A new threaded post on this topic can be found here. For previous posts about the Harreld hire, click the tag below.
03/28/21 — Because there were eight qualified semifinalists who interviewed for the Iowa presidency during the rigged 2015 presidential search — plus a ninth unqualified candidate in future illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld — and because the current presidential search committee has repeatedly expressed a desire to conduct a broader, more inclusive search, I initially assumed that the current committee would invite between ten and twelve candidates to participate in the semifinalist interviews at the end of next week. In various committee meetings, however — and particularly in comments from representatives of the firm facilitating the search — the number of expected semifinalists was repeatedly pegged at eight, so I began to use that target number as well. Flash forward to last Friday, and after cutting down the initial pool of 79 applicants, the committee settled on twelve semifinalists who will be interviewed on April 1st and 2nd, then reduced to three or four (or possibly five) finalists on April 3rd.
While this larger slate of semifinalists complicates the process of choosing finalists, the fact that next week’s interviews will be held online — as opposed to in-person, during what are commonly referred to as ‘airport interviews’ for that point of physical convergence — means overall time demands will be decreased, and travel requirements completely negated for all involved. (Assuming the COVID-19 pandemic lifts at some point, I will be surprised if virtual semifinalist interviews do not become the norm in academic searches, if only for their logistical ease and cost savings.) In expanding the number of semifinalists, I see that not only as a nod to this committee’s genuine interest in hearing from a wide range of candidates, but as a long-delayed response to the 2015 search, which notably concluded with the done-deal appointment of an unqualified rich old white man. To be sure, most if not all of the twenty-one members of the committee already know which of the twelve semifinalists will likely be chosen as finalists, and which candidate will likely be chosen as the next president, and industry demographics alone suggest that J. Bruce Harreld will be replaced by another white male. That outcome would not mean, however, that inviting more women and/or people of color to participate in the interview process was only done for show, because that is part of the work that needs to be done to expand future opportunities. As a candidate, if you can’t even get in the room when people are making decisions, then you have no chance.
It is objectively true that the 2015 UI presidential search was corrupted by a small cabal of co-conspirators, who succeeded in imposing their own unqualified candidate — J. Bruce Harreld — on the university. Despite the fact that the Board of Regents paid Parker Executive Search far in excess of what it paid to any search firm before or since, however, the overall search was also a mess. From a 09/17/15 article by Kellie Woodhouse at Inside Higher Ed:
Iowa is paying Parker $200,000, plus expenses, for conducting the search. Minnesota paid Parker $90,000 in the search that led to Teague’s hire.
“One would expect if you pay a search firm as much money as we wound up paying them, one would have vetted [Harreld] better,” said one faculty member, who asked not to be named. “We’re kind of dumbstruck on how it could happen and how the search firm let it happen. It doesn’t give one a lot of faith in search firms.”
Some have also questioned whether Parker and the Iowa Board of Regents led a search that was canned from the beginning, since Harreld apparently visited Iowa’s health system during the summer for a lecture and was the only candidate to speak with the state’s governor during the search.
Also scrutinized in the search was the lack of diversity among finalists: all four were white men. Of the 46 people in a “broader pool of candidates,” four were women and 11 were minorities, Josh Lehman, spokesman for the Board of Regents, wrote in an email. Lehman did say more than 100 women were contacted about the position, and 58 declined to apply after a discussion.
Lehman said the board has been “very satisfied” with Parker and is not concerned about Harreld’s résumé inaccuracy.
The total cost of the 2015 UI presidential search was more than $330K, roughly two thirds of which comprised the base fee paid to Parker, which is more than twice what the regents are paying the current search firm. Not surprisingly, it has always been an open question whether the 2015 search firm was paid a high fee precisely to help corrupt the search. What is known, is that records related to that search became the private property of the search firm after the search concluded, despite legal obligations by the regents to archive such information. From a guest opinion in the Des Moines Register by UI Professor Stephen Voyce, on 10/13/16:
A company called Parker Executive Search was hired to consult and oversee the hiring process for the 2015 Presidential Search and Screen Committee. In the wake of the regents’ controversial selection, they claimed any information collected on behalf of the search committee by Parker Executive was their intellectual property, and hence not subject to open records requests. This brazen flouting of Iowa law meant that sensitive documents remained sealed during the crucial period while Harreld took office.
If the 2015 search looked horrendous at the time — and it did, from every aspect — it now looks even worse compared to the current search. Despite the fact that this committee is hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, to say nothing of a slew of radical, right-wing, anti-higher-ed legislation making its way through the Iowa legislature, the number of applicants for the position (79) exceeds the number who applied in 2015 (by 46) by seventy-two percent. And of course that substantial increase is being driven by a search process which is considerably cheaper than the exorbitant amount paid in 2015, for a search that turned out to be a scam from the beginning. (I am still amazed that blowing $330K in state funds on a demonstrably fake presidential search did not break any state laws.)
It remains to be seen how demographically diverse the initial candidate pool was for the current search, and how diverse the semifinalists and finalists will be, but it is unlikely in the extreme that white males will be the only individuals this committee deems qualified to be appointed by the regents. And of course even if the board is pushing one or more stealth candidates — whether internal to the regents enterprise or not — it is unimaginable that anyone recruited yet another unqualified crony white male who will then be imposed on the campus by corrupt means. That does not mean deals haven’t been or won’t be cut behind the scenes to lock up the necessary committee and board support, but I don’t think we are going to have a second flagrant fraud perpetrated against the university community.
The archived video of Friday’s meeting currently contains mostly dead air, because for most of the day the members were in closed session to maintain candidate confidentiality. At the end of the meeting, however, one of the co-chairs read the coded numbers for the twelve candidates who were chosen as semifinalists: 7, 8, 12, 23, 29, 38, 39, 40, 43, 45, 68 and 74. Assuming those numbers were assigned in order as candidates submitted their applications, it is a good sign that there are only two semifinalists toward the tail end of the seventy-nine applicants, because that means few if any of the candidates submitted their applications after the soft 03/15/21 deadline. Indeed, ten of the semifinalists were among the first forty-five to apply, indicating that most of the candidates that the committee viewed as strongest did not wait until the last possible moment to declare their interest.
Also disclosed at the tail end of Friday’s meeting was the detailed schedule for next week’s semifinalist interviews. (The notice and generic agenda for those meetings were posted late Friday.) Although the interviews on April 1st and 2nd will be virtual those days will still be long, which could conceivably disadvantage candidates who are scheduled late on either day. I do believe, however, that the slots will be assigned either randomly or due to availability, so we should have some confidence that no one will manipulate the sequencing, as was repeatedly done on Harreld’s behalf in 2015. (In Harreld’s case, not only was his candidacy undeclared until after the soft application deadline, but he was scheduled last among the semifinalists on the second day of the airport interviews, and last among the finalists to appear on campus — all of which helped minimize awareness of his candidacy at every stage, until it was too late for concerned members of the UI community to prevent his illegitimate appointment.)
I do think the committee was smart to reserve the entire day on April 3rd for deliberations about which candidates will be named as finalists, both because of the importance of that task, and because that is the last point at which the committee can influence the outcome of the search. Every finalist who is nominated to the Board of Regents will carry the official seal of approval of the search committee, so it is critical the committee gets that right. Even if most of the committee members think they know who will likely be appointed, they must make sure there are no unacceptable candidates among the finalists.
03/26/21 — While the University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee busies itself today selecting eight or so semifinalists to be interviewed at the end of next week, we will take the opportunity to catch up on yesterday’s slew of choreographed announcements from the university and the Iowa Board of Regents. Kicking the day off Thursday morning was a press release from UI — ostensibly written by illegitimate outgoing president J. Bruce Harreld himself — announcing that Harreld’s last day will be May 16th. (While Harreld made yet another failed attempt to associate himself with, and thus implicitly compare himself to, beloved former UI President Willard ‘Sandy’ Boyd, the historical record shows that Boyd never quit on the school, as Harreld decided to do last October.)
The good news in the reporting that followed later in the day was that we finally found out whether the Board of Regents planned to keep Harreld on in some capacity, as he himself insinuated on multiple occasions, thus qualifying him for a substantial sum of deferred compensation that would otherwise be forfeit. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld to leave earlier than expected.
Questions also circulated at that time about whether Harreld — post retirement — would remain a UI employee or regents consultant through the end of his contract in 2023, allowing him to collect his $2.33 million deferred compensation.
On Thursday, board spokesman Josh Lehman said he will not — meaning Harreld forfeits that payout, which ballooned after he signed a contract extension just a year before he unexpectedly announced his retirement.
“President Harreld won’t be an employee after his last day,” Lehman said.
In 2019, when Harreld agreed to extend his stay through 2023, his original contract was set to expire in 2020 with a $1 million deferred compensation payout.
Assuming I’m reading that all correctly, business-genius J. Bruce Harreld could have walked away with a million dollars in cash in 2020, provided he retired at the end of his original five-year deal. Instead, Harreld signed on for another two and a half years, then decided to quit before his contract extension even kicked in. As a result, Harreld now walks away with nothing, except perhaps a half-hearted pat on the back on his way out of town. (Obviously not a good look for a Harvard MBA.)
As noted in a statement from Board of Regents President Mike Richards, which was appended to the press release about Harreld’s departure date, the board intended to appoint an interim president to fill the gap between Harreld’s tenure and the next president’s term. That announcement also constituted a secondary repudiation of Harreld, who famously promised he would stay on as long as needed or wanted to make sure the next president got off to a good start — after falsely asserting the he himself was left adrift when he took over in 2015. When the interim appointment would be made was not clear in the appended note, but a few hours later the board dispelled any uncertainty with a press release of its own: Statement from Board of Regents President Mike Richards.
With President Harreld announcing today that his last day as University of Iowa president will be May 16, I have asked UI Dean of the Graduate College John Keller to serve as interim president until the next permanent UI president begins their duties. This appointment will be presented to the full Board of Regents at its April 14 meeting for consideration.
Two obvious points here, and one not so obvious. First, while the board’s press release and UI press release were obviously coordinated with each other, their release one day before today’s committee meeting was also not a coincidence. Whatever happens behind closed doors during today’s deliberations, the regents have taken any uncertainty out of the transition process, including whether Harreld might haunt the school or board office for years to come. That’s important because it disconnects any internal university applicants from Harreld’s ongoing influence, which could have been a concern for committee members who want to turn the page on Harreld’s presidency. (Put another way, it just got easier to be an internal candidate from the University of Iowa.)
Second, if the name John Keller sounds familiar but you can’t quite place it, that’s because — surprise — he is one of the co-chairs of the presidential search committee that is now winnowing applicants for that position. And of course Keller’s interim appointment may also explain why he recently announced that he is stepping down as Dean of the Graduate College, even as the search is unfolding. That in turn leaves him free to take on this interim role, before transitioning to yet another new role as a special assistant to the executive vice president and provost. (If this repeated concentration of decision-making power in the hands a single, respected, white-male university administrator is giving you flashbacks, that’s because the same thing happened during the corrupt presidential search in 2015. Not only was another respected white-male UI administrator named as the unitary chair of that search committee, he was subsequently appointed as the interim president, which then allowed him to brazenly betray the university community by seeing Harreld’s crony candidacy through to fruition.)
What is not so apparent about yesterday’s gush of coordinated transition announcements is that they would seem to anticipate a successful conclusion to the ongoing search. That doesn’t mean the board will hire the best person for the job, or the right person for the job, but because Keller is on the committee and the executive director/CEO of the board is serving in an ex officio capacity, we can fairly assume that one or more persons have told the board leadership there are multiple acceptable and qualified applicants in the candidate pool, making a successful appointment likely. It may be — likely will be — a successful crony appointment, but one which results in a qualified candidate taking the reigns, as opposed to another carpetbagging dilettante.
[Note: I forgot that regents president Mike Richards appointed himself an ex officio member of the search committee, so that explains how information is moving freely between the committee and board without violating the confidentiality or legalities governing the search process.]
Even if John Keller is a great guy, however, the fact that Keller was appointed as a co-chair of the search committee, then subsequently appointed as the pending interim president, inherently distorts the power dynamics of the committee. Any member of committee who is looking for administrative favors down the line — either from the interim president or from the provost’s office — will now be conflicted about speaking their mind if the candidate(s) they like differ from the candidates Keller is advocating for on behalf of the board and/or the provost. (This is kind of hit your reputation takes when you agree to be the co-chair of a presidential search committee, a future special assistant to the provost, and the pending interim president, all at the same time.)
On Thursday afternoon, after I had bashed out most of this post, the executive editor of the Daily Iowan, Sarah Watson, published an article about Keller’s interim appointment, which included extensive quotes from Keller himself: Graduate College Dean John Keller tapped to be interim University of Iowa president. This passage in particular stood out, but I encourage you to read the whole piece to see what Keller had to say, and how he said it:
Although the new president will be able to pick their start date, Keller said he is anticipating the next president to begin their tenure in the late summer or early fall, meaning he will fill the role of interim president until that time period.
“I’m thrilled that I was asked,” Keller said in an interview with the DI. “I think it’s a very humbling request that the board made for me to serve in that role. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”
The arrangement for an interim president cropped up in the last few days, Keller said, so he wouldn’t know details such as his interim salary until closer to a Board of Regents meeting April 14, when the regents will finalize the appointment.
After five-plus years of lies and abuses of power from the University of Iowa and the Board of Regents, anyone would have to be a sucker to take Keller’s statements at face value. That said, having him on the record is infinitely preferable to the bureaucratic dissembling and silence that usually follows such announcements. (One of my hopes for the ongoing search is that the next president can talk the talk as well as walk the walk, so the beleaguered communications professionals who speak for UI can finally have a respite from making excuses, and just do their jobs.)
J. Bruce Harreld was hired in early September of 2015 and took office two months later, in early November. That transition may have been eased because Harreld never actually moved to Iowa, instead maintaining his multi-million-dollar chalet in the Colorado Rockies while camping out at the UI Presidential Residence. Likewise Harreld had no children to enroll in school, and his wife — an attorney — was apparently not active in her practice, so there were few ties to cut or to reestablish in the Iowa City community. That said, and assuming the next UI president will hail from an academic institution, the summer months are an ideal period of transition, so a start date of July 1st or August 1st is not only not out of the question, it would be particularly advantageous.
The idea that the need for an interim president just appeared in the past few days, and the regents then made a quick decision to appoint Keller, is antithetical to everything I have come to know about the board. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but I am out of the sucker business so we will make note of the inconsistency. Were I to speculate about why that may have happened, I would say the most likely reason would be that after J. Bruce Harreld promised to stick around as long as needed he suddenly went back on his word — either as a failed attempt to bargain for a better retirement settlement, or in a fit of pique because he finally realized the regents were not about to let him hang around for two more years just to cash in on his deferred compensation.
The overarching question, of course, is whether this presidential search will result in genuine renewal at the University of Iowa, or whether the board is just clearing a five-year bout of crony constipation. Unfortunately, we won’t know how to read all of these events until the board appoints the next president. If that individual is a qualified external candidate that’s a win for the future. If it’s an internal candidate, no matter how qualified, then everything that transpired over the past six months — if not longer — was just more regent theater, albeit better-produced.
* Because it’s always good to flush as much news as possible through the information pipe when people are distracted and overwhelmed, yesterday the University of Iowa also announced the co-chairs for the internal search committee that will diligently attempt to recruit Keller’s replacement as dean of the Graduate College. Which is to say the university announced the co-chairs of the utterly meaningless committee that will be empaneled in order to prove that the school is no longer making unilateral permanent appointments without a search, even though the outcome of that internal search will almost certainly be a foregone conclusion. (The only way to actually have a meaningful search is to open the search to outside applicants, but the board and UI are clearly done hiring outsiders for the foreseeable future.)
03/25/21 — The notice and agenda have been posted for the fifth meeting of the University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee, which kicks off tomorrow, Friday, March 26th, at 8 a.m. Unlike the four previous meetings, however, which lasted around two hours, this session will run all day, and yet the great bulk of the proceedings will be held in closed session to facilitate the selection of eight or so semifinalists. At the beginning and end of the meeting other matters will be discussed in open session, but it may be more convenient to watch those sections when the edited archived video is posted here.
(Videos are usually posted in a matter of hours, but I’m not sure if that will be the case late on a Friday. Relatedly, tomorrow’s meeting — which will be entirely virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic — will have to switch from being accessible to inaccessible by the public, and I’m not sure how that will be handled. The members of the committee may need to log into a separate, password-protected session to avoid broadcasting the confidential portion of the meeting, which is critical in terms of both advancing the search and maintaining the integrity of the search process. In any event, I would expect the archived video to excise the dead time, and to include only the public portions of the meeting, thus making it significantly easier to review after the fact than to follow live.)
Despite any mild cynicism that may occasionally be detected in posts on this site about the University of Iowa — particularly regarding the rigged appointment of illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld, following the blatantly corrupt 2015 presidential search — I do believe there is reason for optimism with this particular search committee. Although the process will not conclude for another five weeks, tomorrow’s meeting and next week’s virtual semifinalist interviews comprise the maximal period of influence that the university will have on the search process. Once the committee has selected three or four finalists to recommend to the Iowa Board of Regents, the final decision will be out of the committee’s hands, and may be determined by factors outside the purview and concerns of the committee. All of which is to rather pointedly suggest that even if there is an obviously strong and qualified candidate among the applicants, if the committee does not want that person to preside over the the university for whatever reason, this is the only chance the committee will have to prevent that from happening.
From the official charge given to the search committee by the Board of Regents on 12/04/20:
2. The Committee shall recommend an Advertisement and Institution Profile representing the criteria for the position of President of the University of Iowa to be approved by the committee. The Board directs the Committee to consider inclusion of strong demonstrated skills such as innovation, entrepreneurship, fiscal management, and creative problem solving.
8. The Committee will present to the Iowa Board of Regents an unranked list of three to five candidates who are the most qualified for Board selection as the next President of the University of Iowa. The Committee will work to advance the final three to five candidates to the Board.
The “demonstrated skills” that the board insisted on in step 2 are of course reminiscent of the criteria that were used to justify Harreld’s appointment, but it is important to note that the examples given were not actually in the presidential position description during the corrupt 2015 search (see p. 68-69). Instead, the search committee conducted a straight-laced academic search, but for unknown reasons a majority of the committee voted to add a fourth tagalong candidate to the other three finalists, who were all eminently qualified academic administrators. Unfortunately, because of the confidentiality of the search process we don’t know who voted for Harreld, or what arguments were made which convinced a majority of the committee to include an unqualified boob among the 2015 finalists. (And I’m sure those committee members who were supportive of Harreld’s candidacy have been forever thankful that they never had to go on the record with their gullibility or betrayal.)
In any event, because the committee passed Harreld along as a finalist — meaning the committee said Harreld would be an acceptable president if he was selected by the board — the regents were within their crony rights to consummate the done-deal appointment of Harreld. As for the current search, the specific qualifications that the committee settled on in mid-January, which the board has not objected to in the intervening months, can be found here. It is now the obligation of the search committee not to recommend those candidate(s) as finalists who best meet the board’s criteria, but those candidates who best meet the university’s desired qualifications in their entirety. Explicitly — emphatically — if the committee believes an otherwise qualified candidate would be an ally of the board against the university’s own interests, or would otherwise be detrimental to the university, the committee is not obligated to include that candidate among the finalists nominated for the position.
* On Tuesday the UI Faculty Senate addressed the spate of permanent high-ranking administrative appointments that have recently been approved without a search. Not surprisingly, the Faculty Senate is concerned about that precedent. From Sabine Martin at the Daily Iowan: UI Faculty Senate urges shared governance inclusion in leadership appointments.
UI President Bruce Harreld and Provost Kevin Kregel told the Faculty Senate officers that there are no plans to make leadership appointments without a search the new normal, Yockey told the Faculty Senate.
During the meeting, Faculty Senate member Lindell Joseph said this motion is an opportunity to increase the awareness of shared governance participation within the UI.
“[The UI] needs to begin to rethink how independent they are in terms of taking action and whether you are truly going to engage in shared governance,” Joseph said.
Faculty Senate member, Jonathan Carlson added that shared governance processes have been disregarded or marginalized at the UI.
“It really very much concerns me…shared governance should have faculty at the beginning of discussions, in the middle of discussions, when options are being considered, and at the end,” Carlson said. “That’s not because we’re entitled, it’s because decisions are better when you have that kind of input.”
Given that Harreld is an inveterate liar, and Kregel is one of the administrators who benefited from a unilateral permanent appointment, no one is under any obligation to trust either of them. Fortunately, because Harreld is on the way out, the next president will soon have the opportunity to reestablish the robust shared governance that profits everyone on campus, which was of course obliterated when the Board of Regents installed J. Bruce Harreld in the president’s office. Which is to say, again, that if the search committee doesn’t want that to continue, then it damn well better not pass along any crony candidates as finalists.
* It is a measure of how hostile the Board of Regents and central administration at UI have been to building a strong and cohesive campus community, that this development — at the tail end of J. Bruce Harreld’s contentious five-and-a-half-year presidency — struck me as unique for its simple decency. From Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan: Health care workers, UIHC set out to improve relationship with conversations facilitated by the Board of Regents.
After three months of collective bargaining, SEIU signed a contract approving a 1.3 percent annual pay increase for each union on March 12.
SEIU’s contact also ensures the union will have meetings with the regents and UIHC administration to discuss issues that are important to union members.
At the regents’ ratification meeting, Kristin Bauer, the regents’ associate counsel, said an increase in communication on the topic will be beneficial to everyone involved in the process.
“We’re going to try to facilitate these and have them on a more frequent basis,” Bauer said. “We think it will be helpful in the continuation of the communication and cooperation with the members of that union.”
SEIU President Cathy Glasson said the union plans to meet every other month with the regents but will ask to adjust to more or less frequent meetings if necessary.
Implicit in these new, ongoing conversations is the fact that the Board of Regents, and particularly its Executive Director/CEO, are taking on more and more of the governance functions of the state schools. Instead of simply meeting their statutory obligations and providing oversight, the regents are becoming de facto administrators, so it makes sense that bargaining units would want to engage with the board on a regular basis. Having said that, this also strikes me as more aligned with the vision and style of the UIHC CEO as compared to Harreld, who once famously hid from a campus group that wanted to meet. In any event, more conversation is better, because without a win-win perspective the University of Iowa is going to continue the slide into mediocrity that Harreld precipitated.
* On this past Monday the University of Iowa suffered the latest in a long-running series of legal setbacks, in yet another case which garnered negative national attention. The specifics of the original case are convoluted, but in short the university violated the constitutional rights of a religious group on campus, following what was deemed an overzealous attempt to prevent discrimination by that religious group. Monday’s decision concerned whether individual university administrators could be held personally responsible for that errant decision.
From Sabine Martin at the DI: Federal court of appeals rules against University of Iowa in religious student organization case.
The federal court of appeals ruled in a similar manner as the district court, but reversed the district court’s grant of “qualified immunity” for the UI administrators on Business Leaders in Christ’s free-speech violation claims, the ruling stated.
Qualified immunity is protection for mistaken judgments about unresolved issues of law, according to the case ruling document.
(More reporting from Ryan Foley at the AP — Court: U Iowa officials liable for targeting Christian group; and Vanessa Miller at the Gazette — Court: University of Iowa officials can be held liable for First Amendment violations.)
Much like the slew of anti-higher-ed legislation that has been unleashed by right-wing nuts during the current Iowa session, there has been a coordinated, right-wing legal assault against the University of Iowa which was designed to — and did — create a cause célèbre in anti-higher-ed religious circles. The fact that packs of right-wing nuts are determined to seize any opportunity to cast the university in a negative light is not good, but comes with the territory. Precisely because the university should be aware of its exposure, however — and clearly was not regarding the right-wing dental student who gave right-wing legislators an excuse to dictate what the university can and cannot espouse under a pretext of protecting free speech — one would think the university would stop leading with its chin.
Were that the only legal black eye the university has suffered in recent years it would be bad enough, but over the span of J. Bruce Harreld’s tenure we have seen other examples of legal failings, including a long-running, costly, and pig-headed attempt to avoid paying a former construction contractor. Because the University of Iowa is a massive operation with a $4B operating budget, and with legal concerns that span the spectrum of law, it may well be that the UI Office of the General Counsel is understaffed and overwhelmed. It may also be, however, that the General Counsel’s Office is cleaning up other people’s messes, instead of being looped into the decision-making process when it might do some preventative good.
Among the tasks at the top of the to-do list for the next Iowa president should be a top-to-bottom review not only of the Office of the General Counsel, but of the decision making in these and other celebrated debacles. Even allowing for the complexity of the university as an organization, mistakes are happening with frightening regularity, and that means there is a systemic problem. Maybe it’s a combination of factors — lack of resources, or the wrong people making the decisions, either inside or outside the OGC — but it is time to figure out what the problem is and fix it.
03/22/21 — Provided that the ongoing presidential search at the University of Iowa has generated sufficient candidate interest, and there are at least three applicants deemed qualified to lead the school, then at the end of this week — on Friday, March 26th — the UI Presidential Search Committee will meet in closed session to conduct what is known as the ‘paper cut’. That is, the committee will sift through the paperwork submitted by each applicant and cut the candidate pool to eight or so semifinalists for the position. Those candidates will then participate in virtual interviews between April 1st and April 3rd, after which the committee will select the three or four strongest candidates to come to the UI campus for virtual and/or in-person meetings with various university constituencies.
While it is technically still possible for new candidates to apply for the Iowa presidency, and that will remain true until the position is filled at the end of April, for the sake of argument will will assume that the candidate pool is set. That does not mean, however, that declared candidates cannot still be influenced in ways that could determine the outcome of the search. In that context we will look at two interrelated issues which are extraneous to the unfolding search process, but which may nevertheless factor into the selection of finalists, and the ultimate appointment of the next president of the University of Iowa.
As noted in multiple prior posts, at the beginning of this year’s ongoing legislative session, far-right Republicans in the Iowa statehouse unleashed a volley of anti-higher-ed bills, including yet another attempt to ban tenure at Iowa’s public universities. Unlike prior efforts, however, this year the proposed tenure ban made it out of committee on the House side before a critical deadline (a Senate version did not), and that bill is still in play. Likewise, other anti-higher-ed bills have already passed or are still in play, meaning candidates for the Iowa presidency do not know if significant legislative changes may yet take place, which could in turn impact their interest in the position.
While it is unlikely that the legislature will vote to ban tenure at the state schools, including the University of Iowa, the very fact that the idea has been considered, let alone is still in play, is so radical that we must consider the possibility that this comprehensive right-wing assault on higher-ed is also designed, at least in part, to influence the ongoing presidential search. To that point this political barrage — and the effort to keep many of those bills alive deep into the legislative calendar — has almost certainly had a negative impact on the search so far, particularly in discouraging applicants who might otherwise have applied. And if you think that’s an exaggeration, note that the idea of banning tenure is so extreme that even the most repressive states in the country are not considering such an affront, while right-wing nuts in Iowa have repeatedly proposed such a ban in recent years.
Even if the tenure ban fails this year, other bills that are still in play or have already passed make clear that Iowa is teetering on the brink of cultural collapse, and the reason for that is blatantly obvious. As previously highlighted in the subtitle to a Daily Iowan story by Julia Shanahan, the state of Iowa is trying to implement the type of repressive nationalist government that Donald Trump failed to perpetuate at the federal level. Again, note the subtitle in this article from Colleen Flaherty at Inside Higher Ed, only last week: No More ‘Divisive Concepts’ in Iowa?
Trump’s diversity training ban died at the federal level but is finding new life — in Iowa.
The average American is almost certainly oblivious of the extent to which Iowa is rapidly collapsing into a pocket of white nationalism, but anyone who even considered applying for the Iowa presidency understands what it happening here, and that inevitably impacted the pool of candidates for the position. Academic administrators who are concerned about issues like tenure, academic freedom and education as a public good were almost certainly dissuaded by the legislative risk, while academic administrators who care about entrepreneurial initiatives, higher education as professional job training, or are white nationalists themselves, would have been encouraged by Iowa’s legislative trend. Assuming again that the candidate pool is set there isn’t anything anyone can do about that now, but the Republican-dominated statehouse will continue to cast a shadow over the UI search.
Between now and the announcement of the finalists in mid-April, most of the search committee’s business will be conducted behind the scenes to protect candidate confidentiality. That said, some candidate names will likely surface on the UI campus, and some of those names may be surreptitiously floated to influence the outcome of the search. Although the number of people who have access to the candidate pool is quite small — around two dozen — it is unlikely that all of those individuals will keep their mouths scrupulously shut, despite agreeing to a confidentiality resolution and signing a confidentiality agreement.
Even if the search-firm reps who are facilitating the search, and the voting and non-voting committee members who are conducting the search, refrain from talking about any of the candidates outside the committee process, the candidates themselves are free to do everything from publicly announcing their candidacies to brazenly politicking behind the scenes. Which is to say that even though the remainder of the search process is highly regimented, and governed by a presumption of confidentiality, because human beings are involved there is also considerable opportunity for mischief. For example, a strong candidate could conclude that rumors about their candidacy might compel other candidates to withdraw, thus shrinking the pool of competitors. And of course that’s particularly true for candidates who might be assumed to have a built-in competitive advantage, such as internal candidates from the university, or from the other two universities governed by the Iowa Board of Regents. If you are an outside candidate — even a strong outside candidate — and you applied in good faith, persistent rumors that a crony candidate already has the job locked up would certainly prompt you to think about the consequences of losing.
Complicating matters further, however, there is the possibility if not likelihood that some declared candidates may actually have no interest in presiding over the University of Iowa. Why would someone apply for the Iowa presidency if they didn’t want the job? Because doing so could be beneficial to them in their current position. While most candidates want their applications to be kept confidential to avoid repercussions with their current employer, for a subset of candidates it may be personally and professionally advantageous for their employers to know they’re looking elsewhere, and especially advantageous if they are wanted elsewhere — as would clearly be the case if they were named as a finalist.
While some candidates withdraw from a search in order to avoid losing, others withdraw because their current employer sweetened their contract to keep them from leaving. And if that seems odd consider college sports, where panicky Athletic Directors often rush to add years and/or money to a coach’s contract, even if that coach has relatively mundane record. Having to conduct a search for a new coach or senior academic administrator is fraught with risks, and so much so that it’s often beneficial to pay more simply to maintain continuity and stability.
This kind of gamesmanship is so common in academic searches, in fact — including at the presidential level — that one of the most important tasks for any search committee is determining whether a given candidate will accept the position in question if it is offered. Conducting a time-consuming and costly search, only to find that the preferred candidate intends to stay where they are, is not only discouraging and embarrassing, it’s administratively crippling. That in turn is why so-called ‘closed’ presidential searches — which return only one oxymoronic ‘preferred finalist’ — are so risky. By contrast, in so-called ‘open’ presidential searches — such as those typically conducted by the Iowa Board of Regents when they aren’t corrupting the search process themselves — the public announcement of three or four finalists acts as insurance against that kind of aborted outcome.
To all of the possible perturbations that can happen in any normal academic search, including gamesmanship by individual candidates, with the Iowa search we also have to consider the possibility that right-wing nuts in the legislature could compel semifinalists, finalists, or even the appointee to reconsider their interest if something like a travel ban passes into law. And that again raises the possibility that the legislature hasn’t simply gone rogue, but is working with leadership at the Republican-dominated Board of Regents to shrink the candidate pool, thus increasing the odds that their crony candidate will make it through the upcoming ‘paper cut’, which is where the board has the least influence in the entire process. It would have been easy for Republican legislators to refrain from impacting the search at Iowa, but instead they aggressively went on the attack. That isn’t a coincidence.
03/19/21 — This past Monday marked the putative deadline for applications for president of the University of Iowa, then on Tuesday the members of the UI Presidential Search Committee got their first look at documents from those admirable and worthy candidates who met that deadline. As noted in the prior post there may be — indeed will likely be — sneaky candidates who apply after that non-deadline deadline, perhaps even into next week, but at the very least the committee should now have a sense of the candidate pool that was attracted by their advertising and recruitment efforts. (The search committee is also now learning whether any of those candidates are internal to the UI campus, or to the greater regents enterprise, versus how many substantive candidates are external to the state.)
According to the current timeline, the search committee will meet one week from today to winnow the full slate of applicants to eight or so semifinalists. Those candidates will then be scheduled for virtual interviews from April 1st through 3rd, four finalists will be invited to the UI campus between April 12th and 23rd, and after that the next president of the University Iowa will be appointed by the nine-member Iowa Board of Regents on April 30th. But that is not the only substantive change that may take place on that day.
As noted several months ago, the current terms of board President Mike Richards and President Pro Tem Patty Cownie, along with the so-called ‘student regent’, who is a full voting member of the board, are also set to expire on April 30th. Meaning unless those regents are reappointed by the governor — and that would seem unlikely, except perhaps for the student regent — their votes for the next Iowa president will be their last substantive acts on the board. On the assumption that the governor will appoint at least two new regents in the coming weeks, pending approval by the Republican-dominated legislature which will inevitably grant same, that convergence of timetables also makes it exceedingly unlikely that the regents will kick the final vote on that appointment down the road. Whatever else Richards has done since he was appointed to effectively replace former regent president Bruce Rastetter — who was, among other things, the architect of the corrupt 2015 search that led to the illegitimate appointment of J. Bruce Harreld at UI — he has thankfully pulled back from the autocratic looniness of Rastetter’s regime, and I believe Richards aims to complete that bureaucratic makeover by seeing to Harreld’s replacement. (If that is the case, Richards will have presided over the hiring of the presidents at all three state universities.)
As to how the likely impending replacement of the board leadership may affect the ongoing search, or the transition period between outgoing, lame-duck, illegitimate president Harreld and whomever the board names to replace him, that is only tangentially contingent on who replaces Richards and/or Cownie. In theory the governor would appoint two fine, upstanding, apolitical individuals to the board, but of course Richards and Cownie are both hardcore Republican political operatives in their own right, so it’s likely their replacements will be as well. Because there is a probationary year at the beginning of each six-year regent term of service, however, any new regents will not leap into leadership positions from the start, and instead the next president and/or president pro tem will be chosen from among the other six regents.
As noted in multiple prior posts I believe Regent David Barker has been slated for a leadership position ever since he was appointed, ostensibly because he has a background as an economist, but in reality because he is a full-on member of the Iowa Republican Party central committee. While fronting as a numbers guy Barker can continue the dismantling of the state schools as individual campuses, while simultaneously exploiting those schools to the advantage of Republican business and political cronies, which is now a decade-long board tradition. In any event, on April 30th we should have a very clear picture of where the University of Iowa and the Board of Regents are headed, and there won’t be anyone to stop them. And that may also include the regents giving crony J. Bruce Harreld a make-work position that will keep him at UI or at the board in some perverted administrative capacity for another two-plus years, so he can earn out $2.3M in deferred compensation that would otherwise be forfeit. Because that’s what crony business and political relationships are for — to make sure special people get more money for doing less work than everybody else.
03/15/21 — Today is the putative deadline by which candidates for president of the University of Iowa must submit their applications to the twenty-one member search committee. In reality, however, today is not the actual deadline, because cagey candidates are free to submit an application after today if they believe doing so is to their advantage. In fact, it’s not at all clear when or even if candidates are barred from applying for the position, as long as the position has not been filled.
The good news, if we can call it that, is that this phantom deadline is not a newly devised impediment to fair and open presidential searches at Iowa. Here is how the same purported deadline was described during the infamous 2015 search at UI, which led to the illegitimate appointment of current UI president J. Bruce Harreld:
blockquote>Confidential review of materials will begin immediately and continue until the appointment is made. It is preferred, however, that all nominations and applications be submitted prior to July 28, 2015.
The fake application deadline for the corrupt 2015 search was subsequently pushed back to July 31st — meaning one day after Harreld’s scandalous, secret, in-person, laboriously scheduled same-day meetings with five members of the Board of Regents, which amounted to his job interview for the position. The obvious red flag in the explanatory text above, of course, is that candidates were, at least in theory, allowed to evade the entire search process simply by waiting until the last possible minute before submitting their application. All of the coordination and deliberation by the search committee could simply be ignored if a candidate believed, or was given cause to believe by others, that they would be able to convince the Board of Regents to give them the job by the sheer staggering force of their undeniable qualifications, no matter how late in the process.
As a factual matter, to this day we still do not know when Harreld submitted his application in 2015, but as of the extended July 31st submission deadline — and fresh off his secret regent meetings — he was still not an official applicant. In fact, on August 3rd, three days after the supposed submission deadline, we find the following excerpted email exchange between a member of the committee and a representative of the firm facilitating the search (see p. 5-6):
Gardial: Are we to evaluate the two candidates who are still being recruited but who have not yet applied?
Williams: No. Please only evaluate Active Candidates only.
Indeed, as late as August 5th another candidate was added to the search database (see p. 29), and it is entirely possible that J. Bruce Harreld was that candidate. And that’s particularly interesting because the identification of “8 (more or less) candidates to schedule for initial interviews” (see p. 26) took place the day before, on August 4th. One week later there were in fact nine semifinalists interviewed on August 11th and 12th, and again it is entirely possible that Harreld was added as a semifinalist at the last minute.
While Harreld was conspicuously scheduled in the last slot on the second day of semifinalist interviews, from that fact we do know he did officially become an ‘active candidate’ at some point. We have still never seen his application, however, nor any of the multiple conflicting nominations he subsequently claimed were submitted on his behalf. As for the current presidential search, here is how the committee website treats the same fuzzy application deadline:
For best consideration, applications and nominations should be received by March 15, 2021….
Although there is no explicit declaration that the position will remain open until filled, there is also no definitive statement that today, March 15th, is a hard deadline. Instead, submitting an application by today merely grants “best consideration”, which implicitly means the deadline is soft. It also means the deadline is meaningless, because if a superior candidate submits an application next week, that candidate will make the list of semifinalists over someone who was guaranteed best consideration for getting their application in on time.
Since we have no statement to the contrary, it is also entirely possible that the current search will be held officially but quietly open until an appointment is made. Having said that, the idea that the current Board of Regents might ignore the entire search process and appoint their own stooge — as allowed by state code — does seem unlikely, so we will naively assume that candidates must submit their applications in the next eleven days, prior to the selection of eight or so semifinalists on March 26th. What we can say with certainty is that tomorrow the members of the committee will get their first look at applications from those candidates who do believe in following the rules, even if they could skirt the committee’s putative submission deadline in a sleazy attempt to gain a competitive advantage. Whether individual committee members will think of timely candidates as suckers for acceding to a rule that is not in fact an obligation, or respect them for turning their work in on time and honoring the spirit of the search, we cannot say, but the process of winnowing a slate of semifinalists from candidate submissions begins tomorrow.
As to how the search will ultimately play out, we won’t know until the board appoints the next president, but there are a few things we can say about the unfolding process. Even assuming that the regents don’t opt out at some point, the only real power the committee has is the power to screen out undesirable applicants. The charge from the board calls for the committee to pass along three to five candidates who are acceptable to the university, from which the board will make the final choice. Even if the committee only passes along three candidates, however, it would be ridiculously easy for one or more members of the board — or a member of the board office — to recruit a strong candidate who would be all but certain to be among the finalists. In fact, precisely because the board was uncharacteristically charitable in agreeing to the make-up of the current committee, it should be assumed that one or more board factions are following that strategy. And of course if there are already five regents in favor of a particular stealth candidate, all that candidate has to do is clear the search committee as a semifinalist and both they and the board would know the search was over, long before any candidates were revealed or appeared on campus in pandemic-safe candidate forums.
As noted in multiple prior posts, the most obvious stealth candidate would be an internal applicant on staff at the University of Iowa, and my leading contender in that regard is UI College of Education Dean Dan Clay. There could be other internal candidates who apply, but I don’t know that there would be a stronger UI candidate, or one more likely to make the final cut of the three to five finalists who will be submitted to the regents. There is another group of stealth candidates we do need to consider, however, and those are candidates who are not on staff at UI, but are internal to the greater regents enterprise.
Among that group I believe the strongest stealth candidate by far — including internal candidates from UI — would be Iowa State University Provost Jonathan Wickert, for the following reasons. First, Wickert is in the fourth year of his second five-year contract. While he may prefer to remain in Ames, or prefer the position of provost to that of president, he does have nine solid years of leadership experience at an R1/AAU university. If Wickert is looking to move on, the Iowa presidency would constitute a short trip to a bureaucratically familiar destination.
Second, Wickert checks most of the preferred academic and administration qualifications specified by the search committee, including some unstated wants which linger from the corrupt 2015 search. For example, unlike Harreld, Wickert has a Ph.D. Likewise, Wickert also has long experience in academic administration and in the public sector, unlike Harreld. The only notable deficit relative to the University of Iowa is that Wickert has no experience running a major medical center or medical hospital, because Iowa State has no similar institutions on campus. On the other hand, not only did that not stop the corrupt Board of Regents from appointing a similarly deficient Harreld in 2015, but Harreld immediately announced that he would have a hands-off policy at UIHC. (Between the current UIHC CEO and UI VP for Medical Affairs, the hospital and College of Medicine both seem to be in capable hands.)
Third, and most importantly from the point of view of the Board of Regents — which has clearly decided to turn Iowa’s three independent state universities into a single integrated university system — Wickert has already proven to be a loyal soldier on the Ames campus, which the board sees as the mother ship of the state’s academic fleet. With Wickert installed at Iowa that would effectively concede the transition, and the board could get on with the business of streamlining the entire regents enterprise with the promise of little if any pushback. (Across the entire country it is almost impossible to conceive of a candidate that the Board of Regents would be more eager to appoint at Iowa, so it can be fairly assumed that at some point Wickert was at least informally approached about effectively being given the job — as almost certainly occurred four years ago, when former ISU dean Wendy Wintersteen was appointed president of the school following a search in 2017.)
Fourth, Jonathan Wickert also proved his political loyalty to the Republican-dominated Board of Regents during the corrupt presidency of Steven Leath. He did that first by appointing a former Republican state representative, Jim Kurtenbach, as ISU’s interim Chief Information Officer. Shortly thereafter, Kurtenbach was given the position on a permanent basis without the position being advertised or a search being conducted. Likewise, Wickert created a crony six-figure job for former Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, also without conducting a search. With a full-on Republican Party operative on the current Board of Regents, and the board dominated by Republicans — including the president, who is a high-dollar Republican donor — those crony appointments now constitute virtue signalling.
As for the discrimination case that was brought by former Iowa State Assistant Professor Laura Smarandescu, it is a fair bet that most people never even heard of it, in large part because it was eclipsed by former ISU President Steven Leath’s sudden departure after the six-month ‘planegate‘ debacle. Because it does give us some insight into Wickert’s administrative methods, however, it is worth nothing what Smarandescu alleged. From the Alex Connor at Iowa State Daily on 03/29/17 — only two weeks after Leath decided to flee the state: Former Iowa State employee suing university officials on basis of sex discrimination.
The suit claims that Leath and Wickert then “improperly interfered with the appeal process” and directed the investigative committee to limit its review away from Smarandescu’s merits and rather to focus on procedural issues.
In fall 2015, the appeals committee “agreed with [Smarandescu] and voted 22-2 that the tenure process was flawed and in violation of the Faculty Handbook.
The committee recommended that Smarandescu’s tenure process be redone, according to court documents, and that she be offered an extension of her employment contract.
On Nov. 3, 2015, however, Leath denied the recommendation of the appeals committee to redo the tenure process and extend her contract.
Because of the denial of her tenure application and Iowa State’s policy, Smarandescu was then forced to leave her employment at Iowa State within six months, according to court documents.
As to the ultimate disposition of the case, we have that from Jason Clayworth at the Des Moines Register, on 03/12/19: Iowa pays nearly $3 million in sexual harassment and discrimination claims.
DISCRIMINATION IN PROMOTION ($195,000): Laura Smarandescu, a former assistant professor at Iowa State University’s marketing department, alleged she was in 2015 improperly denied tenure despite having a better research and teaching record than men in similar positions.
Like I said, I’m pretty sure nobody ever heard of that case, and Wickert obviously didn’t lose his job over it — or even get a slap on the wrist as far as I can tell — so it shouldn’t get in the way of the board giving him the Iowa presidency if that’s what they want to do. As to whether we could end up with multiple stealth candidates among the finalists, that’s also certainly possible. There is a small but vocal faction on the UI campus which is determined to perpetuate J. Bruce Harreld’s failed entrepreneurial vision, including Harreld himself, so it would be surprising if no one tried to move up and advance that cause. Likewise, there are certainly one or more regents or staffers in the board office who are interested in making their own lives easier, and Wickert or perhaps someone else on staff at Iowa State would make that a reality. Were both Clay and Wickert to apply for the position, for example, I think they would both likely make the list of finalists, and it is hard to imagine the board skipping both of them — and particularly Wickert — to appoint an unfamiliar and perhaps independent-minded outside candidate.
The best longshot hope for the Iowa search is that there will be at least three external candidates who are as strong or stronger than any internal candidates currently serving at any of the regent universities. Unfortunately, between the pandemic, the anti-higher-ed holy war that Iowa’s Republican state legislators have been waging for the past two months, and the fusillade of recent internal appointments that have been doled out anonymously at the university — thus effectively setting the table for the next administration — I don’t think that’s likely, so the odds continue to increase that the next Iowa president will be another board crony, albeit this time someone who is qualified for the role. Other than the committee passing along a slate of three external finalists I don’t see how the next UI president will be anything other than a Board of Regents ringer, who was probably approached about the job before Harreld announced his retirement last October. And if that is the case, we can then retroactively characterize the entire search process as nothing more than another episode of regent theater, albeit one in which the board followed the rules.
03/13/21 — In the previous update I referenced the recent interview of University of Iowa Provost Kevin Kregel by Daily Iowan Executive Editor Sarah Watson. While it came as a relief that Kregel could conduct himself like a professional academic administrator — instead of, say, an emotionally needy crank — one statement by Kregel gave me pause. From Wilson’s report:
In addition to Kregel, now-Executive Officer for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Liz Tovar was also promoted from interim to a permanent role without a customary search. Some campus members critiqued the administration for not adding transparency with a search.
On Tovar’s appointment, Kregel likened her six-month tenure as an interim leader of the division to a long interview process.
“We learned over the last several years that it’s really important to know the qualities of an individual and how they work as a team with other campus members,” Kregel said. “And we had eight and a half years of knowing how Liz worked with other people and her skill set. So, it was like a very long duration interview process, if you look at it that way for me.”
Because there is a lot left unsaid here, and Kregel’s public credibility still hangs in the balance, it is important to unpack these statements. All the more so now, in fact, since we learned on Thursday that yet another interim administrative position has been anonymously granted permanent status, without conducting a national search. From Caleb McCullough at the Daily Iowan: UI names Sara Sanders permanent dean of College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Sara Sanders has been named to the role permanently after serving as an interim since July 2020.
Sanders was named to the interim role after Dean Steve Goddard was removed as dean following an unspecified ethics violation.
Making matters worse for Kregel, as the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller pointed out on Friday the sudden appointment of Sanders actually broke a promise to the UI community: University of Iowa appoints interim as dean of largest college, skipping search.
Upon [Goddard’s] resignation last summer, then-interim UI Provost Kevin Kregel told faculty and staff the university would conduct another search to replace Goddard — after spending nearly one year and more than $116,000 on the previous search that landed him.
“I want to assure you that we will move forward in an inclusive and transparent manner and that faculty, staff, and students will have the opportunity to be engaged throughout the search process once a timeline has been determined,” Kregel wrote at the time.
But Kregel, in response to questions from The Gazette on Friday, said although he believes in the value of national searches, present circumstances justify circumvention of that process.
“During a time of so much uncertainty, Dean Sanders has provided excellent leadership over the last seven months in the role of interim dean, and she has inspired trust and excitement about her ability to lead the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences into the future,” Kregel said.
Left unexplained is why Sanders had to be appointed on a permanent basis while there is an ongoing presidential search. Perhaps Kregel is right — maybe they couldn’t find anyone better — but you can only know you hired the best person available if you conduct a search. Instead, with a lame-duck if not absentee president, and the conclusion of the presidential search only a month and a half away, someone suddenly decided that Sanders needed to be appointed on a permanent basis, and Kregel doesn’t explain why.
Not only is this yet another spontaneous administrative appointment for which no individual has laid claim, but between Miller’s report, the DI report and the UI press release announcing Sanders’ permanent status, there isn’t a single mention of illegitimate lame-duck UI president J. Bruce Harreld. Once again a person or persons unknown approved this consequential administrative decision, yet the university can’t tell us who that was. What we can say now with certainty, however, is that one or more persons are filling out the administrative roster at UI on a permanent basis in anticipation of a new president coming onboard in about a month and a half. Instead of waiting and allowing the new president to make these decisions — as was famously done in the case of J. Bruce Harreld back in 2015 — these decisions are being made specifically to limit the decision making opportunities of the next president.
From Jeff Charis-Carlson at the Iowa City Press-Citizen, back on 01/19/16:
After 11 weeks in office, the new University of Iowa president is removing the word “interim” from the title of some of his key administrators and has finalized the make-up of two leadership teams for addressing challenges facing the institution.
For longtime readers this naked bureaucratic hypocrisy is probably not surprising. After rigging the 2015 presidential search in Harreld’s favor, his co-conspirators in both central administration at the university and at the corrupt Iowa Board of Regents did everything possible to prop him up and make him seem like a decision-making phenom. Now, five and a half years later, the powers that be are denying the next president that same courtesy and opportunity — and on course one of the people lurking in the background while these permanent hires are being made is J. Bruce Harreld himself.
Having said that, were it not for the secrecy, hypocrisy and bankrupt ethical legacy of the board and the school, these permanent appointments would not necessarily be a bad thing. I don’t believe any of the people who have been permanently appointed are incompetent or driven by toxic ego needs like Harreld or former regent president Bruce Rastetter. Like Kevin Kregel, and Liz Tovar before him, Sara Sanders seems able and stable, and after the past five-plus years those traits count as luxuries.
Unfortunately, we can’t just ignore the secrecy, hypocrisy and legacy of ethical lapses by the University of Iowa. Even looking at all of these lame-duck conversions from interim to permanent status in the best-possible light — which is that having experienced administrators on hand will free up time for the next president to focus on more important objectives — we’re left with the fact that at the highest levels the university has no north star. Information is provided to the public and explanations are given not because it reflects and conveys the truth, but because it seems plausible in the moment.
Consider again this particular statement by Kregel in his recent Daily Iowan interview:
“We learned over the last several years that it’s really important to know the qualities of an individual and how they work as a team with other campus members,” Kregel said.
In a recent post it was noted that the Board of Regents and University of Iowa have a longstanding tradition of allowing white men to grant positions of power to each other, and this is a good example of why that tradition is problematic. As regular readers may have noticed, this statement by the new permanent provost is not only a carefully couched lie of omission, but it denigrates two prior UI employees who are legally precluded from defending themselves against such slights. Specifically, what Kregel is obliquely referencing — at least in part, along with the aborted tenure of former CLAS dean Goddard — is the exceedingly short tenure of former Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Tajuan Wilson, who served five weeks in office, and the relatively short tenure of former permanent provost Montserrat Fuentes, who served a year.
What Kregel leaves out is that all three of those hires were made by J. Bruce Harreld, following what the university asserted was a rigorous hiring process. Meaning even if we assume those individuals subsequently revealed one or more character flaws, the best possible gloss we can put on those failed hires would be that Harreld is a phenomenally bad judge of character, and when making a hire the university’s due diligence is woefully insufficient. In reality, however, that best-case scenario only seems to be true of one of those three hires — and Kregel knows that.
Unlike Goddard, when Wilson left after five weeks and Fuentes left after a year, they both signed separation agreements which allowed them to, respectively, continue earning their current salaries for six months and a year. In that context, if they had transgressed against Iowa it is exceedingly unlikely that they would have been paid substantial six-figure salaries in exchange for signing separation agreements which precluded them from explaining what really happened. And in fact, although no specifics were ever provided, both Wilson and Fuentes subsequently made clear that they felt the University of Iowa failed to maintain the standards of employment that they were promised when they were hired.
From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, on 01/30/20:
In one of two PowerPoint presentations that former University of Iowa diversity chief TaJuan Wilson created while on special assignment, he posed a question to the UI: Would his successor be “a direct report to the university president?”
Toward the end of that 37-page report, Wilson reflected on UI diversity efforts, possibly shedding some light on what motivated him to abruptly leave after only six weeks on the job.
Among a list of 18 “questions to consider” he made in the report, Wilson asked: “Are we honest about where we are, and are we operating with integrity and transparency?”
From the Gazette’s Miller, on 10/27/20:
When asked why she wants to leave the University of Iowa after only one year, recently-reassigned Montse Fuentes — now “special assistant to the president” after stepping down from UI provost — told the Kent State University community “I’m looking for the opportunity to have complete alignment with my core values — my commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
“I’m very excited about the prospect of joining Kent State, where I feel like there is complete alignment with those values,” Fuentes said during an Oct. 20 public presentation for the Kent State community as part of its search for a new senior vice president and provost.
Fuentes — who started as UI provost in June 2019 and in July 2020 signed a settlement reassigning her to the role of special assistant to the president — was unveiled earlier this month as one of three finalists for the Kent State job.
When asked during her candidate presentation why she wants to make the lateral move to leave Iowa for the northeast Ohio institution, Fuentes said she likes that Kent State “is an institution that puts the students first.”
“I’m very excited that you use your values — your commitment to diversity, kindness, respect — in guiding the institution,” she said, praising the campus for creating a strategy and following through.
“I do think it is critical to whatever we do to be able to have an understanding of what the priorities are and the strategic vision, because that would guide the financial allocation, that would guide our fundraising, that would guide how we develop programs,” she said.
As you can see, despite legal prohibitions both Wilson and Fuentes were direct in their assessments of what went wrong with their employment at Iowa, and it doesn’t sound like they think they did anything wrong. In fact, it’s pretty clear that they found major problems with the culture at Iowa, which is why they left — and the fact that the university kept paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars after they resigned gives credence to that view. And again, even if he wasn’t involved in the specifics, as the Iowa provost Kevin Kregel knows all of this, so why is he implicitly denigrating Wilson and Fuentes?
The likely answer is that he still works for J. Bruce Harreld, who originally appointed Kregel as interim provost. What the University of Iowa does not need, however, is more sucking up to a lame-duck president who made one bad hire (Goddard), and seems to have driven away two good hires (Wilson and Fuentes). As a factual matter it is certainly to the advantage of any institution to know that someone is a good person and that they fit the culture of an organization before hiring them or promoting them, but that assertion necessarily leads us to Kregel’s qualifier about “the last several years”. Because if we’re going to start denigrating external hires who proved problematic because of their “qualities” as a new employee, we would obviously have to have an extensive conversation about the corruption in central administration at Iowa and at the Iowa Board of Regents that led to a shyster president being shoved down the throats of the UI community in 2015.
On the question of internal versus external hires, leadership at the University of Iowa must break the habit of grabbing whatever handy excuse or justification works in the moment. Today Kregel is gung-ho about hiring from within, while only three years ago J. Bruce Harreld was eager to bring people in front the outside — which was also the meta-excuse that was used to justify his own appointment in 2015, even though Harreld had no prior experience in academic administration or in the public sector, and had never been the CEO of anything. From a Daily Iowan interview with Harreld, on 03/09/18:
I don’t think it’s a problem, and actually, I think it’s a good thing. You bring new blood in, they see different perspectives and backgrounds and also, every search, we start off a process that says, ‘What’s the role? Do we want to redesign the role?’ So we actually go through a self-searching before we start the search as to, do we have the design right, so we have a lot of them, and we’ll probably have a lot more.
Flash forward three short years and all of sudden external searches are a thing of the past, and internal candidates are being promoted into positions of vast power without any search at all. From a DI interview with Harreld, on 02/16/20:
DI: Following up on the internal search decision, why for this position, specifically, did you want an internal search — given Dr. Shivers came here from another campus, and she brought energy that people really appreciated to that role?
Harreld: We’ve got a lot of people here with a lot of energy, too. So, there’s several factors. One is the issue we just discussed, which is someone who knows us really well, and we know pretty well, as well, so we don’t have that startup time. Even Melissa had that startup gap, if you will. So, that’s one, too. I really do believe that one of the long-term issues for our campus is how we develop new leaders. This may be an academic issue across the United States, where we actually have a tendency not to hire and promote from within. We actually go to the outside and bring a new leader in. Then we go through this phenomena, where they’re coming up to speed, and we’re coming to speed to get to know them, and they become productive. Now imagine what happens to the people who were here the last 10 years, and they actually see somebody coming over the top of them. Actually, in a sense, we’re stifling that growth of the development of people. Said another way for, are we saying that if you’re really good in your particular area, the right way to get to a senior position is you have to go to another institution? I don’t buy that. I don’t think any other organization tends to work that way.
The most damning revelation of Harreld’s failed presidency — and a lesson every administrator at the University of Iowa needs to take to heart — is that he didn’t stand for anything. Literally, nothing. With the help of a small cabal of co-conspirators Harreld lied his way into his job, pocketed close to $5M along the way, and is now leaving others to clean up the mess he made, including Provost Kregel. Time and again whatever excuse or justification worked in the moment is what Harreld went with, and it didn’t matter if that contradicted something he said a year or two before.
If you are an administrator at the University of Iowa, you need to remind yourself that you are not in the plausibility business. That’s what storytellers and con artists do — make things seem plausible. Higher-ed administrators should have a north star, at least in theory, and that north star is the truth. Maybe you can’t tell the full truth all the time because some issues are confidential, like personnel matters, but when it comes to something you do over and over, like hire people into open positions, you can damn well put together a policy that applies in all instances, and stick to it.
Ideally, high-level transitions would always be orderly. People who are moving on would give sufficient notice so national searches can be conducted while they are still in office. If an interim appointment was needed, that appointment would be given to someone who did not want to apply for the position, thus preventing an interim from gaining an incumbent advantage over external candidates. That in turn would allow excellent internal candidates to apply as well, but it would prevent the kind of calcification that J. Bruce Harreld himself railed against during his contentious candidate forum in 2015.
But of course everyone at UI, including Provost Kregel, already knows this is how it should be done. And if the president makes bad hires, or makes good hires and drives those people away, you don’t kiss the president’s ass or protect their reputation — let alone throw hundreds of thousands of precious dollars at those former employees to literally buy their silence. You acknowledge what happened, then hope the Board of Regents fires the incompetent president, thus sending a signal that people will be held accountable. (If Kregel didn’t want to take Harreld on directly that is perhaps understandable, but again, no one made Kregel claim that internal hires are awesome because of notable bad hires over the “last several years”. He could have said nothing, but he tried to shift blame away from Harreld.)
Having said all that, if I had to guess who is calling the administrative shots at Iowa right now I would say Kregel is handling day-to-day operations, but regent Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer Mark Braun is effectively orchestrating and approving all of these internal promotions. (Put another way, it is inconceivable that UI is making these permanent promotions without first getting permission from the board. And while that may involve the board president as well, that conversation goes through Braun.) As for Harreld, I think he’s out except for signing his name whenever and wherever he’s told to do so, and again I’m fine with that. But let’s not pretend that all of these internal hires during Harreld’s final lame-duck months are inherently good.
Refusing to make outside hires — and using a presidential search as cover for internal appointments, along with locking the next president into an administration that was not of their choosing — also poses risks. Unless of course what you’re really trying to do is discourage external applicants for the Iowa presidency, in which case it makes a lot of sense. In that context, I think the recent rash of permanent internal appointments significantly increases the likelihood that the next UI president will also be an internal hire. (I have floated UI College of Education Dean Dan Clay as a possible candidate, but there are others.) Of course if that is the outcome, then we’re going to have to retroactively consider the possibility that the new UI president had a hand in that rash of appointments as well.
* Speaking of internal hires, on the same day that Sara Sanders’ permanent appointment was announced at CLAS, the university announced that the school will make yet another internal hire to replace the current faculty ombudsperson. While a chair has been appointed by Harreld to lead a search committee, that search is being conducted at breakneck fashion, and applications must be submitted by April 15th — meaning two weeks before the next president is chosen.
* Five years after the University of Iowa hired a non-traditional university president with an MBA and long experience in the corporate world as a senior business executive — purportedly to show staid academic administrators how to trim costs and run a more profitable organization — the university is throwing in the towel on running its own bookstore. From Vanessa Miller at the Gazette:
University of Iowa to enter public-private deal for Hawk Shop, bookstore operation. Despite having plenty of labor, a significant tax break, and the Tippie College of Business on campus to help figure out how to make the bookstore profitable, Harreld failed. (On Friday, Rylee Wilson at the Daily Iowan updated the deal: Regents approve University of Iowa Hawk Shop private partnership.
* And speaking of failure, after $100M in cost overruns at the new UI children’s hospital, another major healthcare project is in trouble on the UI campus. From the Gazette’s Miller: New University of Iowa Health Care central sterilizing process off to rocky start. At some point you would think there would be serious questions about these recurrent and costly administrative debacles — but you would be wrong.
* As noted in a prior post, the timeline for the UI presidential search was updated at the last committee meeting, and you can now see that updated timeline in print form here.
* What do you do after you acquire multiple advanced degrees and rise to the top of your profession? You get together with a group of people just like you, and conspire to lie to the public. From Emily Giambalvo and Rick Maese at the Washington Post: Big Ten presidents kept return-to-school, football communications out of public eye. (Hilariously, even though Harreld wanted to ignore the pandemic and play football, he doesn’t even rate a mention in this story.)
* On any given day lately there have been a half-dozen links worth posting about the looniness taking place in the Iowa legislature, all focused on anti-higher-ed rage by the Iowa Republican Party. The problem with those links, however, is that the legislative process moves in fits and starts, and what the nuts do in one chamber of the statehouse may be superseded or precluded by what happens the next day in the other chamber. Fortunately, last Sunday Brian Grace at the Daily Iowan put together an excellent synopsis of where things stood at that moment in time: Education bills flood state Legislature, only some survive legislative deadline.
The following day we also had this update from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Iowa Senate passes free speech bill banning certain diversity training at universities, K-12 schools. That bit of white-nationalist paranoia will now have to be reconciled with the House version of the same bill: Iowa House free speech bill drops ban on certain diversity training.
As to where all of this legislative bile is coming from, a Daily Iowan report back in late February hit the nail on the head. From Julia Shanahan at the DI: Iowa Senate Education Committee advances bill to regulate DEI training at public universities.
Note the subtitle to that article:
The Iowa Senate Education Committee advanced a bill on Wednesday that has similar language to a former Trump administration executive order that aimed to regulate DEI training.
At the federal level the Republican Party may have lost the White House and Senate, and failed to recapture the House, but in states with Republican dominated governments — like Iowa, where Republicans control the trifecta (governor, House and Senate) — there is an effort underway to fulfill the racist/seditionist promise on which Donald Trump failed to deliver. And honestly that makes a certain kind of tortured sense, because Trump was simply the front man for a Republican base that was already determined to overthrow American democracy in service of fundamentalism and white nationalism.
* The quest to ban tenure at Iowa’s public universities is still alive, and we have the following reports on that from the past few weeks:
Clay Masters at Iowa Public Radio: Republican Lawmakers Want Tenure Banned At Iowa’s Regents Universities.
Eric Kelderman at the Chronicle for Higher Education — Why Would Iowa Want to Kill Tenure?. (This particular story reads like a foreign correspondent reporting from a third-world country.)
Vanessa Miller at the Gazette — National academics speak out against Iowa proposal to eliminate tenure.
And from Nicolette Noce and Rachel Scully at the Carroll News, one small school’s decision to venture over the tenure cliff — Board decision virtually eliminates tenure, faculty say.
03/10/21 — One of the quirks of central administration at the University of Iowa — if not higher education generally — is that one person may hold multiple titles, while also serving in additional roles. As such it is often difficult to keep track of who is doing what, even when the university presents the requisite information in a handy press release. Case in point, consider this Iowa Now post from last Thursday: John Keller to step down as dean of the Graduate College.
While that headline certainly seems straightforward, it turns out Keller is one of those UI administrators who has multiple titles while also serving in additional roles, and stepping down as dean at the end of of July is only part of his impending transition. Specifically, while Keller will indeed step down as dean of the Graduate College, his other title involves serving as the “associate provost for graduate and professional education”, and Keller will simultaneously vacate that position as well. At the same time, however, Keller will magically transform into a “special assistant to the provost”:
In that role, he will assist with the development of the university’s 2022–27 strategic plan, participate in the management of the UI’s P3 program, review and update university policies as needed, and direct other projects that align with Iowa’s strategic priorities.
We can probably safely assume that Keller himself decided he wanted to step down from his twin roles of dean and associate provost, but what about assuming the new role of special assistant to the provost? It is unlikely that Keller invented that job for himself, so how did that new position come about, and who approved that new role? Unfortunately, as has routinely been the case during the failed administration of illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld, this notable transition and consequent concentration of power is being presented passively, as if the decision occurred spontaneously.
As a factual matter we don’t know whether Harreld made the call, or whether provost Kevin Kregel made the decision, and that’s particularly odd given that Harreld is a lame duck. If Harreld made the decision it’s worth wondering why he decided to lock the next president into whatever contract Keller signs, and if Kregel made the decision it also worth wondering why he decided to lock the next president into whatever contract Keller signs. Who decided that Iowa’s provost needed a special assistant to manage multiple aspects of university policy, which also directly relate to Harreld’s legacy?
Prior to announcing his impending retirement, J. Bruce Harreld hand-picked Kregel to serve as the interim UI provost for two years, and refused to consider a national search to fill that role on a permanent basis. After announcing his impending retirement, the University of Iowa — at the direction of some unknown person — appointed Kregel as the permanent provost, also without conducting a national search. And of course among other things that means the new UI president will not be able to appoint their own provost after getting the lay of the land and assessing the university’s needs.
Now we learn that someone — presumably at UI, but perhaps at the Iowa Board of Regents — is moving John Keller into the new role of “special assistant” to Kregel, also without conducting a search. And oddly enough, Keller’s portfolio as a special assistant will encompass projects that J. Bruce Harreld has a vested interest in protecting, even after he leaves office. Meaning the new UI president will have to fight through both of those lame duck appointments if they want to move in another direction, because some determined anonymous person or persons keeps fortifying the provost’s office.
Speaking of which…if the name John Keller sounds familiar, that’s probably because he’s also co-chairing the committee charged with recruiting Harreld’s replacement. And while there is no inherent conflict of interest in Keller performing that function while holding any number of titles or roles, it stands to reason that Keller might now be particularly interested in hiring a new president who aligns with his views and/or the views of the provost about the UI Strategic Plan, about the UI P3, and about university policies and strategic priorities. Meaning, again, that the office of the provost was just strengthened by proxy because of Keller’s pending appointment while the search is ongoing. (The very fact that no one put their name to this decision seems to tell us everything we need to know.)
Unfortunately, we will not know if the current presidential search was corrupted along the way until the end of April, when the Board of Regents makes the final appointment. As also noted in a prior post, these anonymous appointments in the provost’s office are not inherently negative, because if the new president is an external candidate it will certainly help to have veteran administrators to lean on — provided those administrators were not put in place to blunt the effectiveness of the new president. On the other hand, long experience has shown that the Iowa Board of Regents is an inherently theatrical body, and as such the most likely outcome of the 2021 search is not a repudiation of the corruption that was revealed in 2015, but an artful and plausibly deniable improvement.
To that end, appointing an internal candidate who was loyal to Harreld’s agenda — say, someone like Dan Clay, dean of the UI College of Education, who was hired by Harreld in 2016 and has a history at the school — would be ideal, because it would allow the board to continue seamlessly converting UI into little more than job training for corporate employers, with for-profit, revenue-generating initiatives operating under a pretext of research. (It would also allow Harreld to appoint an interim dean at the College of Education, thus decapitating leadership, at which point the Board of Regents could elect to dismantle that relatively small college as redundant to and/or undercutting the educational mission of the University of Northern Iowa.) Between Harreld’s interest in perpetuating his initiatives and protecting his legacy, and the board’s desire to convert UI and the other state universities into complimentary components of a single bureaucratic system, to say nothing of the culture war being waged against higher education by right-wing Iowa legislators, the idea that a visionary academic leader will be given the opportunity to lead the University of Iowa borders on the absurd.
As for replacing Keller as the dean of the Graduate College, the university also announced that an internal search will be conducted to fill that position — which is another way of saying either Harreld or the next president will appoint whoever they want, and I’m guessing Harreld will seize that opportunity. That in turn suggests that the University of Iowa really is no longer interested in entertaining external hires except when compelled to do so — as is the case with the current presidential search — and that increases the likelihood that the next UI president will also be an internal candidate. And if that’s the case we can all stop advocating for the future of the university whether the right-wing loons in the legislature ban tenure or not, because refusing to consider outside applicants for open positions is just another way of opposing diversity, equity and inclusion.
Local reporting on Keller’s future from Caleb McCullough at the Daily Iowan — University of Iowa Graduate College Dean John Keller to step down this summer; Cleo Krejci at the Iowa City Press-Citizen — John Keller, the longtime dean of the University of Iowa’s Graduate College, plans to step down from the role; and Vanessa Miller at the Gazette — University of Iowa Graduate College Dean John Keller stepping down.
* In early December the University of Iowa announced that it was pausing development of its new five-year strategic plan. The good news was that delivery of the new plan was also being pushed back from June of 2021 to June of 2022, meaning the next UI president would have a full year or more to help shape that document — thus limiting J. Bruce Harreld’s ability to corrupt same. What made that announcement particularly odd, however, was that it was delivered not by the president or provost, but by the aforementioned Dan Clay, dean of the UI College of Education, who had apparently become the point person for the new strategic plan.
Flash forward three months to the end of February, and the university recently announced that development of the new strategic plan was once again underway. From the UI Office of Strategic Communication, on 02/25/21: Work beginning on UI Strategic Plan 2022–2027. Although that press release — which comprises more than 620 words — omits any mention of Clay, that doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t be involved. For the second time in recent weeks the university referenced something called the ‘Strategy Team‘, which it is now linking to but still not detailing in terms of appointments. Even though we don’t know all the players involved, however, there are two slots for “collegiate deans”, so we can pencil Clay in for one of those.
What we can say, again, is that despite J. Bruce Harreld’s lame-duck attempts to stack UI administration — and thus development of the new UI Strategic Plan — in his favor, most of the work pulling that plan together will take place after the next president is hired. And of course if the next president doesn’t like how Harreld shaped (rigged) the development process, they can blow it up and start over. And that’s particularly important because the building blocks that will inform the overall development process were recently completed under Harreld’s watch, as noted in a Daily Iowan interview with Provost Kevin Kregel that was published Sunday:
The UI is developing its strategic plan as it’s also searching for a new president of the university. According to the search committee’s tentative timeline, the state Board of Regents will select a new president by the end of April.
Kregel said the UI would focus on the “broader bedrocks” for the university to be set before a new president takes the helm. Administrators received collegiate and unit strategic plans March 1, Kregel said, and will be spending the next several months pulling common threads of those plans to create a university-wide plan before having campus discussions and town halls in late fall and early spring.
“So, there will be certainly a window of time, not only for the new president, but for the entire campus to provide feedback in these drafts of what we’re building,” Kregel said.
One other bit of good news is that after lying about the three core areas of focus in the current strategic plan, which J. Bruce Harreld was intimately involved in crafting — including relentlessly and falsely insisting that DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) was one of the main pillars, when it was not — the main areas of focus in the next strategic plan resolve any deficits. (As to how those main areas of focus have already been determined, even though the campuswide process is just getting underway, no one can say.)
The strategy team will appoint and work with four Strategic Planning Development Teams, focused on four key areas:
Faculty and staff success;
Diversity, equity, and inclusion; and
Research and discovery.
Engagement, which is a stand-alone priority area in the university’s current strategic plan, will be embedded in each of the four key areas of the new plan.
While those areas of focus are an improvement over the current plan, note that embedding ‘engagement’ in all four areas of focus is a subversion of the document. Not only is engagement loosely defined in the current strategic plan, but it serves as a backdoor justification for diverting funds away from academia to for-profit, revenue-generating initiatives. In that context, injecting engagement throughout the new strategic plan weakens it uniformly, and gives permission to administrators to focus primarily on financial benefits as opposed to improving education and non-commercial research.
* When I started pulling this post together last week I believed there was already considerable evidence that Provost Kevin Kregel is functioning as the de facto president of the University of Iowa. And that in itself was dang funny because when Harreld announced his impending retirement back in October, he went on and on about how he intended to remain in office until and perhaps even after his successor was appointed, so the school wouldn’t have to tread water under an interim president. Although Harreld did participate in the recent virtual regent meeting, he has largely been a non-factor since the beginning of the spring term, and his irrelevance was made expressly clear in a recent report about the anti-higher-ed Republican radicalism that is running rampant in the Iowa statehouse.
Among the right-wing nuts in the Iowa legislature there are a few who stand out because of their menace, and one of those nuts is Steve Holt. If you’re not from Iowa or don’t pay attention to state politics you can think of Holt as the Steve King or Jim Jordan of the Iowa House, and like both of those clowns he would be nothing if he wasn’t an elected representative. Because he is an elected representative, however, he is legally entitled to abuse state employees, and we got another example of his thuggish exuberance in a report last week from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Republican lawmakers criticize ‘cancel culture’ at University of Iowa.
What stood out in Miller’s report was not the fact that Holt is a punk, however, because that’s a given. What stood out was who was not among the panel of UI administrators subjected to his abuse.
Disgruntled Republican lawmakers — who last month pummeled the University of Iowa College of Dentistry with questions about its treatment of a conservative student — leveled more questions and criticism Tuesday at UI officials.
“I believe you have a systemic problem that needs to be addressed,” Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, told UI Dental College Dean David Johnsen, Provost Kevin Kregel and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Executive Officer Liz Tovar at a government oversight committee hearing.
As you can see, the one UI administrator we would expect to show up for such a (virtual) public drubbing — J. Bruce Coward — was nowhere to be found, despite having personally committed to remaining in office precisely to provide leadership at this trying time. Instead, the provost and two other administrators were in attendance, taking heat on behalf of the university that Harreld still ostensibly leads. And I can’t read Harreld’s absence in that moment as anything other than a clear indicator of who is currently running the University of Iowa on a daily basis, and that individual is Provost Kregel. (And to be fair to Kregel, while the jury is still necessarily out on him, any indication we have that Harreld will phone in the remaining weeks of his failed presidency is to the good.)
To that point, and as noted above, we got yet more proof that Kregel is running the show on Sunday, when Daily Iowan Executive Editor Sarah Watson published an extensive interview with Kregel: University of Iowa provost: biased professors ‘outliers’. Not only is Watson’s interview interesting because it features Kregel instead of Harreld, but it is jarring how poised and coherent Kregel seems, in stark contract to the routinely narcissistic interviews that Harreld has given over the past five and a half years. (The subtext of every DI interview that Harreld has ever given is ‘Look at me!’, and at times that was also the text. President I. M. Fabulous at your humble service.)
Even allowing for the fact that Watson’s report was edited, as opposed to a raw transcript, it is reassuring to read responses from a University of Iowa administrator which are direct and focused on the issue at hand. Watching someone constantly prop up their own ego and position themselves to advantage is not only exhausting, but those pathologies get in the way of messaging to the campus community. Whoever the Board of Regents ultimately selects to replace Harreld, the objectives of every campus constituency will be advanced if they can avoiding appointing another blowhard.
03/07/21 — The fourth virtual meeting of the University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee took place Friday morning, and if you are interested you can see a video of the proceedings here. The bulk of that two-hour meeting involved shaping the questions the committee will ask of the eight or so semifinalists who will be selected in roughly three weeks. For the most part that discussion was not particularly noteworthy save the sincerity of the conversation, which again spoke well of the committee’s work ethic. Later in the meeting several issues were broached which do merit discussion, and may require further attention by the committee as the search process intensifies.
To make this post easy to scan, revisit and link from, I broke the video down by timing marks which coincide with items of interest. As noted, most of the conversation about the questions for semifinalists, and thus most of the meeting, was interesting but not concerning. Not only should the committee be commended for showing its work, however, but the video of the meeting will be of particular use and benefit to prospective candidates who make the initial cut. The committee is clearly not trying to orchestrate a trial by fire, or to trick or trap applicants during the interview process. If anything comes through in the bulk of this meeting it is that the committee is doing everything possible to provide a level playing field for, and elicit relevant information from, qualified candidates.
0:02:22 — The meeting proper began a few minutes earlier, but there was a technical glitch and audio for the meeting begins here. (The portion of the audio that was lost seems to pertain to taking roll.) A motion and second is made to approve minutes from the prior meeting.
https://youtu.be/HAXJW2Y5te8?t=1390“>0:02:50 — The main agenda item for the meeting — discussing and honing questions for the candidates who are selected as semifinalists — is introduced. (After the prior meeting, the committee broke into issue-oriented subcommittees to draft questions on one of four topics: Leadership, Communication, DEI and Shared Governance. At this meeting those questions were compiled, and the full group weighed in on all of the questions.)
0:05:23 — Draft questions are displayed on two side-by-side pages which show all questions full-screen.
0:06:07 — Draft questions are displayed on a single zoomed-in page which subsequently scrolls to show all questions.
The one thing that seemed odd about this part of the meeting was that the draft questions were apparently not emailed to committee members in advance. I say apparently because during the meeting members took time to silently read the questions on-screen, which they wouldn’t have done if they had seen the questions beforehand. (As it was, the reading only took a few minutes, but subsequent discussion could have been advanced by giving members the text in advance — as is routinely done in literary workshops all over the campus at America’s preeminent writing university.)
0:36:38 — A small point here, but one of the co-chairs mentions the various documents that the committee will receive from each of the candidates, including a statement about their interest in the position. What most people do not know, including most of the people on the current committee, is that the only document J. Bruce Harreld submitted during the corrupt 2015 search was an error-riddled and misleading three-page resume, which you can still see here on the UI website. (And after Harreld gets the boot you will still be able to find that damning and incriminating document here.)
While the other applicants in 2015 submitted extensive C.V.’s and multi-page letters of application, expressing and evidencing passion for the Iowa presidency, J. Bruce Huckster skipped all that because it simply wasn’t required. (When an unqualified applicant only does the bare minimum, and screws up what they do submit, that’s an indication you should not hire that person.) Regarding the current search, the co-chair seemed a bit unsure about which documents were required from each candidate, so I popped over to the UI Presidential Search Committee website and was happy to find the following explicit statement in the text describing the application and nomination process:
For best consideration, applications and nominations should be received by March 15, 2021, and must include a letter of interest addressing the qualifications described (not more than three pages); a current résumé or curriculum vitae; and the names of five professional references with each person’s position, office or home address, e-mail address and telephone numbers.
Notwithstanding the damnable qualifier at the beginning — which is ubiquitous in presidential searches conducted by the Iowa Board of Regents, and which I loathe precisely because it allows last-second shyster applicants to sneak in under cover of crony conspirators on the committee — in this case even a last-second shyster like J. Bruce Harreld would be compelled by the word “must” to submit a letter of interest. And besides, if you can’t be bothered to write a three-page-or-less statement about why you are applying for a job that will net your four million dollars or more over five years, why should anyone appoint you — unless they really are your co-conspirators, and everyone already knows your paperwork is irrelevant to determining the outcome of the appointment process.
0:52:32 — One thing I was curious about was whether committee members would have any direct or indirect comment about the slew of anti-higher-ed, right-wing legislation that has been proposed in Iowa since the committee’s last meeting in mid-January. To my ear this was the only point in the entire meeting where I felt that might be the case, because the term ‘free speech’ was brought up in conjunction with one of the semifinalist questions. There was no direct connection made between the search and any of the proposed legislation, but ‘free speech’ as a term is clearly being used as a bludgeon by Republican legislators, to bully faculty and staff at the state schools into silence on political and cultural issues.
1:03:29 — The bulk of the conversation about the semifinalist questions concludes here. Roughly half that time was spent on the interview questions themselves — which will be revised by the co-chairs and distributed for comments and review — and half was spent on the process by which those questions will be presented to candidates. (It’s one thing to say you’re going to interview candidates, and another to do so in a fair and equitable manner, which also elicits the information you need to determine a candidate’s fitness for the position.) Following a bit more conversation, the meeting shifted toward other topics that needed attention, but which were not specified in the formal meeting agenda.
1:05:55 — A member of the committee asks for input from the search firm representatives about how searches are being conducted during the pandemic. That in turn kicks off a larger conversation with those reps about issues that the committee broached while discussing the semifinalist questions. In the current context, that interaction brings into focus the value of having a search firm to guide and inform committee members who do not conduct complex national searches on a regular basis.
To be sure, not all search firms are equal, and there is good reason to believe search firms are overused in academia for ass-covering reasons, and that many schools could conduct lesser searches themselves at significant cost savings. Having said that, I do believe the firm that is facilitating the current search (AGB Search) is doing a good job, and their comments to the committee in this meeting provided both important guardrails and procedural insight into how best to meet the committee’s stated objectives. While the representatives are willing to conduct the search as the committee sees fit, on more than one occasion they have also encouraged the committee to use its power and authority over the process to be decisive in assessing and winnowing candidates.
1:14:57 — At this point the conversation turns to an update of the committee timeline for the remaining phases of the search. (The updated schedule is displayed on-screen, and zoomed in on for ease of reading, at the 1:15:32 mark.)
1:18:19 — While detailing the updated schedule, one of the co-chairs notes that time has been set aside in mid-April for on-campus interviews with four finalists, which may be reduced to three if there are only three qualified candidates nominated by the committee. What is notable is that the original charge from the Board of Regents was to present “an unranked list of three to five candidates….” As a practical matter it is unlikely that there will be five co-equal finalists among eight or so semifinalists who are interviewed, but it is interesting that the committee has formalized the unlikeness of that outcome.
1:18:45 — While detailing the dates of the finalist visits, it is noted that the fourth (or third) finalist is scheduled to appear on April 22nd and 23rd, which are a Thursday and Friday. Because the deadline for campus feedback is only four days later, however, that means the fourth candidate will not only have the smallest window for generating responses, but two of those four days will comprise a weekend. While that could be to the detriment of the last finalist, it should be remembered that J. Bruce Harreld’s on-campus visit was scheduled last during the corrupt 2015 search, at which point the board rushed to appoint him less that forty-eight hours later. And of course the search committee and board conspired in that sequencing to limit the ability of the UI community to express how completely unacceptable Harreld was as a candidate. (Despite the fact that the architects of the corrupt 2015 search attempted to pass Harreld along as a finalist in lighting fashion, his massive shortcomings were indeed confirmed by campus feedback, which the corrupt Board of Regents promptly ignored.)
1:26:02 — At this point one of the committee members, who incidentally served on the 2015 presidential search committee, brought up the “perception that the order of the [finalist] candidates coming in reflects the order of preference” of the search committee. Fortunately, here we can sidestep debates about perceptions and simply point to the historical record. In the 2015 presidential search at Iowa, J. Bruce Harreld was revealed last among four candidates, and was subsequently appointed. In the 2016 presidential search at the University of Northern Iowa, Mark Nook was revealed last among three candidates, and was subsequently appointed. And during the 2017 presidential search at Iowa State University, Wendy Wintersteen was revealed fourth among four original candidates (one eventually dropped out), and was subsequently appointed.
While the motives driving the timing of those last-candidate reveals vary, the end result was the same. As such it is impossible to believe that the agenda of the Iowa Board of Regents — which ruthlessly controlled all three of those searches — did not play a part in the order of those finalist visits. In the case of Harreld, he was consistently allowed to go last precisely to hide the monstrous administrative perversion that the search committee and board were committing. At UNI the search seems to have been fair, and importantly the one internal finalist went second rather than last. At Iowa State that was not the case, however, where internal candidate Wintersteen went last, almost certainly because revealing her candidacy any earlier would have given away the board’s intent.
Unfortunately, in the comments during the meeting there seemed to be general agreement that campus visits were really only decided based on availability, which was an extraordinarily passive response from a committee that has otherwise been forthright in its expectations both of its own members and of prospective candidates. Explicitly, anyone who is interesting in being the president of the University of Iowa should damn well agree to show up when the university asks them to, not when they think it’s convenient. Speaking of which, in 2015 J. Bruce Harreld was literally working for himself and had no employer to answer to. Likewise, Wendy Wintersteen was already working at Iowa State, so I’m pretty sure she could have been available for any slot. Only Mark Nook was working at another university when he applied for the UNI job, but even there I’m confident he would have gone first or second among the finalists if he had been asked. (Because the latter two searches were conducted by AGB Search, we will assume they are not innocents regarding administrative duplicity in the scheduling of finalist visits.)
The UI Presidential Search Committee should reject the idea that candidate availability will determine the order of appearance for finalists. There are multiple reasons for that, but included is the possibility that one or more members of the committee or the board could simply tell a favored finalist to insist that they can only take the fourth slot in the current schedule. Even if that didn’t guarantee them the job it would give them the considerable advantage of knowing who the competition is, know what the other candidates said, and judging reaction to those candidates both in the press and in private conversations — which could include members of the committee or the board. If a candidate wants the job they should look at the updated schedule and commit to showing up on any of the finalist dates. If they can’t do that then they’re either a narcissist or trying to manipulate the process for themselves, and in either case the UI community just had five years of that.
If the committee wants to be procedurally fair it should announce that it will determine the order of finalist visits by random chance. If the committee wants to be administrative fair, however, it should commit to scheduling any internal candidates first precisely to give external candidates a chance to reconsider or re-frame their candidacy in light of that information. (Had Wendy Wintersteen gone first during the 2017 search, it is likely that two of the other three candidates would have dropped out immediately.) Pointedly, if the current committee does nominate an internal candidate, and that candidate appears last, and that candidate is appointed, I can think of at least one person who is going to believe the entire search process was just another Board of Regents scam.
1:39:00 — One of the AGB representatives asks how candidate spouses will be handled during campus visits, and in the main the ensuing committee conversation made sense. Note, however, that one of the giveaways to the done-deal search in 2015 — which was only disclosed after the fact — was that unbeknownst to the majority of that search committee, J. Bruce Harreld’s wife was given a personal tour of the campus while he was giving a presentation to bigwigs at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Which is to say that this committee not only needs to formalize the process by which candidate spouses and partners are welcomed, they need to prevent efforts to give any spouses special treatment.
1:49:10 — At the tail end of the meeting a member of the committee passes along a community concern that the position description contains the same kind of loophole that enabled J. Bruce Harreld to be appointed by a small cabal of crony co-conspirators. As a factual matter that is true, because the position description does not say, for example, that a Ph.D is required. In the following discussion and responses it seemed abundantly clear, however, that this committee is not at all interesting in hiring a non-traditional candidate to preside over the university. It is not wrong for anyone to be concerned about the outcome of this search given the staggering and comprehensive bureaucratic betrayals that took place in 2015, but based on the comments and the individuals who spoke to that concern I believe it is unlikely that a similar perversion will take place. It would just be better if it were impossible.
1:54:44 — A final point is brought up for clarification, which is the role of the search committee in determining the outcome of the search. Here I thought the response of one of the co-chairs was particularly helpful in explaining that the goal of the committee is to put forward only those candidates the committee believes are equally qualified to preside over the University of Iowa, at which point the board will select from among those candidates. By implication, if there are candidates the committee believes are not qualified or lesser qualified, then those candidates should be weeded out at the committee level, and not passed along to the board simply for symbolic or political reasons. Because of course that’s how you end up with a carpetbagging dilettante in the president’s office, instead of a qualified academic administrator. (I encourage you to view the co-chair’s response in full.)
03/03/21 — The next virtual meeting of the University of Iowa presidential search committee will take place on Friday, March 5th, at 9 a.m.. Per the agenda the focus of Friday’s meeting will be on a “discussion of potential questions for semifinalists”. (Shortly before the meeting, a link to the livestream will be posted here.)
While it makes sense to develop a slate of questions to ask each of the ten-to-twelve semifinalists for the Iowa presidency, note that this phase of the search was originally scheduled to begin two weeks later, on March 22nd. Although the initial search timeline was and still is described as a “draft”, and developing these questions sooner rather than later shouldn’t present a problem, it is interesting that this phase of the search has been advanced. Having said that, developing questions now — before the committee begins looking at and winnowing applications, which is currently scheduled to commence in mid-March — seems like an effective way to focus the committee on common concerns and interests, which will in turn then inform the selection of semifinalists.
In any event, in the spirit of Friday’s meeting — and informed by five and a half years closely observing administrative abuses of power at the University of Iowa and Iowa Board of Regents — here are the questions I would ask….
Ten Questions for Candidates for President of the University of Iowa
* If you are appointed, do you intend to move into the presidential residence on the University of Iowa campus on a permanent, year-around basis?
* What experience do you have working with elected officials at the local, state and national level?
* What experience do you have meeting with and responding to local, state and national media?
* Are you prepared to be the cultural leader of the school, not merely presiding over an administration, but setting an example for the entire campus by holding yourself to the highest standards?
* In addition to conducting regular interviews with the Daily Iowan, will you agree to hold regular town halls with the University of Iowa community?
* How will you improve and increase funding for student mental health services at the University of Iowa?
* If you are appointed you will be an employee of the Iowa Board of Regents. How will you balance obligations to your employer with responsibilities to the University of Iowa community, when those interests conflict?
* Have you had any contact of any kind with any members of the search committee, any members of the Iowa Board of Regents who are not on the search committee, any former members of the Iowa Board of Regents, or any members of the professional staff at the Iowa Board of Regents, and if so, what was the nature and extent of that contact?
* Have you had any contact with J. Bruce Harreld, and if so what was the nature and extent of that contact?
* If you are appointed, will you authorize the release of any documents and records you submitted during the search process, any nominations or communications to the committee and/or search firm on your behalf, and any transcripts or videos of interviews you participated in during the search?