Hasty U of I hospital renaming shows Regents' contempt for critics of Bruce Harreld hiring

The Iowa Board of Regents voted unanimously on Wednesday to rename the University of Iowa’s Children’s Hospital the “Stead Family University of Iowa Children’s Hospital,” to honor contributions made by alumni Jerre and Mary Joy Stead.

The regents sought no public comment on the proposal, which was unveiled with the bare minimum of advance notice required under Iowa’s open meeting law.

They also “had no discussion on the name change” before voting to approve it, Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press.

The Steads deserve recognition for supporting a children’s hospital where countless Iowans have received life-saving care. Many people with comparable wealth are far less generous. The university acknowledged the Steads’ $20 million commitment to the hospital by naming the Pediatrics Department after the donors and fundraising campaign co-chairs in 2013.

By rubber-stamping the university’s request to rename the hospital, the Board of Regents failed to consider the opportunity cost of giving up naming rights for a nearly century-old institution in exchange for an additional $5 million pledge from the Steads.

The optics of renaming the hospital without public input are also bad, coming so soon after the regents’ pick of Bruce Harreld as president of the university. Not only has Jerre Stead had longstanding business relationships with Harreld, he and university Vice President for Medical Affairs Jean Robillard and Regents President Bruce Rastetter strongly influenced Harreld’s hiring.


GIVING THE PUBLIC NO SAY IN RENAMING A PUBLIC INSTITUTION

I don’t want to engage in a debate over naming entities after large donors. That’s a fact of life in fundraising. For decades, the University of Iowa has named some buildings and programs after benefactors, including a center on gifted and talented education with which my family has long been involved.

Since the University of Iowa is a public institution rather than a privately-funded non-profit organization, members of the Board of Regents have a duty to consider the impact of naming decisions. A new building or low-profile program may have no special meaning for the citizens of Iowa. In contrast, the children’s hospital has affected tens of thousands of families since 1919.

The regents should have been aware that this action would be more controversial than most naming decisions, given the connections between Stead, Robillard, Rastetter, and Harreld. Refusing to solicit public input creates the appearance that the regents were trying to short-circuit another round of protests like those that greeted Harreld’s hiring and first day on the job. I’ll explore that angle below. Also worth noting: advance notice of the university’s 2002 proposal to rename the College of Medicine after Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver sparked an outcry on campus–though those protests didn’t dissuade the regents from going ahead with the plan.

The public learned only on December 1 that the regents were to consider a naming opportunity at their meeting the following day. Foley reported for the AP on December 2,

Unlike the last-minute renaming plan [for the children’s hospital], other proposals on the board’s agenda Wednesday were released to the public two weeks ago. Board spokesman Josh Lehman, the agency’s designated “transparency officer,” said Tuesday the board was complying with the open meetings law by giving notice on its agenda that regents would consider naming a UI facility but gave no further details.

Specifics about which facility would be renamed, and after whom, emerged during the December 2 board meeting (though rumors had circulated earlier). When I sought comment from Lehman about the lack of advance disclosure, he responded,

Other namings have been handled like this in the past. In September 2007, the University of Northern Iowa proposed naming the Jacobson Human Performance Center. The agenda item listed there would be a proposed naming, and the details of the naming were announced that morning. Here is a link to that naming.

http://www.regents.iowa.gov/Meetings/DocketMemos/07Memos/sep07/september2007docket.htm

One can hardly compare the significance of those UNI facilities to that of the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, though.

Lehman also referred me to the board’s naming policy, which does not call for public input but requires leaders of university institutions to “regularly inform the President and President Pro Tem of the Board of Regents and the Executive Director of developments relating to any possible naming of a Major Unit” (defined as “entire buildings, wings of buildings, colleges, programs and large sections of campus”). Rastetter indicated on Wednesday that he had been aware of Robillard’s proposal to rename the hospital for weeks. By his account, the University of Iowa Foundation requested that the plan stay under wraps until December 2.

The regents’ naming policy includes another provision that is relevant here.

DID THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA “SELL” THE HOSPITAL NAME TOO CHEAPLY?

Typically, capital campaign cabinets set their own policies on naming rights, often after lengthy discussions. Factors to consider include:

• realistic giving levels for different tiers of naming opportunities (a room, a wing, a program, a building);

• whether the naming rights will be granted in perpetuity or for a fixed period (say, 20 years);

• the length of time over which the pledged donations must be paid to qualify for a naming opportunity;

• whether bequests can be considered for purposes of naming rights.

The lead donor will usually receive the most prominent naming opportunity. But depending on the size of that gift in relation to the total campaign goal, the renamed entity may not encompass a whole building or institution. Fundraisers want to motivate donors to increase their gifts, but by the same token, they don’t want to constrain an organization’s future ability to raise money by exchanging naming rights for too little.

The second point in the Board of Regents’ naming policy stipulates:

Before proceeding with any naming, all circumstances surrounding the naming must be carefully considered, including the overall benefit to the institution, whether the name is and will continue to be a positive reflection on the institution, and whether the name comports with the purpose and mission of the Board of Regents and its institutions.

Careful consideration requires more than a unanimous vote with no discussion, as occurred during Wednesday’s board meeting.

The regents don’t appear to have thoroughly assessed the “overall benefit to the institution” here. As mentioned above, the Pediatrics Department was named for the Stead family in 2013, following a pledge that increased to $20 million the Steads’ total commitment to the children’s hospital.

Objectively, $5 million is a lot of money. And as the document proposing the renaming observed, “The Steads’ philanthropic support will help complete the new UI Children’s Hospital facility.” But in the context of the new building’s $360 million price tag, an extra $5 million pledge may not be decisive.

Moreover, taking the hospital’s name off the table as leverage for future gifts may have cost the university tens of millions of dollars.

Consider that in 2002, the University of Iowa offered the naming opportunity for the College of Medicine to secure an additional $63 million in pledges from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust.

The College of Business was renamed for Henry B Tippie after a $30 million contribution in 1998 dollars.

Other gifts of a few million dollars during the 1990s led to renamings of programs or new buildings–not massive, historic institutions like the children’s hospital.

The Steads themselves pledged $25 million to the Tippie College of Business in 2003 and in return got a computer lab and technology-services group named after them.

I’m not trying to discount the generosity of a couple who have given so much to the University of Iowa and its children’s hospital. I am only suggesting that if the capital campaign cabinet viewed renaming the Pediatrics Department as an appropriate thank-you for the Steads’ $20 million pledge in 2013, then the Board of Regents should have given more thought to Robillard’s proposal to add the family name to the entire hospital.

Particularly in light of the role Stead, Robillard, and Rastetter played in picking the new university president.

ANOTHER BACKROOM DEAL

The uproar that greeted Bruce Harreld’s hiring in September was like nothing I can remember happening at any Iowa university in my lifetime. By selecting a candidate widely viewed as unqualified by campus stakeholders, the Board of Regents turned an event that should have been primarily of interest to Iowans into a national news story. Suspicions that the fix was in for Harreld became hard to dismiss as conspiracy theories when additional details about the search process dribbled out throughout this fall.

Several people who orchestrated Harreld’s hiring are central figures in renaming the children’s hospital, though you wouldn’t realize that from reading some news accounts. The first version of Vanessa Miller’s Cedar Rapids Gazette story on the hospital renaming briefly alluded to Stead’s role in the presidential search:

Mary Joy Stead has served on the UI Foundation’s board of directors since 1999 and been active on its development committee. Jerre Stead has served on many boards, including the UI Henry B. Tippie College of Business board of visitors.

He was part of the 21-member committee charged with searching for a new UI president, and Bruce Harreld — who was chosen for the job — said Stead was instrumental early on in recruiting him to apply for the job.

That second paragraph was later expanded with the sentence, “Some UI community members critical of Harreld’s hire have questioned Stead’s influence in the hiring.” But Miller didn’t provide enough background to illuminate why anyone would raise such questions.

We’re getting warmer with Jeff Charis-Carlson’s piece for the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Des Moines Register:

Bruce Rastetter, president of the regents, said that he has come to know and respect Jerre Stead this year while both of them served on the UI Presidential Search and Screen Committee. […]

Bruce Harreld, who was appointed UI president in September, said in a previous interview that he has viewed Stead as a mentor for decades. He also said Stead helped persuade him to meet in early June with Robillard and Rastetter — a meeting that helped lead Harreld to consider applying for the job.

“We’re glad Bruce (Harreld) is there,” Jerre Stead said in a phone interview. “… It will have a very positive way of balancing our investments in the future knowing that Bruce is leading the University of Iowa to even greater success.”

The naming raised concerns for some on campus.

“Recognizing that (Jerre Stead) is very generous, the fact that he was on the search committee … and the fact that we are seeing this name go forward now, leads me to think this is connected and crosses the line between generosity and undue influence,” said Katherine Tachau, a UI history professor and president of the UI American Association of University Professors.

Moving closer still to the core issue, Foley noted in his AP report,

[Stead] was part of the search committee that recruited former IBM executive Bruce Harreld for the university presidency. The regents in September hired Harreld, who had no prior higher education administration experience but has called Stead a mentor in business. Stead has been an outspoken supporter of Harreld’s hiring, which was widely condemned by faculty, staff and student leaders for both the process and the outcome.

Some critics, including faculty members and graduate students, have complained that Stead’s donations and ties to Harreld gave him too much influence. Stead had known Harreld in business since the 1990s, when Stead was CEO of the National Cash Register Co. In that role, he had a business relationship with Harreld when Harreld was part of the team building the restaurant chain that would become Boston Market.

A brief timeline of events underscores why Professor Tachau speculated that a line “between generosity and undue influence” was crossed.

February 2015: Robillard named to head the search committee for a new university president, which included Rastetter (representing the Board of Regents) and Stead (representing the University of Iowa Foundation).

“Late spring”: Rastetter called Harreld “out of the blue” to encourage him to apply for the presidency.

A week after that call: Stead, whom Harreld viewed as “a mentor of mine at various stages of my career,” called Harreld. Charis-Carlson reported, “It was Stead who persuaded Harreld to fly to Iowa and meet with other members of the search committee.”

Early June: Harreld spent several hours with Robillard, Rastetter, and Peter Matthes, who served on the presidential search committee in his capacity as the university’s interim chief of staff. Charis-Carlson reported,

Although Stead eventually was unable to attend the meeting [in Cedar Rapids], it was there that Harreld first heard something that made him want to learn more about the job — the story of UI Health Care’s development and growth under Robillard’s tenure.”

Sometime in June: Robillard invited Harreld to speak to physicians and senior staff at the University of Iowa Health Care. In September, he told Eric Kelderman of the Chronicle of Higher Education that he “did not recall how he had first heard of Mr. Harreld” and “stressed that Mr. Harreld was not a candidate to be Iowa’s president at that time.”

July 8: Harreld spoke to about 40 people at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and had lunch afterwards with Robillard, Rastetter, and two faculty members on the search committee.

July 30: Harreld met privately with four members of the Board of Regents in Rastetter’s Ames office. Rastetter orchestrated that meeting but did not attend. A meeting involving a majority of the nine regents would have triggered public disclosure requirements in Iowa’s open meeting law.

August: Rastetter arranged for Governor Terry Branstad to call Harreld to discuss the university presidency. The governor did not speak with any other candidates for the job.

August 31: The Board of Regents announced that Harreld was the fourth finalist for the presidency.

September 1: Harreld got a hostile reception at his campus forum.

September 3: The Board of Regents unanimously voted in open session to hire Harreld. Regent Subhash Sahai said later the board members “had impassioned, intentioned, and rigorous debate” in closed session.

September 14-16: News trickled out about Harreld’s campus visit in early July.

September 24: Regents confirmed previously undisclosed July 30 meeting between Harreld and four board members in Ames.

October 22: Regent Sahai confirmed that he was not informed about the Ames meeting before the board voted to hire Harreld, using the words “angry,” “mad,” and “pissed” to describe his feelings about the search process.

Sometime this fall: Robillard floated to Stead the idea of renaming the children’s hospital after the Stead family.

October 30: In an interview with Charis-Carlson, Harreld spoke for the first time about his ties to Stead:

“I would say he was more of a coach,” Harreld said to a question about whether he and Stead had ever been in business together. “Yes, I think if you actually go back through, technically, he was working for an organization that was trying to sell something to us. Or I was working with an organization (trying to sell something to him). Both of us have had multiple moves. … I view him as very much a mentor of mine at various stages of my career.”

In the same interview, Harreld discussed possible senior staff changes at the university and indicated that he did not plan to touch the health care elements:

“I think that’s in very good hands,” Harreld said of the leadership of Jean Robillard, UI’s vice president for medical affairs and a member of the presidential cabinet.

November 2: Harreld officially started work as university president.

December 1: Unspecified building renaming added to agenda for Board of Regents meeting.

December 2: Board of Regents voted to rename the hospital after no discussion. Rastetter disclosed to reporters later in the day that Robillard had been working on the renaming for weeks.

Speaking about this week’s honor, Stead told Charis-Carlson that Harreld’s presence in Iowa City “will have a very positive way of balancing our investments in the future” at the university.

Is any more commentary needed on this cozy little network?

Under any circumstances, the Board of Regents should have solicited public feedback before renaming an institution like the children’s hospital.

The positive feedback loop between Robillard, Stead, and Harreld should have prompted board members to follow their own policy: “Before proceeding with any naming, all circumstances surrounding the naming must be carefully considered […].”

Cynics may argue that public input has little value when the decision-makers are not willing to listen. This week, the Board of Regents released comments submitted before Harreld was hired: “The vast majority of the 172 comments about Harreld questioned his qualifications for the job, and the overwhelmingly negative tone of the comments was similar to that of an online survey offered at the time by the UI chapter of the American Association of University Professor[s].” Those messages had about as much impact as the critics who vented about Harreld’s hiring at a November 20 “public hearing” attended by no regents or staff.

Although the regents probably would have ignored any public objections to renaming the children’s hospital, they could have demonstrated some commitment to transparency by allowing for a fuller debate over the name change.

Rushing to approve this proposal showed the regents’ contempt for those who have a problem with backroom dealings.

UPDATE: Stephen Voyce has collected many documents related to the University of Iowa presidential search here, including the campus feedback on Harreld before his hiring.

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