Q&A: President Bruce Harreld and Provost P. Barry Butler



The Daily Iowan sat down with President Bruce Harreld and Provost Barry Butler on April 15 to discuss a variety of topics from funding to art to sexual assault.

By DI staff

President Bruce Harreld: We’ve been working since the town-hall meeting we had a couple months ago — it was crazy — if you go back through those slides, you’re talking about resource allocation, our rankings, and yes, we need more resources, but also, maybe we could use the resources we get more wisely if we think how to spend them judiciously when talking about our future and our values.
About 40 of us got together [April 8] and went to the Oakdale Research Campus and had all of the administration, all of the deans, many people that lead key portions of the campus in terms of operational — athletics, the foundation, shared governance was represented. We all got together and said we needed to reshape how we allocate the funds that we get against four key pillars, four key filters.

As we’re making our decisions, we want to sort them out based on our values, our rankings — U.S. News & World Report, AAU American Association of University Professors, or any other relevant ranking, because some of the professional schools have some of their own. We also said we’d start them out based on student outcomes and success. The fourth platform or filter — I’m not sure yet what we’re going to call these — that we’ll use to guide our investment decisions is our sense of where our world is headed, our future. These are the four.

We broke into discussion groups, and discussed these four areas quite aggressively as smaller teams came back together and summarized that. Now, the process is underway. It’s quite a bit different from in the past; it’s got some sense of how we’re going to make some of the hard decisions we’re going to have to make. It’s also a process that isn’t taking place only in Jessup Hall. It’s now got those 40 people — all the deans and other key leaders involved in owning their portion of the university — we actually all agreed on the guiding principles. We’re going to do the right things against those four filters for each piece of the institution, as well as overall so we’re walking in hands and guiding ourselves from the process.

It’s a little bit different; you’ve probably seen signs of it in various strategy and implementation teams to guide some of that work. I can say more and go into more details, but it’s a pretty dramatic shift in accountability from a few of us to a lot of us. [There is] much more teaming; we’ll see how it evolves, but I think it has quite a bit to go. I think it’ll result in us making some choices in some critical things we need to do in the future against our core values and the like.

Provost P. Barry Butler: I would add there are memos going out right now to those 40 units, so they’ll be receiving those today and in the next couple weeks, they’ll be working on those.

The Daily Iowan:  So this is evolving; there isn’t a hard start date?

Butler: There will be meetings scheduled for early May with each of the units and the leadership team here. We’ll get the group back together in late May for a complete get-together with all 40 units. Late May is when we’ll finalize the groups.

Harreld: It’s an ongoing process — I think we’ll learn from this next year and adjust. We’re going to meet individually with each unit and see how they’ve made the choices against those four filters, then we’ll meet as a whole again, and everyone will compare notes. Then we’ll finalize and put things together later. It’s much more teaming-based.

DI: Earlier this year at a meeting with the UI retirees’ association, you put forth the idea that in anticipation of growing athletics revenues, the athletics programs themselves should contribute to the academic budget. Is this still a plan you are pursuing? How much do you see the athletics programs contributing to the academic budget?  What is the timeline for this implementation?

Harreld: I’ve asked [Athletics Director Gary Barta] to really think about it and start to engage in the process. I think that’s the way an institution like this works. Several years ago, maybe a decade ago, this institution said we’re not going to move money from academics into athletics. Athletics is going to have to sit on its own bottom, so to speak. That’s the phrase I heard. Somebody made that statement, and that’s where we are.

We’re actually one of the few institutions at the Division-1 level — the *Chronicle of Higher Education* reported a lot of schools, and we were at the bottom of this list, Percentage of athletics supported by. The only thing supported by us now is that Rec Center [UI Recreation & Wellness Center], that’s really student-centered in my book. I mean, I go work out at it; I’m sure some of you do as well.

That’s the only piece we’ve got, so we’re at the bottom of the list. What’s my point? My point is, I think it’s time to think about the next step. The next step might be that we have a more formal passing of athletics now. For good or for bad, the sports-world revenue in terms of TV, radio, website, fans, the stadiums is a machine. SEC, Big Ten, Pac 12, right? As those revenues have gone up, I think it’s high time that we ask another question — could they actually help deal with those fiscal issues that we’ve got.

So, yes, I’ve asked that from our Athletics Department, I’ve asked coaches to think about that, and I’ve been talking to other university presidents in the Big Ten.

What’s the timeline? I’d like to see it happen relatively soon. I’d like to stand up and be one of the first major institutions in the United States that says, “Hey, it’s moving the other way.”

The question is also, I know Iowa and the passion we have for athletics, so we have to do that in a way we maintain excellence on the field and winning. Trying to win every game every year.

How do we get those two things to come together? I think smart, creative people can step up to a challenge like that. Just like they stepped up a decade ago and said we’re going to sit on our own bottom. That’s creativity right there.

Butler: It’s funny; if you look at other student newspapers across the country, the question being asked are the opposite — “How much money are you taking out of student tuition to pay for academics?”

Harreld: They’re complaints. ‘Why am I, as a student, subsidizing.”

Butler: In fact, it’s something on the order of all about a dozen schools.

Harreld: But, yes, I have asked it. We’re expecting people to step up and meet the challenge. If they can’t, we can talk about it. Why wouldn’t we ask it?

DI: Sticking in the world of athletics, given the Title IX complaints, investigators were on campus this week. Have you met with them and how have those conversations gone? What’s your take on this situation?

Harreld: They haven’t asked to meet, and I have not met. They’ve been on campus since midday on Monday to my understanding and meeting with a whole host of people. They’ve been meeting with many of the coaches, many of the athletes, they’ve measured locker room sizes, they’ve felt the material that we use in every sport’s jersey. They’ve gotten into scoreboards, they’ve gotten into fields, they’ve gotten into everything. And it’s good for them.
They’ve met with our athletics director, who has been shepherding with his whole staff the whole process. We welcome them. We benchmark in academics, we have outside —

Butler: We always have outside groups come in and look at academics, it’s no different. You want to get a third person coming in and looking; it’s good.

Harreld: Accreditation is a process that’s relatively formalized. We actually said to ourselves, of course it was a federal team, but why not embrace this as an opportunity to learn something.

Butler: Quite frankly, I think it’d be beneficial for all schools to have a third set of eyes to see what you’ve not seen yourself.

Harreld: A couple times through the week, I called and they said it’s going very, very well. We’ll see the report, and then we’ll have to figure out what’s in the report. You can’t predict that, but I think the spirit has been very open. We’ve really embraced it. Stay tuned.

DI: You mentioned earlier our report about the six-point [sexual-assault] plan wrapping up, and you’re happy with how that progressed. However, there have been 13 reported sexual assaults this year. What are your plans to address sexual assaults on campus?

Harreld: Here we go, another big issue. Another team with numerous meetings monthly, weekly with the campus, as well as the city community. As a team, we’ve really been working that.
Even though the six-point plan is completed, completed doesn’t mean we’re done. It just means the six-point plan start is finished. We’re doing several things. One, we got together a couple months ago and said we can do a lot more prevention, we’ve increased the staff to do the student educational: Process improves prevention. We’ve got a team of people going down to Texas in a couple months, taking a look at how they’re dealing with some of these issues to benchmark.

We created a “soft room” for a comfortable environment when a victim has been victimized; it’s more soothing, settling session for them.

We actually had an alert system that we realized we were being aggressive in our language. The students said, “Hey, you did this.” Keep going, there’s more and more training that we can have with ourselves and the people who deal with these situations to learn better techniques, etc., etc., etc.

This is an area in which we’re trying to simplify our policies. Another whole area, there’s a group that came together about a week and a half ago to say, “How do we standardize, simplify?” It’s still too complicated. People would almost have to go to a book or a website to figure out how to navigate or who to call.

Butler: I think some of these changes have, hopefully, made it easier for people to report, which they should be doing. We’re hoping people that have been assaulted to report it. That may be part of it; we don’t know for sure.

Harreld: That’s a good point. We’re in a weird area where actually more reporting actually might be better. Then we’re actually seeing rather than it being swept aside and an individual is dealing with it. We want people coming forward. Ironically, more reporting helps us and keeps us focused, and we learn from each incident something else that we could do better.

This is a continual effort, continual reporting. And again, stay tuned. This is not a box we’re going to check. It’s a journey.

Butler: It’s an important journey for us, too. It’s an important journey.

DI: What achievements are you proud of since you took this position and what do you think are the top three issues you are facing this year?

Harreld: I’m not sure there’s not only three; I’m not sure I rank them, I think there are a lot that are pretty important. We just touched on one. I’ve appreciated all the help I’ve gotten from a lot of people. There’s a lot of hard work going on, there’s a real passion for the institution. I think as we’ve started to get into the rankings and what’s been happening for the last couple years, people really stood up and said, “Hey, we can do better than that.” So I really appreciate the cooperation and ownership. A lot of people pulled me aside and said, “Hey, you ought to know this” or “You’re doing a mistake here.” There’s a real sense of teamwork. I really appreciate that. I think there’s a great team here, so that helps.

The big issues are resource allocation, we’ve got to allocate our resources more wisely, hence the whole conversation, what are the filters, how are we going to sort that out. I think there’s a real spirit of teamwork that came through that, and I think everyone felt like it was a first productive step in the new era, if you will.

I think the whole issue of campus safety keeps coming back over and over. We may well never be finished with that; it’s a journey. We’re going to keep doing it, we’re going to keep focusing on it. We’ve moved on from the six point plan, I think we’ve got a lot of that accomplished.

You reported that quite accurately two weeks ago. On the other hand, it’s still a big issue, and we’ve got more to do. I think we’ve got a lot of going on at a lot of colleges that we’re focused on in terms of —

Butler: Hired a new dean of education, an outstanding individual, here in a month or so.

Harreld: Yeah, Dan Clay, who has actually joined us for a couple alumni meetings. Like a month ago in Minneapolis, I saw him.

Then I think it’s an interesting time of year, as much as I was complaining about the chicken every night, as we pause to celebrate faculty excellence, student excellence, staff excellence through all these dinners — tonight, retirements. It’s sort of a wonderful reminder what the real purpose of the institution is, how great it is, and how we can continue to accentuate that, and I think that’s got to be a sense of the rankings that we keep talking about and AAU [American Assocaion of University Professors] it connects back to that, which is an institution that’s not really large but most importantly, really high quality and continues to pursue excellence.

Last night, the vice president for Research handed out a series of awards, for patents and the like. Most of that’s faculty, but I was really impressed by how many students were there, particularly even undergraduate students were receiving awards. Now, so I put that under, we really need to continue that.

Then, I think there’s a whole headline of we’re asking ourselves some questions of: Could we do a better job at the core-curriculum level, at the entry, could we make the entry to our high level of education from high school or community colleges smoother, better? Also, how do we add more leadership opportunities?

When I talk to corporations, there’s a lot of discussion going on in society about preparing students not just to learn things but for jobs. And they click on things like a collaborative, knowing how to participate and work on projects, more leadership and social skills — and I think that’s great, that’s all perfect. But then it begs in my mind: Can we do a better job of providing internships, projects on campus, leadership roles, as people form new leadership roles on various committees across campus, could we do a better job of teaching them the principles of leadership?

How do you form, storm, norm, and perform in a team? How do you deal with allocation of resources? And those are all coachable and trainable, and if we introduce that across some of our coursework or in some of our community work, it might actually really help. So that’s another agenda — I could keep going, I don’t think there are three, I think there are maybe 30.

DI: The University of Iowa recently pulled out of a public-private partnership for the UI Museum of Art, and after that [Regent President] Bruce Rastetter praised you and said you were “changing the culture” at the UI. Can you walk us through why you made that decision and what kind of culture shift, if any, are you looking to make here on campus?

Harreld: I’ll pull that apart, because there’s a lot in there. First of all, I guess I did make the decision, but actually a whole group of us made the decision; once again, it was a team. We got together six, maybe eight weeks ago, started looking at the first hard numbers coming out of the public-private partnership. I know for me, the room was really quiet, because we were looking at really, really large numbers. And I was trying to figure out — why were they so large? Because the footprint of the building wasn’t that large. And as we started going through it, I started to realize that, first of all, part of this type of partnership, I’ve seen them in the past, part of it means that that private party has the capital often, the money, to build the site. So we weren’t putting much of our own cash into it, but yet we were buying it out through time to own the art museum ultimately.

So they were developing it, and then they were leasing it to us, with the right to own at some point. In there, is an embedded interest rate implicit, and then there was land, a very valuable piece of land in a major metropolitan area that had a lot of alternative uses. Add those two things up, and I think that’s why we got to a lot of money. So we said, do we have an alternative? We played around with that for a little while and then we actually went way west at one point in the conversation, way off to the Hawkeye campus. Well, that’s hard, doesn’t feel like bringing art back to campus. To make a long story short, we ended up realizing we could break the heavy economics substantially by taking a piece of land we already own and building a first-class facility, and as we started getting closer and closer to it, we started realizing we could do it next to the library. And connect the library and the new art museum, which has all sort of options. And you just found out the other day that we’re not alone.

Butler: So the group called the Association of Research Libraries, we’re a member of it, it’s the top 50 or 60 schools in the country. You know, like any organization, you look at best practices around the world, and we had one of their members on campus just a couple days ago, and we got to talking about libraries and the future of libraries and this concept of sort of partnering museums with a library is starting to become very interesting now. There are a few schools that are starting to do it.

In fact, there are a few leader programs in the world that we’re going to take a look at. One is in Scotland, the University of Edinburgh, and they had done it for that very reason. It was a very “aha” moment. It’s very interesting to partner a museum and a library together in a way that you can very easily move from one to the other and share resources, such as conservation work, archives, you name it. So it’s actually pretty exciting.

Harreld: So then the other piece that happened; I probably inserted myself, Barry and I went over to a committee that has been working on the design of the new art museum in that city location, and we started talking to them about this logic we were using, without any site specific.

One of the things they started really getting me focused on was how we start bringing our art back to campus sooner. And they started really just blasting, appropriately, at me about that it’s been eight years, and we could have another whole generation, another four years without the students seeing and using the art in their scholarship and all the rest. We so kind of talked out of that and said you know we had a really high number, now we’re down at an interesting number, using our own land and integrated even more centrally, I would argue, than it was going to be.
And in a sense, we had some money between what it was going to cost and what we’re now costing, so we said, “Why don’t we take a sliver of that and see if we could go back to the old art museum, do a better façade, make sure that we have a process to get the art out of there in 48, 72 hours, because these floods don’t come overnight, there’s a process.” We got it out of there once in however many days, so we said why don’t we bring the art back in 18 months.

So that’s how it all happened.

Now, your last piece of that is the culture. I don’t know, I’d have to let Mr. Rastetter talk about what he meant specifically about that. But I think for me, it means that teams are working together collaboratively and when they get stuck, they go work the issue a little bit more, and there’s a give-and-take, you know, in and out.

Everything’s considered, so there are a lot of options. And I think there’s probably also, I keep saying to the team here, our culture has been one of asking for more and more from third parties, and I think there are more positivity moving forward.

I’d like to see our culture be more creative, better stewards of what we’ve got, more innovative ways, hence, this whole new resource-allocation process we talked about at the beginning that connects to that.

These are all cultural shifts, and I hope they’re — I think it’s important for our long-term continuing to rise, reverse the past, a few years of dropping in the rankings. We need to stabilize for a year or two, that’d be wonderful, and then maybe we can start moving the other way. These are all connected.

DI: The Daily Iowan has reported several times in the past about the mental-health shortage between counselors and students, so we were wondering what are your tangible plans to address mental health on campus?

Harreld: I thought we already announced that, maybe we haven’t. Anyway, we will here. We have already agreed to dramatically increase the number of counselors, we’re out hiring now,  the question is how many we can hire that are good, high quality.. Apparently, we’re a little off cycle.

Butler: There’s a recruiting cycle for that particular position that kind of goes, I think, spring to spring, so we’re working a kind of temporary fix, but it will be dramatically be increased.

Harreld: Dramatically increased. Obviously, the waiting times are unacceptable, so we’re going to bring the waiting times way down. We actually used the waiting times as a — again, we worked the issue, there was a team of us. We got together with the people who direct those services, Barry and the other Barry and his team.

Butler: There’ll be a few embedded in the residence halls, so there’s a combination, but the bottom line is it’ll be a significant increase over how they’re being served right now.

Harreld: The graduate and undergraduate students worked the issue with us and also really got convinced in their own right that they wanted to propose an increase in fees which they have now, I think, worked through the final stages or are in the final stages of working that through the regents and the rest. But I just want to make sure everyone knows, we’re going to do it anyway, we’re not going to wait on that funding to start the hiring. The hiring and increase has already started, and if that has a hiccup, we’ll still do it, and we’ll still figure it out. The criteria and phrase that we all keep repeating and are probably tired of saying is, “What is the right thing for the institution?”
We’ll do the things that are right for the institution, not the budget didn’t make us do it, the Legislature didn’t make us do it, the regents didn’t make us do it — what’s right for the short-term and long-term interests of the institution.

Butler: And this is when we’re listening to the student leaders, both undergraduate and graduate and professional student leaders, share with us what they thought was a concern, as you’ve pointed out, and we went through and listened to them and responded, so it’s in the process now of wrapping up.



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