The University of Iowa just hired one of Boston Market's best performing managers, Bruce Harreld, as its new president. Harreld has never worked in academia administration, has no PhD, learned about the University of Iowa from Wikipedia (turns out it's located in Boise!), and only 3% of faculty & staff said he was "qualified" for the job in a pre-hiring survey (the other 3 candidates were above 90%). To really drive the point home, Faculty Senate President Christina Bohannan told the Board of Regents that Harreld had a "clear lack of faculty support."
But that proves he's the man for the job! Sometimes you gotta shake things up! You gotta think outside the box! You gotta disrupt. You gotta use terms like "think outside the box" and "disrupt"!
Academics know about academics, not schools. So the Board of Regents unanimously voted in Harreld's favor.
"The fact of the matter is, the university is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise," explains Iowa City City Mayor Matt Hayek.
Exactly! Schools aren't just schools anymore, they're "enterprises." Sorry. "The academic landscape has changed considerably," says Iowa City Chamber of Commerce President Nancy Quellhorst, "and [Harreld's] work has revolved around helping academic institutions make the changes they need to not only be viable, but to improve."
The University of Iowa, apparently, is on the path to non-viability.
Bruce Rastetter, pork salesman turned Iowa Board of Regents president, seemed to echo this when he said that hiring Harreld was needed because "(simply maintaining) status quo is not acceptable" and the focus of the university needs to always "point forward."
A change of the "status quo" at Iowa? Hell yes! That's something we could get behind. For years the school has been expanding and losing focus -- big football, big hospital, big gyms, diminished mission. How about some major shake-ups: 1) leave the Big Ten and make sports less of a distraction, 2) jettison the hospital system so that it's no longer under the university umbrella, and 3) focus its energy on the writing and arts that set the school apart. True American giants like Grant Wood or Kurt Vonnegut called Iowa City home, so let's stir some shit up and get back to that!
Oh, we forgot 2 things: 1) most people at Iowa don't give a shit and 2) for business guys like Rastetter and Harreld, "thinking outside the box" means doing whatever your competitors are doing. So instead of striking out on a truly independent path, or getting back to its strengths and distinctions, Iowa will choose to think just like every other big state university.
From Iowa to Iowa State, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio State, etc etc, our "public" universities are public in name only. In Iowa, only about 15%-20% of university budgets come from state money. The state universities have been on a gradual slide for years.
Within these schools are several quasi-private entities: the football programs, basketball programs, the hospitals, or even the ag and science department. Separate budgets, separate operations. Though the salaries of staffers don't come from the state, they are still considered state employees. Thus it’s not just coaches in Iowa that fetch top salaries: of the 300 highest paid “state” employees in Iowa only 7 are not affiliated with a state university. And none of those 7 even crack the top 130!
"Public" universities are not only becoming a distraction in general for states, but they don't even serve their original purpose.
State-funded universities were to create a system that could stay clear of interference because they would be the people's university. The Iowa legislatures was the first in the country to accept the terms of the Morrill Act in 1862, the bill that paved the way for "land-grant universities" -- though Kansas State was the first official federal Land Grant university under the act, and Michigan was the first state-funded college. Those enrolled would focus their attention on subjects of their interest, either trades or the liberal arts. Iowa was the Liberal Arts school, Iowa State was the ag school, Northern Iowa was the teachers college. Students could then take those lessons and translate them into post-graduate fields of business or government.
The irony of bringing in a businessman and chalking it up to "outside the box" thinking, is that "outsiders" can only exist when there are separate venues of learning -- when education is separate from business, when business is separate from government.
By washing everything in business, we're making a mono-color mush of public-private thinking. Nowadays, the idea of public-private partnerships permeates every facet of life. Run government like a business! Run schools like a business!
Iowa's state universities are following bland, national trends while private universities in the state take up the vanguard.
Grinnell College blazed a national trail when it hired Dr Raynard Kington, the first openly gay, African American college president in the country as its president in 2010. The great-grandson of slaves, Kington says, "The only reason I’m the president of a college is I really deeply believe that there are few better investments for a society in its future than higher education and knowledge.”
Far from being a bleeding heart, Kington holds an MBA, PhD and medical degrees, and was deputy director of the National Institutes of Health before starting his tenure. He is accomplished and versatile, but keeps at his core a passion for higher education's purpose.
And though Grinnell's enrollment is much smaller, Kington is managing a school (or "enterprise") with an endowment almost twice as large as the University of Iowa -- $1.83b for Grinnell compared to $1.1b for Iowa.
All that money must be from Grinnell's football team.
State universities in Iowa seem incapable of hiring a truly transformative figure like Kington. Indeed, one of the Iowa finalists was Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov. Though small, even Oberlin has an endowment nearly the size of Iowa. It excels in fields like music but also has a strong liberal tradition and reputation. Oberlin is not just a clone of other colleges. If the Regents wanted to shake up the "status quo," perhaps they could have brought in Krislov with a mandate to strip out the bullshit and get back to basics.
That scenario is almost a total fantasy today.
State universities are caught between falling state funding but increasing state government interference. With diminished funding, why wouldn't they go after any revenue source possible? With business-friendly appointees on the Board of Regents, why shouldn't we expect business-friendly presidents?
Would the University of Iowa actually be truer to its mission if it were private? Is the best way to avoid corpratization to get the state out? Or do people stand up for institutions that are supposedly public?
We either step forward and push for better public input regarding of state universities (maybe start by signing a petition to dismiss Herrald), or should we just say, "Fuck it! Let's get on the corpratizing bandwagon full-boar!" Beyond beer logos on school banners and apparel logos on uniforms, maybe we jazz up the whole school logo. To do our civic duty, we're giving Harreld a leg up in the rebranding department.
We're not just thinking outside the box, we're thinking outside the bun ...