ISU loosens ag research limits at Harkin institute

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The president of Iowa State University has withdrawn restrictions on the Harkin Institute of Public Policy's ability to research agriculture in an effort to end a dispute over academic freedom, a spokesman said Friday.

ISU President Steven Leath issued a memo Wednesday replacing a November order that allowed the institute to conduct agriculture research only if it related to Sen. Tom Harkin's papers and received the approval of the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development, or CARD. No other research into agriculture was allowed.

Leath has said he imposed the restrictions to avoid duplication and protect the prominence of CARD, which has a top-notch reputation and has been on campus since 1958. He noted that agricultural groups that work closely with the university also supported them.

But the restrictions were opposed by the institute's advisory board, which called on Leath to remove them. Harkin's supporters, including his wife, Ruth, argued that it made no sense to restrict such research, given that Harkin had chaired the Senate agriculture committee and played a key role in passing two farm bills.

Tom Harkin also weighed in, raising the prospect that he would donate his papers elsewhere if the restrictions were not removed. Drake University officials had expressed interest in housing them if the deal at Iowa State, Harkin's alma mater, fell apart.

Leath's new memo seeks to reach a middle ground, but it wasn't immediately clear how it would be received. It says that all public policy research conducted by the institute focusing on subjects found elsewhere on campus "is expected to be planned, conducted and published in a cooperative, collaborative manner."

In the "rare occasion" where conflicts arise over research projects between the institute and other units, the university's provost will have the responsibility to mediate them, Leath wrote.

"Being that we have many successful Institutes and Centers on our campus, we must preserve their role which has been so important to the University and to our constituencies as well as to ensure the success of the Harkin Institute," he wrote. "The successful collaboration across campus will enable the Harkin Institute to help Iowa State maintain and improve upon its status as a national leader in public policy research and scholarship."

Leath issued the memo in the spirit of compromise and to keep the Harkin Institute's development moving forward, spokesman John McCarroll said. He said the president expects the institute, which has been operating informally, to develop formal bylaws and operating guidelines. Once those are in place, Leath will formally appoint members to the advisory board, the composition of which has been subject to confusion.

Ruth Harkin, for instance, has been acting as a member of the advisory board, but the university says it has no official document showing her appointment to that role. The board isn't expected to make a formal response to Leath's new memo until its February meeting.

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