After five years, eight months and fourteen days of blithering administrative idiocy, illegitimate University of Iowa president J. Bruce Harreld is now Iowa’s former illegitimate president. As warranted I will log any lingering developments on the Harreld front in this post, but I honestly don’t expect to hear from him again unless he is called to testify in court. (When this post scrolls you can find it by searching for ‘epilogue’, or clicking the ‘Harreld’ tag in any other Harreld post.)
06/15/21 — Notwithstanding the visionary decision to sell alcohol at a profit during Hawkeye sporting events — let alone to people who were likely getting drunk in the parking lot hours beforehand — the first thirty days of John Keller’s two-month interim presidency at the University of Iowa have passed without incident. Given that the summer months are usually quiet on the UI campus, we have reason to hope that the next thirty days will be equally banal, at which point Barbara Wilson will begin her five-year reign of staggering administrative competence on July 15th.
06/10/21 — So interim University of Iowa President John Keller’s historical claim to fame will be that he’s the guy who technically approved alcohol sales at Iowa sporting events, despite a long and ugly history of alcohol abuse at the school. Given the beating the hospitality industry took during the height of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — including athletic events at every level of play — you might conclude that a loss of revenue was a critical factor in today’s announcement at Iowa, but you would be wrong. In fact, not once in the tightly worded press release from the UI Athletics Department is there a passing nod to either COVID-19 or to any loss of revenue over the past year.
Were that the whole story it would be depressing enough, but this pandemic-agnostic announcement was made not only after an entire year of kvetching about the loss or revenue from said pandemic, but after said loss was explicitly used as justification for terminating four varsity athletic programs. And yet after reading this particular press release, which details one specific way in which new revenue can be generated for the beleaguered UI Athletics Department, you would have no idea that a pandemic was mucking about, spoiling everyone’s fun. In fact, having used the pandemic and consequent loss of revenue as justification for killing off four sports, it’s almost like AD Barta and his crack administrative staff don’t want people leaping to the sensible conclusion that profits from alcohol sales could have been — and still could be — used to save those sports.
That said, in attempting to completely divorce today’s decision from the financial exigencies of the pandemic, the UI Athletics Department actually acknowledges that this plan has been in the works for some time, and so rightly should have been factored in when those program cuts were being made:
“We have been working with our campus partners on this for some time now and we are committed to maintaining a safe and enjoyable game day environment. While there is an opportunity for increased revenue, this decision was based on enhancing the fan experience and providing an additional amenity to our fans,” said Gary Barta, Henry B. and Patricia B. Tippie Director of Athletics Chair.
I don’t know if Gary Barta will be called to testify when the ongoing Title IX lawsuit makes its way to court, but it would certainly be interesting to hear him state under oath that the decision to sell alcohol was A) in the works for “some time”, but B) was in no way implemented because of the revenue crater that forced him to cancel four varsity sports. Because unless he’s willing to make that case, what really happened is that Barta knew — because of the collapse in athletics revenue — that he would be compelled to initiate alcohol sales, but he kept quiet about his intent because he didn’t want to use those profits to save the programs he was determined to terminate.
As for Barta’s claim that the sale of alcohol is not really about money, but about the “fan experience”, that strikes me as a sad admission, if not an indictment. Setting aside the fact that the indirect financial benefits — measured in ticket sales and ancillary concession — will add to any profits from alcoholic beverage sales alone, what does it say about Hawkeye athletics as a product that fans who feel torn between sitting in the stands or having a drink in their hands apparently opt for the latter? How many Hawkeye fans actually view alcohol as a make-or break amenity, and will not attend a Hawkeye sporting event unless they can drink while they’re there? (Back in the day the inability to enjoy something if booze wasn’t part of the program was a sign of alcohol dependence.)
Anyway…whether Bro Keller is carrying water for Bro Barta, or Keller himself likes to drink at Hawkeye sporting events, I think it’s fair to say that incoming president Barbara Wilson either didn’t want to own this decision, or would have opposed it outright. Still, in a month and a half she will be on the hook for all of the downstream effects of that decision, so it would probably be a good idea for her to go on the record before the football season kicks off. Because sooner or later a drunk Hawkeye fan is going to end up in the hospital, in the county jail, or both, after attending an in-person event.
More from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Iowa to sell beer and wine in Kinnick, Carver-Hawkeye; and from Chad Leistikow at HawkCentral: FAQs after Iowa athletics’ decision to sell alcohol at Kinnick Stadium, other events.
06/01/21 — Following the successful conclusion of the recent presidential search at the University of Iowa, today there was another welcome surprise: Board of Regents elect Sherry Bates to serve as president pro tem. All of the political indicators and prior leadership trends at the board suggested that arch political operative David Barker would be elevated from member to president pro tem, in anticipation of taking over whenever current president and political operative Mike Richards decides to step down. Instead, however, the board thankfully appointed one of the least-political regents — who, since her appointment in late 2014, has genuinely seemed more interested in the welfare and safety of the students at the state universities than in implementing some grand, self-serving bureaucratic scheme.
As a practical matter the president pro tem is rarely called upon to make substantive decisions, and this vote is only to fill the remaining term of the prior office holder, which will expire in less than a year. That said, Bates’ term as a regent doesn’t expire until April of 2023, and it would obviously be a bit awkward if she was not appointed to serve a second year as president pro tem, so it may well be that she will hold that office until her own appointment runs out. If that is the case, not only would those back-to-back appointments be well-earned, but that would buy incoming UI President Barbara Wilson and the other campus leaders two years of relative political calm, which would be infinitely preferable to the alternative. (The board constantly refers to its members as citizen volunteers even though some of them are political enforcers, but Sherry Bates has always lived up to that ideal. I don’t always agree with her decisions, but I have never questioned her integrity.)
And speaking of Wilson, we also have this today from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Regents meeting Wednesday with new University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson to set goals. One thing the UI community got right during the former president’s term in office was downgrading the school’s party culture. The board should encourage Wilson to continue to empower the university to keep that trend going in the right direction.
05/30/21 — Daily Iowan reporter Eleanor Hildebrandt is interning at the Iowa Capital Dispatch this summer. In her first report she provides context on the tuition bomb that the Iowa Board of Regents is about to drop on students at Iowa and Iowa State, and to a lesser degree at Northern Iowa: Student leaders at Iowa’s public universities are disappointed and anxious about potential tuition increase. Whatever the hikes end up being, they will be justified in part by the tuition freeze during the year of the pandemic, but also by the recent appropriations snub from the Iowa legislature. And yet when compared to those losses, the board’s hikes for fiscal year 2022 will likely outstrip any funding increase the regents actually requested, or would have imposed if COVID-19 had not short-circuited FY 2021.
Footnoting both the recent presidential search at Iowa, and prior notice that Penn State is in the process of running a overtly corrupt search for its own new president, two stories of interest:
* Josh Moyer at the Centre Daily Times: Penn State faculty express concerns over search for new president, want greater role in selection.
* Hilary Hurd Anyaso at Northwestern Now: Hari M. Osofsky named dean of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law.
Osofsky is smart to move on, because as the fraudulent hire of former illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld showed quite clearly, nothing gets better when business and political cronies take charge. In any event, yet another reminder that after the Iowa Board of Regents agreed to allow the University of Iowa faculty to run the recent presidential search, the university attracted three excellent external candidates — including Osofsky — while conducting a search that was above reproach. (A lesson that certainly seems to be lost on the deeply compromised governing board of Penn State.)
05/27/21 — It’s a date! From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Judge sets 2023 trial in Hawkeye football discrimination case.
05/26/21 — Compared to the other regular meetings of the Iowa Board of Regents throughout the calendar year, the early June meetings are usually quite extensive, not only because there is a lot of business before the close of the fiscal year at the end of the month, but because the regents have been keeping their heads down since January, waiting out the inanities and insanities of the legislative session. (In appreciation for their docile comportment this year, the Republican-dominated regents were screwed out of any funding increase by the increasingly radicalized and higher-ed-hostile Republican legislature.) Now that the coast is clear, one item of particular note in the agenda for next week’s three-day slate of in-person meetings concerns a for-profit real estate deal on a plot of university land adjacent to the school’s Finkbine Golf Course, and especially the brand-new $10M Nagle Clubhouse.
I am flagging this prospective deal here for two reasons. First, for the sake of completeness, because this is a continuation of administrative hijinks which took place under the prior university administration. (For more on that history you can either drill into the reservoir of posts on this site using keywords from the paragraph above, or save yourself the trouble and read this comprehensive report from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: University of Iowa eyes deal to build ’active adult’ apartments near Finkbine.)
The second reason is simply to have all of these links in the same place if this deal blows up down the road. As to why that might happen I don’t have any inside info, but it’s obviously not a good sign if you can’t get your story straight on the day of your rollout. From the Iowa Now press release:
Pending Board of Regents, State of Iowa, approval, the university will enter a development agreement and long-term ground lease with Des Moines-based company Melrose Partners LP, along with Newbury Living and GRD Investors LLC, to develop residential, non-student apartments overlooking Finkbine Golf Course.
Newbury Living is registered with the Iowa Secretary of State as an active business. GRD Investors, LLC is also registered as an active business in Iowa. Melrose Partners LP, however, is nowhere to be found.
Now here is the same deal, as described on the same day, in the agenda item for the upcoming Board of Regents meeting (p. 2-3):
The development agreement would be between the Board of Regents and Melrose Partners, LP (developers), a joint venture between Focus Development and Newbury Living, for a new 110-unit, four-story residential active adult (55+) rental complex with one level of underground parking. Newbury Living is a Des Moines-based firm, that specializes in the ownership and management of active adult and other multi-tenant residential complexes.
So Melrose Partners is a (currently) unregistered “joint venture”, but what happened to GRD Investors? After looking at all of the available documents and reports I have no idea, but GRD Investors only shows up in the press release from UI. In all other documents Focus Development is mentioned, and that company is also registered with the state as an active business. Whether GRD is also involved — meaning there are three companies in the joint venture, instead of two — I also don’t know, but it is more than a little depressing that this confusion is the work product of a $4B public research university, let alone a university that wants people to believe it is blazing a new trail regarding gimmicky higher-ed public-private partnerships.
As to where the University of Iowa got the wacky idea of turning a piece of its own campus into a senior-living facility, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that — like the vaunted UI public-private utility partnership, which was copied from a similar deal at Ohio State — this bit of entrepreneurial innovation comes courtesy of the ‘Mirabella’ project at Arizona State, which was finally completed earlier this year. (More on Mirabella here, here and here, and promotional videos here and here.)
Related stray thoughts include the fact that: the $10M donation for the Finkbine clubhouse was made by a couple with extensive involvement in real estate development; that Newbury seems to be the cornerstone of the deal, if not capable of handling the whole thing; and that Focus Development seems to be fronted by one of the partners of Focus Insurance, who has no clear relevance to a real estate development in Iowa City. So who is actually funding this project, and what is the projected dollar cost against which the lease value of the land has already been determined? Unfortunately, these facts are apparently unknown to the University of Iowa or the Board of Regents, because they were not included in the information released today.
As to what the University of Iowa gets out of the deal — at least as announced — that would be $130K per year, with regular annual lease increases. As to who decided to give that prime location away for a song I don’t know, but this is the kind of crony, sweetheart deal the board likes to make once the legislators are away from the microphones. (Follow the money.)
Oh…and one more thing. I don’t know who has been advocating for this deal behind the scenes for the past four years, if not more, but it’s interesting that it is finally being initiated while an interim president is on watch, instead of waiting for the new president to take over. Speaking of which, if I was that new president I would want a clear explanation of who’s paying for what, who’s getting what, and what the additional phases of the project are expected to comprise during the five-year period that I will be under contract.
05/21/21 — To the ever-increasing slate of lawsuits which incoming University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson will inherent from the prior administration, we can now add another 8,000 or so plaintiffs — as reported by the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: UI hospital workers gain class-action status in unfair pay lawsuit. That said, this would obviously be a wonderful opportunity for interim UI president and academic action hero John Keller to step in and correct the abuses which led to these suits, thus truly “set[ting] the stage for our next president.”
Also from the Gazette’s Miller, the Iowa Board of Regents has lifted the state of emergency at the state universities — one week after the end of finals: Regents require universities to return to pre-COVID operations. This does not mean the pandemic is over, of course, and the board obviously understands that because they are leaving this authorization in place until July 1st of 2022: “Board of Regents 80 additional hours of sick leave“. Get vaccinated, and wear a mask as long as you want.
05/19/21 — From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller — no surprise here, and if anything Iowa’s Republican politicians are playing to type: Legislature rejects funding bump for Iowa universities. Far from being a rebuke to the Republican-dominated Iowa Board of Regents, however, this funding snub grants the board justification for socking it to the students by raising tuition even more than already anticipated, and everyone involved understands that bureaucratic two-step. Elected officials cut or freeze funding, which benefits them directly because they have more money to spend. Academic administrators then decry ‘generational disinvestment’ while raising tuition 2x to 3x more than any funding cuts. This has been the basic industry-wide funding grift in public higher education since about 2000, because everyone comes out ahead — except for the students, who are bled dry.
05/17/21 — Speaking of testifying in court…of the five public-relations time bombs that Harreld is leaving for someone else to defuse, four involve court cases, three involve pending litigation, and two involve lawsuits against the University of Iowa Athletics Department. The question now is who will attempt to render those issues harmless, and I think we will find out in short order. Although legitimately appointed UI President Barbara Wilson will take over in mid-July, today marks the first day of the two-month interim presidency of John Keller, who is transitioning from dean of the Graduate College and co-chair of the presidential search committee to interim president and then special assistant to the provost. While there is a short window for Keller to perpetrate administrative mischief which advantages himself and/or his campus bros, there could also be genuine benefits in having Keller defuse some of these lingering threats — particularly if one of them blows up in his interim face. While I do believe the buck stops at Barbara Wilson’s desk on the day she takes over, none of this stupidity has anything to do with her, and I would hate to see Harreld’s debris field cost Barbara Wilson any political capital.
The first problem someone will have to deal with — which is also the only problem that does not yet involve the courts — is the $50M loan that UI Athletic Director Gary Barta tried to ram through back in early April, with the help of his buddy Bro Bruce. After their initial gambit fell apart in all of four days, the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller reported that the amount and terms of the loan would be revisited at the end of the fiscal year — meaning two weeks before Barbara Wilson takes office. Hopefully, with the progress of vaccinations and the easing of mask requirements generally, Barta will have significantly greater cash flows this coming year than originally anticipated, and the amount of any loan will be substantially reduced.
Also facing the athletics department are two lawsuits which have passed judicial muster and can proceed, and they are the second and third problems Harreld is leaving for someone else to clean up. While we don’t have a timetable yet for either case, Barta is looking at a Title IX lawsuit for his heavy-handed administrative termination of four varsity sports — also with another ever-willing assist from J. Bruce Harreld — and a discrimination lawsuitresulting from a damning independent report on racial abuses in the football program. While Keller or Wilson could attempt to broker settlements in those cases, the money would have to come from the cash-strapped athletics department, and it would obviously be a bad look if Keller or Wilson agreed to loan tens of millions to AD Gary Barta, only for Barta to then turn around and use some of that money to pay off people who were abused by Barta and/or others in his department. (See also that time Barta cost the school $6.5M.)
The third pending lawsuit — which was already in the works, but became prominent during the recently concluded presidential search — is the fourth public-relations time bomb at UI. While the university, the Iowa Board of Regents and the state are named as defendants, the case centers on the conduct of UI College of Education Dean Dan Clay, who was one of three finalists competing against Barbara Wilson. Unlike the suits against the athletics department, this case is already scheduled for trial in December, and could be a real mess for Clay and the academic side of campus. To be sure, even if the plaintiff wins that doesn’t mean Clay will face any repercussions — just as AD Barta did not when the university was found guilty of gender discrimination in 2017 — but then again the UI president during Barta’s trial was Bro Bruce Harreld, who loved him some white-male authority figures. I’m not sure how President Wilson will respond if Dan Clay costs the school millions, whether in a settlement or from a loss in court.
The fourth legal case — which is the fifth PR threat at UI — has already been deciding, and overwhelmingly so against the University of Iowa and Board of Regents. After refusing subpoenas and acting like state-sponsored mafiosi, the university and board were recently obligated to turn a trove of financial information over to the Iowa State Auditor regarding the secretive UI public-private utility partnership (P3), which was consummated in early March of 2020. As a result of that court order, the auditor will almost certainly release an exhaustive report on the P3, but when that may happen is a complete wildcard. Depending on the severity of any improprieties the university and regents may try to release the most damaging information themselves in order to control the narrative, but that wouldn’t really be to President Wilson’s advantage. I would be surprised if anyone goes to jail over the UI P3, but given how hard the various state agencies fought to protect the names of the secret Iowa investors who were involved in the deal, I would not be surprised if glaring conflicts of interested are disclosed by Auditor Rob Sand. And if that is the case, President Wilson would be well-advised to just stand back and let the auditor have his say.
As to the eight-month-long mystery of why J. Bruce Harreld decided to quit on the university before his two-and-a-half-year contract extension even kicked in, thus also forfeiting $2.3M, we still do not know. It could be that health issues played some role, or he really did just want to spend more time with his family, or perhaps he’s ready to write those books he talked about writing. There are any number of reasons Harreld may have decided to step down, and plenty of reasons the university could have offered on his behalf, or the board could have offered on the university’s behalf — and yet no one offered any reason at all.
Update: Too funny. Definitely sounds like someone has a to-do list, and is champing at the bit to start doing. Now we just have to hope all of those “important decisions” will benefit he university as a whole, and not just the provost’s office — which Keller will be working for in two short months.