April 10, 2014

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, a 1962 Iowa State University graduate, said he is disturbed by reports this week of violence associated with his alma mater's annual spring Veishea celebration.

"Maybe that's just the end of it," Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, said on a conference call this morning with The Daily Times Herald and other media.

ISU President Steven Leath Wednesday cancelled the remainder of Veishea this year following what Des Moines news organizations characterized as "riots" late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning in the university's Campustown area.

"Maybe it needs to be changed to something else other than a lot of drinking and violent activities," Harkin said of the celebration, which started in 1922.

Leath will appoint a task force to examine the future of Veishea. He said he expects to hear recommendations from the task force and make a decision about future celebrations within the coming months.

"A safe environment is our No. 1 priority," Leath said. "Unfortunately, the true purpose of Veishea has been overshadowed by too many acts of this nature, which jeopardize the safety of our students and our community."

According to KCCI-TV in Des Moines, rioters filled the streets in the late hours of Tuesday and early Wednesday, stretching about a block and a half from Stanton Avenue to Lincoln Way, some of them on top of nearby buildings, throwing off beer cans, fireworks and rocks. At least one person was seriously injured and flown to a Des Moines hospital after a light pole fell on his head, the television station reported.

"When I was a student at Iowa State, we had Veishea but we didn't do stuff like that," Harkin said on the conference call. "We built floats and we had a lot of parties. We blocked off streets and had street parties. But I don't remember having that kind of violence. We just didn't. It's just a shame. I always thought Veishea was a good celebration."

Harkin said he appreciated the academic components of the event.

"I was a regular Navy (ROTC) student and so we didn't engage in any kind of stuff," Harkin said.

Harkin said he suspects the main problem is with a minority of students.

"The students maybe ought to do some more structural policing of their own," Harkin said.

He added, "I always remember Veishea as kind of a fun time."

Riots and other violence marred Veishea celebrations in 1988, 1992, 1994 and 2004.