The Board of Regents of the State of Iowa were tasked with finding a suitable replacement for outgoing University of Iowa President and, according to many faculty and graduate students, walking disaster, Sally Mason. Today they made their decision. This guy: Bruce Harreld.

(Image courtesy of KCRG)

President Harreld is certainly not a traditional choice for president of a major research university. For starters, his highest degree is an MBA and the extent of his experience in higher education is as adjunct faculty at Harvard Business School. Moreover, he displays a stunning ignorance of the responsibilities of the position as well as of how little he understands about what a university is.

Some examples of his answers to questions:

He revealed he has no idea what “contact hours” or “touch time” means in the context of “as graduate students 70% of undergraduate contact hours are with graduate assistants.”

He apparently said in his speech he’d like the University of Iowa to become a public ivy, to which someone took issue and pointed out that it already is and questioned how he could possibly be qualified if he couldn’t even properly research the institution. He said he got the information from Wikipedia (revealing he managed to misread Wikipedia, which does say it is a public ivy) and countered by asking the woman where she got her information from, and she said “I’m a lawyer. I don’t read Wikipedia!” and cited Greene’s Guides book on public ivies.

I got to him after question time was over and asked what he would be willing to do to make for a more amicable relationship between the administration and COGS (the union representing the graduate students employed at the university. He gave a non-answer and said that he would want to address specific issues that he doesn’t know the full extent of but from what he heard from us today seems to be a number of things, rather than do a bunch of - and I quote directly - “kumbaya crap.”

Harreld takes over the job on Nov. 2. That said, the above observations I made should be supplemented by others so we can get a full picture of what’s going on.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen provides further evidence of Harreld’s extreme unpopularity among faculty, staff, and students, as well as his lack of qualifications:

In addition to airing concerns about J. Bruce Harreld’s personal business history, several University of Iowa questioners Tuesday noted they are more concerned at how his inclusion among the four finalists fits into a long-term trend they see among colleges, universities and their governing boards: Looking to the corporate sector to for leaders to turn around institutions of higher education.

Ed Wasserman, a professor of psychology, suggested in his question that providing a businessman with no university leadership experience was the equivalent of “giving the fox the key to henhouse” when it comes to transforming UI into a bottom-line business rather than an institution of higher learning.

[...]

“(The graduate employee union, COGS) believes that the three most important tasks of the president are to make sure that our university is fully funded by the state, that we address the issue of sexual assault on campus and that we address the needs of our growing international students.

None of these issue came up in his initial remarks.

He did address a specific sexual assault question in the Q&A period, and it seemed like he was committed to avoiding victim blaming and willing to deal with the cultural issues.

However, our remaining two points were unaddressed or, in the case of funding for the university, he seemed to be taking the opposite stance of where we think funding should be going.”

— Bailey Kelley, a UI graduate student and trustee of COGS, UE Local 896.

[...]

“For somebody who is apparently made one of four finalists after a national search on grounds that they have business experience, at a minimum, they need to put their business experience on the table for examination. And I’m not confident that what he offers is very spectacular in terms of his business history.

But it’s really troublesome that there is absolutely no experience at any level of education administration. ... .Nor has he been in a position to understand and implement the values of higher education ... in terms of culture (or) in terms of improving quality of life beyond what the university does for the economy of its state.”

— Nicholas Johnson, retired UI adjunct faculty member in law.

[...]

“I don’t know why he wants the job because he doesn’t know any of the details about the finances.

When asked about any specific proposals, he would always go back out to very vague generalities. So I was very unimpressed.

And I’m also worried [he] wants to cut us out of existence because he’s still open for cutting graduate and (teaching assistant) lines. He wants us to do research, but he won’t say how we’re going to be funded if we’re not going to be teaching.”

— Landon Elkind, a third year graduate student in philosophy [and financial officer for COGS] at UI.

The most bizarre aspect of his candidacy was certainly his CV. I have this saved in the event that the University of Iowa removes it from their online files like they did the video of his public forum job talk and Q&A. There are two very large oddities about this CV. The first is the last - his personal section, which appear to be things he believes qualify him personally for the position:

PERSONAL

Married to Mary Gillilan Harreld for 42 years; BS Purdue University, Juris Doctorate Boston College

Four adult children who all have advanced degrees

Six grandchildren

Ordained Elder, Presbyterian Church

Reared in Midwest USA

Outside interests include traveling, reading, jogging, hiking

It reads like a dating site ad. One that would get no attention. Because it sucks.

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The second, much more distressing part of his CV is his entry for most recent employment.

Executing Strategy, LLC Avon, Colorado 2014 - present

Managing Principal

Confidentially advise several public, private, and military organizations on leadership, organic growth and strategic renewal.

Here’s the problem. There is no “Executing Strategy, LLC” in Avon Colorado or anywhere else in Colorado. There’s a company by that name in Florida, but that is not this one. Harreld lists as his most recent job a position in a company which does not exist. The Press-Citizen reports:

On the resume available on the University of Iowa website, J. Bruce Harreld listed his current job as the managing principal for the Colorado-based Executing Strategy, LLC — a company that “confidentially (advises) several public, private and military organization on leadership, organic growth and strategic renewal.”

The Colorado secretary of state, however, has no listing for a company of that name.

Harreld explained during Tuesday’s public forum that the listing had been a mistake. He used the name of a limited liability company that he had been using in Massachusetts but no longer needed now that his clients wanted to work with him to assume liability directly. He allowed that company to lapse.

“So that’s ‘shame on me,’”Harreld said. “There is no Colorado corporation. That’s my company. … It’s me personally working.”

The Massachusetts company does appear to exist, and is still listed as “Active” rather than lapsed.

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Suffice to say, the appointment of Harreld to the presidency signals a move toward a more business-oriented approach to the governance of the University of Iowa. Given that all nine members of the board of regents have been appointed by Governor Branstad, that they are happy to seek new state funds for Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa but not University of Iowa, and that Johnson County (where the University of Iowa is located) is the only county to have voted against Branstad in the last gubernatorial election it would appear that Harreld’s selection by the Board of Regents may be a move calculated to punish the university.

Below you may watch the job talk and Q&A with Harreld via youtube, hopefully far beyond the reach of the Board of Regents’s erasing grasp.

There are dark days ahead for the faculty and graduate students at the University of Iowa and real concern what Harreld’s tenure could mean for the reputation and success of the University of Iowa as an educational and research institution.

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A reminder: Harreld would not be qualified to even apply for an entry-level tenure-track job at the university he is now president of. A microcosm of what is happening to higher education at large in this country.