the people who run the University of Iowa and University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics have had the same jobs for years, and that includes most of the people who work in the marketing and communications shops. So by rights we ought to be seeing better information flows given the amount of money all of those people are making.
Thankfully, one bright spot at UI continues to be UIHC CEO Suresh Gunasekaran, who regularly meets and exceeds messaging expectations on healthcare and hospital matters. Recently the university posted a video from Gunasekaran which hits all the right notes from empathy to information, and should have been featured across the campus and in media when the spring term began. At a running time of three minutes it is not too long, yet presents all of the information that was pushed out earlier in print form — which most people won’t read.
By insufferable yet predictable contrast, as the fall term was getting underway the only communication the UI campus received from illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld was yet another joint message from then-interim provost Kevin Kregel, which blathered on about success while people are dying from a raging pandemic. Two weeks later, at the beginning of February, Harreld testified virtually before the legislature about the need for more state funding, then turned around the next day and appointed Kregel as the permanent provost for reasons that are still unclear. (Once again it’s also not clear whether Harreld is even back on campus, or still chillin’ at his multi-million-dollar chalet in the Rockies.)
All the more galling is the fact that Harreld’s purported rationale for continuing to hang around the campus, after announcing his pending retirement last October — instead of turning the university over to an interim president — was that he wanted to ensure continuity of leadership and administrative initiative at the school. Well here we are four-plus months later, and not only is Harreld essentially invisible, but when it comes to the life-and-death matter of the pandemic he is derelict in his obligation to be the public face of the school. In fact, it is entirely possible if not likely that the university would be preforming better at this critical time, and the UI community would be more fully informed, if there was an interim president in place. Instead, because Harreld can’t get off the stage the university remains hostage.
* In an exceedingly rare if not unprecedented moment of solidarity — which, on reflection, was almost certainly theatrical — the Iowa Board of Regents requested that the Iowa Department of Pubic Health (IDPH) add university faculty to the latest round of prioritized vaccinations. From Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan: Regents ask Iowa Department of Public Health to include faculty in COVID-19 vaccination plans. To no one’s surprise, in less than twenty-four hours the IDPH — which is laser-focused on husbanding resources at the expense of human life — told the regents to stuff it, but it was still a nice thought. (In reality that gesture was almost certainly motivated by factors other than concern for faculty health. Even if it was staged, however — in fact, even if the board knew in advance that it would be turned down, or told the IDPH to turn down their request — it was still a welcome break from the usual casual regent hostility.)
* Following a campus update on Friday, we have this report from Grace Hamilton: University of Iowa to offer dine-in seating, reports new COVID-19 cases. What remains a mystery is why the university made this move at all, let alone after one of the more-easily-transmissible COVID-19 variants arrived in Johnson County. Other than increasing the likelihood that students will make each other sick, what is being accomplished by doing this? Is this demand-driven, or marketing-driven? Are students begging for this, or is the university doing this for its own reasons? Is there a profit-motive involved? (No one in healthcare at UI can think this is a good idea.)
* Keeping pace with the defining saga of J. Bruce Harreld’s failed presidency, in several recent updates we looked at diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) on the UI campus. On the general subject of DEI, the university released its latest campus survey in late January, thus precipitating a short burst of news on the topic.
From the UI Office of Strategic Communications: UI to implement 5 key DEI initiatives.
Sarah Watson and Caleb McCullough at the Daily Iowan: Underrepresented groups report lower satisfaction in campus climate, UI embarks on new DEI initiatives.
Vanessa Miller at the Gazette: University of Iowa survey finds division on value of campus diversity work.
* On the relatively banal subject of housing and revenue, we have this update from Caitlin Crome at the Daily Iowan: Pandemic leads to increase in canceled residence hall contracts.
* Also on the subject of money, we have solid commentary from Hannah Pinkski at the Daily Iowan, on the unconscionable hoarding of state cash during the COVID-19 pandemic: It’s time to use more state funding.
* Speaking of hoarding cash to the detriment of Iowans, we have this story from Ailis McCardle at the Daily Iowan: Food Pantry at Iowa faces unprecedented demand, volunteers seek additional aid.
* Back in 2017, illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld drove Dan Reed out of his job as the school’s VP for research, then created a sexy new entrepreneurial position for a former Hawkeye jock. Shortly thereafter Reed left Iowa to take a position at the University of Utah, where he is now under consideration as the interim president of that school. No one has ever driven more talent away from the University of Iowa in a shorter amount of time than J. Bruce Harreld during his five-plus years in office.
* For those who don’t mind a little good news ow and then, we have this — from the Gazette’s Miller: Pandemic hasn’t curtailed progress on University of Iowa Museum of Art.
* Also from Miller at the Gazette: Iowa community college enrollment drops, tuition swells.
* And yet more from the Gazette’s Miller — looking down the academic road: University of Iowa nixes in-person graduation, but commits to more in-person classes next fall.
* For you data nerds, here is an extensive report from Iowa’s non-partisan Legislative Services Agency, which is a great resource for understanding what is happening, and not happening, with faculty salaries at the Iowa’s regent schools: Changes in Staffing and Salaries at State Universities. Speaking of which, despite having repeatedly promised to increase faculty salaries, the graph on p.9 — titled Faculty Average Total Compensation — shows that J. Bruce Harreld managed a modest increase over the first couple of years, which is now tailing off. By contrast, former UI President Sally Mason increased average total compensation by close to $10K over eight years.
02/12/21 — While the fall and spring semesters at the University of Iowa may seem roughly commensurate, and there are many administrative deadlines that recur, the mood and context at the beginning of those two terms is quite different. In a normal fall everyone is coming off summer break, the new academic year beckons with promise, and football and its rituals funnel emotions into associations that may last a life time — whether from rooting for the home team or bending over a toilet. By contrast, the spring term begins in the depths of winter, the promise of the academic year may have already turned to dread (don’t ask how I know), and the contact sport which galvanizes the state’s attention in early January is the beginning of Iowa’s combative legislative session. Although the pandemic has certainly diminished some of those differences over the past academic year — both because of increased reliance on impersonal and isolating online courses, and the delayed start to the Big Ten football season — Iowa’s Republican state legislators are intent on reminding the UI community that it is fighting more than one plague.
I do not know what the Iowa legislature was like prior to 2015, when illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld was appointed by the Republican-corrupted Iowa Board of Regents. What I do know is that over the past six years the radicalization of the Republican-led Iowa legislature has moved in lockstep with the national Republican Party, which was and still is dominated by a degenerate with a personality disorder. What used to be a small-c conservative state party with a few extremists on the fringes, is now a white-nationalist party determined to turn Iowa into a cultural wasteland premised on cronyism, fundamentalist ideology, and quasi-academic libertarian social engineering.
As with each of the past five legislatures, the current legislative session began with a spasm of anti-education bills from right-wing Republicans, many of whom hail from rural communities, some of whom are college graduates, and a few of whom are graduates from Iowa’s public universities. While most of those bills will ultimately fail, it is important to note that after Iowa Republicans cleaned up in the 2020 elections, there are more of these nuts than ever before, and they are eager to express their cultural rage by destroying state-funded higher education. The odds are low that any of the following bills will pass, but the odds are not zero, and they are probably higher now than they have ever been.
* You know it’s another legislative session in Iowa when right-wing vandals once again try to ban tenure at Iowa’s regent universities. While it is likely their efforts will fail this year, as they have in the past, it is important to note that Iowa Republicans as a whole — from the top down, including Governor Kim Reynolds — believe the only valid reason to support higher education is to provide job training for corporations, and for professional industries like law, dentistry and medicine. To see how this narrow-minded economic view impacts the perception of higher education, consider the following quote from a round-up of higher-ed legislation this past Wednesday, by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller:
In making his final argument against tenure, [Republican representative Skyler] Wheeler said plenty of instructors have taken jobs on the university campuses without a path to tenure. And too much job security is dangerous.
“Why are we giving professors a lifetime appointment on the taxpayer dime?” Wheeler asked. “This simply removes a mechanism that protects bad professors.
“Would you use the surgeon who had tenure or the surgeon that didn’t have tenure? Would you fly on the airplane with the pilot that had tenure or the pilot that did not have tenure?”
Here we see the strict Iowa-Republican focus on higher-ed as job training for professionals only, along with the consequent dismissal of education as a profession which is necessary for this particular argument to have any coherence. It doesn’t seem to occur to the yokel being quoted that the correct question would be whether a college student would prefer to be taught by the professor who has tenure, because this legislator assumes there is no difference between instructors who do and do not have tenure. (Following that example, one might ask this legislator if he would rather be operated on by a board-certified specialist, or by someone trained in emergency or battlefield medicine.)
Ironically, the most significant opposition to this bill comes not from Democrats or progressives or from justifiably concerned faculty, but from the Republican-dominated Iowa Board of Regents. (One of the nine regents — David Barker, who has a Ph.D from the University of Chicago — is a full-on party operative who serves on the Republican state central committee.) Because Iowa State and the University of Iowa are both highly respected, research-intensive AAU universities, were the legislature and governor to succeed in eliminating tenure that would effectively kill those schools as credible institutions of higher learning.
For the blow-by-blow over the past three weeks we have the following reports, in chronological order:
Vanessa Miller at the Gazette: Iowa GOP lawmakers again propose bill barring university faculty tenure.
Miller again: Iowa lawmakers advance bill to eliminate tenure.
Sabine Martin and Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan: Iowa Republican lawmakers again face opposition to advancing bill prohibiting tenure at public universities.
Sabine Martin at the DI: Iowa public university presidents oppose proposed bill to bar tenure.
As of this writing, while the bill to strip tenure from the state schools passed out of the House and the Senate this week, more and more groups are coming out against the legislation, and many of those groups are politically right of center and primarily concerned about economic issues. The question now is whether there are enough cultural votes from religious-liberty types to push through that mainstream resistance and enact this legislation. (Tenure isn’t being attacked in Iowa or anywhere else because it’s bad for the state treasury, it’s being attacked because it prevents right-wing nuts from controlling publicly-funded higher education.)
More here late Thursday (yesterday), from Eleanor Hildebrandt and Sabine Martin at the Daily Iowan: Iowa Senate subcommittee advances bill to prohibit tenure at Iowa’s public institutions.
* In a separate attack on the regent universities, another bill was sponsored which would allow the Iowa legislature to dictate how some regent monies are spent, regardless of the board’s preference. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Bill would bar Iowa universities from spending nonstate money without state government approval. Again, it’s funny watching the Iowa Republican Party go to war against itself, except for all the waste involved, and the damage that all of these Republicans keep doing to Iowa’s state schools.
Regarding the specifics, not only is it not clear which regent revenues would and would not fall under control of the legislature, but passing a law that overrides legally binding contracts between donors and the foundations at the state schools would obviously be a deterrent to alumni support. If money that is given for one purpose can be redirected by legislative caprice, why would anyone give that money? In fact, the premise of the legislation is so absurd that the Gazette responded with a staff editorial: Iowa lawmakers want to micromanage underfunded universities.
* Along with passing actual laws, the Iowa Republican Party’s anti-higher-ed caucus is on a constant quest to salve their intellectual insecurities and sate their ideological rage by engineering partisan political victories in the press. To that end, in a recent update it was noted that back in December a conservative Iowa student went crying to sympathetic right-wing state legislators about pushback he received during an email chat in the College of Dentistry. As a result, one right-wing legislator met just long enough with sham UI president J. Bruce Harreld to shove Harreld’s head in a toilet, at which point the conservative UI student was absolved of all sins. (Reporting at that time from Julia Shanahan at the Daily Iowan: Iowa legislators weigh in on College of Dentistry ‘free speech’ concerns.)
Not surprisingly, however, that wasn’t the end of the matter but only the beginning. Once the legislature opened for business in January the same right-wing players got the band back together — in front of many more microphones and cameras — and repeated their plaintive performance. For the arc of subsequent developments we have reporting from:
Julian Shanahan at the Daily Iowan: UI College of Dentistry student meets with legislators over concerns the UI is suppressing conservative voices
Vanessa Miller at the Gazette: Republican lawmakers slam University of Iowa for ‘intimidation of free speech
Claire Benson at the Daily Iowan: UI dental students, IFR call for improved diversity, equity, and inclusion in College of Dentistry
Cleo Krejci at the Des Moines Register: ‘Unsafe just because they disagree’: University of Iowa dean apologizes for infringing on rights of conservatives on campus
This assault on the University of Iowa — echoing aggressive right-wing assertions of campus free speech across the country — proved so successful that Iowa’s legislative Republican storm troopers expanded their inquisition to include outrages and abuses at the other state schools:
Miller at the Gazette: Iowa universities apologize for ‘egregious’ free speech errors
Katie Akin at the Iowa Capital Dispatch: Free speech at Iowa colleges: Lawmakers review three 2020 incidents
While grandstanding Republicans made a big show of demanding contrition from administrators at all three state universities, their success was driven not by the force of their arguments, but by the fact that they control the pursue strings of the state schools. When you put a financial gun to anyone’s head, it’s not hard to compel the kind of weepy apologies that one associates with being on the wrong end of mafia justice. (Extortion isn’t just for criminals.)
From Lauren White and Brian Grace at the DI: University of Iowa College of Dentistry to alter approach to student speech.
As noted by Eric Kelderman, however, in a smart report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the insistence on free speech and fairness by Iowa Republicans was both opportunistic and selective: In Iowa, Public Colleges Scramble to Ward Off Claims of Bias and Threat to Tenure.
Despite the concerns of some faculty members, university administrators have been quick to try to quell controversies and keep favor with Republicans who control both the legislature and the governor’s mansion.
At a legislative hearing Tuesday, representatives from each of Iowa’s three public universities apologized for a range of incidents that Brink and other lawmakers say exemplify a widespread bias against white, conservative students.
Republican lawmakers have also been selective in what kinds of discrimination they call out. No legislative hearings were held, for instance after an investigation confirmed reports of widespread racism within the University of Iowa’s football program.
[Republican State Rep. Holly] Brink said she “had not researched that issue” and declined to respond.
It will be another month or two before we know which legislation has survived and which bills have been declared dead-dead. What we should expect in the meantime is that Republican politicians in Iowa will continue to wage war against public higher-education until the session is gavelled to a close in late April or early May. In fact, if the governor’s failed response to the pandemic gets any worse, we should expect such assaults to increase, simply as a means of changing the subject away from the number of Iowans who have been sentenced to random deaths by Iowa’s deeply concerned Republican Party.
* To underscore the volatility of legislation in the Iowa statehouse, when I wrote the first draft of this post one grandstanding Republican was determined to prevent Iowa colleges and universities from overstepping their authority to issue mask mandates. From Ian Richardson at the Des Moines Register: Iowa colleges and universities couldn’t require mask wearing off-campus, under bill advanced Tuesday. Even though Governor Reynolds just lifted all protective measures across the state, some municipalities are sticking with their own restrictions, and this Republican legislator wanted to make sure college and universities could not save lives. A few days ago however, that bill was withdrawn for reasons that have not been explained — but that doesn’t mean it won’t pop up again later.
* Speaking of rising from the dead, on Wednesday of last week another Republican submitted a bill that would require the Iowa Board of Regents to determine the political affiliation of “public employees” — meaning faculty in particular. The idea is itself darkly ironic because the Board of Regents is routinely restocked with Republicans who change their political affiliation to evade party-affiliation limits on state boards. Perhaps not surprisingly, the bill is also not an original bad idea, but a reprise of a prior attempt at the same objective.
The original loyalty check was proposed back in 2017 by Republican Mark Chelgren, who wanted political affiliation to factor into faculty hires. Unfortunately for Chelgren, after his radical, anti-American proposal garnered a great deal of press attention, it was discovered that he inflated his own academic credentials by claiming to have a business degree, when in fact he “held a certificate for a training program for the chain restaurant Sizzler“. (These are the people who write Iowa’s laws.)
* Before I could get this post published, yet another anti-higher-ed Republican bill appeared — this one aimed at punishing the University of Iowa medical and dental colleges for failing to enroll a majority of students from Iowa. Setting aside the fact that residency requirements would almost certainly mean lowering the standard for enrollment at both schools, the unstated premise of this bill is that educating instate students will lead those students to stay in Iowa, as opposed to taking their degrees and returning whence they came. Perhaps not surprisingly this is also not a new idea, and a similar bill was introduced last year, during the 2020 session.
The fact that most of this legislation will fail and has failed in the past should not lull anyone into thinking it will always fail. Some of the more outlandish bills may serve as outliers precisely to make other bills seem more reasonable. There also seems to be a general under-appreciation in the Iowa press — outside of beat reporters who cover higher education — that this kind of legislation is exceedingly rare even in the reddest of red states, yet bubbles up routinely in Iowa. These attacks are sustained and committed, and given sufficient support they will succeed.
02/10/21 — Late yesterday the Daily Iowan posted a guest opinion from University of Iowa faculty member Jonathan Carlson, commenting on the recent pending appointment of Kevin Kregel as the permanent provost for the school: University of Iowa needs to improve its hiring practices. As noted in the 02/07/21 update immediately below, Kregel has been serving as the interim provost since last summer, and this second apparently-unilateral promotion by illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld — let alone in the middle of the ongoing search to recruit and appoint Harreld’s successor — is problematic on a number of fronts. Per my own comments, I don’t disagree with anything Carlson says, and likewise take a dim view of the fact that no national search was conducted prior to Kregel’s permanent appointment.
The only thin justification I can imagine for rushing Kregel’s appointment now — as opposed to allowing the next president to determine who the permanent provost should be — is that the Board of Regents, which is responsible for choosing the next president, is committed to choosing an outside candidate for that role. In that narrow circumstance, having a brand-new president and a brand-new provost would be a considerable disadvantage for the school. Having said that, the university was under no immediate pressure to hire a permanent provost because last summer Kregel agreed to serve as the interim for two years — meaning the next president could have been given the opportunity to either appoint their own permanent provost or, ideally, to conduct a national search and then make their own selection. (And that would not have precluded Kregel from earning the position himself, by competing against outside applicants on the merits of his candidacy.)
If an outside candidate is indeed chosen to preside over the school going forward, then we will be able to say in retrospect that the Board of Regents locked in a long-time UI employee in the critical provost’s role, thus conceivably preventing the loss of a great deal of institutional knowledge during an important transition. On the other hand, if the board selects an internal UI candidate as the next Iowa president, then we will have cause to believe that both that pick and the permanent appointment of Kregel were part of an overarching regent plan to lock Harreld loyalists into those critical roles. And of course that in turn will mean the ongoing presidential search was just a more sophisticated version of the scam that was perpetrated in 2015, which led to Harreld’s rigged hire.
02/07/21 — As if there wasn’t already enough to talk about between the slate of loony, anti-higher-ed Republican bills making their way through the Iowa legislature, and the right-wing bumpkin statehouse thugs who recently bullied administrators at the state universities into trembling public apologies — to say nothing of a new COVID-19 variant appearing in Johnson County, where the University of Iowa refuses to increase testing, and Iowa’s murderous governor removing all restrictions on gatherings and businesses this weekend, including the campus bars in Iowa City — it was announced last Thursday that interim UI provost Kevin Kregel has been given that role on a permanent basis, only three months before the next UI president is set to be appointed.
Kevin Kregel has been named the University of Iowa’s executive vice president and provost after serving in the role as interim since July 15, 2020. He will begin in the permanent role on Feb. 15.
Kregel succeeds Montserrat Fuentes, who stepped down from the position in July 2020.
Having closely followed the administrative machinations of illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld for five and a half years, and having consistently been given cause to assume the worst when Harreld makes a personnel decision, my immediate response to the news about Kregel was negative. With the search for Harreld’s replacement ongoing, however, and Harreld largely absent from the campus both figuratively and literally, it is an open question as to what this permanent appointment means. (Local reporting from the Daily Iowan: Kevin Kregel named permanent provost and executive vice president at University of Iowa; and from Vanessa Miller at the Gazette: Skipping search, University of Iowa names interim provost to become permanent.)
In fact, there is at least one plausible scenario in which this decision might be good for the school over the long term, and we will consider that possibility in due course. On the other hand, if there was no presidential search underway, and Harreld was grinding out the remaining two and a half years of his contract extension, this exact same decision would be indefensible. To understand why, note that several years ago J. Bruce Harreld had no problem keeping another hand-picked, interim provost in that role for two years, because it suited his clandestine bureaucratic agenda. In fact, Harreld even tried to extend that temporary appointment for another year, but was ultimately compelled to conduct the national search that resulted in the permanent but brief appointment of Montserrat Fuentes as Iowa’s provost.
For reasons that have never been explained, Fuentes lasted only a year before stepping down last summer and taking a made-up job in Harreld’s office, at full provost salary, which — at least on the books — she will continue to perform through the end of June. Whether Harreld failed to sufficiently support Fuentes, or actively drove her from her job, he suddenly found himself without a provost yet again, and promoted Kregel to fill that role on an interim basis. Instead of then launching a national search to find Fuentes’ replacement, however, Harreld once again gave his new interim provost a two-year appointment, only this time with an important difference. Where the previous interim provost was ruled out in advance as the next permanent provost, all but guaranteeing a search would eventually take place, Harreld did not make the same promise with Kregel. Everyone understandably assumed that Harreld would conduct another national search, and that Kregel’s appointment was temporary, but because Harreld is a colossal weasel that assumption was a mistake.
In early October of last year — only four months after locking Kregel into his two-year appointment as interim provost — Harreld surprised the UI community by announcing his own tentative retirement, pending appointment of his successor. Now, four and a half months later, with the presidential search in full swing, Iowa’s lame-duck, conniving, sham president appears to have promoted his interim provost to permanent status on the way out the door, after the interim provost served for only seven months in that capacity. And that seems more than a little incongruous given how Harreld has characterized his decision to stay on until the next president is hired.
From Harreld’s most-recent interview with the Daily Iowan, on 12/13/20 — only seven weeks ago:
DI: The presidential search has started with a committee meeting earlier this month. What do you think about the presidential search planning to be finished by April 30? What are you planning to do if a new president is selected by that time?
Harreld: I think it’s wonderful, and I think it will be fast from other searches I’ve watched and other things I’ve heard, but who knows? What I would do is what I’ve always said I would do: I will stick around. I don’t think the committee should feel rushed. I don’t want them to feel rushed. I want them to take their time to find the next great leader for the institution, and then I will help that individual transition into their role. And that could take a week, that could take a month, it’s up to them. I do believe there’s some value — when I joined, there was no one to really introduce me to a lot of people, not only on campus, but also in the state, and even across the country, to major donors. And I am more than willing to do that. That will be up to my successor. And she or he will determine, and if they say, “Thank you, but not needed” — fine.
DI: And if you do end up helping with that transition — if the successor wants that — what will you do if the new president has a different opinion or direction that they want to take the university in?
Harreld: Agree with them. Help them make it happen. It’s the same thing I tell my students in (Presidential Leadership), which is you have a direct responsibility to always express your opinion and to do so professionally and as fact-based as you can. And so if I have a difference in opinion — I think most of us have a difference of opinion on a lot of things — I will express that. And at whichever point the president says, “But I want to do something different.” I’ll say, “OK, let me help you.” My daughter is actually working on finishing her Ph.D. on the topic of followership. And you go to the bookstore or Prairie Lights and see all these books on leadership, and she has correctly, I think, identified that most leaders spend most of their time as followers. And there should probably be some books written on how to be a good follower. And I think this issue you’re on is one of the things I’ve tried — most of my life I’ve been reporting to somebody, and in almost every situation, there’s been some difference of opinion. And it has to be very clear who the decision-maker is. And once the decision-maker decides, I think it behooves all of us to say, “OK, let’s go.”
Setting aside Harreld’s egregious, whimpering lie that he didn’t have anyone to help him when he was first hired — which we demolished here — making Kregel’s appointment permanent only three months before the end of the presidential search seems counter to Harreld’s desire to help the next president. With Kregel committed to that role for at least a year after the next president takes over, what is the rush in making that role permanent? Why does that have to happen now, or at all?
If Harreld really intends to ride off into the sunset this summer, when the new president is expected to take office, it probably doesn’t matter much either way. As noted in prior posts, however, the Board of Regents has been conspicuously vague about Harreld’s future. Specifically, if Harreld can figure out how to stay in the employ of the regents for the next two and a half years — through the end of his current contract — he will pocket $2.3M in deferred compensation that would otherwise be forfeit. Between locking a loyal and beholden Kregel in as provost, and loitering around the UI campus himself, or perhaps consulting at the Board of Regents — where he would also have the ears of the nine appointed regents and their professional staff — Harreld could be a real impediment to the new president, with Kregel serving as a remote proxy.
Such a threat could also pose a risk to the ongoing presidential search, but for the moment we will set that aside. While we don’t know for sure that Harreld made the decision to appoint Kregel on a permanent basis, we do know someone made that decision, and as a result Harreld’s hand-picked interim provost is set to become the permanent provost with no input from the UI community, and — critically — no competitive national search. And given the history of crony administrative appointments at the highest ranks of the University of Iowa, everyone including Kevin Kregel should have a problem with that.
In keeping with the sorry tradition of the Iowa Board of Regents and the University of Iowa over the past fifteen years, once again we seem to have one white man giving another white man a high-paying position of power, without bothering to find out if there are any women or persons of color who might do the job as well or better. Even as UI is working to undo the damage Harreld has done on the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) front over the past five-plus year, the second most powerful position on campus is being handed to a white man on a permanent basis, for no apparent reason. Whatever Kregel’s role in that lucrative grant of money and power, he seems to be the latest beneficiary of white male privilege at UI, which reaches back a decade and a half through J. Bruce Harreld, Bruce Rastetter, Jean Robillard, Jerre Stead, Gary Fethke and Michael Gartner. And that is not mere accusation or conjecture.
As quoted in multiple posts over the past five-plus years — including most recently here — this is how former Board of Regents president Michael Gartner characterized his own succession philosophy in 2011, shortly after he left the board:
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.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the individuals mentioned above were all white men who passed jobs out to each other, “without having to go through a search”. But that’s okay because white men like Michael Gartner know good leaders when they see them, who, by complete chance usually happen to be other white men. On occasion, white men may even feel so strongly about their ability to identify great new leaders that they will grant themselves the right to deceive others in order to impose their unerring will — as Rastetter, Robillard, Stead and Harreld himself did when they conspired to steal the UI presidency in 2015. (That rigged appointment followed Sally Mason’s eight-year run as the female president of Iowa, which in turn resulted from Gartner’s own botched attempt to rig the 2006 presidential search at UI. So from their white male perspective, rigging J. Bruce Harreld’s crony hire was a righteous act.)
Denying equal opportunity is never a good look. Denying equal opportunity when you yourself achieved a position of power by corrupt means is damning. Denying equal opportunity in order to promote one of your own kind is the very definition of discrimination
Given the larger context, it is hard not to read Kregel’s permanent appointment as a willful denial of equal opportunity to others, because it is. Whatever knowledge, skills and abilities Kregel brings to the provost position — and they are admittedly formidable — it is impossible not to wonder how gender and skin pigmentation aided his rise to that position, “without having to go through a search”. Whatever else is going on behind the scenes, and whoever made the decision to appoint Kregel on a permanent basis, it is a bad look, made all the more so by the fact that Harreld was elevated to Iowa’s presidency by white-male co-conspirators who do not believe in conducting searches for high-ranking administrators.
While we cannot ignore the legacy of white-male entitlement that drove Harreld’s rigged appointment, it does not necessarily follow that white-male entitlement is driving Kregel’s permanent appointment. It looks bad — very bad — but there are substantive reasons to believe Harreld did not make the decision himself, and in this moment that the decision was not based on gender or race. Relative to women and persons of color the fact that Kregel is white and male inevitably provided some benefit over the course of his long academic career, and would probably also benefit him if he was competing for the position in a national search, but the question we’re wrestling with is why Kregel’s interim role was made permanent now.
Even if Harreld thought Kregel would be a loyal asset in the future, as a factual matter the Iowa Board of Regents must approve such appointments. (The university announcement not only notes that Kregel’s appointment must be approved by the board, but also says Kregel will begin serving as the permanent provost on February 15th. The only scheduled public meeting between then and now is a contract-negotiation session on Tuesday, February 9th, so Kregel’s appointment will probably be shoehorned into that agenda. Update 02/09/21: the negotiating session came and went with nary a regent in sight, so apparently Kregel will begin his new role two to nine days before it is actually approved by the board.) Were Harreld planning to remain in office through the end of his contract, the board would probably defer to Harreld and rubber stamp Kregel’s permanent appointment. Because there is an ongoing presidential search, however, it is impossible to imagine the regents approving Kregel’s permanent appointment if the board does not believe that will be in the best interest of the search.
While we do not know who initiated the decision to make Kregel’s appointment permanent, and will probably never know, someone made the decision to make that appointment in the middle of Iowa’s presidential search. In fact, because Kregel was already slated to serve as the interim provost for another year and a half, we can fairly assume that the sudden decision to make Kregel’s appointment permanent was actually driven by the ongoing search — else why do it? For whatever reason, either Harreld, the board, or both decided they do not want the next UI president to decide who the next permanent Iowa provost would be, so they made that decision themselves. And the obvious question is why.
As previously noted, if Harreld initiated the decision it’s because he’s up to something, but he can’t make Kregel’s appointment permanent on his own. At some point, whether or not the idea came from Harreld, the Board of Regents had to conclude that appointing Kregel on a permanent basis, with three months to go in the search process, was of benefit to the search. That does not necessarily mean, however, that the board is without self-interest, or that it made that decision for the benefit of the next president of the University of Iowa.
For example, if Harreld and the board already have an internal candidate in mind, as has been speculated in prior posts, this is the kind of move they would make to further that objective. Lock in key positions with crony appointments, make clear to outside candidates that they will be hamstrung even if they are hired, and maybe that convinces the strongest external candidates to pass — thus making it that much easier to hire their boy. (I say ‘boy’ because if an internal candidate is hired, the odds heavily favor another white male being chosen.)
Assuming for the moment, however, that the board really is interested in attracting the strongest possible outside candidates, then the question we’re actually wrestling with is how the appointment of a permanent provost at this time — with three months to go in the search, and prospective applicants taking note of that very public decision — advances that goal. Fortunately, in that scenario I think the answer is clear. Given everything the next UI president will have on their plate, including getting up to speed on what will likely be an unfamiliar campus, having an established permanent provost who is also a long-time, respected employee would be seen by many prospective candidates not as a limitation but as an asset. Instead of taking six months or a year just to understand what was literally someone else’s job — meaning Kregel, in his interim role — to then be able to make a good hire into that position when Kregel’s interim term was up, the new president, the university, and the regents are all advantaged by having that position filled now. (Some strong candidates may decide not to apply because they would have preferred to hire their own provost, but at the very least everyone knows the lay of the land, and there shouldn’t be any leadership changes for several years.)
Again, in any other circumstance the lack of a competitive national search would be unacceptable for the reasons discussed above, but this is not a normal circumstance. Not only is Iowa looking for a new president, but for the past five-plus years it has been saddled with an incompetent administrator who precipitated administrative chaos. After long-time provost P. Barry Butler left in early 2017, taking three decades of institutional knowledge with him, Harreld responded with a two-year interim provost, a one-year permanent provost, then another two-year interim. Three provosts in four years is not a recipe for success at any institution of higher learning, let alone a major public research university.
Whatever the potential negatives, Kregel’s permanent appointment provides administrative stability in a mission-critical role for the next Iowa president. The denial of equal opportunity is infuriating, and if Kregel does not have some discomfort with the means of his advancement then he’s the wrong white man for the job. The operative question in the context of the ongoing search, however, is whether the Board of Regents could have attracted and hired a better provost for this unique circumstance, and the answer is almost certainly no.
The one saving grace is that it isn’t Kregel’s gender or skin color that matters, it’s his long experience at the University of Iowa, which will not only be of value to the new president but reassuring to the campus. While the new president concentrates on meeting donors and dismantling all of Harreld’s bad ideas, the core of the school — the academic engine — will be in experienced hands. Only by appointing another long-serving internal candidate could the board have hoped to tap into a similar experience advantage, but what would be the point?
However Kregel wound up in the interim role last summer, he met the challenges of that position over the past seven months, let alone during a global pandemic. While we can never really know who made what decision in a massive bureaucracy like the University of Iowa, reports of Kregel’s swift and decisive action regarding a leadership problem at the College of Liberal Arts and Science — the largest college at UI, by far — were impressive, and doubly so because Kregel had only been serving as interim provost for a few weeks. Whatever judgment Kregel was expected to demonstrate when he was appointed last summer, he has clearly done so or the university and board would not be removing the interim title.
About the only thing I can think of that would cast this decision in a better pubic light would be learning that the co-chairs of the presidential search committee were consulted on this decision, or at the very least notified in advance. So maybe someone in the press might consider making inquiries along those lines, to see how transparent and collaborative the decision making was. At the very least, candidates now know the lay of the land and the committee can provide certainty about the provost role going forward — and that’s not nothing.
As for the greater UI community, appointing a provost instead of conducting a national search is less than ideal, but it would also be hard to ask the campus not only to wait for a new president to get up to speed, but a new provost as well. In that context, and assuming Kregel’s permanent appointment was not Harreld’s idea, this may be the best path forward given the alternatives. As for Kregel himself, here’s hoping he can repay his good fortune by working with the next president to pave the way for others at Iowa, irrespective of gender and race.
01/30/21 — If you missed it — and given everything going on in the world, it would have been easy to miss if you are not involved with higher education in Iowa — this past week was the beginning of the spring term for all three of the state universities. As has apparently become a new tradition at the University of Iowa, instead of doing his traditional solo act the illegitimate president of the school, J. Bruce Harreld, joined his hand-picked interim-provost-for-life, Kevin Kregel, in welcoming the returning students, faculty and staff with an enthusiastically banal post on the Iowa Now website. While the content of that post was truly forgettable, to their credit this time they did manage to avoid using the pronoun ‘I’, which gave the game away in their joint note at the end of the fall term. (This is what passes for professional development at Iowa.)
One way anyone can detect the start of a new term at Iowa’s regent schools, even if they are not involved in higher-ed themselves, is by the sudden spike in news about those institutions. Following a veritable two-month dearth of press during the pandemic-extended winter break, last week saw story after story in the local and state papers, all of them conveying information about higher-ed. By mid-week I intended to present a compendium of links to those articles, but on Thursday a story broke that deserved its own post. Because the ongoing presidential search is entering a relatively quiet two-month stretch, in advance of the cut-down process in mid-March, we can catch up with the rest of the recent news in upcoming updates.
* As detailed in myriad posts reaching back several years, J. Bruce Harreld quietly used his presidential authority to downgrade the former position of Chief Diversity Officer — subsequently renamed the Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (AVP-DEI) — in two different ways. Not only did Harreld kick that role out of his presidential cabinet without any notice that he was doing so, but he also kicked that critical position entirely out of his office. Instead of continuing to report to the president and provost, Harreld decided that the AVP-DEI would report to the provost only, though he did promise to continue to care deeply about diversity issues.
By last fall, however, not only had Harreld been forced to reinstate the AVP-DEI position to his cabinet, but there were ongoing conversations about reverting to a dual report. Liz Tovar had also been installed in that evolving role on an interim basis, albeit while splitting time with the UI Athletics Department where she had long been employed. Flash forward to last Thursday, and in a surprise announcement the university suddenly resolved all of the outstanding uncertainties in that long-running bureaucratic drama.
Liz Tovar has been named executive officer for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the University of Iowa. The position will report to the president and provost and will serve on the President’s Cabinet. Tovar has served as interim associate vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion since August 2020. Her first day will be Feb. 1.
It is tempting to see this announcement as a crushing repudiation of J. Bruce Harreld’s failed leadership and persistent hostility to DEI — and it is that — but there are important caveats. First, the title of the role is now “executive officer”, not associate vice president, or even vice president as some had demanded. While I don’t know the functional difference between those titles, such differences are not benign in higher-ed and should not be overlooked. Likewise, while Tovar is now the permanent DEI XO, she will still split time with athletics, meaning she will only work part-time on the academic side of campus:
In her permanent role, Tovar will oversee the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion while also serving as associate athletics director overseeing the area of Student-Athlete Academic Services and continuing her role as a member of the UI Athletics senior management team.
Given that only last summer the school named Broderick Binns as the executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion for UI Athletics, following a spate of concerns about the football team, this split focus by Tovar is doubly perplexing. The most benign explanation would be that Tovar simply didn’t want to give up her old position, but that still leaves the university with a part-time DEI officer of indeterminate authority. It is still a big win that the DEI role — whatever it is now — is back in the president’s cabinet, and once again reports to the president, and there are zero concerns about Tovar’s qualifications or commitment, but the unexplained part-time status is conspicuous.
(Having someone split time between academics and athletics also raises questions about who is paying for what, which is particularly important on a campus where athletics must be self-sustaining. Given the collapse in revenue that athletics has suffered from the pandemic it is worth asking whether salary from academics is subsidizing work in the athletics department. As for making Tovar’s interim title permanent, Harreld is also quoted in the press release saying that the appointment obviates the need for another national search, so cost-savings for academics was also clearly an inducement.)
One reason Tovar’s appointment may have been made permanent, and the reporting structure changed, is to take those issues off the table during the ongoing presidential search. And of course one obvious solution to the current split focus would be for the next president to make the role full-time on the academic side of campus. Because Liz Tovar is also on the presidential search committee, however, asking candidates about their vision for the XO-DEI role might be a bit awkward — but I believe such questions should still be asked. (In her write-up of Tovar’s permanent appointment, the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller includes impressive context about the administrative carnage Harreld perpetrated over the past five years — all of which ultimately served only to undermine DEI efforts and effectiveness, until all of his decision making was eventually undone.)
Finally — and because the casual practice of rewriting history at a publicly-funded university royally pisses me off — I would like to draw attention to this factual claim in the press release:
The appointment aligns the university with its past practice of including the DEI leader in the cabinet and their reporting to the president and the provost, which was changed in the summer of 2019.
It is not entirely clear whether the university is asserting that both the cabinet status and reporting structure were changed in the summer of 2019, or only the reporting structure. In either case, however, consider the following extended quote from a Daily Iowan interview with J. Bruce Harreld in late September of 2019 — one week after the end of that summer:
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.
With the proviso that Harreld’s own claims are completely unreliable about when changes were made to the DEI reporting structure and representation in his cabinet, here we have the president of the university asserting that both of those changes were made prior to the summer of 2019 — thus contradicting the press release about Tovar’s permanent appointment. Complicating matters for Harreld and the university, in that late-September interview, when Harreld insists that former AVP-DEI Tajuan Wilson knew about the change in the cabinet status and reporting structure “going ahead” — meaning before Wilson was hired — that’s problematic because Wilson was hired in the spring of 2019, meaning before the university now says those changes were made. That in turn is interesting because we still don’t know why Tajuan Wilson quit after only five weeks on the job, though it would certainly make sense that he may have decided to quit if he genuinely expected to be part of Harreld’s cabinet and to have a direct report to Harreld, only to discover after arriving on campus that Harreld changed those facets of the position after he was hired — as the university now claims.
As for who is telling the truth in this instance, given the history of Harreld’s administrative priorities over the past five-plus years it’s likely no one is telling the truth. Instead, we’re just getting whatever version of history is convenient, and that raises a larger concern. If the University of Iowa is incapable of telling the truth about its own administrative machinations, and insists on treating history as malleable for political or marketing purposes, then it has no right to expect or demand the truth from anyone else. And that’s a really dangerous place for an institution of higher education to find itself.
The first job of the next president of the University of Iowa will be to make clear to everyone on campus that they will be held accountable for their decision making. Because of the enduring stain of Harreld’s rigged appointment in 2015, the University of Iowa has devoted the last five-plus years to ass covering and excuse making and it has to stop. I get that everyone’s paycheck is ultimately hush money, and most people on the UI campus are doing a good job and didn’t sign up to be Harreld’s keeper, but this is not just a leadership failure, it is a cultural failing as well. Lying is not a point of view.
01/23/21 — The third virtual meeting of the University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee took place Wednesday morning, and once again the diverse, competent and invested members advanced the noble cause of finding a replacement for illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld. With the persistent proviso that we will not know whether this search was legitimate until weeks or even months after the next president is named, it is still clear — and was made explicit during the meeting — that the current process bears little relationship to the abuses of power and violations of shared governance that were perpetrated in 2015, in service of Harreld’s sham appointment. As noted in multiple prior posts, it is possible that the university will end up with another done-deal appointment by the Iowa Board of Regents, and particularly so if an internal candidate is chosen to replace Harreld, but even in the worst-case scenario it is unlikely that the next president of the University of Iowa will be another unqualified boob with an attitude problem.
While following the livestream of the third meeting I once again got lost in the process implications of the conversation, but I did perk up when the committee was given early positive feedback from the search firm facilitating that process. Not surprisingly, that feedback was in turn highlighted by the beat reporters covering the search, and in a moment we will take a closer look at that coverage. Overall, as with the first two committee meetings, my impression was that the co-chairs and members are sincere in their desire to recruit and nominate the best possible slate of finalists, which the Board of Regents will then choose among, and it does seem inconceivable that the 2015 debacle will be repeated. That doesn’t mean the university will end up with an excellent new president, but unlike 2015 the current process does not foreclose on that possibility in favor of a rigged crony appointment.
The meeting started at 9 a.m. and was scheduled to run for an hour and a half, almost certainly to allow members to watch the presidential inauguration if they so chose, which took place around 11 a.m. CST that same day. The running time of the archived video is 1:40:25, but the meeting doesn’t begin until the 17:08 mark, so the meeting itself lasted one hour and thirteen minutes.
The first order of business involved co-chair Sandy Daack-Hirsch taking roll, which revealed that either seventeen or eighteen of the twenty-one members were in attendance. (The audio was a bit garbled at one point, and one or more of the absent members may have joined during the meeting.) After approving the minutes of the prior meeting, co-chair John Keller moved to the next agenda item and requested input from the search-firm executives about next steps for “advertising, receiving applications for the position, and other efforts to help build the candidate pool”.
While acknowledging that the executives at AGB Search have a vested interest in painting the ongoing process in the best possible light — both for their own benefit, and to make the position and process as attractive as possible to prospective candidates — the early positive feedback they did pass along would be easy for the committee to confirm in retrospect. For example, while providing a comprehensive update on advertising for the position, AGB confirmed that the approved ads were in process or in place, then also added that the ads had “already invited considerable attention and interest”. Listening to the meeting in real-time I was certainly glad to hear that, but I wasn’t particularly surprised.
As noted in a prior post, I believe the Iowa presidency will draw strong interest not only because openings at a school of Iowa’s scale, scope and caliber are rare, but because, as a state school, Iowa is financially well-positioned to weather and recover from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. When I read the local reporting on the meeting, however, I was reminded of the importance of AGB’s feedback, which was highlighted by both the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Search firm ‘absolutely inundated’ with interest in University of Iowa presidency; and by Sabine Martin and Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan: Search committee ‘inundated with interest’ for University of Iowa president position. For the first time AGB’s representatives also spoke openly about the prior search debacle, and particularly about how the current search process — and their ability to validate that process — was positively impacting client recruitment.
From the Gazette’s Miller:
“A number of these candidates that we talked to yesterday, they’re aware of the last search, what happened, and so on,” [AGB rep James] McCormick said Wednesday. “They’ve already done their homework. In fact, a number of them already are talking to people at Iowa that they might know.”
Praising the search committee for following best-practice guidance this time, McCormick said he’s been happy to put concerns to rest.
“The fact that we were able to say, ‘this process is outstanding, it’s according to best practices, and I don’t anticipate any situation that happened the last time to occur this time’ … I’ve been complimenting all of you for your hard work,” he said. “But there is that discussion of what happened last time.”
To understand why such statements from AGB are critical to the success of the current search, it is important to remember what happened in 2015. Even after it became clear that Harreld’s rigged appointment was the result of a conspiracy between the president of the Board of Regents, a high-ranking UI administrator, and a powerful alumnus and donor who was Harreld’s business mentor and pal, the theft of the Iowa presidency meant that the combined messaging apparatus of the board and university could be used to defend that abuse of power. Largely overshadowed by the subsequent false portrayal of J. Bruce Harreld as an innocent victim was the fact that the three eminently qualified academic administrators who were also finalists for the position had been cynically used as props to legitimize the search-and-selection process. What those candidates believed would be a fair search decided on the merits turned out to be a scam to which they dedicated time and effort, while also exposing themselves to potential repercussions at their current place of employment.
In that context, the biggest concern for the strongest applicants in the current search will be that they could also be exploited by another cabal of conscienceless yokels, who have no compunction about using people of considerable professional accomplishment as mere pawns. Because we have no alternate reality for comparison it is hard to document the damage that Harreld and his co-conspirators did to the university in 2015, but the very fact that five years later, AGB Search is obligated to reassure prospective applicants that the presidential search at an R1/AAU public university is not a thinly disguised confidence game gives us visibility to that long-term cost. To that point, at the 25:11 mark of Wednesday’s meeting, a member of the committee asked a fortuitous question about best practices, which prompted comments from the AGB reps that should also be reassuring to any prospective candidate who watches that portion of the video.
Specifically, in building the candidate pool the AGB reps made clear that the proper role for committee members was simply to nominate candidates to the search firm, and to let the search firm then reach out to those nominees. That cogent bit of advice — which was restated by several of the execs — may seem innocuous, but it stands in stark counterpoint to an excuse that was repeatedly put forward by the thugs who corrupted the 2015 search. After press reports exposed blatant preferential treatment for J. Bruce Harreld, the perpetrators asserted that their search firm encouraged committee members to engage in aggressive recruitment themselves. In reality, that slick dodge gave those creeps license to cater to Harreld while screwing every other candidate, and to their credit AGB clearly does not want members of the current committee acting in such a duplicitous capacity.
At the 30:20 mark there was an interesting discussion prompted by AGB Managing Principal Roderick J. McDavis, about whether the committee wants AGB to rank applications as they come in. While the specifics of that conversation were interesting in themselves, I was again reassured by the way the committee facilitated the discussion and explored the various options. It was a nerdy topic, but also consequential both to inclusiveness and optics. Should every applicant get a look by the committee even if they are unqualified according to criteria laid out by the committee, or should AGB — as part of its service — screen out candidates who do not meet the minimum requirements? (Although it involved a bit more work, the committee rightly favored the former approach.)
The next item on the agenda, which kicked off at the 52:38 mark, involved a presentation by UI communications staff about the search website, and other media that has been produced to facilitate recruitment. Initially I thought that would be a dry conversation, and there was a lot of ceremonial thanking and praising back and forth, but over time I was also reminded that there are a lot of talented people at Iowa — including in the Office of Strategic Communications — who have had to spend a good part of the past five years covering up for or compensating for J. Bruce Harreld’s shrieking deficiencies as president.
The main document that candidates will use to familiarize themselves with the university is the ‘search book’, and you can see a digital copy here‘. Along with that .pdf version, which is available to anyone, a print version will be produced for candidates who prefer that format. You can see a discussion of the search book at the 1:09:04 mark, and if you’re interested in the search I encourage you to skim through the online version to get a sense of the scope, scale and complexity of the school. (A ton of information is included, and it is particularly valuable because it is up to date — which is not always the case with university web pages on the same topics.)
One item in the search book that caught my attention was the organizational chart on page 26, precisely because the presidency is left open. In the context of the search that vacancy makes sense, and even helps prospective candidates envision themselves in that role. What struck me while looking at that blank box, however, was how crippling Harreld’s appointment has been for the past five years, compared to the good that a committed and qualified president could have produced with the same diagrammatic cast of administrators. (That in turn led me to run a quick word search on the 148-page .pdf to see if Harreld’s name appears even once — and it does not.)
The final agenda item, which begins at the 1:29:22 mark, concerned the method by which the committee will generate questions to ask of the dozen or so candidates who are selected as semifinalists. It was suggested and accepted that the committee break into five subgroups, each of which will generate questions on one of five overarching themes related to the previously generated leadership profile, which is in turn the core document driving the entire search. Not so coincidentally, I have also been thinking about questions the committee should ask of prospective candidates, to both assess their competence and vision, as well as get them on the record about any possible conflicts of interest that could subsequently be disclosed after an appointment is made. More on those questions in an upcoming post.