Five past and present members of the Iowa Board of Regents, including former president Bruce Rastetter, detailed in depositions how they used private email communications and sidestepped the state’s open meetings law to recruit Bruce Harreld as the University of Iowa’s new president in 2015.
On July 30 of that year, Rastetter held back-to-back meetings with other regents at his private business in Ames that were arranged using a private email account. The multiple meetings allowed the board to avoid having a majority of its members present at any one time, which would have required the publication of a public meeting notice under Iowa’s open meetings law. Journalists have previously reported on the meetings, but the depositions were recorded later as the result of a lawsuit filed by former U of I employee Gerhild Krapf and obtained today by the Associated Press’ Ryan Foley.
In the depositions, Rastetter testified that he arranged the meetings because of university donor and businessman Jerre Stead, who wanted the board to hire Harreld, a former IBM executive whose eventual hiring over three more qualified candidates was deeply unpopular among U of I faculty. Harreld applied for the position the day after the meetings and was the only candidate to get special treatment in the recruitment process.
Rastetter added that he didn’t consider the meetings “an official Board of Regents matter” but that he scheduled multiple meetings “to specifically make sure we were in compliance” with the open meetings law. He also said that under board policy, he wasn’t required to retain the emails he sent to arrange them. On the day they occurred, Rastetter reportedly picked Harreld up from the Ames airport, where Rastetter stores a plane for his agribusiness company.
If the regents are found to be in violation of the law, they could be fined and forced to pay legal fees. A hearing in the case is scheduled for next week.