Here is an excerpt from the Daily Iowan‘s first Q&A session with UI President Bruce Harreld.
What do you think of Iowa City so far?
One of the things, one of the reasons we’re here is that we love college towns, and this is probably the iconic college town in the United States. We love it. It’s got a vibrancy, not only a lot of students and faculty, but also a sense of a real community. We love it. I think that we’re beginning to wonder about the weather. In the last few days it’s gotten a little chilly. Jeneane’s got her winter coat out already.
As you settle in, what are you excited to explore of check out?
Personally, just getting to know the community. We both have a real passion for the arts, and there’s probably not better place to be than the arts here. We’re looking forward to becoming a part of the community in that respect. Professionally, just getting to meet everybody, and getting into the issues we face. We’re kind of excited about that, and of course, tomorrow, we have a 7 and 0 team. It’ll be great to see another game.
So have you been to a game yet?
Yeah, we’ve been to two games this season already.
Do you remember which ones they were?
Sure, it was the first game of the season against Northern Illinois? No, it was Eastern Illinois. Right? Whatever. No, it was Eastern Illinois. (It was one of those Illinois schools). See, you don’t even remember. Second, it was the, it was Homecoming, [Illinois] and we played Illinois for Homecoming. That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. (One of the two). You see, the problem is, I’m learning that when I go to the games, there are a lot of alumni, and we have a lot of conversations, and so I actually have a friend who has a box here, and I actually go into the box to watch the game, to not meet people. I sneak in.
Since you’ve been in Iowa City, the few times you’ve been here, have you found a favorite place to eat yet?
Oh no. Not at all. I think I’ve eaten a lot at Hy-Vee, the last two, three nights, for example, it’s like, one night, it was 10 o’clock at night and I was here by myself at 10 o’clock at night, I had met a group of faculty until like 10 or 10:30, and I drive to Hy-Vee at 10 or 10:30 and go pick up some chicken and salad. So we don’t have a favorite place to eat. I’m lucky if I’m eating.
Since you’ve been going to the games, you’ve got your gold tie on today, but since you’ve been going to the games, have you invested in a black and gold outfit yet?
Well yes, I’ve got a shirt that actually, I’ve worn the same shirt to the game’s I’ve been to. It’s now become a joke in the sense that if I don’t wear it tomorrow, there’s going to be a lot of people who will be worried about tomorrow’s game. It has Iowa on it, what have you. I have an outdoor jacket that’s a winter-esque jacket.
So you already have a preferred game-day shirt?
I’ve got a preferred game-day shirt with a little tradition, there’s a particular member of my team that has texted me at the after every game, it started off 1 and 0 because I was here for the first game, then it became 2 and 0, then last week I wasn’t here, that was an away game, and I’m thinking, is it actually bad luck that he didn’t text me 7 and 0, right? So we’re developing our own little traditions.
What appealed to you in the first place about the job? What made you want to be a part of this institution?
Well, first of all, my wife and I are products of the public-education system, and I’ve been watching, I’ve been on faculty at a couple different schools, and I’ve really been watching what’s happening at public research institutions like the University of Iowa, and I actually think they’re national assets. For the last 150 years, a lot of our United States culture, economic progress, and development of our society has been coming out of these types of institutions. Now I see them going through the beginnings of some real serious struggles. Part of that’s economics, part of it is societal, and all the rest. I look at that and say, these are institutions that are really important and they have to go to the next level of change, and I wanted to be part of that by way of the sense of giving back and participating in it. And it’s the same thing that drove me earlier in my career at IBM, which was really in big trouble, and I thought it was a national asset and we got to save it. Some of my client work, which I can’t talk anymore about that to say that, was working with institutions that are really, really, really important, and so that’s what drew me here: the challenge, the opportunity, and the importance of this type of institution.
So you touched on the role the university plays nationally. What do you think about the role it plays on the state level?
It’s even more important on the state level. It’s a major driver of not only the educational background and underpinnings of a lot of the citizens in the state. I think secondly it’s been a major driver of the economics in the state, increasingly moreso now that we have more and more entrepreneurialism going on and the medical school and all the rest, the basic research upon which we apply the research to break through sets of ideas. A set of companies just a little bit north of here that have several hundreds of employees each and they’re just exploding like crazy. I was having a discussion with them the other day, and they’re having a hard time getting enough employees, so maybe that’s an opportunity for us to think about what are their educational needs. I then think important, the third, one element is education, the second is economic development, and I think the third is culturally. You just need to go to one game. My first game. I’ve been to a lot of Big Ten games, but to watch the enthusiasm and the passion of the people in the stadium, these are the professional sports teams, right here, for the state. So culturally, it’s very, very important as well.
Certainly, one of the struggles that have come up is the cost of education, not just for the university, but for particularly for the students, so how would you plan to make the cost affordable for the students who come here?
Well it’s interesting. The overall cost probably hasn’t gone up that much. It’s gone up at a much lower rate than tuition. But as the federal funding and state funding have backed out, it’s got to go somewhere. It’s a shift in who pays, is a good way to think about it. It turns out more and more of the brunt across the United States is becoming the parents and the students themselves. What can we do about that? I think we can ask for more and more help from different resources. I think one of the conversations we need to have nationally is the withdrawal of federal and state funds to the extent that’s going on nationally. We actually look in the state about average. It’s not any worse here than it is on average in the country, and I think of the conversations we want to have is whether that’s appropriate. At the same time, I think we’ve got to start looking for alternative sources, so I spent most of this morning with the foundation and finishing out our campaign, what’s next, etc. Stay tuned. I think there’s a lot we need to do.
Iowa has been very involved, particularly with the previous President Sally Mason, with the conversation about sexual assault on campus. What are your plans to address that issue?
Everything I possibly can do. I think Sally did a great job of starting it. I think the community’s done a great job of responding. This is not a simple, one, easy answer. This is what I refer to as a systemic problem. It’s a system. We sometimes as Americans try to get the little bit of cowboy in us, I suppose, which is try to get the one answer, and let’s go do that, and I think there are probably six, seven, eight things right now we’re already doing on campus, and it’ll always be another one. It’s always got to be another one. It’ll be a ninth, and so my approach to this will be everything, as much as possible, benchmarks with other people, listen to students, listen to the best possible experts we’ve got around the world on these types of things, and there will never be enough. We’re talking about human dignity, safety, and all the rest of the things. We’ve got to be a safe campus. No question about it.
The regents have proposed over the last two years to tie state funding to in-state undergrad students, as you know, but at the last meeting, one of the companies that they hired to help implement some of the efficiency ideas said to kind of hold back on the competition for the in-state students because there simply aren’t enough. How would you reconcile these two ideas that are kind of at odds with each other?
I’m not so sure that I need to reconcile them. I think the most important question is what students we are attracting to the University of Iowa, and that’s where my focus will be. I think the issue of the regents’ policies and all the rest I think are their issue, and whether they’re even reconcilable or not, I don’t even know, but my focus is right here on campus, and I want to get the best and fill the capacity that we have, and teach them and train them really, really well.
Do have a vision on how teaching hours spent in the classroom could be split between professors and teaching assistants?
No, I don’t. I think the split of who does what, I think if the administration gets into those sorts of issues, that needs to be in the colleges and at the department level, and even specific faculty. I will say that I think the quality of teaching, so I’ve been meeting with a lot of graduate students, so I don’t have any plans. I find it interesting everybody now seems, they believe I’m going to make a major shift in terms of the natural support for graduate students. That’s not at all the case. I think the bigger issue is what training do we give graduate students to teach, particularly as they just arrive on campus and join the community, they’ve never taught before, and I find that in the conversations I’ve had with graduate students, they basically say either none, they don’t get much training at all in certain areas of the campus. It’s sort of like, good luck, and go discover and figure it out for yourself, and the other end of the spectrum is a few days. I wonder if a few days is even enough, and I think actually we can do a lot to coach, train, and I’ve actually talked to the school of education that I think actually teaches how to do teaching plans, and blah blah blah, so maybe you need to play a bigger role in helping all graduate students learn how to teach. I have a piece of me that says, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the graduate students who left here, got their Ph.D.s, and entered the job market were known, that we were known as a great place to learn how to teach, that people come out of here as great teachers? I’ve been asking graduate students, would that help you to have that on your résumé. They all go, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah, because it’s a tough job market for them too. So that’s more of where the important issue I think is as opposed to what the mix is.
Leading a big ten institution, involves leading a Big Ten Athletics Department, which comes with its own sets of challenges, and at UI we’re facing a lot of lawsuits that allege Title 9 concerns, how do you plan to address these issues?
Very simply: transparency, deal with people directly. Will there be issues that arise? Of course. Are there more here then anywhere else? I really don’t know. I think you’ve got to have high ethics, high standards, you’re dealing with human beings. The world is litigious, I wish we could all avoid it, but hey that happens. We have a process for judicating and getting to the facts, juries and judges.
Has any of the negative attention following your appointment affected you at all?
Well, I don’t think it’s affected me, it comes with the territory, I consider myself to be a leader, and walking into situations that need leadership, its kind of natural, I’ve seen this type of thing before. I will say that I’m a little surprised, it’s gotten a little personal. I think they’ve stepped across a line. I hear this from a number of people throughout the state, alumni that basically said, “Iowans aren’t like that, we apologize.” To say it another way, I think we can do better then that. Dispute is fine, but you know it’s face to face? I have a phrase that says bite me in the nose don’t stab me in the back. It needs to be civilized discourse. I think we owe the citizens of Iowa more then getting down into the weeds and behaving in the way that some of the community members have behaved.
How would you say you’ve been dealing with that adversity?
I’ve been reaching out, I’ve been reaching out to everyone that would want to talk as possible. In the last two weeks, I’ve probably seen 50 to 60, I’ve lost track. I’ve met with individual faculty members, or clusters of faculty members. I met the other night with four for dinner and just started talking. They ask me personal questions, why I’m here, just as you’re asking, and I think those are all legitimate questions. We’ve gotten to several places where we say, we have an issue here, we’re concerned about what perspective you would take on an issue. In some cases I’ve got some ideas, and in some cases I say I need help. Help me, educate me, I’m coming up to speed right now, and they’ve been wonderful to a person, even those that have been “biting me in the nose” so to speak. They love this institution, and that may be a piece of this that’s important, that they love it. And therefore they’re appropriate to be concerned about where I’m coming from, that’s fine, I take that. It’s when they start making up stuff that really isn’t true, that’s not productive.
How has your family reacted to some of the negative feedback?
They’re the same way, they’ve got busy lives of their own. I think they’re kind of looking at it going “well, that’s interesting.” But at the same time the more and more games we win, I have four kids and they’re all at a different station in life, they’re all saying, “Hey, this could be fun, how do we get tickets?” They’re fine, they’re absolutely fine. They text me almost daily and say, “What’s going on? Are you having fun?” They’ve seen this before, they have to live with me.
So between the hospital, the athletics, research, etc., the university is not just a university, it’s a business, how would you balance those facets with the academic mission?
Well I put the academic mission right in the center, I don’t know if it’s a balance. I find a lot of people get into either-or situations. I don’t think it’s an either or, but they’re actually quite supportive of each other in a number of different ways. But at the core is the creation of knowledge, dissemination of knowledge, and the people who do that, which are our faculty, our graduate students, that to me is our core. Then around that we happen to have a hotel, we happen to have a dining hall, and we have other so called “businesses,” you have athletics, but if you pull out all of that, that’s not in the core, you’d be left with a very, very different sort of institution. A lot of the spirit, a lot of the camaraderie, the culture would not be here. I don’t know about you, but I kind of like sports. I like the rah-rah and the camaraderie not just in football but in basketball, golf, soccer, field hockey. I’m passionate about that, and students are as well. It’s part of our community, it’s part of who we are, and it’s part of what I think great public research institutions are all about.
Would you change anything about the public forum held a few days before your appointment?
Harreld: No, not at all. If I go down a path to say, “Oh I’m just going to go police people,” all of a sudden I wouldn’t be living up to personal set of values. I understand, it was a lot of people coming up and asking a lot of questions, there were a lot of gotchas in there, but that’s the process. If I had done something like trying to look great for a job rather than point out what I think are the issues and changes that are occurring in the United States at least and around these public research institutions, that would have been unprofessional, in my opinion. It was the beginning of a discourse and a dialogue, and at the same time if people have better data, if I put my thoughts out there, they can come back to help me and inform me. So it’s a collaborative process, and I think that was a part of that collaboration. It didn’t look that collaborative. I understand that. No I don’t think you could ever approach anything differently, I found it interesting to watch videos of other candidates that they seemed to not answer a lot of things. I was trying to say: “Here’s what I do know, tell me.” Of course no one wanted to quite go there.
Certainly you’ve reached out to numerous stakeholders, on and off campus, are donors among them?
Of course, I would say in the first five days I called the top 30 or 40 donors to the institution and talked or met with them individually. That continues. I was with a lot of them in the last 24 hours.
Is there anything else that wasn’t asked that you would like to address?
People should know I’m just a normal person, I’ve been married to the same woman, God love her, since we were putting ourselves through graduate school at Purdue that’s 42 years ago. We happen to have four kids, we’ve lived all around the world, my four kids, and now six grandchildren are a really important part of who we are. In fact, if you move around a lot like we’ve done over the years, one of our cores is our family. They’ve all gotten classic liberal-arts educations, they’ve all gone to graduate school and now they’ve all got professional backgrounds and are starting to live their own lives. The youngest is at King’s college getting her Ph.D. in leadership there. Her class has had a very interesting time watching tape of that town hall meeting and saying how would you handle these questions? How do leaders really do that? It’s been a teaching moment for them as well. My family is an exceedingly important part of my life and of all of our lives I think. Come on, were all the same, let’s have a conversation. I’m a normal person just like you. Let’s go to a ball game.