JOHNSTON, Iowa—Board of Regents President Craig Lang and President Pro Tem Bruce Rastetter joined the “Iowa Press” panel Friday for a discussion on tuition at Iowa’s universities, the continuing Harkin Institute controversy and the hiring of new University of Northern Iowa President William Ruud.
Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter James Lynch and Radio Iowa news director O. Kay Henderson spoke with the duo on the Harkin Institute saga. From Iowa Public Television’s transcript:
Henderson: I’m wondering what it means now that Senator Harkin has announced that he will not be donating his work papers from his 40 year career in Congress to Iowa State University. Does that mean the Harkin Institute, which already exists on campus, will be closing, Mr. Lang?
Lang: We don’t know because that decision has to come from a recommendation from Iowa State University and President Leath. And what President Leath has told us as Regents is that he’ll look over, make a very careful, fair decision and come back with a recommendation. So we don’t know.
Henderson: Why would it exist if those papers aren’t part of the collection at Iowa State, Mr. Rastetter?
Rastetter: I think, again, back to—I think it is unfortunate that Senator Harkin isn’t going to leave his papers there. And if the papers aren’t there, that’s a good question, and we look forward to President Leath’s recommendation
Lynch: Both of you have expressed regret about the decision on Senator Harkin’s part and the institute’s part. But I wonder if, in hindsight, if it was the best strategy to have one of the largest Republican contributors in Iowa as the point person dealing with Ruth Harkin and the institute to set this up. Do you have any second thoughts about that, Mr. Rastetter?
Rastetter: I don’t have second thoughts on that because Ruth Harkin and I have a good relationship and what I think we did—Craig and I did in leadership—is support President’s Leath effort to make it less restrictive than the memorandum that President Geoffroy put in place. So, I think it was a productive support of President Leath in doing that. So, Ruth Harkin and I get along well and those discussions went well and I, again, I’m disappointed that he chose to withdraw the papers.
Lynch: Is there any constituency still fighting to keep the Harkin Institute alive and moving forward?
Lang: We don’t know. I haven’t heard of that. There’s been some rumors that—wait and see—but we really don’t know.
Henderson: One of the phrases that came out of this whole controversy was that Iowa State University needs to speak with one voice on agriculture and the Harkin Institute board of directors raised concerns about that and academic freedom. Mr. Rastetter, how can you assure Iowans who have concerns given that statement that you folks aren’t trying to micromanage research at the three institutions?
Rastetter: First, clearly that would not have been the result of the memorandum President Leath put in place. The Harkin Institute was not restricted on academic—there was no academic infringement nor was there any infringement on research in any of the areas. And the director of the Harkin Institute has said that publicly. The dean of the college of liberal arts where the Harkin Institute sits has said that and so has the faculty. So I think it is unfortunate that that gets said. No one—the rest of the institutes don’t speak with one voice, so there is no interest in doing that.
Lang: And that is certainly not my position. You know, in my old job I believe the best policy comes from two sides of controversy to come up with what the policy should look like, so I really think that speaking in one voice was not what was meant. I think the idea is that any institute or center on campus ought to offer an alternative of policy decisions.
Lang and Rastetter also addressed the issue at a press gaggle after the show’s taping:
TIR: Is there a timeframe for acting on the Harkin Institute?
Lang: The only thing that we can say is that President Leath is going to make a decision, a recommendation to the Board of Regents because it was set up by the Board of Regents; it has to be dismantled by the Board of Regents, but we are waiting to see what President Leath says about the center, and when he makes a decision, we’ll weigh his recommendation.
Lynch: Is it time to establishing a policy about naming institutes for people—
Lang: We did that. We established a policy shortly after the Harkin Institute was put in place, and that policy was very clear: it said that we will not have an institute named after a sitting lawmaker in the future, so the policy is clear, we did that in early fall—
Rastetter: —a year ago last September… We don’t even know if the institute will be withdrawn. We put in place the policy that Craig mentioned—there won’t be a building or an institute put in place named after an elected official.
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