WEST DES MOINES — A state Board of Regents leader said he is disappointed with Sen. Tom Harkin’s decision to pull the donation of his papers to an Iowa State University institute, and he said what happens to the institute now is in the hands of ISU officials.
Regents President Pro Tem Bruce Rastetter, a prominent Iowa agribusinessman and Republican from Alden, said during a press conference at Wednesday’s regents meeting in West Des Moines that Harkin’s decision to withdraw the papers from his namesake institute was “really unfortunate,” but Rastetter said the board “will honor that request and wish them the best.”
Harkin, an ISU graduate, announced Tuesday he would reverse plans to donate his papers, covering his decades in the U.S. Congress, to the Harkin Institute of Public Policy at ISU, after the institute’s advisory board voted Tuesday to recommend he not give the documents. The move came after months of back-and-forth squabbling over the research that would be conducted at the institute, amid concerns about academic freedom and restrictions by ISU.
“I think we were extremely helpful in trying to accommodate the institute in a normal way that institutes are accommodated on campuses,” Rastetter said. “This wasn’t about infringing on academic freedom or research. It was clearly about the bureaucratic rules that exist at the university between the institutes that are there.”
Rastetter said he doesn’t have an immediate perspective on the future of the institute, but “I think that very clearly that will be a recommendation by the university to the board of regents, it is in the university’s hands today as to what they do.”
ISU President Steve Leath said in a statement Tuesday that he could not say at this time say whether the Harkin Institute will continue to function. The regents approved the creation of the institute in April 2011. Numerous Republican legislators at the time objected to creating a state institute named for a sitting politician.
“The institute was established by the board of regents, and any change to significantly alter its status, including closure, must be made by the board,” Leath said in his statement. Leath was not at Wednesday’s regents meeting.
Sen. Harkin’s wife, Ruth Harkin, a member of the board of regents, said Wednesday she was not taking questions about the issue.
The questions of academic freedom raised by Harkin and his supporters were a result of “misinformation,” Rastetter said.
The ISU Faculty Senate supported the position that there would not be infringement on academic freedom, as did the director of the Harkin Institute, who “very clearly indicated yesterday that it was not an infringement on academic freedom,” Rastetter said.
Leath, who has been ISU president for just more than one year, put in place a memorandum of understanding that was less restrictive on research than the one originally placed on the institute when Gregory Geoffroy was president, Rastetter said.
“The memorandum that was put in place by President Geoffroy was much more restrictive than what we supported President Leath putting in place,” Rastetter said.
When asked about how the controversy will impact future relations with Ruth Harkin, Rastetter said the institute issue has not affected his working relationship with her, and he believes board President Craig Lang would say the same. Lang was traveling and unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting.
“I’ve clearly enjoyed working with Ruth Harkin and will look forward to continue to do that,” Rastetter said.