The Ed Biz

Quite a controversy surrounds the appointment recently of businessman Bruce Harreld, who has no academic background, to the presidency at the University of Iowa — one of the Midwest’s premier universities. The article from the DesMoines Register tells us, in part, that despite overwhelming opposition from the faculty and the university community at large,

. . . Harreld was named UI’s 21st president Thursday in a unanimous vote from the Iowa Board of Regents. In so doing, they chose a former business executive with no experience in university administration, whose resume lists as his present employer a company he has since acknowledged no longer exists.

Harreld has also admitted he’ll have a steep learning curve for the job, and that his “unusual background” will mean he’ll need a lot of teaching, coaching and mentoring from those who criticized him. It’s good he acknowledged that, and gracious to extend the olive branch. But considering he’ll earn $590,000, plus $200,000 annually in deferred compensation, on-the-job training shouldn’t be necessary.

The rather large salary is impressive, but it pales in contrast with that of the football coach, Kirk Ferentz who makes in excess of $4 million. His staff makes just under $3 million. And given Iowa’s place in the 14 member coalition called the “Big 10,” football is most important. But also given that education has become a business (at all levels) where success is measured in numbers, it doesn’t seem too great a stretch to appoint a man to the highest office at the university whose background features the selling of computers and chickens.

I have found in my own experience that an academic person doesn’t always make the best college president — since his or her job is to cuddle up to money and politicians and try to balance budgets. Academics aren’t trained to do that sort of thing. And we also happen to be generally introverted and ill-at-ease in large groups, making small talk with small minds. But there is a principle buried somewhere in this story and it has to do with the propriety of asking a man (or a woman) with no academic experience whatever and no degree higher than an MBA to run one of the nation’s largest universities which is supposed to be a “community of scholars.”

So what we have here is the question of honesty — admitting that education is really all about money — as over against the propriety of naming an inexperienced business man, no matter how successful he has been, to the presidency of the University of Iowa. In this case the waters are muddied a bit by the fact that this man’s knowledge of the University of Iowa came from his reading of Wikipedia, his resumé highlights his experience selling computers, Kraft Food,  and Boston Chicken and also “lists as his present employer a company he has since acknowledged no longer exists,” not to mention that his appointment was apparently promoted by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, a friend of the new president. No wonder 98% of the faculty opposed his appointment — to no avail.

I’m all for honesty and admit right up front that it might make perfect sense to appoint a businessman to be president of a university. But to appoint one whose knowledge of the university is so scant, requiring, by his own admission, considerable effort on his part to learn what he needs to know — no matter how much money he is paid — seems a bit of a stretch. In any event, the best of luck to the University of Iowa and its new president. We’ll see  what happens when the chickens come home to roost. (Sorry).

The Ridiculous and The Sublime

A brief story in Yahoo News tells of the ridiculous behavior of some people:

OSHAWA, Ont. – A southern Ontario man says he will fight the $5,400 bill he got from a fire department for rescuing him after he went through the ice while fishing.

Neil Robbescheuten, 62, was ice fishing on Lake Scugog earlier this month when a dense fog rolled in and he became disoriented trying to find his way back to the shore.

The Oshawa man says he went through the ice in a marshy area near some bulrushes so he was able to pull himself out onto a tree stump while he called 911 and three firetrucks responded to rescue him.

He later received the invoice of $5,392.78 for the rescue and says he plans to fight it because he worries it will make people think twice about calling emergency services when they’re in trouble.

Scugog Fire Chief Richard Miller says . . .  the temperature was warm and rainy that weekend and the local conservation authorities had issued warnings urging people to stay away from bodies of water.

I don’t believe for a minute Neil’s claim that his concern here is that others will not call for assistance if they fall through the ice — as though they will be thinking of Neil and his plight as they struggle to free themselves from peril. More than likely Neil is just pissed off because he got a bill for the help he received in extricating himself from the ice. Or he is just embarrassed. Let’s face it, he did a stupid thing in face of the fact that warnings had gone out to stay off the ice and he went out anyway.

We seem to have yet another example of a man who simply doesn’t want to accept responsibility for his own actions and would prefer to turn attention elsewhere — his own and that of others who hear about his experience. He chose to ignore warnings and go ice fishing when he shouldn’t have done so. He has no one to blame but himself and should shut up and pay the firemen — and be thankful they came and pulled him out of the water. Indeed if everyone were punished who took unnecessary chances that require others to risk their lives to save them there might be fewer stupid people doing risky things. I would suggest that Neil might be a good candidate for this year’s Darwin Award for stupidity. If they gave awards for ingratitude, I would certainly nominate him for that as well. No wonder he wants to direct attention elsewhere.

While mulling over Neil’s behavior, however, I came across the following story that restores my faith in human nature. It centers around  a group of 13 members of the University of Iowa’s AirCare unit who were returning from a memorial service in honor of three of their members who were killed in a helicopter crash. After their meal, as they waited for the check at Applebees, the waitress told them the bill had been taken care of. She showed them a note written on a napkin by an anonymous patron:

“For all you do and in memory of your team mates … This meal is on us.”

From the ridiculous to the sublime! We need to read more stories about the good that people do and fewer stories about stupid and ungrateful people like Neil.