I will continue to add updates about J. Bruce Harreld and his illegitimate presidency to this threaded post. If this post scrolls you will be able to find it by clicking the link in the sticky post at the top of the home page. You can also bookmark this post, or search for it using various keywords and phrases, such as Harreld, fraud, co-conspirator, or carpetbagging dilettante.
01/23/21 — The third virtual meeting of the University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee took place Wednesday morning, and once again the diverse, competent and invested members advanced the noble cause of finding a replacement for illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld. With the persistent proviso that we will not know whether this search was legitimate until weeks or even months after the next president is named, it is still clear — and was made explicit during the meeting — that the current process bears little relationship to the abuses of power and violations of shared governance that were perpetrated in 2015, in service of Harreld’s sham appointment. As noted in multiple prior posts, it is possible that the university will end up with another done-deal appointment by the Iowa Board of Regents, and particularly so if an internal candidate is chosen to replace Harreld, but even in the worst-case scenario it is unlikely that the next president of the University of Iowa will be another unqualified boob with an attitude problem.
While following the livestream of the third meeting I once again got lost in the process implications of the conversation, but I did perk up when the committee was given early positive feedback from the search firm facilitating that process. Not surprisingly, that feedback was in turn highlighted by the beat reporters covering the search, and in a moment we will take a closer look at that coverage. Overall, as with the first two committee meetings, my impression was that the co-chairs and members are sincere in their desire to recruit and nominate the best possible slate of finalists, which the Board of Regents will then choose among, and it does seem inconceivable that the 2015 debacle will be repeated. That doesn’t mean the university will end up with an excellent new president, but unlike 2015 the current process does not foreclose on that possibility in favor of a rigged crony appointment.
The meeting started at 9 a.m. and was scheduled to run for an hour and a half, almost certainly to allow members to watch the presidential inauguration if they so chose, which took place around 11 a.m. CST that same day. The running time of the archived video is 1:40:25, but the meeting doesn’t begin until the 17:08 mark, so the meeting itself lasted one hour and thirteen minutes.
The first order of business involved co-chair Sandy Daack-Hirsch taking roll, which revealed that either seventeen or eighteen of the twenty-one members were in attendance. (The audio was a bit garbled at one point, and one or more of the absent members may have joined during the meeting.) After approving the minutes of the prior meeting, co-chair John Keller moved to the next agenda item and requested input from the search-firm executives about next steps for “advertising, receiving applications for the position, and other efforts to help build the candidate pool”.
While acknowledging that the executives at AGB Search have a vested interest in painting the ongoing process in the best possible light — both for their own benefit, and to make the position and process as attractive as possible to prospective candidates — the early positive feedback they did pass along would be easy for the committee to confirm in retrospect. For example, while providing a comprehensive update on advertising for the position, AGB confirmed that the approved ads were in process or in place, then also added that the ads had “already invited considerable attention and interest”. Listening to the meeting in real-time I was certainly glad to hear that, but I wasn’t particularly surprised.
As noted in a prior post, I believe the Iowa presidency will draw strong interest not only because openings at a school of Iowa’s scale, scope and caliber are rare, but because, as a state school, Iowa is financially well-positioned to weather and recover from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. When I read the local reporting on the meeting, however, I was reminded of the importance of AGB’s feedback, which was highlighted by both the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Search firm ‘absolutely inundated’ with interest in University of Iowa presidency; and by Sabine Martin and Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan: Search committee ‘inundated with interest’ for University of Iowa president position. For the first time AGB’s representatives also spoke openly about the prior search debacle, and particularly about how the current search process — and their ability to validate that process — was positively impacting client recruitment.
From the Gazette’s Miller:
“A number of these candidates that we talked to yesterday, they’re aware of the last search, what happened, and so on,” [AGB rep James] McCormick said Wednesday. “They’ve already done their homework. In fact, a number of them already are talking to people at Iowa that they might know.”
Praising the search committee for following best-practice guidance this time, McCormick said he’s been happy to put concerns to rest.
“The fact that we were able to say, ‘this process is outstanding, it’s according to best practices, and I don’t anticipate any situation that happened the last time to occur this time’ … I’ve been complimenting all of you for your hard work,” he said. “But there is that discussion of what happened last time.”
To understand why such statements from AGB are critical to the success of the current search, it is important to remember what happened in 2015. Even after it became clear that Harreld’s rigged appointment was the result of a conspiracy between the president of the Board of Regents, a high-ranking UI administrator, and a powerful alumnus and donor who was Harreld’s business mentor and pal, the theft of the Iowa presidency meant that the combined messaging apparatus of the board and university could be used to defend that abuse of power. Largely overshadowed by the subsequent false portrayal of J. Bruce Harreld as an innocent victim was the fact that the three eminently qualified academic administrators who were also finalists for the position had been cynically used as props to legitimize the search-and-selection process. What those candidates believed would be a fair search decided on the merits turned out to be a scam to which they dedicated time and effort, while also exposing themselves to potential repercussions at their current place of employment.
In that context, the biggest concern for the strongest applicants in the current search will be that they could also be exploited by another cabal of conscienceless yokels, who have no compunction about using people of considerable professional accomplishment as mere pawns. Because we have no alternate reality for comparison it is hard to document the damage that Harreld and his co-conspirators did to the university in 2015, but the very fact that five years later, AGB Search is obligated to reassure prospective applicants that the presidential search at an R1/AAU public university is not a thinly disguised confidence game gives us visibility to that long-term cost. To that point, at the 25:11 mark of Wednesday’s meeting, a member of the committee asked a fortuitous question about best practices, which prompted comments from the AGB reps that should also be reassuring to any prospective candidate who watches that portion of the video.
Specifically, in building the candidate pool the AGB reps made clear that the proper role for committee members was simply to nominate candidates to the search firm, and to let the search firm then reach out to those nominees. That cogent bit of advice — which was restated by several of the execs — may seem innocuous, but it stands in stark counterpoint to an excuse that was repeatedly put forward by the thugs who corrupted the 2015 search. After press reports exposed blatant preferential treatment for J. Bruce Harreld, the perpetrators asserted that their search firm encouraged committee members to engage in aggressive recruitment themselves. In reality, that slick dodge gave those creeps license to cater to Harreld while screwing every other candidate, and to their credit AGB clearly does not want members of the current committee acting in such a duplicitous capacity.
At the 30:20 mark there was an interesting discussion prompted by AGB Managing Principal Roderick J. McDavis, about whether the committee wants AGB to rank applications as they come in. While the specifics of that conversation were interesting in themselves, I was again reassured by the way the committee facilitated the discussion and explored the various options. It was a nerdy topic, but also consequential both to inclusiveness and optics. Should every applicant get a look by the committee even if they are unqualified according to criteria laid out by the committee, or should AGB — as part of its service — screen out candidates who do not meet the minimum requirements? (Although it involved a bit more work, the committee rightly favored the former approach.)
The next item on the agenda, which kicked off at the 52:38 mark, involved a presentation by UI communications staff about the search website, and other media that has been produced to facilitate recruitment. Initially I thought that would be a dry conversation, and there was a lot of ceremonial thanking and praising back and forth, but over time I was also reminded that there are a lot of talented people at Iowa — including in the Office of Strategic Communications — who have had to spend a good part of the past five years covering up for or compensating for J. Bruce Harreld’s shrieking deficiencies as president.
The main document that candidates will use to familiarize themselves with the university is the ‘search book’, and you can see a digital copy here‘. Along with that .pdf version, which is available to anyone, a print version will be produced for candidates who prefer that format. You can see a discussion of the search book at the 1:09:04 mark, and if you’re interested in the search I encourage you to skim through the online version to get a sense of the scope, scale and complexity of the school. (A ton of information is included, and it is particularly valuable because it is up to date — which is not always the case with university web pages on the same topics.)
One item in the search book that caught my attention was the organizational chart on page 26, precisely because the presidency is left open. In the context of the search that vacancy makes sense, and even helps prospective candidates envision themselves in that role. What struck me while looking at that blank box, however, was how crippling Harreld’s appointment has been for the past five years, compared to the good that a committed and qualified president could have produced with the same diagrammatic cast of administrators. (That in turn led me to run a quick word search on the 148-page .pdf to see if Harreld’s name appears even once — and it does not.)
The final agenda item, which begins at the 1:29:22 mark, concerned the method by which the committee will generate questions to ask of the dozen or so candidates who are selected as semifinalists. It was suggested and accepted that the committee break into five subgroups, each of which will generate questions on one of five overarching themes related to the previously generated leadership profile, which is in turn the core document driving the entire search. Not so coincidentally, I have also been thinking about questions the committee should ask of prospective candidates, to both assess their competence and vision, as well as get them on the record about any possible conflicts of interest that could subsequently be disclosed after an appointment is made. More on those questions in an upcoming post.