By Stephen Kuusisto
When Iowa’s Board of Regents selected J. Bruce Herreld, a businessman with no prior experience in education, as the new president of the University of Iowa they affirmed three principles: the university is now strictly a business, the faculty and students are to be put in their respective places, and those places are likely, from now on, designed to be narrow indeed. One way to recognize straitening in higher education is that it is always the result of a top down postural model–decisions are made by officials without regard to shared governance or academic culture. As a former professor at Iowa, and a graduate of its esteemed Writer’s Workshop, I view with alarm the Regents’ decision to shoehorn a third tier candidate into a job for which he is not qualified.
In an article for the Iowa City Press Citizen, published on the eve of the Regents decision, reporter Jeff Charis-Carlson reported the following:
“In a survey conducted by the UI chapter of the American Association of University Professors, only 1.8 percent of faculty and 2.6 percent of other respondents answered “yes” to the question of whether Harreld was qualified for the position. The other candidates — Oberlin President Marvin Krislov, Tulane University Provost Michael Bernstein and Ohio State University Provost Joseph Steinmetz — all had more than 90 percent of respondents view them as qualified, with Steinmetz being the highest.
Harreld — who also has been an executive with Kraft Foods and the restaurant chain Boston Chicken — earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he taught as a senior lecturer from 2008 to 2014. During his public forum Tuesday, he said that, although he had no experience in university administration, he does have experience helping organizations go for “good to great” and from “great to great.””
One is fairly reminded of George Orwell’s assertion: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. ”
If Herreld’s rivals were all third string candidates, one might, conceivably have opened a file entitled “credulity” and, as it always is with fairy tales, find only his name. J. Bruce Herreld, chicken king and self-employed business consultant. But he is self-employed no longer. Look how he has leapfrogged over three top tier finalists like a plastic army man lifted above the rug by a moist childish hand.
This appointment is strictly ideological. The Iowa Board of Regents has been engaged in a decade long war with the University of Iowa, had denied it funding, has proudly given support to other state institutions while lecturing the UI about everything from its admissions policies (they admit out of state and foreign students) to its tiresome faculty (whose sabbaticals have now been largely eliminated).
Now I should here admit that my father was a college president. He was a rather good one. I know what he would say in this instance. He’d say Herreld shouldn’t take the assignment. But apparently he has, and that mere fact suggests he’s comfortable with his Regents, and satisfied that a top tier state university is due for a full conversion to the principles of corporate management. Free speech isn’t principally respected in that model, as recent events at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana have conclusively demonstrated. Free speech is the first vicim of all vertical management models.