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September 28, 2015

You don’t turn universities around. You build on their traditions

In hiring Bruce Harreld as president of the University of Iowa, the governor and the Board of Regents have told us they think the university is not on the right track.  But they haven’t told us what track they want.  We do know they don’t believe in the tradition of the university or in the freedoms of shared governance.  The problem is, it’s impossible to build a great university without these elements.

Thanks to the opportunities given to me as an in-state alum of the University of Iowa, I have gone on to be a professor at the University of Southern California, a historian, writer and journalist on the topics of politics, education and finance. I received diplomas in France and England, and have worked at universities such as Princeton and Rutgers.  Part of my job at USC is to help improve the university’s standing through both academic and administrative work.  And my experience tells me that the Harreld choice is a mistake that has damaged the UI’s reputation and brand.

Not only do I see conflicts of interest and possible legal issues with Harreld’s appointment; I was startled that no one asked Harreld specific questions about what it means to “turn around” a university.  Because there is one thing I have learned during my academic career: You don’t turn serious universities around. You build on their traditions.

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