February 12, 2016

Senate Democrats upset over Harkin Institute, Regent responds

Democrats in the Iowa Senate are decrying Iowa Senator Tom Harkin’s decision not to donate his papers to the Harkin Institute of Public Policy at Iowa State. Harkin announced his decision Tuesday, saying he could not trust university officials to allow unrestricted academic freedom at the institute.

Senator Joe Bolckom, a Democrat from Iowa City, says few senators have been more important than Harkin in contributing to the public policy debate around the country and around the world. “And the idea that somehow his institute would not be free to take on and look at any topic that people associated with that institute might want to delve into is just, does not make sense,” Bolckom says.

Bolckom called it disrespectful that officials couldn’t come to some agreement. “I think it’s a shame. I’m extraordinarily disappointed, and I hope that senator Harkin and his institute can find a home here in Iowa where it will be welcomed,” Bolckom says. I.S.U. President Steven Leath calls Harkin’s claims about academic freedom unfounded and false.

Some critics complained that members of the Board of Regents had intervened in the affair. Speaking with reporters today during a break in the Board of Regent’s meeting in West Des Moines, board president pro-tem, Bruce Rastetter, adamantly denied any infringement on academic freedom in the way the papers would have been used in the Institute’s research projects.

He also defended the actions of Leath. “And I think in support of President Leath, very clearly the memorandums he put in place upon arriving were less restrictive than the memorandums that were in place that President Geoffroy put in place,” Rastetter says. “So all in all, I think it’s really unfortunate that they want to withdraw the papers.”

Another Senate Democrat Jack Hatch of Des Moines, introduced legislation today creating a new position of Chancellor of Higher Education to administer the state universities under the Board of Regents, creating a buffer between the Regents and the state universities.

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