Regents' gesture on funding won't stop backlash against new University of Iowa president

Contradicting official documents released less than a week ago, Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter announced yesterday that “he will seek $4.5 million in additional funding for the University of Iowa” during the 2017 fiscal year after all.

The three-sentence news release is intriguing on several levels:

1. The way it conflates Rastetter’s personal opinion with a shift in Board of Regents policy.

2. The unusual timing of a state government body announcing a policy change on a public holiday.

3. The unconvincing attempt to give newly-appointed University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld some credit for the conciliatory move.

4. The effort to spin a relatively small funding increase as a significant investment in the university’s “strengths” and “core mission.”

Pulling back the curtain on who calls the shots for the Board of Regents

Yesterday’s news release contains some awkward, even grammatically incorrect, phrasing. But there’s no misunderstanding the message: Rastetter is assuring all interested parties that when the Board of Regents meets on Wednesday, the regents will amend their plan to ask for no extra funding for the University of Iowa during the 2017 fiscal year.

Here’s the full press release from the Board of Regents (emphasis added):

Statement from Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter on Appropriation Request Adjustment for the University of Iowa

Board of Regents, State of Iowa President Bruce Rastetter announced he will seek $4.5 million in additional funding for the University of Iowa in its [the Board’s] FY 2017 operating appropriation request at the Board meeting on Sept. 9 in Cedar Falls.

Said Rastetter: “After meeting with incoming President Harreld as well as faculty, staff and students, it is clear that additional funding to support the long term reinvestment in the core mission of teaching and research is needed.

I believe that this additional money is critical in the support of the University of Iowa’s vision to invest in its strengths and to continue to provide the highest quality education to our students.”

The title of the news release refers to an “Appropriation Request Adjustment for the University of Iowa,” implying that the larger funding request is a done deal.

The first sentence suggests that Rastetter is previewing his own plans (“he will seek $4.5 million”). But notably, the board did not send the press a “Statement from Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter on Seeking an Appropriation Request Adjustment for the University of Iowa.”

The second sentence contains a dangling modifier. It would be more accurate to quote Rastetter as saying something like, “After meeting with incoming President Harreld as well as with faculty, staff and students, I have become convinced that additional funding […] is needed.” By instead using the phrase “it is clear,” the statement communicates that no debate on the matter will be required at the board’s meeting, even though just days ago, the board collectively was ready to take the opposite view (asking for no new funding for the University of Iowa for the second year in a row).

In the third sentence, Rastetter bolsters his opinion with a strong word (“critical”), indicating that the board president is firmly committed to revising that appropriations request.

In theory, nine regents have a vote on whether the board should ask state lawmakers to allocate more money to the University of Iowa for the next fiscal year. But in practice, as seen most recently by the selection process for the university president, the other regents go along with what Rastetter decides for them ahead of time.

Unusual timing

State government bodies rarely issue press releases on holidays, so why did Rastetter rush to get this news out on Labor Day? Why not announce the change after the Board of Regents formally adopts the funding request on Wednesday?

Because the University of Iowa’s Faculty Senate is scheduled to meet today for the first time since the regents unanimously voted to hire a president considered unqualified by the vast majority of faculty.

Presumably the Senate will adopt a more politically correct statement than that of the graduate student union, which last Thursday accused the regents of hijacking the selection process in order to foist a “completely unqualified” leader on the school, with malign intent to “defund and defame the University of Iowa,” and even “to destroy public education” at the university.

Promising to seek more state funding appears to be Rastetter’s way of telling faculty senators to hold their fire and give the new president a chance.

Spinning Harreld as an advocate for more funding

The most preposterous part of yesterday’s press release is the phrase implying Harreld helped to change Rastetter’s mind about state appropriations for the University of Iowa.

A week ago today, Harreld told a campus forum that he had consulted wikipedia for more information about the university. He argued that it’s “legitimate” for Iowans to ask why they are “‘paying a lot more for things are going on (at UI) than some of these other alternatives,’ such as community colleges, tech schools and online universities.” At the same forum,

In responding to questions posed by UI law professor Shelly Kurtz, Harreld said he definitely could imagine a situation when he could agree with a decision by the regents to allocate money away from UI and to the other public universities, especially if it were clear that UI was better positioned to raise external funding and if there stood to be a statewide public benefit to helping the other schools.

The Board of Regents tried and failed to persuade state lawmakers to shift some money away from the University of Iowa to other state universities for the current fiscal year. The appropriations request they were ready to adopt as of last week used different language to reach the same outcome: no additional money for the University of Iowa, but extra funding for Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. Harreld made clear that he was not inclined to fight for more state dollars to his institution.

During the four days between his hiring and yesterday’s statement from Rastetter, Harreld was in no position to discuss the nuts and bolts of the university’s budget. On the contrary, the new president acknowledged on September 3,

“I will be the first to admit that my unusual background requires a lot of help, a lot of coaching,” Harreld told reporters after the Iowa Board of Regents voted unanimously to give him the job. “And I’m going to turn to a whole lot of people that were highly critical and really tough on me the other day and ask them if they would be great mentors and teachers (to me). And I suspect and hope all of them will.”

As Rekha Basu observed in her latest Des Moines Register column, “considering he’ll earn $590,000, plus $200,000 annually in deferred compensation, on-the-job training shouldn’t be necessary.” But I digress.

I wonder whether any new university president in the country has received a more hostile reaction on campus than Harreld. The student newspaper The Daily Iowan conveyed the overwhelmingly negative response with the headline “REGENTS’ DECISION CONDEMNED” on a front page that resembled a report about a funeral.

Rastetter pulled strings to get Governor Terry Branstad involved in recruiting Harreld. The Regents president went all-out for a non-traditional candidate, a business turnaround expert with few academic credentials, because the “status quo is unacceptable.” Now he’s selling his hatchet man as a hero who immediately sought more state funding for the university.

If people in Iowa City buy into that narrative, I’ll be surprised.

A relatively small investment

$4.5 million sounds like a lot of money, but when put in context, Rastetter’s proposal is less impressive. Vanessa Miller reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette last week,

According to board documents made public Tuesday [September 1], the Regents asked for a 4.5 [percent] increase in general fund appropriations for ISU – or $8.2 million – and an 8.1 percent increase for UNI – or $7.7 million.

The board will consider approving its 2017 budget requests totaling $656.8 million in operating appropriations at its next meeting Sept. 9. That total includes $230.9 million in general fund appropriations for UI, $190.4 million in general appropriations for ISU, and $101.9 million for UNI.

$4.5 million more for the University of Iowa in the coming fiscal year works out to approximately a 1.9 percent increase from the Regents’ original funding request. That’s less in absolute terms and much less in relative terms than the extra money the Regents are seeking for Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa.

Thanks to Branstad’s education funding vetoes in early July, the University of Iowa didn’t get any more state money for the current fiscal year than it did for fiscal year 2015.

A frozen state appropriation amounts to a budget cut in real terms, because for almost any public institution, salaries and other expenses increase every year.

Rastetter would have us believe that a funding increase of less than 2 percent following a year of status-quo funding will “support the long term reinvestment in the core mission of teaching and research” at the University of Iowa. I doubt that very much.

Any additional state funding for the university next year would be better than another status-quo budget. And any gesture toward meeting the demands of Iowa faculty and staff is progress compared to last year, when the Board of Regents ignored the Iowa Faculty Senate’s case against their new funding model for the state universities. Speaking to the Iowa City Press-Citizen yesterday,

Jeannette Gabriel, president of the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students – the union that represents UI’s graduate employees – said the funding concession to UI is a sign the regents are “worried about how they overstepped their hand.”

“You can’t operate in a dictatorial manner when you have a government,” Gabriel said. “This is a democracy, believe it or not. And I think this is an indication of them feeling tremendous pressure. It’s a good victory.”

Still, Rastetter’s announcement doesn’t look like a game-changer for the University of Iowa’s financial condition, and I don’t see the move mitigating the backlash against Harreld in any significant way.

How the new president might establish his legitimacy and get the “buy-in” he would need to build a consensus for transformational change, I still can’t envision.

I will update this post later with news from the Faculty Senate meeting. Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- Iowa Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Bob Dvorsky told the Press-Citizen,

“The one that really needs additional funding put in place is UNI, but Iowa State and the University of Iowa still need additional funding to continue their missions,” Dvorsky said. “I applaud the regents for looking at this again and moving it forward. Now the tough work comes getting the House Republicans to support it.”

During this year’s legislative session, House Republicans resisted compromise on education funding for months. The final budget deals on K-12 schools and higher education disappointed many Democrats even before Branstad vetoed the most important concessions to them. Rastetter has been an important donor for Iowa House Republicans as well as for the governor, but whether he would bring his considerable influence to bear for higher appropriations to the University of Iowa is an open question.

UPDATE: The statement released by the Iowa chapter of the American Association of University Professors on September 7 is another sign that many faculty believe the Board of Regents acted in bad faith.

The University of Iowa chapter of The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) joins the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students (COGS) and other members of our campus community in deploring the actions of the Iowa Board of Regents in appointing Mr. Bruce Harreld to be the next president of the University of Iowa. In retrospect, it is clear that the assurances of fairness and transparency in the hiring process given to us by the Regents, the chair of the search committee, the search firm, and the Faculty Senate leadership were untrue. It is our hope and belief that those assurances made by the search committee and faculty leaders were the result of representations made to them by the Regents. Only a pre-conceived determination by the Regents to appoint Mr. Harreld regardless of campus reactions to him can explain his hiring. Had the Regents, the ultimate decision makers, been the least bit concerned with the reactions of faculty, staff, and students to Mr. Harreld’s campus visit, the combination of his performance at the open forum, the problems with his resume, and the conclusion of the overwhelming majority of those responding to the survey that he is unqualified to lead the university would have produced a different decision. We sincerely regret our inability to believe that the Regents are prepared to act in the best interests of the university. And we extend our heartfelt apologies to President Krislov, Provost Bernstein, and Provost Steinmetz for the treatment they received from The University of Iowa.

SECOND UPDATE: The Faculty Senate voted no confidence in the Board of Regents this afternoon. Vanessa Miller’s report for the Cedar Rapids Gazette included the text of the motion:

“Whereas the Board of Regents 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, whereas the regents have failed to act to their own strategic plan and core values … we therefore have no confidence in the ability of the Board of Regents ability to wisely govern our institution.”

Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan served on the search committee. She warned the Board of Regents last week that Harreld had “a clear lack of faculty support,” and that hiring him “would ‘destroy the goodwill’ with faculty leaders and prompt calls for a no-confidence vote in the regents,” Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press.

At today’s Senate meeting, Bohannan told her colleagues, “I think this university has been betrayed – faculty, staff, students, all betrayed.” Miller recounted more details:

During her impassioned speech to faculty Tuesday, Bohannan said, “The regents did not listen.”

“The regents said that they wanted faculty involved in this process, they said that they wanted to hear from us and that they respected our viewpoints,” she said. “And in the end, they clearly did not. That’s it.” […]

After the announcement of Harreld as president, Bohannan said Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter reached out to her and she sent him a message telling him plainly that he betrayed her and the faculty and the university community.

“I communicated that any trust that might have existed between Faculty Senate and the Board of Regents is broken, and I would not be communicating with the board further until I could come to the senate to hear what the senate has to say and what the senate wants to do,” Bohannan said.

Following her speech, the packed room sustained loud applause and then faculty members spent the next hour and a half expressing disgust with the search and the regents’ leadership, and debating next steps.

The Board of Regents released this statement shortly after the Senate vote. As with yesterday’s press release, note how the language conflates Rastetter’s words with the sentiment of the whole board (“We are disappointed”).

Statement from Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter on University of Iowa Faculty Senate Vote of No Confidence

The landscape of higher education is changing and the current ways of operating are not sustainable. The Board of Regents brought four highly qualified candidates to campus during the search process and discussed their abilities to help lead the University of Iowa through the changes in higher education.

Throughout this process, Board members heard from stakeholders all across Iowa about the type of qualities and leadership needed at the University of Iowa.

After listening to all stakeholder feedback as well as having frank conversations with each of the candidates, the Board unanimously thought Bruce Harreld’s experience in transitioning other large enterprises through change, and his vision for reinvesting in the core mission of teaching and research, would ultimately provide the leadership needed.

We are disappointed that some of those stakeholders have decided to embrace the status quo of the past over opportunities for the future and focus their efforts on resistance to change instead of working together to make the University of Iowa even greater.

Governor Terry Branstad still has confidence in the Board of Regents, which is no surprise, since he appointed them and called Harreld last month at Rastetter’s request to give his assurances.

THIRD UPDATE: Also on September 8, bodies representing University of Iowa undergraduates, graduate students, and students at professional schools voted no confidence in the Board of Regents, saying “the regents ignored their concerns that Bruce Harreld would be unqualified for job.”

FOURTH UPDATE: The Iowa City Press-Citizen has more details on the other no-confidence resolutions:

The measures approved Tuesday by the UI Student Government and the Graduate and Professional Student Government came five days after the regent’s unanimous hiring of a former IBM business executive Bruce Harreld as the 21st UI president.

The UISG resolution said regents showed a “willful disregard for the opinions” of students. The graduate student government said the regents’ actions “portray a board not acting in the best interest of the university.”

The graduate students’ statement also noted that “the pretense of transparency throughout the search wasted taxpayer money and UI constituency members’ time and effort.” […]

Faculty and student leaders stress that the “no-confidence” votes are directed at the regents and not at Harreld, whose first day is scheduled Nov. 2.

“By selecting a president believed to be qualified by less than 5 percent of the polled UI faculty, students, and staff, the Board has left the UI community and our new president with a tense relationship when we should be focusing on an exciting new era for the University,” the graduate students’ statement read. “Despite the flawed selection process, we expect to work closely with President-Elect J. Bruce Harreld to ensure that the University of Iowa continues on the path to greatness.”

On September 9, the Board of Regents unanimously approved a change to the appropriations request, adding $4.5 million in state funding for the University of Iowa for the 2017 fiscal year.

FIFTH UPDATE: Rastetter commented on the no-confidence votes on September 9:

“I appreciate the faculty and students did not have a ‘no confidence’ vote in President (Bruce) Harreld,” Rastetter told reporters during a board meeting in Cedar Falls. “But at the end of the day, the Board of Regents decided.” […]”We also heard from a number of faculty members who maybe weren’t as vocal (as others) but certainly said to us that they support innovation and change and the University of Iowa moving forward,” Rastetter said. […]

“We’re about making the best decision for the university moving forward,” Rastetter said. “And we clearly stated that status quo, in our mind, is not acceptable at any of the three regent universities. We want to move the university forward, make the programs better and build the university into greater university.”[…]

“There were many faculty members during the Iowa state search who didn’t believe that Steve Leath was qualified to be president of Iowa State at first because he wasn’t a provost — (because) he didn’t come up in the same academic track that typically happens when you hire a president,” Rastetter said. “I suggest that’s worked out pretty well for Iowa State University and the Board of Regents. And we will support (newly hired UI president) Bruce Harreld and the University of Iowa going forward.”

Twitter user BarokBefok created a graphic comparing Harreld’s qualifications with those of Leath and gave me permission to post it here:

Comparing Harreld, Leath photo COkcrdoUwAAkMLb_zpscstofjl8.png

About the Author(s)


  • Why?

    What am I missing here? Why does Branstad/Rastetter have such a hardon to mess with UofI?

    Iowa has now entered Scott Walker territory here. I’d like to retire back to Iowa one day, but at this rate, no effin’ way. Thanks for the reporting, ’tis better to know but this is hard to take.      

    • it is not pleasant to report

      I would rather be writing about lots of other things.

      Why not mess with U of Iowa? They are a bunch of Johnson County liberals, right?

      Branstad likes increasing corporate influence over public institutions.  

  • Coal mine Canaries

    Over at…

    a multi-faceted discussion on U of I,is in full tilt. We who care about education (and its culturally pivotal position overall) know that this was no accidental selection.

    unfortunately, No one on the Dem horizon seems to have the vision, courage to counter this obviously ALEC-based long term plan to “defund the Left”, (as it might have been said in the 90’s)

    They must be very sure of themselves (i.e. Rastetter/TB) to pull of this ham-fisted power play and know that nobody of note will challenge them within the state. (Not even Hatch could speak up…he’s within Ras’ sphere of Influence)

    Of course, it goes without saying that TB’s contempt for public education (especially the kind that would offer poor kids the same opportunity to excel as a middle cla.. oops, I mean rich kids..I forgot..what middle class?) is well documented on this site.

    You don’t have to have binoculars to see very far down the road we’re heading here. Now, Imagine a Reynolds Administration (in which a sclerotic TB is still running the show behind the scenes..)

    Please Iowa Dems, it is time to wake up. Defend one another. From Emily’s list to Iowa CCI to #BLM. It’s easy to be a divider, who will be the uniters?

    I don’t remember who said it but, hanging together now is better than hanging separately later…and Iowa public education (at all levels) seems to be hanging by a thread.


  • Mordant Chuckle

    Speaking of Hatch….

    I went back and found his comments about a prospective Rastetter appointment to the Board of Regents in 2011 in your March 01, post…

    Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, said Rastetter is a great supporter of higher education with a passion for the job.

    “I have known for a long time he has wanted to be a regent,” Hatch said.

    Hatch said he expects Democrats to “huff and puff a little, but will realize the election is over and that if anyone has an objection to Bruce it has got to be based on merit and not on politics.”

    Hatch, a business partner with Rastetter in commercial property in Des Moines, said Democrats will not try to block a nomination like Republicans did last year. […]

    “We understand that there has to be a good reason to reject a candidate,” Hatch said. “No one is going to argue that Bruce isn’t committed to the regents.”

    …drops the mic.

    ..nobody can stop these guys..unless you stand up Iowa Dems. Dirty water, dirty politics my my.