Monday, December 21, 2015

The Shape of Engagement in University Governance--The AAUP Reports on the Search for the President of the University of Iowa

(Pix © 2015 Larry Catá Backer)

On December 10, 2015 the AAUP released its report of its review of the 2015 University of Iowa presidential search.  It provides a window onto an old world order that appears to be much more current today--the strict adherence to formal requirements of engagements even as that formalism masks a quite different reality. 

Indeed, it is becoming more common, at least by anecdotal accounting, for administrators to adhere more and more strictly to the appearance of engagement even as they strip engagement of all effective utility.  In its usual form it involves a call for nomination, and even meticulous efforts to conduct interviews and allow for comments and reactions, even well after a determination has already been made about a possible hire. This is said to occur at all levels--from the appointments of department heads, interim deans and middle level administrators, to, potentially, if one believes the AAUP report, to the appointment of a university president. Rumors of the embedding of these practices grow as the level of trust between university stakeholders is reduced--usually by the bad or careless conduct of people in charge. It follows a culture in which senior administrators lock themselves in their high towers, ever more remote from real engagement with their stakeholders, and resentful of any effort at engagement or accountability. For them, increasingly, asking questions is ambushingseeking a role in appointments is interference that must be carefully managed.

The Press release, with links to the full report, follows.

Dear AAUP Colleague:
Today, the AAUP is releasing an investigative report on the University of Iowa’s 2015 presidential search. 
The investigation found that the search was nothing less than a crude exercise of naked power by the Iowa Board of Regents. Notably,
  • In contrast to historical practice at the university, which had been to involve faculty fully in presidential searches, the board designed this search process specifically to prevent any meaningful faculty role in the selection of the final candidate.
  • The search was engineered by the board’s leadership from the outset to identify someone from the business world who fit with their image of “transformative leadership.” Once this person was identified, what followed was only an illusion of an open, honest search.
  • J. Bruce Harreld was appointed as president above three finalists who were vastly more qualified and who enjoyed overwhelmingly more support from faculty and other campus constituencies.
  • The board allowed prominent academic administrators from major higher education institutions to believe they were legitimate candidates in an open, honest search when the process in actuality was being manipulated to reach a foreordained result. In this, the governing board seriously disserved the people of Iowa as well as the institution to which it owes the highest standard of care.
About our investigation and report, President J. Bruce Harreld said: “I believe the discovery process was professionally executed and find the report to be accurate from my perspective. . . . As I move forward as the president of the University of Iowa, please know I will continue to respect and engage in the shared governance of this institution, as I pledged to do before assuming my duties and as I have done so far in my first two weeks here.”
Among other things, the investigating committee concluded: “We believe that the interests of faculty and the university are best served by taking President Harreld at his word while also being vigilant and prepared to act to maintain academic integrity and shared governance. Time will tell whether the new president will grow into the position and effectively defend the institution from the worst instincts of its governing board.”
In June, the AAUP’s 2016 annual meeting may be asked to vote to add the University of Iowa to the list of institutions sanctioned for “substantial noncompliance with standards of academic government.” The list of sanctioned institutions is at The publication of these sanctions is for the purpose of informing Association members, the profession at large, and the public that unsatisfactory conditions of academic government exist at the institutions in question.
You may read the whole report regarding the University of Iowa’s 2015 presidential search at
Michael DeCesare, Chair
AAUP Committee on College and University Governance

No comments:

Post a Comment