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The Elbert Files: Mary Andringa chose wisely


The resignation of Vermeer Corp.’s Mary Andringa from the Iowa Board of Regents probably has less to do with an imagined conflict of interest than it does with dysfunction at the University of Iowa.

Andringa said she was leaving the nine-member board because she underestimated the amount of time involved in governing the state’s three universities.

A follow-up story implied she quit because she serves on the board of Herman Miller, the national furniture supply company that had, through a series of complicated events, received a no-bid extension of an existing contract to supply furniture to the U of I.

Horsefeathers. Andringa most likely quit for the reason she said. 

But if that wasn’t it, I’d suggest that a series of events dating back to the controversy surrounding the hiring of non-academician Bruce Harreld as president played into her thinking.

Recent news stories about the U of I have ranged from the absurd to the silly. My favorite appeared under the headline: “UI athletics see $228,000 deficit for Rose Bowl.” 

It said the $2.5 million payout Iowa received for appearing in the Rose Bowl did not cover the school’s expenses for the game. It went on to say that this year’s Rose Bowl expenses were $875,000 more than the $1.85 million it cost a year earlier for a trip to the TaxSlayer Bowl.

What’s worse was that a week earlier the Daily Iowan, the university’s student newspaper, had quoted President Harreld saying the athletic department needed to begin sharing revenue with academics. 

What the article didn’t say was that before athletics can share the wealth, there has to be positive cash flow. 

What it could not say was that an unwritten rule of college athletics is that as long as Iowa keeps getting invited to bowl games, school officials will celebrate and overspend on transportation, lodging and entertainment and wipe out any net gain. 

A couple of days after the Rose Bowl deficit story, the regents voted to raise room and board rates for students. To be clear, there was no connection between the rate hikes for students and the fumbled Rose Bowl finances. 

Nor was there a connection to an earlier story by Associated Press writer Ryan Foley pointing out the failure by regents President Bruce Rastetter to pay $3.5 million of an 8-year-old, $5 million pledge to the university.

But while all of that was taking place, some folks were trying to make it look like Andringa had a conflict of interests because of her previously declared connection with Herman Miller.

Who can blame her for deciding that such shenanigans were not what she signed up for?  

Iowans know that Andringa is an exceptional executive. She built the Pella-based company founded by her father Gary Vermeer into a world-class manufacturer of specialty equipment. 

She’s used to managing skilled and creative people in the private sector, not dealing with the skullduggery and backstabbing often found in academics and politics. 

Pig walker: Have you seen the TV commercial that features a white pot-bellied pig? It’s a cute bit that features a miniature pig in a harness being walked by two confident adults who end up in a Chase Bank office talking with a retirement planner.

The actor in the 30-second spot is Des Moines native Jim Turner, an alumnus of Duck’s Breath Mystery Theatre, the performance group that formed in Iowa City during the 1970s.

The commercial has been appearing a lot lately on news and sports channels, which is a good thing, according to Jim’s father, Iowa golfing legend George Turner. 

“Jim gets paid a set amount each time it airs,” George said. Even better, he added, the ad is one of a series of upcoming Chase spots that feature Jim (and presumably the pig).


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