Regents recount secret meetings held prior to hiring Harreld as UI president


Margaret Kispert

Former state Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter announces the appointment of Bruce Harreld as the new UI president during a meeting in the IMU on Sept. 3, 2015. Harreld is the 21st president of the UI.

Marissa Payne, [email protected]

Two current and three former members of the state Board of Regents testified that their private meetings with Bruce Harreld prior to selecting him as the 21st president of the University of Iowa were held while ensuring compliance with the Iowa Open Meetings Law, but an Iowa attorney says this declaration of intent “should be given no weight.”

Court records show former Regent President Bruce Rastetter coordinated meetings between Harreld and four other regents, who in 2015 were all members of the governing board that oversees Iowa’s public universities, on July 30, 2015 to encourage Harreld to apply for the UI presidency.

Former UI administrator Gerhild Krapf filed the lawsuit last year in Polk County, alleging the regents violated Iowa’s open-meeting law by scheduling private meetings with Harreld prior to his hiring in September 2015 — treatment given to no other applicants, according to the court documents.

Krapf also contended that Rastetter and other regents actively recruited Harreld for the presidency.

The regents’ decision to hire Harreld was unpopular with the UI community — according to a survey from the UI chapter of the American Association of University Professors, fewer than 5 percent of respondents felt Harreld, a former IBM executive and faculty member at Harvard Business School, was qualified for the position.

RELATED: Harreld selected as new UI president

Rastetter said he first called Harreld to encourage him to apply in March or April 2015 after Jerre Stead, a major UI donor and member of the Presidential Search Committee tasked with identifying candidates for the regents to consider, recommended Harreld’s name to the regents.

Harreld later met in June with Rastetter, then-UI interim President Jean Robillard, and UI Vice President for External Relations Peter Matthes. Rastetter asked Harreld at least four times to apply for the position at the June meeting.

Additionally, Robillard invited Harreld to speak at the UI Hospitals & Clinics on July 8, 2015 as a guest lecturer, but Rastetter testified he did not discuss the presidency with Harreld that day.

At a later date, Harreld called Rastetter requesting to meet with other regents to gather more information about the presidency.

For the sole purpose of ensuring compliance with the open-meeting law, Rastetter testified he set up a meeting for Harreld with Regents Larry McKibben and Mary Andringa separate from a meeting with Regents Katie Mulholland and Milt Dakovich so as to avoid having a majority of the governing board’s members present at the same time, which would have constituted a meeting.

RELATED: More secret meetings revealed

The meeting took place at the Summit Agricultural Group office, 10640 County Road D20, Alden, Iowa. Rastetter is CEO of the company, which he founded in 1990. The location had not previously been used as a regents’ meeting location.

Iowa Code 21.2(2) defines a meeting as “a gathering in person or by electronic means, formal or informal, of a majority of the members of a governmental body where there is deliberation or action upon any matter within the scope of the governmental body’s policymaking duties.”

However, Rastetter said he did not believe the meetings he coordinated that day “involve[d] official Board of Regents matters,” though he said he felt the need to hold separate meetings in case there was ever a question the meetings were held in compliance with the law.

Rastetter responded “yes” to the question of whether the recruiting process — including the meetings with Harreld — for the UI presidential vacancy is a matter that falls “within the scope of the Board of Regents’ authority.”

Mulholland said in her deposition she did not address expectations for the position of UI president, given her position on the search committee.

“I didn’t think that was appropriate,” she said.

RELATED: Rastetter, Mulholland take their leave

Krapf’s attorney, Gary Dickey, argued in the court documents that had Rastetter truly intended to comply with the Iowa Open Meetings Law, he would have “erred on the side of transparency” and instructed Harreld to provide public notice, met publicly, and recorded the meeting with minutes, per regents’ policy.

Rastetter also would have disclosed the June meeting with Harreld, Robillard, and Matthes, Dickey said, but Rastetter failed to do so in his deposition.

“He did none of these things,” Dickey said. “At every opportunity to provide transparency, he instead chose secrecy. That is evasion, not compliance.”


Fast Facts

• Former UI employee Gerhild Krapf filed a lawsuit against the regents in 2016 alleging they violated Iowa Open Meetings Law by meeting privately with UI President Bruce Harreld in the months before he was hired.

• Jerre Stead, a major donor to the UI, requested former Regent President Bruce Rastetter and the regents consider Harreld for the presidency.

• Rastetter reached out to Harreld and encouraged him to apply on multiple occasions.

• Harreld requested meetings with the regents to gather more information about the position before applying.

• Rastetter said in his deposition he made a conscious effort to comply with the law, inviting no more than four regents to meet with Harreld, no more than two at a time.

Source: Court documents