Q&A: UI President Bruce Harreld discusses diversity head’s resignation, contract extension, Cy-Hawk game

President Bruce Harreld sat down with the Daily Iowan on Sept. 23 to discuss issues affecting the UI community.


Katina Zentz for The Daily Iowan

UI President Bruce Harreld answers a question in the Adler Journalism Building on Monday, September 23, 2019. President Harreld discussed his contract extension, the resignation of the Associate VP for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the UI marching band investigation regarding incidents taken place during the Cy-Hawk football game.

DI staff

DI: The Board of Regents voted in June to extend your contract. Just a month earlier in May, you told the DI that you needed to get comfortable with, that you were the right person to continue leading the job after your controversial 2015 start. How in a month’s time did you come to the decision that you indeed were the right person for the job? 

Harreld: Talked to a ton of people – faculty, staff in particular. Regents.

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DI: Yeah. So, what changed your mind — or not change your mind but give that confidence?

Harreld: Well, I never was negative. I just needed to be really convinced that I was making an impact that was positive. Secondly, I needed to look at what needed to get done. That I could continue driving that board. So, I spent some time talking to people that I really respect – that I think would give me a straight honest answer, whether we’re going in the right direction or not. 

So, I talked to a group of leaders on campus, as well as the Board of Regents and had specific conversations about what’s best for the university long term. They got me convinced that there was a period here for the next few years where –things, I was particularly persuaded by the fact that of number of things we had started hadn’t formed a fruition yet and that is was useful to continue the same leadership. There is a tendency when new leaders come in that they pause and change things, and people said we don’t want to pause, we want to keep moving. That helped a lot. 

DI: What are things in particular that you think you need to continue momentum on? 

Harreld: Well, I think an overall theme would be, what I keep referring to, is the “E” word – excellence. That we have had a tendency over quite a long period of time of not having enough resources, and given that we don’t have resources we kind of spread the — what I refer to as spreading of the peanut butter — a thin layer across the entire institution, and that’s problematic when you don’t have any resources, and I think the result of that was that we dropped in a number of rankings, whether it be the research-based ranking or the student success-based rankings, and I think we definitely need to do better and can do better. 

So, I think a focus on what’s really important and consistency of building an execution plan behind the strategic plan that we developed four years ago now, and then I think coming with that is a shift in how we allocate resources – which is much more transparency, much more involvement on the entire campus – but understanding that we are not going to do it by spreading the peanut butter at the same rate. We are going to pick really, really, important things and fund those. 

Finally, and probably most importantly, was the looking for new resources. Whether that be a consistent tuition model over the next five years, the understanding that tuition and state appropriations are linked and are not two separate things. It’s basically a balloon — you can push on one side of the balloon it comes out on the other — and so we need to think about them in a linked way which I think the Board of Regents is now doing, and then a need for a greater tuition. Our tuition is at the bottom of the barrel in terms of the ten institutions that we benchmark with. Instead of coming to some realization that we are not looking for the highest, we’re just looking to at least get it to the point where we can do meaningful things with our research and our students. 

And then finally, looking for alternative new resources like the P3 we are still exploring. So, I mean I am the host of things, they are all around excellence, making resource allocations, etc. Focused on the right set of things and not just for everything because we’ve been doing it for a long period of time. And then finally we can find new sources of resources. 

RELATED: Bruce Harreld wants to be president after contract expires 

DI: Did the regents indicate in the months prior to the June meeting that they wanted you to stay on board and continue to do the job? 

Harreld: That isn’t quite the way — yeah, I had a sense that they wanted me to stay, they asked me whether I would be interested. You know, I have a personal, I guess, employment review twice a year with the regents for an hour to two hours in January usually and for June for most years. In those conversations there is a lot of discussion — what I just said — a lot of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and their questioning of some of those things, appropriately, and in most of those conversations they would ask, you know, how long would I stay, was I interested in staying longer, and I would always say, not yet, not yet. Not interested in just staying because we’re staying. I’m interested in making a meaningful impact. 

So, I got a sense I would say in the last year that they might be more interested in that, but it’s not like they are always saying, “Oh stay, stay, stay!” or “Oh, go, go, go!” That isn’t the way these things typically work, but it made sense and it probably picked up steam in the last six months. 

DI: More recently at the Cy-Hawk game, we’ve seen in the last week or so since the members of the Hawkeye marching band alleged physical harassment by Iowa State fans, Iowa opened and closed the investigation in a matter of a few days following that incident. Can you talk about the initial decisions to close the investigation?

Harreld: I’ve been moving really quickly here so my personal involvement on campus has been … last week in other parts of the world trying to deal with the [public/private partnership] and meeting all the companies that are bidding. This past week I was on campus — I wasn’t even in town for maybe the last hour of the Iowa State-University of Iowa game was I even in town. I say all that because it’s been a blur. I’m not so sure why we closed and we why relaunched. From my perspective, we didn’t really close. I think we finished the phase where we had interviewed all the people that were directly impacted negatively by their experience in Ames, and I think at that point we say, “Well, we had probably talked to everybody and I guess we put out an announcement so we’ve closed that.” From my perspective, we never closed anything. It still continues. In fact — I could — part of the issue is, and I know when I look at some of those social media, I see appropriately students and families really concerned about why we would ever close something so quickly. There’s still a greater story to be told. That wasn’t our intent, and I apologize if any of that really created a sense that we’re washing our hands. We’re not washing our hands of this — this is a really bad situation. Something really bad happened in Ames. It’s clear — we had a number of members of our band and I think even others that were impacted negatively by that.

RELATED: Marching Band allegations from Cy-Hawk game emerge

And now we get to everybody who we know has been impacted has been interviewed, and we’ve had a thorough conversation on what happened and can they identify what happened and what we could do about it. These crowd situations are really awkward to deal with because it’s a horde of people. Clearly some people misbehaved. And I could really use help — we could all use help — to the extent anybody has video or photos or direct experiences and they haven’t been able to tell those stories, please contact us or the police or anybody else. We love to document what’s happening, and that’s what’s going on now. When that concludes, I’m not so sure that will ever be final because somebody may still have a story or find out that they have a photo or a video clip. With today’s devices, I expect that there’s more out there that we need to know and I’d like to see that come forward. I’m not convinced at all that we should play this game again — here or there or anywhere — unless we can protect our fans, our band, and of course our athletes.

I’ve reached out to President [Wendy] Wintersteen as well as President [Mark] Nook at UNI, because we don’t ever I believe ever play in their venue, but they play at our venues, and I think all three of us need to sit down and have a series of conversations with our athletic directors, with our band directors, with our campus security and safety people, and say how do we protect — how do we ensure — that something like what happened [Sept. 14] doesn’t happen again? And I think we need to put it on paper — how large should our security forces be, where should the band bus park, what tunnel should we have a secure group of people make officers and security people protecting them, and then the same end of the stand. I think there’s a lot to document here and I think we need to have a series of conversations, and when we get there if we get there then I think I’ll consider playing this game again. But I’m not going to put our band or our students or our athletes in harm’s way. Something happened, and it isn’t right and we can all do better. I’m not just talking about in Ames; I’m talking about Iowa City, too. It works both ways. We can all improve. We should take this opportunity to improve.

I’m a little frustrated right now that this happened not in Iowa City, not in Kinnick, it happened at another stadium. All the sudden now, it’s … victim blaming.  All the sudden now, the University of Iowa is part of the issue because we start or stop the investigation. Please. We’re going to get to the bottom of this, we’re going to get through it all, and then we’re going to learn from it and move forward. If it means we’re not going to play again, we’re not going to play again.

DI: Is that a done deal, Cy-Hawk game is no more for the time being?

Harreld: I’m expecting we can work through this. Clearly expecting we can work through this. If for some reason one party or the other doesn’t come to the table, then no, why would we? I think we need to document and we should hold ourselves accountable as a team — a team of Iowa State, Northern Iowa, and the University of Iowa as to what we’re going to do.

I don’t think it’s just in Iowa, by the way. I’m watching what’s happening across the country and there’s a fan issue here in the country. I think this is a dialogue we should all be having, which is what is the appropriate security and safety issues. There’s a big discussion about whether we should allow alcohol in our stadiums. I don’t know about you, but I think we actually should have a conversation. That was a long day. It started with GameDay at whatever hour and people I heard were coming to the parking lot at 3:30, 4:30, 5:30 to line up for GameDay. Then we had two big delays during the game, the athletes had to get refueled and fed after the second break. Did alcohol have anything to do with this? … I kind of start playing mental games. If we had lost and the home team had won, would it have been quite so severe at the end? idk all the answers to those things, but I think it’s time for sure for our institution and any other regential institutions in the state to have a dialogue about safety and how we’re going to guarantee it. I don’t think we have any right — just like when something nasty on our campus to any of our students — we have to protect them. You expect us to. We own that responsibility, so we should sit down and go through it.

I also would say this isn’t just an Iowa issue. This may be broader than that as well. It will be useful dialogue across the country to talk about fan/fan experience, campus safety, band safety. Band members are pretty exposed. I high-five them in the tunnel before the games and all the rest, and it’s just like that’s it. If somebody wants to start pushing and shoving and throwing things at them, wow, that’s a tough environment to be in. They’re wonderful entertainers and they work really hard. I think most of us don’t appreciate how hard they work behind the scenes. … Being in the band takes a lot of time and then this happens to them? That’s not right.

RELATED: Hawkeye Marching Band madness: After Harreld’s Cy-Hawk remarks, universities move forward

DI: The UI on Sept. 20 shared that you had discussions with President Wintersteen and President Nook. Is there anything concrete planned out at this point or is it just raising those questions?

Harreld: I specifically reached out to the two of them. They agreed to do that. I included not just the three of us, I said we should have our athletic directors, band directors as I said a moment ago, our security officers all present. We talked for a moment about the timing of that and … I said at the time we should wait until the season’s over. We’ll learn more through the investigation that’s continuing, we’ll get more facts, and we’ll also get more attention because everybody’s pretty busy during the football season. So my guess is some time in January we’ll sit down. But I will say I also fight myself on that. As I see this go more and more intense, maybe we should do it sooner rather than later. I don’t know, we haven’t really nailed that down yet. I just don’t want to have it too soon and we don’t have all the facts, and also too soon when we’re all busy so we tend to gloss over it. I think this is going to take several meetings. I don’t think it’s going to be one. I think we’ll set up a framework in the initial meeting and say let’s go look at these areas, then let’s have various people come back and report as to what they learn. What do we do here? What do we do in Ames? What’s the difference?

I think we spend — I believe we spend an incredible amount of time trying to make sure that our visiting team is well-protected, the band is protected, we have security people around. On the other hand, I think we need to reach out and talk to some of the other teams that have been here and see what they say and learn from it. I think we can all use this as a learning, improvement experience. And let’s not do this too quickly.

RELATED: Safety measures must improve before Iowa plays another Cy-Hawk game, UI president says

DI: Last month the UI announced TaJuan Wilson’s resignation from his position as associate VP for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Since he is still with the UI in some capacity can you share what projects he’s currently working on for our campus and what his role is now? 

Harreld: No, I can’t, I have some knowledge of the areas we’re working on, but I don’t have, I saw him the other day in town, but I haven’t really sat with him specifically and reviewed anything he’s working on. 

DI: You don’t know any of the special projects he’s working on for his contract?

Harreld: Nope. 

DI: The associate VP for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion used to be in the president’s cabinet reporting directly to you. When Lena Hill and Georgina Dodge were here, their positions in the UI organizational chart were reporting directly to you, so why now are they reporting to the provost? Was that change intentional? 

Harreld: No, we probably changed that quite a while ago and then Lena was actually on the cabinet and then Melissa was on the cabinet when she became interim and I started restructuring the cabinet from almost from the day one I got here. We had a number of other people on the cabinet as well, and I started making a tighter, smaller group, so it wasn’t with TaJuan or anything. We’ve been trying to get smaller and smaller as a group for a while now. We asked Melissa who was already on the cabinet that they take the DEI activities. So, I don’t view that one way or another as a substantive change. And to be sure, the offer letter that went to TaJuan never included that so that wasn’t a change. He knew that going ahead. 

RELATED: Associate VP for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion resigns: ‘It is not the right fit for me at this time’

DI: So that was already at some point before where he was hired?

Harreld: Absolutely, and there was a reporting relationship change as well. I don’t know if you know this but there was a dual reporting relationship to me and to the provost for — Georgina reported to both of us in that context, and that was changed and TaJuan knew that at the beginning as well. Why was that changed? Well first of all, any time you have dual, it gets confusing as who’s giving the performance reviews and who they were reporting to so I’m not sure if that’s a healthy practice. Secondly, more importantly, is the action plan for the DEI —Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — came out, a lot of what we do right now relates to faculty and Montse said if we go one way or the other she should report to [her] at that point in time, because of the faculty issues. TaJuan knew that as well going in. 

DI: The UI often looks to its peer group to make comparisons on things. I did the same thing and looked to other universities’ structures, and I found that seven out of 10 of these peer universities report to the president. Why is the UI now proceeding with having the person in this position report to the provost instead of to you? 

Harreld: Largely for what I just said. There’s two reasons, one is we have a provost who is really interested in these and wants to take action, and secondly the DEI action plan itself has a set of faculty training and a promotional set of issues embedded within it that are very faculty-related so for that reason we put it to the provost office. I will say in most corporations around the world, affirmative action, and diversity, equity, and inclusion issues are a part of [human resources], so if you actually went out and polled IBM or where I used to work or most of the companies in the state you’ll find it is an issue within HR and there are different models out there, the question is what do you need to get done. I think as Montse and I talked about, we will probably migrate through time, the next 18 months of the action plan is focused on faculty to a very large extent and if you look at the microaggressions that came out of the Iowa Loves Me campaign, that everyone appropriately had a real concern about it, many of them were microaggressions. I hate the phrase ‘microaggressions,’ they were aggressions, because to those receiving microaggressions they seem like they’re not very micro, so they’re aggressions largely related to comments in the classroom, so that’s where we need to focus, and I think a year from now or 18 months from now we can change reporting depending on where it needs to be. 

DI: You’re comfortable because of the UI context deviating from the peer group? 

Harreld: Yeah, I think context matters. Maybe you remember from the course, but context matters. You have to look at specific situations and you have been careful that you don’t go looking at peer groups, and their context is different than yours, then adopt their structure or whatever policy and apply it to your institution. That’s not doing your homework, and not thinking through the problem very clearly. We have thought it through, and this is where we can out, he knew that from the beginning, and it isn’t the issue. 

RELATED: Resigned UI diversity administrator ‘telecommuting’ into work

DI: Is the UI looking to fill his position?

Harreld: I think eventually. I think we have a tendency to do, and I think Montse made this call, as well, and I completely agree with her that if we take another six to nine month hiatus to look for a new leader, we lose six to nine months of executing the action plan. So let’s get going, let’s get the emphasis right now on the action plan and specifically what we need to do. We will fill that position. We need to get energy not on getting a leader, on what we said we were going to do. I don’t know if anybody was there from the DI last week, we had a review session of where we are, there were probably 35-40 people in the UCC in the meeting where we had a review of where we are. On the web you’ll find under path forward the DEI action plan and where we are, that’s where we want our energy right now. So let’s get that momentum in place then we’ll find an appropriate leader. 

DI: If Provost Fuentes, she oversees faculty and the academic side of the institution, how is the universities’ DEI goals being pursued as a whole?

Harreld: She’s carrying on. This is an action plan that has all of the elements in it. Right now, the primary focus, the point of the sphere so to speak, will be its own set of faculty issues. The faculty aggressions I was referring to affect students very directly so there is a continuum here, but the cultural houses and the broader impact of recruiting of staff — not just faculty — recruiting in admissions for students and support systems we have in place are still under Montse’s responsibility, and the three department heads. She is doing that on behalf of the university. Then keep in mind we have the path forward team. There are four key committees in our strategic plan for the Path forward team; student success, research, engagement and underlying platform of collaboration, diversity, equity and inclusion. We work on those and that team has got staff, faculty and students on it, the path forward committee. There’s a broad representation of campus.

DI: Since you mentioned that the cultural centers are a part of that and they are technically considered student life, then that would be under Dr. Shivers, then how is she on the DEI committee? 

Harreld: She’s on the DEI committee. That’s how we work, we work in a very integrative way. We don’t just have direct lines of command; we’re collaborative. We have research efforts from here to there across the campus. We do the same thing with some important initiatives. Much of the student’s success has a lot to do with what we do in the classroom and out of the classroom which is student life—activities, clubs, the cultural centers, and all sorts of other activities. I would say, part of student success is what we do in research because the more we get students involved in research, particularly undergraduates, the more they pursue their passions, the more students we send purposefully internationally. Just because not all student things are academically in the Provost office and not just in division of student life. We need to work across these groups so that’s why we created the Path Forward committee. That’s the point they all come together. The diversity team is in the Path Forward team, so is student life, so is faculty—it’s not all linear.

DI: Some people have raised concerns that the provost now oversees units of the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, one being the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity; some have expressed that they feel it is a conflict of interest, because the provost oversees faculty, and when the UI has to investigate faculty complaints, they expressed concerns about the separation of powers between the provost and the office. 

Harreld: Has there been an issue? I haven’t heard that, that’s the first I’ve heard it.

DI: You don’t feel that there’s any conflict of interest? 

Harreld: Not at all, but if there is, please raise it. Give an example of something that has been a problem. 

DI: I’m not pointing to something concrete. 

Harreld: I don’t mean to challenge you, just no.

DI: Basically the concern that I have heard is that, say the provost were the root of an Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity complaint.

Harreld: Well, then we’d take the provost out of process, and we’d ask somebody on the outside. We have this issue all the time. The provost would need to recuse herself. We have this all the time – we bring an outside investigator, and we would investigate. Anything is possible. Good lord, we tend to go, we’ve had so many smart people parse apostrophes if we could. If there is a conflict of interest, we will get the outside expertise to make sure we do the appropriate things and make sure there is no bias in the process. Keep in mind also, I don’t know what type of problem we’re trying to solve with a hypothetical, but that the hypothetical, but also to the extent if there is any Title IX issues. We also have that as a separate group on campus led by someone totally separate. We also have an Ombuds’ Office that’s totally separate, we have an HR team that is totally separate. It would be useful to get more specific. It’s hypothetically possible, and I think we have methods to deal with it. 

RELATED: UI reports enrollment growth in class of 2023

DI: University officials have warned of an enrollment decline in the next decade or so. How is the UI preparing for that possibility? What would that enrollment decline mean for the UI?

Harreld: Well, we don’t want an enrollment decline. So the first thing you do is get the facts. Many of the students that will be coming to the University are already born, so we know where they are. We know what the graduation rates are, so this isn’t a mystery. We can start projecting the numbers out that there is a depression of a cohort from the 2007-2009 period where we start having recessions. There is a smaller group coming through and we can see that in the data. And so everyone said, ‘Oh my goodness the University’s enrollment is going to go down,’ only if we let it.

Let’s go back to the E word—excellence. The more excellent we are in terms of education, research, and our clubs—and if students really want to be at the University of Iowa, then we will have a much easier time recruiting. We’ve heard some discussion about being a destination University—a choice. It’s not a fall back place, it’s a place where people really aspire to be, and I think you saw some of that in the numbers this year. We reached out to other states and they said, ‘Hey, I’d like to be there.’ And so, the better we are, the more we talk about it, and the more we do our job while students are here and they like to be here, we’ll do just fine.

To the extent we sit back and say, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s happening,’ and shut down a little bit on the process and get complacent, then it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, we’ll have issues. You see some institutions have issues. What you do is you pick up your game—you get better and be more supportive for your students. Graduate them more on-time than we do today. I also think you tell them that there is a whole world out there, let’s go do a better job of telling the story for the University of Iowa. We looked at that data as an opportunity. A couple years ago, we were trying to be a larger and larger institution, and I think we have outgrown our resources. If we were trying to matriculate 6,000 or 10,000 students instead of 5, that puts a lot of fiscal pressure all across campus. We need more housing, we need more faculty, we need more support systems—and we start becoming problematic. I felt that as I looked at the numbers that 4,800 to 5,000 was a good number, which means that we aren’t growing the student body. I continually believe that excellence is a strategy for an institution like ours being 50,000 instead of 33,000, we would not deliver the same resources for our students.

Don’t confuse those issues. We purposely want to be in that 4,800 to 5,000 zone. The academic quality of our students has been going up in recent years. We welcome first-generation students. We really want at least 20 percent of our students to be first-generation students, and we’re going to put the support systems in place so that students and their families know what comes with it. It’s a new experience for those families. Same for students of color – we can’t just recruit in Iowa for students of color. We need to get out and put support systems in place. 

DI: Since enrollment is tied to tuition revenue, is there a specific numerical goal attached to enrollment projections with nonresident and resident student makeup?

Harreld: No, we’re roughly at 56-57 percent non-resident of the class we just admitted. That’s a nice place for us, we’re fine. The state gives us $219 million a year we love Iowans, and we’ll support the Iowans. We do get more money from a non-resident student, but does that actually stare in the decision making? Absolutely not. The more important issue is what’s the overall size and what does it take to provide the excellence and support. We’re values driven first, not numbers.