UI President Bruce Harreld to Retire

By Patrick Vint on October 1, 2020 at 9:34 am
Bruce Harreld
© Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld will retire early, likely in the next year, as first reported by The Gazette's Vanessa Miller this morning.  Harreld submitted his resignation letter to the Board of Regents on September 22, and released a message this morning

The search for a new president is already underway.  In the meantime, Harreld will have to move into another position at the University and remain through summer 2023 in order to collect $2.33 million in deferred compensation from his June 2019 contract extension.  A spokesperson has indicated that could include any number of potential positions, including teaching.

Harreld was announced as the 21st President of the University of Iowa in September 2015, to significant outrage from the academic community.  He had no significant background in higher education administration (he had previously been an executive with IBM and Boston Market), and his ascendancy to the throne was perceived to have been directed by Regent Bruce Rastetter.  Following Harreld's first public forum on campus, the UI Faculty Senate sent a letter to the Regents criticizing him as unfit for the job, and the same group cast a "vote of no confidence" a week after he was announced as the choice.  The American Association of University Presidents sanctioned the University over the choice.

The tweet above, which first calls out Harreld's work in "revamp[ing] the University of Iowa's financial and academic infrastructure," is as close as we've been to an admission of what Harreld was actually installed to do: Make the University's profit centers more profitable and the others less expensive, so that the University would be less dependent on ever-decreasing funding from the Legislature.  In Harreld's second year in office, the Iowa Legislature slashed funding for the University back to 1997 levels.  The Regents were stuck; Iowa needed to find money in ways that wouldn't include gigantic (and politically unfeasible) tuition increases or state support.  And so they brought in a business consultant, instead of a University president.  Harreld responded as a business consultant does: He slashed budgets, closed departments, moved UI's utility system into a public-private partnership, and made some capital investments.

Whether Harreld accomplished his goal on a macro scale is for someone far smarter than me.  But UI Athletics is one of those profit centers, and Harreld opted to stick with the administration that had kept it profitable.  Gary Barta had his contract as athletic director extended twice -- in 2016, a deal negotiated by Harreld's predecessor, and again in 2019 -- and Iowa didn't fire a single high-profile coach in Harreld's five years.  Until the pandemic hit, Iowa Athletics more than paid for itself, and contributed money back in scholarships every year.  It also got hauled into two discrimination lawsuits, settled those disputes for more than $6 million after a jury in one found that Barta had discriminated against an LGBT administrator, signed a secret contract extension with its basketball coach, got into a public spat with its play-by-play guy, and cut four varsity sports allegedly due to losses caused by the pandemic.  That stuff didn't much matter.  UI Athletics, a cash cow if there ever was one, was profitable, and so Harreld's mission was accomplished.

What happens next is anyone's guess.  Rastetter is no longer on the Board of Regents, but the state budget is going to be tighter than ever in coming years.  Whether the University of Iowa goes back to a traditional academic in the top spot or continues to operate as a publicly-funded quasi-business is the obvious question. The answer to that question is likely going to determine whether Iowa Athletics remains on its current path, as well.

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