A remarkable degree of disrespect


The University of Iowa has been looking for a new president. You might be wondering how a university president gets that position: they are appointed by the Board of Regents, which in this case is appointed by the Republican governor, Terry Branstad, and led by a prominent Republican, Bruce Rastetter. You might be having presentiments of trouble already, since the GOP is never a friend to higher ed.

Further signs of concern: they got a distinguished list of candidates, including Tulane University Provost Michael Bernstein, Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov, and Ohio State University Provost Joseph Steinmetz — as you can tell, all people with solid academic credentials — and then suddenly sprang a surprise candidate on Monday, Bruce Harreld. Harreld is completely unqualified for this job.

Harreld has a largely business background that includes service as president or vice president for the likes of Kraft General Foods, Boston Market Company, and IBM. His curriculum vitae list his current position as managing principal for “Executing Strategy LLC” in Avon, Colo., although he explained publically – after The Gazette pointed out that an LLC of that name isn’t registered in Colorado – that he simply does private consulting under that business head.

Harreld’s highest academic degree is a master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School, where he served as an adjunct lecturer from 2008 to 2014. He has no academic administrative experience, and his non-traditional background has sparked heated debate on campus.

Harreld was introduced to the faculty at a meeting on Tuesday. It was like the interview from Hell: the audience was not happy with him, and one person asked, “Why did you even apply for this job?” A quick survey found that he had virtually no support among the faculty.

University of Iowa faculty members appear to be quite skeptical of Bruce Harreld, a businessman who made it to the finalist round of the school’s presidential search. An American Association of University Professors survey released Wednesday found that just 3 percent of surveyed faculty found him qualified to be Iowa’s next president.

At least 90 percent of surveyed faculty members believe the other finalists — including Marvin Krislov, president of Oberlin College; Michael Bernstein, provost of Tulane University; and Joseph Steinmetz, provost at Ohio State University — are equipped to be Iowa’s president.

But wait! Doesn’t this man sound like the perfect leader of one of our major state universities?

He also served as president and member of the board for Boston Market Company in Golden, Colo., from 1993 to 1995, working with five partners to grow the organization from 20 stores in the Boston area to more than 1,100 stores nationally, according to his CV.

From 1983 to 1993, Harreld was senior vice president and division president of Kraft General Foods in Northfield, Ill., leading the $2 billion “frozen foods unit,” which included Tombstone Pizza, DiGiorno, Budget Gourmet, and Lenders Bagels.

Churning out frozen foods (Which includes bagels? Unforgivable) is exactly like managing student educations and a research university. Not. This guy was the odd man out in a group of qualified candidates, and he was roundly rejected by the faculty — he was entirely a creation of the Republican ratfkers on the Board of Regents. So guess who was appointed president of the University of Iowa yesterday?

Bruce Harreld, of course. University of Iowa students are now frozen bagels, and the faculty are like the waiters and waitresses at Boston Market. And the Board of Regents doesn’t give a damn about what the faculty think — this appointment really is a rude slam against the professors at the University of Iowa.

The real mystery to me, though, is why Harreld would take the job when offered — there was so much animosity to his candidacy that it’s going to be an unpleasantly adversarial position, and the lack of support is going to make it tough going.

Harreld will take over at the helm Nov. 2 and will make $590,000. He was given a five-year contract.



  1. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says


    But imagine the fame when he finally turns a money sucking university into a trully profitable company.

  2. jacksprocket says

    I’m confident that neither he, nor any company that has worked for, has contributed to GOP funds. That would smell of corruption.

  3. carlie says

    I don’t even have the strength to get outraged any more.
    It just makes me despair for the future of our society. Bone-weary despair. Fine. Fuck it all up. Keep eroding everything remotely related to education, prize capitalism above everything else, come back in 80 years and see how the middle class has completely disappeared and we’ve turned into a sociological and ethical hellhole. At least none of the elite will have to worry about illegal immigration any more, because no one will want to come here by then.

  4. jd142 says

    Could be worse. You could live here with the rest of us suffering under the second Branstad regime. He’s trying to make us into Kansas or Wisconsin lite. Even worse, you might work at the UI.

    If there’s any silver lining, it is that presidents don’t seem to actually do much except fundraising. And I’m hopeful that like most ceo’s, he’ll bail after a year with a full payout. Not that I want him to hook us for 2 mil., but no one will cry when he leaves. Except tears of joy.

  5. jonas says

    Color me unsurprised that a Board of Regents stacked with a bunch of GOP cronies would want to stick it to the faculty by hiring a former food products executive with no academic experience to lead a major scholarly research institution. It’s like GE’s board telling shareholders that the new CEO is a retired elementary school librarian who will bring critical experience and leadership to manufacturing the next generation of aircraft engines. It’s trolling. Also, $590k? For the presidency of a flagship state university? That strikes me as bizarrely low. Maybe when they saw the pay package, the other candidates all backed out. The president of Ohio State makes twice that much. My bet is that he lasts a year and they have to buy out the remaining 4 years of his contract and he walks away with $2 million. *That’s* how a Harvard MBA would do it.

  6. Larry says

    And so the march of public mid-western universities into irrelevance continues. Like the South, their claim to fame will revolve around their football teams and athletic departments while their academic reputation swirls down the toilet. Is it any wonder that this annual rankings of public universities is dominated by the West and East Coast schools.

    This is just one more effect of people choosing to ignore their responsibilities to vote.

  7. Donnie says

    4 September 2015 at 7:00 am

    Just $590k? That must be a huge pay cut from the private sector!

    Nope. it is quite a nice supplement to his income. If smart, IF, he would leave all the Administration to his deputy and be just a figure head while smoozing with Big Business to bring in grant money to the Business School, Engineering School, and the such.

    I assume he will be keeping his Board of Director type positions, and keep sucking down money. This is just a way for the GOP to syphon 2.5 Mill to a private individual for doing nothing. He will start his SuperPAC, using his President of a secular College as proof of his intellectual prowess and being from Iowa will support Iowa college Atheletics and make them a Powerhouse winning National titles, and then launch his Presidential bid in 2020.

    Of course, my cyncial button has not been hit this morning.

  8. karmacat says

    My college put out a humor magazine one year and they compared the president to Mr. Roark from fantasy island. Students only see him and shake his hand at the beginning and end of the college years. Yet, he has some unknown magical effect on the student’s intervening years. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was probably put in more humorous words

  9. Sastra says

    Yeah, now maybe students and faculty will be accountable the same way employees are accountable: my company, my rules. Churn out the product and ask no questions.

    This is very disheartening.

  10. Alverant says

    I went to the U of Iowa. I hope he doesn’t ruin it. We had a great hospital, laser lab, and after I left they redid the physics building.

  11. Usernames! (╯°□°)╯︵ ʎuʎbosıɯ says

    His position is not that secure. We went through a similar thing at our Community College. The board hired Mary Spangler, one of the–if not THE–worst Chancellors in memory.

    The faculty, staff and students all hated her. She appointed incompetent cronies, retaliated against any and all critics and acted much as I’d expect your boy Harreld will.

    As a result, the better faculty and staff left, enrollment dropped and “no-confidence” votes were held. Spangler circled the wagons and doubled-down, pissing off even the board.

    Finally, she was forced out (“decided to retire“).

  12. wcorvi says

    As said above. Our Board of Regents (also Repub appointees – the ones that suggested for-profit University of Phoenix should be our business-model – it’s now under investigation for fraud) picked a fellow for president who had no experience with a real university. But within two months, he had a dozen accusations from female students that he ‘hugged them too long, or kissed them too long.’
    He lasted five months. We got no apologies.

  13. says

    Of course it will work out well. Enrollment at the University of Minnesota will rise, more promising faculty will move our way, just as is happening with Wisconsin. We will assimilate all of our neighbors, leaving a border of dried husks around us.

  14. parasiteboy says

    In some way’s this does not surprise me. Universities have been run as a business since I was a student 20 years ago. How else could people I’ve known have been on “academic probation” for several semesters and taken 5+ years to graduate (without a change in their major)? As long as they paid, they stayed.

    Now as an adjunct faculty, I’m on the low pay (no benefit), no job security end of higher education*. The community college that I am at now will load you up with teaching one semester and keep it light another semester so they do not have to pay you benefits. This creates a high turnover rate, lowers the quality of education, but it does give them a better profit margin.

    I will not be surprised if this continues at other universities, especially if this guy turns a profit and the state has to put less money into the university system.

    *Colleges and universities do need some amount of adjunct faculty members to remain flexible with the year to year variation in student enrollment, but as PZ has pointed out before the numbers are skewing to more and more adjuncts and less permanent tenured/full time faculty.

  15. Rich Woods says

    @Alverant #14:

    We had a great hospital, laser lab, and after I left they redid the physics building.

    That must have been one hell of a graduation party!

  16. ragdish says

    “And the Board of Regents doesn’t give a damn about what the faculty think…..”

    I previously worked at University of Iowa and the Board of Regents never gave a damn about what the faculty think. Prove to me that your “distinguished list of candidates” would have truly benefited the lives of the primary recipients ie. the students and patients (at UIHC). Prove to me that a Democrat governor would have chosen a candidate whose best interest is the hard working students and not the profit making Athletic Department. Prove to me that he/she would improve patient access at UIHC.

    Here’s a reality check for you, PZ. You know where Kinnick Stadium is in Iowa City? It’s situated right next to the hospital. Pray you don’t have an emergency when there is a Hawkeye game because there is no way an ambulance will get you to the ER in September. I recall the streets so packed with people on game day that I could not drive to the hospital to treat a poor soul in status epilepticus. I was informed that I had to turn back and park at my home and run back to the hospital. Fortunately the patient did all right.

    You can rightfully trash Harreld but please don’t put Bernstein, Krislov or Steimetz on pedestals. They’ll all do jack-shit to solving chronic problems at UI. As long as UI makes money (ie. football games) and they have their $500k salary, it’s business as usual.

  17. grumpyoldfart says

    Whenever a result is unexpected or unpopular you can be almost certain that money has been moved around or shit files have been compared.

  18. matilija says

    He also served as president and member of the board for Boston Market Company in Golden, Colo., from 1993 to 1995, working with five partners to grow the organization from 20 stores in the Boston area to more than 1,100 stores nationally, according to his CV.

    His CV leaves out the interesting parts.

    From the linked article:
    “From the beginning, Boston Chicken was a story stock with all the air of legitimacy. On the day of its initial public offering back in November 1993, this bird soared from a split-adjusted $10 to a high of $23… The stock eventually flew to an all-time high of $41 1/2 in December 1996 before entering its death-spiral descent.”

    I remember when this happened. Boston Market (known as Boston Chicken until 1995) was caught padding their revenue with loan repayments from their franchisees. (Protip: Getting your own money back is not the same as earning new money.) Suddenly that high share price didn’t look so justified. They declared bankruptcy in 1998.

  19. says

    Illinois State University hired a real rotter a few years back; it cost us big money to get rid of him. And to the best of my recollection, the consulting firm that found him for us got to keep their exorbitant fee.

    The internal candidate who was earlier passed over was gracious enough to step in and serve, and he’s been wonderful.

  20. greg hilliard says

    A further slap: His $590K salary is $64,000 more than the outgoing president, Sally Mason.

  21. says

    Just like the football coach, a college president at school like Iowa is tasked to bring money into the school. Undergrad enrollment is the loss leader as it were. The real money a hospital and/or research. Ohio State’s last President had a million dollar house bought with foundation funds as well as renovated into a entertainment center to woo big donors and legislators. They sit on many corporate boards which supplements their University pay.

    The foundation at Ohio State, one year, reached $1 billion in donations and while some of that was put into the undergrad system the majority was plowed back into research and the medical center.

    The stadium upgrades and other athletic facilities are built and maintained by separate fund raising that is tied to basically wins and losses. For many years until the late 90s or so the football program helped fund all the other sports at Ohio State.

  22. simulateddave says

    I’m looking forward to Branstad’s exit as my governor, which will happen just as soon as he decides not to run for re-election. I remember my parents always referred to him as “Governor-for-life Branstad”, and that was in the 90’s. I guess it was magnanimous of him to take a twelve year vacation, so someone else could have a turn. Jeebus but we love our incumbents in this state. They have better job security than tenured professors.

  23. jakc says

    The $590,000 comes with $200,000 a year in deferred compensation (I assume Bruce gets it at the end of the five year contract). And yes it is more than Sally Mason, but she becomes an emeritus president (a new job) at 60% of her old salary. As I recall, UI president Hunter Rawlings made less than $200,000 when he left 20 years ago. I imagine that we see a similar bloated increase across most academic administration positions, thus the need for a business type to squeeze the increases out of students, teachers and employees

  24. jakc says

    A quick Google search shows salaries for Big 10 Presidents ranged between $150,000 to $200,000 (with only one below that level) 25 years ago, or collectively less than Gordon Gee (who had a long resume of positions in various academic administration positions held, including a job at West Virginia for $700,000 or so after he had to give up his million dollar job at Ohio State)

  25. carlie says

    So, this is happening. One of the biggest state college systems in the country.

    “SUNY is pleased to announce John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market and co-author of Conscious Capitalism, as the opening keynote speaker for the 2015 Critical Issues in Higher Education Conference. While devoting his career to helping customers satisfy their lifestyle needs with quality natural and organic products, Mackey has also focused on building a more conscious way of doing business. John’s successes in developing value-driven business models will serve as an inspiring kickoff for SUNYCON 2015, which will focus on reinventing the Academy in ways that are not just sustainable, but thriving.”