Iowa picked a president from outside of academia. And that's put academics on edge.

Faculty vote no confidence in Board of Regents

The University of Iowa picked a new president last week. And Bruce Harreld is not a traditional choice.

Harreld formerly served as IBM's senior VP. He has experience as a consultant and executive at multiple corporations.

But Harreld's credentials in higher ed are slim: just eight years as an adjunct business professor at Harvard University and Northwestern University.

And that is ruffling feathers across Iowa City.

A good fit?

Part of professors' resistance to Harreld comes from lurking tensions that precede—and await—him. Previous president Sally Mason frequently clashed with the Board of Regents over issues like state funding, admitting out-of-state students, and keeping a Jackson Pollack mural. For many faculty, these battles underscored the importance of having a strong president in seat who understands their values.

Some who opposed Harreld expressed concerns that he, with his business background, would align himself with the board and allow cuts like the ones Mason fought.

Others simply worry that Harreld's outsider background will make it difficult for him to manage the complex institution successfully. A poll by the American Association of University Professors shows that fewer than 3% of responding faculty members agree that Harreld is qualified to be president.

The poll results were released before the board chose Harreld—but the board chose Harreld anyway. In an apparent response, faculty members voted no confidence in the Board of Regents Tuesday.

Faculty feel cut out

That poll gets at another point of contention: some faculty members say the process was too quick and their voices were not heard.

Iowa faculty told Inside Higher Ed this selection process was "unorthodox" and included less opportunity for feedback on candidates. "There's very limited faculty participation," said one mathematics professor, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Also see: Wisconsin budget committee removes shared governance, tenure from law

Some faculty members also criticized Harreld for voicing unpopular opinions during a forum last week. For example, he said he could imagine a scenario in which he might agree to forfeit some state funding to help support two other Iowa universities—a very real and controversial issue in the state's higher education world right now.

Extending a hand

After he was named president, Harreld openly acknowledged the tension—and made a peace offering to those who resisted his appointment. He said that when shared governance is healthy, "I think the risk of hiring someone like me is much lower."

Part of why Harreld was chosen was for his track record of collaboration, team building, and leadership, says Bruce Rastetter, president of the Board of Regents.

"There's been a lot of discussion, and I think appropriate discussion, about my background," Harreld told students, professors, and other visitors at a forum last week.

One female president shares her thoughts on gender, academia, and leadership

Some faculty and administrators were more optimistic about Harreld's appointment. "I was actually tickled pink," says Kenneth Fisher, AVP for finance at University of Iowa Health Care. He says that his divisions operate more like a business, and he believes Harreld could be a good partner and ally.

Harreld says that, as president, he hopes to navigate Iowa through current challenges, as he has done for corporations in the past. "My experience is that great institutions don't actually maintain themselves," he said. "Great institutions have an ability to fall very quickly … As good as you are, you need to prepare yourself for what's coming ahead" (Kelderman/McIntire, Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/4; Woodhouse, Inside Higher Ed, 9/4; Woodhouse, Inside Higher Ed, 9/2; McIntire, Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/9).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.


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