By Jon Ericson
CEDAR FALLS Iowa --- Last weekend Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement protested at the homes of Gov. Terry Branstad's staff to remove agribusiness leader Bruce Rastetter from the Iowa Board of Regents.
On Tuesday night, the group met in Cedar Falls to talk strategy to oust Rastetter from the board which governs the state's public universities.
CCI filed an ethics complaint with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign board in June over Rastetter's involvement with Iowa State University and AgriSol Energy, a business led by Rastetter working to buy and develop farm land in Tanzania.
Representatives for Rastetter and Branstad have denied a conflict of interest between Rastetter's work on the board and AgriSol. However, Rastetter recused himself from discussing issues of AgriSol and Iowa State last September.
More than 40 people turned out at the Cedar Falls Recreation Center for the "Fire Rastetter" session. Some were longtime CCI members, others were involved in Occupy Cedar Falls or groups that fought against the closure of the Malcolm Price Laboratory School.
Critics of AgriSol, including CCI, Food and Water Watch and the Oakland Institute, say the Tanzania project will uproot 160,000 refugees from Burundi, some of whom have been farming in Tanzania for decades. AgriSol investors have said the project has components that will help small local farmers improve their methods.
Iowa State was brought on board with the project to provide services and training to farmers in the area. The university cut ties to AgriSol in February. Rastetter made a $1.75 million donation to the entrepreneurship program of Iowa State's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Speakers at the Tuesday event said the Rastetter AgriSol controversy is just one example of how corporations are taking more control of universities in Iowa and across the nation.
"Bruce Rastetter is a real egregious example of what you see as far as corporate influence at our public universities," said Tim Schwab of Food and Water Watch. His watchdog group also has signed on to CCI's ethics complaint.
CCI and Food and Water Watch gave out petitions to those in attendance to encourage people to sign on to remove Rastetter from the Regents.
The group started planning to be present at the Aug. 3 Board of Regents meeting in Cedar Falls as well as the Aug. 23 meeting of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, where that board will decide whether to further investigate the Rastetter ethics complaint.
"We're really facing issues of the encroachment of corporate power into our institutions. We are seeing more and more of that in higher education," said Joe Gorton, a criminology professor at the University of Northern Iowa.
More anti-Rastetter sessions are planned Wednesday in Iowa City and Thursday in Ames.