New poll is testing messages and attitudes about the University of Iowa

A poll in the field this week is measuring Iowans’ views of the University of Iowa and whether certain changes would increase the perceived value of a degree from the university. The phrases enclosed below reflect what one respondent was able to recall from the survey, which lasted approximately 15 minutes.

I hope to update this post with much more detail about the question wording. If you receive this call (or any message-testing poll), please take notes and send them to the e-mail address at the bottom right of the Bleeding Heartland front page.

The survey included at least one question about the performance of the University of Iowa’s new president, Bruce Harreld. In interviews with Iowa Public Television and Iowa Public Radio today, Harreld said he has been “building trust” by meeting with as many stakeholders on campus as possible. He also endorsed a plan to seek more state funding for the university next year. Jeff Charis-Carlson reported for the Iowa City Press-Citizen on November 6 that the “faculty vitality” proposal would provide $4.5 million for recruiting new faculty and increasing salaries of tenure-track faculty during the 2017 fiscal year. Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter orchestrated adding $4.5 million to the budget request for the University of Iowa a few days after the regents hired Harreld. The move was widely perceived as an effort to placate those who disapproved of the hiring before a scheduled meeting of the Faculty Senate. Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program will broadcast the full episode with Harreld this Friday and Sunday.

A live interviewer conducted the survey. My source did not take note of the polling firm’s name or the caller’s phone number. If you receive this call, please ask for the name of the research firm and write down the originating phone number.

My source happens to be a retired Iowa State University faculty member. However, she said the caller did not ask for her by name when she answered the phone. It seems likely that her higher education background is a coincidence, rather than a sign of the pollster deliberately calling respondents with connections to one of Iowa’s regents universities.

The survey’s structure resembled that of many political message-testing polls. For instance, the respondent was asked her views about the University of Iowa several times during the survey, to elicit whether any of the “facts you’ve heard” had changed her opinion. The call ended with standard demographic questions that would be included in any serious poll (year of birth, highest level of education completed, race, etc.).

Near the beginning, the poll asks respondents for views about each of Iowa’s three state universities. The rest of the survey focuses on the University of Iowa. There is an open-ended question along the lines of “What do you see as the biggest problem at the University of Iowa?” (My source responded, “The new president.”)

Many of the questions focused on the respondent’s opinion about the value of a degree from the University of Iowa. At one point, the caller read several descriptions of a university. One sounds like a traditional liberal arts institution. One struck my source as more like a vocational or career preparation school. She said some of the phrases “made no sense,” because they were full of jargon. She could not recall specific phrases, but she said the jargon sounded like it came from the business world rather than academia.

Later in the survey, respondents are asked about various proposals, such as increasing online learning to reach more students across the state. How would that affect your opinion about the value of a degree from the university of Iowa?

According to my source, one of the questions described changes that would increase the university’s focus on helping people get jobs after graduation.

She recalled being asked, “What do you think about the performance of the University of Iowa’s new president?” (Her answer: “He’s only been there for, what, a week?”)

I will update this post when possible with more details from the question wording.

DECEMBER UPDATE: The University of Iowa declined my repeated requests to release various documents related to this poll and similar marketing surveys conducted in recent years.

Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on December 9 that a company owned by former Iowa GOP Chair Matt Strawn received a no-bid contract to conduct this poll–even though Strawn’s firm is not a pollster and had to subcontract out the work. That was one of several contracts Strawn has signed with the University of Iowa since 2013, worth more than $320,000 and all awarded without competitive bidding.

On December 16, the Des Moines Register’s editorial board denounced the University of Iowa’s “refusal to make public the poll’s findings,” adding, “The argument for keeping this information confidential is simply a legal fiction that has been sloppily constructed on other, conflicting fabrications of the school’s own creation.”

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