Controversy brewed when the Iowa Board of Regents hired Bruce Harreld as the new president of the University of Iowa.

In early September, the board named Harreld, a corporate management expert with little higher education experience, as the successor to the retiring Sally Mason.

The selection of Harreld, a former senior vice president at IBM and lecturer at Harvard Business School, stirred criticism among professors and students who see him as unqualified.

The Iowa Board of Regents picked Harreld over three more traditional candidates, Oberlin College President Marvin Krislov, Ohio State University Provost Joseph Steinmetz and Tulane University Provost Michael Bernstein. He will replace Sally Mason, who retired last month after leading the university since 2007.

Board President Bruce Rastetter, a businessman and appointee of Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, said Harreld was a proven leader, team builder and strategic thinker. He said the selection sends the message that the “status quo is unacceptable” at the Big Ten school of 31,000 students. He described Harreld as an innovator who will improve academic programs and confront financial challenges.

“We really believe we have a great university but we want to see that opportunity become larger and greater going forward,” Rastetter said.

He said he had a history of managing institutions through “major strategic headwinds” such as those facing higher education.

During a campus forum in September, Harreld told a skeptical, at times hostile crowd that his experience transforming businesses such as IBM and Kraft Foods would help the university improve its academic rankings, navigate intense competition for students and top academic talent, and make do with a shrinking level of taxpayer funding.

In October, several hundred people held a protest at the Iowa Board of Regents meeting at the university in Iowa City. The students, professors and others interrupted the meeting for about five minutes.

Protestors chanted “hey, hey, ho, ho, the Board of Regents has got to go” before slowly filtering out of the ballroom of the University of Iowa student union.

Harreld said he was honored, calling his selection as president “a watershed moment for a great institution.” He said he has a lot to learn and was ready to work with those critical of his credentials.

“I’m the first to admit that my unusual background requires a lot of help and a lot of coaching,” Harreld said. “I need to reach out to the people who legitimately think I’m not qualified or have gaps and say, help me.”

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