- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - The University of Iowa’s governing board is considering a corporate executive with little higher education experience as the next school president, a choice that would outrage professors but please the state’s Republican and business leadership.

The nine-member Board of Regents, appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad and led by GOP powerbroker Bruce Rastetter, will interview four finalists Thursday morning in Iowa City. They’re expected to announce the selection of Iowa’s 21st president later in the day, a quick timeline that has many campus leaders nervous.

Since his surprise candidacy was announced Monday, attention has focused on J. Bruce Harreld, a former IBM senior vice president, builder of the Boston Market restaurant chain, and a former Kraft Foods executive. At a contentious forum Tuesday, employees questioned his credentials and one alumna asked, “Why did you even apply for this job?”

Harreld, 64, promoted himself as an expert in organizational transformation who could help the Big Ten university of 31,000 students go from “great to greater.” Despite a widespread view that he’s unqualified among faculty, many observers consider him a possible favorite ahead of Thursday’s vote.

“I think it’s fairly public that that’s the consensus,” said university employee Erin Brothers, a Staff Council leader who prefers someone with more experience.

Harreld joined a pool of three others that have strong higher education credentials: Oberlin College president Marvin Krislov; Ohio State University provost Joseph Steinmetz; and Tulane University provost Michael Bernstein. Each visited campus in recent days and held a forum. The pick will replace Sally Mason, who retired Aug. 1 after facing pressure from regents, who have pushed to shift some state funding away from Iowa to the other two universities they govern.

Krislov, a former University of Michigan vice president, appeared to receive a particularly warm welcome. He quoted beloved former university president Sandy Boyd and pledged to do “a full Grassley” - referring to popular Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley’s annual visits to all 99 counties - to sell the school’s value to taxpayers.

Steinmetz, a former University of Kansas and Indiana University administrator, said he is an “accessible and open” leader who was familiar with Iowa given his decades at peer institutions. Bernstein touted his 30 years in academia and called the job he was seeking “one of the most visible and attractive higher education leadership positions in the nation.”

Harreld noted Tuesday that his background was different, saying it was legitimate to ask “what the hell is this guy doing” among the finalists. He noted that some have questioned whether he would be a cost-cutting “puppet for the regents.”

“Because I’m so different, I’m unintentionally threatening a lot of different groups,” he said.

Some of his answers did little to put students, faculty and staff at ease.

He said he could envision scenarios in which he supported plans to transfer some of Iowa’s funding to the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University. And he acknowledged that the resume he submitted inaccurately listed his current position as managing principal of Executing Strategy, LLC, saying he no longer uses that company for consulting work.

Harreld’s background could nonetheless find support among regents, who have hired consultants to push the university to implement cost savings. Regents believe the school can save tens of millions of dollars that could be used for other priorities.

At IBM from 1995 to 2008, Harreld says he helped turn around the computer company by streamlining operations and led a team that generated billions in new business. He was part of the team that expanded Boston Market from 20 locations to 1,100 nationwide from 1993 to 1995, growth that once dazzled Wall Street but ended disastrously (the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1998).

Harreld was an adjunct lecturer at Harvard Business School from 2008 to 2014.

“I think I can help. If I can’t, kick me out of here,” he said. “Because you’ve got better things to do. I’ve got better things to do.”

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