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September 27, 2015

Harreld hiring devalues higher education

Tyler Priest

Funny thing about the letters and op-eds published recently around the state applauding the Board of Regents’ appointment of business “turnaround specialist” Bruce Harreld as University of Iowa president. They all denounce the UI faculty’s vote of no confidence in the Board of Regents over the rigged search as an act of pampered faculty wedded to an unacceptable “status quo.” But in every single case, these missives omit the fact that the UI student government and graduate union also passed votes of no confidence in the Regents, and that the UI Staff Council voiced strong “disappointment” in the search process. Faculty are not the only ones upset. This is not mainly about them. It is about defending public higher education in this state, which students, staff, and, indeed all Iowans, have as much at stake in as faculty. We will not be so easily divided and conquered.

The “education is a business” crowd clamors louder every day about the rising costs of college. But this is largely a manufactured crisis conjured up by market fundamentalists determined to defund and delegitimize public institutions in Iowa and across the nation. Why has the average annual full-time cost of a four-year public college more than doubled in recent decades? Certainly not because faculty are coddled with rich salaries and research perks. The increase is directly proportional to the amount of money that has been cut by states. In 2001, the State of Iowa funded 64 percent of the education budgets at the Regents’ universities. By 2014, that percentage had declined to 35. At the same time, Iowa universities have had to ramp up staff to meet financial and administrative compliance requirements, many of which have been imposed by the Regents. Higher tuition made up the difference.

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