Harkin, Iowa State University caught in feud

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 12: U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) testifies during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee July 12, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was focused on the ratification of the U.S. on T.Doc.112-7, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has cut ties with an institute bearing his name at Iowa State University amid questions about the institute's fundraising and a dispute over the scope of the institute's research.

Harkin, a near 40-year veteran of Capitol Hill who will retire when his current term elapses in 2015, announced on Tuesday evening that he would not donate papers documenting his congressional career to the Harkin Institute of Public Policy at Iowa State, his alma mater. Harkin, who had previously agreed to donate his papers to the institute, argued that doubts about the institute's academic freedom had caused him to change his mind.

"I regret that this did not work out as we had all hoped at the beginning," Harkin said.

The problems began when Harkin, who has played a key role in agricultural policymaking during his long career in Congress, discovered a memorandum barring the institute from studying agriculture last summer.

After Harkin and the institute's advisory board protested, university President Steven Leath amended the memo to say that any research the institute conducts on subjects located elsewhere on campus "is expected to be planned, conducted, and published in a cooperative, collaborative manner," reports the Associated Press.

The professor who directs the institute, David Peterson, called the updated memorandum meaningless "bureaucratic linedrawing," noting that professors fiercely safeguard their academic freedom and would raise hell if they felt it was being abridged.

Nevertheless, Harkin and the board were unassuaged - after the board voted 5-1 to recommend that Harkin abandon his planned donation of his papers, the senator explained that he agreed with the board's assessment that the administration's proposals "have damaged the institute to such an extent that it would never be able to flourish at Iowa State."

President Leath called Harkin's complaints about academic freedom "completely unfounded and false," saying he was very disappointed in the outcome of the dispute.

The institute has also been dogged by questions about its fundraising - among the largest donors was a South Korean businessman whose metals company could have benefitted from Harkin's proposal to replace the $1 bill with a coin. According to email records, Harkin's top fundraiser provided Iowa State with a list of individuals and businesses to solicit, but Harkin noted that he had not personally requested any donations.