Q&A: UI President Bruce Harreld discusses officials leaving, tuition hikes coming


Lily Smith

UI president Bruce Harreld speaks in an interview with The Daily Iowan in Adler Journalism Building on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)


• Ensuring students are safe on campus is something the UI is continuing to work on.

• The university saw a higher response rate with the second iteration of its Speak Out survey regarding sexual misconduct.

• There have been 14 recent administrator departures, but Harreld sees this as an opportunity to reflect and bring in fresh perspectives.

• Under Regent President Mike Richards’ leadership, Harreld is optimistic the state Board of Regents and Iowa’s public universities will make tuition increases predictable.

• If higher education is increasingly privatized, Harreld fears universities won’t focus on groups that generally do not have the same access to college, such as first-generation students.


DI: In light of the incidents at Parkland, or even here on campus, with last week’s incident in Currier, what conversations are going on in the administration about the university’s crisis response? What areas for improvement have you identified?

Harreld: Well, it doesn’t get started by Parkland; it started years ago. We are on a continual journey to make this campus as safe as possible, and then you have these flare-ups like last week, and they remind us that it’s happening all over, and they reinvigorate us to double-check, triple-check, and get ourselves even more prepared. One of the things I find interesting about the debate at Parkland, particularly on some of the networks, is that it seems to be we’re looking for the single answer to these types of complex questions. I would start off to say these are really difficult situations. It’s not just about gun laws. It’s not just about mental health. It’s not just about training officers and what their roles are. It’s not just — I could keep going. It’s, like, everything, so in a nutshell, what we’re doing here at the university is everything we possibly can.

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We’ve made sure that the officers who carry weapons on our campus shoot a sufficient amount of time to be able to hit their target. So training of officers, the extension to our community of saying, ‘If you see something, here are the places you can communicate it.’ We’re trying to improve our response time so in that particular situation in the dorm last week, I think it was about one minute, maybe two minutes, before we had a security detail there to investigate what happened. We’re trying to over-communicate during these events so that people know and understand what did happen and what we know about what happened. In this particular case, it was a loud noise. Fortunately, we did not at all think it was a gunshot, but then we communicate to people that it’s safe. We have courses where we’re training people actually to defend themselves if they’re assaulted on the street, and so the list goes on and on and on. So I think it’s an exceedingly — oh, we’re actually training students to also be security officers as well.

RELATED: The night of the false shot in Currier Hall

So we’re doing everything we possibly can, and I would say to anybody out there who reads this interview or listens to any of it online, if you have a better idea of something we’re missing, let us know. Give us the information because it’s not like, ‘Oh, just check this box.’ It’s a continual journey. The people who are trying to do nasty things to all of us are very clever, and we need to say out them, and that takes all of us as a community. It’ll never end.


DI: Last semester, students had the opportunity to take the Speak Out survey. Can you talk about what you’re hoping to learn from that and how you plan to use the responses to inform the university’s response to sexual misconduct?

Harreld: First of all, I’m going to thank everyone in the community for stepping up because last year I think our response rate was around 9-10 percent, so a relatively low number. And last I checked, which was several weeks ago, it was in the 20s, so I think our response rate this year is going to be quite — now, to the point last year it helped, but I think this year we’ll really start relying on the information in this report. So thank you everyone, and we’re going to keep doing this. Some institutions are doing this every four years, and we’ve decided that four years is not enough, so we’re doing it every two years.

RELATED: UI conducting second survey on sexual misconduct

And what we hope to understand is, first of all, the frequency. Second, how do people feel about the support systems we have on our campus? Third, how comfortable they feel about reporting and do they trust us or not? Last year we saw a lot of data that suggested they weren’t comfortable speaking out. They were not so sure we’d do anything about it. I think part of the reasons the response rates are somewhat higher, thankfully, is because they realize we do care about this. So we will actually use the information to see where the weak spots are.

We’ve learned a lot from victim support. We learned from last year’s survey we can do a lot better there, so we put some new capabilities in place, we expanded counseling, etc., so we’ll do the same types of things here. These are very, very important. We shouldn’t take these things lightly. At the same time, we don’t know what we don’t know, and so these surveys really help guide us in that context.


DI: As more people are coming forward to report sexual misconduct, the legal process takes an average of about 14 weeks to be taken care of administratively at the university. Are there plans to speed up this legal process so people aren’t discouraged from reporting and taking action?

Harreld: Well, I hope the length of the process isn’t discouraging — your question suggests that it is — it will take as much time as it takes, and we’ll do everything we can to do it as expeditiously as possible, but there are always two sides to these stories, and it’s really important to get facts. And facts sometimes take a number of interviews, and a number of sessions, and a number of people involved. We want to be very careful that we actually do the right thing, and so there needs to be a process in which we collect, and interview, and sort discrepancies out, which may cause follow-up processes.

RELATED: Students want action on sexual misconduct

We have leaned on other like institutions, on people who have prosecutorial as well as legal training for that, and then we need to document it, and actually the writing of some of these are pretty complex, so yeah, we’ll do all we can to shorten the time, but at the same time, if time is the requirement, we’re going to get sloppy, and I don’t think that’s appropriate. These are very important situations, so let’s make sure we’re right, and in most of the cases, I think we’ve done a really good job on that, so sometimes doing the right thing takes more time.


DI: In the last year or so, there have been 14 searches recently wrapped up or still ongoing to replace UI administrators and deans. Do you have any plans to improve administrator retention or thoughts as to why there have been this many departures?

Harreld: I’ve spent a lot of time doing a lot of interviewing. I’ve been asking myself the same questions, but at the same time, in almost every case, a lot of it’s just retirement or people going on to other opportunities at other institutions. We lost our provost to Embry-Riddle. He became the president of Embry-Riddle. Then we put in an interim, Sue Curry, to replace him, and we purposely selected an interim because we had so many other things going on. We didn’t want to take a number of months to do a search and bring someone in from a different culture, and they may not have understood all the things that went on, so it really required an interim search. And that was wonderful. I think we all agree that was really the right thing to do. Sue hit the ground running and has served really well over the last year. Now then, she’s at the stage where she needs to retire, and we knew when we created an interim that we were going to create a second search, so a lot of these are of our own making, and it may also be, I think, the nature of the size of the institution.

RELATED: The status of (many) ongoing searches for new UI administrators

I don’t think it’s a problem, and actually, I think it’s a good thing. You bring new blood in, they see different perspectives and backgrounds and also, every search, we start off a process that says, ‘What’s the role? Do we want to redesign the role?’ So we actually go through a self-searching before we start the search as to, do we have the design right, so we have a lot of them, and we’ll probably have a lot more. It’s just the continual turnover we have in an institution of this size, and a lot of it, I think, is in fact retirement. Some health reasons, a few.

[Editor’s note: Harreld later clarified that Curry has indicated she has a desire to retire; the university does not need her to retire.]


DI: Just a few short years ago, the regent universities had tuition freezes. The Legislature also wanted to see to it that students and families could afford college. Now, the mindset has shifted so universities are being defunded because they can raise tuition to compensate for the support the state doesn’t provide. What has changed?

Harreld: … I actually see a decade-long disinvestment by the state. This notion that now we’re using tuition, that’s a new thought, we’ve been invested — in fact, if you take the last 20 years, we’ve gone down about $7 million in total. The state budget’s gone up by almost $3 billion, so the percent of the state’s budget that’s going to higher education is dramatically lower. In fact, I think recently a lot of us were writing in the phrase generational disinvestment by the state of Iowa, and by the way, most states around the United States.

So this isn’t a new phenomenon, and in fact, 39 other states across the United States over the last 25 years, the tuitions have gone up more rapidly than the deappropriation from their state. And so they’re net positive. We’re one of 11 states in which over those 25 years, we’re net losers. The state’s deappropriated, and we’ve not been able to get our tuition enough to even compensate for that reaction, so in fact we’re fifth from the bottom. So I don’t think this is just a new phenomenon, and by the, I don’t really believe — I wish it would stop for all sorts of obvious reasons, but I actually think it will continue.

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Hopefully, we’ve caused some pause because I think at the end of the day, we need to, as citizens, think of about the role of higher education and public higher education in our society. And is there something of importance, and if so, do we help through the public institution provide access, or should they all just be private, and I have a real concern that if all the higher-education institutions like ours are just privates and they’re all funded just through tuition and philanthropy, that the ability for first-generation students, under-represented minorities will just diminish terms of access. And I think our democracy’s been built on this access point.

So we are where we are. I think it’s a shame. I think I’ve been calling on people to talk to their legislators, explain what’s going on here and the importance in the long term. I’m also asking our students to think about the value of the University of Iowa brand on their résumé and CV 10 years from now, because if we continue to not have the fiscal resources to maintain the quality, then the value of that brand will diminish.

We’re not competing against Iowa here. We’re competing against the University of Michigan. We’re competing against the University of Virginia, North Carolina, UCLA. That’s who we hang out with and their states, seven out of the 10 states in our peer group increase their state support this year in terms of state appropriations, and most of them will also get a tuition increase. So our resources per student are declining, and I can see a direct correlation in terms of resources per student and the graduation rates and GPAs, because they have more money to provide more support mechanisms, so this is a really important issue, and it’s not just a one-year, two-year issue. It’s been going on a long time, and it’s going to take quite a while moving forward to dig out of this issue.


DI: [Regent President] Mike Richards announced two weeks ago that the regents plan to establish a multiyear model to examine tuition. How will the attempt at predictability be different this time around? Under [former Regent President] Bruce Rastetter, we already had our go with the “2+2” model, and now we’re looking at an even longer range of estimates.

Harreld: Well, we’ll see. When I joined the university, it seemed to be a real cat-and-mouse game between the Board of Regents on tuition and the state Legislature in terms of the appropriation levels. So one would make a move, and then the other would make another move, and now we’re trying to think about it in a much more systemic way, and so we had this Tuition Task Force that stepped back last summer, tried to look at tuition and where it should be — hopefully not in just years but over several years, and we actually articulated a five-year view of that.

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And I think one of the things that came out as we went across the state, had numerous presentations at Iowa State, UNI, and ourselves, and even going in Des Moines — the result of that were a couple of things. We’re under-resourced, that was a conclusion. It was pretty clear. Then we also realized that the problem with the “2+2” is it never really got to four. It never really — it didn’t work.

The second thing we learned about that process is the issue of freezes on either side of that were really a mistake, particularly when there weren’t freezes in our competitive set. You can only do freezes if, in fact, the whole market freezes. If it turns out the other peer-group institutions continue to have a different story and you’re competing with them, you might be able to survive a year or two but not 10 or 15. And so we had to find a way through that.

The third thing that really came up loud and clear was feedback from students and parents. And we were major advocates — I’ll speak for myself. I’m a major advocate that this year-by-yearness of this process is really bad for students, it’s really bad for parents, and it’s really bad for the university because, you know, 70-plus percent of our cost structure are people, and the state’s going to take — as it did last year — $16 million out of the University of Iowa.

And we have to figure out where that comes from, 70 percent of that’s going to come from laying off people. We go — we’re start-and-stop, and we need a long-term commitment, and the same thing’s true with tuition, so I think what Mike is on — I think there’s several things you’re seeing right now, which is we’re not going to set tuition this year until we know where the state is, and then we’ll take that as one of the inputs as to what the total resources need to be for the institution and therefore set tuition accordingly. That’s one thing that’s happening.

RELATED: Tuition hikes likely to be around 4 percent at Iowa regent universities

The second thing that’s happening that Mike made a couple weeks ago is say let’s next year get a three-plus, maybe five-year view of what tuition targets will be in a range so people can start doing some long-term planning. We’ll see. I’m optimistic. I think we’ll have a very wise, well-thought-through plan, largely because it came from input from a lot of people across the state.

[Editor’s note: During the summer of 2017, there were four Tuition Task Force meetings scheduled: three at the regent universities and one in Des Moines for legislators and business leaders. The Des Moines meeting was canceled. Harreld was referring to the many times he has stressed this issue when meeting with legislators in Des Moines.]


DI: It was not quite a year ago that a jury found Gary Barta discriminated against Jane Meyer because of her gender and sexual orientation. I understand this is a different issue, but now we see with the federal investigation into allegations of gender discrimination that this continues to be an issue in the Athletics Department. What is your response to concerns people have expressed about these issues?

Harreld: It wasn’t Gary Barta, it was the University of Iowa. The lawsuit was not against Gary Barta, it was against this institution. And yes, a jury did find us guilty of that, and we then stepped in and settled that as a university. There are a lot of people from a lot of different pockets of this organization beyond the Athletics Department that were involved in a whole set of things that led to that unfortunate set of events.

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Second, we had an Office of Civil Rights investigation from the federal government … somewhere around the end of the year, early part of this year — let me back all the way up. They came on campus, looked at all of our data, they interviewed a lot of our athletes, a lot of our faculty, a lot of the Athletics Department, and they ended up writing us a letter, and then we responded to it with several letters in January, and it basically said there’s no issue here. There were minor issues that we agreed to respond to, so there’s not an ongoing process. We provided them information and case closed as far as I know.

I don’t think things are ever finished. … There are some gaps between men’s numbers and women’s numbers in terms of support of financial, but they remove one year, they would be — the men were ahead the next year, the women were ahead, and then you’ve got to take some period of time and look at the overall trend and smooth it out. As far as I know at this particular time, we’re in very good shape.


DI: As for the external review that the university began after the Meyer and Tracey Griesbaum cases were settled, it took six months to select a firm, but now that the UI has chosen one, how would you say that review process is going so far?

Harreld: First of all, I wasn’t involved. I asked an independent group of faculty, and students, and other leaders across campus to come together to run through a selection process. They had to interview a number of firms, then in fact they had to identify the scope and reinterview the firms, so it was a long process. I think that we were all frustrated for how long. Once again, sometimes important things take a while. So they took a while.

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Second, we’re now several months into that. There are three phases. One is the university. The second is the Athletics Department. The third phase is the hospital system. All three of those are three different phases, I’m not even sure I have them in the right order, but they are now just wrapping up the first phase, which is the university. I think the next one is the Athletics Department, quite frankly. We can double-check that. They are just now wrapping that up, but they have not published a final report that I’ve at least seen. We’ll make all those public and whatever we find, I’m sure — and I hope we’ll find issues, and if they do find issues, then we’ll go to work and fix those issues. That’s the reason we do these reviews.

It’s a little bit — and I should have mentioned this on the security issue a moment ago — we did an audit. We do these audits, and we want to find issues. We don’t want to look good. We want to find security holes on our campus. That’s part of, if you don’t know where the problems are for security, you can’t fix them. In fact, if it’s ever a green and perfect, you get another team to come in and do the audit so that they find holes. It’s a little bit the same way here with human-resource policies.

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We want to improve, and so we bring external people who have looked at other universities with a different pair of eyes, a different set of experiences, and let them kick the tires, find the gaps, and then we can go to work and fix them. We need to be held accountable on that. So there will be three reports. They will all come, and then we’ll have some action plans from that, so we’re maybe — probably given the size of the institution, something like 40 percent of the way through the process at this stage.


DI: You talked about this last time you came in here, but with the 2020 initiative, people in the UI community have had concerns about what that might mean for a college such as the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Harreld: This is an academic exercise being led through the Provost’s Office. There are four deans who came together originally for Phase 1 saying, what are the scope or the issues. They’ve published a report and had some town-hall and public forums. Since then, it’s moved into Phase 2, which is a broader committee representative — much broader representation, particularly of faculty. They’ve now been interviewing, looking at several peer institutions and how they’re structured, spent a lot of time looking at our strategic plan because at the end of the day, this is about how we execute our strategic plan and is our organization structure consistent in facilitating the execution of our strategic plan.

RELATED: UI striving for perfect foresight in 2020

At the time we created the structure we’re currently living with, we did not have the strategic plan, so there have got to be some opportunities here to more effectively align ourselves in a different way. Most of our structure was created decades ago, and it’s healthy to ask these questions. I know people in certain colleges are worried. I’m worried, too. None of us like change. On the other hand, if all we do is stay where we are since the last 171 years, then we would not be the institution we are. So this is called evolution, and what we’re really trying to do is figure out how we facilitate student success, research, as well as engagement across the state and the nation. And I think there are some interesting opportunities, and we’ll let this team play out and do its report.


DI: Next month, UISG is hosting its First-Generation Summit, and there’s the First-Generation Task Force at the university. From these efforts to bring attention to the experiences of first-generation students, what do you see the university being able to do to help that community?

Harreld: This goes all the way back to our beginning. In many ways, this goes back to the issue of funding and the importance of public higher education. This is my fear that if everybody became private, we wouldn’t focus on groups that have not yet gone to college, but I believe passionately that our society, democracy, our governmental system is so much better the better people are educated. We have more civilized the debates and discussions, more sophisticated, and that is what this is all about.

And so I was looking the other day — we created a benchmark for ourselves that said least 20 percent of every class undergraduate class that we admit will be first-generation students. And why would we do that? Because that’s who we are. We’re public higher education. That’s the role we’ve been asked to play in our society. In the state of Iowa, if you look at those who took the ACT test last year, 11 percent of them identified themselves as first-generation students, so we’re almost 20 percent, twice higher. That’s our role.

Now, question: When first-generation students come into our system, is it easy? Let’s make it relative to, say, a smaller, private school. No, I don’t think it’s easy. This is big. You’ve got to learn how to navigate. You’ve got to learn a little bit how to fend for yourself. Your study habits perhaps back in your home when your parents have gone through this type of experience could be a little different. And so we’ve got to create support mechanisms, and this conference is an important one. This says if that’s where we’re going to be, 20 percent of our student body, at least, will be first-generation students — by the way, last year it was 23 percent that we matriculated first-gens — so if we’re going to do that, then let’s make sure we have the support mechanisms. Let’s understand what the needs are.

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And I suspect that we’re going to find a very interesting conversation, find a number of different things. I think some of that will be academic in terms of mentoring and tutoring. There might actually — I know I’m aware of private schools that actually have for people coming in, they actually retake exams to find out where their levels are, and they put them in the appropriate course based on how they take those Spanish, and French, and math exams. So they’re slotted correctly, and they don’t assume that their high school or their ACT scores are completely represented, so it could be how we matriculate better.

It could be also how we orientate better. Would we actually take the On Iowa set of programs … for several days, maybe we should run a couple different tracks. Should we do something for parents to actually let them know what their son or daughter is experiencing? And when they come home for November, maybe exams are coming up pretty fast when they get back, and maybe instead of doing things socially, they need to have some study time. I can keep going. What do we do in the dorms?

So I think this is a really important — if our role, which I think it definitely is, is to help educate and get those students through in four years, then we’ve got to figure out what support mechanisms are, and I for one really believe that there are better support mechanisms than we’re currently providing. That’s what I think this conference is all about. It’s really important.