I wrote yesterday on my blog Planet of the Blind about the selection of J. Bruce Herreld as the new president of the University of Iowa. The title of my post was: “On the Suborning of Free Speech and Shared Governance at the University of Iowa”—a conscious decision on my part, for I believe that the choice by the board of regents to install as president a second-tier businessman with no prior higher education experience stands in opposition to good governance and is designedly callous at best. The selection opposes good governance because nearly 90% of the faculty responded to Herreld’s candidacy by noting he is unqualified. Additionally, the regents had three first rate candidates to choose from—candidates who were presumably flawed because they were seasoned academic leaders from first rate academic institutions. I used suborning with deliberation. “Suborn: to bribe or induce (someone) unlawfully or secretly to perform some misdeed or to commit a crime.” If the installation of a man who was clearly a ringer isn’t a misdeed, then let’s call it an unscrupulous act.
Readers outside of Iowa should know that the regents have been politically and ideologically opposed to supporting the state’s flagship public university for over a decade. They are party hacks—most are from the western fringe of Iowa, and nearly all are driven by resentments. They hate the fact that the university admits foreign students and (worse!) out of state students. In their view, Iowa’s public higher education should only be for Iowans. The position is politically popular in the west of Iowa which is thick with tea party dogmatists. Could higher education “just” for Iowans be sustainable? Of course not. Is it an advisable end for assuring academic excellence? No. Of course the opposite of sustainability is “indefensible”. In recent years the regents have punished the university by withholding state aid, and in turn, have given it to the state’s two other public universities, the University of Northern Iowa, and Iowa State University—a reward for those institutions’ respective vow to admit more Iowans. This is academic xenophobia at best, and a cynical form of social engineering when one considers the worst case. If the high school students of Iowa are not encouraged to attend the state’s best public university—(cuts in state support help to assure it) then, in turn, they aren’t exposed to the closest thing Iowa has to a public Ivy League experience. Iowa City is a United Nations UNESCO International City of Literature; the home of the world famous Writer’s Workshop and International Writing Program which brings writers to Iowa from around the world that they may discuss literature and engage in cultural diplomacy.
The western fringe doesn’t like any of this. Moreover it sees higher education as a one stop shop for no frills business outcomes. In their view a university should be little more than a trade school. Expenditures on frou frou things like languages or philosophy courses make no business sense. Enrollment management ought to dictate what is offered. If an English class has only 10 students, it should be eliminated. This has been the reality at the University of Iowa over the past few years, a state of affairs outgoing president Sally Mason had resisted. How the western fringe disliked her! Mason was a seasoned leader in higher education, a world class scientist, and before coming to Iowa she had been the chief academic officer at Purdue University.
Enter J. Bruce Herreld. His selection was rigged, his fellow finalists—all superior candidates—were simply window dressing. J. Bruce Herreld—the choice of a camarilla.