The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Editorial: Incivility, unrest at Harreld’s town hall

A woman holds a sign in protest of the president of the University, Bruce Harreld, at the town hall on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. She and others gathered at the town hall in the Pomerantz Center to urge the president to resign during the town hall meeting. (The Daily Iowan/Tawny Schmit)

Roughly 120 days into his controversial presidency, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld has not been able to establish a strong footing upon which to build success, though few have given him an opportunity to do so.

On Tuesday night, Harreld hosted a town hall. Rather than rushing through an editorial on the heated event, the Daily Iowan Editorial Board took a step back to consider what was said (and yelled) during the event.

The anger in the room was palpable. There were several takeaways from the president’s first town hall, but the most obvious throughout the evening was this: People are still not happy. And to some degree, anger may be an appropriate reaction to the circumstances at the UI, however, the anger expressed on Tuesday was largely misdirected.

To put it bluntly, the event looked more like an episode of “Jerry Springer” than an intelligent conversation among members of the university community. One protester in particular exhibited the most disrespect toward the university, Harreld, and (worst of all) fellow community members; her name will not be included as to prevent bringing validation to her disgraceful actions.

The methodology pursued by such protesters served only to disrupt the event and prevent Harreld from ultimately reaching the segment about which they were so concerned. As one audience member pointed out, disruption can (and should) serve a political purpose, but its power was misused and abused during the president’s town hall on Tuesday.

Some of the more justifiable anger was directed at the UI’s handling of uninspiring-at-best race relations, of the budget, and of the hiring process associated with Harreld’s appointment.

The first thing to note is the picture that Harreld painted of an aggressively middling UI. In fact, there was not a single category in which the school led or even came in second or third among the 10 institutions in our official peer group.

RELATED: Harreld town hall turns tense

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As was addressed in the town hall, the UI tries to be a world-class institution while operating on a budget that would better classify it as a “budget” institution. About this fact, anger is appropriate. But over the past decade, the UI’s overall ranking by US News & World Report has fallen 22 spots to 82nd overall. Among our official peer group, this is the second worst slide behind only the University of Arizona.

If UI hopes to climb the ranks of U.S. institutions (public or otherwise), it is clear that adjustments must be made to the budget and funding of the school. While Harreld addressed some components of this, such as calling on alumni philanthropy for projects outside of buildings, a lot remains unanswered as the school tries to cope with this identity crisis.

Beyond dwindling rankings and budgetary problems, issues of race also came to the forefront of the impassioned discussion. With regard to questions about both the Native American and black populations at the university, Harreld’s answers were not particularly comforting. In his brief time as president of the university, Harreld has not done much to address issues of diversity, and given the climate of university culture across the country, this is certainly a mistake.

Casting a gray cloud over the first town hall, the collective anger of the crowd proves just how hard of a path Harreld has ahead of him to acceptance or even understanding. While the Editorial Board does not envy Harreld’s position, he will have to start addressing problems soon if he hopes to have any success.

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