Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Faculty, Student Votes Play Into Branstad's Hands

The outrage is easy to understand. After input was solicited and a strong Anyone But message was sent, the Iowa Board of Regents did what they were very clearly going to do from the beginning and named Bruce Harreld as the new UIowa president.

But yesterday's academic-politics driven votes of no confidence by both faculty and student government reflect an isolated misread of the realpolitik of the situation.

Faculty reaction:
The motion said the regents had shown a "blatant disregard for the shared nature of university governance" and failed to live up to its own standards for ethics, communication, transparency and other values.
There's some truth to that - but the problem is you're assuming that even matters to Terry Branstad and Bruce Rastetter.

Grad student reaction:
“It is the stance of the members of GPSG that the process of the presidential search was not transparent and that the pretense of transparency throughout the search wasted taxpayer money and UI constituency members’ time and effort,” the statement reads. “Additionally, we would like to extend an apology to the other three well-qualified candidates who we believe were made to interview in an ‘open’ process under false pretenses.”
You can just about hear the Hey Hey, Ho Ho, J. Bruce Herrald's Got To Go.

What the faculty and grad student bodies don't seem to get here is: This was exactly the response the Regents wanted.

Rastetter threw the resolutions in the trash. Not even in the recycling, because he wanted to rub Iowa City's nose in it that much more.
The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of vital importance.The rare gifts with which you were born may come to nothing if not nurtured and honed by careful instruction. The ancient skills unique to the wizarding community must be passed down the generations lest we lose them for ever. The treasure trove of magical knowledge amassed by our ancestors must be guarded, replenished and polished by those who have been called to the noble profession of teaching.Every headmaster and headmistress of Hogwarts  has brought something new to the weighty task of governing this historic school, and that is as it should be, for without progress there will be stagnation and decay. There again, progress for progress's sake must be discouraged, for our tried and tested traditions often require no tinkering. A balance, then, between old and new, between permanence and change, between tradition and innovation because some changes will be for the better, while others will come, in the fullness of time, to be recognised as errors of judgement. Meanwhile, some old habits will be retained, and rightly so, whereas others, outmoded and outworn, must be abandoned. Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited.
Ooops. That was Dolores Umbridge. But in fairness she was the ghost writer for Rastetter's actual response:
 "The landscape of higher education is changing and the current ways of operating are not sustainable. The Board of Regents brought four highly qualified candidates to campus during the search process and discussed their abilities to help lead the University of Iowa through the changes in higher education.

Throughout this process, Board members heard from stakeholders all across Iowa about the type of qualities and leadership needed at the University of Iowa.

After listening to all stakeholder feedback as well as having frank conversations with each of the candidates, the Board unanimously thought Bruce 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.

We are disappointed that some of those stakeholders have decided to embrace the status quo of the past over opportunities for the future and focus their efforts on resistance to change instead of working together to make the University of Iowa even greater."
 "You're the University of Iowa, not the University of Iowa CITY," the Regents, and by extension their puppet master Terry Branstad, said with the Harreld appointment.

A progressive academic who's also a successful real world politician gets it:
“I think the Senate should think strategically about how to respond, especially once you get into a political world like this,” said Jim Throgmorton, a UI professor emeritus of urban planning and an Iowa City city councilor.
The Harreld appointment was, make no mistake about it, a political power play. Even his defenders don't deny it.  It was a power play and our side doesn't have the power right now.

As I said last fall, the rest of the state looks in the mirror and sees itself represented by a bread sack wearing, gun toting farm gal, and Johnson County actively recoiled from that. We look in the mirror and see a poli sci Ph.D. with a beard.

I like Iowa City academic values and the college town culture. It's a big part of why, despite my own all-but-thesis academic washout, I've chosen to stay and spend the second half of my life to date in this very special place. I came here from somewhere else to do something else, but I found home.

The University of Iowa, and the greater Johnson County community surrounding it, needs to sell our unique culture full of doctors and writers and researchers and students as an asset to the whole state, which we really are. While the rest of the state is losing people, we're a magnet.

Unfortunately, our immediate need to vent, which may feel justified, and certainly is justified, within an academic context, may look tin-eared and petulant to counties that are hemorrhaging population and where the biggest employers are nursing homes.

Ooh. A bunch of liberal egghead professors didn't get to choose their own boss. Tell it to my Wal*Mart manager who just scheduled me all three days of Labor Day weekend when I asked for it off six months ago. And the drunks at the Number One Party School are mad, too? Even better.

But: Go Hawks.

Like it or not, Iowa City, we are NOT like the rest of the state, politically or culturally. And for a lot of structural political reasons, we are unable to recruit a voting majority of the state as allies right now.

Until we can, and I think we can, the University of Iowa community will have to choose its battles. There will no doubt be several. But the fact of Bruce Herrald's existence is a fait accompli (that's Latin for Too Bad So Sad), and we are going to figure out how to live with it.

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