By Daily Iowan staff
Last week, The Daily Iowan sat down with University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld to discuss sanctuary campuses, renovations to Kinnick Stadium, meeting his one-year mark in office and wrapping up the end of the semester.
Read our conversation below.The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
The Daily Iowan: One of the things we’ve been talking about in our newsroom and with journalism in general is having trouble getting through to officials and university officials. This is something we see as a trend in the U.S. too. In your opinion, why do you think this is happening and do you think there’s something we can do to make things more transparent?
Bruce Harreld: First of all, I don’t even know what’s happening here, so I’m disappointed to hear that you feel like you’ve been blocked.
I feel like we live in a very transparent world. I hope you haven’t had any problem contacting me. The only concern I’ve had, and this seemed more true this year than last year, it was like at 9 o’clock at night and I’m doing something, … and I come out of my car and immediately I needed to respond to something. It would just be useful to know at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, that sort of thing. In general, as it relates to campus here, I certainly hope you don’t think we’re excluding you.
In terms of the broader, national issue, well I don’t know. I don’t live, completely, in that world. We seem to have gone from press conferences and issues of the day, where there are briefings on them, that relatively are what I call of substance and now into late-night Tweets and the comments of the moment. I made a little jab at the process and maybe even of your generation, and I apologize if it’s taken the wrong way. I made the comment that we seem to be living in a world of 120-140 characters on very complex issues. I said I just don’t think that’s healthy for us. I think there are legitimate issues. I think they’re complex. I watch people giving these little sound bites on TV, throughout the whole campaign. It wasn’t one side versus another, everyone did it, and it turns out you can’t digest some of these into sound bites.
There’s some things going on campus and I think we’re trying to do the same thing, and we don’t fully understand. A good friend of mine who’s at the *New York Times* made the comment about a year ago, in the context of a lot of the protests, that protests are fine, but when are we going to start the conversation? I think that’s what you’re searching for and I completely support it. If there’s anything we can do, and you feel like we should do, let us know.
I know there are people on campus frustrated with me because of lack of town hall meetings. But I must be honest, the first one we held, and then the second one, both seemed like members that were not part of our community were occupying them for other reasons. They have a right to do that, but it really made us look bad. Us, not just me. I got my own set of issues with people coming at me all the time. It made all of us look like, ‘really, you guys are wild, that’s crazy, what’s going on in Iowa City?’ And then the third one we held, somebody who was running for political office decided to use it again for another purpose. So I said, that’s just not smart.
So I’ve been now aggressively going out to all sorts of groups. Spent 8-to-10 hours in cultural houses, [etc.] and you’ve had people there on most occasions, which is fine, keep doing that. Any student group that needs me, any faculty group that needs me, I’m trying to be really open.
DI: Right after the election, Bobby Kaufmann, an R-Iowa representative, proposed a bill that went against “cry zones,” etc. on campuses. You signed a statement from Pomona College that supported the Deferred Action for Childhood. What is your opinion on this and having spaces like these on college campuses or calling a campus a sanctuary campus?
Harreld: First of all, any legislator can say whatever they like. Turning it into law is another set of issues. I think it was unfortunate, almost an ill-formed thought. We have 500+ student groups, we have all sorts of counseling activities on a day-to-day basis, we’ve got other support mechanisms and if we need more we will have more.
We didn’t increase because of the election or other things that was going on, we haven’t increased a penny – any of those – because [support groups on campus] are good. If they’re not, then we’ll increase them. If there’s someone who wants to fine us three times the cost, we’ll still lose them anyways.
The bigger issue, I think, is yes, I believe so strongly in our educational system is building great citizens, that people who are here, who may be here with their families, the more we can educate them, the more we can assimilate them, make them part of our economy, our culture, and all the rest, the better. They’re going to be in the better, we’re going to be in the better. I think we have a long history of that in our country, several presidents, 300+ and I started talking about it fairly early on in the process. I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do, I hope the new president supports.
I think when President Obama decided to sign that, it really was a breath of fresh air, and I hope that continues. And we’ll continue to support that. Having said that, I think we have a lot going on on campus. We’ve been very clear to say that we have a long history of academic freedom, of First Amendment freedom, and nothing’s going to change that. And if there’s students that need more help, they should come forward.
I have a concern about the word “sanctuary” because it’s not a legal term. It’s not defined in any law. There’s one of the foremost scholars in this area, Michael Olivas is a legal scholar down in Houston, who writes on this issue and who helps and works with undocumented students get through the process. He, among several others, are basically saying that sanctuaries could actually turn into the wrong thing, because they give us false hope I believe, so there is no such thing as a sanctuary. It doesn’t supersede federal law. And to say it has this sense of a security blanket, safe zone…
We are a safe zone by definition, by what we do. If we actually put a label on it that has no meaning, it actually could be people who need help, they feel like they don’t need as much help. I just want us to be a little more thoughtful in this process. We don’t establish the immigration policies. We don’t enforce them. We’re educators. If people need help in being educated, we will help them. We don’t pass on information to other people. As far as I know there have been no actions by the federal government in a long time of going to a campus and rounding up people. I understand the issue and I think we’ll do the right set of things to make sure people safe. And the most important thing is, if anybody feels unsafe, personally, because they may not have all the documentation or whatever it is, if they would quietly come forward and come to me personally, we’ll get them help. We will do that. We’ll always do that. What I’m really worried about is if we put a label across it that doesn’t mean anything, we actually as an institution, or is it my team, might actually start relaxing the things we’re doing to really help individually.
There’s no umbrella effect. It’s what we do individually one-on-one. It goes to hate crime and all the other things that happen on some campuses. We relatively haven’t had that much of that. We had some a little earlier on, but it doesn’t have any roll here. If we can figure out who did it, we would do everything we can to prosecute them, but there’s no room for hate crime, hate speech, or anything else on this campus. The most important thing is I think we all need to hug and help one-another.
DI: This week we ran a guest opinion on your first year in office and in it, Ann Rhoes and Jeffrey Cox said they felt you had not fulfilled many of the promises you made during the search to fill the presidential position. Would you care to comment on the opinion?
Harreld: I didn’t read it in detail, so I can’t go point-by-point. But I know both of the authors. There’s a comment about the AAUP being a union or not. By the way, for sure one of the individuals that wrote that is really actively involved in the local union here. This comment about ‘I don’t understand this or that’ — no I think I do understand. What frustrated me, that I commented in the fall on in a radio interview just after the sanction of the AAUP, the AAUP, as I understand it, was trying to sanction our Board-of-Regents, but they don’t allow that in their policies.
As a leader, I don’t accept that, which is if you really wanted to go after a group and it’s not in your policy, you change your bylaws. Instead, a group of faculty, who were there at the time, let it become a problem for our institution. And I actually think, ‘wow, you’re part of this institution, and then you let a process where something that’s kind of not targeted at the institution becomes targeted at the institution.’ Here we are.
We had someone on campus a few weeks ago, in September, maybe October, where our faculty met with a representative of the AAUP and said ‘what do we need to do to get out of this.’ That individual couldn’t quite nail it as to what we needed to do because it wasn’t really us, it’s another group. It’s our boss, in a sense, the Board-of-Regents. That whole thing seems really strange and I’m kind of frustrated with it.
Having said that, there’s this implication that it’s going to be really hard for us to recruit talented faculty. And it’s really, really going to have to be something we’re going to need to get out of. And I haven’t seen a sign of that. We’ve hired some pretty big players in some major research areas. [That topic] hasn’t come up in any of the conversations. So I just, hm, really?
Now, we’ve got a committee that says there’s an innuendo that I was not paying attention to any of this. No, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to this. I’ve met with our faculty senate leaders. They created a committee, they brought the AAUP in, had that conversation I just referenced. They created now a committee that said what do we need to do. We’re working on the issues and I’m actively doing anything I can do to help them. On the other hand, this is back to the Regents. They made a storm out of something that just doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think it makes sense to them, they can’t completely explain it.
There’s a second comment in there that I was under the thumb somehow of the Athletic Department. No, I don’t think so. Our Athletic Department is, we’ve renewed a lot of contracts, we’ve been actively involved, we’ve increased in those new contacts the requirements of academic performance of our sports teams. I don’t think they actually volunteered for that one.
I mentioned a year ago that I wanted to see … [well,] the way I put it, our students have a philanthropic cause in Dance Marathon, [so] what’s the Athletic Department’s equivalent? I said it would be great if the university would be part of that mix. They’ve solved that, they’re not stepping up. One of the few institutions in all of the United States where the Athletic Department is actually supporting the other side, the academic and student side of the institution. So that feels good.
I don’t know where that comes from, the rest I don’t remember.
The first year, the thumbnail, I think the context helps. I started off by talking about the performance data, the rankings, AAU, US News and World Report. We’ve been dropping in those rankings and secondly I started talking about one of the main causes for that was that 70 percent of our cost structure is people — faculty, staff. We haven’t had a pay increase in three years, we had real serious issues. This whole issue with the fiscal side of the institution, we haven’t had a tuition increase in several years… I actually said to the Regents, and ultimately to the governor, and ultimately to the legislature, to keeping looking at this in a one-year view is dangerous. It’s reactionary. We deal with things that are two, three, four, five years in length, so we need to have a five-year sub view, which we now have at this institution.
We’ve talked about it with the Regents and the legislature in terms of the two-year view, and said at least we should give everyone at least two – personally I’d like to make that four or five years – and we’re ready to do that. I think the other institutions are still trying to get their act together on that issue. I think that’s fair to the students. I don’t think a world where we have low tuition relative to our peer institutions, I mean dramatically lower in-state. Talking about no tuition increase, doesn’t make sense. But I think we owe it to the public, you, your parents, and whoever supports you, you can expect this percent increase over the next several years. We’ve now at least put a two-percent increase on the table for the next two years. Again, we should push that. We’ve been scrubbing our budget, finding all the things that don’t make sense, some of which are amazing, that have been around since 1950 that don’t seem to make sense.
Those type of things, we’re doing a lot of work on that. We’ve started new programs in creative writing, computer science and engineering, sustainability and environmental engineering. We’re asking a lot of questions about what the next stage is for our writing. We’re world-renowned for writing — do we just want to stop at novels and creative writing? And I think we’re taking a really, really hard look at screenwriting and saying might we have a type, but similar, program? Maybe even for undergraduates in that? And for sure at the graduate school level, like a creative Writer’s Workshop around screenwriting.
So there are new areas that we’re exploring for the future, new academics, pushing the envelope for what we already do. And then we could go to the medical complex because there’s been major work there. Primarily, not only the great work they do every day, but the notion that we can bring together our campus around what I call — it’s actually going to be called the Iowa Neuroscience Institute, we’re getting the approval from the board of trustees to call it that, and the Carver Trust just gave us the biggest gift we’ve had in a long time, 45 million dollars, to support that. And what it’s really trying to do long term is bring — I call it jokingly the Center for the Brain and it’s not very appropriate – but what we’re trying to do is say hey look, if there’s a medical side of discovery about how the brain works and when the brain goes awry how we treat it, Alzheimer’s, dementia, all those sorts of things. But also there’s a set of behavioral things that reach now out, if you will, to this side of the river as opposed to the other side where the medical complex is, and we have in there psychology and the behavioral and why do we behave the way we do and how to do we understand that better.
We also then have things like social work. And by the way nursing could be involved in this, too. So what we’ve actually said is yes while we live in our colleges, of medicine or of liberal arts and sciences, the intersection and bringing together of those talents around something like neurology and the brain and behavior, into a complex where people can actually be together and interact and do collaborative research, seems to be a big idea. So we’ve now launched that.
I could keep going for another 20 minutes but I’ll just say — we’ve now put together a strategic plan that will get introduced [this] week, I believe. But we’ve tried to make it, as our provost Barry Butler says, much crisper. A lot of these strategic plans you just kind of go to sleep before you get through the first page but basically said there are really three things that we really need to focus on here. The first is student success. And now what in there do we need to do? What types of support mechanisms do we need to have? How are we going to measure all that?
The second big area is research, again, duh. Those two things are the primary things.
The third is an issue I think we’ve all discovered, which is we need to do a better job of reaching out to the state and actually to the rest of the world. And so this notion of outreach — we’re not the University of Iowa City, we’re the University of Iowa. So at least we should be across Iowa and get in to these communities and talk about what we’re doing.
I was in Waterloo [recently] with the College of Public Health, and we spent an afternoon, or the better part of a day, actually, in Mason City talking about public health, health issues in their community; obesity, smoking, what the science says around some of these bigger societal issues, health issues, and what we can do to help them. And hopefully do the same with our law school and keep going. We need to reach out and make a bigger impact and helping the people that supports students.
We’ve got a lot. And now, going forward, it’s not done. It’s just a sketch at this stage. I think we still have very serious fiscal issues. We’re trying to get a new way of thinking about how to allocate, a structured way, about how to allocate our resources.
The students, faculty, staff, they’ve collectively created 62 or 63 key projects that are really important to them. The so-called “lists” you may have heard about last year. They’re now living, breathing. They’ve each got work going on behind them and then we’re trying to say which ones do we bring forward first or which ones do we say maybe not at all?
And we’ve agreed that four things are going to guide our thinking; student success, the issue of our values — things like writing are hard to put on a spreadsheet but on the other hand it’s the right thing to do, it’s really part of who we are — and then some notion of where we see the future going, things like brain, neurology, and investments behind that.
And finally this issue of the quality metrics or the rankings. We’re not going to chase those, but we’re going to be aware of them, they inform us. So those are the four areas and we’re going to use those to guide and shape us moving forward. We’ve got a lot of work to do but it’s all doable.
DI: Of course athletics and money is always a big topic on campus so I was wondering if we could talk a little bit about the renovations to Kinnick? Kind of what your opinion is on that and then what you think the return will be for the rest of the university as a whole?
Harreld: Well, in a broad sense, I mean, that issue has been on the table for several years. I think we all know the North End Zone has not had nearly as good as a fan experience. So we’ve had this issue. And we don’t really have a safety issue, we just have a fan experience issue and we can do better. And the rest of the stadium, kind of in comparison, looks so much better. So we’ve been carrying this, it was one of the first issues I’ve faced and it was being forced by outside groups and I said let’s pause on that and let’s get our act together and let’s study it.
So we took a year to really think about it and to really get the architectural details done and part of that led to a sort of renewed reinvestment in the restrooms, the seating, the safety of that whole area, that then led to actually rounding out the stadium. Actually that end of the stadium, not to get too [technical], if you look at it it’s kind of a different angle but if we bring the angle in it’ll be better for the fans because they’ll be closer to the field as well as maybe we can connect around a little bit and maybe make it more of a bowl. And that led to the opportunity of putting some boxes in which will help us with revenue.
We’re actually going to lose seats as we do this, a couple thousand. Go down to right at 70 thousand from where we are today. But we’ve got the funding, we’ve got support from the state and from the Regents to proceed. We’ve got pretty good booster and philanthropic support already.
So, that’s the reason we did it. Again, there’s a misconception at times about how the money works. But the Athletic Department sits on it’s own fiscal body and so whatever they get from bowl appearances and Big 10 this or in football, basketball, wrestling, that all sits in an Athletic Department budget. And unlike many schools, we don’t pass money from academics to that and in fact very strangely we’re one of the few schools now where the money is coming from athletics to here. So there’s no state institutional academic money going into the North End Zone. And I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do. The question is when? And when became now. When became we knew what we wanted to do and we knew how to finance it. And that’s where we are.
DI: Can you talk a little more about the money coming from athletics to academics? I know we’ve talked about it before but I think it’s a topic that a lot of people don’t really know a lot about but are interested in.
Harreld: I’m going to let the athletics department. And the reason for this is it may be a little bit of my leadership style. I think it’s the right thing to do, I made it very clear to them that it’s the right thing to do.
I used the analogy of ‘gee our students step up and provide several million dollars a year through the Dance Marathon to children’s cancer research through our hospital, right? So, what’s yours?’ And I said ‘if you need help, I can shape it. I can tell you what it should be but I think it’s more important that you own it. Because if I put it on top of you then you’re going to complain about it and whine about it and it’s going to be in the hallway conversation day in and day out “Bruce made us do this or that and the other,” I don’t want it to be that way. Just think about whether it’s the right thing to do. What do the athletes want to spend their time, how do the coaches want to spend time. It’s not just money but by the way it should also include money and you might want to align those.’
And so I think we’ve now defined those and they’ve come forward with a plan, they’ve come forward with a budget for that, they’ve come forward with a next years budget for that as well and it’s pretty substantial and I think you should think about it as probably connecting to things that you would think a group of athletes would like to support. It might have something to do with student health and wellness, it might have something to do with some of the cultural centers that we’ve got that are important to various communities and they might look at that and say, it might have something to do with campus safety. So it will be things that are natural extensions that they want to be involved in.
Again, I’ll let them define that more specifically so that they can own it, because I think that’s fair. But it’s legitimate, its real. People said ‘oh but it isn’t,’; no, it is, it’s real.
DI: So speaking of new facilities, we wanted to talk about the Children’s Hospital. Can you comment on what you hope to see in the future and upcoming months?
Harreld: At any rate, it’s a phenomenal facility, it’s remarkable. My wife and I were both affiliated with the Colorado Denver Children’s Hospital for years and we were talking to some friends about the design of the new Stead Family Children’s Hospital and they were blown away about what the details are. It’s a remarkable facility, it’s going to push the envelope for care across the United States, maybe the world.
And so anyway — with the ribbon cutting. December 10 was the target and to be honest I always said to a couple people, why do you pick a specific date for such a complex project? And if you’re going to pick a date to give yourselves a lot of room and it didn’t feel like we were giving ourselves a lot of room. So at any rate, sure enough, we started having issues [because] the building just isn’t complete. So now, what do we do? We could try to rush this, and we could bring the Fire Marshal in and the Fire Marshal and team could go through the certificate of occupancy and say it’s not ready, well if we’re a hospital — patient care, kids — that’s crazy.
So we said no, let’s not even go down that path. I think quite frankly we got a little concerned coming out of Thanksgiving. We always knew it was going to be tight but then we had a number of out-of-state workers who were a little slow to get back into town, I’m sure they didn’t have any students. And so we said ‘woah, we are now in a danger zone’ so we said ‘let’s catch out breath’. We said let’s not make it so close again. So we said late January, early February, we’ll do it the right way, we’ll make it first class when it opens.
The next question people want to ask is what’s the impact fiscally? That had nothing to do with decision. I’ve thought about it and I don’t think it’s going to be all that different. We were transferring patients that are in one part of our hospital to the Children’s Hospital so people were already in our system. So I don’t know that the revenue impact is all that big. And all the construction work was under contract.
Actually when I went in [last week], we had a board meeting at the hospital and after the board meeting, two of the leaders of the system pulled me aside in another room and they said ‘you’re going to laugh,’ and I knew instantly where they were going because we’ve been talking about this. And I instantly said it was the right thing to do so later that night I called the Board of Regents and told them that it was the right thing to do, they completely agreed. There’s no more, no less to this story. Just the right thing to do.