A new threaded post on this topic can be found here. For previous posts about the Harreld hire, click the tag below.
04/23/21 — Video of the hour-long campus forum for University of Iowa presidential candidate Daniel L. Clay can be found here. As an internal candidate there was naturally some difference in Clay’s opening statement and in the questions he was asked, as contrasted with the three prior external candidates. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, but to pretend that Clay’s familiarity with the university was not a prominent facet of his candidacy would be absurd.
Living in the real world means acknowledging the truth of asymmetries and inequities, because the search for truth is not advanced by pretending that circumstances are other than they are. There are situations in life where it is important to treat everyone exactly the same, but evaluating Dan Clay’s forum is not one of those situations. Because he is an internal candidate I do know more about Clay than I did about the external candidates, who were all unknown to me until they were introduced over the past two weeks, but that doesn’t mean I am now obligated to empty my mind of prior knowledge to render a judgement about what Clay had to say today.
In this post I focus mostly on comments from Clay which surprised me, and there were more than I would have predicted. Those surprises may bode well or ill for Clay’s candidacy, but we will dig into specifics shortly. Because of my familiarity with Clay, however, my reading of his responses may be different from that of a casual observer of the search, and on that basis alone I encourage anyone to view the archived video if they did not watch the livestream.
Finally, like any communal human endeavor, academic administration has a political component, and at an institution the size and scope of the University of Iowa you better have mad diplomatic skills if you intend to be remembered as anything other than roadkill. There is nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward when you are speaking with different constituencies, but if you want people to believe your word is good then you cannot tailor who you are to fit the political moment. People can smell that kind of administrative insincerity a mile away, and a university campus is nothing if not a community of discerning noses.
In keeping with the grading criteria which were used to evaluate the three previous candidates (see the 04/12/21 entry below), Dan Clay demonstrated a working understanding of, and familiarity with, the norms of the academic world, albeit largely and understandably from the perspective of a dean. If there was a consistent theme in Clay’s remarks it was about the importance of opportunity, and he underscored that theme in his initial remarks by talking about how higher-ed transformed his own life as a first-generation student. As for being the face of Iowa’s flagship public university, and communicating effectively with the UI community, larger local, county and state constituencies, and with the local and national press, that was not a demonstrated strength. Perhaps in another setting Clay would be in his element — and obviously candidate forums are the exception rather than the rule — but among other concerns, Clay leaned on platitudes and cliches as a substitute for substantive analysis and commentary.
A number of Clay’s more eye-raising comments had to do with outgoing illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld, and in general Clay is not a fan. (I don’t remember the other candidates being asked questions about Harreld by name, or even indirectly about the ‘current president’. Clay was asked several such questions, but again I think his status as an internal candidate — with, presumably, direct exposure to Harreld and his methods — accounts for that difference.)
For example, here is a tart part of Clay’s extended response when he was asked to identify something prior UI presidents failed to do, which he plans to achieve (full question and answer at the 36:49 mark):
I think it’s easy to be the president when we’re celebrating the national championship of our wrestling team. It’s hard to be president when there are times of crisis.
If you are not up on your college wrestling, here it is important to know that one month ago the storied Hawkeye Wrestling team won the national championship, and that in turn precipitated figurative bro hugs between one of Iowa’s standout wrestlers and the school’s otherwise invisible president. So Clay wasn’t just obliquely throwing Harreld under a figurative bus when he made that comment, he was running over him with a rhetorical steamroller.
While Clay’s antipathy toward Harreld was consistent, however, at one point his determination to distance himself from the current president inadvertently undermined the basis for his candidacy — meaning the implicit assertion that by virtue of being a dean at UI, he is now qualified to preside over the school. From the 38:06 mark of the video:
Question: Please describe three different governing styles that will be different from the current president.
Clay: … Third, I think — you know, I just have a different governing style. I didn’t work for our current president, so I can’t comment on his style.
In applying for the office that Harreld is vacating, Clay is asserting that he has the basic tools to do the job, and by inference that he is familiar with the requirements of that position. To then make a distinction predicated on the school’s org charts while actively campaigning for that role — because deans report not to the president but to the provost — would seem to be problematic on its face. To insist that he can’t comment on the current president because he didn’t work for him directly not only smacks of evasiveness, it raises concerns about Clay’s proclivity for political convenience as opposed to demonstrating political skill.
Responding only in the momentary context was a recurrent problem for Clay throughout his forum, and an indication that he is not ready to be the president of a major research university. As Harreld himself demonstrated with recurrent bouts of incompetence, a university president must have a global understanding of their position and its myriad responsibilities precisely to avoid becoming disoriented in the moment. Unfortunately for Clay, in the comments quoted above he effectively distanced himself from having any knowledge about the current occupant of the office he is seeking, which sits atop a separate organizational chart that he apparently knows little or nothing about.
For another example of Clay contradicting himself at different times in the same one-hour forum, consider the following quote from his opening remarks (see the 24:24 mark):
So why should I be the next president? I believe I’m uniquely qualified for these reasons. First, I fundamentally know and appreciate what we have. But I also know that we can do better.
This is the trump card for any internal candidate, and usually segues into the old ‘hit the ground running’ speech. Because a candidate is already familiar with an institution they won’t need to spend a lot of time getting up to speed, and that will benefit the school. Yet when asked the following question at the 44:34 mark, Clay said this:
Question: What would your biggest challenge be as an internal candidate, as opposed to an external candidate, and what would you do to lessen that challenge?
Clay: Yeah — it’s a very different situation for sure. I think the biggest challenge for me would be to assume that I know ’cause I’ve been here. I think the most important thing for any president, is to spend the first hundred days or so, listening. And not listening for you to stop talking so I can tell you my story, but listening to learn.
Beyond not actually answering the question, you can see the problem when contrasted with his prior statement. Clay should get the job because he’s the guy who knows, but the first thing he’s going to do if he takes office is spend three and a half months listening like he doesn’t know anything.
At the 51:18 mark Clay got the same ‘defund the police’ question that I believe all of the other finalists answered as well. The problem in this case was not what Clay said, but what he didn’t say.
From an article on the Iowa Now website only seven months ago, touting Clay’s new business venture based on UI IP:
Abdel-Malek originally reached out to Clay to get his thoughts as an education professional, but what he didn’t realize was that Clay also worked for a short time as a police officer, giving him multiple perspectives.
As with the omission of International Education Associates from Clay’s current CV, his response to a question about defunding the UI police made no mention of the fact that he had “worked for a short time as a police officer”, even though Clay was happy to toss that information into the public domain when it made him look like a sexy entrepreneur. As noted above, not only can you not do that if you’re claiming to be a good leader — because people will figure out that you omit relevant information when it suits your interest — but in this case the omission did not involve an obscure clerical act that might have escaped detection. Instead, in response to a direct question about how he would conduct himself as president of the university, Clay failed to mention something that will now seem quite damning when members of the UI community learn about it by other means.
Say, in the campus paper, in an article published a few hours after his forum concluded:
Clay, who briefly worked as a police officer, said he won’t commit to defunding the UI Police Department, but supports the holistic model presented as part of the UI’s Reimagining Campus Safety initiative.
Another advantage of being an internal candidate is that you have a built-in network of supporters, who can then anonymously submit absurdly leading questions which give you the opportunity to tell everyone how great you are. For example the following questions were asked back-to-back at the 57:40 and 59:48 marks, respectively:
Question: Picking up on this theme of revenue…could you please explain exactly how you increased tuition revenues in the College of Education during times of declining university enrollment.
Question: The College of Education Strategic Plan demonstrates your passion for continuous improvement with goals and metrics. Which of these do you think would be applicable to the University of Iowa for greatest impact?
Returning to the problem of providing politically expedient answers in the moment, here is Clay explaining how he increased tuition revenue despite declining enrollment (see the 57:50 mark):
Yeah, so — we did a few things. One, with this new budget model, I was able to work with each of our departments and our centers to help our faculty and our staff understand the economics of our work. Because so many times we make decisions without understanding the economic impact. And with this new budget model the impact is directly at the college level.
Later, at the 1:16:58 mark, we then get the following question and initial answer from Clay:
Question: If you become president, would you plan to continue with the budget model as it is?
Clay [long pause]: No.
So twenty minutes earlier the new UI budget model was central to Clay’s ability to bring in increased tuition despite declining enrollment, but now he wants to get rid of that model. (To be fair to Clay, he does go on to describe what is wrong with the new budget model — a hybrid version of what is called Responsibility Center[ed] Management, which is widespread in higher-ed — and as might be expected of a dean with an MBA, he does a good job of laying out the argument against RCM. There are tradeoffs, and one of those tradeoffs is that RCM does effectively pit departments and colleges against each other.)
Of all of Clay’s answers, his direct statement, late in the forum, that he would blow up the recently implemented budget model caught me off guard more than any other. While Clay is to be applauded for taking a stand and speaking his mind, instead of proposing a committee or saying he would have to study the matter, it should be noted that the momentous and laborious shift in the UI budget process has been underway for at least four years, and is still evolving. There is also zero chance that UI switched to the new hybrid RCM model without the approval of the Board of Regents, who are also the direct employers of the presidents of all three of the state universities. Meaning whatever big ideas Dan Clay might have about the UI budget process, he is not implementing anything if the regents don’t want him to. (It is impossible to imagine that the current board, or any future board, would willingly establish a precedent whereby newly appointed presidents were given the right to change the budgeting process.)
I don’t know why he decided to grant himself power he wouldn’t actually have, but this may be another example of Clay responding from the perspective of a dean, and not as an executive from central administration. In any event, I don’t think Dan Clay is a bad guy. He seems to be having success as a dean, he has fun playing with his entrepreneurial toy trains as time allows, and there is nothing off-putting about him as a person. While I could easily see him presiding over a mid-sized liberal arts college, however, I don’t think he is ready to be the president of a major R1/AAU public research university.
In closing, two additional observations about today’s final candidate forum. First, no questions were asked about Clay’s CV, and I take that to mean that the search committee did not want to put a man who might soon have control over all of their lives on the spot — which is fine in terms of easing tensions at future campus functions, but not so great in terms of accountability and responsibility. Second, on multiple occasions in today’s forum one of the co-chairs — John Keller, who will become the interim president when Harreld leaves on May 16th — kept referring to Clay as “Dan” while asking questions. Whether Keller did that out of habit or for some other reason I don’t know, but that recurrent personal familiarity could easily have been read as approval, as an endorsement or as a show of support.
What I still can’t figure out is even if he was doing it reflexively, over and over, why no one in the room passed Keller a note and told him to knock it off. The search committee may rightly feel good about the overall search process, or a sense of relief that the end is near, but it has an ongoing obligation to make sure all of the finalists feel that the process was conducted in good faith. And that’s particularly true given Clay’s relatively weak internal candidacy, and the very real possibility that despite avoiding an outright scam like the 2015 betrayal, this search is simply a more-sophisticated bureaucratic fait accompli.
Reporting on Clay’s forum from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller — University of Iowa dean, presidential finalist contrasts himself to President Harreld; from Cleo Krejci at the Press-Citizen — Fourth University of Iowa presidential finalist Daniel Clay prioritizes graduation and retention rates; and from Rylee Wilson and Katie Ann McCarver at the Daily Iowan — Fourth UI Presidential Forum: UI College of Education Dean Daniel Clay emphasizes Iowa experience.
04/22/21 — As I write this we are a few hours away from the candidate forum of UI College of Education Dean Dan Clay, during which we will find out if Clay has decided to come clean about his CV, or just bull his way through and hope there are enough corrupt votes at the Iowa Board of Regents to make him president of the University of Iowa over three honest candidates. In the interim, the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller put up a report about Clay’s recent reappointment by Provost Kevin Kregel — who was himself appointed by illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld on an interim basis, then given that job on a permanent basis without a national search. Whether the pay raise that Clay received was deserved in the middle of a global pandemic could be debated, but it’s Kregel’s evaluation of Clay that deserves particular notice because it reeks of the anticipatory narrative-building that has become commonplace at UI since Harreld was hired.
When you know how things are going to turn out it’s much easier to prepare the official record to support that future, and Clay’s evaluation by Kregel is a sterling example. Fortunately, between the desire to over-inflate Clay’s importance at UI, and the obligation to have something marginally critical to say, the evaluation betrays its intent. From Miller’s report:
Kregel summarized his reappointment letter telling Clay, “You are recognized as a visionary leader with a broad base of support inside and outside the college.”
To be clear, 90% or more of the UI campus has no idea who Dan Clay is, and Kregel knows that. This is the kind of stuff you salt in when you believe a rigged decision is in the offing and you want to make it seem valid in retrospect. (Of course Clay was appointed as president — how could the Board of Regents turn down a candidate with an administrative record like that?)
At the same time, however, Kregel also had this to say:
In the section identifying areas in which Clay can improve, Kregel listed four general suggestions.
• Improved communication and approachability
• More attention to process and operationalizing initiatives
• Better use of his leadership team to help with new initiatives
• Further developing “internal relationships as you have your external relationships”
But if Clay needs to improve his communication and approachability, and needs to develop internal relationships on par with his entrepreneurial glad-handing, exactly how broad is his base of support inside the college that he has presided over for five years? Once again the white-male power structure at UI seems determined to perpetuate itself, even if it has to heave Clay into the president’s office over three eminently qualified women who do not have a dodgy CV. In that context, my concern now is that it would be to the advantage of Harreld, Kregel and Clay if one or more of the other finalists dropped out, and my guess would be that various voices are trying to encourage those candidates to do just that — thus making it easier for Clay to be appointed.
Well if sexism is going to be added to the crony legacy of the Iowa Board of Regents and the University of Iowa, I don’t think the other three finalists should make that easier for those in power. In one week the full board will meet in Iowa City for interviews with the finalists, and I hope all of the external candidates will be on hand to make the case for their candidacies. They may be hearing whispers from people who are trying to sow doubts, and I’m sure they are all quite savvy and understand the significant of Clay’s last-minute unveiling as a candidate, but we’re only one day into the reporting on Clay’s CV and his tenure as dean, and there will undoubtedly be more news to come.
And of course that includes any news that Clay makes at his candidate forum later today.
04/21/21 — As anticipated in these virtual pages for months, Candidate 4 for the University of Iowa presidency is Daniel L. Clay (CV), dean of the UI College of Education. (More from Rylee Wilson and Katie Ann McCarver at the Daily Iowan here, and from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, here.)
Clay will participate in a public forum tomorrow, Thursday, April 22nd, at 3:30 p.m. The live-stream link for the presentation will be posted here.
Update: Normally I append updates to an original post, and date them if they are added after the date of publication, but in this case that would bury the lede. For the three previous finalists, the disclosure of their identities and CV’s on the day before their campus forums sated curiosity but produced no intrigue. All three were and are qualified external candidates, with exemplary records and a litany of achievements to their credit. By contrast, not only is the fourth candidate notable because he is an internal candidate, but in her reporting about Clay’s CV (see link above), Miller documents concerns about his veracity as a candidate. And as a long-time national higher-ed beat reporter noted on social media, that difference is quite apparent.
I could write five thousand words on Miller’s reporting without breaking a sweat — and I encourage anyone concerned about the ongoing presidential search to read her reporting in full — but with Clay’s candidate forum less than twenty-four hours away I think it best to wait until he has his say. What jumped out at me in Miller’s article, however, was that as an applicant for president of the University of North Dakota in late 2015 and early 2016, Clay described himself as both the CEO and interim-CEO of a company that is currently embroiled in international litigation, including claims alleging fraud against Clay’s former employer, Missouri University, where he was the dean of the College of Education. On his current CV, however, Clay omits any mention of that company, and my understanding is that it is not acceptable in academia to delete items simply because they become problematic. (This differentiates the CV as a historical record from the resume as a sales tool.)
Again, unlike the previous candidates there are a lot of questions to ask from Clay’s CV alone, and that brings us to tomorrow’s candidate forum. I think the search committee is obligated to give Clay an opportunity to address the issues that have been raised, and if he doesn’t address them I think the committee is obligated to ask him about those issues. Talking about his vision for the future would be fine if his documentation was in order, but omitting information on his CV that would be damaging to his candidacy is self-evidently beneath the dignity of the office of president of the University of Iowa. (And no — after decades in higher education, taking to the podium tomorrow and saying that he learned a lot about responsibility and accountability in the past twenty-four hours won’t cut it.)
AssessmentFor those who are new to Dan Clay, the best that can be said about his candidacy is that by virtue of his experience in academic administration, Clay is qualified for the job. Because of the confidentiality surrounding the search process we will never know if he was more qualified than the eight semi-finalists who were not nominated, but here I think we should give the search committee the benefit of the doubt. Meaning whatever the Iowa Board of Regents may have done behind the scenes to encourage and protect Clay’s candidacy, at least we’re not looking at a full-on scam like the 2015 search, which led to the illegitimate appointment of outgoing UI president J. Bruce Harreld.
While Clay may be qualified for the position, however, I would rank him as a weak fourth among the finalists for a variety of reasons, not the least being that the strength of his candidacy is — like that of then-dean, and now current Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen during the 2017 ISU search — that he is simply in the right place at the right time. By virtue of already being employed at UI, and having been a loyal soldier for the past five years, the Board of Regents almost certainly favors his candidacy over the other finalists, and probably did as far back as Harreld’s October retirement announcement. To that we can then add the fact that Clay likes to tout his accomplishments as an entrepreneur as much as he touts his accomplishments as an academician, so his presidency would effectively be Harreld 2.0 but with better academic credentials.
In any event, Clay’s candidacy represents everything the board would seem to be looking for in a new Iowa president. Like Harreld, Clay is white and male, he is a evangelist for entrepreneurial initiatives, and he is a company man who will almost certainly do whatever the regents and the CEO/executive director of the board office tells him to do in exchange for a big bump in pay and prestige. All of which is why it wasn’t very hard to spot his candidacy coming last year. (Given every chance, the Republican-dominated Board of Regents continues to insist on diminishing itself.)
04/19/21 — Video of the hour-long campus forum for University of Iowa presidential candidate Wendy F. Hensel can be found here. In keeping with the grading criteria which were used to evaluate the two earlier candidates (see the 04/12/21 entry below), Hensel demonstrated a deep understanding of, and familiarity with, the norms of the academic world, but also repeatedly emphasized that higher education must remain dynamic and vigilant. The importance of process, and making sure that process is inclusive, was a consistent theme in her replies and examples, and foundational to her demonstrated political sophistication. As for becoming the face of Iowa’s flagship public university, and communicating effectively with the UI community, larger local, county and state constituencies, and with the local and national press, Hensel’s comportment and communication skills left no doubt that she would be up to that challenge. (More on that in a minute.)
At the beginning of each candidate forum the finalists are given time to explain why they think the Iowa presidency is a good fit for them as a leader, and what aspects of the school attracted them to the position. The general understanding has been that candidates will spend about 10 minutes on their opening statement, then move to questions for the remainder of the hour. In Hensel’s case she took longer than the first two candidates — closer to 15 minutes — to deliver her opening remarks, but there is no hard rule on time. The more relevant concern is what Hensel did with that extra five minutes or so, and whether that was beneficial to her candidacy alone, or also to the university community.
As she began speaking, Hensel actually made light of the fact that it would be hard for her to meet the soft 10-minute limit. That self-awareness would be concerning if the additional time had been devoted to platitudes or a recitation of her CV, but I think she made the exact right decision both for herself as a candidate and for people trying to assess her ability to lead. Not only were her remarks strong, but they were engaging and topical in a way that established both who she is and how engaged she is as a candidate for the position.
We don’t know how much time each of the first three candidates devoted to researching the University of Iowa before arriving on campus for two days of meetings and interviews. What we can say is that Hensel’s remarks and impromptu answers made more frequent reference to the current state of affairs at UI, and that in turn made clear that she had done her homework. (Here of course I am lapsing into flashbacks about the candidate forum of illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld, which not only ended in a bizarre back-and-forth, but included Harreld’s bratty assertion that he looked the university up on Wikipedia before coming to town.)
I would also note that although everyone has become grudgingly used to the pandemic, and how it has limited in-person conversation, it still obviously intrudes on long-established in-person norms, and that includes high-level academic searches. It’s weird for candidates to be speaking to partially-filled rooms, from behind plexiglass barriers, and no one could have trained for that. While the two prior candidates made passing reference to challenges posed by the pandemic, and I remember at least one specifically mentioning the camera — and thus the larger unseen audience — Hensel was the first candidate to consistently look at and speak to the camera while also remaining engaged with people in the room. As both a communication strategy and a metaphor for the times, that had a strong effect. (If you’re the fourth finalist I did just made your life easier, but you won’t get points for originality.)
As an example of Hensel’s attention to detail, not only did she make a smart point about the problem of interim appointments rolling over to permanent appointments without a national search, she correctly noted there were concerns about several recent Iowa appointments for that reason. It would have been easy for her to omit mention of recent UI hires, particular given that those people might be subordinates in a couple of weeks, but she didn’t, and her argument against such appointments was spot-on. (She even correctly noted that such hires put those employees at a disadvantage because their appointments can be seen as illegitimate.)
As with the two prior candidates, Hensel did a good job of responding to inherently political questions without cynical dodging. Many of the issues facing academic communities are complicated, and that includes fundamental rights like free speech. Where Hensel excelled, in my view, was in persistently tying responses to an emphasis on process. It’s not pretty at times, but following the same set of rules for everyone is critical to building and maintaining trust. Hensel was particularly good not just at explaining why that’s important in the abstract, but walking the audience through the impact of process-driven decision making. (A good example here.)
Responding to a question about legislative assaults against higher-ed in Iowa, Hensel’s response was not merely positional but informative. While explaining various ways that any president might respond, Hensel was unequivocal about the importance of tenure to higher education, and explained why banning tenure would be a blow to the state’s own interests. Again and again she emphasized the importance of finding common ground, and using common data, to move past areas of conflict that might otherwise freeze people in place.
Another strength for Hensel was constantly including students and students needs and perspectives in answers to questions. Because of the complexities of higher-ed administration, and because administrators persist while students come and go, it can be easy to overlook the fact that students success — even in the most crass and self-interested financial context — is why colleges and universities exist. Yes, there is research, yes, there are sports, but it starts with the students, and Hensel maintained that awareness throughout her forum.
Finally, on the question of longevity in the role, which is a particular concern here at Ditchwalk, Hensel spent the past twenty years at Georgia State University, so I don’t think she’s a flight risk if she is appointed. She’s also relatively young, so retirement wouldn’t be a factor if the Iowa Board of Regents asked her to stick around for seven or eight years — as they did with Harreld before he decided to quit, and with Sally Mason before him. And while I might have some cultural concerns about Hensel coming from Georgia if she had spent her entire life in the South, she earned her bachelor’s degree at Michigan State and her law degree from Harvard, so she already knows what life is like north of the Mason-Dixon line.
More on Hensel’s forum from Cleo Krejci at the Iowa City Press-Citizen — Third finalist in UI presidential search, Wendy Hensel, stresses need for accountability; from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller — Third University of Iowa presidential finalist commits to tackling diversity, equity issues; and from Sabine Martin and Kelsey Harrell at the Daily Iowan — Third UI presidential forum: Georgia State Provost Wendy Hensel advocates for student success, hiring diverse UI administrators.
04/18/21 — Candidate 3 for the University of Iowa presidency is Wendy F. Hensel (CV), Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Georgia State University. (More from Vanessa Miller at the Gazette here, from Kelsey Harrell and Sabine Martin at the Daily Iowan here, and Cleo Krejci at the Iowa City Press-Citizen here.)
Hensel will participate in a public forum tomorrow, Monday, April 19th, at 3:30 p.m. The live-stream link for the presentation will be posted here.
As the Gazette’s Miller noted in her write-up of Hensel, the first three of four total finalists have all been women (and white), so by my deeply cynical count that means the fourth candidate will be a white man who will be given the job. While we wait on pins and needles for that butch boot to drop on Wednesday, however — which will also then allow us to put all of the candidates and the search process in proper context — it should be noted that after everything that has happened on the UI campus during the tenure of illegitimate president J. Bruce Harreld, attracting three successful women to apply for the Iowa presidency was no mean feat. Not only was it a very-old boy’s club that conspired to appoint Harreld using a rigged search in 2015, but Harreld’s primary concern throughout his five-plus-year tenure seems to have been supporting and encouraging UI Athletic Director Gary Barta, who once famously cost the university $6.5M following gender discrimination against two women in his own department. (For which Harreld then later rewarded Barta with a contract extension and pay raise.)
The fact that the previous UI president was a woman who served for eight years, and the first woman to preside over UI was appointed in 1995 and served seven years, is still a relative rarity in higher education, and that may have resonated with the first three finalists. (By contrast, Pamela Whitten’s recent appointment at Indiana University, another Big Ten school, makes her the first woman to preside over that institution in its 201-year history.) Whatever happens with the fourth candidate — and in academic searches the final candidate not only seems to be disproportionately appointed, but often betrays crony machinations — the UI search committee is again to be congratulated for this nomination, and not only because of the applicant’s gender. As we learned in 2015, attracting candidates who declare their fitness for office is not the same as attracting candidates who are qualified for the job.
Assessment As with each candidate in the current Iowa search, the most important question about Hensel’s candidacy — which should be merely self-evident, but is actively compelled both by the tendency of search committees to prefer more finalists to fewer in order to quantitatively prove success, and the specific abuses of power which led to Harreld’s scandalous appointment — is whether Hensel is qualified for the position. Setting aside the floor-level bar established by Harreld’s rigged appointment, and momentarily omitting any comparison to the two prior candidates, I believe the answer is yes. If the Board of Regents is looking for someone who already possesses a wealth of experience in academic administration at the highest levels, then Hensel is at the lower end of that range, but she shows all of the markers of someone who can and would grow into the position. (And of course that was a necessity after Harreld was hired, because when he was plucked from private-sector obscurity he had zero experience in academic administration or in the public sector.)
Like the first candidate, Hensel comes from a legal background, albeit by a different trajectory. Having graduated from Harvard Law in 1995, Hensel spent the next five years working as an attorney in the private sector. Starting in 1999 she then has an unbroken twenty-year run of advancement and success at Georgia State University, which is both a large, multi-campus school unto itself (54K students; 33K on the main campus), but also part of the massive University System of Georgia. Like Iowa, GSU is also an R1 research university, but unlike UI it is situated in a highly diverse major metropolitan area with a long history of ethnic divisions and racial atrocities. Meaning as difficult as the current racial tensions are in Iowa, and as important as diversity, equity and inclusion have become in academia, on paper Hensel would seem to bring more experience to UI than the other candidates or the sitting president.
As with the first candidate, the idea of having an attorney — or former attorney — as Iowa’s next president feels reassuring. And yet that obviously makes no logical sense given the slime that is routinely exposed not only in that profession, but in the related practice of politics. After watching a money-grubbing egotist pursue a self-aggrandizing entrepreneurial agenda for five-plus years, however, the idea that someone might aspire to any higher ideal, let alone one with direct practical application to running a university, seems almost fantastic.
One of the perversities of academic searches at all levels is that work experience is almost inevitably discounted in one of two ways, which are themselves mutually exclusive. For example, if a prospective candidate has decades of experience, but like Hensel spent most of their time at one school, that candidate may be viewed as lacking the professional seasoning that comes with transitions from one campus to the next. Conversely, however, if a candidate has moved around and acquired that seasoning, that candidate may be viewed as lacking in commitment.
As noted regarding the two prior candidates and the search generally, I believe the Board of Regents should look for a candidate who will stick around for the next seven or eight years. Presidential searches are hard enough as it is, but given the damage Harreld has done to the reputation of the school, and the time it will take to regain that standing, the most important quality in any candidate in this search will be the ability to make a home on the UI campus for most of the rest of this decade. In that context, I think Hensel demonstrated that ability at Georgia State, and that is an asset to her candidacy.
Would Hensel have a lot to learn if she was appointed as the next Iowa president? Yes, but no more than Harreld had to learn, and probably a lot less. In fact, in important respects Harreld not only failed to grow into the job, but his incapacities negatively impacted the school. As with the two candidates who have already appeared on campus, Hensel’s candidate forum will help us gauge the intangibles that go into assessing anyone’s ability to handle the critical public-facing role of the Iowa presidency, at which Harreld not only routinely failed but seemed to regress over time. (Other than regular interviews with the Daily Iowan, Harreld was almost completely absent from local media, and infamously refused to engage with one of the most prominent national higher-ed media outlets and journalists.)
Hensel’s biggest deficit as a candidate would seem to be her lack of exposure to the administrative challenges of a major academic medical facility, but again we can say the same thing about J. Bruce Harreld — whose only apparent accomplishment at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics was naming the new children’s hospital after the man who helped Harreld lie his way into the job he is now quitting. (Though to be fair, Harreld did instigate multiple lawsuits on behalf of UIHC, not only losing them all but embarrassing the school and flushing millions down the drain in the process, which was in its own way quite an accomplishment.) That said, the CEO of UIHC seems to be competent, and the current VP for Medical Affairs seems to be doing his job well enough, so that half of the UI campus is under relatively stable and autonomous control.
As to the academic half of UI’s $4B operating budget, Hensel not only seems qualified but eager to take on those challenges, and confidence is a big part of the job.
04/17/21 — We are now halfway through the campus visits of the four finalists for the University of Iowa presidency, and the two remaining candidate reveals will occupy our attention through most of the upcoming week. That hasn’t stopped the barrage of news about both the university and the Iowa Board of Regents, however, so to lessen the backlog we will take a look at a cluster of stories about healthcare in this update, then circle back at the end of next week and catch up on the rest of the news. (One story of note dropped late yesterday, which is that regent president Mike Richards had been appointed to another six-year term, and two new regents have also been appointed. There are a lot of permutations to that development, but it also means there will be continuity about the direction of the board after the new UI president is appointed.)
* At the end of March the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller reported that the University of Iowa children’s hospital, which ended up costing almost $400M after going massively over budget, was once again poised to consume more state money: University of Iowa seeks up to $15M to replace Children’s Hospital windows.
Just four years after University of Iowa Health Care opened its 14-story, $392.7 million Stead Family Children’s Hospital – and after design changes and cost overruns pushed the project $122 million over budget – the hospital is asking to spend another $10 to $15 million to replace two floors of windows.
If the Board of Regents next week approves replacing windows on Floors 4 and 5 of the Children’s Hospital – and on a connector bridge leading to the main UIHC campus – it will swell the project’s total cost to over $407 million.
I am not a hospital-window expert, but it does seem to me that windows in a $400M building should last more than four years. If they don’t, and assuming the university did not purchase four-year windows, then the university should not eat the cost of replacement. Curiously, however, that idea seems to still be under consideration at the university.
Officials have told the board they plan to use UIHC building usage funds to cover the replacement costs, although Gunasekaran said the campus is looking into insurance options and warranty questions.
‘We’re presently investigating all of that,” he said, but added UIHC wanted to start the process now. ‘That was really our broad thought on this is, let’s get it going. But, at the same time, we’re still talking to the vendors who originally did this to figure out who’s going to ultimately end up paying for this.”
One week after Miller’s initial report she updated the story — Regent committee recommends $10-$15 million for new Children’s Hospital windows — and true to form, the university administrators quoted in the first report had understated the scope of the problem:
A Board of Regents committee — after asking two questions — agreed Wednesday to recommend the full board approve spending $10 to $15 million to replace two floors of damaged or at-risk windows on its 4-year-old, $392.7 million University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
To Regent Milt Dakovich’s question of whether UI Hospitals and Clinics has reason to believe “this is going to be on any other floors” also, UI Senior Vice President of Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz said, “Possibly, yes.”
“The work that we’re doing is wider than just the windows that are impacted,” Lehnertz said, adding, “We will continue to monitor and investigate any other occurrences. But it is not just the windows that are visibly damaged, but rather more widespread.
It should go without saying that the windows in a $400M building should last more than four years. Given that the project went over budget by more than $100M, however, and was beset with design problems and delays, it honestly isn’t a surprise that the board may have to spend even more money just to get the building they wanted in the first place.
* Keeping with the medical theme, in early March the Gazette’s Miller reported on problems with the new central sterilizing facility that serves University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. At the beginning of April, Miller followed up with yet another story about central sterilizing: Former University of Iowa hospitals manager sues over gender bias.
A former acting director of University of Iowa Health Care’s Central Sterilizing Services is suing UIHC and the Board of Regents for gender and pay discrimination, asserting she was excluded from meetings and decision making, paid less and fired after reporting concerns about bias and unsafe practices.
When Courtney Mace Davis, now of Winfield, was terminated in April 2019, the UIHC Central Sterilizing Services she previously led was transitioning from the main campus in Iowa City to a new 48,000-square-foot facility on the Oakdale campus in Coralville.
Given the history of gender discrimination at the University of Iowa, and at the Iowa Board of Regents for that matter, the state should just put a couple hundred grand in an envelope and tell the latest plaintiff to pick it up at her convenience.
* As you might imagine, more and more colleges and universities are announcing that they will require students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to the 2021-2022 school year. Not only is that understandable, but it is not at all uncommon in higher education for schools to require vaccinations if there is a documented threat, including diseases such as measles. In the state of Iowa, for example, private Grinnell College announced just last week that COVID-19 vaccinations will be mandatory, and proof of inoculation will be required.
As you might also imagine, some of the more daft states — like, say, Texas and Utah — have barred their state schools from requiring COVID-19 vaccinations. Unfortunately, because Iowa has become increasingly backward over the past decade, the Board of Regents will also not require COVID-19 vaccinations for state students. Still, when the president of the board — who was a medical doctor before going into the casino business — refuses to require vaccinations on state campuses that already require MMR vaccinations, you know something other than pubic health is driving that stupid decision.
Over the same decade, the Iowa Board of Regents has mutated from independent, non-partisan oversight body into a hands-on organ of the Iowa Republican Party, which is in turn dominated by, among other fringe groups, anti-vaccine advocates — including many of Iowa’s Republican elected officials. That devolution is particularly problematic fort Iowa’s two AAU/R1 research universities, which are now being forced to bow to the intellectual equivalent of Taliban control. As for the practical implications of this decision I don’t even know where to begin, except to say that the Republican anti-vaccine nuts are inevitably going to go mental (or more mental) if the board attempts to distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated students in any way.
Will students living in the dorms on a regent campus know whether their roommates have been vaccinated before they commit to a contract? Do the universities even intend to ask incoming students whether they have been vaccinated, or to require documentation? If some students will be vaccinated and some won’t, will there be different mask policies for those student populations? Or will masking policies remain in force next year despite vaccinations, because of unvaccinated students? And hey good luck holding the general public to one set of requirements and students to another at sporting events — where thousands of those in attendance may not have been vaccinated. Is UI AD Gary Barta putting 70K fans in the stands at Kinnick next August, without masks or vaccine checks?
* And speaking of vaccines…like many other institutions and organizations, the University of Iowa announced last Tuesday that it was pausing inoculations with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in response to similar action by the CDC due to extremely rare but dangerous blood clots: University of Iowa to pause Johnson & Johnson vaccinations amid CDC recommendations. The school then followed up with another announcement on Wednesday, as reported by Claire Benson at the Daily Iowan: University of Iowa will continue to vaccinate campus with Pfizer and Moderna as supplies allow after canceling Johnson & Johnson vaccinations.
In order to increase interest in campus vaccinations even though they can’t be mandated, the university is now trotting out gift cards — and no, I’m not kidding. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: University of Iowa to host student COVID vaccine clinic, offer $10 incentive.
* Finally, on the mental-health front, this is a good article from Melissa Ezarik at Inside Higher Ed, which includes a look at the University of Iowa: Students Struggle but Don’t Seek Colleges’ Help.
Related video from UI Director of Counseling Services, Barry Schreier here.
04/15/21 — Video of the hour-long campus forum for University of Iowa presidential candidate Barbara J. Wilson can be found here. In keeping with the grading criteria that were used to evaluate the first candidate (see the 04/12/21 entry below), Wilson obviously has a deep understanding of, and familiarity with, the academic world, but doesn’t seem bound to tradition by her longevity. In example after example Wilson talked about marshaling resources and administrative teams to address emerging issues and advance solutions. In terms of her political sophistication, while answering questions she was adept at avoiding controversy without coming off as weak or conniving. (There are strong and even dangerous tides around any public school, and Wilson clearly has experience navigating those waters in terms of her rhetoric, while still advancing effective changes.) As for the public-facing component of the position, she has an easy and engaging manner, and seems accessible as a person and comfortable in her own skin.
In her opening remarks (10m), Wilson answered the standing question of why she is interested in coming to Iowa. Quite directly she said she was looking to move back to the Big Ten (her three degrees are from Wisconsin-Madison), and to a campus-level engagement with students, faculty and staff. Having worked at the overarching system level at Illinois for years — meaning managing multiple campuses, each of which is presided over by a chancellor — she hasn’t had that personal connection.
As previously noted, if there is an internal candidate for the UI presidency among the two remaining finalists — whether from UI or sister-school Iowa State — it is literally not possible for such a candidate to be more qualified than Wilson, because Iowa does not currently have a system-based approach to higher-ed. As also previously noted in multiple posts, however, there seems to be good evidence that the Iowa Board of Regents wants to reshape its three public universities into a de facto system, so Wilson’s candidacy presents them with a conundrum in that regard.
The idea itself isn’t inherently wrong or bad, but implementing a phased approach and doing so with a clear-eye to near-term and long-term objectives would be critical to avoiding an all-out war, particularly with faculty. The primary attraction for the board and board office in appointing an internal candidate is loyalty, but at what price? What are you really getting if you promote someone of lesser experience, when you could have had an on-site system consultant who knows the pitfalls and strengths of that integrated approach?
Assuming that the regents are not still thoroughly corrupt, as they were under Bruce Rastetter’s leadership when illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld was appointed through a rigged search, and setting aside your own feelings about such a bureaucratic evolution, Barbara Wilson’s candidacy makes it very difficulty to pass her over for the job. Experience isn’t everything, and I could make a good case for the first candidate on different criteria, but on the question of experience — and in particular experience directly relevant to a campus like the University of Iowa — I will be surprised if either of the two remaining candidates can compete with her, let alone surpass her. (And again, anyone who does so will necessarily also be an external candidate.)
If one question and answer impressed me the most it would be Wilson’s response to concerns about sexual assault victims, which she broadened into a response about sexual misconduct. Specifically, Wilson talked about pushing through a new policy at Illinois which prohibits intimate relationships “between faculty and staff on the one hand, and undergraduates on the other”. (Details here and here.)
Now, if you’re new to higher-ed you many wonder how big of a problem this is, and if you lean libertarian you may believe consenting legal adults should be free to make their own choices. The question isn’t whether it’s widespread or wise, however, but whether it’s prone to exploitation. Yes, there will always be a few Bogie-and-Bacall relationships of any genders which endure, but in the main the power dynamics leave students at a disadvantage. (To be blunt, if this kind of prohibition is a deal breaker to you as a member of a higher-ed faculty or staff, then maybe you should reassess your commitment to education.) More importantly in the context of the presidential search, it is impressive that Wilson pushed through this kind of institutional change.
Were I to pinpoint Wilson’s biggest liability it would be something I couldn’t even talk about if I was part of the search process, but because I’m not I can. In reading her CV I did not give any thought to Wilson’s specific age, but in looking at articles on the internet I ran across a story from 2015 which said Wilson was 57. Even with my math deficits I was able to calculate that she must be at least 62 today, and that poses a concern not because of her capability now or later, but because of a commitment issue I raised in talking about the first finalist.
I think it is important for the next president of the University of Iowa to be in that role for seven or eight years, assuming the board is happy. It is not hard to imagine that Wilson could be highly effective into her early 70’s, but the relevant question is whether that’s what she intends. Because if she’s thinking about something more in the three-to-five-year range, then slipping into retirement, I would be taking a hard look at the other three finalists even if Wilson was the most qualified.
One argument in Wilson’s favor, however — assuming she was eager to stay on as president until she turned 70 — is that she would have the time to build a solid team in central administration. Provided that her mind was sharp and her body able, it would not be a detriment to the school if her later years were less active, provided her ability to lead the school through others was undiminished. Although to be fair, given the low bar that Harreld represents it’s hard to imagine her doing worse at any age.
Update 04/17/21: From time to time I forget to add relevant context because I forget that everyone does not know what I know. Regarding Wilson’s age, note that J. Bruce Harreld was already 64 years old when he was appointed in September of 2015, and is now 70. Whether age itself had anything to do with Harreld retiring with over two years on his contract extension we can’t say, and I’m guessing he would deny it even if it was true, but honestly who cares. What we can say for certain is that the Iowa Board of Regents would clearly not be concerned about Wilson’s age even if they were looking for a candidate who would serve seven or eight years, because that’s exactly what they were looking for from Harreld, and they were happy to have him on the books until he was at least 72.
More on Wilson’s forum from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller — 2nd University of Iowa presidential finalist touts visibility, diversity, communication; Cleo Krejci at the Iowa City Press-Citizen: UI presidential finalist Barbara Wilson touts her two decades of experience at Illinois; and Rachel Schilke and Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan — Second UI presidential forum: University of Illinois System Executive Vice President Barbara Wilson emphasizes student voices, diverse team building.
04/14/21 — Candidate 2 for the University of Iowa presidency is Barbara J. Wilson (CV), Executive Vice President and VP for Academic Affairs at the University of Illinois System. (More from Vanessa Miller at the Gazette here, Eleanor Hildebrandt and Rachel Schilke at the Daily Iowan here, and Cleo Krejci at the Iowa City Press-Citizen here.)
Wilson will participate in a public forum tomorrow, Thursday, April 15th, at 3:30 p.m. The live-stream link for the presentation will be posted here.
If you are not familiar with the various titles that are used in higher education — and I am still routinely confused — here is a description of Wilson’s current position from the Gazettee’s Miller:
Barbara J. Wilson serves as the system’s executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs — making her the second most senior executive and chief academic officer over the system encompassing three universities, more than 90,000 students, 6,000-plus faculty, and a $6.7 billion budget.
There is more about Wilson’s position, and the current structure of the University of Illinois system, in Miller’s report, but from prior reading over the past five-plus years the most important factor in Wilson’s background may simply be that Illinois has been under extreme budget pressure for years. Between evolving as an academic enterprise, and having to fight against budget cuts and legislative interference, Wilson is obviously battle-tested on those fronts, which is experience that would certainly be useful in the current context in neighboring Iowa. (That is also true of the organizational structure of the Illinois system, which has a single president overseeing chancellors at the individual campuses — a structure that may more closely reflect the bureaucratic intent of the Iowa Board of Regents, albeit with their own CEO/Executive Director serving as the de facto president.)
As with the first candidate, in this day and age it is unfortunately still notable that Wilson is a woman, but the rigged 2015 presidential search produced only white-male finalists, including current illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld — who was scandalously unqualified. As was also the case with the first candidate, who hailed from Penn State, Illinois is obviously a major university system and a member of the Big Ten Conference, so Wilson has experience with the scope and scale of an institution similar to the University of Iowa.
Assessment: The central question of whether Wilson is qualified to preside over the University of Iowa is easily answerable in the affirmative. Having spent twenty years working her way up at the University of Illinois, including enduring a succession of challenges which mimic but also dwarf the issues facing public higher-ed in Iowa, Wilson would arrive on day one with experience that is directly applicable to many of the challenges Iowa currently faces. That longevity also suggests Wilson would be more inclined to think of the Iowa presidency as a long-term position, perhaps even leading to her eventual retirement, thus also providing the school with administrative stability for the next seven or eight years. (As noted regarding the first candidate, finding someone who will stick around is as important as finding a great candidate, because the University of Iowa does not need another presidential search in the near future.)
Wilson’s educational background includes a B.A. in journalism, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in communication arts, all from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. So apart from her administrative experience this is clearly someone who would excel at the public-facing role of presiding over UI, which Harreld struggled with from day one. (You can see a short video of Wilson here, and she obviously has an ease in that kind of routine ceremonial and community setting which would be useful.) Throw in the fact that Wilson is a long-time Midwesterner, who also put in more than a decade at UC-Santa Barbara and still decided to come back to the Midwest, and this is someone who understands not only the Big Ten but that conference’s place in the national higher-ed context.
As with the first candidate, the search committee should be commended for attracting Wilson as a candidate and nominating her as a finalist. With Wilson’s nomination, however, the search committee also just made it very hard for the Board of Regents to pick an internal candidate from the UI campus, because there is no one at Iowa who has a similar level of administrative experience in higher education. Meaning in appointing an internal UI candidate, the board would just have to admit it was hiring a known crony quantity and not the most-qualified person for the job.
04/12/21 — Video of the hour-long campus forum for University of Iowa presidential candidate Hari M. Osofsky can be found here. In general, I think university presidents — and particularly those at major research institutions like UI — need to demonstrate competence in three important and overlapping areas of expertise. First, an understanding of the academic world, including not only its traditions and idiosyncrasies, but differentiating between practices that should be kept and those that should be consigned to the scrap heap. Second, the political environment both on and off campus, which is particularly important at a public school like Iowa, which receives state funding. Third, the public-facing role involving meeting with and speaking to on-campus and off-campus constituencies and interested or concerned parties, which often involves playing to expectations of what a university president should look like, sound like, talk like and act like.
As we witnessed at the University of Iowa over the past five-plus years, however, during the administration of illegitimate president J. Bruce Harreld, you can actually fake all or most of those areas of competence and expertise once you have the job, because the position comes with hostage spokespersons, hostage speechwriters, hostage legal advisors and on and on. Meaning in many respects the process of hiring a new president at a college or university all too often devolves into who can play the part and meet constituent expectations, as opposed to who can actually do the job. (That’s obviously not the way it should be, of course, but human beings are notoriously impressed with the wrong things, which is why celebrity is an actual commodity.)
While watching the live-stream of Osofsky’s forum I was repeatedly reminded of J. Bruce Harreld’s candidate forum in early September of 2015, which I have — to the detriment of my soul — watched at least a dozen times. Because Harreld had zero experience in academic administration or in the public sector he was actually liberated from any obligation to demonstrate competence or expertise in either realm. Likewise, because Harreld had already participated in — and was covering up — multiple secret meetings with members of the search committee and the Board of Regents, and even had the governor begging him to accept the job, Harreld had no political risks to navigate. (He was the board’s stealth candidate, he knew it, and he knew the audience didn’t know it, and he kept it that way.) Finally, in terms of the public-facing aspect of the position, Harreld pulled out dog-and-pony-show patter from his decades in the corporate world, fell back on trite slogans like “great to greater”, and swore a lot because that’s how private-sector types demonstrate gusto.
Despite Harreld’s obscenely low bar, however — including the fact that he was actively protected every step of the way by a cabal of co-conspirators who already knew he would be selected — the result of Harreld’s candidate forum was that almost everyone who provided feedback on his performance saw through his song and dance, and realized he would be a significant if not perpetual liability for the school. With every conceivable advantage, and nonexistent expectations, Harreld still failed to convince the vast majority of the UI community that he was qualified to do the job — from administration to politicking to being the face of the university. And yet the board happily hired him, gave him years to learn on the job, and paid him millions along the way.
I say all that as context for my response to Osofsky’s candidate forum, and to the other three finalists to come, because I don’t want a drive-by assessment of anyone’s performance in a narrow setting to loom larger than the occasion for their appearance. The University of Iowa is trying to find a new president who can lead the school, and that will involve assessing some combination of demonstrated and projected competence. For any external candidate that will also mean learning a lot about the school in a short amount of time, and for any younger candidate — like Osofsky — that also means growing into the job. The question before us now, then, is not whether Osofsky knows everything she needs to know at this moment, but whether we can reasonably expect that she can achieve command sooner rather than later.
In listening to Osofsky’s opening remarks (10m), and watching her respond to questions for the remainder of the hour (50m), there were aspects of presentation and pacing that could have been improved — and would improve with more exposure and experience — but I never felt like she was telling me what I wanted to hear, or responding with a carefully couched or practiced answer. There were areas where she was thin on specifics in the moment, but on questions where she had more direct experience she was not only able to articulate that experience, it was clear that she understood the interlocking intellectual, political and administrative frameworks surrounding those subjects. And that in turn tells me she would bring that same global approach to anything else that she put her mind to, including presiding over a $4B public research university with tens of thousands of students and tens of thousands of employees.
One specific example that Osofsky mentioned again and again, almost thematically, was the importance not only of enduring and emerging from the pandemic, but of learning from it as quickly as possible. And she’s right, not only administratively, but tactically and strategically. In the ever-changing and competitive arena of higher education, internalizing the pandemic and evolving to meet changed expectations from students, faculty, staff and the public will be critical, and those institutions that are first to make the necessary leaps will have a significant advantage.
As noted in the prior update Osofsky is unlikely to be hired by the Board of Regents, but not because she is unqualified. Between the current board’s close political association with the rapidly decompensating Republican Party, and its unstated goal of turning the university into little more than job-training for corporate and professional employers, there isn’t a lot of room for principled leadership. That said, if the board were to appoint her I would not denigrate that choice by calling it a bold hire for incidental factors, but simply a good and smart hire.
This is someone who is wired up to excel in the exact manner that we want the university to excel — through integrity and ethical choices — and I don’t see her getting complacent in that regard. Were I a member of the Board of Regents the only question I would have for Osofsky is whether she would agree in principle to stay for eight years as long as the board was satisfied with her performance. (That would include an initial three-year deal — as opposed to the five-year crony contract Harreld was given out of the gate — followed by a five-year extension.)
I don’t have any doubt that Osofsky can learn what she needs to learn, and quickly. What the University of Iowa cannot afford, however — particularly after the failed Harreld experiment — is to train someone who then takes that knowledge and experience to another position. What UI needs now and for the foreseeable future is stability and consistent leadership that builds trust and momentum over time. If Osofsky has big plans for herself down the road I wouldn’t bet against her, but if she’s thinking about a four-year or five-year stint at Iowa, where she can prove she’s ready for an even bigger opportunity, that’s not what UI needs. Having said that, if she did give her word to the board I think she would keep it — which is a lot more than we can say about J. Bruce Harreld, who will end up bailing on his own two-and-a-half-year contract extension by over two years.
More on Osofsky’s forum from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller — University of Iowa presidential finalist Osofsky tackles questions of free speech, equity; from Sarah Watson, Caleb McCullough, and Grace Hamilton at the Daily Iowan — First UI presidential forum: Penn State College of Law Dean Hari Osofsky emphasizes collaboration, integrity in leadership; and from Cleo Krejci at the Iowa City Press-Citizen — First UI presidential candidate says free speech and diversity efforts can ‘live together’.
04/11/21 — Candidate 1 for the University of Iowa presidency is Hari M. Osofsky (CV), dean of Penn State Law and the Penn State School of International Affairs. (More from Vanessa Miller at the Gazette here, and from Caleb McCullough and Sarah Watson at the Daily Iowan here.)
Osofsky will participate in a public forum tomorrow, Monday, April 12th, at 3:30 p.m. The live-stream link for the presentation will be posted here.
My first thought prior to reading Osofsky’s CV was that it would be a relief to have a lawyer in the Iowa president’s office, because that person might be less predisposed to use that position, as well as the UI Office of the General Counsel, as a legal bludgeon — as has repeatedly been the case under illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld, who famously lost pretty much every case he insisted on fighting, using precious state resources to cover up for his own failed leadership. In this day and age it is unfortunately still also notable that Osofsky is a woman, but the rigged 2015 search produced four white-male finalists, including Harreld, who was not only scandalously unqualified but needed a small cabal of crony co-conspirators to be appointed. Finally, Penn State is a major university and a member of the Big Ten Conference, so Dean Osofsky has familiarity with the scope and scale of an institution similar to the University of Iowa.
Assessment: The central question of whether Osofsky is qualified to preside over the University of Iowa is complicated by the fact that the Board of Regents blew $330K in state funds on a fake search in 2015. In that context, after hiring someone with no experience in academic administration or in the public sector, it seems clear that virtually anyone would be qualified. Meaning we can’t judge the quality of Osofsky’s nomination, or those of the other three finalists, by comparing her credentials to the toad who currently holds the job.
The prior president at UI was Sally Mason, who applied for the position when she was in her sixth year as the provost at Purdue. In general there seems to be a consensus that serving as provost at another major university is the perfect training ground for the Iowa presidency, and I agree, but that does not seem to have been an important factor in recent hires conduced by the board at Iowa and Iowa State. Regarding the 2015 Iowa search, one of the three qualified finalists was the provost at Ohio State (a significantly larger university), but of course the board passed him over to hire Jerre Stead’s little buddy, who didn’t know what the hell he was doing and admitted as much. At sister-school Iowa State in 2017, the Board of Regents appointed an internal dean from ISU, and in the prior search in 2011 the board appointed the VP of Research from the University of North Carolina. So clearly Osofsky’s current position should not be an obstacle to Osofsky’s candidacy at Iowa.
If anything about Osofsky’s CV stands out it’s that she has pursued a broad range of interests while consistently maintaining a high level of achievement, which seems ideal for the leader of a major research university which spans the academic arts and sciences. Not only is interdisciplinary education and research becoming increasingly important, but being able to speak with authority as someone who has successfully transitioned between traditional academic silos seems particularly useful. I think it is probably unlikely that Osofsky will be appointed not because she is unqualified, but because interests like climate change and even following the law run counter to the interests of the Iowa Republican Party, which controls the Iowa Board of Regents.
That said, the search committee should be commended for attracting Osofsky as a candidate and nominating her as a finalist. She is not only qualified, but exemplifies the type of professional academic leadership that Iowa sorely needs.
04/10/21 The first of four finalists for the University of Iowa presidency will be identified tomorrow, a day in advance of that candidate’s appearance on campus for two days of virtual and in-person meetings. (Links to all four of the live candidate forums can be found here.) As noted in recent posts, the reality of the search is that the next president has almost certainly been identified by a majority of the nine-member Iowa Board of Regents, so these candidate reveals and conversations are mostly theatrical, and have little to do with the outcome. That does not mean, however, that these candidate visits have no meaning.
Because the board has apparently been involved in scheduling the candidate visits, and because the board will almost certainly want to keep any internal candidates secret until the last possible minute — to prevent external candidates from dropping out when they realize the fix is likely in — it would not be surprising if the first candidate is also the weakest of the four. Whether that is the case or not, however, I would urge interested observers to focus not on whether the first candidate is a strong candidate, but whether each and every candidate is qualified for the position. That was the overriding imperative for this search committee, because that obviously did not happen when illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld was foisted on the campus in 2015, following a deeply corrupt search process.
Crony abuses of power are not only only reason for nominating unqualified finalists, however, as we learned during the 2017 presidential search at Iowa State University. In that case the first candidate was more like a warm-up act at an academic lounge than a serious applicant for the position. (If you think I’m joking, you can see that candidate’s campus forum here.) I don’t know whether that candidate was included at ISU to demonstrate ethnic diversity among the finalists — the other three candidates being white — or simply to make the search look more successful than it was, but the UI community should be rightly concerned if unqualified candidates are included among the finalists in the current search, regardless of the reason.
The official charge of the search committee was to pass along qualified finalists to the Board of Regents, not to dress up the search so it checked off boxes. Until all four finalists are revealed — which will take until Wednesday of next week — we won’t know who the favorite is, but there’s no hurry. There is no way to influence the board’s choice at this point, and no matter who they choose illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld will soon be an asterisk. (Harreld’s last day is May 16th, after which one of the co-chairs of the search committee will serve as the interim president until the new president takes office.)
04/08/21 — Having become highly attuned to the bureaucratic rhythms of the University of Iowa and the Iowa Board of Regents over the past five-plus years, on more than one occasion I have peered into the future and identified impending periods of relative calm, during which I might expect a respite from cataloging the offenses of illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld. Indeed, only this past weekend I came to such a conclusion after the UI Presidential Search Committee announced that four finalists had been selected for on-campus hybrid interviews. Because the first of those candidate reveals will not take place until this coming Sunday, and the committee had largely concluded its business, and lame-duck Harreld is departing for good on May 16th, I anticipated a brief break in the usual parade of bumbles, stumbles and debacles at UI.
What I overlooked in making that assessment, however, was that all of my prior prognostications inevitably proved wrong, and usually because of J. Bruce Harreld himself. From the information at hand, yes — one might have predicted a momentary period of calm this week, but with Harreld the question is never about what is apparent and always about what is happening behind the scenes. Case in point, just as I was settling into a false sense of security on Monday the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller broke the following story: University of Iowa gives athletics $50 million ’loan’.
The headline alone prompted a flood of questions, but the sparse official details in the lede were even more confusing:
Given tens of millions in losses the University of Iowa Department of Athletics is absorbing from COVID-19’s devastating impact, outgoing UI President Bruce Harreld has agreed to permanently end an earlier deal requiring athletics to contribute $2 million a year in direct support to the main campus.
Additionally, the UI main campus — facing budget cuts and tens of millions in pandemic-propelled losses of its own — is nonetheless shipping $50 million to the typically self-sustaining athletics department this budget year.
That money, according to UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett, will come from the university’s cash reserves and come ‘in the form of an internal loan that will be repaid over the next 10 to 15 years.
“Athletics will continue to be a self-sustaining operation,” Bassett said.
In an aside in a recent post about the process of hiring the next Iowa president, I said one of my hopes was that “the beleaguered communications professionals who speak for UI can finally have a respite from making excuses, and just do their jobs.” When I wrote that post I was not only thinking about Anne Bassett, but about Jeneane Beck and others who have had to answer questions about the dubious if not corrupt decisions Harreld has made over the years. I understand that it’s a spokesperson’s job to put the best face on any situation — good, bad, or self-inflicted — and that they’re well-paid and could always quit, but they should never have been obligated to cover for this clown in the first place. (Media professionals who enjoy that kind of morally bankrupt cat-and-mouse byplay go into politics or the private sector, not public higher education.)
One of the things I respect about Basset and Beck is that over the past five years I have never found anything they said to be objectively false. The problem, more often than not, was what was left unsaid, but then again they don’t make such decisions on their own. The bureaucratic intent to deceive at UI comes from the top, whether in the president’s office or more broadly in central administration, and because the university’s spokespersons are quite literally paid to speak for the school they have to follow those dictates or risk forfeiting their jobs. And personally I don’t think it would be fair to ask anyone at the University of Iowa to give up their positions just because a small cabal of co-conspirators got together in 2015 and decided to steal the Iowa presidency.
At first blush both Miller’s headline and the quotes from Bassett seem clear. Because of losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Iowa is loaning $50M in cash to the UI Athletics Department, which is otherwise required to be self-sustaining. Were there not such a requirement the university could give athletics any amount of money free and clear, but because athletics is required to pay its own way, that $50M will constitute a loan to be “repaid over the next 10 to 15 years”. No freeloading from the jocks.
Assuming for the sake of argument that it is legal for the University of Iowa to loan the athletics department $50M, and not a self-evident violation of the dictate that athletics must be self-sustaining — which would seem to compel borrowing on the open market — we are still left with the obvious question of where the university found $50M to pass along to AD Gary Barta. After pleading perpetual poverty on an annual basis for five-plus years, where did Harreld suddenly find $50M in cash to pass to his favorite bureaucratic bro?
As Miller made clear on Monday, and in earlier reporting, the main campus also suffered losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, so where did that magical $50M come from? (Also from the Gazette’s Miller: Dorms at Iowa universities lose tens of million in pandemic, and Iowa universities distribute less financial aid as enrollment drops.) The answer in Miller’s report, as provided by Bassett, is that the money is coming from the “university’s cash reserves” — but what does that mean?
Having read pretty much every statement from a UI official over the past five-plus years, I can tell you that the words “cash reserves” are not bandied about on a routine basis. In fact, if you do a search for ‘University of Iowa’ and ‘cash reserves’, the first hits reference the plan to give $50M to athletics, but after that the mentions become sparse. The only memory I have of any admission of a discretionary cash reserve comes from a press release on the Iowa Now website in 2016, when the university did acknowledge that its “new guiding principles” included establishing a slush fund for Harreld:
UI leadership also set aside $10.8 million for a Strategic Initiative Fund to ensure high-priority activities receive adequate resources. Leadership reviewed 66 proposals from the colleges and VP offices totaling $22 million, before eventually selecting the 25 most ready for implementation. The strategic initiatives selected include increased student financial aid, new academic advisers, faculty cluster hires, support for interdisciplinary and large grant proposals, and investment in building renewal and energy conservation.
“In order to provide a cushion, a small amount of the $10.8 million will be reserved for one-time commitments that may arise during the year,” says Rod Lehnertz, vice president for finance and operations.
Apart from the athletic department’s own cash reserves — which, in 2017, were used to pay a $6.5M court judgement, after AD Barta was found guilty of discriminating against two female UI employees — I can’t recall any other mention of a cash reserve at the University of Iowa. Still, as to the source of the funds that Harreld is now planning to loan to Barta, it may actually be that Harreld amassed a massive, secret, discretionary slush fund over the past five-plus years totaling $50M or more, while at the same time swearing up and down to students, staff, faculty, donors and state legislators that the school was desperately in need of additional financial resources. (Speaking of the faculty…since Harreld is such a huge support of shared governance, can we assume he consulted with the UI Faculty Senate and other shared-governance bodies before agreeing to loan Gary Barta $50M in cash that belongs to the school?)
If that is the case — if the University of Iowa has been sitting on $50M in cash or more — that will obviously be of momentary advantage to the athletics department, but that admission will also be of considerable disadvantage to the university as a whole, and in particular to the next UI president, when the conversation once again turns to tuition and state funding. Maybe the Iowa Board of Regents supported such a secret accumulation of cash, perhaps even directed Harreld to generate a massive slush fund, but that is going to come as shocking news both to the students who are being bled for revenue every semester, and to the members of the state legislature who have listened to Harreld and the board beg for cash on the very premise that they don’t have enough. (Consider, for example, last-year’s joint decision by Harreld and Barta to kill off four varsity sports, which we now learn could have been prevented by a similar loan, until those sports established their own self-sufficiency. Instead, Harreld and Barta killed those sports off first, then only later announced that salvation was available in the form of a self-generated loan.)
Having said all that, I think it is unlikely that the “cash reserves” Harreld intends to loan to Barta come from a secret slush fund. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, as it would be on a campus run by administrators of even median integrity, but I don’t think it’s likely because having that much secret cash sitting around is the kind of thing that is hard to keep quiet. Harreld himself is lying trash, and I wouldn’t put anything past him personally, but when you start pulling in people like UI CFO and Treasurer Terry Johnson, and SVP for Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz, those people still seem to care about their professional reputations. (If you’re new to this site and think I’m joking about Harreld, here is a reminder that he lied about the fact that the UI P3 constituted a lease of university assets, only to then acknowledge that lie two months later during the official announcement of the deal.)
If the miraculous $50M in cash reserves is not from a secret stash, then the only other explanation I can think of is that the term ‘cash reserves’ is being used as a synonym for the university’s general education fund, which is the great co-mingled pot of revenue from which the university’s expenses are paid. (You can see the pie chart showing current expected revenue for the General Education Fund here.) While UI spokespersons and other UI officials talk about the gen-ed fund routinely, however, the problem with using ‘cash reserves’ as a synonym is that it is not only unnecessary but imprecise. Meaning either Iowa’s spokesperson was being sloppy in this instance — and Anne Basset is not sloppy — or there was a perceived problem with simply stating that the $50M loan to athletics was coming from gen-ed fund revenues.
As it happens there is such a problem, and it’s about as basic as one can get regarding the university’s books. Whether you clicked on the link above to the pie chart or not, the graphic shows that the university expects to bring in $727.9M in revenue from various sources for Fiscal Year 2020-2021 (FY2021). While that’s certainly a lot of money, the pie chart for expenditures for FY201 shows the full $727.9M being spent with no money left over — not even $1M, let alone $50M in cash.
Again that leaves us with two possibilities. Either one or more persons at UI has been cooking the books, and stuffing tens of millions of dollars into a secret slush fund which Harreld now intends to loan to athletics, or there aren’t any hidden cash reserves to lend — meaning the loan is coming from massive cash reserves that are in plain view. So how do we resolve this conundrum?
The only answer I can come up with that makes any sense is that “cash reserves” in this case refers to money in the UI Gen Ed Fund that is being held to cover future expenses, but which has not yet been paid out. Much like you might stockpile cash to pay for tuition next fall, or to cover your property taxes, the university holds money to cover future costs like payroll. At any given time there may be tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars on the UI books which is spoken for but not yet disbursed, and that money quite literally represents the school’s cash reserves.
The problem with passing $50M from those reserves to Gary Barta, of course, is the same problem you would have if you gave him your tuition money for next fall, or the money you were holding back to pay your property taxes. It’s not that you had no money in reserve to give, it’s that in giving that money you would create a shortfall for yourself — as the University of Iowa will clearly do if it passes $50M in cash from the gen-ed fund to the athletics department. The university probably does have that much money on hand, but as the pie charts above make clear all of that money is being held to cover future expenses, which the school will still be obligated to meet long before the 10-to-15-year window during which the loan will be repaid.
In terms of filling a $50M crater in the University of Iowa budget, I also see only two options. The school can obviously raise tuition and fees to eventually cover the shortfall, but that won’t happen before the current fiscal year ends on June 30th. And of course that would also be a gross — albeit sneaky and indirect — violation of the policy that athletics must be self-sustaining. Alternatively, the university can pull $50M out of the $1B UI P3 endowment almost immediately, and do anything it wants with that money without asking anyone else for permission.
The problem with plundering the P3 endowment to cover athletics losses from the pandemic is that J. Bruce Harreld has repeatedly and explicitly insisted that the UI P3 won’t be used to cover losses associated with the pandemic. From Alexadra Skores at the Daily Iowan, on 09/01/20:
Yockey said UI President Bruce Harreld has voiced that the money from the partnership must go to strategic priority and cannot be used to fund operations.
The DI reported in May that Harreld told the state Board of Regents the UI was facing $76 million in expenses and lost revenue through August from responding to the coronavirus. UI media-relations Director Anne Bassett told the DI that the funds from the public/private partnership will not be used to supplement any lost funding, however.
“The university has been clear that these resources are to be used to invest in the future success of the university,” she said. “Utilizing these funds to backfill a budget hole would rob future generations of the benefit of these resources, so the UI must and will practice discipline in allocating these resources.”
Even acknowledging that Harreld would lie through his teeth and break his word for his crony pals, here we have Bassett on the record as well. Likewise, in Miller’s piece from Monday we have another quote from Bassett, although it’s not clear if that quote was in response to a question from Miller for that story, or from a prior communication:
The UI athletics loan comes as its Board of Regents is asking lawmakers to restore $8 million the Legislature cut mid-fiscal 2020 and up the state’s general education support another $18 million for fiscal 2022. UI recently created another new revenue stream by entering into a public-private partnership for the operation of its utility system, enabling the creation of an endowment expected to generate $15 million annually for the UI strategic plan.
But spokeswoman Bassett said, “Investment revenue generated from the public-private partnership (P3) for the university’s utility system is solely dedicated to supporting initiatives to bolster student success and develop and retain faculty.”
Because I cannot find that quote in any prior reporting from Miller, I think Bassett probably was responding to a question for Miller’s story on Monday — thus confirming that the UI P3 will not be the ultimate source of the $50M loan to the athletics department. In either case, however, we’re still left with the question we started with. Where is the $50M in cash coming from that Harreld is loaning to AD Barta? What are these “cash reserves” that Bassett is talking about, but not specifying — and as long as we’re asking questions, why has there been zero subsequent reporting about this loan from any other outlet following Miller’s scoop on Monday? Normally the Iowa Now website would lead with a press release, and the Daily Iowan would report the story out the same day, but here we are four days later and there is nothing other than Miller’s report, plus a few passing mentions on other media sites which all source the Gazette.
So which is it? Was there a $50M slush fund on the UI campus that the public and UI community knew nothing about? Will tuition and fees be dramatically hiked in the coming months to cover that $50M hole? Or is Harreld taking $50M from the UI P3 endowment and loaning it to his bro-buddy? Because absent new information, it’s one of those.
04/07/21 — The UI Presidential Search Committee and Iowa Board of Regents have posted the schedule of finalist visits to the UI campus. The schedule is unchanged from the tentative schedule posted earlier, and the candidates themselves will not be identified until the day before their initial appearance, but the fact that there are still four candidates listed after being notified of their standing by the executive search firm is a good sign, because it means no one dropped out. (That could still happen, particularly after several of the candidates are revealed, but so far there are still four finalists willing to publicly declare their interest in the Iowa presidency.)
Additional reporting on details about the visits from Daily Iowan Executive Editor Sarah Watson: Four finalists for University of Iowa presidency set to visit campus this month.
04/04/21 — On Thursday and Friday of last week the University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee conducted confidential interviews with twelve total semifinalists for the position being vacated by illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld. Following closed deliberations on Saturday the committee announced that four finalists had been selected to appear on campus, in serial fashion over a two-week period, for meetings and interviews with the greater university community. While the names of the finalists will not be revealed until the day before their scheduled meetings begin, their identifying numbers — out of 79 original applicants — were 12, 40, 45 and 74.
Other than noting that the finalists generally span the full range of possible submission dates, it is impossible to draw any conclusions from those identifying numbers. Ideally the names of the candidates will be paired with their numbers when the candidates are revealed, so we know who applied when, but we may have to wait for additional reporting to sort that out. Even the fact that one of the latest applicants proved to be one of the strongest candidates doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything suspect about that individual’s delayed entry — as was the case in 2015, when J. Bruce Harreld was ushered through each stage of the search process at the last possible minute. While the submission process is supposed to be confidential, reference checks can lead to information leaks, including to a candidate’s current employer, who may not know the candidate is looking to move on. For that reason, some candidates do prefer to wait until the last possible minute to express their interest, to limit the risk of negative repercussions should their candidacy not prove successful.
The finalist visits are currently scheduled from April 12th to 23rd, but the sequencing of those visits will probably not coincide with the numerical identifiers above. As noted in a prior post, there is an unfortunate industry-wide tendency in so-called open presidential searches — like the one being conducted at Iowa — to intentionally sequence reveals both for dramatic impact and to validate the search itself. Specifically, weaker candidates tend to be scheduled early not only to build tension as the reveals progress, but to prevent those weaker candidates from dropping out if they believe they will not be appointed. (Again, candidates might understandably prefer to withdraw to prevent their current employer from learning they were eager to leave, but suddenly have nowhere to go.)
To see how the sequencing of candidates can be critical to the perceived success of an open search, imagine four finalists comprising one strong candidate and three weaker candidates. If the strong candidate is revealed first not only will the weaker candidates be incentivized to withdraw, to avoid having their names disclosed to their current employers, but each successive reveal will inherently feel like a let-down to that campus community. Conversely, if the three weaker candidates are scheduled first it would seem like a hotly-contested pageant until the final reveal, at which point everyone would feel rewarded for investing themselves in the outcome. In each case it’s the same search process with the same slate of finalists, but the sequencing of the candidates materially impacts the perception of the overall success of the search. (In the former example the search produces one good candidate and three also-rans; in the latter, three good candidates and one great candidate, truly befitting the august history of that fine institution.)
Ideally the four finalists nominated by the UI search committee would be equal in overall strength, thus obviating concerns about the sequencing of the reveals. In reality, not only is it unlikely that four equally strong candidates applied for the position, but entrenched inequities in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) would predict that most of the best-qualified candidates will be white males who profited from bias earlier in their careers. Were the strongest candidates also persons of color and/or women that would make the selection of finalists easier, but that scenario also defies historical precedent. More likely the strongest candidates, at least on paper, will be white males, and that puts any search committee in a potential no-win position. Either submit a slate of white-male finalists, thus opening the search to valid charges of lack of diversity — even if there were simply no strong diverse applicants — or include lesser-qualified applicants to show that diversity was not the determining factor in the appointment.
Complicating matters further, the most qualified candidates are not necessarily the strongest candidates, because the strongest candidates may be internal candidates who either have a built-in base of campus support, or — as was the case with the corrupt appointment of J. Bruce Harreld in 2015 — crony candidates who are manifestly unqualified for the position, but who have friends in high places who are willing to give them the job. As noted in multiple prior posts there is a high probability that one of the four finalists in the UI search is internal to the University of Iowa or to the greater regents enterprise, and as such there is also a high probability that that candidate will be revealed last regardless of the relative strength of their professional qualifications. (One look at a ringer and one or more of the other finalists might drop out.)
If everything goes according to schedule, then after the finalist forums play out over two weeks the search committee will pass along campus feedback about the visits, as well as their own views about the finalists, the regents will conduct their own brief and largely ceremonial interviews with those candidates , then the board will announce the next Iowa president on April 30th. If all of the finalists are of relatively equal strength, then unlike the 2015 search — when the university’s vehement rejection of Harreld’s candidacy was ignored, and the board appointed the one finalist who was objectively unqualified for the position — feedback from the campus will not be an issue. Because all four of this year’s finalists will probably not be equally qualified, however, there is the risk of introducing a candidate who may be clearly favored by the university community but not appointed by the board. And of course if part of the university support for a given candidate is based on the diversity of that candidate, then the selection of an otherwise qualified white male may precipitate or exacerbate lingering concerns about DEI.
As noted in recent posts, and as articulated by one of the co-chairs of the search during an early meeting, the solution to easing these tensions was not for the committee to limit the finalists by comparing qualifications, but instead to only pass along candidates who would be acceptable to the school if they were appointed by the board. In that context, a candidate whose diversity was considered a strength might be less qualified than another candidates with greater experience, but less-qualified does not mean unqualified. If the search committee has done its job then all four finalists will have sufficient qualifications and experience, in some combination, to lead the University of Iowa.
As also noted in recent posts, the search is now effectively over. We still have to wait four weeks to find out who the next Iowa president will be, but barring a last-minute disqualifying disclosure or irredeemable gaffe, the Board of Regents already knows which candidate it will appoint. Between the two regents on the search committee, and both the executive director/CEO and president of the board serving in as ex-officio members, they already know the identities of the four finalists. Whether or not there is a stealth board candidate among those finalists, the other six regents will reflexively defer to the president — out of political loyalty, if nothing else — so there really is nothing left to decide. It would certainly be beneficial if the candidate favored by the board was also favored by the UI community, but even if that isn’t the case there is nothing to prevent the board from picking the candidate they favor. All we can hope is that the search committee did its job and excluded finalists who are not deemed qualified to lead the school.
While the remainder of the search process constitutes de facto theater — like most of the board’s public pronouncements — that does not mean the candidate forums are without meaning. The pageant portion of the search still represents an opportunity for every candidate to prove they are the favorite of the UI community, and that’s of particular importance for internal candidates. Whether supported by central administration at the university or by the Board of Regents, an internal candidate may have an advantage among the competition, but they still also need to demonstrate buy-in from a campus community that is understandably dubious about crony presidential searches.
I don’t have any idea who will be named, and if the only positive in the entire search is that Harreld leaves the campus, town and state, that’s still a win, win and win. Ideally, however, the next president of the University of Iowa will be an honest and qualified individual who starts not with a crony mandate but with genuine support across the UI campus. To the extent that we’re all hostage to the unfolding drama we now have less than a month to go, and only six weeks before Harreld leaves the university for good.
While the full story of the search won’t be told until the appointment is made on April 30th, pay close attention to the fourth and final candidate reveal. From that disclosure it will be possible to reverse-engineer a great deal of information that is currently shrouded by confidentiality, including how strong the candidate pool was to begin with. If a ringer is revealed last then the likelihood is extremely high that that candidate will be appointed, as was the case with the 2017 search at Iowa State. And unfortunately, that in turn will portend that the University of Iowa is no longer competitive on the national stage, and will continue the descent into mediocrity that began with Harreld’s appointment.
As for the search committee, I think they took their charge seriously, and I hope they feel it was worth their time. They also already know who Harreld’s likely successor will be, and whether that candidate was a ringer from the beginning, but that’s different from having a crony foisted on the school by a corrupt search. I don’t expect anything to come out about this process after the fact, except that the committee put forth an honest effort and made sure the next president of the University of Iowa was qualified for the job.
04/01/21 — Today and tomorrow the University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee will conduct twelve semifinalist interviews, six on each day, with each interview lasting a little over an hour. On Saturday morning the committee will then select three or four finalists who will be invited to the UI campus to make their case for becoming the next president of the school. (The vast majority of the proceedings over the next three days will be held in closed session, so there will be no immediate news to report.)
As noted in multiple recent posts, this is the most important point in the search for the UI community — even above the actual selection of the next president — because this is the last step at which the committee will have any say in the outcome. After the committee nominates three or four candidates to the Iowa Board of Regents, the board will be free to appoint any of those candidates, and it is all but certain the regents already have one or two favorites in the race. The obligation of the search committee now is to determine which of the semifinalists are superior and ideally co-equal in their qualifications and experience, so no matter whom the regents choose that choice is acceptable to the committee and to the greater university community that most of the committee members represent.
As for outgoing illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld, his last day will be on May 16th, which is a Sunday. Whether Harreld will be in the state then (or is even in the state now) is of little consequence because the new president will be named on April 30th. Due to long tradition in academic administration, however — which demands a hero’s sendoff, provided that a retiring high-ranking administrator was not convicted of a felony along the way — it should be expected that colleagues at the university and at the Board of Regents will say wonderful things about Harreld when he hits the bricks, if only because they expect the same treatment when it’s their turn to leave. In that context, however, it is interesting to consider a burst of stories over the past few days which touch on Harreld’s legacy.
* In conjunction with a keynote speech that she delivered on Monday, kicking off The Gazette’s week-long look at higher education, former UI President Mary Sue Coleman waded in on the anti-higher-ed laws that have been percolating in the Iowa legislature. At the same time, she advocated for the Board of Regents to reposition the state schools and higher-ed in general to emphasize the ways in which academia returns benefits to the state. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Former UI President Mary Sue Coleman: Focus on making Iowa higher ed the ‘envy of the Midwest’.
Given that Harreld is on the way out it was notable that Coleman made no mention of him, at least in the remarks quoted in the article. That said, Coleman’s pitch actually echoed remarks that Harreld himself made back in 2015, during his candidate forum, when he called for Iowa to become a “Midwest Ivy” — meaning a Midwestern Ivy League school. Now five and a half years later, how did Iowa progress toward that goal under J. Bruce Harreld?
* On Tuesday the university posted a press release about the latest U.S. News rankings for graduate and professional schools. It’s pretty easy to tell when new rankings are not particularly good because the university avoids any mention of relative changes. (When the rankings have improved the university cannot wait to dish about the details.)
Fortunately, the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller tacks such things year to year, and this year is no exception: New U.S. News graduate school rankings show losses, gains for Iowa universities. Particularly notable was this nugget about the UI College of Engineering:
At the University of Iowa, its law ranking fell two spots to No. 29; its masters of nursing program ranked No. 23, also down two; education ranked No. 48, one place below last year; engineering ranked No. 84, down 10 spots; its medical research program ranked No. 39, down five spots; and its primary care medicine ranking slipping two spots to No. 22.
Not only does Harreld have an engineering degree himself, from Purdue, but the former dean of the UI College of Engineering was on the search committee that passed Harreld along as a finalist in 2015. If any college on campus — other than perhaps the Tippie College of Business — should have profited from Harreld’s appointment, it was engineering, yet that was clearly not the case. (In fact, there was a lot of weirdness at the engineering college surrounding the former dean, who stepped down but somehow kept his hand in for another year or two, including appearing on key committees.)
While the College of Engineering suffered a collapse in its rankings, many of the other programs dropped as well. Assuming that the Board of Regents does wants to transition the three state universities into a single system school, however, there is currently a lot of overlap between business, education and engineering between Iowa, Iowa State and the University of Iowa. In that context, I wouldn’t be surprised if Engineering is being slowly marginalized at UI, and that in time Iowa State will dominate in Engineering, while Northern Iowa leads in Education, and Iowa in Business.
* If there was one consistent defense about the corrupt appointment of J. Bruce Harreld, it was that Harreld’s private-sector experience gave him an edge in strategic planning and organizational change when compared to clueless academic administrators. Having played hardball in the corporate world, Harreld was supposed to know how to run higher-ed like a business. In practice, not so much.
From the Gazette’s Miller on Tuesday: High costs, lack of planning and collaboration behind University of Iowa hospital rejection.
Steep project costs, lack of collaboration, insufficient planning, inefficiencies and potential harm to community health care providers are among the reasons a state council in February denied University of Iowa Health Care a certificate to build a $230 million hospital in North Liberty, records released Tuesday show.
I don’t think the University of Iowa should try to grow its way out of fiscal issues by taking territory away from surrounding private-sector healthcare providers. If the university is going to do that, however, it doesn’t seem like too much to ask to avoid looking incompetent in the process. (Greedy is bad, and stupid is bad, but greedy and stupid is downright embarrassing.)
* Asking whether Harreld accomplished anything is not a conversation worth having. He is not an axe murderer as far as we know, and he certainly won’t be leaving the campus in literal ashes, probably. At a macro level the relevant question is whether anyone else would have done as well or better, and after five and a half years it seems self-evident that J. Bruce Harreld is the definition of administrative mediocrity. There is a valid related question, however, and that’s whether the abuses of power that Harreld abetted in order to be appointed can themselves produce benefits which accrue to Harreld.
Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan explores that question in a lengthy piece that was published on Wednesday: ‘We’d never had that before’: How UI President Bruce Harreld changed the system of shared governance. While I would have framed the piece a bit differently, and included additional context, the impact of the article on the current presidential search is particularly interesting. Specifically, the shared governance leaders on campus, and the greater UI community, clearly expect to have a continuing voice in the next administration, and that’s something the members of the search committee should keep in mind when they are conducing semifinalist interviews over the next two days, and picking finalists on Saturday.
Despite the understandable preference of high-ranking academic administrators to want to work as freely as possible, universities the size of Iowa are not corporations, they are communities. Harreld paid a lot of lip service to the idea of shared governance after participating in a ruthless betrayal of shared governance, and it isn’t hard to find instances where he continued that betrayal. The good news is that it doesn’t really matter how people on campus view Harreld’s legacy because he’s leaving. Whether the next president will support and build on shared governance at Iowa is the critical question.
* From Hannah Pinski, Yassie Buchanan, Signe Nettum at the Daily Iowan: The ideal candidate for the next head Hawkeye.
Other than speculating about a few specific internal candidates who may have applied, I have no inside information about who the next Iowa president will be. What I can say, unequivocally, is that nothing will get better after illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld is gone unless the next president embodies and demands personal and professional integrity. While the presidency is inherently political and transactional, that is precisely why the person in that role must have an inviolate code of conduct. After five-plus years putting up with a shyster, it is time for someone whose word is their bond.
* Speaking of the anti-higher-ed bills making their way through the Iowa legislature, it was reported late Wednesday that this year’s attempt to ban tenure at the state universities failed to garner sufficient support to advance. That doesn’t mean the same idiots won’t propose the same ban next year, but for the time being a tenure ban is off the table, and that’s important regarding the ongoing presidential search at Iowa. Not only would many candidates have dropped out if the ban passed into law, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the next president insists on an out-clause in their contract in case the ban succeeds in the future.
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