Our new UI president, an academic outsider


The new UI President Bruce Harreld addresses the crowd during a meeting in the IMU on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2015. (File photo/The Daily Iowan)

As promised, the state Board of Regents selected the next president of the University of Iowa on Thursday: Bruce Harreld, a business consultant with no academic administrative experience.

Harreld’s UI-provided résumé lists him as managing

principal of Executing Strategy, while his LinkedIn listed him more recently as an adviser to General Motors. He has also served as a lecturer at the Harvard Business School and in leadership roles at firms including Boston Market and IBM.

The speed of the public-evaluation process left very little time for the regents to receive feedback. Still, the UI Chapter of the American Association of University Professors staged a survey for UI faculty, staff, students, and community members to gauge their thoughts on the four finalists for UI president. There were 550 respondents in total: 379 faculty members and 171 others.

Perhaps it should be anticipated that university faculty would be leery of an outsider coming in to direct the school’s academic mission. But even given that caveat, preliminary backlash to Harreld has been extreme.

The three other candidates (Joseph Steinmetz, Michael Bernstein, and Marvin Krislov) all received a confidence vote of more than 90 percent, that is, 90 percent or more of the faculty-survey respondents believed these three were qualified to run the university. However, faculty and other respondents alike had virtually zero confidence in Harreld; 1.8 percent of faculty believed he was qualified of the candidates (2.6 percent of other respondents believed he was).

Moreover, when the results are broken down into the individual questions that were asked of the candidates, Harreld still received low marks. The survey specified these areas to evaluate the finalists on: articulating vision; overseeing budget; securing external funding; leading an academic institution; promoting a shared vision; working with government; establishing trust with the UI; and enhancing excellence. Respondents were asked to give a score on each from 1 to 7: Harreld’s highest average score was 2.63, in overseeing budget.

Given these results, the regents’ choice comes as a surprise to many given the other candidates’ histories as provosts and presidents in institutions such as Ohio State University, Tulane University, and Oberlin College. But the move is emblematic of a recent trend in higher education: bringing in presidents with little or no history in academia.

According to a 2012 study by the American Council on Education, 20 percent of college presidents in the United States come from fields outside academia. Six years previously, these outsiders only made up 13 percent of presidents. With many institutions across the nation struggling with stagnant or decreased education funding, perhaps the bodies making these decisions seek a more business-minded approach.

At Harreld’s forum on Tuesday, he said he wanted to change the core of the UI to “make great greater.” He also noted that the UI shares many of the same problems as companies, with students as the customers.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board does not intend to preemptively criticize an incoming president, and we sincerely hope Harreld can lead the UI to greater success as its president.

However, our plea to Harreld is this: Remember that the UI is not just a business. With limited additional funding for the university, tough decisions will face you in the coming years. But the integrity of the UI’s academic mission cannot be sacrificed for the bottom line.

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