The final threaded post on this topic can be found here. For previous posts about the Harreld hire, click the tag below.
05/16/21 — So illegitimate University of Iowa president J. Bruce Harreld bid a fond farewell to the campus during a ‘Celebration of Graduates’ at Kinnick Stadium, and in so doing also seemed to declare the pandemic over. One notable absence at Bro Bruce’s big sendoff was UI College of Education Dean Dan Clay, who was perhaps too busy running his for-profit, private-sector business. Then again, after ripping Harreld repeatedly in his candidate forum, during his own failed bid for the Iowa presidency, it’s also possible Clay wasn’t invited.
05/15/21 — The final official appearance of illegitimate University of Iowa president J. Bruce Harreld will take place at 3:00 p.m. tomorrow, Sunday, May 16th, at Kinnick Stadium, during what is billed as a Celebration of Graduates. Whatever that turns out to be, per the UI website it is definitively “not a commencement ceremony, graduates will not cross a stage [and] graduates will not be individually recognized.” But other than that it is going to be awesome. (My best guess is that this is an attempt to legitimize warm bodies in Kinnick Stadium again, so the coming football season will be a financial boon to the teetering athletics department — all of which would be in keeping with Bro Bruce’s administrative allegiances and priorities.) A livestream link to the event will be posted around 1:15 p.m.
05/13/21 — All the way all day with this staff editorial from the Gazette: UI president comes in with challenges but also one crucial advantage.
The incoming University of Iowa president will have a key asset her predecessor lacked — support from the university community.
Barbara Wilson, the No. 2 administrator at the nearby University of Illinois System, last week was named UI’s 22nd president. She is set to take over in July, following the retirement of UI President Bruce Harreld this month.
When she reports to Iowa City to work, Wilson will be greeted by historic challenges at Iowa’s flagship public university. Her impressive professional background and the sound process through which she was chosen give us confidence she can lead the campus through a period of great uncertainty.
Because public officials rarely have the integrity and courage necessary to acknowledge mistakes, there will never be any governmental admission that the appointment of J. Bruce Harreld was a disaster for the University of Iowa. Not only did the corrupt 2015 presidential search lead to the appointment of a candidate who had no idea what he was doing, but the moment after he was appointed he admitted as much:
“I will be the first to admit that my unusual background requires a lot of help, a lot of coaching,” Harreld told reporters after the Iowa Board of Regents voted unanimously to give him the job. “And I’m going to turn to a whole lot of people that were highly critical and really tough on me the other day and ask them if they would be great mentors and teachers (to me). And I suspect and hope all of them will.”
PRO TIP: If you hire someone for a job, and the first thing they do is try to inoculate themselves by putting others on the hook for their success, then you hired the wrong guy. (And yes — it will be a guy.) Predictably, two months after announcing his impending retirement, mopey Bro Bruce tried to blame others for the lumbering start to his failed presidency, but the record clearly showed he was lying.)
Barbara Wilson’s impressive professional background, as described by the Gazette, means she won’t need “a lot of help, a lot of coaching” to do the job she was just hired to do. She will need to familiarize herself with the campus as an organization, and get to know the people working under her, but she won’t need “great mentors and teachers” to do the job. And for that alone the UI community should be grateful to the Board of Regents, not only for appointing Wilson, but for following through on its agreement to allow UI faculty to drive the search process. At the same time, the UI community should also be grateful to the fiercely loyal faculty, staff, and students who said that what happened in 2015 was not acceptable, and must not happen again.
I would also point out that although all nine members of the Board of Regents are white — and that is a big problem — we are fortunate that state law requires equal gender representation. That doesn’t prevent the governor from packing the board with political cronies, but it is a world away from the sexism which leads to male-dominated higher-ed governing boards in many states. Speaking of which, if you’re not quite sure how to assess the 2021 search and Wilson’s appointment, I would encourage you to read the following recent reports about pervasive political interference in public higher-ed around the country:
* Eric Kelderman at The Chronicle of Higher Education: After a ‘Rocky Tenure,’ Political Winds Sweep U. of Colorado President From Job.
* Russell Frank at StateCollege.com — documenting an impending train wreck: How Should We Pick Penn State’s Next President? Thoughts from the Star-Man in the Well.
* Lucas DaPrile at TheState.com: USC board members say they weren’t told about Caslen’s resignation offer. (Background here.)
Knowledge grows over time, and civilizations advance, but human beings never get any smarter. Barbara Wilson represents an opportunity, and I believe the UI community will not only support her but make the most of her first five years under contract. If nothing else, Wilson knows that the UI community is willing to fight for what it believes is right, and if she can harness that power and resolve there will be no stopping her or the school.
05/11/21 — Yesterday the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller published the following story: University of Iowa President Harreld has given $480K to campus during tenure. Whatever you think of charitable giving, or the amount given in this case, Miller did a good job of explaining the context of Harreld’s generosity, which — as ever with this guy — is conspicuously murky:
Over the course of his nearly six years as University of Iowa president, Bruce Harreld and his wife, Mary Harreld, gave $128,325 in philanthropic support to campus through the UI Center of Advancement, plus another $352,353 via the 50-percent pay cut Harreld took in light of COVID this year.
His pay cut — taking half his $590,000 base pay plus 30 percent fringe benefit rate — boosted a Student Emergency Fund for UI students facing “an unforeseen financial emergency or catastrophic event” that could keep them from continuing their education. The other $128,000-plus in donations went toward “multiple areas of the university,” according to UI Center for Advancement Dana Larson.
Given that Iowa State President Wendy Wintersteen and Northern Iowa President Mark Nook took 10% pay cuts over the same period, it has never been clear whether the other 40% that Harreld gave up was his idea because he’s such a caring person, or imposed by the Iowa Board of Regents because Harreld finally irritated them as much as he irritates me. Even assuming Harreld gave from the heart, however, there is another layer of context to factor in, and that has to do with why Harreld was in position to give at all.
If the Iowa Board of Regents had appointed one of the three eminently qualified academic administrators who were finalists in the 2015 presidential search, instead of rigging the search in favor of the unqualified and unfit J. Bruce Harreld, it is certainly true that the board would have spent about the same amount money over the past six years. What does need to be said, however, is that as a result of the illegitimacy of Harreld’s appointment, he ended up pocketing $3.3M or more in base pay that should have gone to someone else. So if he decided to give some of that back to the school — whether $128K (3.8%) or $480K (14.5%) — he’s still walking away with millions of dollars in cash. (And he didn’t have to pay for his housing, and he had a full staff at his beck and call, including lawyers and spokespersons to clean up his messes, and a car allowance, and free cable, and on and on.)
05/09/21 — One week to go until illegitimate University of Iowa president J. Bruce Harreld hits the bricks, yet there is still a steady stream of news about the man and his failed attempt to lead UI from “great to greater“. Even a cursory glance at the U.S. News rankings — which everyone loves to deride for admittedly good reasons, but which do provide an apples-to-apples comparison over time — shows that Iowa was ranked 30th among public universities when Harreld was hired, and now ranks 34th, and was ranked 71st among national universities and is now ranked 88th. So say whatever you want about Harreld’s legacy as the savvy private-sector senior executive who plagiarized Ohio State’s energy P3 by borrowing $1.17B under suspicious circumstances — which the Iowa Supreme Court just said the university and Iowa Board of Regents must now fully disclose to the Iowa State Auditor — but J. Bruce Harreld led Iowa from great to crater.
Adding to Harreld’s failed legacy, when he was hired in 2015 the former Iowa president, Sally Mason, had just endured three straight years of tuition freezes. Combined with lagging state support and a devious attempt to shift tens of millions of dollars away from UI, to the other two state universities, the regents were determined to starve Mason and UI of resources. Harreld, on the other hand, was granted an unending string of tuition hikes, adding $20M or more – and sometimes much more — to the university’s annual budget, and that’s after accounting for state funding cuts.
Over the five-plus years of his Harreld’s tenure as president, the Board of Regents approved tuition hikes every year except the current pandemic year, generating roughly $150M in new, unrestricted revenue for Iowa over that time. Whereupon J. Bruce Harreld turned that windfall into a 17-point drop in Iowa’s U.S. News ranking among national universities.
* Clarifying Harreld’s swan song at UI, on Friday the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller reported that Harreld will deliver remarks to graduates at Kinnick Stadium on May 16th. That update came in the larger context of Harreld’s end-of-the-semester message, which was posted to the Iowa Now site and emailed to the UI community last Thursday. As distant and dissonant as some of Harreld’s campus-wide messages have been in the past, this one was as weird as any ghost-written missive that anyone put Harreld’s name to over the past five-plus years.
From Miller’s report: University of Iowa President Harreld issues final end-of-semester message.
In outgoing University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld’s final end-of-semester message, distributed to campus Thursday, he didn’t mention his impending departure in just 10 days.
The message of encouragement to graduates and returning students — along with faculty and staff — after an unrivaled year of “myriad hardships” was forward-looking and absent any farewell.
That still could come, with Harreld’s official last day set for May 16, when he’ll speak at an in-person graduation celebration in Kinnick Stadium.
“We look forward to what the coming months and years will bring, not only for our new graduates but also for our campus,” Harreld and Provost Kevin Kregel wrote in the co-authored campus message.
I am not joking when I say there is more basic human decency in this single post-presidential-search note from former co-chair John Keller than in everything Harreld has written combined. Maybe Harreld does better at Rotary meetings or on the phone, but in print he is warmed-over death. (Probably a liability at America’s Writing University [TM].)
As to the sendoff Harreld has planned for himself next Sunday — along with, of course, the Iowa students who are actually graduating, and leaving the university with a record of success — between his anemic end-of-semester message, and his hostage-taking attempt at the last regent meeting to blow $2.3M in forfeit deferred compensation on a monument to himself, I think Bro Bruce is struggling to find the right tone. And for the record, just because Harreld is scheduled to attend that doesn’t mean he will actually appear in-person, or show up at all. From a Jeff Charis-Carlson story in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on 11/20/15, three weeks after Bro Bruce took office — which also has one of my all-time favorite Harreld-era headlines: Business leaders apologize to new UI president.
More than 100 community and business leaders gathered Friday morning for the opportunity to offer support to the new president of the University of Iowa and to apologize for the negative reaction he has received on campus.
Bruce Harreld, who began as UI president less than three weeks ago, was too ill to attend Friday’s investors council meeting for the Iowa City Area Development group. Harreld also had to cancel meetings with state leaders later in the day.
UI interim Senior Vice President Rod Lehnertz, who replaced Harreld as speaker at the event, said the apology wasn’t necessary because the new president doesn’t hold a grudge.
“He’s been places where it has not been easy to change culture, and he made big shifts in a forward direction,” said Lehnertz, referring to Harreld’s work at IBM, Boston Chicken and Kraft Foods.
Lehertz described the continuing opposition to Harreld as coming from a vocal minority on campus. The vast majority of the 1,700 faculty members on campus, he said, are not joining the protests against the new president.
“And when you go 5 feet off our campus, the support we have received from you and from around the state … has been remarkable,” Lehnertz told the group. “… We ask everyone to keep their chin up as ours is up.
So anyway, here’s hoping Harreld makes it to Kinnick next week, to pass along pearls of wisdom that he picked up over the years, before he lied his way into the Iowa job and ran the university into the ground. (Also looking for a big sendoff from the local business community, in appreciation for everything Harreld did for them after they debased themselves.)
* Following a well-coordinated attempt to embarrass the University of Iowa by right-wing and conservative political operatives in Iowa, a bill codifying free speech at the state schools is now waiting for Iowa’s governor to be told when to sign it to maximize partisan support while avoiding any repercussions. Whatever the fundamentalists and extremists thought they were getting from the resulting legislation, however, I think they will end up disappointed because the new law simply formalizes a level playing field which was ambiguous at the administrative level. If anything, having explicit instructions in place should decrease the kind of manufactured outrage that prompted the legislation in the first place.
It’s also worth noting that for once that Iowa Board of Regents — which is controlled by the Iowa Republican Party — got out in front of an issue which originated with the nuts in the Republican party. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller last Thursday: Law codifying free speech in Iowa schools, universities headed to governor.
The measure bakes into Iowa law many changes the Iowa Board of Regents already has made or vowed to make in the wake of free speech controversies this academic year at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and University of Northern Iowa.
Specific to Iowa’s public universities and community colleges, the new law requires campuses adopt policies with the following statements:
• The main function of a higher ed institution is “discovery, improvement, transmission and dissemination of knowledge” through teaching, research and discussion — done while allowing the fullest degree of free thought and expression.
• The proper role of the institutions is to encourage diversity of thought, ideas and opinions while respecting the peaceful, safe and respectful exercise of First Amendment rights.
• Students and faculty can discuss any problem, assemble or engage in spontaneous expressive activity on campus within First Amendment bounds and with reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.
• Outdoor spaces on campus are public and open to any invited speaker subject to reasonable time, place and manner details.
The new law also requires regents develop materials ensuring administrators — including presidents, vice presidents and deans — understand free speech policies and practices.
A fundamental test of any community, large or small, is whether that community prosecutes or weaponizes its own extremists. For much of the past decade, the Republican-controlled Board of Regents welcomed right-wing intrusions in public higher education, if not led the charge by doing dumbass things like rigging presidential searches and hiring middling senior executives instead of qualified academic administrators. Lately, however, the regents seem to have drawn a line in the sand over issues like qualifications and competence, and that’s a good thing. (Whether that will continue remains to be seen, but it’s a welcome change following the reign of crony terror that was led by former board president Bruce Rastetter.)
* One of the best lessons I learned over the past five-and-a-half years is how valuable beat reporters are, and particularly so if they persist in the same role over time. While there have been a number of reporters who covered Harreld’s administration at length, and I learned valuable information from all of them, the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller is the only local higher-ed beat reporter whose work spans Harreld’s tenure at UI. Precisely because of her journalistic focus and longevity she knows which questions to ask, and I probably learned half of everything I know about Harreld and the University of Iowa from her consistent and determined reporting — even if it also proved maddeningly objective and fair.
Case in point, last Wednesday Miller published the following report after pushing for additional information about a flurry of appointments at the end of Harreld’s administration: University of Iowa ‘transition’ cited in skipping searches to fill key jobs. For most readers that report probably seemed deep in the weeds, but Miller has made a point of tracking this aspect of public higher-ed for years in Iowa, and in so doing has repeatedly demonstrated that it is a critical metric. Specifically, the best that can be said about clusters of unilateral high-level appointments at the state schools, which do not involve competitive searches — and particularly national searches — is that they betray weakness. The worst that can be said is that they betray outright corruption.
In January documents outlining his request to waive the provost search and appoint Interim Provost Kevin Kregel permanently, Harreld acknowledged several other deans “may possess” qualifications sought in a new provost, “although perhaps not as clearly as does Professor Kregel.”
But, Harreld argued, “Pursuing an internal search to evaluate that question, as well as the extent of their desirable qualifications, would subject the university unnecessarily to further instability in two respects.”
First, he said, a search would take months amid a pandemic. “The process itself would pit sitting leaders against one another at the very time their collaboration is so urgently needed to advance the institution toward its goals,” he wrote.
Second, the strongest internal prospects “are sorely needed in their current roles to maintain stability in the colleges,” he argued. “They should be neither diverted nor distracted from their current roles.”
As a factual matter, Harreld’s failed leadership did leave the university in a weak administrative position after five-and-a-half years. That Harreld then used that weakness as the rationale not only for avoiding a national search for provost, but even an internal search, is a bitter irony. That the end result was another instance of a high-ranking white-male administrator at Iowa passing a position of authority to yet another white male may be a coincidence, but it is an unacceptable coincidence.
As noted in prior posts, if Kevin Kregel really does have the right stuff to be provost of the University of Iowa, then he should have been the first one to demand that he attain that office by passing the most rigorous tests — not by having it handed to him by a broken-down, compromised university president. Throw in a number of unilateral appointments that Kregel then also made without a search, up to the ongoing internal search for a new dean of the Graduate College — instead of an external search — and the last year of J. Bruce Harreld’s presidency looks more like an attempt to prevent the next president from building her own team than anything else. (What Harreld would get out of that I don’t know, but Provost Kregel has certainly consolidated power over the past six months.)
To see how seductive search waivers can be, particularly for weak leaders who hope to build loyalty through patronage, instead of demonstrating and demanding superior performance, consider this six-year-old report from Miller, back on 07/14/16 report — seven months into Harreld’s first year on the job: University of Iowa, Iowa State hired hundreds without searches.
The handful of former lawmakers whom the University of Iowa and Iowa State University recently brought on to their payrolls without conducting formal job searches are far from alone.
An investigation by The Gazette shows the institutions in the past two years hired a combined 319 faculty and staff members without advertising the positions or conducting searches, as outlined by their policies.
University of Northern Iowa, meanwhile, hired one person using a search waiver in the 2015 and 2016 budget years.
Penn State University, another Big Ten institution, can’t recall granting any waivers in the last year.
Analysts say UI and ISU are not unique nationally in their hiring practices, but they concede that skirting the advertising and search process poses transparency issues at a time when higher education costs and spending are increasingly under the microscope.
‘I would argue that any position is probably better served, if at all possible, to go through an affirmative-action, equal-opportunity process,’ said John Barnshaw, senior higher education researcher with the American Association of University Professors in Washington, D.C. ‘It’s better for the department. It’s better for the institution. It’s better for the individuals that are hired.’
Then there’s this — featuring four key names who would go on to push the $1B public-private utility partnership though, while all the while insisting that they didn’t have to explain any of the details to the Iowa State Auditor. (A seemingly perplexing assertion by employees of state government, who were recently disabused of that notion by the Iowa Supreme Court.)
Other names of executives hired without searches include UI vice presidents Peter Matthes, Rod Lehnertz, Terry Johnson and Mark Braun — Braun since has left to become the Board of Regents’ chief operating officer.
Those individuals were offered their jobs or publicly announced in their new positions on the same day the UI president requested a search waiver — and a day before the waiver document was signed, according to a review of the documents.
Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter in December responded to questions about Paulsen’s hire during an interview with Iowa Public Radio, saying, ‘There should have been advertising that went on at Iowa State.’
‘The universities need to be aware and advertise for those positions,’ Rastetter said. ‘Whether it’s relatives being hired or family members, I think there is an H.R. process set up at the universities that they need to follow.’
Still, UI in the 2015 and 2016 budget years hired 179 people without advertising or searching — about four percent of the total hires. ISU hired 140 people with search waivers — about eight percent of the hires.
At the University of Iowa, of course, 2015 was the year Rastetter himself led the corrupt presidential search process which culminated in the crony appointment of J. Bruce Harreld, and 2016 was Harreld’s first full year on the job. While Sally Mason was officially president until August 1st of 2015, after she announced her impending departure in mid-January she was essentially never heard from again. Fortuitously, in April of 2015 the regents transferred Mark Braun back to UI to serve as something called the vice president for operational efficiency and regulatory analysis. After apparently handling that new position with aplomb for all of four months, Braun was then transferred back to the board to become the new chief operating officer on August 5th — four days after Rastetter’s co-conspirator and presidential search committee chair Jean Robillard took over as interim Iowa president for the next three months. By the time Harreld finally took over in early November of 2015, various non-elected individuals had been calling the shots at UI for most of that year, at which point Harreld began handing out jobs in early 2016.
Enough. If former regent president Bruce Rastetter — who helped rigged the appointment of J. Bruce Harreld in 2015 — thought the universities were going too far six years ago, then they were going too far and a half. Incoming President Barbara Wilson should insist on searches for all positions, and should compel central administration and the provost’s office to build substantive candidate pools before making a decision. Find the best damn people instead of the person down the hall or across the cafeteria table. (The only recent sign that the granting of appointments by largesse may be letting up comes from the recently initiated search for a new dean of the College of Dentistry, which appears to be national instead of internal. In that UI press release the current interim dean is not explicitly excluded from being an applicant — as in prior high-level searches — but here’s hoping that’s the case.)
Additional reporting from Sarah Watson at the Daily Iowan: UI admin cite leadership transition, pandemic turmoil in forgoing searches.
05/06/21 — One week ago today, on Friday, April 30th, the Iowa Board of Regents followed through not only on its promise to allow the University of Iowa faculty to drive the recruitment and winnowing process during future presidential searches on that campus, but to listen to feedback from the UI community when making the final appointment. History will effectively judge Barbara Wilson’s appointment as Iowa’s 22nd president as inevitable because of her overwhelming qualifications and experience, but until that choice was announced the decision was anything but assured. It is one thing to make promises and another to keep them, and after the scandalous betrayal of the UI community during the 2015 presidential search, which culminated in the rigged appointment of illegitimate president J. Bruce Harreld, the Board of Regents not only refused to acknowledge that betrayal, until last Friday it failed to atone.
While the board did promise in 2018 that the next presidential search would be different, the living embodiment of that 2015 betrayal — J. Bruce Harreld, who continued to reap reputational and financial benefits from a position he helped steal for himself — was then offered a two-and-a-half year contract extension in the summer of 2019, by many of the same regents who just appointed Wilson to succeed him. Ironically, in fact, the only reason the current board had the opportunity to appoint Wilson — who had the strongest support on the UI campus, among those who responded to the search committee’s survey — was because J. Bruce Harreld quit on the board last fall, one month before his contract extension actually kicked in. At no point did the regents exercise their ethical obligation not only to redress the abuses of power that took place in 2015, but to hold Harreld accountable for his own false statements to the press, to the UI community, and to the people of Iowa.
Even now I do not expect the members of the Board of Regents, or the state employees in the board office, to learn any lasting lessons from Harreld’s tenure as the fraudulent president of UI. As a general proposition, however, when an applicant tells you they “have better things to do” than the job they are applying for, you should pass on that applicant so they can do whatever is more important to them. And if you screw up and hire that person anyway, and it comes time to offer them a contract extension, and once again they say they “ have other things to do“, then once again you should pass on the opportunity to retain that person, and let them do whatever it is they have to do. Because if you don’t do that, sooner or later that person — who never seems to be wholly invested in what you want them to do, and whose toxic ego needs perpetually compel you to motivate them to do what you are already paying them to do — is going to quit on you and go do whatever it is that they really wanted to do all along.
Belatedly, and of his own volition, in ten days — on Sunday, May 16th — J. Bruce Harreld will officially ride off into a sunset displayed on a big-screen TV at one of his multi-million dollar homes. At that point he can kick back as a private citizen, forget about the intrusive demands of the University of Iowa, and instead focus on what he wants to do — like paying someone to ghost-write the books he said he wanted to write before the board dropped to their knees and begged him to work for them for another two and a half years. Until that joyous departure date, however, Harreld continues to leave a debris field in his administrative wake, and last week was no different. In fact, while interested observers were on pins and needles about the outcome of the presidential search at Iowa, Harreld himself was reminding everyone why they can’t wait for him to leave, even as the regents were going through the bureaucratic motions of celebrating and memorializing his five-and-a-half-year tenure as president. (For the record, not only is it unlikely that Harreld will be on campus or in Iowa City on May 16th, or even in Iowa, but it is unlikely he is in Iowa right now.)
And then the next day the Iowa Supreme Court dropped a nuclear ruling on their collective heads — but we will get to that in due course….
We kick things off on the morning of Thursday, April 29th, the first of two days of regent interviews with the four finalists for the Iowa presidency, prior to the final vote on Friday afternoon. While the agenda for that meeting said nothing about a resolution being read into the record in support of Harreld’s illegitimate tenure at UI, or about Harreld himself beaming in from whatever secret location he was in at the time, both of those unanticipated events transpired before the board meeting moved into closed session. (You can see the reading of the board’s resolution at the 26:50 mark, and I would link you to the text except the board doesn’t seem to have posted the resolution on their website. Then again the board has a habit of losing documents it would rather forget, despite legal record-retention requirements.)
Fortunately, you can read the full text of the resolution at the bottom of this related report from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller, which we will also return to shortly. As such events go I’m sure the board’s laudatory remarks seemed appropriate if not impressive to people who are unfamiliar with the darker details of Harreld’s record, but here at Ditchwalk we are not limited by official statements. Setting aside the manifest and documented corruption of Harreld’s appointment in 2015, there was indeed more to the story for four of the five line items in the board’s resolution, which expressed “…deep gratitude to President Harreld for his expertise, dedication, and extraordinary service to the Board of Regents, the University of Iowa, its students and families, and all Iowans.”
WHEREAS, during his tenure, the University became one of the first to engage in a utility public-private partnership, or P3. This groundbreaking, $1.165 billion dollar, 50-year collaboration with ENGIE and Meridiam will help provide the University the resources it needs to support its core missions of teaching, research and scholarship;…
Not only is the jury still out on whether the P3 will ever be a success, even Harreld had to admit that a few bad early years would leave that massive loan underwater — meaning either taxpayers would have to cover those losses, or students would pay the freight through tuition hikes. Apart from exposing the state’s flagship university to market risk — effectively, gambling with state resources — it was also reported several months ago that the University of Iowa and Board of Regents had been fighting tooth and nail to prevent the Iowa State Auditor from learning the names of one or more secret Iowa investors who contributed tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars to that public-private partnership. And the of course there’s the fact that J. Bruce Harreld himself lied bout the nature of the UI P3 to the UI community for over a year (see ‘The Lease Lie’ here). All of which is to say it’s not only a bit early to be congratulating Bro Bruce on his success, but even if everything turns out all right, the record shows that Harreld was less than forthright about the deal. (Not to put too fine a point on it, but the UI P3 was also plagiarized from an earlier deal at Ohio State, including even using the same law firm.)
WHEREAS, while he was president, the University saw significant increases in research grants, including a record-breaking $666.2 million in total external funding during fiscal year 2020, while in 2019, the University landed its largest-ever external research award, $115 million from NASA;…
As you can see here and here, the University of Iowa did land a massive grant from NASA in 2019, which then occasioned a rare visit from both NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. What you probably won’t notice in the reporting about that ceremonial visit, however, is that J. Bruce Harreld was absent from that widely reported press event. From a subsequent tweet by Sarah Watson, reporting for the Daily Iowan:
Harreld was on the schedule to attend, but the UI’s VP of research said during the press conference that Harreld couldn’t attend because of some meetings with students, though he didn’t specify any further.
As noted in prior commentary I don’t know what kind of “meetings with students” would require missing out on a once-in-a-presidency visit from the head of NASA and one of the state’s sitting U.S. senators, but that’s some real dedication there from Bro Bruce — who apparently either didn’t see that conflict on his schedule, or was unable to reschedule with the students in question. (See the section titled ‘The $115M NASA TRACERS Grant’ here, for more on Harreld’s perplexing vanishing act.)
WHEREAS, his continuing advocacy for seeking new models of collaboration helped lead to the creation of the University of Iowa Center for Advancement, a merging of alumni and foundation efforts with the goals of growing and strengthening relationships with alumni, and increasing philanthropy;
The backstory here is one of ruthless administrative duplicity and brutality. After asking the 150-year-old UI Alumni Association and the UI Foundation to sit down and improve collaboration, Harreld tore up the resulting agreement, unilaterally killed off the UIAA, and transferred the $6M UIAA endowment to the UI Foundation, which then rebranded itself as the Center for Advancement. And if you think I’m mischaracterizing or overstating what happened, you can read press accounts here and here.
WHEREAS, numerous major capital projects on the University’s campus were either completed or begun during his tenure, including the Stead Family Children’s Hospital, College of Pharmacy Building, Catlett Residence Hall, Hancher Auditorium, and Stanley Museum of Art;…
As noted in a recent post, J. Bruce Harreld went legally berserk against a contractor who worked on the new children’s hospital, then followed up on the resulting unbroken string of losses in the courts by blowing another $4M to blackball that same contractor from working on the new College of Pharmacy. All in, Harreld wasted roughly $9M in precious university resources, and that’s only the money we know about. What Harreld did behind the scenes we will probably never know — though his recent last-minute attempt to ship $50M in cash to his bestest bro, Athletic Director Gary Barta, gives us some idea of the magnitude of the concern. (Fortunately, that bureaucratic scam failed, and the decision to bail out the athletics department with an in-house loan will now be made by — or at least attributed to — interim UI president John Keller, or new president Barbara Wilson.
Knowing what you now know about the board’s resolution, and how charitable it was toward Bro Bruce — not only characterizing disasters as accomplishments, but avoiding any number of genuine debacles in adhering to the academic code of silence — what do you think Harreld’s response was to the board? They gave him a hearty send-off despite the fact that he quit on them, they put as much shine as they could on Harreld legacy, and all he had to do was say thanks, it was grand, then wave a fond farewell to the students he had exploited by increasing tuition as often as possible.
In the video from Thursday’s meeting you can see Harreld’s response at the 30:20 mark, after regent President Mike Richards went the extra mile and led a standing smattering of an ovation for a quitter. For a full sixty seconds Harreld said all the right things while reading from prepared remarks or expanding on notes in front of him, including thanking the board and acknowledging the contributions of other administrators to the accomplishments the board had just listed off in their resolution. Having apparently exhausted his capacity for humility at one minute, however, Harreld then explained why he was walking away from $2.3M in deferred compensation, which no one at the meeting had asked about or referenced.
This sudden discursion included Harreld “politely” reminding some of the people in virtual attendance that he and his wife “always planned on giving the funds back to the university, specifically to assist the university in relocating our cultural houses to Hubbard Park.” Now, if you have no idea what Harreld was talking about you can be forgiven, because this apparent passion on his part has not been part of the public conversation about the university since — >>checks notes<< -- ever. While Harreld has talked about the cultural houses, as far as I know he never publicly talked about relocating the cultural houses to Hubbard park during his tenure. What is important to keep in mind in the context of his final meeting with the regents, then, is simply that given the opportunity, Bro Bruce tried to drop a grenade in their shorts, having to do with the $2.3M in deferred compensation that he was walking away from by resigning before his contract extension expired. As alluded above, the Gazette's Vanessa Miller reported on Harreld's surprise agenda item later that afternoon: University of Iowa President Harreld said he always wanted to donate his deferred comp to campus.
The Gazette has not previously reported Harreld discussing plans to donate the $2.3 million worth of deferred compensation to the university. Board and UI officials would not answer questions Thursday about when and where he had previously announced that.
The four cultural centers help create a “’home away from home’ atmosphere” and provide cultural education, leadership skills and organizational development, according to the UI. The four are the Afro-American Cultural Center, the Latino Native American Cultural Center, the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center and the Pride Alliance Center.
Having read pretty much everything that has ever been reported about Harreld since he was fraudulently appointed in 2015, I did remember that he had a run of interviews, early in his tenure, where he talked about the cultural houses on the UI campus. I also remembered, however, that at no point did Harreld ever talk about moving the cultural houses to Hubbard Park, let alone donating millions of dollars of his own money to help accomplish that goal.
Daily Iowan — 09/07/16:
And then also dealing with the housing on campus. [There are] some pretty sticky issues. We clearly don’t have enough, not on campus but also in the whole community, so that affects us all and affects prices. So collaborating with the faculty, collaborating with the staff, collaborating with the students and cultural houses, collaborating with the mayor and the city and trying to open this channels of communication up and building trust and trying to say “look we all share in this together.”
And not just fund them but give them more power and give them more staffing and skills. We have cultural houses. In my book, we have largely ignored the cultural houses for quite a while and over the summer we got focused on that and did some short-term improvements, but now we’re starting to develop a series of visions, if you will, of what a longer-term plan might look like. I spent two nights last week with two of the four cultural houses. I have two more to go and others to talk to, but it seems like there’s beginning to emerge some kind of consensus of what it might look like. That’s the real work, but that’s how we really make a difference.
I think having talked to a lot of people, walking on campus, seeing all the backlash against me and how I was hired and all of that, left me with a sense that the institution had a lot of things that were really lacking, and I think now that I’ve been here I actually think we don’t know how good we really are. I mean there are a lot of things here that are really, really, really good and whether that be space physics or a writing, or rhetoric program, or athletics, or even some of our cultural houses, even thought we haven’t taken care of them for a while, there heritage and their history and the importance of that.
DI: In past interviews with us, you’ve talked about the possibility of moving money from the Athletics Department to other areas on campus. Where is that conversation now?
Harreld: It’s continuing to evolve. The basic thought is that I think every pocket of the university should have its own philanthropic activities. We have Dance Marathon, for one. It’s going on its 23rd year, and gee — good Lord, the students have enough that they do in their lives, they certainly don’t have a lot of excess cash, and they certainly don’t need to spend all the time they do on Dance Marathon, but yet they do. I think it’s been wonderful for the students. One of the things you learn with philanthropy is sometimes, as you give, you get more than what you actually give out of it in terms of experience, and support, and friendship.
So it’s in the same context — I say we need to have that set of philosophy. That’s a core part of our culture. We need a continuant. So hey, athletics, what is yours? And what is it you should really support?
And I think part of that is fiscally, part of it’s with your time, and they are actually fully embracing that. They’ve had several discussions, and they already do, to a large extent, with our student recreation facility. They manage that, they run that, they staff that. So they’ve already stepped up to that. Do they want to do that more? What about endowing certain faculty chairs? People who really teach a lot of student-athletes and really support them. What about campus safety? What about some of the cultural houses?
Daily Iowan — 10/07/16:
CAPTION: In this file photo, UI students, staff and administrators gather at the Latino Native American Culture Center to hold a community conversation with President Harreld on October 6, 2016. Harreld and then-UI Student Government President Rachel Zuckerman held a series of discussions at the UI’s four cultural centers to touch on various issues members of cultural organizations and students belonging to minority and underrepresented groups face on campus.
Daily Iowan — 12/11/17:
We’ve worked with UISG on getting their thoughts on what would work with the existing cultural houses, or what the community thinking about the need for a cultural house, and I think they all endorse this idea of blocking that off to traffic, paving it with walking stone, making it a second Ped Mall, a mini Ped Mall, and I think everyone likes that idea a lot, and I think we’re in the process of trying to raise money, donations, clawing back anything we can find from the rest of the budget to make that happen. And I think think that’s a good idea, I really do, I think at the end of the day whatever we can do to make students feel more comfortable when they’re not in class and identify with groups that they want to hang out with. By the way, there’s nothing wrong, and I think we do have people that identify with a couple of these houses, we don’t have any rules that say that you need only to identify with one group. Most of us identify with multiple groups.
Daily Iowan — 01/24/18:
UI President Bruce Harreld said in a December 2017 interview with the DI that the administration and UISG have discussed further improvements that could be made with the cultural houses. The creation of a cultural corridor with restaurants and paved walkways are possibilities.
Harreld acknowledged that many people seeking to use the centers identify with numerous affinity groups and said there are no rules about who is allowed to enter the houses. However, he said, there is a possibility of the creation of a common house or kitchen for larger gatherings.
“I think at the end of the day, whatever we can do to make students feel more comfortable when they’re not in class and identify with groups that they want to hang out with,” Harreld said.
All students are welcome to come to the centers to get to know students of diverse backgrounds, Bare said, and he hopes to see that collaboration continue with the increased funding.
As you can see, Harreld’s interest in the cultural houses was strong early on, albeit perhaps as a result of racially charged protests at the University of Missouri in late 2015, after Harreld was illegitimately appointed but before he took office. Those protests eventually led to the termination of the MU president and chancellor just as Harreld was trying to find his legs as an unqualified academic administrator. Over the past few years, however, I don’t remember Harreld talking about the cultural centers at all, and I particularly do not remember him proposing any large-scale personal donations to move the cultural houses anywhere, let alone to Hubbard.
From Miller’s report:
In response to questions about whether the university has drafted plans to move its cultural centers to Hubbard Park — including how much that might cost, a timeline and what it would mean for the green space there — UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said the campus would need Board of Regents approval to proceed with planning.
“The university appreciates President Harreld making the cultural centers a priority during his tenure,” Beck said in a statement. “Like with all major campus projects, the university would need to coordinate with Center for Advancement to determine potential philanthropic support and with Campus Planning and Development.”
Leaders with the UI cultural centers didn’t answer questions Thursday about the prospect of relocating the houses.
A campus planning committee’s meeting notes from October — two weeks after Harreld announced his retirement — report that “a neighborhood of the cultural centers has been envisioned to create autonomy yet collaborative space in a more central location on the main campus.”
“The southwest segment of Hubbard Park has been identified as an optimal location,” according to the notes, which add, “Discussion included the appropriate space needs and the active sharing and celebrating of the history of this area of Iowa City, as well as the namesake of the park.” The park is named after Philip Hubbard, the first Black professor at the UI who went on to become the first Black vice president at a Big Ten institution.
So until Harreld was already headed out the door — meaning he knew his $2.3M in deferred compensation would be forfeit — this plan was not only not a priority, it wasn’t even a plan. So why did Bro Bruce drop this surprise on the board at his last meeting, before skulking out of town? (Assuming he was even in town at the time.) We can only guess at what goes on in that wily noggin, but it would be true to form for Harreld to try to put the Board of Regents in a bind, while at the same time trying to direct money he gave up to belatedly erect a monument to his failed presidency.
Speaking of which, what kind of polite person calls out others in a live public meeting — let alone while hiding behind his wife? Yes, maybe Harreld had private conversations with one or more regents or members of the board office, but I’m sure he shot his mouth off about all sorts of things that he wouldn’t want them talking about. More to the point, if Harreld really cared about the cultural houses at UI, all he had to do was announce that he would be donating his deferred compensation to that cause, then keep working for another two and a half years. Meaning clearly the cultural houses weren’t that important. What was important was using his last public appearance before the board to poke the regents in the eye, including daring them to say no to his plan.
As Miller noted in her report, and as was pointed out to me in an email, Hubbard Park — an open green space in the heart of campus — was named after the first African-American member of the UI College of Engineering faculty, who later became the first African-American UI Vice President, who still has children on staff at the university. Meaning one might think Harreld would have had a conversation with them about blowing up Hubbard Park, which is enjoyed by and serves the entire campus, instead of just assuming that those relatives would support his plan by default.
Finally, the only ‘donation’ that springs to mind with Harreld’s name attached involves the 50% haircut he took last year as the pandemic was settling in, which the Gazette’s Miller reported as follows: Sweeping UI budget cuts affect Hancher, thousands of employees and Harreld’s pay.
Facing mounting COVID-19 losses, the University of Iowa on Friday announced sweeping budget cuts that – among other things – temporarily lay off 112 housing and dining workers, freeze pay for about 4,200 other employees, leave 32 positions unfilled and cut President Bruce Harreld’s salary in half for the rest of the year.
Pending the board approval, Harreld’s pay cut will result in one-time savings of $270,416 to be directed to a ‘student emergency fund” meant to help those experiencing unforeseen circumstances, like COVID-19, that negatively and severely impact their academic progress.
Given that Iowa State’s Wendy Wintersteen and Northern Iowa’s Mark Nook only took 10% cuts, however, I always viewed Harreld’s pay cut as punitive on the board’s part, for whatever reason. (In which case it also doesn’t qualify as a donation.)
So that was Thursday of last week….
On Friday, as the second day of regent interviews was getting underway with the presidential finalists, in anticipation of an appointment that afternoon, a ruling was released by the Iowa Supreme Court which proved richly ironic given Harreld’s congratulatory resolution the day before. (I don’t know who held that ruling until the day after Harreld’s final appearance before the board — to save both him and the board any embarrassment — but you will never convince me it wasn’t a factor in the timing of its release.) From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Iowa Supreme Court: University of Iowa must disclose investors in P3 utilities partnership.
All seven Iowa Supreme Court justices have agreed the University of Iowa and Board of Regents must hand over extensive financial details and documents about their $1.165 billion public-private partnership with a Paris-based collaborative to operate the UI utilities system for the next 50 years.
Specifically, the board must disclose the names of investors — including the 21.5 percent of Iowa investors it reported chipped in financing to make the deal happen, according to a Supreme Court opinion released Friday.
The revelation that Iowa investors were not only involved in the deal, but that their identities would not be disclosed by the university or by the board, caused quite a stir when details of the public-private partnership were revealed in December of 2019 (see p. 6). While the ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court does compel disclosure of the names of the investors to the Iowa State Auditor, the court went much farther in rejecting the feeble excuses of the university and the board, issuing a radioactive ruling which grants Auditor Rob Sand comprehensive access to information about the P3 that no one outside that deal has ever seen. (Despite the fact that the University of Iowa and Board of Regents are part of state government, Miller’s report makes clear that the entire $1B public-private partnership will finally be subject to state scrutiny for the first time, even though the deal was consummated over a year ago, in early March of 2020.)
While the identity of the secret Iowa investors is obviously of interest, one of the most important questions the state auditor can answer is why there were secret Iowa investors at all. Having thought about the deal for over a year I see two possible reasons for third-party involvement, and both are concerning. First, it’s possible that when the university’s private-sector partners — a French consortium of ENGIE and Meridiam — valued the deal, they were only willing to put in, say, $800M of their own money. At the same time, the university may have needed $1B to make their investment scheme plausible, so that would necessitate finding another $200M.
From the Gazette’s Miller on 03/06/19: University of Iowa has received ‘a lot of interest’ from outside companies for private-public utilities partnership.
Opining on what the UI could expect from an initial lump sum, Johnson projected $350 million on the low end and $1 billion on the high end.
‘It’s going to be probably somewhere in the middle,” he said. ‘Ohio State was over $1 billion, and we are roughly half their size. So is it $500 million?
‘Whatever the upfront value is, it has to be significant enough for us to want to take the plunge.”
Alternatively, while ENGIE and Meridiam may have been willing to fund the entire $1.17B loan, someone at the university or at the board may have insisted on including the secret Iowa investors, thus granting those investors fifty years of annual returns guaranteed by Iowa’s taxpayers. (Whatever else happens, the state of Iowa is not going to default on that deal.) As to why the university and board went to such extremes to keep the financial details under wraps — including grasping at flimsy rationales, while openly defying the state auditor — a blatant conflict of interest would be a pretty good reason.
Later in the day on Friday, after Barbara Wilson was appointed by the board, Associated Press reporter Ryan Foley published his write-up of the court’s UI P3 ruling, including this nugget at the end:
The school recently shifted its rationale for shielding the identity of the investors after The Associated Press renewed its open records request for them.
“The university was not involved in choosing, nor does it know, which of the potential lenders ended up engaging with ENGIE-Meridiam to complete the financial transaction,” university spokeswoman Ann Goff said in February.
While that statement sounds categorical, there are multiple red flags including the fact that you don’t shift your rationale if you were telling the truth. Another red flag is that this official statement comes from someone named Ann Goff, who has no consistent history of issuing public statements for the university or the board. At the University of Iowa the two individuals who speak for the university on any substantive issue are Anne Bassett and Jeneane Beck, and that has been true for years. And of course at the Board of Regents the spokesperson is Josh Lehman, who has also held that position for years.
So on an issue of this magnitude — even before last week’s crushing ruling by the Supreme Court — why were Bassett, Beck and Lehman all off hiding somewhere back in February, while Ann Goff was talking to the press? From Goff’s staff page on the Board of Regents website:
Director of Legislative Operations and Project Management
Ann Goff holds a dual appointment as Transparency Officer of the University of Iowa and as the Director of Legislative Operations and Project Management for the Board Office. Ann has led the development of web-based applications for the Board Office and the Regent institutions and has served as the University of Iowa’s on campus liaison for state relations in charge of responding to requests for information and legislative bill reviews since 2002. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Iowa.
As alluded to in Foley’s reporting, Transparency Officer Goff handles requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but importantly she has no legal training (p. 9). In fact, following a review of the Office of the Vice President for External Relations, where the Office of Transparency (OOT) was housed at the time, the UI Faculty Senate recommended moving the OOT to ensure robust legal oversight:
The OOT staff believe that they operate in a self-sufficient manner, are trusted by the OVPER, and feel a certain amount of pressure to maintain that trust. They have consistently received excellent performance evaluations. Acknowledging the stellar performance of the OOT, the Committee did express two concerns regarding this office. First, the office is staffed by two very capable individuals performing a legally-mandated operation that do not have any apparent back-ups. There is a need to either expand the staff of this office or, in the least, cross-train other individuals capable of performing these tasks if either of these individuals were unable to work or chose to leave the University. Secondly, FOIA and public records requests involve legal decisions with respect to the entire record and/or the content that may be redacted within a record, yet neither Ms. Goff nor Ms. Johnson has legal credentials. Working closely with the Office of the General Counsel is not equivalent to working within the Office of the General Counsel. The lack of direct legal supervision of this operation may pose a risk to the University. Consistent with other peer institutions, we recommend that the OOT be moved from the OVPER to the Office of the General Counsel.
As of today, however, the Office of Transparency is still housed in the Office of the VP for External Relations, which incidentally has a history of conflicts of interest. While Goff herself has no regular role in speaking for the university or the board, in the past her role as transparency officer has put her in a difficult position — particularly when everyone else suddenly develops laryngitis.
As for Goff’s very precise statement to the AP — which reads like it was heavily lawyered — the third ref flag concerns the fact that the statement doesn’t address whether the Board of Regents knows who the secret Iowa investors are, even though Goff has a dual appointment to UI and the board. And if the board does know, why was that information not provided to the AP by Transparency Officer Goff?
“The university was not involved in choosing, nor does it know, which of the potential lenders ended up engaging with ENGIE-Meridiam to complete the financial transaction,” university spokeswoman Ann Goff said in February.
As to how Transparency Officer Goff came to know that no one at the University of Iowa knew who the secret Iowa investors were back in February, that it also unclear. In fact, it’s not even clear who Goff is equating to “the university” in that statement. Does she mean no one at the university was involved or knows, or only those specific individuals who represented the university during consummation of that deal? If the former, that’s a pretty categorical statement on a campus with 14,000 employees and 31,000 students. If the latter, that would mean J. Bruce Harreld, CFO/Treasurer Terry Johnson, and SVP for Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz, among others — but how can a board staffer-slash-UI transparency officer assert what any of those people does or does not know about the UI P3?
Point being that the statement from Goff reads more like a legal denial than a statement of fact — and again Goff isn’t lawyer. So along with wondering why Beck or Bassett or Lehman didn’t provide that answer, we can add questions about whether that response was crafted by the UI Office of Legal Counsel, by the staff counsel at the Board of Regents, or by someone in the Office of External Relations.
And to that point, if we take yet another look at non-lawyer Goff’s statement to the AP in February, we see a fourth red flag because the entire sentence is a very greasy non-denial denial [emphasis mine]:
“The university was NOT INVOLVED IN CHOOSING, NOR DOES IT KNOW, WHICH OF THE POTENTIAL LENDERS ended up engaging with ENGIE-Meridiam to complete the financial transaction,” university spokeswoman Ann Goff said in February.”
This means J. Bruce Harreld, Terry Johnson and/or Rod Lehnertz, or anyone else at the university or the board, could have sent Iowa investors to ENGIE and Meridiam — indeed could have intimated or even outright demanded that those Iowa investors be included in the UI P3 — but because they didn’t participate in choosing those lenders who “ended up engaging with ENGIE-Meridiam”, Goff’s statement would still be true. Of course that would also be a wilful attempt to mislead the press and the public, but I guess that’s what transparency officers do at the University of Iowa. In any event, when the Iowa State Auditor’s report is released, here’s hoping Ann Goff isn’t on the wrong side of the story that others at the University of Iowa clearly ordered her to pass along, but didn’t want to own themselves.
Then again, after shoving Ann Goff out the door in February — back when the university and board still had some desperate hope that the Iowa Supreme Court would lock away their UI P3 secrets for all eternity — maybe it’s time for one of her superiors to issue a superseding statement or clarifying remarks, which absolve her of any responsibility. Because one thing we have a surplus of right now is senior executives at the University of Iowa who were party to the UI P3, who are all staring at the ceiling and whistling off-key. And one of those conspicuously mute senior execs is set to skip town in ten days.
05/02/21 — It is not hyperbole to say that Friday’s appointment of Barbara Wilson as the 22nd president of the University of Iowa, by the Iowa Board of Regents, is a categorical repudiation of the board’s rigged 2015 appointment of illegitimate, lame-duck president J. Bruce Harreld.
Whereas Harreld spent most of his professional life as a senior corporate executive (resume), and was said to possess a “great skill set, experience, and passion for excellence through strategic change” (p. 18), Wilson has dedicated her entire career — over forty years and counting — to actually solving problems in, and advancing the cause of, higher education (CV).
Whereas Harreld has a bachelor’s in Engineering from Purdue and an MBA from the Harvard Business School — both number-crunching degrees focused on optimizing systems and processes — Wilson has a B.A. in journalism and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Communication Arts from Wisconsin-Madison. (Perhaps not surprisingly, Harreld’s relationship with the local, state and national press was problematic from day one, and his inability to sit for interviews outside those conducted by the campus paper, or even to speak to reporters on a specific issue, became pathological after less than a year in office.)
Whereas Harreld was presented to the UI community as a master strategist and guru of organizational change — who, incidentally, had zero experience in academic administration or in the public sector, and had never been the CEO of anything — Wilson is a master communicator who has held virtually every position in public higher-ed administration. (It is also not hyperbole to say that after working for five years as the number-two executive in the massive University of Illinois System, taking over as president of the University of Iowa will be a step up in terms of the title, but an administrative step down in terms of managerial complexity of the role.)
Whereas Harreld was appointed using a rigged search process — which was willfully corrupted to that end by a small cabal of co-conspirators including: the then-board president; a high-ranking UI administrator who also served as the co-chair of the search committee and as interim president; and a big-money UI donor and alum who also happened to be Harreld’s mentor and pal from the business world — the 2021 search which concluded with Wilson’s appointment was a textbook example of how open academic searches should be conducted. (In 2018 the Board of Regents agreed to a new set of best practices for presidential searches at UI, albeit primarily to extricate the university from a damning and damaging sanction which was imposed following an on-site investigation by the American Association of University Professors. True to its badly sullied word, in late 2020, when Harreld announced his intent to retire following the appointment of his successor, the Board of Regents implemented the new search guidelines as agreed.)
Whereas Harreld was appointed because the Board of Regents marginalized and invalidated the UI faculty during the 2015 search — including seating a one-third faculty minority on the search committee, after originally proposing even fewer faculty seats (p. 5) — in 2020 the board followed the new, agreed-upon best practices and the committee was appointed with a faculty majority. (Because the external and internal betrayal of the UI community that took place in 2015 followed the relatively quiet and successful eight-year tenure of Sally Mason, it is easy to forget that her appointment in 2007 was actually the result of a second search, after the first search imploded in 2006 due to heavy-handed interference by yet another board president. The hopeful and hopelessly naive comments in this article from January of 2015, shortly after Mason announced her impending August retirement, set the stage for the ruthless bureaucratic abuses of power to come.)
Whereas Harreld was appointed by the Board of Regents despite being the least-qualified finalist, in 2021 the regents appointed the most-qualified finalist as president of the University of Iowa. (It is a testament to the magnitude of the corruption that took place in 2015 that appointing the most-qualified candidate to preside over the state’s flagship university warrants specific mention.)
Without reservations, the currently constituted Board of Regents, including the board office, and the recently disbanded UI Presidential Search Committee, are to be commended for attracting an extensive pool of candidates (79), and for nominating, interviewing and vetting four qualified finalists. Not only is there no indication that anything improper took place, but by appointing the most-qualified candidate the other candidates must now feel that they were treated fairly and not callously used as props, as three eminently qualified academic administrators were in 2015, when the board reached past them to appoint J. Bruce Harreld. I would also like to specifically commend Hari Osofsky and Wendy Hensel for acquitting themselves well as candidates — despite being up against both a veteran administrator in Barbara Wilson, and an internal candidate in UI College of Education Dean Dan Clay — and either of them would have been an excellent Iowa president. (Hensel’s response on the question of free speech in higher education was as good as I have seen anywhere, and I would link you to it for future reference but the board and university have already wiped their websites clean of any candidate information.)
Given the across-the-board reversal that Wilson’s appointment represents after five-and-a-half years of J. Bruce Harreld, it is tempting to say the board is implicitly acknowledging that it made a mistake in hiring Harreld in 2015. In reality, the board happily gave Harreld a two-and-a-half year contract extension less than two years ago, in the summer of 2019, with a year and a half yet to go on his original five-year contract. Even if the board placed a high priority on administrative continuity, it was clear by that time that chaos was always in the wings because of Harreld’s temperamental administrative proclivities, yet they resigned him anyway.
(In a relatively short amount of time Harreld hosed roughly $9M down the drain on a deranged vendetta against a former UI contractor, including wasting $4M in one go simply to blackball that contractor from other projects — while at the same time insisting, with a straight face, that the university needed more tuition revenue and state appropriations. Instead of terminating Harreld for cause, or simply refusing to re-sign him after his five-year deal expired — as the board infamously did with former UNI president William Ruud in 2016, without explanation, at the end of his initial three-year deal — the regents gave Harreld another two and a half years and added another $1M in deferred compensation, bringing the total to $2.3M. Only because Harreld himself decided to quit on the university before the end of his contract extension will that deferred comp now be forfeited back to the board.)
As for Barbara Wilson specifically — where to begin? Because Harreld was an oblivious and overwhelmed crony tool when he was hired, and thus vulnerable to the sharks on campus and beholden to the small cabal of co-conspirators who rigged his hire, he was unable to take the reins in any authoritative way. Conversely, there is no one in higher education in the state of Iowa — whether at the Board of Regents or at one of the three state universities — who has more experience than Wilson does. While it will take time for Wilson to become familiar with the University of Iowa, there is no one who is going to dupe her for any meaningful length of time, and anyone who tries to do so in the short term is going to pay a price over the long haul. With an initial five-year deal of her own, the board is signaling that Wilson isn’t going anywhere, perhaps for a long while, so anyone on the UI campus who has been taking advantage of the leadership vacuum under Harreld should probably think about looking elsewhere for work.
The fact that Wilson is a life-long educator and has been an academic administrator for decades not only means she knows the higher-ed profession inside and out, she almost certainly knows a generation of high-level administrators across the country. Her presence in the president’s office immediately legitimizes the University of Iowa in a way that Harreld never could, and never would even if he remained in office for a hundred years. Wilson’s record shows she can lead during times of academic, fiscal and cultural strife, and that she is not looking to trade away institutional credibility and integrity — let alone her own — for a temporary fix. To the extent that Wilson must necessarily be a political and administrative shark in her own right, she seems to have made a habit of biting the right (or wrong) people.
Underscoring the immediate impact of Wilson’s impending arrival, only moments after her appointment was announced the Hawkeye sporting press was atwitter that she fired an athletic director at the University of Illinois. In the collegiate sporting world is it assumed, not without justification, that AD’s outrank presidents and chancellors on most college and university campuses, so Wilson’s actions were notable in that regard alone. In the context of Iowa’s AD, however, who routinely avoids any punishment for his own misdeeds, or for failings in programs under his supervision, Wilson’s history of holding people accountable suddenly looms large. (J. Bruce Harreld’s only response to UI AD Gary Barta, no matter what transpired in the athletics department, was to cling to Barta as tightly as possible, and to give him a pay raise and contract extension every four years to keep him happy.)
Beyond her academic experience and professional credentials, the University of Iowa is also fortunate not only that Wilson hails from neighboring Illinois, but that as a student at Wisconsin-Madison, and as a long-time educator and administrator in the Illinois System, she is well-versed in the history, traditions and scandalous failings of the Big Ten. (The list of American college sports programs which have been home to serial sexual predators — who were often known but protected for decades — includes multiple Big Ten schools.) Being only hours away from her current home by car, that means Wilson can make the move to Iowa City in stages if she wants, rather than having to blow everything up at once. (Where J. Bruce Harreld never seemed to be a part of the community, and may never have even established permanent residence in the state, I don’t think Wilson will follow suit even though she certainly has a rich community of friends in Illinois. Unlike Harreld, who seemed to view leadership as a chess-like abstraction, I think Wilson understands that she can’t lead UI without becoming part of the UI community which ripples out through Iowa City, into greater Johnson County, and across the rest of the state.
The UI campus is also fortunate that Wilson is prepared to take the helm in only two and a half months — meaning two months after J. Bruce Harreld steps down in mid-May. Harreld himself only took two months for his transition to campus, but as just noted he didn’t actually move to Iowa so much as check in at the presidential residence from time to time. It is also fortuitous that the UI community will count those six weeks down during the summer months, when the campus is quiet, and that Wilson will have a month or more to familiarize herself with her staff and duties before the first football game in August.
As a final nod to good luck or divine providence, it is not very often that an administrator of Wilson’s caliber is available on the higher-ed job market, and at the level of R1/AAU public research institutions — let alone those with major medical facilities — the world of higher education is exceedingly small. Smaller still are the number of such highly qualified administrators who want to live in the barren upper-Midwest, devoid of mountains, oceans and casual intellectual prestige. From sweltering summers to sub-zero winters, you have to want to be here, and we are fortunate that Barbara Wilson comes from hardy stock.
Welcome to Iowa, President Wilson. Go Hawks!
04/30/21 — Update 3: Obviously lots of thoughts about the appointment of Barbara Wilson as the next president of the University of Iowa, but will wait for reporting to play out before weighing in at any length. The following stories will probably be updated throughout the day or even over the weekend, and new links will be added as warranted by additional reports.
* Vanessa Miller at the Gazette: University of Iowa names Barbara Wilson new president.
* Rachel Schilke and Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan: Barbara Wilson named next University of Iowa president.
* Ryan Foley at the AP: U. of Illinois official to be next U. of Iowa president.
* Cleo Krejci at the Iowa City Press-Citizen: Barbara Wilson, longtime administrator at Illinois, is new University of Iowa president.
* Hillary Ojeda at the Press-Citizen: Barbara Wilson’s appointment as UI president gets favorable reaction on campus and beyond.
* Mike Hlas at the Gazette: U. of Iowa president-to-be Barbara Wilson fired an athletic director at Illinois.
Let the record also show that it was a beautiful spring day today in Iowa City.
Update 2: The Iowa Board of Regents has appointed Barbara Wilson as the next president of the University of Iowa. This is an unassailable choice, and the first sign of hope for the University of Iowa in five and a half years.
Update 1: While we await the appointment of the next president of the University of Iowa by the Iowa Board of Regents, a reminder that although the regents will almost certainly announce that the choice was unanimous, that is a bureaucratic convention. It may well be that there was sharp disagreement about who should be appointed, but at the Board of Regents all you have to do to unanimously appoint a university president is secure five of the nine member votes. At that point the other four votes are magically transformed into unconditional support for the appointment, which is super-great if you just perpetrated a scam but don’t want to prompt a lot of nosy questions, or give yourself and your accomplices away. (As a practical matter there is almost never any disagreement on any issue before the Board of Regents, even by a single member of the board. All board meetings are truly regent theater.)
We saw this compulsory dynamic play out in all its disreputable glory during the rigged 2015 search at the University of Iowa, when five regents met in secret with J. Bruce Harreld. Those five regents — who all subsequently testified under oath that they did not conspire to keep those meetings secret — then independently neglected to tell the other four regents about those secret meetings throughout the remainder of the search process, including during the final candidate interviews when all nine members of the board were in the same place at the same time, and then for weeks after Harreld had been appointed. The duped regents — who were clearly baffled about why the other members of the board insisted on appointing a carpetbagging dilettante from the private sector, who was vehemently opposed by the very campus he would lead — only ever learned about the betrayal of their peers from reporting about those secret meetings by the press. (Thankfully, and uncharacteristically, one of the deceived regents spoke out, so we have all of this in the public record.)
* So today is the day.
Following a relatively quick and orderly search process, which was precipitated seven months ago by the October 1st announcement that illegitimate University of Iowa president J. Bruce Harreld would step down after his successor was named, today that portentous appointment will finally be made. (Harreld will officially depart on May 16th — a Sunday — after which current search co-chair and future special assistant to the provost John Keller will take over as interim president.) With the final two quasi-ceremonial candidate interviews set to take place today at the Iowa Board of Regents, followed by an entirely ceremonial internal discussion among the nine members — a solid majority of whom are simply waiting for regent President Mike Richards to tell them how to vote, if he hasn’t done so already — the name of the next Iowa president will be announced around 4 p.m. CST.
As to who the board will choose, last fall I would have put my money on UI College of Education Dean Dan Clay, who is indeed one of the four finalists. Today, however, I believe the dynamics that will determine the outcome are different than the regents anticipated when they launched the search in early November. Back then, after patting the committee members on the head and sending them out to recruit candidates, I think the people who will actually make the decision also expected to name Dan Clay as the next Iowa president.
Even if we stipulate that the search committee was not compromised, however, and that Clay’s nomination as one of four finalists was earned on the merits of his candidacy — unlike Harreld in 2015 — it should not have been possible to predict last fall that Clay would not only be one of the finalists, but that his candidacy would be revealed last, as it was, and as Harreld’s was before him. On that basis alone I take it as a given that Dan Clay’s appointment was assumed even before the search committee was constituted, and that the entire search process was simply another — and admittedly better — bureaucratic effort to launder the appointment of a crony white male as the next UI president. This time, however, the board’s done-deal candidate would be an academic administrator, thus blunting the most damning indictment of Harreld’s appointment, which is that he was not qualified for the job.
As the board’s Crony 2.0 plan, the appointment of Dan Clay had everything going for it. As a long-time dean at several large universities he is certainly well-versed in academic administration, even if he does lack experience at the campus level. And of course as an internal candidate Clay already knows the University of Iowa, and could plausibly assert that he would ‘hit the ground running’, thus omitting the inevitable transitional lull with any external candidate. Indeed, on paper it had to look foolproof, but I would bet real money that’s because the people who are focused on perpetuating their own crony power across the regents enterprise failed to anticipate the exact situation the board finds itself in today.
To see the board’s problem, imagine that we stripped any identifying information from the CV’s of the four finalists, then asked members of the UI community to rank the candidates from most qualified to least qualified. However you would rank the candidates yourself, there is no scenario in which Dan Clay would be deemed the most-qualified candidate. Qualified, yes — most qualified no. Indeed, no one in higher education would say that among the finalists Clay is most-qualified to become president, even at the school where he is currently employed.
With the understanding that the Board of Regents is under no statutory obligation to tell the truth, do the right thing, or hire the most-qualified person, the board will still be obligated to put forward a plausible rationale for whichever candidate they appoint, and if that turns out to be Dan Clay they cannot say he was the most qualified. (Okay they could, but everyone would know they were lying.) To justify the appointment of Clay over candidates who are objectively more qualified — again, however you might personally rank the four finalists — the board will not only have to offer up another justification, but one which plausibly compensates the UI community for hiring someone with lesser credentials. And it is at this juncture that the previous presidential searches at the board’s two R1/AAU universities — Iowa State University in 2017, and the UI debacle in 2015 — prove instructive.
The 2017 ISU search was close. The first of four candidates to be revealed was objectively unqualified, and was nominated simply to increase the slate. The second candidate was qualified but minimally so. The third candidate was not only a highly qualified external candidate on paper, but impressive in their candidate forum. The fourth candidate — surprise — was then revealed to be an internal candidate with a long history of service at Iowa State, who was qualified but a half-step behind the third candidate.
Even if everything you know about the Iowa Board of Regents is only what you have read in this blog update, you will probably not be surprised to learn that the board appointed the internal candidate, Wendy Wintersteen, over the highly qualified external candidate. And of course in doing so the board referenced the importance of her internal status as implicit compensation for passing on the third candidate:
Regents President Michael Richards said the board considered Wintersteen’s deep ties with Iowa State a plus.
“She knows the institution, and she’s a part of Iowa State,” Richards said.
During the corrupt 2015 search at Iowa there were also four finalists nominated to the board, but all of them were external. As for qualifications, three of the candidates were qualified in some order, while the fourth was so spectacularly unqualified that the creeps who rigged his appointment spent the preceding eight months spinning a fantasy about how a private-sector executive could do a better job running a massive R1/AAU public research university than people who spent their entire professional careers training for such an opportunity. As infamously documented in a tragi-comic graph, the fourth external candidate at UI was so unqualified as to be a danger to the school — and yet the Board of Regents appointed that fourth candidate anyway, using their prepared justification:
It was, in part, Harreld’s experience in organizational turnarounds that led the regents to offer him the job. “What we ended up with is someone who has spent his life providing leadership in organizations that he has been a part of, in terms of collaboration, in terms of team building, in terms of reaching out to disparate groups and involving them and developing a strategic plan on how you can get better,” Bruce Rastetter, president of the Board of Regents, said during a press conference Thursday. “The board saw in that leadership skills which was exhibited after being in the private sector.”
So in 2015 the Board of Regents believed J. Bruce Harreld was the exact right person to lead the University of Iowa, not only because he was external to the university but to the entire profession of academic administration. Then two years later, in 2017, Wendy Wintersteen was the exact right person to lead Iowa State because she was not only a long-time academic administrator, but internal to UI’s sister university. Meaning both of those mutually exclusive rationales were deployed not because they had any inherent validity, but simply to justify the board’s decision to hire the crony candidate they wanted to hire, irrespective of the relative qualifications of those crony candidates.
In 2015 and 2017 the board knew which candidates it wanted to hire — probably before the searches began — then fit a justification to the circumstances of the specific candidates. That’s almost certainly what the board also anticipated with Dan Clay this year, following the internal-candidate template from ISU, but as alluded above they hit a snag. And that snag has to do with an important factor that has so far been omitted in discussing the 2015 and 2017 presidential searches.
In narrowly focusing the 2015 search at UI, the 2017 search at ISU, and even the current search on the question of qualifications, we omitted the gender of the candidates in those searches. As it turns out, however, the gender of the candidates in each of the two earlier searches was critical to the board’s ability to rig a justification for the crony choice they made — and in the current search, almost certainly wanted to make when the search commenced. For example, in the corrupt 2015 Iowa search, all four of the finalists were men, meaning there was no possibility that claims of gender discrimination could be leveled at the board when they appointed an unqualified man over three eminently qualified men. Whatever drove that reckless decision, by definition sexism and gender discrimination was not a factor.
Likewise, for the 2017 search at Iowa State, gender discrimination was off the table not because all of the finalist were women — two were not — but because the two most-qualified candidates were women. In choosing the internal woman over an external woman, there was again no potential for gender discrimination to be invoked because the candidate who was appointed — even though she was not the most-qualified on paper — was a woman. (Wendy Wintersteen is in fact the first female president in ISU’s 159-year history.)
Now consider the current UI search in the context of gender — which I don’t believe the Board of Regents thought a lot about when they launched the search last fall. Not only is Dan Clay the only internal finalist for the Iowa presidency, he is also the only male finalist. Meaning if the regents follow through on any plan to appoint Clay as the next crony president at Iowa — in the grand tradition of both Wintersteen and Harreld — this time they’re going to have to openly acknowledge that the board is not only manipulative but sexist. Because again, no matter how you rank the four current finalists for the UI presidency, Dan Clay is not at the top of the list, and that’s being charitable. (Even setting aside the gender-and-age-discrimination lawsuit that is pending against UI and the board, based on Clay’s alleged mistreatment of a long-time female employee, choosing Clay would look horrendous.)
And yes, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking the board can dodge any charges of sexism or misogyny or gender discrimination by pointing to Wendy Wintersteen’s appointment at ISU in 2017, or even Sally Mason’s appointment at Iowa in 2007. And of course you’re right — in attempting to deny that gender played any role in appointing Dan Clay over one or more women with superior qualifications, that is almost certainly what the board would do. And for some people that might even seem like a plausible defense.
But here’s the thing. If the Iowa Board of Regents chooses Dan Clay today, over the three external female candidates, it will be objectively true that the board did not choose the most qualified candidate for the job. The board can say and do whatever it wants to try to wriggle off that self-inflicted barb, but the facts will be incontrovertible. When given the chance to hire the most qualified individual, the regents decided to hire a less-qualified candidate, premised on whatever justification the board deems most advantageous at the time.
Again, it might be a sign of crony corruption, but there are no laws against hiring a lesser-qualified candidate if the gender of the individuals competing for that position are aligned. In the case of the 2015 UI search, three good academic administrators got screwed, but because all four of the finalists were men those are just the breaks in full-contact academic administration. And of course in the case of the 2017 ISU search, the fact that Wintersteen was a woman, competing against a woman, meant it was impossible for the board to commit gender discrimination with her appointment.
Where charges of sexism and gender discrimination have merit, however, is in situations like the one the board faces today. Regardless of the purported justification, if the board chooses a lesser-qualified man over one or more women with superior qualifications, there will be valid questions about whether gender played a part in that decision. And I honestly don’t think anything the board could say or do would change the opinion of the vast majority of the UI community, if not the greater higher-ed industry, that Dan Clay was appointed over one or more superior female candidates at least in part because he is a man.
Adding gender discrimination to the abuses of power perpetrated by the regents in recent years would not only accelerate the institutional decline that Harreld’s appointment precipitated in 2015, it would cause women to discount UI as a potential employer, and women who have been long-time supporters of the school would reconsider that loyalty. And if the board does try to blunt any backlash by saying Clay was simply a better fit, or that his internal status was the deciding factor, or that they liked the cut of his entrepreneurial job, all of those justifications might fly in a like-gendered search, but in the current context they will sound like what they have sounded like throughout human history — male excuses for imposing conformity, inequity and exclusion.
Beyond the candidates themselves, here is the choice the Board of Regents faces today. If the board appoints the most qualified person for the position, it will announce to the world that the University of Iowa — a major R1/AAU public research university — is once again committed to hiring the best and the brightest, regardless of identity. Conversely, if the board chooses the only man, it will publicly reaffirm its malevolent declaration in 2015, that the University of Iowa is now a crony institution dedicated to the perpetuation of male mediocrity.
As if that isn’t bad enough, Clay’s appointment would also make clear that once again — as was the case with the 2015 search — the Board of Regents suckered three outstanding academic administrators into applying for the Iowa presidency in good faith, only to use them as props to legitimize the appointment of the board’s crony pick. Only this time that won’t be the fault of former regent president Bruce Rastetter. Instead, current board president Mike Richards will own Dan Clay, and all the effort Richards has put into rebuilding the administrative integrity of the University of Iowa and the Board of Regents over the past four years will not only have been for naught, it will go down in history as just another regent charade.
04/29/21 — Today and tomorrow the Iowa Board of Regents will interview the four candidates for president of the University of Iowa, two on each day. As its final act, the search committee will also deliver its recommendation and rationale to the board, along with feedback from the search website. (More on the pubic release of that feedback here, from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller.)
As for the actual interviews, I don’t see any way a candidate can talk themselves into the job, and it is unlikely a candidate will talk themselves out of the job, so in most respects this is more regent theater. That said — and assuming the result isn’t a done deal — impressions do matter, so if the regents are split between two candidates, the person who connects better will have the edge. And by ‘the regents’ I mean President Mike Richards, who controls a majority of the votes on the nine-member board. (And as far as that goes, Richards won’t appoint anyone that the governor doesn’t like.)
Other links of interest….
* Sabine Martin and Kelsey Harrell at the Daily Iowan: Finalist Wendy Hensel brings record of diversity, equity, and inclusion work from time as Georgia State University provost.
* Rylee Wilson and Katie Ann McCarver at the Daily Iowan: Finalist Daniel Clay takes ‘no-nonsense’ approach to leadership. While Clay crows about starting a new business using UI IP, in the articles I have read he is always talking about Malum Terminus Technologies, Inc. That company in turn has a product they’re selling, but what I didn’t understand is that it’s also a separate company called IntelliSee, and that even more UI employees are involved in that venture.
Why is that important? Well contrast this passage from Wilson and McCarver —
According to a letter from UI Provost Kevin Kregel, Clay was reappointed to his dean position on Jan. 13. He was appointed to serve through 2026.
In his letter, Kregel said Clay had achieved recognition as a campus-wide “thought leader,” and developed strong external relationships and an enhancement of scholarly growth and productivity.
Areas for further growth Clay addressed in Kregel’s letter included furthering communication and approachability and further developing internal relationships.
— with this passage from the same report:
The business ventures listed on Clay’s CV include co-founding Intellisee, a UI-based start-up company that offers AI security products. Clay, who is on the Board of Directors, co-founded the venture with UI Provost Kevin Kregel, and several other Iowa researchers.
No one could ever accuse Kregel and Clay of outright deceit because it turns out their names are listed on the About page of the IntelliSee website, but they certainly haven’t gone out of their way to publicly disclose that they are partners in a private-sector business. The fact that Provost Kregel is not only still responsible for Clay’s performance evaluation, however, while also handing Clay another five-year reappointment as dean, would seem to be the definition of a conflict of interest. And that in turn could have major implications for Kregel’s ability to mete out punishment to other members of the UI campus, such as the demotion of former College of Liberal Arts and Sciences dean Steve Goddard. (The correct decision in my view, but an opinion Goddard might understandably contest.)
As noted in yesterday’s update, Dan Clay is at the center of a gender-and-age-discrimination lawsuit which has been brought against the University of Iowa, yet the university is also allowing Clay’s business partner to judge Clay’s performance and extend his contract. (Which, to be fair to Clay, would actually seem to be a good reason to demote Kevin Kregel.) As for either of these fine upstanding citizens going into any business while they earn six-figure salaries from the state, as also noted in yesterday’s post that shouldn’t be allowed under any circumstance.
* You can view the beginning and end of yesterday’s search committee meeting here, but the majority of the meeting was conducted in closed session. (At the end of the meeting there is some info about the committee’s presentation to the board tomorrow, and a few friendly waves.)
* Sabine Martin at the DI: UI presidential candidates not asked to list identity status on application. The idea that we are increasingly concerned about diversity, equity and inclusion, yet at the same time not asking people about their ethnicity, would seem to be problematic in terms of gauging progress. (Asking how many people of color submitted applications out of 79 applicants seems like a valid question.)
* Eleanor Hildebrandt and Sabine Martin at the DI: New faculty officers hope to establish ‘strong working relationship’ with new UI administration. Worth noting here is that newly-elected Faculty Senate President Teresa Marshall is also a member of the presidential search committee:
In Marshall’s opening remarks as the new president, she told the senate that faculty representatives have identified better communication methods with UI administration to ensure continued importance placed on shared governance.
“A priority for Faculty Senate, and our officers, is to establish a strong working relationship with our new administration, to facilitate communication and informed decision making with faculty perspectives,” Marshall said.
As a practical matter, the only “new” part of the next administration will be the new president, because everyone else will be a holdover. (In fact, some of the executives in central administration have effectively become permanent fixtures, and you probably couldn’t yank them out of their offices with a tow truck.) Also notable is the fact that all three of the Faculty Senate officers are now women.
* Laura Belin at Bleeding Heartland: Housing discrimination bill in limbo amid concerns over federal funding. An interesting story about an odd bit of legislation, made all the more noteworthy because of the central role of regent David Barker, who I believe will shortly become president pro tem of the board.
04/28/21 — When we last left UI College of Education dean Dan Clay, who is one of four finalists for president of the University of Iowa, he was offering flimsy analogies to allay concerns about potential conflicts of interest with one of his extracurricular, for-profit entrepreneurial ventures — which is not only predicated on UI IP, but includes other employees from the same university that Clay intends to lead (see the 04/26/21 entry below). And of course prior to that, after getting a look at Clay’s CV, concerns were raised in the press about a business venture Clay previously touted, which has now disappeared — which is also coincidentally embroiled in an international lawsuit (see the 04/21/21 entry here). Given that being a swashbuckling businessman is central to Dan Clay’s identity, it thus probably came as a great relief that yesterday’s column about him in the Des Moines Register had nothing to do with Clay’s entrepreneurial spirit, and instead focused solely on his conduct as a senior academic administrator at Iowa.
From Rekha Basu, on 04/27/21: Lawsuit to be heard in December claims bias by University of Iowa presidential finalist.
In a trial scheduled for December in Polk County (the regents’ headquarters), the university will be the defendant in an age and gender discrimination lawsuit brought by a College of Education employee.
And though the named defendants are the Iowa Board of Regents, the University of Iowa and the state of Iowa, Clay is the main player in the events outlined in the lawsuit
Filed in December 2018, the suit claims the university and regents discriminated against plaintiff Pam Ries by, among other things, “allowing her to be discriminated against by her supervisor (Dean Clay).”
Now personally, if I was looking at an age-and-gender-discrimination lawsuit, I think I would focus more on making sure I didn’t lose the job I had, instead of trying to parlay that position and some sketchy entrepreneurial claims of success into a promotion. Then again that’s probably the difference between me and a go-go entrepreneur like Clay, who loves taking risks, and then erasing them from his professional resume if they don’t pan out. Besides, if the University of Iowa denies that something bad happened, you can count on it — except for that one time: University of Iowa pays $6.5 million in Meyer, Griesbaum cases.
Anyway, given that Clay is the only male finalist competing against three eminently qualified women, details like this would seem to loom large in the presidential search:
“Instead of communicating and collaborating with Pam, Dean Clay chose to interact with Pam’s younger subordinate, Assistant Director Erica Kaldenberg,” the lawsuit alleges. It claims that it was to Kaldenberg that Clay conveyed important information about REACH, though that information was relevant to Ries’ job duties.
For context, here are UI personnel pages for Ries and Kaldenberg, with photos. I obviously don’t know why Clay allegedly preferred to speak with Kaldenberg over Ries, but that will probably come out at trial. In this post, then, I want to steer clear of any sensationalism and look at the broader allegations, and how those might impact Friday’s culmination of the presidential search:
It says [Ries] was given a choice of resigning or being fired. She declined to resign and was fired from her director job, and eventually reassigned to a college faculty position paying $100,000 less in wages and benefits.
Ries complained to the university ombudsperson but never got an explanation for her termination, the suit alleges. In November 2017, she filed charges of employment discrimination with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission against Clay and the university and regents. The following year, the REACH director’s job was filled by a younger man who lacked her qualifications — she has a master’s and a Ph.D. — and was paid $25,000 more that she had made.
While that obviously sounds bad, at this point it’s just an allegation, and an isolated one at that. It’s not like there is an administrative pattern of discrimination at the university, or in the greater regents enterprise, which would be damning. Although…there was that one time, at the board office, where the men in charge decided another long-time female employee had outlived her useful life, so they shoved her out the door in similar fashion. Unfortunately, we don’t know how that case turned out because the board settled rather than risk a trial — but that’s really the only parallel I can think of. Except…for another recently-filed suit at UI:
In suing UIHC and the regents for gender and pay discrimination, and also retaliation for reporting her concerns, Mace Davis is seeking compensation for lost wages, humiliation, anguish and weakened future employment opportunities. But she also wants the court to force UIHC to take steps to prevent discrimination going forward, like imposing training, implementing monitoring and barring disproportionate discipline for women.
Mace Davis joined the operation in May 2014. Reportedly earning ‘exceptional” performance reviews four straight years, Mace Davis said in the lawsuit that disparate treatment she experienced worsened in 2018 under a new director. She was excluded from decision making and kept out of meetings, according to the lawsuit.
Before June 2018, Mace Davis said she was told she’d get a bonus for ‘sustained exceptional and outstanding performance.” It never came.
‘But a man who partnered on this same initiative was awarded a bonus,” she alleged.
But still, that’s only three examples, plus the Jane Meyer verdict and subsequent Meyer-Griesbaum settlement, which is four, so it’s not like it’s some crazy number like five.
Anyway, whatever happens down the line — meaning not only whether Clay and UI are found innocent or guilty, but whether the decision is made to settle the case to avoid the spectacle of a trial — it does seem revealing that Dan Clay decided to apply for the Iowa presidency even though this lawsuit was filed in December of 2018. It is always good to have the courage of one’s convictions, and if he really is innocent he has every right to insist on a fair hearing, but there is also a darker reading of that decision. Specifically, if Clay already knows he will be appointed on Friday, then as president of the school he will not only be in position to settle the case himself, he can do so freely with taxpayer money.
And deep pockets will be critical, because to get someone to settle you have to make a compelling offer, and given the way Clay has conducted himself since his candidacy was announced last week the price is probably going up. I mean, if I’m the plaintiff’s attorney, and I’m learning about discrepancies in Clay’s CV that he hasn’t explained, I’m probably going to ask him about that on the stand, under oath, so the jury can assess how honest and credible his testimony might be. And that’s assuming nothing else comes out over the next three days, further calling Clay’s integrity into question.
As Rekha Basu noted in her column, appointing Clay and then losing the court case would be untenable, but I would argue so would settling the case. If Dan Clay believes he’s innocent, and the university denies the allegations categorically, why would the school or the board — or Clay himself — settle that case unless there really was something to hide? I don’t know who games things like this out at the board office, but if there is a plan to shove Clay through no matter what, so another crony white male will be in the driver’s seat at UI, that intent will be clear to all. Because at this point only a corrupt board would pass on the other three squeaky-clean finalists to appoint Dan Clay as the next Iowa president.
Update: In the storm of news prior to Friday’s onrushing appointment of the next president of the University of Iowa, I neglected to note that current search committee co-chair John Keller will become the interim UI president on May 17th. As mentioned in a recent post, and as long-time readers will recall, that shift echoes the rigged search in 2015, when the Board of Regents orchestrated the same transition. In that instance the solitary chair of the search committee — former UI VP for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard — was also subsequently appointed by the board as interim president. In fact, not only did Robillard serve for two months before illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld took office, but Robillard also served as interim president during the final month of the search, which is when he decided to disband the committee to prevent the other members from fulfilling their obligation to vet and screen the four nominated finalists.
While the current search is obviously less corrupt, the fact that Keller will move from co-chair of the search committee to interim president means he will be perfectly positioned, as an administrative cutout, to settle the case against Clay, and that’s true whether Clay is appointed president or not. And that in turn echoes back to an even earlier corrupted Iowa search, when interim UI president Gary Fethke served for over a year in that role, accomplishing a great many things by administrative fiat — including appointing Jean Robillard as the VP for Medical Affairs, without a search. (The 2006 presidential search at UI was eventually vacated by then-board president Michael Gartner, because he wasn’t getting his way. The next search, in 2007, resulted in the appointment of Sally Mason, but not until after Fethke imposed Gartner’s bureaucratic will on the school.)
Because of Keller’s role in the search process, and Keller’s impending stint as interim president, and Keller’s prior tenure as the interim VP for Research and Economic Development when Dan Clay was starting his most-recent entrepreneurial venture with other UI employees, and even Keller’s inappropriate familiarity with Clay during Clay’s candidate forum, it would be helpful if, prior to May 17th, John Keller recused himself fom taking any action on the lawsuit against Clay — whether Clay is appointed as the new Iowa president or not. That said, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for such a recusal, but Keller wasn’t appointed as interim president just to keep the seat warm for Friday’s appointee. He was appointed to clean up any lingering messes, whether related to the search or not.
From Sarah Watson at the Daily Iowan, on 03/25/21:
Keller said he’s preparing a discussion list with the president and provost offices to go over what could come up during his interim presidency, including plans to reform campus security.
“Whatever comes up that needs my attention, I’m certainly prepared to work on those issues,” Keller said. “And if there are decisions that need to be made in a short period of time. I will be fully prepared to make those decisions. You know, with the thinking that you don’t want to come in and make any crazy calls or do anything really wild that’s going to affect what the next president has to take on.”
There are already valid questions about how internal candidate Dan Clay became the fourth finalist to be nominated by the committee, to say nothing of how Clay came to be scheduled last — also echoing the rigged 2015 search. Settling a lawsuit that could prove deeply embarrassing to Dan Clay, whether he remains dean or becomes president, is not something John Keller needs to do. Not only will it look like Keller was appointed to the interim role for that reason, but that he is once again taking care of his University of Iowa colleague, Dan Clay.
04/27/21 — The following articles about the presidential search at the University of Iowa were published yesterday:
* Sarah Watson at the Daily Iowan: How the DI is covering the presidential selection process.
* The Daily Iowan Editorial Board: Who should be the next leader at the UI.
* Sarah Watson and Caleb McCullough at the DI: Finalist Hari Osofsky brings ‘infectious’ energy to deanship.
* Rachel Schilke and Eleanor Hildebrandt at the DI: “A servant leader”: UI Presidential Finalist Barbara Wilson’s career embraces listening as a higher education leader.
* Vanessa Miller at the Gazette: University of Iowa presidential finalists differ from 2015 in gender, experience.
* Vanessa Miller at the Gazette: Regents won’t commit to releasing University of Iowa president finalist feedback before hire. The problem with the claim by regent spokesperson Josh Lehman — that feedback must be vetted and redacted before it can be released — is that most of the information from the committee’s online questionnaire involves data that will be tabulated. The regents will certainly be given that data before they vote on the appointment, so there is no reason the board can’t release the same data when their decision is announced on Friday. As for written comments that may have been submitted, those should be reviewed, but respondents were not required to submit identifying information through that portal.
Related recent news — perhaps useful as context for the three external presidential finalists, in preparation for their upcoming regent interviews:
* Natalie Dunlap at the Daily Iowan: The facts behind funding Iowa’s public universities. If you are a budget nerd the links at the end are not to be missed. Also available at PolitiFact.
* Todd Dorman at the Gazette: GOP move to freeze university funding isn’t about money.
* Sabine Martin at the Daily Iowan: Faculty numbers decline at all three regent institutions in Iowa.
* Vanessa Miller at the Gazette: Tenure numbers drop across Iowa public universities, even as bills to kill it die.
* Eleanor Hildebrandt at the DI: Tovar: diversity, equity, and inclusion to be ‘core pillar’ in next UI strategic plan.
* Sarah Watson at the DI: Governor appoints new members of Board of Regents.
* Vanessa Miller at the Gazette: Governor names regents President Michael Richards to another term. The two expiring seats on the board will vote on the new UI president on their last day in office, after which the next scheduled meeting of the board — meaning the first with the two new members – will not take place until June 1st. Because one of the outgoing members is also the president pro tem, I believe that the board will have to appoint a new regent to that office in the coming days — but that is not listed among the agenda items for either meeting at the end of this week.
Befitting his status as a full-on Republican Party operative, I believe Regent David Barker will likely become president pro tem, in anticipation of a future move to president. I will be surprised if Richards serves all six years of his newly appointed term, but then again he might have to if a Democrat is elected governor in 2022. (The Iowa Republican Party has kept a Republican Party operative or major donor in the president’s seat at the board since May of 2013, and they won’t give up that powerful patronage position without a fight.)
04/26/21 — Sarah Watson at the Daily Iowan posted a helpful summary yesterday of the remaining steps in the presidential search at the University of Iowa. There will be a lot happening toward the end of this week, but because most of it will take place in closed session or behind closed doors we won’t know much more than we do now until the next president is announced on Friday afternoon. Rather than remain idle until the Iowa Board of Regents declares its intentions for the state’s flagship university, however, I want to touch on an issue from the candidate forums that were conducted over the past two weeks.
Thinking back over the four hour-long, live-streamed candidate appearances at Iowa, I can recall specific moments where each candidate made a positive impression. Across the entirety of those 240 minutes or so, however, I only remember one instance where I felt vaguely insulted by a candidate’s response to a question. Because I wasn’t quite sure what bothered me or why in real time, I decided to think about it over the weekend, and as a result I now not only understand why I felt that way in the moment, but I am upgrading my level of insult from vague to egregious.
At the 1:07:30 mark in the video of Dan Clay’s candidate forum, one of the search co-chairs asks the following question:
How would you manage conflict[s] of interest that arise from a company you have ownership stake in using UIowa IP?
To gauge Clay’s response, it is important to know that being an entrepreneur is as important to Dan Clay as being an academic administrator. Not only does he have a separate section in his CV (p. 5-6) devoted to businesses he has founded over the years, but from the moment he took office five years ago as dean of the UI College of Education, right up to the current presidential search, Clay has emphasized his entrepreneurial spirit, including stating in his introductory remarks that he “start[ed] a company, right here, with the intellectual property of the University of Iowa faculty”.
With that in mind, then, here is Clay’s full response to the question quoted above:
Yeah so the university has, uh, very rigorous…policies, around conflict of interest. And so, um…in this particular case, uh — you know as a dean and a president of course it’s different — but we have, uh, processees to make sure that anybody involved in those companies aren’t involved in any procurement or decision making around those items or issues. The same we might have for a faculty member who authors a textbooks. Right — that faculty member can’t require their own textbook for their class so they could profit off the sale of the textbook. It’s the same concept applied in the same way.
Although I have never been an entrepreneur or a faculty member, after giving Clay’s analogy due consideration I am here to tell you that pretty much every aspect of his response was not only garbage, but the mode of Clay’s reply demonstrates why no senior administrator at a public college or university should be allowed to start and run a business on the side. And if that business is in some way connected to their school that only makes it worse.
Yes, certainly — if a president or even a dean at a public university were to use their authority to purchase products or services from a company they owned, that would represent a conflict of interest, much like a professor requiring students to purchase that professor’s textbook. But that is only a partial evaluation of Clay’s conflict-of-interest analogy, and as a “nationally recognized scholar and author” you would think Clay would know that. Unlike a professor, a university dean or president has the ability not only to make purchasing decisions, but to make decisions about funding, personnel, attention and influence. For one professor to prevent another professor from writing a competing textbook, the former professor would have to perpetrate actual crimes against the latter, ranging from destruction of private property to murder. A dean or president, on the other hand, can prevent other members of their campus from starting competing businesses by throttling resources directly, or indirectly through individuals on campus who would like to be in their good graces.
And again Dan Clay knows all that, so why did that idiotic analogy come dribbling out of his mouth? Whether the question was planted or not, it clearly gave Clay a chance to frame his ongoing business ownership as benign, even though it is predicated on UI IP, and other employees of the university are also owners. The fact that Clay’s answer was incomplete if not intentionally misleading is also intellectually embarrassing, because if an Iowa student offered up the same flimsy rationale they would end up eating a D or an F. So what’s going on here?
As a general observation we can say that teachers teach, while people who go into business are focused on making sales. And it’s not inherently wrong for a teacher at any level to also have an interest in a business, as long as the two are not intertwined. For example, if a faculty members is part owner of a cafe and works there on weekends, that’s not a problem unless they start coercing students to eat there, or give extra credit or inflated grades to students who work for them. But as already noted, university deans and presidents are not teachers, even if they also teach.
The problem for Dan Clay is that if he is appointed as president at Iowa, he can never get away from the fact that he also has a business founded on UI IP, which includes other UI employees as owners. Meaning not only could he leverage university assets to aid or protect his business, but he could also do so to aid or protect the careers of his fellow owners. And I would actually argue that such a conflict of interest already pertains to Clay as a dean, which may be why he interjected — as a defensive non sequitur — that, “as a dean and a president of course it’s different”.
Clay had some good moments in his candidate forum, but when he was asked about potential conflicts of interest in a private-sector business he owns he stopped being a teacher or even an administrator and tried to sell me a laughable bill of goods. And if he’s willing to do that to get the job of president, it would seem self-evident that he would use the position of president to advance his business interests, and those of his allies, while making sure that other entrepreneurs on campus were deprived of resources if that was to Clay’s advantage. As concerning as all that may be, however, in dismantling Clay’s response to that conspicuously narrow question I belatedly realized that the premise of the question was problematic in itself.
While Dan Clay is the only internal candidate among the four finalists, that isn’t why he was the only candidate who was asked about potential conflicts of interest between serving as president of the University of Iowa and running a for-profit business on the side. The reason none of the other three finalists were asked about similar conflicts of interest is that none of them have businesses on the side, so there is no potential conflict of interest. In fact, I’m not sure how many deans or senior executives at public research universities are also running businesses on the side, but I”m guessing there are damn few. Indeed, whatever anyone wants to say about J. Bruce Harreld — and Clay trashed Harreld plenty during his candidate forum — Harreld also spent the vast majority of his professional life as a senior executive in the private sector, and even he didn’t try to start and run a side business while he was presiding over UI, whether associated with the school or not.
Per recent reporting about his personnel evaluation and five-year reappointment in January, Dan Clay is currently being paid $323K by the state of Iowa to be dean of the UI College of Education. As you probably know, salaried workers don’t punch a clock, but for the big money they are expected to put in as many hours as needed to get the job done. As you might also imagine, being the dean of even a small college on a university campus could easily consume every waking hour, so where would a dean ever find time to run a business on the side — whether associated with their school or not?
I would submit not only that being the dean of the UI College of Education is already a twenty-four-hour-a-day job, but that the state salary Dan Clay is currently being paid in that role is intended as compensation for focusing solely on that task. And yet from recent reporting and Clay’s own statements we know he owns and runs a private sector business, so it’s worth asking where he finds the time. More to the point of the moment, the fact that he now wants to continue doing the same thing while meeting the increased responsibilities of president should be a scandal in itself.
It is temping to say in retrospect that the question Clay should have been asked during his candidate forum was whether he would divest himself of any outside businesses if he was appointed to lead Iowa. In reality, however, I think Clay should be required to divest himself now, even as dean of the College of Education, both because of the potential for conflicts of interest, and because he is making $27K a month. Not only is that more than some families make in a year, but in exchange for that windfall the people of Iowa have a right to expect that he is focused solely on that job.
In fact, even if conflicts of interest were not a factor, I would argue that no senior administrator at a public university should own or run a for-profit business while they are employed by the state. If they want to go into business they should go into business, or find a job at a private school that allows such things. Pulling in a six-figure salary while spending time and energy trying to enrich yourself in the private-sector is not a value-added proposition for the taxpayer or the University of Iowa — it’s a scam. Fortunately, the Board of Regents has three other eminently qualified finalists to choose from, and none of them intend to work part time.