Harkin Institute clashes with Iowa State


Sen. Tom Harkin speaks at the opening of the Story County Democrats’ new office July 1, 2012. 

Frances Myers

A controversy has risen between Iowa State and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin and his advisory board about activity relating to the Harkin Institute of Public Policy.

According to the Ames Tribune, President Steven Leath issued a directive for the Harkin Institute with three stipulations:

“Any agriculture research conducted by the Harkin Institute will be directly related to Harkin’s policy papers, and any policy reports will be issued jointly with [the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development]; [the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development] must approve of and play the lead role in any research that Harkin Institute does related to agriculture, and the center must not conduct any work in the area of agriculture that is not related to Harkin’s papers and also approved by [the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development].”

According to their website, Iowa State’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development “conducts innovative public policy and economic research on agricultural, environmental, and food issues. CARD uniquely combines academic excellence with engagement and anticipatory thinking to inform and benefit society.”

CARD, founded in 1958, is “one of the oldest and best known centers focusing on agricultural policy” in the country, according to a statement by Catherine Kling, the center’s interim director, in the Ames Tribune.

According to information in both the Ames Tribune and the Des Moines Register, the main controversy is between members of the Harkin advisory board/Board of Regents, who believe Leath’s directive is an example of academic freedom infringement. Leath, certain ISU faculty members, and other members of the Board of Regents state this is not their intent.

Their intent, they said, was to prevent the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development and the Harkin Institute from duplicating work, according to the Des Moines Register.

This is not the first time the Harkin Institute has come under fire since being established two years ago. Back in 2011, the institute was criticized by many high-ranking Republicans, according to the Ames Tribune, for being named after Harkin, a Democrat and sitting U.S. senator.

Despite the disagreements over the name, the institute was approved on a 6-2-1 vote by the Board of Regents in April 2011, according to the Ames Tribune.

The Harkin Institute was established without any restrictions in 2011 to research issues related to agriculture, education, international development, and health and human services, according to the Des Moines Register. In the original application for the institute, it was overlooked that there was already a research institute in place for agricultural policy.

In an open forum with students Wednesday night, Leath said, “When the institute was formed, there was a mistake. They said there was no existing centers or institutes at Iowa State. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Harkin Institute, it was formed a couple years ago but our ag policy center [CARD] has been here for over 50 years.”

“So there was a problem there. President Geoffrey made it clear at the meeting when the Harkin Institute was passed, he would narrow the scope of the institute from the broad language and he did that. He forbid them from working on ag policy. The Harkin Institute advisory board didn’t like that. They came to me and I actually broadened the scope and told them they could work on ag policy individually as faculty members of course, but no restrictions. We don’t put any restrictions on academic freedom.”

Leath said at the institute level, the restrictions have actually been loosened compared to the way they were.

“Where we go next, I’m not sure,” Leath said.  

Leath said in a statement to the Des Moines Register that the Regents “erred in not pointing out that the institute’s mission would overlap with [CARD].” He also stated he will be conducting a detailed review of the matter before issuing a response.

If a compromise is unable to be reached between Iowa State and the Board of Regents, the Board of Regents will take up the matter.

Continue to check back with the Daily for more updates.