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.
04/12/21 — Video of the hour-long campus forum for University of Iowa presidential candidate Hari M. Osofsky can be found here. In general, I think university presidents — and particularly those at major research institutions like UI — need to demonstrate competence in three important and overlapping areas of expertise. First, an understanding of the academic world, including not only its traditions and idiosyncrasies, but differentiating between practices that should be kept and those that should be consigned to the scrap heap. Second, the political environment both on and off campus, which is particularly important at a public school like Iowa, which receives state funding. Third, the public-facing role involving meeting with and speaking to on-campus and off-campus constituencies and interested or concerned parties, which often involves playing to expectations of what a university president should look like, sound like, talk like and act like.
As we witnessed at the University of Iowa over the past five-plus years, however, during the administration of illegitimate president J. Bruce Harreld, you can actually fake all or most of those areas of competence and expertise once you have the job, because the position comes with hostage spokespersons, hostage speechwriters, hostage legal advisors and on and on. Meaning in many respects the process of hiring a new president at a college or university all too often devolves into who can play the part and meet constituent expectations, as opposed to who can actually do the job. (That’s obviously not the way it should be, of course, but human beings are notoriously impressed with the wrong things, which is why celebrity is an actual commodity.)
While watching the live-stream of Osofsky’s forum I was repeatedly reminded of J. Bruce Harreld’s candidate forum in early September of 2015, which I have — to the detriment of my soul — watched at least a dozen times. Because Harreld had zero experience in academic administration or in the public sector he was actually liberated from any obligation to demonstrate competence or expertise in either realm. Likewise, because Harreld had already participated in — and was covering up — multiple secret meetings with members of the search committee and the Board of Regents, and even had the governor begging him to accept the job, Harreld had no political risks to navigate. (He was the board’s stealth candidate, he knew it, and he knew the audience didn’t know it, and he kept it that way.) Finally, in terms of the public-facing aspect of the position, Harreld pulled out dog-and-pony-show patter from his decades in the corporate world, fell back on trite slogans like “great to greater”, and swore a lot because that’s how private-sector types demonstrate gusto.
Despite Harreld’s obscenely low bar, however — including the fact that he was actively protected every step of the way by a cabal of co-conspirators who already knew he would be selected — the result of Harreld’s candidate forum was that almost everyone who provided feedback on his performance saw through his song and dance, and realized he would be a significant if not perpetual liability for the school. With every conceivable advantage, and nonexistent expectations, Harreld still failed to convince the vast majority of the UI community that he was qualified to do the job — from administration to politicking to being the face of the university. And yet the board happily hired him, gave him years to learn on the job, and paid him millions along the way.
I say all that as context for my response to Osofsky’s candidate forum, and to the other three finalists to come, because I don’t want a drive-by assessment of anyone’s performance in a narrow setting to loom larger than the occasion for their appearance. The University of Iowa is trying to find a new president who can lead the school, and that will involve assessing some combination of demonstrated and projected competence. For any external candidate that will also mean learning a lot about the school in a short amount of time, and for any younger candidate — like Osofsky — that also means growing into the job. The question before us now, then, is not whether Osofsky knows everything she needs to know at this moment, but whether we can reasonably expect that she can achieve command sooner rather than later.
In listening to Osofsky’s opening remarks (10m), and watching her respond to questions for the remainder of the hour (50m), there were aspects of presentation and pacing that could have been improved — and would improve with more exposure and experience — but I never felt like she was telling me what I wanted to hear, or responding with a carefully couched or practiced answer. There were areas where she was thin on specifics in the moment, but on questions where she had more direct experience she was not only able to articulate that experience, it was clear that she understood the interlocking intellectual, political and administrative frameworks surrounding those subjects. And that in turn tells me she would bring that same global approach to anything else that she put her mind to, including presiding over a $4B public research university with tens of thousands of students and tens of thousands of employees.
One specific example that Osofsky mentioned again and again, almost thematically, was the importance not only of enduring and emerging from the pandemic, but of learning from it as quickly as possible. And she’s right, not only administratively, but tactically and strategically. In the ever-changing and competitive arena of higher education, internalizing the pandemic and evolving to meet changed expectations from students, faculty, staff and the public will be critical, and those institutions that are first to make the necessary leaps will have a significant advantage.
As noted in the prior update Osofsky is unlikely to be hired by the Board of Regents, but not because she is unqualified. Between the current board’s close political association with the rapidly decompensating Republican Party, and its unstated goal of turning the university into little more than job-training for corporate and professional employers, there isn’t a lot of room for principled leadership. That said, if the board were to appoint her I would not denigrate that choice by calling it a bold hire for incidental factors, but simply a good and smart hire.
This is someone who is wired up to excel in the exact manner that we want the university to excel — through integrity and ethical choices — and I don’t see her getting complacent in that regard. Were I a member of the Board of Regents the only question I would have for Osofsky is whether she would agree in principle to stay for eight years as long as the board was satisfied with her performance. (That would include an initial three-year deal — as opposed to the five-year crony contract Harreld was given out of the gate — followed by a five-year extension.)
I don’t have any doubt that Osofsky can learn what she needs to learn, and quickly. What the University of Iowa cannot afford, however — particularly after the failed Harreld experiment — is to train someone who then takes that knowledge and experience to another position. What UI needs now and for the foreseeable future is stability and consistent leadership that builds trust and momentum over time. If Osofsky has big plans for herself down the road I wouldn’t bet against her, but if she’s thinking about a four-year or five-year stint at Iowa, where she can prove she’s ready for an even bigger opportunity, that’s not what UI needs. Having said that, if she did give her word to the board I think she would keep it — which is a lot more than we can say about J. Bruce Harreld, who will end up bailing on his own two-and-a-half-year contract extension by over two years.
More on Osofsky’s forum from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller — University of Iowa presidential finalist Osofsky tackles questions of free speech, equity; from Sarah Watson, Caleb McCullough, and Grace Hamilton at the Daily Iowan — First UI presidential forum: Penn State College of Law Dean Hari Osofsky emphasizes collaboration, integrity in leadership; and from Cleo Krejci at the Iowa City Press-Citizen — First UI presidential candidate says free speech and diversity efforts can ‘live together’.
04/11/21 — Candidate 1 for the University of Iowa presidency is Hari M. Osofsky (CV), dean of Penn State Law and the Penn State School of International Affairs. (More from Vanessa Miller at the Gazette here, and from Caleb McCullough and Sarah Watson at the Daily Iowan here.)
Osofsky will participate in a public forum tomorrow, Monday, April 12th, at 3:30 p.m. The live-stream link for the presentation will be posted here.
My first thought prior to reading Osofsky’s CV was that it would be a relief to have a lawyer in the Iowa president’s office, because that person might be less predisposed to use that position, as well as the UI Office of the General Counsel, as a legal bludgeon — as has repeatedly been the case under illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld, who famously lost pretty much every case he insisted on fighting, using precious state resources to cover up for his own failed leadership. In this day and age it is unfortunately still also notable that Osofsky is a woman, but the rigged 2015 search produced four white-male finalists, including Harreld, who was not only scandalously unqualified but needed a small cabal of crony co-conspirators to be appointed. Finally, Penn State is a major university and a member of the Big Ten Conference, so Dean Osofsky has familiarity with the scope and scale of an institution similar to the University of Iowa.
Assessment: The central question of whether Osofsky is qualified to preside over the University of Iowa is complicated by the fact that the Board of Regents blew $330K in state funds on a fake search in 2015. In that context, after hiring someone with no experience in academic administration or in the public sector, it seems clear that virtually anyone would be qualified. Meaning we can’t judge the quality of Osofsky’s nomination, or those of the other three finalists, by comparing her credentials to the toad who currently holds the job.
The prior president at UI was Sally Mason, who applied for the position when she was in her sixth year as the provost at Purdue. In general there seems to be a consensus that serving as provost at another major university is the perfect training ground for the Iowa presidency, and I agree, but that does not seem to have been an important factor in recent hires conduced by the board at Iowa and Iowa State. Regarding the 2015 Iowa search, one of the three qualified finalists was the provost at Ohio State (a significantly larger university), but of course the board passed him over to hire Jerre Stead’s little buddy, who didn’t know what the hell he was doing and admitted as much. At sister-school Iowa State in 2017, the Board of Regents appointed an internal dean from ISU, and in the prior search in 2011 the board appointed the VP of Research from the University of North Carolina. So clearly Osofsky’s current position should not be an obstacle to Osofsky’s candidacy at Iowa.
If anything about Osofsky’s CV stands out it’s that she has pursued a broad range of interests while consistently maintaining a high level of achievement, which seems ideal for the leader of a major research university which spans the academic arts and sciences. Not only is interdisciplinary education and research becoming increasingly important, but being able to speak with authority as someone who has successfully transitioned between traditional academic silos seems particularly useful. I think it is probably unlikely that Osofsky will be appointed not because she is unqualified, but because interests like climate change and even following the law run counter to the interests of the Iowa Republican Party, which controls the Iowa Board of Regents.
That said, the search committee should be commended for attracting Osofsky as a candidate and nominating her as a finalist. She is not only qualified, but exemplifies the type of professional academic leadership that Iowa sorely needs.
04/10/21 The first of four finalists for the University of Iowa presidency will be identified tomorrow, a day in advance of that candidate’s appearance on campus for two days of virtual and in-person meetings. (Links to all four of the live candidate forums can be found here.) As noted in recent posts, the reality of the search is that the next president has almost certainly been identified by a majority of the nine-member Iowa Board of Regents, so these candidate reveals and conversations are mostly theatrical, and have little to do with the outcome. That does not mean, however, that these candidate visits have no meaning.
Because the board has apparently been involved in scheduling the candidate visits, and because the board will almost certainly want to keep any internal candidates secret until the last possible minute — to prevent external candidates from dropping out when they realize the fix is likely in — it would not be surprising if the first candidate is also the weakest of the four. Whether that is the case or not, however, I would urge interested observers to focus not on whether the first candidate is a strong candidate, but whether each and every candidate is qualified for the position. That was the overriding imperative for this search committee, because that obviously did not happen when illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld was foisted on the campus in 2015, following a deeply corrupt search process.
Crony abuses of power are not only only reason for nominating unqualified finalists, however, as we learned during the 2017 presidential search at Iowa State University. In that case the first candidate was more like a warm-up act at an academic lounge than a serious applicant for the position. (If you think I’m joking, you can see that candidate’s campus forum here.) I don’t know whether that candidate was included at ISU to demonstrate ethnic diversity among the finalists — the other three candidates being white — or simply to make the search look more successful than it was, but the UI community should be rightly concerned if unqualified candidates are included among the finalists in the current search, regardless of the reason.
The official charge of the search committee was to pass along qualified finalists to the Board of Regents, not to dress up the search so it checked off boxes. Until all four finalists are revealed — which will take until Wednesday of next week — we won’t know who the favorite is, but there’s no hurry. There is no way to influence the board’s choice at this point, and no matter who they choose illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld will soon be an asterisk. (Harreld’s last day is May 16th, after which one of the co-chairs of the search committee will serve as the interim president until the new president takes office.)
04/08/21 — Having become highly attuned to the bureaucratic rhythms of the University of Iowa and the Iowa Board of Regents over the past five-plus years, on more than one occasion I have peered into the future and identified impending periods of relative calm, during which I might expect a respite from cataloging the offenses of illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld. Indeed, only this past weekend I came to such a conclusion after the UI Presidential Search Committee announced that four finalists had been selected for on-campus hybrid interviews. Because the first of those candidate reveals will not take place until this coming Sunday, and the committee had largely concluded its business, and lame-duck Harreld is departing for good on May 16th, I anticipated a brief break in the usual parade of bumbles, stumbles and debacles at UI.
What I overlooked in making that assessment, however, was that all of my prior prognostications inevitably proved wrong, and usually because of J. Bruce Harreld himself. From the information at hand, yes — one might have predicted a momentary period of calm this week, but with Harreld the question is never about what is apparent and always about what is happening behind the scenes. Case in point, just as I was settling into a false sense of security on Monday the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller broke the following story: University of Iowa gives athletics $50 million ’loan’.
The headline alone prompted a flood of questions, but the sparse official details in the lede were even more confusing:
Given tens of millions in losses the University of Iowa Department of Athletics is absorbing from COVID-19’s devastating impact, outgoing UI President Bruce Harreld has agreed to permanently end an earlier deal requiring athletics to contribute $2 million a year in direct support to the main campus.
Additionally, the UI main campus — facing budget cuts and tens of millions in pandemic-propelled losses of its own — is nonetheless shipping $50 million to the typically self-sustaining athletics department this budget year.
That money, according to UI spokeswoman Anne Bassett, will come from the university’s cash reserves and come ‘in the form of an internal loan that will be repaid over the next 10 to 15 years.
“Athletics will continue to be a self-sustaining operation,” Bassett said.
In an aside in a recent post about the process of hiring the next Iowa president, I said one of my hopes was that “the beleaguered communications professionals who speak for UI can finally have a respite from making excuses, and just do their jobs.” When I wrote that post I was not only thinking about Anne Bassett, but about Jeneane Beck and others who have had to answer questions about the dubious if not corrupt decisions Harreld has made over the years. I understand that it’s a spokesperson’s job to put the best face on any situation — good, bad, or self-inflicted — and that they’re well-paid and could always quit, but they should never have been obligated to cover for this clown in the first place. (Media professionals who enjoy that kind of morally bankrupt cat-and-mouse byplay go into politics or the private sector, not public higher education.)
One of the things I respect about Basset and Beck is that over the past five years I have never found anything they said to be objectively false. The problem, more often than not, was what was left unsaid, but then again they don’t make such decisions on their own. The bureaucratic intent to deceive at UI comes from the top, whether in the president’s office or more broadly in central administration, and because the university’s spokespersons are quite literally paid to speak for the school they have to follow those dictates or risk forfeiting their jobs. And personally I don’t think it would be fair to ask anyone at the University of Iowa to give up their positions just because a small cabal of co-conspirators got together in 2015 and decided to steal the Iowa presidency.
At first blush both Miller’s headline and the quotes from Bassett seem clear. Because of losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Iowa is loaning $50M in cash to the UI Athletics Department, which is otherwise required to be self-sustaining. Were there not such a requirement the university could give athletics any amount of money free and clear, but because athletics is required to pay its own way, that $50M will constitute a loan to be “repaid over the next 10 to 15 years”. No freeloading from the jocks.
Assuming for the sake of argument that it is legal for the University of Iowa to loan the athletics department $50M, and not a self-evident violation of the dictate that athletics must be self-sustaining — which would seem to compel borrowing on the open market — we are still left with the obvious question of where the university found $50M to pass along to AD Gary Barta. After pleading perpetual poverty on an annual basis for five-plus years, where did Harreld suddenly find $50M in cash to pass to his favorite bureaucratic bro?
As Miller made clear on Monday, and in earlier reporting, the main campus also suffered losses due to the coronavirus pandemic, so where did that magical $50M come from? (Also from the Gazette’s Miller: Dorms at Iowa universities lose tens of million in pandemic, and Iowa universities distribute less financial aid as enrollment drops.) The answer in Miller’s report, as provided by Bassett, is that the money is coming from the “university’s cash reserves” — but what does that mean?
Having read pretty much every statement from a UI official over the past five-plus years, I can tell you that the words “cash reserves” are not bandied about on a routine basis. In fact, if you do a search for ‘University of Iowa’ and ‘cash reserves’, the first hits reference the plan to give $50M to athletics, but after that the mentions become sparse. The only memory I have of any admission of a discretionary cash reserve comes from a press release on the Iowa Now website in 2016, when the university did acknowledge that its “new guiding principles” included establishing a slush fund for Harreld:
UI leadership also set aside $10.8 million for a Strategic Initiative Fund to ensure high-priority activities receive adequate resources. Leadership reviewed 66 proposals from the colleges and VP offices totaling $22 million, before eventually selecting the 25 most ready for implementation. The strategic initiatives selected include increased student financial aid, new academic advisers, faculty cluster hires, support for interdisciplinary and large grant proposals, and investment in building renewal and energy conservation.
“In order to provide a cushion, a small amount of the $10.8 million will be reserved for one-time commitments that may arise during the year,” says Rod Lehnertz, vice president for finance and operations.
Apart from the athletic department’s own cash reserves — which, in 2017, were used to pay a $6.5M court judgement, after AD Barta was found guilty of discriminating against two female UI employees — I can’t recall any other mention of a cash reserve at the University of Iowa. Still, as to the source of the funds that Harreld is now planning to loan to Barta, it may actually be that Harreld amassed a massive, secret, discretionary slush fund over the past five-plus years totaling $50M or more, while at the same time swearing up and down to students, staff, faculty, donors and state legislators that the school was desperately in need of additional financial resources. (Speaking of the faculty…since Harreld is such a huge support of shared governance, can we assume he consulted with the UI Faculty Senate and other shared-governance bodies before agreeing to loan Gary Barta $50M in cash that belongs to the school?)
If that is the case — if the University of Iowa has been sitting on $50M in cash or more — that will obviously be of momentary advantage to the athletics department, but that admission will also be of considerable disadvantage to the university as a whole, and in particular to the next UI president, when the conversation once again turns to tuition and state funding. Maybe the Iowa Board of Regents supported such a secret accumulation of cash, perhaps even directed Harreld to generate a massive slush fund, but that is going to come as shocking news both to the students who are being bled for revenue every semester, and to the members of the state legislature who have listened to Harreld and the board beg for cash on the very premise that they don’t have enough. (Consider, for example, last-year’s joint decision by Harreld and Barta to kill off four varsity sports, which we now learn could have been prevented by a similar loan, until those sports established their own self-sufficiency. Instead, Harreld and Barta killed those sports off first, then only later announced that salvation was available in the form of a self-generated loan.)
Having said all that, I think it is unlikely that the “cash reserves” Harreld intends to loan to Barta come from a secret slush fund. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, as it would be on a campus run by administrators of even median integrity, but I don’t think it’s likely because having that much secret cash sitting around is the kind of thing that is hard to keep quiet. Harreld himself is lying trash, and I wouldn’t put anything past him personally, but when you start pulling in people like UI CFO and Treasurer Terry Johnson, and SVP for Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz, those people still seem to care about their professional reputations. (If you’re new to this site and think I’m joking about Harreld, here is a reminder that he lied about the fact that the UI P3 constituted a lease of university assets, only to then acknowledge that lie two months later during the official announcement of the deal.)
If the miraculous $50M in cash reserves is not from a secret stash, then the only other explanation I can think of is that the term ‘cash reserves’ is being used as a synonym for the university’s general education fund, which is the great co-mingled pot of revenue from which the university’s expenses are paid. (You can see the pie chart showing current expected revenue for the General Education Fund here.) While UI spokespersons and other UI officials talk about the gen-ed fund routinely, however, the problem with using ‘cash reserves’ as a synonym is that it is not only unnecessary but imprecise. Meaning either Iowa’s spokesperson was being sloppy in this instance — and Anne Basset is not sloppy — or there was a perceived problem with simply stating that the $50M loan to athletics was coming from gen-ed fund revenues.
As it happens there is such a problem, and it’s about as basic as one can get regarding the university’s books. Whether you clicked on the link above to the pie chart or not, the graphic shows that the university expects to bring in $727.9M in revenue from various sources for Fiscal Year 2020-2021 (FY2021). While that’s certainly a lot of money, the pie chart for expenditures for FY201 shows the full $727.9M being spent with no money left over — not even $1M, let alone $50M in cash.
Again that leaves us with two possibilities. Either one or more persons at UI has been cooking the books, and stuffing tens of millions of dollars into a secret slush fund which Harreld now intends to loan to athletics, or there aren’t any hidden cash reserves to lend — meaning the loan is coming from massive cash reserves that are in plain view. So how do we resolve this conundrum?
The only answer I can come up with that makes any sense is that “cash reserves” in this case refers to money in the UI Gen Ed Fund that is being held to cover future expenses, but which has not yet been paid out. Much like you might stockpile cash to pay for tuition next fall, or to cover your property taxes, the university holds money to cover future costs like payroll. At any given time there may be tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars on the UI books which is spoken for but not yet disbursed, and that money quite literally represents the school’s cash reserves.
The problem with passing $50M from those reserves to Gary Barta, of course, is the same problem you would have if you gave him your tuition money for next fall, or the money you were holding back to pay your property taxes. It’s not that you had no money in reserve to give, it’s that in giving that money you would create a shortfall for yourself — as the University of Iowa will clearly do if it passes $50M in cash from the gen-ed fund to the athletics department. The university probably does have that much money on hand, but as the pie charts above make clear all of that money is being held to cover future expenses, which the school will still be obligated to meet long before the 10-to-15-year window during which the loan will be repaid.
In terms of filling a $50M crater in the University of Iowa budget, I also see only two options. The school can obviously raise tuition and fees to eventually cover the shortfall, but that won’t happen before the current fiscal year ends on June 30th. And of course that would also be a gross — albeit sneaky and indirect — violation of the policy that athletics must be self-sustaining. Alternatively, the university can pull $50M out of the $1B UI P3 endowment almost immediately, and do anything it wants with that money without asking anyone else for permission.
The problem with plundering the P3 endowment to cover athletics losses from the pandemic is that J. Bruce Harreld has repeatedly and explicitly insisted that the UI P3 won’t be used to cover losses associated with the pandemic. From Alexadra Skores at the Daily Iowan, on 09/01/20:
The DI reported in May that Harreld told the state Board of Regents the UI was facing $76 million in expenses and lost revenue through August from responding to the coronavirus. UI media-relations Director Anne Bassett told the DI that the funds from the public/private partnership will not be used to supplement any lost funding, however.
“The university has been clear that these resources are to be used to invest in the future success of the university,” she said. “Utilizing these funds to backfill a budget hole would rob future generations of the benefit of these resources, so the UI must and will practice discipline in allocating these resources.”
Even acknowledging that Harreld would lie through his teeth and break his word for his crony pals, here we have Bassett on the record as well. Likewise, in Miller’s piece from Monday we have another quote from Bassett, although it’s not clear if that quote was in response to a question from Miller for that story, or from a prior communication:
The UI athletics loan comes as its Board of Regents is asking lawmakers to restore $8 million the Legislature cut mid-fiscal 2020 and up the state’s general education support another $18 million for fiscal 2022. UI recently created another new revenue stream by entering into a public-private partnership for the operation of its utility system, enabling the creation of an endowment expected to generate $15 million annually for the UI strategic plan.
But spokeswoman Bassett said, “Investment revenue generated from the public-private partnership (P3) for the university’s utility system is solely dedicated to supporting initiatives to bolster student success and develop and retain faculty.”
Because I cannot find that quote in any prior reporting from Miller, I think Bassett probably was responding to a question for Miller’s story on Monday — thus confirming that the UI P3 will not be the ultimate source of the $50M loan to the athletics department. In either case, however, we’re still left with the question we started with. Where is the $50M in cash coming from that Harreld is loaning to AD Barta? What are these “cash reserves” that Bassett is talking about, but not specifying — and as long as we’re asking questions, why has there been zero subsequent reporting about this loan from any other outlet following Miller’s scoop on Monday? Normally the Iowa Now website would lead with a press release, and the Daily Iowan would report the story out the same day, but here we are four days later and there is nothing other than Miller’s report, plus a few passing mentions on other media sites which all source the Gazette.
So which is it? Was there a $50M slush fund on the UI campus that the public and UI community knew nothing about? Will tuition and fees be dramatically hiked in the coming months to cover that $50M hole? Or is Harreld taking $50M from the UI P3 endowment and loaning it to his bro-buddy? Because absent new information, it’s one of those.
04/07/21 — The UI Presidential Search Committee and Iowa Board of Regents have posted the schedule of finalist visits to the UI campus. The schedule is unchanged from the tentative schedule posted earlier, and the candidates themselves will not be identified until the day before their initial appearance, but the fact that there are still four candidates listed after being notified of their standing by the executive search firm is a good sign, because it means no one dropped out. (That could still happen, particularly after several of the candidates are revealed, but so far there are still four finalists willing to publicly declare their interest in the Iowa presidency.)
Additional reporting on details about the visits from Daily Iowan Executive Editor Sarah Watson: Four finalists for University of Iowa presidency set to visit campus this month.
04/04/21 — On Thursday and Friday of last week the University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee conducted confidential interviews with twelve total semifinalists for the position being vacated by illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld. Following closed deliberations on Saturday the committee announced that four finalists had been selected to appear on campus, in serial fashion over a two-week period, for meetings and interviews with the greater university community. While the names of the finalists will not be revealed until the day before their scheduled meetings begin, their identifying numbers — out of 79 original applicants — were 12, 40, 45 and 74.
Other than noting that the finalists generally span the full range of possible submission dates, it is impossible to draw any conclusions from those identifying numbers. Ideally the names of the candidates will be paired with their numbers when the candidates are revealed, so we know who applied when, but we may have to wait for additional reporting to sort that out. Even the fact that one of the latest applicants proved to be one of the strongest candidates doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything suspect about that individual’s delayed entry — as was the case in 2015, when J. Bruce Harreld was ushered through each stage of the search process at the last possible minute. While the submission process is supposed to be confidential, reference checks can lead to information leaks, including to a candidate’s current employer, who may not know the candidate is looking to move on. For that reason, some candidates do prefer to wait until the last possible minute to express their interest, to limit the risk of negative repercussions should their candidacy not prove successful.
The finalist visits are currently scheduled from April 12th to 23rd, but the sequencing of those visits will probably not coincide with the numerical identifiers above. As noted in a prior post, there is an unfortunate industry-wide tendency in so-called open presidential searches — like the one being conducted at Iowa — to intentionally sequence reveals both for dramatic impact and to validate the search itself. Specifically, weaker candidates tend to be scheduled early not only to build tension as the reveals progress, but to prevent those weaker candidates from dropping out if they believe they will not be appointed. (Again, candidates might understandably prefer to withdraw to prevent their current employer from learning they were eager to leave, but suddenly have nowhere to go.)
To see how the sequencing of candidates can be critical to the perceived success of an open search, imagine four finalists comprising one strong candidate and three weaker candidates. If the strong candidate is revealed first not only will the weaker candidates be incentivized to withdraw, to avoid having their names disclosed to their current employers, but each successive reveal will inherently feel like a let-down to that campus community. Conversely, if the three weaker candidates are scheduled first it would seem like a hotly-contested pageant until the final reveal, at which point everyone would feel rewarded for investing themselves in the outcome. In each case it’s the same search process with the same slate of finalists, but the sequencing of the candidates materially impacts the perception of the overall success of the search. (In the former example the search produces one good candidate and three also-rans; in the latter, three good candidates and one great candidate, truly befitting the august history of that fine institution.)
Ideally the four finalists nominated by the UI search committee would be equal in overall strength, thus obviating concerns about the sequencing of the reveals. In reality, not only is it unlikely that four equally strong candidates applied for the position, but entrenched inequities in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) would predict that most of the best-qualified candidates will be white males who profited from bias earlier in their careers. Were the strongest candidates also persons of color and/or women that would make the selection of finalists easier, but that scenario also defies historical precedent. More likely the strongest candidates, at least on paper, will be white males, and that puts any search committee in a potential no-win position. Either submit a slate of white-male finalists, thus opening the search to valid charges of lack of diversity — even if there were simply no strong diverse applicants — or include lesser-qualified applicants to show that diversity was not the determining factor in the appointment.
Complicating matters further, the most qualified candidates are not necessarily the strongest candidates, because the strongest candidates may be internal candidates who either have a built-in base of campus support, or — as was the case with the corrupt appointment of J. Bruce Harreld in 2015 — crony candidates who are manifestly unqualified for the position, but who have friends in high places who are willing to give them the job. As noted in multiple prior posts there is a high probability that one of the four finalists in the UI search is internal to the University of Iowa or to the greater regents enterprise, and as such there is also a high probability that that candidate will be revealed last regardless of the relative strength of their professional qualifications. (One look at a ringer and one or more of the other finalists might drop out.)
If everything goes according to schedule, then after the finalist forums play out over two weeks the search committee will pass along campus feedback about the visits, as well as their own views about the finalists, the regents will conduct their own brief and largely ceremonial interviews with those candidates , then the board will announce the next Iowa president on April 30th. If all of the finalists are of relatively equal strength, then unlike the 2015 search — when the university’s vehement rejection of Harreld’s candidacy was ignored, and the board appointed the one finalist who was objectively unqualified for the position — feedback from the campus will not be an issue. Because all four of this year’s finalists will probably not be equally qualified, however, there is the risk of introducing a candidate who may be clearly favored by the university community but not appointed by the board. And of course if part of the university support for a given candidate is based on the diversity of that candidate, then the selection of an otherwise qualified white male may precipitate or exacerbate lingering concerns about DEI.
As noted in recent posts, and as articulated by one of the co-chairs of the search during an early meeting, the solution to easing these tensions was not for the committee to limit the finalists by comparing qualifications, but instead to only pass along candidates who would be acceptable to the school if they were appointed by the board. In that context, a candidate whose diversity was considered a strength might be less qualified than another candidates with greater experience, but less-qualified does not mean unqualified. If the search committee has done its job then all four finalists will have sufficient qualifications and experience, in some combination, to lead the University of Iowa.
As also noted in recent posts, the search is now effectively over. We still have to wait four weeks to find out who the next Iowa president will be, but barring a last-minute disqualifying disclosure or irredeemable gaffe, the Board of Regents already knows which candidate it will appoint. Between the two regents on the search committee, and both the executive director/CEO and president of the board serving in as ex-officio members, they already know the identities of the four finalists. Whether or not there is a stealth board candidate among those finalists, the other six regents will reflexively defer to the president — out of political loyalty, if nothing else — so there really is nothing left to decide. It would certainly be beneficial if the candidate favored by the board was also favored by the UI community, but even if that isn’t the case there is nothing to prevent the board from picking the candidate they favor. All we can hope is that the search committee did its job and excluded finalists who are not deemed qualified to lead the school.
While the remainder of the search process constitutes de facto theater — like most of the board’s public pronouncements — that does not mean the candidate forums are without meaning. The pageant portion of the search still represents an opportunity for every candidate to prove they are the favorite of the UI community, and that’s of particular importance for internal candidates. Whether supported by central administration at the university or by the Board of Regents, an internal candidate may have an advantage among the competition, but they still also need to demonstrate buy-in from a campus community that is understandably dubious about crony presidential searches.
I don’t have any idea who will be named, and if the only positive in the entire search is that Harreld leaves the campus, town and state, that’s still a win, win and win. Ideally, however, the next president of the University of Iowa will be an honest and qualified individual who starts not with a crony mandate but with genuine support across the UI campus. To the extent that we’re all hostage to the unfolding drama we now have less than a month to go, and only six weeks before Harreld leaves the university for good.
While the full story of the search won’t be told until the appointment is made on April 30th, pay close attention to the fourth and final candidate reveal. From that disclosure it will be possible to reverse-engineer a great deal of information that is currently shrouded by confidentiality, including how strong the candidate pool was to begin with. If a ringer is revealed last then the likelihood is extremely high that that candidate will be appointed, as was the case with the 2017 search at Iowa State. And unfortunately, that in turn will portend that the University of Iowa is no longer competitive on the national stage, and will continue the descent into mediocrity that began with Harreld’s appointment.
As for the search committee, I think they took their charge seriously, and I hope they feel it was worth their time. They also already know who Harreld’s likely successor will be, and whether that candidate was a ringer from the beginning, but that’s different from having a crony foisted on the school by a corrupt search. I don’t expect anything to come out about this process after the fact, except that the committee put forth an honest effort and made sure the next president of the University of Iowa was qualified for the job.
04/01/21 — Today and tomorrow the University of Iowa Presidential Search Committee will conduct twelve semifinalist interviews, six on each day, with each interview lasting a little over an hour. On Saturday morning the committee will then select three or four finalists who will be invited to the UI campus to make their case for becoming the next president of the school. (The vast majority of the proceedings over the next three days will be held in closed session, so there will be no immediate news to report.)
As noted in multiple recent posts, this is the most important point in the search for the UI community — even above the actual selection of the next president — because this is the last step at which the committee will have any say in the outcome. After the committee nominates three or four candidates to the Iowa Board of Regents, the board will be free to appoint any of those candidates, and it is all but certain the regents already have one or two favorites in the race. The obligation of the search committee now is to determine which of the semifinalists are superior and ideally co-equal in their qualifications and experience, so no matter whom the regents choose that choice is acceptable to the committee and to the greater university community that most of the committee members represent.
As for outgoing illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld, his last day will be on May 16th, which is a Sunday. Whether Harreld will be in the state then (or is even in the state now) is of little consequence because the new president will be named on April 30th. Due to long tradition in academic administration, however — which demands a hero’s sendoff, provided that a retiring high-ranking administrator was not convicted of a felony along the way — it should be expected that colleagues at the university and at the Board of Regents will say wonderful things about Harreld when he hits the bricks, if only because they expect the same treatment when it’s their turn to leave. In that context, however, it is interesting to consider a burst of stories over the past few days which touch on Harreld’s legacy.
* In conjunction with a keynote speech that she delivered on Monday, kicking off The Gazette’s week-long look at higher education, former UI President Mary Sue Coleman waded in on the anti-higher-ed laws that have been percolating in the Iowa legislature. At the same time, she advocated for the Board of Regents to reposition the state schools and higher-ed in general to emphasize the ways in which academia returns benefits to the state. From the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller: Former UI President Mary Sue Coleman: Focus on making Iowa higher ed the ‘envy of the Midwest’.
Given that Harreld is on the way out it was notable that Coleman made no mention of him, at least in the remarks quoted in the article. That said, Coleman’s pitch actually echoed remarks that Harreld himself made back in 2015, during his candidate forum, when he called for Iowa to become a “Midwest Ivy” — meaning a Midwestern Ivy League school. Now five and a half years later, how did Iowa progress toward that goal under J. Bruce Harreld?
* On Tuesday the university posted a press release about the latest U.S. News rankings for graduate and professional schools. It’s pretty easy to tell when new rankings are not particularly good because the university avoids any mention of relative changes. (When the rankings have improved the university cannot wait to dish about the details.)
Fortunately, the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller tacks such things year to year, and this year is no exception: New U.S. News graduate school rankings show losses, gains for Iowa universities. Particularly notable was this nugget about the UI College of Engineering:
At the University of Iowa, its law ranking fell two spots to No. 29; its masters of nursing program ranked No. 23, also down two; education ranked No. 48, one place below last year; engineering ranked No. 84, down 10 spots; its medical research program ranked No. 39, down five spots; and its primary care medicine ranking slipping two spots to No. 22.
Not only does Harreld have an engineering degree himself, from Purdue, but the former dean of the UI College of Engineering was on the search committee that passed Harreld along as a finalist in 2015. If any college on campus — other than perhaps the Tippie College of Business — should have profited from Harreld’s appointment, it was engineering, yet that was clearly not the case. (In fact, there was a lot of weirdness at the engineering college surrounding the former dean, who stepped down but somehow kept his hand in for another year or two, including appearing on key committees.)
While the College of Engineering suffered a collapse in its rankings, many of the other programs dropped as well. Assuming that the Board of Regents does wants to transition the three state universities into a single system school, however, there is currently a lot of overlap between business, education and engineering between Iowa, Iowa State and the University of Iowa. In that context, I wouldn’t be surprised if Engineering is being slowly marginalized at UI, and that in time Iowa State will dominate in Engineering, while Northern Iowa leads in Education, and Iowa in Business.
* If there was one consistent defense about the corrupt appointment of J. Bruce Harreld, it was that Harreld’s private-sector experience gave him an edge in strategic planning and organizational change when compared to clueless academic administrators. Having played hardball in the corporate world, Harreld was supposed to know how to run higher-ed like a business. In practice, not so much.
From the Gazette’s Miller on Tuesday: High costs, lack of planning and collaboration behind University of Iowa hospital rejection.
Steep project costs, lack of collaboration, insufficient planning, inefficiencies and potential harm to community health care providers are among the reasons a state council in February denied University of Iowa Health Care a certificate to build a $230 million hospital in North Liberty, records released Tuesday show.
I don’t think the University of Iowa should try to grow its way out of fiscal issues by taking territory away from surrounding private-sector healthcare providers. If the university is going to do that, however, it doesn’t seem like too much to ask to avoid looking incompetent in the process. (Greedy is bad, and stupid is bad, but greedy and stupid is downright embarrassing.)
* Asking whether Harreld accomplished anything is not a conversation worth having. He is not an axe murderer as far as we know, and he certainly won’t be leaving the campus in literal ashes, probably. At a macro level the relevant question is whether anyone else would have done as well or better, and after five and a half years it seems self-evident that J. Bruce Harreld is the definition of administrative mediocrity. There is a valid related question, however, and that’s whether the abuses of power that Harreld abetted in order to be appointed can themselves produce benefits which accrue to Harreld.
Eleanor Hildebrandt at the Daily Iowan explores that question in a lengthy piece that was published on Wednesday: ‘We’d never had that before’: How UI President Bruce Harreld changed the system of shared governance. While I would have framed the piece a bit differently, and included additional context, the impact of the article on the current presidential search is particularly interesting. Specifically, the shared governance leaders on campus, and the greater UI community, clearly expect to have a continuing voice in the next administration, and that’s something the members of the search committee should keep in mind when they are conducing semifinalist interviews over the next two days, and picking finalists on Saturday.
Despite the understandable preference of high-ranking academic administrators to want to work as freely as possible, universities the size of Iowa are not corporations, they are communities. Harreld paid a lot of lip service to the idea of shared governance after participating in a ruthless betrayal of shared governance, and it isn’t hard to find instances where he continued that betrayal. The good news is that it doesn’t really matter how people on campus view Harreld’s legacy because he’s leaving. Whether the next president will support and build on shared governance at Iowa is the critical question.
* From Hannah Pinski, Yassie Buchanan, Signe Nettum at the Daily Iowan: The ideal candidate for the next head Hawkeye.
Other than speculating about a few specific internal candidates who may have applied, I have no inside information about who the next Iowa president will be. What I can say, unequivocally, is that nothing will get better after illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld is gone unless the next president embodies and demands personal and professional integrity. While the presidency is inherently political and transactional, that is precisely why the person in that role must have an inviolate code of conduct. After five-plus years putting up with a shyster, it is time for someone whose word is their bond.
* Speaking of the anti-higher-ed bills making their way through the Iowa legislature, it was reported late Wednesday that this year’s attempt to ban tenure at the state universities failed to garner sufficient support to advance. That doesn’t mean the same idiots won’t propose the same ban next year, but for the time being a tenure ban is off the table, and that’s important regarding the ongoing presidential search at Iowa. Not only would many candidates have dropped out if the ban passed into law, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the next president insists on an out-clause in their contract in case the ban succeeds in the future.