ISU losing Harkin papers

Yesterday Senator Tom Harkin withdrew his offer to donate his papers to Iowa State University, in effect dooming the Harkin Institute of Public Policy created there in 2011.

Harkin notified Iowa State officials of his decision shortly after the Harkin Institute advisory board voted in a telephone meeting to recommend that the retiring senator not donate his papers to ISU. O.Kay Henderson posted the audio of the advisory board phone call at Radio Iowa. Board members Michael Gartner and former Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson expressed concerns about limits on freedom to pursue certain research subjects, a charge Harkin Institute interim director David Peterson denied:

“I’m the one on the ground,” Peterson told board members during a telephone conference call. “I’m the one dealing with academics. I’m the one figuring out how academics are reacting to the environment around The Harkin Institute and, honestly, it’s not the Memorandum of Understanding that’s been creating headaches and problems. It is, I think, some of the accusations of limits of academic freedom which I think, on face, are wrong and…a little bit personally insulting.”

Peterson argued “bureaucratic lines” are necessary to ensure there’s no duplication in research at Iowa State.

I’m not buying what Peterson is selling. ISU’s Center of Agricultural and Rural Development doesn’t have a veto on research subjects or publications from the university’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture. Why should the Harkin Institute be forced to clear its projects with CARD?

Jens Manuel Krogstad of the Des Moines Register reported yesterday,

Board members voting to recommend Harkin not leave his papers with ISU were Michael Gartner, Rachel McLean, Steve Roberts, Charlie Cook and Pederson. Voting against the recommendation was Beate Schmittmann, dean of ISU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Two other board members – Ruth Harkin, the senator’s wife, and board chairman and former ISU president Gregory Geoffroy – abstained.

In his letter to ISU officials, Harkin wrote that he decided against donating his papers after “it became evident that the university would not grant the Institute the very freedoms that I learned to cherish at Iowa State.”

ISU President Steven Leath sounds furious:

Leath issued a written statement early this evening, saying he had “sincerely tried to resolve differences over the operation of the Harkin Institute…and I am extremely disappointed.”

Leath used the words “unfounded and false” to describe allegations that the guidelines he had established for the institute violated the principles of academic freedom.

“I cannot say at this time whether the Harkin Institute will continue to function,” Leath said. “The institute was established by the Board of Regents, and any change to significantly alter its status, including closure, must be made by the board.”

The Board of Regents members who got Leath into this mess, Craig Lang and Bruce Rastetter, will be all too happy to close this chapter. They opposed creating the Harkin Institute in the first place.

Sally Pederson told the Des Moines Register after the meeting that ISU will probably need to return approximately $3.3 million raised for the institute to donors.

Harkin suggested on Iowa Public Television last week that he might donate his papers to Drake University. That university’s administrators are unlikely to place any restrictions on the use of the Harkin papers, because Drake is far less dependent than ISU on corporate agricultural funding.  

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