Weeks Before Hiring, New University of Iowa President Met Search Leaders - Higher Education
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Weeks Before Hiring, New University of Iowa President Met Search Leaders

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by Ryan J. Foley, Associated Press

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Two months before his surprise hiring as University of Iowa president, Bruce Harreld met with leaders of the search committee and the school’s governing board during a visit to campus.

Faculty critics said Harreld’s visit, confirmed by the university Tuesday, gives more credence to their claims that he may have been the inside candidate for the presidency all along.

“These are disturbing revelations and they suggest a subversion of the search process,” professor Ed Wasserman said. “It raises questions as to whether he was being fast-tracked for this position.”

The Board of Regents on Sept. 3 hired Harreld, a former IBM executive and lecturer at Harvard Business School with no prior experience in higher education administration or ties to the university, to replace Sally Mason. The selection has drawn criticism from students, faculty and staff, who overwhelmingly rated Harreld as unqualified in an online survey after he struggled during a public forum.

Groups representing faculty and the school’s 31,000 students have approved no-confidence votes in the regents, who passed over three finalists with wide campus support and decades of experience running colleges.

Interim university president Jean Robillard, who led the 21-member search committee, said Tuesday that he invited Harreld to speak to top administrators of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on July 8 about “transformational change,” his area of expertise. Robillard said that, at his request, Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter joined him and Harreld for lunch after the talk.

Rastetter was also a member of the search committee and leads the board that voted 9-0 to hire Harreld. He’s dismissed criticism of Harreld’s selection as resistance to change, saying he was chosen for his strategic thinking and success in positions with IBM, Boston Market and Kraft Foods.

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The search was entering a critical phase when the trio met, with applications due July 31. Robillard declined to say what was discussed. A spokesman said Rastetter was unavailable for comment.

Harreld wasn’t paid for the speech — attended by about 40 UIHC administrators and doctors — or his travel expenses.

At the time of his hiring, Harreld’s résumé listed his job as managing principal of Executing Strategy, LLC, saying he advises “public, private, and military organizations on leadership, organic growth and strategic renewal.” He later admitted that corporation was now defunct, saying he failed to update his résumé properly.

No other would-be candidates received a speaking invitation from Robillard, who has been a rare campus voice praising Harreld’s hiring and the transparency of the search. Robillard has called him a “breath of fresh air” and predicted he would lead the university to growth and excellence.

Robillard and Rastetter also traveled to meet with another eventual candidate in Des Moines, university spokeswoman Janeane Beck said. That candidate requested and received a tour of UIHC but didn’t speak to a group. Another candidate was a guest speaker to the College of Public Health.

Harreld is scheduled to start Nov. 2.

For critics of his hiring, his visit is the latest suggestion of preferential treatment. They note that Harreld was the only candidate to speak by phone with Gov. Terry Branstad and was given a higher starting salary than Mason earned in her eighth year.

“What you have is a White male privilege situation,” said civil rights attorney Tom Newkirk, who has accused the university of gender bias in athletics’ personnel decisions. “He’s being able to make up for his lack of qualifications because of his networking and access.”

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Days before his hiring, Harreld was asked during the Aug. 31 forum by professor John Scott whether he had prior “business or financial dealings” with search committee members or had been promised the job. Harreld said no, but Scott remains skeptical.

“If it was a fake search, we are looking at an incredible waste of taxpayer money,” he said, noting an outside search firm is guaranteed $200,000 plus expenses for its work.

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