Iowans Petition to Censure Rastetter At ‘After AgriSol’ Forum
More than 70 Iowans called Saturday for the censure of Iowa Board of Regents’ president pro tem Bruce Rastetter for his role in a large-scale private agriculture deal in Tanzania at a community teach-in hosted by Occupy Ames and Occupy ISU at Ames City Hall.
Residents and students signed a petition addressed to Gov. Terry Branstad to censure Rastetter “on grounds of gross conflict of interest” for his involvement with Iowa State University and Iowa-based AgriSol Energy, a private agricultural company.
Event organizers said they anticipate more signatures will come in as they begin circulating the petition online in the next few weeks.
Joe Murphy, spokesperson for Rastetter, condemned the petition.
“It’s unfortunate that people misconstrue facts and what the real goals of the project are,” Murphy said. “The goal of this project is to lead people out of poverty and give people a better life.”
At the event, “After AgriSol: Defining a University’s Ethics and Interests in a Corporate World,” more than 100 Ames residents, legislators and ISU students packed into Council Chambers to weigh in on ISU’s relationship with AgriSol.
The forum focused on the role of land-grant universities and ethics behind public-private partnerships.
The ISU-AgriSol partnership was put in the hot seat.
Attendees and panelists blasted ISU for engaging in the project, which initially planned to develop large-scale farms on two plots of land currently occupied by refugees from Burundi. AgriSol since has scaled back its plans and currently is moving forward only in an unoccupied region of Tanzania.
Panelist Francis Thicke, formerly of the Iowa Food Policy Council and a former candidate for Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, and members of the audience called on ISU to draft a policy for how it plans to engage with foreign nations in future projects.
The public also needs to take back the reins on the university’s research agenda, the panelists said.
But since ISU discontinued its role in the partnership in February, it has remained largely tight-lipped about its involvement.
Saturday’s event was no different.
All members of the Iowa Board of Regents, ISU President Steven Leath and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Wendy Wintersteen declined invitations to the forum.
Former state representative Paul Johnson, one of seven panelists, criticized ISU for stonewalling discussion about its role in the project saying, “there’s a reverse political correctness” at ISU.
“There’s pressure to not have an open conversation about things,” he said, “and if you do, you might be in trouble.”
Representatives from AgriSol Energy also were absent. AgriSol spokesperson Henry Akona, who was contacted after the forum, said the company does not plan to release an official statement on the event.
Fred Kirschenmann, distinguished fellow at ISU’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, said he was “disappointed” ISU and AgriSol representatives didn’t show up to join in the discussion.
“We should have both sides of this issue here at this debate so it would be a real conversation so that we could address each other and explore how we could move forward,” he said. “They should be here.”