Ruth Harkin’s decade-long career on the state Board of Regents will come to an end today, but she will not step out of the public eye completely.
Harkin was appointed to the board in 2005 and reappointed in 2009. She is married to former Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Harkin said she first became interested in becoming a regent while she was serving as Story County county attorney in her late 20s.
“It interested me because its one of the largest, most well-funded boards in the state,” she said. “I think that its one of the most important in the state simply because of the number of people affected by each decision the board makes.”
Harkin is a strong supporter of higher education, said Regent Robert Downer, whose term will also end today.
“She has benefited, as I have, from getting a good education in college,” Downer said. “I think her time on the board reflected her attitude of support for the regent schools.”
Making sure as many people as possible have the chance to attend college was one of the things Harkin worked toward during her time as a regent, she said.
“I voted in favor of the tuition freeze whenever it came up,” she said. “It’s basic economics. We have to keep the price low so that we can serve the maximum number of people.”
Sherry Bates, who was appointed to the board in December, said Harkin’s experience has helped her adjust to her position.
“She’s never afraid to help out or answer any questions,” Bates said. “I can’t say I know Ruth that well, but she brings a lot of knowledge with her that will be missed.”
Knowledge is not all that will be leaving the board with Harkin, Regent Hannah Walsh said. Walsh, a University of Iowa senior, will see her term end today along with Downer and Harkin.
“Both Ruth Harkin and Bob Downer have both been on this board for over 10 years,” she said. “That amount of experience is going to be impossible to replace … I think Ruth is a very strong role model that girls across Iowa can look up to. She was definitely a role model for me when we were on the board together.”
Downer agrees that the regents will miss Harkin.
“She has been an independent member while on the board,” he said. “She doesn’t follow the conventional wisdom all the time, and I’m not sure if the board will have the same free spirit going forward.”
Harkin’s time as a regent may be coming to an end, but by no means is she retiring. She will continue to sit on the Board of Directors of ConocoPhillips, the U.S.-Russia Business Council, and the Board of Visitors for the College of Business administration at the UI.
Even though she will still serve on various other bodies when her time as a regent ends, Harkin said she is looking forward to having more free time.
“I won’t be ‘retired’ by any means when my time on the board comes to an end,” she said. “What I’m really looking forward to is spending more time with my children and grandchildren.”