I recommend Michael Gartner’s long op-ed piece about the train wreck surrounding the Harkin Institute at Iowa State University. Reading it, I learned about a scandal that shattered ISU’s economics department in the 1940s. The piece also got me wondering: did Governor Chet Culver ever make a worse appointment than putting Iowa Farm Bureau head Craig Lang on the Board of Regents?
Not content to use the Regents’ lobbyists and ISU faculty for advocacy against raw milk sales (seemingly unrelated to higher education), Lang is now interfering with freedom to research agriculture-related topics at the Harkin Institute. Surely there were Republicans better suited for this job when Culver appointed Lang in 2007. I suspect we can thank then Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge (“Iowa is an agricultural state and anyone who doesn’t like it can leave in any of four directions”) for that move.
Some excerpts from Gartner’s piece are after the jump.
All topics are welcome in this open thread, especially any thoughts about the worst appointments any Iowa governor has made.
P.S.- Iowa Republican blogger Jeff Patch scores points for pretzel logic in his attempt to cast ISU administrators as heroes expressing “serious ethical concerns” about the Harkin Institute operating as “a rogue unit blessed with the official seal of ISU approval, funded by Harkin’s campaign donors and free to engage in politicized research with no oversight or controls.”
Excerpt from Michael Gartner’s guest column "Controversy surrounding Harkin Institute is about trying to shackle ISU ag research," published in the Des Moines Register on December 11.
After a search for a new ISU president, Steven Leath, vice president for research at the University of North Carolina, was elected. He took office on Jan. 16 of this year. But [Board of Regents President] Lang and [Board of Regents President Pro-tem Bruce] Rastetter emerged as the people really running the university. Leath told me he talked with Rastetter almost every day – as astonishing change. In the past, except in times of crisis, board presidents usually talked with university presidents once every couple of weeks, if that. The board presidents concentrated on strategy and legislative relations and, when needed, crisis management and let the presidents run the universities.
Lang was behind change in Harkin agreement
Meantime, unbeknownst to the Harkins, the ag interests were at work against the institute. Early this year, the Harkins and the institute’s advisory board discovered, almost by accident, that ISU officials last fall had produced a “memorandum of understanding” that removed agriculture from an area of scholarship at the Harkin Institute – an area emphasized in the brochure produced at lunch and listed foremost in the regents docket item – rendering useless the boxcars of the senator’s ag papers. […]
“I don’t believe there should be conflicts. … (The institutes) should work together and find what the university believes best represents the interests of agriculture,” Lang told the Ames Tribune. One view, presumably, on nutrition and red meat. One view on conservation practices. One view on hog confinements. One view on no-till farming. Views that, not unlikely, would parallel the views of the Farm Bureau.
There are two problems: One is that not Leath, not Lang, not Rastetter – no one – has the authority to alter or renege on the policy in Docket Item #31 that established and outlined the Harkin Institute. Only the Board of Regents can alter that. Harkin thought the institute proposed by Iowa State would be what was outlined in the docket item – with no special constrictions, no special favors.
The second problem is even more troubling. A university is supposed to be a stew of ideas, a place where teachers and students and scholars and writers can debate and discuss, explain and expound. A place where minds can be opened to new ideas, where old truths can be challenged or affirmed. A place where freedom is unfettered.
Instead, the current leaders of the Board of Regents, Lang and Rastetter, and Leath, either on his own or acting at their direction, are seeking to restrict and restrain, to mandate the agriculture version of political correctness. They are in grave danger of repeating an awful chapter of Iowa State history.