Republicans deliver worst month ever to Iowa students and educators

For all their talk about helping Iowa provide a “world class” and “globally competitive” education, Iowa Republicans are unwilling to provide the resources public schools need to keep up with rising costs.

And for all their talk about getting “better teachers in the classroom” and giving “hardworking teachers … all the tools necessary to succeed,” Iowa Republicans seem determined to discourage people from pursuing a teaching career in this state.

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Will ISU's president ever fully cover the cost of his personal medical travel?

Six weeks after Iowa State University released the Internal Audit report on ISU Flight Service and University Owned Aircraft, I’ve made surprisingly little headway toward filling in the gaps.

Not for lack of trying.

The Iowa Board of Regents and ISU have withheld information that should have been included in a “comprehensive audit” purporting to cover every flight President Steven Leath has taken on a university airplane.

For today, I will focus on one issue: ISU staff’s refusal to tell me whether Leath has reimbursed the ISU Foundation for the full cost of flights to Rochester, Minnesota in July 2015. The matter raises questions about the foundation’s compliance with federal tax code and the accuracy of ISU’s official narrative.

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The 16 Bleeding Heartland posts that were most fun to write in 2016

Freedom to chase any story that captures my attention is the best part of running this website. A strong sense of purpose carries me through the most time-consuming projects. But not all work that seems worthwhile is fun. Classic example: I didn’t enjoy communicating with the white nationalist leader who bankrolled racist robocalls to promote Donald Trump shortly before the Iowa caucuses.

Continuing a tradition I started last year, here are the Bleeding Heartland posts from 2016 that have a special place in my heart. Not all of them addressed important Iowa political news, but all were a joy to write.

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University of Iowa's Robillard to resign as top medical official; reasons unclear

One of the most powerful figures at the University of Iowa over the past year and a half is stepping down as vice president of medical affairs and dean of the medical school. I enclose below this morning’s news release from the university, which did not explain Jean Robillard’s decision but said he “will remain on the faculty of the Stead Family Department of Pediatrics. A search for his successor will commence immediately, with Robillard continuing as vice president and dean until a new leader is named.” Whether one or two people will be hired to replace him is not yet clear.

Robillard served as dean of the Carver College of Medicine for four years before becoming vice president for medical affairs in January 2007. As chair of the presidential search committee formed in February 2015 and as interim university president beginning last August, he played a central role in recruiting and eventually selecting the UI’s current President Bruce Harreld. Not only did Robillard lead the public search for Sally Mason’s successor, he attended secret meetings that were part of a parallel process and disbanded the search committee immediately after Harreld was named as a finalist over “significant faculty opposition.” He refused to meet with investigators from the American Association of University Professors, who later declared that the presidential search had been “manipulated to reach a foreordained result.” The handling of that search prompted the AAUP to sanction the University of Iowa this summer.

Although Robillard is 72 years old, his retirement–which a university spokesperson called “completely voluntary”–is surprising. Harreld told journalist Jeff Charis-Carlson last October that he did not plan high-level staff changes in the health care division: “‘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.” Soon after, Robillard helped orchestrate renaming the children’s hospital after alumni Jerre and Mary Joy Stead, without public input. Jerre Stead was both a longtime business contact of Harreld’s and a co-chair of University of Iowa Health Care’s $500 million capital campaign beginning in 2011. He was an important figure in the behind-the-scenes events that led to Harreld’s hire.

In February of this year, the university reorganized its health care operations to allow Robillard to serve as medical school dean while continuing as VP for medical affairs. Harreld sanctioned the reshuffle, which the Iowa Board of Regents approved retroactively two weeks later, even though “Changes this high in the administrative level at one of Iowa’s public universities typically require approval from the Iowa Board of Regents,” Charis-Carlson reported at the time.

Building a “kid-friendly, state-of-the-art” children’s hospital has been a focus of Robillard’s work for years. That facility is set to open in December; cost overruns raised its price tag by some 25 percent over the budget the Board of Regents approved in 2012. Charis-Carlson reported in April on the controversy surrounding the multi-million-dollar contract to furnish the new hospital, which UI officials awarded without competitive bidding to a company with ties to an regent.

Last week, nurses and labor union members protested the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics over chronic under-staffing at the main hospital, despite rising occupancy rates.

I will update this post as needed. Any insights related to Robillard stepping down are welcome as comments in this thread or as confidential private messages (my e-mail is listed near the lower right corner of this page). UPDATE: Added comments from Robillard below.

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Throwback Thursday: A year since Bruce Harreld shook up the University of Iowa

One year ago today, the University of Iowa’s Faculty Senate voted no confidence in the Iowa Board of Regents, saying the board “has failed in its duty to take care of the University of Iowa and citizens of Iowa and shown blatant disregard for the shared nature of the university governance.” Five days earlier, the regents had offered the university presidency to Bruce Harreld, passing over three other finalists with substantial support among campus stakeholders and far more experience in higher education.

Harreld’s first year on the job did little to reassure his critics, in part because he’s never acknowledged any flaws in the process that brought him to Iowa City. The American Association of University Professors issued a detailed report last December on the presidential search. Cliffs Notes version: key members of the Board of Regents decided early on to pick a “non-traditional” candidate from the business world, who would preside over “transformative” change at the university; diminished faculty power on the search committee; made Harreld a finalist without a committee vote and despite substantial opposition from faculty; and discounted input from staff, students, and faculty in choosing Harreld over finalists with strong backgrounds in academic administration.

In June, delegates to the AAUP’s national meeting voted unanimously to sanction the University of Iowa for “substantial non‐compliance with standards of academic government” in connection with Harreld’s hiring. Soon after, Harreld commented on the sanctions, “It’s bizarre to me. […] It doesn’t make any sense.” As Mark Barrett noticed, Harreld had the same reaction last fall when asked about controversy surrounding his secret meetings with decision-makers before he formally applied for the presidency: “I find the criticism bizarre, to be really honest about it. […] There is an assumption that I somehow was given preferential treatment. I didn’t see that at all.”

Speaking of bizarre, the University of Iowa will hold a celebration next week to “officially welcome” Harreld to campus, more than ten months after he started work.

I decided to mark this anniversary by cataloguing my coverage of events that inspired the hashtag #prezfiasco. Before Harreld arrived on the scene, University of Iowa politics had inspired only a handful among more than 5,000 posts I’d written over eight and a half years. Some pieces about the Harreld hire turned out to be among the most-viewed Bleeding Heartland posts of 2015.

Readers with a strong interest in this subject should check out Barrett’s more extensive archive of “Ongoing Harreld Hire Updates” at the Ditchwalk blog.

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