Q&A: UI President Bruce Harreld talks public/private partnership, climate crisis, sustainability goals

In an interview with The Daily Iowan, University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld discussed the public/private partnership, institutional response to climate crisis, and sustainability goals on campus.

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Q&A: UI President Bruce Harreld talks public/private partnership, climate crisis, sustainability goals

UI President Bruce Harreld answers questions during an interview with The Daily Iowan in the Adler Journalism Building on Monday, December 9, 2019.

UI President Bruce Harreld answers questions during an interview with The Daily Iowan in the Adler Journalism Building on Monday, December 9, 2019.

Katina Zentz

UI President Bruce Harreld answers questions during an interview with The Daily Iowan in the Adler Journalism Building on Monday, December 9, 2019.

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

UI President Bruce Harreld answers questions during an interview with The Daily Iowan in the Adler Journalism Building on Monday, December 9, 2019.

DI staff

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DI: In regards to the P3, state lawmakers said in a forum hosted by the DI yesterday on Sunday that they fear the potential p3 is a gamble that seems to rely on some uncertain factors like unforeseeable, long-term risks. And they also fear that this deal would fleece federal taxpayers in particular. So what is your response to that character description of the P3?

Harreld: Well, I don’t know where to begin because I don’t know how to discuss unforeseen factors. If somebody [foresees] them, then I will talk about what we’ve done to mitigate them so I feel like it’s just a little broad. I’ve read it, I mean I think there’s several pieces. And if I leave something out, take me where you want to go. One portion of this is that it’s been too fast. We’re not transparent. And I think I have a real problem with that. I just don’t think that’s the truth. The truth is this started, for me, it started in August of 2018 — a letter from the governor asking us to be much more creative in thinking about new alternatives, including philanthropy, for the university. We talked about that probably in September of 2018.

And so that’s when we specifically started thinking about a P3, in this type of structure, in the early part of 2019. In this year alone, I counted at least 17 major public events on campus and public forums. About six to eight of them have been town hall meetings that have been wide open for anybody who wanted to come. And then I counted at least 10 articles that have been written in the major newspapers. The first one, back to February 8 in The Daily Iowan as matter of fact …

So to say that this hasn’t been transparent or that it’s been too fast I don’t stake in this a better part of, perhaps, I’d say 16 to 18 months to deal with this and to work it through. And then, you get not only too far into the weeds, but the weeds are important in a transaction like this, so we thought a lot about what could go wrong. And we looked at others and how they’ve done it and one of the things we created on our own was taking the proceeds and not putting them into the middle of the university and saying ‘good luck’ as to how you allocate spending money.

DI: Referring to the general fund?

Harreld: It could be the general fund, it could be even beyond the general fund. Some institutions, I believe, Ohio State didn’t attach their spending to the General-Education Fund, in their environment. You’ll have to go look specifically how they did it, but I believe it was broad … They just took roughly the amount of a little over a billion dollars and did not put many restrictions.

One of the things we did is said, ‘No, it should fund the strategic plan.’ And so we created a separate 501c3 organization, whose charter specifically connects it to the purpose of [how] the proceeds should be spent. Not the corpus, not the principal — the proceeds. The earnings should be spent to fund the gaps of the strategic plan of the University of Iowa.

And then, you’ve heard me talk ad nauseam about what those gaps are and what they aren’t. And so we’ve purposely put the money, not at large and onto campus, but put it tied to the strategic plan and funding. That’s a huge step. And then we’ve also put restrictions on a lot of modeling.

There are a lot of people I need to thank in this process, one in particular is Tom Rietz –Professor Rietz – whose the chair of the finance department, the Tippie College of Business. He’s been involved in this … [since] very early on. I recognize that, even though I have some reasonably good finance skills, I need a lot of help. And we all did.

So, I sit down with Dan Collins and Tom Rietz and Dan is the chair of the accounting department for Tippie. The three of us met and I said, here’s what I’m beginning to see and to understand and how it would work. But boy, the risks of this are huge. And we need to be able to model how the financial markets may play out over 50 years. We need to be able to model how much money we would need to fund the gaps in our strategic plan. We need to — I can just keep going.

There are layers and layers and layers to this and so Tom, in particular, did an awful lot of modeling. In particular, once we started to get the structure reasonably well-defined, [we] started running various scenarios of a 2007, 2008, 2009: fiscal collapse, credit lock up in the US economy through P3. So we just look through scenario after scenario after scenario. This is not risk free, something like this will never be risk free.

On the other hand, the fact that we’ve model 4 percent rate of return over the next 50 years, when we’ve had historically 8 percent rates of return on endowments like this here at the university? That’s a conservative step in its own right, so we’ve tried to build in, I would say, cushions in this process.

At the same time we tried to build some degree of flexibility in it, so we created a separate board, made of a member of the Board of Regents, a faculty member for a four-year period, and the executive vice president research. Those three will be the board who will determine what the payouts are, and how that money should be invested and what firms should be advisory in that process.

And, that gives us another layer of flexibility, so if the financial markets actually do a lot better than the 4 percent, they will be able to increase — their choice, their decision — to increase the rates of payout. If, on the other hand, it goes from 4 percent to a negative as did in 2008-9, then they’ll be able to stop payments and hold it back to preserve the corpus, so I can keep going to a lot of layers … but to say we haven’t considered them, or that’s been too fast, or hasn’t been transparent, I just really think is creative fiction. I just don’t think that’s true.

Having said that, we are entering in now into another door on this. We’re entering into a relationship with two other wonderful organizations, and their leaders won’t be there for 50 years. I won’t be here for 50 years. And so, we’re building a working relationship with an entity, as leaders will change through time. Those types of changes, those length of contracts are risky, indeed. Because the climate changes, the environment changes in general, and so we never know how it’s going to play out, but we tried to put in place — a little bit at times was referring to it like writing the U.S. Constitution — which you have to create some values and principles, you stand on and try to make those inviolate, and then try to add enough flexibility into it — a structure that can support those values, but enough flexibility as the world evolves. We’ve had a community that’s been, understandably, concerned about climate change, and we made a statement about 2025 and being coal-free. I think this deal, this transaction will accelerate that.

But that’s not the real issue. What about beyond being coal-free? What’s next? What should be the next set of standards … for 2030, or 2040, or 2050? No one seems to be as concerned about that, as we need to be. So, we’ve had to draft in these mechanisms to deal with the future, when it’s uncertain by definition. And I think that brings you back to values, so long answer to a really complicated point of view, and I don’t know that any of those people that really are making these comments are really engaged that much. I haven’t seen them in the town hall meetings, they haven’t called and said, ‘let’s meet.’ But yet, they’re more than welcome to.

DI: In regards to the criticism of the timeline, comparing this to Ohio State’s deal — that unfolded over several years and at least to the public this only became public in February, and also with the timeline of the approval specifically, to the public’s knowledge the regents only started hearing about this last week. I know they’ve been engaged throughout the process but …

RELATED: Public raises transparency concerns about UI public/private partnership

Harreld: No, no, no, no. Don’t do that either. I first raised it on Feb. 28 at the Board of Regents meeting.

DI: Yeah, and your reports to the meetings, but like as far as a focused discussion on the P3, that’s last week and on Tuesday for the approval.

Harreld: No, we’ve been talking about P3 since February at the board … but go ahead.

DI: I understand you discussed this a lot, but the public is primarily focused on these special meetings, and how these special meetings don’t offer opportunity for public comment.

Harreld: Not true. I’m sorry. No. I met with Staff Council on Feb. 13 of this year; the UI Student Government on February 19; the 28th of February I met with the Board of Regents. And now then, our first major informational session was [an] open, town-hall meeting where there were questions from the floor. [That] was March 5 at 9:30 a.m. … over on the other side of campus, UIHC. The next day, we have one on this side of campus in the Iowa Memorial Union in the theater. And there were 90 minutes to two hour meetings, wide open. Early on, there were a number of people that came, particularly from the utilities complex — employees worried, understandably, about the transition for themselves, personally. So, just because some people chose not to go and ask questions, I can’t, it’s been pretty wide open.

DI: I mean you touched on this as well — 50 years is a long time. And the people involved in making this deal, who know and understand the specifics of it will be long gone by the time the deals ends. So, how has this deal been made to account for that natural turnover and eventual loss of institutional knowledge?

Harreld: Well first of all, there’s a contract. The contract actually specifies what the rules of the road are and the relationship. And who’s going to spend what and how much money, and who’s going to get so much money, and when we need to make decisions on fuel, who’s going to make those decisions? And when we need to make capital equipment decisions, who’s going to make that? If we have a disruption of service, are there penalties? And so, it goes on and on and on, so we tried to anticipate every possible nuance that has come up in other deals like this around the world. That’s one of the things we did very early on is we hired a specialist, and a law firm and financial advisors who had been through these multiple times. It wasn’t their first rodeo as people say. It might have been the university’s.

In particular, our advisers were both one way or the other involved in Ohio State’s, and they understood what that document looked like and what was considered. They also understood, after the first couple of years, what issues popped up that weren’t considered so they can pull that insight and learning into our transaction. But so … just like there’s an operating manual for the university, and it guides us day in, day out and was largely written well before any of us were here. I makes this foundation in so many ways. At the same time, there are mechanisms in there for us to change our operating manual here at the university which we do, in some ways, almost every year. This document and this relationship also have mechanisms for how we can change things going forward. Even if the ultimate point we needed to back out of it … how that would work.

So, it’s a lot like the Constitution of the United States or a state, and tries to lay out everything we can envision, and then talk about if there’s something we can envision, what’s the mechanism for working through it?

But I guess I want to come back to something, which is what’s the alternative to not doing this type of transaction? As I’ve said to you and others, we’ve got an institution that, like in 49 other states across the country, have been underfunded by the state. And they have been de-appropriated.  And then we have: where’s the money going to come from? And we’ve had the debate over the last several years about more tuition of students and their families, but that but that can only go so far. And so, we’ve every year had a gap of in the $14 to $16 million of things we know we need to do — much of it relating to students, their success, graduation rates, mentoring, tutoring and all the rest, our enhanced the evolution of various programs on campus. We know our faculty are paid meaningfully less than the faculty at other Big Ten or peer institutions.

So we’ve got a serious set of fiscal issues. And at some point we have to stand up to them. And we stood up to them to some extent with a now long-term tuition plan, at least a five-year tuition plan, but that 3 to 5 percent, roughly, plan helps a lot, and I think it helps families plan, but it doesn’t solve our problem. Even with that, we’ve got a $14 to $16 million gap — every year. And you can see in, whether it be the AAU rankings, or the U.S. News World Report or the other rankings — I, and everybody cringes when I say it, but I think it’s the truth — we’re on a glide path to mediocrity. And I think this institution has got much more potential, and it owes much more to its students than that.

And so, we need some mechanism like this, and if not this, and I heard even in some of the stuff on Sunday, the discussion was ‘Well the state needs to step up, and the state needs to support more and more and more.’ And I’ve even said to a couple people I couldn’t agree more — make that happen. And I’m now four years into my presidency, it has not happened. It’s been stabilized and I really appreciate that. But, we’re probably still underwater from where we were in the first year. I lost $16 million.

This is an institution in 2008, that made the assumption — I wasn’t here, you weren’t here, none of us were here— in 2008, we said no one would ever de-appropriate us with the floods, like we’ve had, of course we had a financial lock-up the same time, across the country. We got de-appropriated to $80 million in that one year. But, don’t worry it will come back, we’ll get you back after the economy recovers, we’ll get you back. We haven’t gotten back there — we’ve still lost that 80 million. My first year, we lost another 16. We’ve had a little here and a little there.

So, we’re holding our own, but by and large we can do a lot better. And so the question becomes, what’s the role of public higher education? And where’s the funding going to come from? And I listened to a lot of people talk about, well, we should make tuition free, well where does that money come from? So I look at this and say this is a good first step towards solving some of those answers for our campus, but it won’t resolve it all. It’s just the first step.

DI: And so the UI has chosen the same partner as Ohio State, ENGIE. Given that Ohio State has already gone through a very similar P3, with the exact same partner, how much has the UI engaged with university officials over there, if at all, or were you even able to because of the private nature of this process?

Harreld: No, we reached out early on, even before we started the process. I talked to Michael Drake. I was just with him over the weekend, at a Big Ten meeting, but we’re members of several different venues and activities, the AAU would meet twice a year. I see Michael at almost every one of those meetings, so early on, I reach out and say ‘Michael, what happened? How did it go? What did you learn?’

So he and I had several conversations along the way. And it didn’t go well. They’ve done two: they had one around parking, they did one around their utilities which is [a] very different structure than ours. But then we got a sense for ‘yeah this is something we need to take a little closer look at,’ and so we ended up going out and asking a broad swath of legal experts what their experience was and we just ended up working with Jones Day, who actually worked on their transaction as well. I think they might have been on the other side, I can’t recall now, it might not have been working for them, it might have been working for one of the bidders in Ohio State I just can’t recall. And then Wells Fargo also worked on one side or the other, of the Ohio State transaction.

Since then, I know some of our employees reached out to the employees at Ohio State and talked to them. The utility employees here on our campus reached out there, I think they’ve been union to union conversations.

So yeah, there’s been quite a bit of benchmark, but our deal is different than Ohio State’s. Our facilities were different, in a different position than theirs were. There’s needed some upkeep, ours [are] in pretty good shape. But we’ve also reached out to others who’ve done similar transactions. The University of Georgia … is looking at doing something like this, and not in utilities but in another area. The couple of the California system, the universities have done something similar to this. Purdue’s done something like this, my alma mater — not around on utilities, but they did it around a, I think, honors dorm or residence hall, specifically. [The] University of Minnesota has done something like this, although in their utilities, they hired an external operator to operate, but they didn’t create the financial structure that we have under this deal. So it’s been a ton of benchmarking here.

DI: What can the public expect to hear about this deal from here on out? I mean, I understand there’s the meeting tomorrow, of course, but how exactly will the community be engaged in this process as well?

Harreld: Let’s start from today. Another discussion, signing of an attempt, today. Tonight, ENGIE and Meridiam will be on campus, and we’ll be introducing them to the campus, the deans, and faculty members, and administration. So that’s Tuesday night. By Wednesday, there will start to be a discussion with the employees about the transition. So, there’s going to be a series of meetings. I fully anticipate you might want to ask one or both for interviews, they’re free to have those conversations. Of course, they will do that. There’s town hall meetings, still this week, there’ll be another town hall meeting — don’t hold me to this — but I think Thursday and another Friday, this week. And we’ll just keep doing it.

The structure of this: so we’re announcing this years-long process of what it would look like, how we would structure it, what the issues are that we need to deal with within the contract, t how we would use the proceeds. I would guarantee that we use the proceeds for those purposes, and not for something else. It’s gotten us to the point where we now have an organization that has decided that they would like to have a relationship with us over the next 50 years, and they will pay us up front $1.165 billion. And that then will go into this endowment, but the actual point where that happens will be in early March.

So, between now and then, they have a lot more work to do with each of our employees, they have a lot of work to do with our community to answer all the questions that they have. Today was just the signing of a census, what we call the commercial close, the fiscal close where the money really changes hands will be in early March. And I think beyond that, we will have as many conversations as we need to have. I meet probably at least a couple times a year with utilities and facilities and maintenance people, that will continue. Will there be something special around this? I don’t know. Need be, yes.

DI: Over 50 years, how will ENGIE … reading the RFP, there was stuff in there about internships and things like that to involve the community in it, so can you expand on some of that?

Harreld: I would want to go one layer higher if I may, then we’ll come back to that. I mean, one of the things we did all the way through this, clearly, the trigger for this was an unfunded strategic plan. And I’ll take it back to that, so there was a financial piece. But at the same time, very early on we said that, almost from day one, there are a set of values that we need to make sure that any partner we embrace for the next 50 years shares. And they’re also some things we, referring to them I think I even use this phrase with you, which is what we call must haves — that if we can’t get, if the partner doesn’t respect and fully commit to buy into — being coal free by 2025, that’s the way we said it. We’ve now moved it to carbon free, which is another stage, and [if not] at least agreeing to 2025 then we don’t bid. So we dealt with it.

Similarly, we’re not looking to do this deal on the backs of our employees; i.e, we’re not looking — we have, last I checked 122 employees in this area — we’re not looking to take that to 80 and take the 42 that are no longer with us and use that as part of the financial savings. We actually said no, if you’re part of the system, you will continue to have a relationship if you don’t want to work with a new company. And they have a pay package and they have a benefits package and if for some reason that doesn’t interest you, then you can stay with the university with the same pay, and the same benefit package — not the same job, we’ll have to find some other thing, [and] we’ll deal with that on case by case basis.

We also said, so there were values around dealing with people, there were values around sustainability and climate change, then finally there were values around culture. And we’re pretty open and collaborative. I think the Midwest in general is that relative to people on either coast. But actually, at times it slows us down, but in many ways it speeds us up, because we get a lot of the issues on the table pretty quickly. Like in this interview. And so we actually learned how to work with one another to get through that. So we need to find people who are not arrogant, full of themselves, but willing to sit down in meetings, collaboratively and say there’s an issue here — how do we work it out?

So, what we did all the way through this process is in a sense we started with, I’d have to go back and look, but close to 100 if not over 100 firms that were interested in this. We narrowed it down to 20 or so companies that really started kicking the tires to come in on campus, and we got it down to these final four. We, there were a group of four of us that went to visit all the final bidders.

So I’ve been to ENGIE’s headquarters in Paris. Meridiam has been there. We met with them; met with the other three bidders as well, in cities like Madrid, Paris, as well as one city in the United States — and met with them personally. And part of the way we weren’t talking about financials, we were trying to feel what their environment felt like — were they collaborative, or did they have to have fixed agendas? Could they actually, on the fly, talk about things? And one of the things we learned, particularly with ENGIE, and ENGIE, I think, [went] head and shoulders above everybody else on all the things that I just mentioned. Plus, they have done some things with Ohio State, they have done so many deals in the healthcare and education space, that they’ve learned the culture of the academic institution, they’ve learned the research side, they’ve learned the student success.

We have these pillars of student success, research and engagement and diversity, equity inclusion; those are our four post platforms for our strategic plan. As we were talking to them, I would start every meeting off the same: here’s what we’re trying to go, here’s what that means for student success, here’s what that means in terms of high-impact practices and international experiences, and research for undergraduate students, et cetera. They would interrupt and say, ‘Well, let’s tell you what we’re doing with XYZ university.’ They had a faculty member from University of Texas in the initial meeting with us, whose done research around these types of biomass, sustainability sets of issues that are very front and center in a lot of utilities. He was in the meeting in Paris, so they thought ahead of these issues.

They said, the day we were in their offices in September in Paris, they said there were … a good number of Ohio State interns, a few floors below us in the building, who were there doing international internships in engineering and business and sustainability. They had spent the summer there.

So, yeah, this goes way beyond just this specific transaction, I think it’s going to open up a set of relationships, that’s going to really help us and other elements of our strategic plan. They were by far and away the most responsive. To say the others weren’t — they were, but not like this. My biggest fear, I called the CEO of ENGIE the other day, and I said to her, we all left the meeting really excited about all the incredible things that ENGIE’s doing in the whole educational space in Europe and in the United States, and then all of us said, ‘Boy, it’d be a shame for them not to be the winning bidder.’

So we were excited but depressed, because maybe they wouldn’t be the winning bidder. And you know, how much would we reach into our values, to have to overcome and lower financial debt? And it turns out, as the case may be, they won both counts.

So great, I’m very confident. Meridiam, just to not leave them out of it, but you know, ENGIE’s been doing this since the 1800s and has evolved from a gas utility company into what I would call now an energy-services company, and runs facilities like ours. They made the decision quite a while ago to get off of all carbon in all of their facilities. In fact, one point they were leaning across the table and saying ‘If you didn’t have a goal of 2025, then we wouldn’t have been in meeting with you. We’re not interested in people who are not interested in dramatically decarbonising [the] footprint.’

And so, you know, hooray for them. Meridiam has financed a lot of things, they’re a newer company, started in the 2000s, a financial firm. And so their mission is to finance these types of projects. So they’re a great partner as well. They were not involved in the Ohio State deal, to the best of my knowledge.

DI: The University of Oklahoma had a deal with a housing P3 that has since … faced some lawsuits, because the university decided to not lease from their housing project after a change in leadership with the new president coming on. So what assurance would you provide to the public that the UI’s deal has been crafted so we won’t face lawsuits because of it?

Harreld: I can’t guarantee we won’t get sued, ever. On the other hand, this is totally different than what happened in Oklahoma.

And, I mean, first of all we’re taking an existing business on our campus that has revenues, has people. It’s not hoping that we’ll be able to use the output of the steam coming off our utility facility. We do that, we’ve been doing it for quite a while, for decades.

So this is not like we’re building something on another corner of our campus and hoping students will move into it. No, no. We already consumed this product. What happened in Oklahoma is they built something and no one wanted to move into it. I don’t know whether that was location or pricing or the amenities, I just have no idea about that. I did read that because it changed presidents it wasn’t marketed or it wasn’t supported by the community.

So, they had an issue with primary demand, which is you know … we’re not building anything new. We’re taking something already we’re using, so that that issue is totally different. So no, we’re going to need steam for a long time.

I think the bigger question is, we’ve had our financial value locked up in that infrastructure that we’re now unlocking to support our strategic plan. And secondly, it is, you know, we’ve had three boilers over there, two out of three have been converted to biomass, biofuels. We’ve got the third one, which we’ve always planned that by the after this heating season that we’re in right now we will convert it, I’ll say in April and May we’ll start the conversion of shifting into biomass, and then we need to test it.

We can never really commit the idiosyncratic-ness of the testing and predict how long it will take, but we need to make sure that particularly, that everything burns smoothly and that we don’t get a lot of pollutants coming out of the smokestack, and that’s always pretty tricky in these things.

And so there are other types of issues, but they’re not like existential, it’s transactional. I think if we decide to other P3’s in new areas like if we decided to do something around residence halls, as a financing mechanism, relative to Iowa State we have as many residence halls, their residence halls go well into their second year in Ames. We’re only in one year. I think we all believe that it’s well worth looking at, for residence halls. That would be that taking on a new risk, that we could get students to live in the new residence halls we built, we don’t need to convince you to use the steam coming out of our power plant.

DI: Earlier this semester, climate strikers sent an open letter to the UI, making some demands. They talked about following suit with Iowa City and Iowa City Community School District in pledging to reduce and gradually eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and close the power plant, and they also talked about how the UI is committed to increase to 40 percent renewable energy wasn’t enough, because so many organizations have committed to 100 percent. What is the UI’s response to their demands?

Harreld: Just out of curiosity, these organizations have committed to 100 percent in what year? So let’s get specific here, we committed seven years ago we would be 100 percent off of coal in 2025. When other people in the community start talking about this, they’re often talking about 2030, or 2040 I’ve seen.

So I think, let’s catch our breath. Secondly, this transaction will probably move, in fact,  pretty likely, this transaction will probably be able to get there by 2023 in terms of coal-free. Now, the second piece, layer of this conversation is, do you get there by going to natural gas? Or do you get off all of carbon fuels? Because most, many universities have said, ‘we’ll get off of coal, but we’ll go to natural gas.’ That’s an artificial stopgap, and it probably just makes people feel a bit better. But that gas is doing as much damage … I mean, you may not realize it but it’s still got a huge carbon footprint. So what we’ve said is we’re actually going to go to biomass and we’ve skipped over that whole stage. And we’ve said we’re going to do that by 2023.

So, when a lot of people started attacking us, I actually share their concern. So, if you look at it first principles, I believe intensely in climate change. I’ve written and been involved in other activities around that. I actually think climate change is a subset of a much bigger issue, which is sustainability.

That’s the reason I talk about sustainability, because I use it as a higher order principle, and I think a bigger long-term problem. We solve the carbon footprint and consumption of carbon on this planet, and we might if we do that quickly be able to make a meaningful difference in the changing of our climates. I’m not so sure — I hope — that will happen. But, I think we’re getting pretty late into that process.

But, the bigger set of issues beyond that, is we’re consuming things on this planet faster than we can replenish them, whether that be agricultural products, whether that be trees, whether that be food in almost every category, whether that be fish in the ocean, and then it turns out that we’re actually taking our waste products and sticking them everywhere … at a faster rate, than is acceptable. So we’ve got a real consumption problem. And so that’s the reason I jumped to say climate change to me, is a really important issue but a bigger long-term issue is around sustainability.

So, I’ve been an advocate … that’s the reason we’re talking about recycling, that’s the reason we’re talking about a whole set of other things on campus. Most importantly … I’ve been working with several leaders on campus to I guess [do] two things. One is, what’s beyond 2023 or 2025? What are we going to do next, in terms of reducing our carbon footprint across campus?

Because it’s not just that plant. People say ‘shut that plant today.’ I’ll shut that plant today. How are you going to keep the patients warm? How are you going to keep the residence halls warm? They think about it in terms of I think electricity, but 75 percent of our electrical demand comes from MidAmerica, it’s not from this plant across the street. That plant is only producing 25 percent of our electricity load. Its primary purpose is not to produce electricity, it’s to produce steam. The steam is what keeps us warm and actually cools us, outside the winter seasons.

Because we have steam we can produce, we converted the steam, it spins turbines … generators produce electrical energy that meets 25 percent of our demand. So the people that say ‘just close the plant,’ I don’t think they, I don’t think they fully know what they’re talking about. We’re talking about patients’ lives, we’re talking about heat. I don’t know where you guys are living these days, we’re talking about residence halls, we’re talking about classrooms. We’re not talking about electricity, we can bring, I don’t know if you’ve got enough batteries and Elon Musk and Tesla will pull all these batteries in, but we will still have a huge need for the steam for this campus. So, one is, what do we do in that area?

Secondly, I think the bigger set of issues, longer term is what are we research and teach? And I’ve been a big advocate of trying to get  systems thinking to deal with this because in these areas, we’ve just gone from a plant, and we think it’s electricity but it’s really steam and that’s not just the carbon footprint of … coal it’s a broader set of carbon footprint. These are systems issues, and I think we need to do a better job of educating our students how to deal with systems. Think systemically.

It’s almost like every night, I turn on MSNBC or CNN and everybody’s got a particular point of view on one thing. And it turns out it’s, that’s fine but that thing impacts other things. And it turns out, we talk a lot about K through 12, but K through 12 does impact higher ed, higher ed does impact other programs.

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DI: The climate strikers have also, looking at headlines over with the University of Illinois — they have declared a climate crisis. So the climate strikers are also urging the UI to declare a climate crisis. So, is that something that you would be interested in?

Harreld: Let’s declare it right now. There’s a climate crisis. Now what? Okay, we declared a climate crisis, we just did it. It’s now on tape, and there’s a climate crisis. What are we going to do about that climate crisis?

That’s the reason we’ve got a committee, as some of you know working on what’s beyond that? Yeah, of course we’ve got a climate crisis, but it amazes me how we now feel comfortable that we’ve said we’ve got a climate crisis. Our job hasn’t even started once we’ve declared, so we’ve got to think about what the impact is on this campus — and what we will stop doing that we’re currently doing. What we need to start doing, that we’ve never done. And so, a group of our leaders came together under Rod Lehnertz’s leadership of undergraduates, graduates, faculty, staff. I don’t know, they’ve probably met now for three or four months and been working on the issue … how do we deal? What’s a manifestation of constructively dealing with this climate crisis?

And I am a little frustrated, maybe because I’m an engineer, and I don’t mean to be picky, but people say, ‘well let’s declare something.’ Okay, now what? And I think it’s the ‘now whats?’ that really make a difference. I think that’s what will really stand out.

So, I’ve been really worried that we’re going to end up using all this really important energy to make a statement. I felt the same thing on DACA. Some of you, you probably don’t remember a few years ago when we had the seven countries ban and everyone said we need to make a statement. Yeah, okay, but what’s beyond that? And it turns out that I can’t remember now … it was like 82 students we had from those seven countries. Could we get those 82 students together and talk about what they individually needed in terms of support? That in my book was a lot more important than making a big statement that we wanted to oppose the president’s executive order on the seven country travel ban.

We tend to make these statements that are empty, and don’t lead to concrete action … We have a climate crisis, but the real question is what do we need to do beyond that, and that’s where I think the real important actions are at the University of Illinois, or, Iowa, or other places.

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