Full transcript: Q&A with President Bruce Harreld

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Full transcript: Q&A with President Bruce Harreld


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The Daily Iowan: Free speech has been a hot-button topic on college campuses around the country, not just here. A few instances for me come to mind. The pro-Trump chalkings at Emory University [recently] caused some sort of outrage. What do you think is or should be the university’s approach towards free speech, or hate speech, more specifically?
Harreld: Tough question. And we’re dealing with this as a society. Well, first of all, I think as long as it doesn’t trip across any legal barriers, our country has been founded on the notion of free speech. So I think we have to start with that. [It’s] something to be respected. And then, at times, it becomes hurtful and we have this whole issue of now microaggressions and somebody says something they didn’t really perhaps intend to be taken the wrong way, but yet, someone took it that way … I think there’s real shades of gray, I think they’re all unfortunate, and in some respects, I feel like we’ve forgotten how to have a dialogue, a conversation, and start learning from one another. I’m watching the political campaigns where someone steps up and just blasts something and someone makes an assumption about was or wasn’t said and it’s really unfortunate. It’s really unfortunate. Having said that, we need to be able to speak what’s on our mind and learn from it. So, tough, tough issue.

DI: Do you see the university taking the policy stance toward any kind of speech, like  hate speech?

Harreld: No, in terms of hate speech, sometimes hate speech for one person is love speech for somebody else. If it crosses the line and we need to do something about it which I don’t think has occurred .

Lon Moeller: We’ve had conversations with the law school about kind of educating the campus about the value of free speech what a public forum is, and I think those conversations will continue.

Harreld: And even in my own town meetings, we’ve gotten right up against that. I could argue that a lot of it has been hateful to me. My wife was at the last meeting and she’s certainly found some of it that way, but what’s the point? People should be able to say what they want to say. I think part of the issue is also on the other side on the receiving end. It doesn’t mean I have to believe it. I don’t have to be hurt by it. I know who I am, and I know my values. On the other hand, it’s a difficult position for everyone to take. So, slippery slopes all around us.

DI: You kind of hinted on something I wanted to bring up for my next question. Transparency has long been a contentious issue on this campus long before you arrived.

Harreld: Transparency in what sense, just to make sure I understand the question?

DI: Just between students and the administration, faculty, everyone at the University of Iowa loves to have a conversation about what’s going on.

Harreld: Sure, it’s called a university. It’s the definition of the academy in many respects

DI: You kind of mentioned your last town hall…have you revised your decision to host three town halls per semester, and can you walk us through that process?

Harreld: No, we will continue those. We will continue those either, hopefully in better decorum or in better manners than we’ve exhibited so far. If not, no. I did actually — I’ve gotten so much pressure around the strategic planning and a budgeting process right now. That’s pretty important for us, and we decided to open up to the community discussion on the strategic planning issues, and everyone — not everyone — many people said that they felt it was unfortunate that we had do it this time of year with graduation, finals, grading, whatever’s going on. So, we decided to actually push it off a little bit just to give some relief to the system. I’ve seen a couple articles that say we changed because of that  — no, no. We didn’t change anything. We changed the timing a little bit because people — I think if people actually said that they could walk and chew gum at the same time,  and some of these things weren’t putting pressure, so much pressure on the system, we certainly would have had a town hall this week. But we’ve decided — and there’s another issue. This is a time — recently, we’ve gotten [into] this theme semester, [and it] is around social justice, and so we’re having a session this afternoon to talk about that. That also put another constraint in the time we might use for a town hall, so no, we haven’t changed any of that. It’s just, how much can the system take, all at once with all the other issues going on.

DI: So just to clarify, you fully intend to have three forums a semester, but maybe not this semester?

Harreld: No, no no, I still think we’ll have one in this “semester.”

(Interjection from Jeneane Beck, UI strategic communications, summarized, not a direct quote) President Harreld agreed to do three per year, not semester.

Harreld: We’ll have one — I am anticipating one in a few weeks. Will the students be here? Some will, some won’t, as they migrate. I think Lon, I think it was you, I’m not sure who it was, announced last week that we will have continue having some of the strategic planning sessions into the fall as [we’ll plan] to take the pressure off of the system. I think people are raising their hands saying, “How much can we do?” Fully respect that. That doesn’t mean to say we’re changing anything we’ve said, we’re just trying to take the pressure out of the system.

Moeller: And the strategic public planning forums have been helpful thus far because you hear the whole range of opinions on a variety of issues. And it’s been student groups, faculty groups, staff groups, supplementing what the president is talking about, but these public forums, we’re getting a lot of input and then I think the transparency, like Bruce said, is becoming really evident in the planning we’re doing these days.

DI: Speaking of the strategic plan, there have been members of the College of Liberals Arts and Sciences and  members of the faculty who are concerned about the state of resources for tenure-track faculty at the university. How do you plan to address these concerns? More broadly, how does increasing or decreasing these faculty members fit into your vision for the UI?

Harreld: Well, we’ve first off collected all the data, so every college has gone through where their faculty rank relative to their peer group. So, they’ve got the data. I think it would say roughly well over 50 percent of the faculty are in the bottom third of their peer group. Some colleges are doing, quite, quite well. Some of them are really struggling on that. I made that a mainstay of our quest for state appropriations. We’ve got a quarter of what we asked for now or in the budgeting process, and going college by college by college, we’re in that mode right now. [We] haven’t had those meetings, but one of the questions we will all be focusing on [is], what are you doing as you’re allocating your money or resources in your college to deal with this issue? It’ll be front and center of our conversations, and quite frankly, we’ve got a little bit of money from the state, but we also have other revenue sources coming forward. We have a little increase already planned and tuition in the fall. It was already in the system. There’s discussions right now to even further increase tuition down the road. We’ll see how that plays out. We can also reallocate, and say some things are more important. I happen to think faculty salaries is one of the reasons we lost so many in the ranks in AAU or U.S. News & World Report. So, I think it’s really important, and we need to fix it. Stay tuned.

DI: You mentioned that raising tuition is obviously something that will happen because of the state resources —

Harreld: It’s already planned, it’s already in the system. A small increase. I’m actually speculating and will be arguing for a more dramatic increase going forward. I mean we’re at the bottom of our peer group. We can raise our tuition well over $1,000 and still be in the bottom of the Big 10 in terms of in-state tuition. So, the question is, when is enough, enough in terms of holding tuition flat.

DI: I mean, what is your opinion on that question? Where do you think the bottom is for that?

Harreld: I think we’re there. I mean you start seeing so many faculty ranked below in the bottom of the peer group plus other issues on campus. I think we’re there, clearly.

DI: Do you see a point in which you would say, “That’s high enough tuition?” Should we be expecting $1,000 increases, $5,000 increases? What’s the plan for that?

Harreld: I have no idea for that — it’s all speculation. Do we have real significant needs right now to improve the quality of what’s going on this campus? Absolutely. I think it’s the way you deal with it. So, there are many private institutions that don’t have state resources that are multiples of our tuition level. That doesn’t mean we should be. We have an obligation to the state, and we will fill that obligation. At the same time, someone needs to be, and I think I am, responsible for making sure that that doesn’t sacrifice the quality of what we’re doing, and I think we’re at that point.

DI: Recently two UI students were hurt at an off-campus fraternity formal. Since then, it has raised questions about the line between the University of Iowa and its Greek life system. More broadly, in your opinion, how does the UI address this question of office campus drinking that’s done very much but its UI population?

Harreld:  How do we address the off-campus, off-campus meaning what, the rest of the world? With that question, that’s what you’re begging.

DI: No, I mean off campus as it relates to UI students.

Harreld: No, but when a UI student is in Germany?

DI: When a UI student is not on the campus, but participating in dangerous binge drinking situations?

Harreld: I mean there’s got to be some limit here.  I think part what you’re begging is that a couple UI students were seriously hurt. Do we care about that? Of course we care about that — we’re all over it. Did they violate a university policy? I don’t think so at this stage. Therefore, would we trigger some sort of action here? I don’t think so. On the other hand, might there be parents involved or students involved who have a right of action in terms of — I don’t know. These are all issues that others will have to determine. We’re pretty comfortable it was an unfortunate situation. It did happen off-campus. And we’ve taken all the appropriate steps. I am also very mindful that there are other parties here involved, and we can’t release information because of various laws about the students, or medical records, or anything else, and so we’re trying to make sure we do all we can.

I think — dramatically — the bigger question that you’re asking is whether drinking is still as big of a problem as it was a couple of years ago. I just met with the community leaders…two weeks ago, and they are seeing dramatic positive results in the evening since we’ve changed the 10 o’clock [21 ordinance.] And they are reporting [a] dramatically calmer sort of environment from police enforcement, to after hours drinking, and just the general demeanor in town late at night. I also think we had many fewer incidents during the football season — soI’ve been told. So, I think it’s been a dramatic…Do we care? We care a lot. It begs the question of should we be doing more? Yes we should be more.  That specific incident, it’s unfortunate, it was off campus, if it happened on campus, how would we have dealt with it? That’s a hypothetical, I can’t comment, because I haven’t investigated it all.

Moeller: One of the reasons we’re emphasizing high-impact activities internships, is to get students focused on things outside the classroom so they can remember there’s an academic mission here, too.  

DI: Last month, the properties and facilities committee agreed to recommend to the regents $33.5 million for a psychology and brain sciences [facility.] I’m curious [to hear] if you’ve been to the building. Why this project, and why now?

Harreld: Yes, I’ve been to the building numerous times. Have you been to the building?

Moeller: Seashore?

Harreld: Yes, Seashore. I think we’ve all walked around there. I think it’s at the top of my list as the worst building we’ve got on campus, and if there’s another building I’m leaving out, I apologize, I haven’t been to them all. I actually said to various people when I first walked through, I’ve been there probably three or four times now, I think most high schools, most high schools I’ve been to at any rate, look much better than that. I’m sort of embarrassed to have students there, I’m embarrassed to have parents there, and the rest of the community. It’s also got huge issues. If you dig underneath, it’s the most expensive — one of the most expensive buildings we have on campus to maintain, to heat, I mean the list goes on and on, so, wow. And I met with the heads of various departments and I said, “Don’t you think we can do better than this?” And they said, “Yeah.” And they told me the story about it’s been proposed in the past and it’s never gotten through, and I said, “Buckle up, let’s go.”

And then I think another very important thing also happened. I’m frustrated with the conversation [of] that side of the river and this side of the river and whatever side of the river you’re on. And, it just seems like, the better we are to say it’s the university that needs to come together to do some exciting things for the future, the better off we are. And I’ve been looking for all sorts of way to make it not this side or that side, what about us? And in the back of our head, and I’ve been working with people in the medical community, the researchers, saying, might there be something bigger here? Might there be a center for the mind, or center for the brain or something here that combines sociology, that combines psychology, combines psychiatric, combines neuroscience research. Might there be some bringing together of all of that — not patient work, but the research scholarship, as well as teaching and let me just sort of say in a sense, cluster hires on steroids. Might that be the case, and I think that’s where we’re headed here, and that’s a small first step in that direction, and then, very importantly, we replace a very — put your word in here, but it’s not a good word — to describe the building.

Moeller: And it’s going to be really student friendly space. It’s going to have breakout areas, flexible opportunities for classrooms, I think students are really going to love being a part of it. It’s really aimed at things that students want now, which is group study space to start with.

DI: What are you hoping to accomplish this summer as the academic year starts to slow down a little bit. What are the plans?

Harreld: I think between here and probably midsummer, we have a lot of work to do on the strategic plan, as well as on the budget. This week we’ve launched it, this week we’ll take a big step that way. As we spend most of Friday and most of Saturday, believe it or not, then we have to get through graduation. But, I think we’ll come back to the strategic plan, the linking together….You know, strategic plans don’t mean anything until you get them done, and you execute them. Getting them executed and done — the things you put in a strategic plan — have a lot to do with how you allocate resources, and so I think we’ll spend a lot of time trying to [draw] those things up. I don’t think that the step we’re taking around the budget resource allocation process right now will be complete. It will be a good start. But I think the question for the summer is, what’s beyond that. So, stay tuned. It’ll be a busy summer.

DI: There are critics of the strategic plan that have said  — like the Iowans Defending Our Universities — who have said that these forums being held over an 11-day span are an effort to minimize non-administrative feedback.  Can you talk about why [they’re over the span of] 11 days, and do you think there is value in that criticism?

Harreld: We’re trying to get these two lines of how we allocate resources and a strategic plan process [they’ve] been underway for a while, to the point that they actually can connect, it’s the point I just made, that one without the other doesn’t seem to be a very good idea. Having said that, we fully recognize, people spoken up, attendance has been less than we would’ve thought for some of the strategy sessions, and so we said, “Fine, we’ll have those, we’ll have any more during the summer if the faculty want to join, we’ll push some more into the fall, so yeah, we created an artificial deadline, caused by these two things trying to come together. And, that was also one of the reasons that I decided to take the pressure…if people are so concerned about that, and can’t join for those important sessions, fine. We learn. We’re here. And that was one of the reasons we decided to push the town public forum out a few weeks, which we’ll still do, but it won’t be “technically” within the semester.  We’ll do three a year. So the answer is, fine, got it. Learned. It’s the right thing to do, i.e. the both strategic forum, as well as the town meeting. Those are very, very  important things to do. We’ll do them the right way and at the right time. So people who are so busy now, that they can’t get into one of those forums, that really want to get involved, we’ll have some more this summer, we’ll have some more next fall. And, we’d hope they come and participate. Instead, I’m concerned that maybe they’re just maybe looking for something to complain about. I hope not, because this is really important stuff.  They do need to be involved. And if we put them into a timebox they can’t deal with, shame on us. We’ve taken the pressure off.

DI: When you talk about raising tuition, do you talk about doing it across the board? Do you see it for graduates, undergrads, do you see it for out-of-state…

Harreld: It’s all on the table. I think it’s all on the table for all of the regent institutions as the regents said a couple weeks ago when they didn’t get the state appropriations. They’ll have to take a close look at tuition. The process is underway. It’s all on the table.

DI: Is there anything else you want to add?

Harreld: I mean, it’s kind of ironic, where we are, I mean you’re getting ready to graduate as well. I mean, this is a wonderful time to be celebrating — celebrating the milestones in a number of people’s lives, the milestones in terms of learning and the accomplishments that happened here. I’m reminded a lot of people talking about student debt, but you know, the most important thing we can do for student is to graduate people on time. Somehow, in a lot corners in this country, it seems to have gone from four years to six years to be acceptable. We’re graduating an enormous amount of people within those four years. Something like 93, 94, 95 percent, somewhere in that range of students, actually get jobs or know what they’re doing next in terms of graduate schools, so they’ve got placement, so to speak, in the next stage of their lives, it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. And then, we have all the student…we went through, Lon [Moeller] and I, last week, and maybe some of the week before, but most of that was celebrations — thanking people for staff recognition, faculty recognition, students and student awards, and then we had retirement parties, it’s almost a time to celebrate, in many ways, the great things and great values this institution has.

Capped off last, what night was it? Thursday night, with our saying goodbye, but not quite goodbye, to the Boyds for 60 years’ worth of service, but saying not quite goodbye because they’re still members of our community, and we love them very much. They’re still going to be around.