Weekend open thread: University politics

Congratulations to all the Bleeding Heartland readers who just finished a year of academic work and especially to those who completed their undergraduate or graduate degrees this month. Good luck with whatever you have planned for the summer and beyond, and remember, many people switch gears several times during their careers. What I spend my time on now is different from the work I did during and immediately after grad school and far from any future I imagined as an undergraduate.

Pat Rynard recently interviewed eight student journalists about their experiences covering the Iowa caucuses. Well done to all, and good luck to the four who are graduating: Brent Griffiths, Madeline Meyer, Rebecca Morin, and Lissandra Villa.

Congratulations are also in order for everyone involved with the Iowa State Daily, which just won the “Best All-Around Daily Student Newspaper” award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld struck an odd note in his graduation message to faculty, staff, and students: “Although a university attempts to create a space for fruitful study for its faculty and students, it can’t escape reality. We have gone through a lot at the University of Iowa, particularly in the last year. And yet here we are, about to uphold a time-honored tradition.”

Much of the turmoil and discontent at the University of Iowa this past year stemmed from Harreld’s hiring, against the wishes of most campus stakeholders. Unlike most of the people affected by his arrival, Harreld has been extremely well-compensated, receiving a substantially higher salary than the woman he replaced. He also presided over a generous contract extension for Athletics Director Gary Barta, despite troubling trends for women under Barta’s leadership and questionable decisions that have spawned multiple lawsuits and investigations of alleged gender discrimination. Meanwhile, the University of Iowa decided against complying with Johnson County’s latest minimum wage hike, a policy Harreld declined to explain in a public forum.

Seeing Harreld allude to what “we have gone through” at the University of Iowa (as if he were some passive bystander) reminded me of the president’s strange answer to the Daily Iowan’s recent questions about hate speech. As the Ditchwalk blog covered in more detail here, Harreld doesn’t seem to appreciate the difference between being insulted in public and being a target of hate speech.

Last week, some activists encouraged University of Iowa graduates not to shake Harreld’s hand while receiving their diplomas during the May 13 commencement ceremony. I understand the sentiment, but I would have encouraged students to deliver some concise verbal message while crossing the stage instead. Refusing a handshake makes a visible statement but also risks generating sympathy for Harreld.

Speaking of university leaders in the news, Iowa State University President Steven Leath’s approach to building relationships with lawmakers drew scrutiny recently. As Ryan Foley reported for the Associated Press on May 6, Leath provided tickets to sold-out ISU men’s basketball games to ten influential state legislators this year. Although the lawmakers paid face value for the tickets, the practice seems inconsistent with the spirit of Iowa’s gift law, since the courtside seats are normally available only to people who donate thousands of dollars to the university. Excerpts from Foley’s report and a recent Des Moines Register editorial on the subject are after the jump.

Simpson College political science Professor Kedron Bardwell recently flagged a disturbing interview Sam Clovis gave to Inside Higher Education. Clovis is on leave from his tenured position at Morningside College in Sioux City while he serves as a policy director for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Absurdly, Clovis suggested that even though “The liberal arts education is the absolute foundation to success in life,” perhaps student loans should not be available for those planning to major in the humanities. Presidential candidates bashing non-STEM education, especially philosophy majors, has long been a pet peeve for Bardwell. Many Simpson graduates who majored in philosophy or political science have gone on to successful careers. Research has shown that “philosophy majors consistently outperform nearly all other majors on graduate entrance exams such as the GRE and LSAT.”

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

From Ryan Foley’s May 6 story for the Associated Press, “Courtside seats at Iowa State games are a perk for lawmakers.”

Ten lawmakers accepted invitations to sit with Leath courtside at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, including House Speaker Linda Upmeyer and education appropriations subcommittee chairman Rep. Cecil Dolecheck, a review by The Associated Press shows. While legislators paid a face value for their tickets ranging from $25 to $50, comparable seats are usually only available to donors or cost far more through ticket brokers.

Lawmakers avoided fees of $4 to $6 apiece assessed on tickets bought by phone and online, the way most fans acquire them. They could also access the stadium sports bar usually open only to top donors, where soda and appetizers are free and alcohol is sold. […]

Dolecheck, a Mount Ayr Republican whose subcommittee oversees Iowa State’s budget, landed the most valuable ticket.

The Iowa State alum paid $50 to watch the Cyclones play No. 1 Oklahoma on Jan. 18 in a highly anticipated showdown. Fans rushed the court after Iowa State pulled out a thrilling victory, its first win against a top-ranked team since 1957. Courtside seats for that game went for several hundred dollars apiece online. […]

Dolecheck didn’t return messages. Others who attended games, including Upmeyer, House Minority Leader Mark Smith and Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix, called the arrangement appropriate. […]

To be eligible to buy season tickets courtside, fans have to donate $5,000 annually to the Cyclone Club, buy at least two seats for $2,500 apiece and commit to doing so for three years. Those tickets often fetched $200 or more through sites such as StubHub.

From a May 12 lead editorial in the Des Moines Register, “Lawmakers should have declined ISU courtside seats.”

The Iowa Gift Law prohibits state employees and lawmakers from accepting anything valued at more than $3 if the gift comes from someone attempting to influence legislation. Lawmakers argue the courtside seats can’t be considered gifts because they were paid for. The gift restriction doesn’t apply, they say. […]

For his part, Leath says he uses the courtside tickets to connect with lawmakers and others, and characterizes the practice as a “really effective way to get university business done and give them a reward.”

Conduct university business? Provide a reward? As in, quid pro quo?

Lawmakers may scoff at the notion that any of them might be inclined to grant legislative favors in return for a courtside ticket to a game. Perhaps that’s true. Perhaps they can’t be bought, or perhaps they can only be bought for something far more valuable. How is the public to know?

The bottom line here is that the lawmakers were offered the courtside tickets because they were legislators and as such they were in a position to help the university. That’s why the tickets were offered, and that’s also why they should have been refused.

For what it’s worth, Iowa State University requested an $8.2 million state funding increase for fiscal year 2017. Lawmakers approved only a extra $2.2 million for ISU next year, which works out to roughly a 1.2 percent increase.

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