UI president discusses fraternity suspensions, safety on campus

The Daily Iowan sat down with UI President Bruce Harreld on Oct. 12 to discuss issues affecting campus safety.


Nick Rohlman

UI President Bruce Harreld stands for a portrait in the Daily Iowan newsroom on Friday, October 12, 2018.

DI staff, [email protected]

Harreld: … I want to thank you, because I think all of us at least faculty, administration, we all worry about this time of year because there is a lot going on. And this seems like it has been a very stressful year with a lot of things happening. We started the year with a lot of very unfortunate situations and then we kind of get into this period of we’re in right now with a lot of finals, papers, particularly for our first-year students — a lot of stress.

You did a very nice thing, I thought, for our community when you did the confidential counseling services op-ed piece a few days ago. Thank you, because that was calling attention to the importance of if you need help, reaching out. If you’re a faculty member, if you’re a staff member, if you’re a student, we have so many different resources here and letting people know it’s okay, we’ve all needed help. So I just wanted to thank you for doing that.

RELATED: Traveling suicide prevention exhibit arrives at UI

I also liked some of the photos we had of the suicide prevention [exhibit] on campus. It’s OK, we’re here to help. Thank you for getting the word out. Appreciate it.

DI: With the Afro House’s 50th anniversary being celebrated [Friday], what are your thoughts on the significance of the spaces and the student activism that has brought attention to those kind of spaces over several decades?

Harreld: They’re very important, but I like to put it all the way back in context. We were one of the first universities in the country to start the cultural centers. I joined a community where I thought we hadn’t taken care of them. We put some investment behind them, refurbished them. I think we have bigger aspirations, so I think it is a really important part of our community. I go around several times a year into those houses, and thank them for all that they’re doing. Kind of take a look and see what else we can do.

I have a desire to actually create more of a sense of community. I think all of those kitchens are way too small for each of them, maybe creating a community social gathering house where all of them could share a larger kitchen, a larger sense of space for whatever events they’re running. But it’s particularly important right now — we’re going through a period where we have the 50th year of the Afro House and bringing alumni back to let them see what they created, and thank them for what they’ve done, and to let them get involved in work like [the Latino Native American Cultural Center’s].

I think LNACC has started a couple national chapters along the way many years ago. They’re starting to come back as they celebrate their history as well. We’re one of the first to be so aggressive in the LGBT community as well. I think they all play their own unique role, but collectively, it actually allows us to celebrate the diversity of our campus and the inclusion of our campus.

RELATED: Students find home away from home thanks to UI cultural center coordinators

There’s another step coming, stepping out to the international students. We’re going to be putting up a set of flags across the IMU bridge so next week we’ll have a ceremony. With all the confusion and frustration of international students across the United States, we thought it’d be a wonderful idea to actually put a flag up for each country that’s represented in our community. So about 118, 120 flags will be going up across the IMU to just remind us of the diversity of that community as well.

I think all these are really important, and I keep saying to each of the members of each of those communities, you need always have a sense of being able to get into a room where you’re full of people just like you, and they understand what you’re going through, and you can relate to and you can have the conversations and get the support that you need. But, also, please remember to come out of those houses and rejoin the broader community. I also would say that the broader community, go into those houses and spend some time to get to know the people. Pretty special.

• • •

DI: Nontenured track faculty have continued to advocate for better benefits and working conditions and showed up last month at the Board of Regents’ meeting to protest. Since we last talked about it in May, we know there have been some meetings with university officials, but can you give your thoughts on where the efforts to work with them stand?

Harreld: Well, it’s gone through various stages. First of all, I did meet with them and realized, through their input, that a number of the policies across the university were not being enforced. And so we had to clean up some of our own actions, we had people who were working more than 50 percent and didn’t get benefits. Our policy is if you work more than 50 percent, you should have benefits. But some people in that community who were not getting annual feedback reviews, people were not getting letters of contract or of employment on a timely basis, so all those things were frankly part of our policies, but we weren’t evenly enforcing those.

RELATED: Nontenured faculty demand fair treatment from UI

I think to a very large extent we cleaned all that up. At the same time, I made it very clear to that community that if they start to organize, and they have a right to do that, no problem, what they’re creating, union-organizing efforts. But once they go down that path, I can no longer meet with them. That becomes the responsibility of the Board of Regents; I have to step aside. That’s true for COGS, that’s true for all the unions we have. Those discussions, those contracts are negotiated with the Board of Regents. And it would appear as though, given what I saw at the regents’ meeting in September, given the T-shirts, what I saw on social-media sites, that they are in the process, you would say, potentially at least of organizing.

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So I have had to step out of the process. And we’ll see. I hope they would conclude, as I have, that we’ve made considerable progress, and we’re starting to evenly enforce all of our policies and practices. And I thank them for coming forward and helping us get the right things done.

• • •

DI: Next month, the regents are expected to approve the UI’s request to close several centers, and the Faculty Senate recently released a statement condemning the lack of faculty involvement in the decision-making process, saying those actions run counter to the efforts to lift the American Association of University Professors sanction. Because shared governance is one of the things you’ve promoted since you’ve been here, what is your reaction to their statement?

Harreld: Well, let’s put it all back in context. Two years in a row, we’ve had midyear budget cuts. This last year’s budget cut came within about 60 days, maybe 90 days — I can’t recall right now exactly — days left in the [fiscal] year. So when you have to take money out for the year in a few short weeks, you have to do something quick. So what we did is put it on the moratorium. And the moratorium was intended just to give us breathing room. So we said we’ll stop a lot of important work that was going on across campus and just pause on our cash flow. Meanwhile, I said numerous times to the community, to faculty, to staff groups, to students, that we will need to take a step two. And step two was always — I use the phrase over and over again — about reviewing centers, institutes, and other activities. We started early on — I actually went back and looked at my notes in March — we went to the deans and actually said, OK, start the process of reviewing. And that then led to, by the time we got into midsummer, a set of decisions that — a set of centers and institutes that were being funded with general-education fund monies, i.e., right now two-thirds of that money comes from student tuition.

RELATED: ‘There’s no joy’ in closing centers, Provost Curry tells Iowa Board of Regents

So, these centers and institutes were being at least two-thirds funded by student tuition. And we said, that’s inappropriate. And so, we need to get them outside of GEO. Each of those centers, since then, has now been working on — what does that mean? Are there sources for other funding mechanisms? Some cases, they’re finding that there are endowments that might get created. Some cases there are research grants. But we need to get them out of the general-education fund.

Then, I would remind all of my colleagues on campus that I passionately believe in shared governance. Shared governance does not mean shared decision-making. It’s something different. So they have an input. They had done a study, the faculty had done a study in 2004, of what centers and institutes, a list of which should be closed. A number of centers that closed were right at the top of that list. They updated that list in 2009, and there wasn’t any change. Then there was a minor update in 2010.

Should we have stepped back at that stage, as I think the Faculty Senate claims, and redone that study? I don’t think we had time. And so I had to do something to get the budget under control. I made a decision. I take responsibility for it. But I also will remind my colleagues that in August I said OK, let’s now go through the process. And they started in August saying, let’s do the next study, like we did in 2004 and updated in 2009. Let’s do the 2018 version of that. That committee’s been formed, the head of the Faculty Senate is leading it, and they’ll come up with recommendations.

RELATED: Faculty Senate forms task force in response to recent center closures

I think one of the questions that I’ve asked them to think about is, not only what centers would be next but also to think about what’s the life of that report? We didn’t implement the 2004 report for 14 years. We did update it. But should this report have a one-year life, should it have a three-year life, should it have a 10-year life? I don’t really know. And what should be the process? So I understand their angst, I’m as frustrated as they are.

On the other hand, we needed to get ourselves into the position where anything that doesn’t directly relate to the education of our students shouldn’t be funded through tuition and state monies, unless the state specifically says the money should go to XYZ. Now, that isn’t the case in any of the centers that we’re closing.

• • •

DI: The moratorium on alcohol consumption in the greek community has been in place for about a year now. Recently, nine fraternities have been suspended for policy violations, including alcohol use. Is there anything that you think should be done to make that moratorium more effective or better stir cultural change in that community?

Harreld: Clearly, we need to do something. I thought the moratorium was pretty clear. I think the procedures were pretty straightforward. I think Dr. [Melissa] Shivers and her team have worked, I think, all over the greek system to explain it. I met with all the greek leaders in August for an hour or so and explained once we were keeping the moratorium on, so I thought that it was pretty clear. Obviously, it wasn’t.

We found here recently that there’s some pretty specific violations not only of the intent but just the specifics of that moratorium, and we’ve decided to take action. We’re collecting more information and asking them to come forward and explain what happened, and how it happened, and what didn’t they understand about what the policies were. I think we may learn. I don’t know what we’ll learn. Yes, clearly, when a group and as many people did what they did, it’s either they just don’t care or they decided they could get away with it and we weren’t really serious, or you can start running through the other types of options.

RELATED: Nine fraternities suspended pending investigations into alcohol use at events

I keep running it on a daily basis. What is going on? And all I can say is I completely support the decisions we’ve taken. I’m a member, for all my life, have been a member of a greek organization. I’m still active in it. Dr. Shivers is, as well. And, I just ask all of the members in the greek community to look at the values of their respective organization. I’m a Sigma Chi. Beta Theta Pi has a set of values and standards they aspire to live by. So do the Acacia. So do — keep going. All of them have. I’ve read those. Are we living up against those standards? I think those are fine. If that’s what we aspire to, let’s hold ourselves accountable.

And I am not going to be part of an institution that has parents send their daughters and sons here, and there’s not a safe environment. And some of the things that have gone on need to stop. And I’m not attacking the greek — I told them — I’m not attacking the greek system. It’s wonderful, let’s use it, let’s build from it. It espouses leadership and great values. On the other hand, some of the things that I’m pretty sure happen … I’ll tell you what, I invite the greek leaders to come over. We’ll go through the evidence together, and we’ll, together, talk about how what happened, espouses the values, and how it’s safe, and how it’s right, because I don’t think it is.

So, I think we all are pretty concerned. I think they feel like we’ve picked on them. No, I think they put themselves into this situation. And if they want to work out of it, let’s get together, and let’s work it.

• • •

DI: And more broadly, as the university looks to revamp the alcohol-harm-reduction plan, what do you think the next steps should be with that? Do you have any expectations?

Harreld: Well, I mean first of all, all of this is connected, isn’t it? I think the drinking scene, Dr. Shivers and I co-hosted 32 universities in Chicago last April, and we co-hosted with Nebraska and Penn State and brought a number — all the universities with very active, large greek systems together — and had a conversation about these issues. And also more generally, about drinking and harm reduction. So I don’t think you can separate these. I think the data that I saw, I don’t have good data for the University of Iowa, but the data and research studies I’ve seen say that it is a much higher incidence of drinking in the greek community than in the student body on average at other institutions. So, you’ve got to connect these dots.

Having said that, I think we’ve done a wonderful job over the last five to seven years of really changing the dynamic in our community around alcohol. And when I talk to groups, they, often other universities, say, well how did you get off the Princeton Review list? What did you do? And they’re always looking for that one answer.

RELATED: University of Iowa no longer a top-20 party school

And the answer is: We did everything. We educated, worked with the people who owned the bars, we enforced the laws, we created other activities on campus during Fridays, Friday nights, and weekends, etc., etc., etc. And we started dropping off the list, we started going down on the list, and now this year, knock on wood, we’re no longer on the list at all.

But that, to your question, that doesn’t mean our job is over. Our own data says that first-year students still have a higher incidence of drinking than the rest of the campus. Maybe they’re coming here with bad habits, maybe they’re expecting it, maybe it’s just the emotion of being free at last from home. It also says that there’s little tendency in the fourth year, or as they graduate, people start celebrating a little bit early.

So I think we’ve got some work to do. I think we need to clearly do a better job of, in bringing new students into our campus and letting them understand where we are on some of these issues and what’s good for them and what’s not good for them. I think we can also bring in a large group of first-generation students; I really worry about them right about this time of year.

RELATED: Recent data shows high-risk drinking more common in UI community

Back to what we were talking about earlier, which is what should we be doing to make sure they learn the rhythm of the academic life, which can be pretty rigorous as we all know. And doing that while also spending a lot of time partying and what have you, I just think is really probably too challenging for many of them. Perhaps the data say our graduation rates aren’t where they should be relative to other institutions in our peer group. I think maybe that’s part of this issue as well. We’ve got more work to do. Again, I would say anyone who has meaningful ideas of what we should be doing, especially the greek systems, reach out, get involved with us and together we can all work on this.

• • •

DI: Shifting gears but, this is the first time we’ve sat down with you since Mollie Tibbetts’ death, so we wanted to give you the opportunity to speak about her as well as the larger issue of gender-based violence that her death brought attention to.

Harreld: Yeah. I don’t even know where to begin. It’s just tragic. No family, no individual should go through that. And in the violence against women it seems — I don’t know whether it’s increasing or not in our society, but lately the cycle of news suggests it’s sticking in my face more and more — is just a real tragedy.

And so I, again, I think we need to reach out to certain communities, particularly men, and make them understand the importance of their behavior and the impacts it has. But what that family went through, and the length of time before we knew she was missing to the time we found out what happened, was tragic, and I just can’t imagine living in that sort of environment for as long as they did.

On the other hand, we’re trying to do all we can to help them heal. She was a very active member of our community, beloved in so many ways. The family has reached out and asked to help in creating the foundation and support that we’ve now created.

RELATED: Memorial fund established in Mollie Tibbetts’ honor

I thought Jake was just incredible; I’m sure you probably were at the silent vigil. These are moments where we come together as a community and really sort of reflect on what is it that’s going on. And clearly, we need to hold people. I think we’ve got a lot of words goings on in our society, and we’re recycling, not that you as journalists are a part of that, but I think we need to hold ourselves responsible for our actions and understand the consequences.

In my leadership program, we spend a lot of time talking about second derivatives, third derivatives. I think you’ve probably heard some of that, which is the issue. It isn’t just this action, it’s the consequences that come from your actions and what they send as signals. So I would hope all of us, particularly men, stand up and hold themselves to a higher standard than it appears that we are; that’s very important.

And then I come back, all the way back to what I talked about at the very beginning of today’s conversation, which is we’ve got these counseling services, confidential counseling services. I can’t imagine, some people must really be rethinking a lot of things. There’s a perspective that campus isn’t safe. Well, a lot of the things that happened to us over the summer, including Mollie, didn’t happen on campus. But yet we equate that as a university issue. Is the campus more or less safe than it was a few years ago? All the data we have right now say it’s about the same as it’s been last year. There is no more.

So that doesn’t mean to say that we don’t need help. So if you feel stressed out, and you need help, reach out, we all go through that. So we’ve got places and people you can go to, we’ve tripled the size of our Counseling Services over the last several years for just these reasons. So, tragic.

• • •

DI: Kind of along those lines with gender-based violence, Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court has renewed attention to the Me Too Movement, so what do you think the UI’s role is in affirming the concerns people have expressed in supporting survivors who may come forward?

Harreld: The Kavanaugh situation, I was so far away from that. It was just out of control. I think, for me, the more important question about that, is what’s happened to our political process? It seems like everything is now politicized. I think the process is broken, all the way around for everybody. We used to be a period where we had to ask for a 60 percent vote from the Senate and now it’s 50 or 51. I think we should go back and rethink that, because it’s not very consensus-based, it’s political-based, it’s partisanship at the base level, and that engenders these types of situations.

RELATED: UI students react to Brett Kavanaugh confirmation

As it relates to sexual violence, I already talked about it in a sense: I just think there’s no room for it. And people have been victimized, women have been victimized, they need to help us help them. We have a lot of mechanisms to do that. At the same time, I’ve been advocating, particularly to the greek system, trying to work with some of the fraternities to talk about what we’re doing, what we need to do to keep women safe.

In the last few years, we’ve increased Nite Ride, we’ve increased our phone apps, we’ve increased lighting all across this campus. And then most importantly we’ve retrained a lot of our people to help victims as they’re going through that trauma, to actually get through it, and get through it safely in environments where they’re not victimized, they’re actually assisted through that trauma. But, at the beginning we need to do that, but let’s also work on not putting women in that situation. And unfortunately, our society has a long way to go.

• • •

DI: You spoke publicly last month about the Modern Piping lawsuit. We were wondering if you could reiterate your remarks here and if you had anything else to add.

Harreld: I refer anybody — you can take a lot at all of the specifics and the facts are the facts, and somehow we were perhaps too nice, and we let things get a little out of control and let the other side control the conversation. I mean the beginning notion that the project dramatically changed and therefore the original bid was different than where we ended up — that’s just not true. That’s not how it started. It started, it did change, the way the bids that everybody bid on are well post all of that change. They knew what they were bidding on.

Second, there’s the notion that we paid a substantial amount of money to all of our contractors, including the ones who we’re in dispute with, and we’ve paid over $50 million to them, so this notion that we’re not paying our bills just really isn’t true.

RELATED: UI, Modern Piping in court over Hancher and Stead Family Children’s Hospital projects

On the other hand, we actually believe that they’re asking for more than they should. As I said, I’m not going to pay bills that we don’t owe. And we’re having a dispute about what we do? It started out as a small little issue on Hancher, and then they added the Children’s Hospital to it, and it started growing up, and growing, and growing, and growing. And it started as a couple $100,000 and now it’s in the millions and I think the process is really broken. That’s what we’ve asked the Supreme Court, the state of Iowa, to adjudicate on, the process and how we got to where we are. I am ever so hopeful, I mean if we can come to a reasonable settlement, we will settle. We’ve tried, and it didn’t work, and partially it didn’t work, maybe to a large extent it didn’t work.

I think we actually came to fiscal terms, but the other side basically said they didn’t want to, they wanted to renege on the original terms and conditions as the warranty of their work. We can’t do that with the Children’s Hospital, we’ve got patients running through there. We don’t know what the quality of their work was, and so we said no, we’re going to hold you to the original standard that you bid on. That’s only fair and reasonable. For some reason, they had issues with that, so, I think it’s pretty clear where we are, and I hope we can resolve it.

RELATED: Board of Regents discusses UIHC audit, comments on Modern Piping allegations

But I’m not going to do it through the press, and here I am doing it through the press. It’s just not the right way. And then he tells one side of the story, and then I get really mad when they starting saying they’re going to put a claim against the Mural, one of the most valuable paintings, works of art in the United States. And they decided they’re going to put a claim against it because somehow we weren’t able to pay our bills. That’s just a joke. That was a media stunt. I just don’t — I have no time for that stuff. And so, it gets out of hand. So you want to behave that way, we’ll take the gloves off, too. We’ll see you in court.

DI: You talked about national, or at least other colleges that you’ve seen, trends in drinking. Overall, most campus communities going down, but greek communities going up. You say you don’t know the UI trends are; you haven’t seen those?

Harreld: Let me just, minor correction, I haven’t seen good trendline data. I’ve seen studies of drinking at fraternities and sororities relative to their student body on average. So take X, Y, and Z university, you see several times higher rate of drinking as self-described by fraternities and sororities versus the students at the same institution in the student body. Does that make sense? And that I’ve seen, but I have not seen that data for the University of Iowa.

But there was a research study that we saw in April in Chicago, one of the researchers presented that I can’t remember where the study was done, I think it was across several different universities, and there is a general belief, not general belief, general set of data that support there is a higher instance of drinking on the same campuses in greek life.

I think, I don’t have the data, but I think that feels the same way here, as well. When I talk to people in the student body, not to put you on the spot, but to put others on the spot, is there more, even when I ask fraternity members, yeah, there probably is.

So that was part of the reason we put the moratorium on back a year ago. So then, I think you have to add all of this. It’s not just alcohol, it’s other drugs, it’s hazing on top of this, and then we have this whole process of hazing during the pledging and the final stages of becoming a member.

Some of these things are just atrocious. So you have incidents like at Penn State, people losing their lives. It’s just totally unacceptable. It’s interesting because nationally, fraternities, a number of them, have stepped up and basically said we’ll close chapters if they violate these sets of policies, including drinking.

I would say about half the fraternities that we’ve talked to in the past week, national fraternities, have stepped up and said we understand you, we understand exactly where you are, and we’ll help you, and we’ll write a letter reinforcing our policies back to the local chapter at the University of Iowa. A couple have been silent as well. So I don’t think what we’re going through is just the University of Iowa issue.

On the other hand, I don’t think we can hide behind the fact that, gee, just because it’s going on at other universities we’ll tolerate it here. No, we’ll lead it if we need to. And if people are coming here to be at a party school and to do some of the things I think we’ve done in the last few weeks around tailgating by fraternities here, don’t come. Go someplace else. We just, no, that’s not part of what we’re about. We stand for better values than that.