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PAPER CUTS: Long-time Feud Means Change of Plans

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WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Harkin Institute Interim Director Dave Peterson said no ISU President, either current leader Steven Leath or former president Greg Geoffrey, told him Ruth Harkin was a member of the advisory board for the institute. But Geoffrey introduced Harkin, a current member of the Iowa Board of Regents and wife of Senator Tom Harkin, as a board member. She said very little during the Tuesday night emergency board meeting, which became contentious at times. And Harkin abstained when it was time for the board to vote on recommending that Senator Harkin send his official papers somewhere else instead of Iowa State.

David Yepsen, former longtime political columnist for the Des Moines Register, told Channel 13’s Dave Price he had not been contacted by anyone about the possibility to lead an institute at Drake University. Senator Harkin raised the possibility of sending his official papers to Drake instead after his long-running disagreement with Iowa State University. Yepsen, well-known in Iowa and nationally for his coverage of Iowa and national politics, has served as the director at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale since April, 2009.

Tuesday’s developments with the Harkin Institute:

“I cannot leave my papers to any university or institute where there`s not this full and academic freedom,” Senator Tom Harkin told Channel 13’s Dave Price on “The Insiders” on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the advisory board of the Harkin Institute at Iowa State made it clear that it feels the same way. Board members approved by a vote of 5-1 (Harkin’s wife, Ruth, and former ISU President Gregory Geoffrey abstained) to recommend Senator Harkin not donate his papers to Iowa State.

Senator Harkin and Iowa State University administrators were at odds over how the official papers would be used.  The disagreement prompted the emergency meeting Tuesday evening.

The board didn’t release an agenda for the meeting ahead of time, even the institute’s Director Dave Peterson didn’t know what was coming.

Listen to the full board meeting below:

The final vote included five yes, and one no vote. Harkin's wife, Ruth, who sits on the Board of Regents and former ISU President Gregory Geoffrey abstained.

Shortly after the board members announced their vote, Senator Harkin sent a letter to Iowa State University President Steven Leath saying he would not be giving the papers to the university.

Read the full letter to President Leath here.

Leath released a response that read:

Over the past several months, I have sincerely tried to resolve differences over the operation of the Harkin Institute in an effort to make the institute a successful and highly respected center for public policy research at Iowa State University.  However, it is apparent today that members of the advisory board rejected these efforts. This is an unfortunate development, and I am extremely disappointed.

The criticism that my Jan. 2, 2013 guideline for research conducted by the Harkin Institute violates principles of academic freedom is completely unfounded and false.  In reality, my directive lifted any and all restrictions originally placed upon the Harkin Institute (which were adopted prior to my arrival at Iowa State), and instead simply requested that the institute function in a cooperative and collaborative manner with existing units on campus.  Surprisingly, even that request has been considered unacceptable by certain institute stakeholders. I should also note that the University’s Chief Academic Officer, faculty leadership and even the director of the institute itself, have all voiced their support for my position, and all have stated that academic freedom is not being challenged or tested with respect to the institute.  And to that point, I want to reassure all Iowans that academic freedom is and always will be respected and upheld at Iowa State University. 

I cannot say at this time whether the Harkin Institute will continue to function. 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. I welcomed the opportunity to talk with Sen. Harkin, to again assure him there was no issue of academic freedom here, and that his papers would have been fully available to everyone with no restrictions.

The future of the Harkin Institute and the final home of the papers remains unclear. Interim Director Dave Peterson couldn't say whether the institute could continue without Harkin's papers.

On Sunday, Harkin told Channel 13’s Dave Price that he could give the papers to Drake University instead.