Back in September, after 97% of faculty and staff polled said he was unqualified to hold the job, The University of Iowa community was surprised when the Board of Regents selected J. Bruce Harreld as its new president. Harreld, a former Boston Market executive with no academic administrative experience, was up against the president of Oberlin College and the provost of Ohio State University, among others. His entire application packet consisted of a three-page resume, which turned out to inaccurately list his most recent employer, and he was consistently the last choice of every stakeholder group consulted. But he was also the only candidate to speak on the phone with Governor Branstad, and he met privately with the regents during the selection process. Last week, the American Association of University Professors released its report on the matter, which found that the UI Presidential Search and Screen Committee played no meaningful role in Harreld’s selection. According to AAUP, his appointment was a “crude exercise in naked power” on the part of the regents.
The good news is that President Harreld has hired “crisis communications consultant” Eileen Wixted to help him manage his relationships with the UI community, which currently involve a lot of protests. He’s paying Wixted out of his own pocket, and it’s hard to criticize him for that. But the move suggests Harreld thinks the problem isn’t that he’s the president of a 32,000-student university when he has no academic administrative experience, or that the regents and the governor seem to have overruled the expressed desires of the university to put a businessman in charge. It’s that people see him that way.
So congratulations to President Harreld. Through favoritism and open disdain for the process, you got a job you’re not qualified to do. Soon, with the help of a paid flack, you’ll be able to deflect criticism and whitewash the corruption that put you in office until everyone gets tired of trying to remove you. And then I’ve got two words for you: distance learning.