Leadership & Governance

U. of Iowa Faculty Members Vote No Confidence in Board of Regents

September 09, 2015

Faculty members at the University of Iowa on Tuesday voted no confidence in the statewide Board of Regents, less than a week after the regents fanned a controversy at the state’s flagship university by unanimously appointing J. Bruce Harreld as its next president.

The no-confidence vote was largely symbolic, but it signaled growing discontent over the board’s hiring of Mr. Harreld, a former corporate executive who has no experience in higher-education leadership. Professors who attended Tuesday’s meeting of the Faculty Senate said the vote was the first step in showing the state of Iowa that faculty members were fighting to uphold the academic ideals of the university, even as they asserted that its governing body had not.

"This university has been betrayed," said Christina Bohannan, president of the Faculty Senate, at the start of the meeting. Ms. Bohannan, a professor in the College of Law, said that the lack of support for Mr. Harreld was evident across the campus, and that the regents had broken the trust of the faculty by not heeding their opinions on Mr. Harreld’s qualifications. The university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors last week released survey results showing that few respondents believed Mr. Harreld was fit for the job.

Around 250 faculty members attended the meeting, several attendees said, with professors sitting on the floor and overflowing the room in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber, where the faculty group’s meetings are typically held.

Ms. Bohannan said her two years in the Faculty Senate’s leadership had been focused on improving relationships with the Board of Regents, which were frequently strained during the tenure of Mr. Harreld’s predecessor, Sally K. Mason. Ms. Bohannan said that faculty members had met with the regents regularly to "re-establish those lines of communication and to create more trust between us."

But the senate called a special meeting after its members received several emails and calls from concerned faculty members last week.

She said the selection of a new president was "such an important decision for a university," and asserted it was "stunning" that the choice did not reflect the considerations of those who are responsible for the quality of academic programs. While most of those present supported the no-confidence vote, the conversation was marked by questions about what good such an action would accomplish. The discussion also focused on what more the faculty would do to fight back against the regents, said John M. Logsdon, an associate professor of biology.

Mr. Logsdon said it was critical for faculty members and others on the campus to "develop a narrative" and take hold of it in order to signal their value to the institution.

Elizabeth D. Heineman, a professor of history, said several of her colleagues had spoken out about how the controversy had thrust Iowa into the national conversation about the role of public universities. She said many professors felt that the regents had violated their own professed goals of open communication and transparency.

Bruce Rastetter, president of the Board of Regents, said in a written statement released on Tuesday evening that board members were "disappointed" that some faculty members had decided to "embrace the status quo of the past over opportunities for the future," focusing on resisting change to improve the university. He defended what had been a controversial presidential search, and said the board thought that Mr. 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."

Katherine H. Tachau, president of the university’s chapter of the AAUP and a Faculty Senate member, said there was a feeling that professors needed to support the graduate students who last week released a statement condemning Mr. Harreld’s appointment shortly after it was announced.

And if Tuesday’s meeting hadn’t ended when it did, the faculty may have offered additional motions, including a potential no-confidence vote in the new president, who starts on November 2, she said.

"What people are trying to decide, at this point, is whether it’s wise to give him time to make his mistakes," Ms. Tachau said. "Nobody doubts that he’ll make a lot of them."