Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Curing a Cancer on the Academy

August 27, 2014, 7:10 a.m.; August 20, 2014, 1:10 p.m.

Notes: (1) This morning [Aug. 27] the Iowa City Press-Citizen published a hard copy and online opinion column drawn from this blog essay. It is reproduced below.

(2) Near the bottom of this blog essay is a list of "Prior College Football-Related Blog Essays, 2010-2014." They are grouped by: "The College Football Industry (impact, economics, crime, future)," "Football's Ties to Alcohol," "Football's Ties to Gambling," and "Impact of Fans on Stadium Neighborhood." (Not listed are additional football-related blog essays from 2006-2009.)
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We have a cancer--within, close to the Presidency, that's growing. It's growing daily. It's compounding, it grows geometrically now because it compounds itself.
--John Dean to President Richard Nixon, March 21, 1973
"Transcript of a Recording of a Meeting Among the President, John Dean, and H.R. Haldeman in the Oval Office," March 21, 2073, 10:13 to 11:55 a.m.," Watergate Trial Conversations, Nixon Presidential Library & Museum.
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John Dean, President Nixon's Chief White House Counsel, famously warned his boss that the Watergate burglary was like a cancer growing on the Presidency.

I'm no doctor, but with the opening of yet another college football season, somebody needs to tell the presidents of the big money football schools about the cancer growing on "the academy."

There have been earlier diagnoses of this disease.

In 1906, when college football was killing 15 to 20 players a year, and permanently disabling 150 more, the President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, told college presidents he'd outlaw the sport unless they made it safer. Reluctantly, they organized and agreed to require helmets -- ultimately evolving into today's NCAA. Weiler, et al, Sports and the Law, p. 747.

My friend, Robert Maynard Hutchins, was appointed President of the University of Chicago when he was 30 years old. He considered Chicago's football program a distraction from the school's educational mission, pulled out of the Big Ten, and simply abolished the program. ( "Hutchins heaped scorn upon schools which received more press coverage for their sports teams than for their educational programs, and [gained] the trustee support he needed to drop football in 1939.")

Although Hutchins' analysis and solution are even more persuasive now than 75 years ago, few politically perceptive football critics are today advocating the death penalty for football -- nor am I. If parents and players know the health risks, taxpayers know the costs, fans and TV viewers want to invest their time (and money) watching, the libertarian position seems pretty clear. We will continue to have football.

Moreover, there is a win-win cure for this cancer on the academy that would solve current challenges confronting both higher education and big-money college football.

The cancer has metastasized its conflicts of interest for everyone in higher education who touches it. University presidents find it easier to capitulate to athletic directors and coaches than to fight (Penn State). Non-tenured professors have to weigh how flunking a football starter may affect their career. Coaches must give a nod to players' academic performance, but know that their own multi-million-dollar salaries are much more closely tied to their players' on-field performance. When players' become criminal defendants, ideals of players' personal integrity may conflict with a team's ability to win games. Conventional students are excluded from participation, suspect favoritism for team members, and use football as an additional excuse for drunkenness. Players who really would like a substantive college education are forced to choose between lab time and scheduled practices.

As this photo of a Kinnick scoreboard ad reveals, athletic directors are forced to rationalize why it's OK to take advertising and sky box dollars from the alcohol and gambling industries. The IRS struggles with the propriety of granting tax deductions when fans make "contributions" to a big-money football program as a condition of the opportunity to buy better tickets. [Photo credit: Nicholas Johnson.]

Inevitably, the college administrators, who want to put the best possible face on their schools for the benefit of reassuring parents, attracting students, favorably impressing other academics, granting authorities, Regents, legislators, and the public, are left trying to explain away football's controversial externalities. There are the players' criminal records, the football-associated student binge drinking and sexual assaults, the associated reputation as one of the nation's top "party" schools, the fans' trash throughout the stadium's neighborhood, and charges that painting the opponents' locker room pink is unacceptably anti-feminist -- things for which "the university" is not really responsible, but which challenge its administrators and tarnish its reputation anyway; e.g., Kembrew McLeod, "Pink Locker Room Doesn't Even Pass the Giggle Test," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 26, 2014, p. A5. [Photo credit: Des Moines Register, 2006.]

These days, the conflicts, chaos, and controversies are making life more difficult for the big-money football programs as well.

The NCAA still lives in its dreamworld of the 1906 academically accomplished students who played football without helmets just for the fun of it, and the college professors who doubled as their volunteer coaches. This vision becomes increasingly difficult to market now that, as CNN reports, the 68 top teams took in $2.2 billion in 2010. Chris Isidore, "College Football's $1.1 Billion Profit," CNN Money, December 29, 2010. The highest paid public employee in most states is some school's football coach. Student athletes? How many schools pay department heads millions of dollars a year? (For the details by school see ESPN's shocking, revealing, "College Athletics Revenues and Expenses - 2008." As just one example, the Hawkeyes ranked 16th that year by revenue. Of the top 17 schools, 7 gave their students free admission to the games played by their "student-athletes." The Hawkeyes still consider the UI's students as "customers" rather than students and charges them significant ticket prices to attend the games played by "their" school's fellow "students.")

College players want to unionize, to be paid more of their full costs of attending college, and a share of the millions the schools make off of their likenesses and jersey numbers in fantasy football video games and clothing sales. Byron Tau, "NCAA Hires New Lobbyists for Amateurism Fight," Politico, June 13, 2014 ("The NCAA is facing a number of existential legal and legislative threats to its current system of unpaid student-athletes").

"No pain no gain" is football's mantra. Players want compensation for the healthcare costs from football related concussions and other injuries that may last a lifetime -- a minor form of which is portrayed in this photo of an injured Iowa tackle, Brandon Scherff, screaming in pain during Penn State game at Kinnick, October 20, 2012. [Photo credit: John Schultz/Quad City Times, Oct. 21, 2012.]

Conferences are expanding. The once-midwest-centered "Big Ten" schools are now 14, including Penn State, Rutgers, and Maryland -- well to the east of Iowa. The football-wealthiest schools, and their conferences, have just negotiated a withdrawal from some of the NCAA's restrictive regulations.

In short, from a variety of perspectives this is not your great grandfather's college football.

So what's the win-win cancer cure for America's universities and their big-money football programs?

Start by recognizing them for what they are -- profit-making, commercial organizations, serving as farm clubs for the NFL (even if only 1.6% of college players will be NFL draftees), organizations largely disconnected from the research, scholarship, and classroom instruction of their loosely affiliated university. Spin them off, leaving them free from NCAA regulation and the conflicts inherent in their association with higher education. As for-profit corporations they will be less subject to criticism for what their boards of directors agree to pay their coaches -- and players. Remove the requirement that the players pretend to be college students during the football season and associated practice times.

The rest is "administrative detail" -- detail admittedly not insignificant, and possibly even deal-breaking. But detail that is not the central issue. The separate commercial football corporations could continue to lease the facilities (Kinnick Stadium) and name (Hawkeyes) they were using before. (It's unlikely any school would require a football stadium as a venue for a poetry reading.) Players who wanted to get a college education might be given some special consideration as a result of an agreement between the team and the formerly-associated school -- such as, say, a degree program requiring only attendance during spring semesters. But there would be no requirement that they be "college students."

Once the major college football teams are out from under the NCAA's regulations, there should be no problems with the professional leagues' requirements. It is at least already possible in some situations for high school athletes who have not attended college to join a professional team in the NBA, NFL, NHL, or a professional baseball team's farm club.

Could all this be accomplished before the Hawkeyes' opener against University of Northern Iowa this forthcoming Saturday, August 30? Of course not. Maybe it won't even be accomplished during my lifetime (given my age). But it's an idea that needs to be back on the table as a possible win-win solution to a battery of conflicts and other challenges confronting millions of Americans.

When there is a cure for a cancer of any kind -- whether on the presidency of the United States, or the presidencies of major universities -- it does seem a shame not to make use of it.

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Prior College Football-Related Blog Essays, 2010-2014

The College Football Industry (impact, economics, crime, future)

"The $100 Million Hawkeyes' Football Team; Hawks: "How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Dollars," Aug. 28, 2010

"Coach Ferentz Provides Classy Variety of Wins; Winning Isn't Everything," Nov. 22, 2010

"Fandom; Super Bowl, Super Mystery," Jan. 30, 2011

"Super Boosters' Super Bowl; Campions' Wins Can Be Taxpayers' Losses; Lessons for Iowa," Feb. 8, 2011

"Crisis Communications 101; There Are Three Steps," Feb. 14, 2011

"Hawkeye Football Players' Criminal Records; We're Number Two! We're Number Two!," March 3, 2011

"Felons as Student Athletes; Felons on the Field; From District Court to Basketball Court; Do Hawkeyes Check Criminal Records Before Awarding Scholarships? March 27, 2011

"College Football Scandals Larger Lessons; Football's Privileged Tip of Abuses by Powerful," Nov. 8, 2011

"Peak Oil, Peak Football; $80,000 for the Seat; $3750/Year to Sit In It," Jan. 21, 2012

"What America Most Highly Values; In 23 of 50 States It's Football Coaches," Aug. 16, 2013

Football's Ties to Alcohol (and see, "Impact of Fans on Stadium Neighborhood," below)

"A Busch in the Hand is Worth . . . Who Knows? They Won't Tell Us," June 16, 2012

"'We're # 2!' . . . in Campus Drunks; Coach: Players Should Drink in Dorms, Not Downtown," Aug. 21, 2012

"UI Administrators 'Shocked' By School's Beer Ads; Who Could Have Guessed?" Aug. 30, 2012

Football's Ties to Gambling

"Does Herky Have a Gambling Problem? NCAA vs. Hawkeyes," Jan. 25, 2012

Impact of Fans on Stadium Neighborhood

"Football Trash Talk; Iowa City: Where Great Minds Drink Alike," Sept. 12, 2012

"Anheuser-Busch, UI & Hawks a Win-Win-Win; Advertising Pays," Sept. 17, 2012

"Clean Streets and Creative Consumption," Sept. 30, 2012

"'GO, HAWKS!' -- Just Not in My Yard; Homecoming's Public Urination," Oct. 5, 2013

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Note: On August 27, 2014, the Iowa City Press-Citizen ran excerpts from this blog essay as an op ed column. Its online version is reproduced below; [brackets] identify the text as submitted, and contained in the online version, that was deleted from the hard copy version.

Let's Stop Making Players Pretend to Be Students
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 27, 2014, p. A11

John Dean, President Nixon’s chief White House counsel, famously warned his boss in 1973 that the Watergate burglary was a cancer growing on his presidency.

With the opening of the college football season, somebody needs to warn the presidents of big-money football schools that there’s a cancer growing on their presidency.

There have been earlier diagnoses of disease.

In 1906, when college football was killing 15 to 20 players a year, and permanently disabling 150 more, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt told college presidents he’d outlaw the sport unless they made it safer. Reluctantly, they agreed to require helmets and organized what became today’s NCAA.

University of Chicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins considered Chicago’s football team a distraction, scorned colleges that received more publicity from sports than educational programs, and with trustee support simply abolished football in 1939.

Hutchins’ analysis and solution are even more persuasive today. But few politically perceptive football critics advocate the death penalty — nor do I. So long as parents and players know the health risks, taxpayers know the costs, fans know its cost in time and money, and all still want football, we’ll have it.

Moreover, there is a win-win cure for this cancer that would solve current challenges confronting both higher education and big-money college football.

The cancer has metastasized its conflicts of interest for everyone in higher education. University presidents find it easier to capitulate to coaches than fight (Penn State). Athletic directors must rationalize taking advertising and skybox dollars from the alcohol and gambling industries. [Coaches must encourage players’ academic performance, while their multi-million-dollar salaries turn on players’ on-field performance. Non-tenured professors fear flunking players.] Players who do seek a college education must choose between lab time and scheduled practice.

Nor is the current system loved by the big-money football programs.

The NCAA lives in a 1906 dream world peopled with academically accomplished students playing football without helmets just for fun, and the college professors who doubled as their volunteer coaches. This vision is an increasingly tough sell when the highest paid public employees in most states are football coaches, and their college football industry grosses billions of dollars a year.

College players want to unionize, to be paid the full costs of attending college, and a share of the millions schools make from their likenesses in video games. They want reimbursement for the healthcare costs of football-related concussions and other injuries that may last a lifetime.

[Conferences are expanding. The once-midwest-centered Big “Ten” schools are now 14, including Penn State, Rutgers, and Maryland -- well to the east of Iowa. The football-wealthiest schools, and their conferences, have just negotiated a withdrawal from some of the NCAA’s restrictive regulations.]

[In short, this is not your great grandfather’s college football.]

What’s the win-win cancer cure?

Recognize the big-money college football programs for what they are — profit-making, commercial entertainment organizations, serving as farm clubs for the NFL (even if only 1.6 percent of college players will be NFL draftees), substantially disconnected from the research, scholarship, and classroom instruction of their schools.

Free them from NCAA regulations and their inherent conflicts. Remove the requirement players must pretend to be college students.

The rest is administrative detail. Most professional leagues already have provisions for players who’ve not attended college. Perhaps the football corporations could lease their former facilities (Kinnick Stadium) and name (Hawkeyes). Players who want an education might have a degree program permitting spring-semester-only enrollment.

When there is a win-win cure for a cancer of any kind, it’s a shame to refuse even to talk about it.

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Nicholas Johnson, a former FCC commissioner and sports law professor, provides more on this and other subjects at FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

How 'bout Them Regents!!

August 5, 2014, 12:45 p.m.

Note: UPDATES are provided, below, as they occur.

Excessive Expenses vs. Petty Punctiliousness

Every once in awhile the Iowa Board of Regents comes up a whopper that, admittedly, can be viewed from a number of angles. It's just that it produces either laughter or tears anyway you look at it.

Now they've done it again with the global business consulting conglomerate they agreed to pay millions of dollars to suggest ways their already-penny-pinching universities might become more "efficient." See, "Delight Consultants: How to Increase UI's Iowans," June 14, 2014; "What Is It With the Iowa State Board of Regents?!" Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 16, 2014, p. A7, embedded in "Iowa's Economic Foundation? Graduate Education & Research," May 5, 2014; "April 1 Update: Early Deloitte Efficiency Proposals; Early Revelations Shock UI Faculty, Staff," April 1, 2014; and "UI Says, 'Deloitted to Meet You,'" March 29, 2014, with ongoing updates.

This morning's Gazette brings us the latest in this tragi-comic series. Vanessa Miller, "Consultant Expenses $220,000 Without Receipts; Regent Says Board 'Should Go Back and Review This,'" The Gazette, August 5, 2014, p. A1.

As the headline suggests, apparently this Regents' effort to uncover previously unknown possible "efficiencies" in higher education was itself somewhat lacking in minimal efficiency. The Regents simply agreed to pay the "expenses" of their new best friend's undertaking, with its ever-escalating price tag of millions, without any agreement regarding receipts, per diem, or other limits. Isn't that an "efficiency" taught in the first semester of business school?

At the outset, this raises the possibility that it is Iowa's state universities that ought to hire a consultant to look for possible "efficiencies" in the Regents' operations -- since the money the Regents unnecessarily spend is that much less available for educating Iowa's students.

Second, the universities are required to monitor employees' "expenses" with an army of bean counters of the most petty punctilious persuasion. Actual receipts must be filed, and may even be challenged. So here is an example of the Regents willingness to put more trust in a bunch of strangers from a global conglomerate than they are willing to accord their own faculty and staff members -- either that, or a lack of knowledge of their own standards and procedures, or a simple sloppiness in overlooking the need to come up with some way of addressing the issue of a contractor's expenses.

Third, while I would never advocate any institution operate, as the Regents did in this case, with no attention at all to "expenses," if one is truly interested in "efficiencies" I do think there is much to be said for the per diem approach. Can you imagine how many person hours are involved in a large institution that insists every item of an employee's reimbursable travel expense, no matter how small, be accompanied with the original receipt? The employee must gather, sort, and save each receipt, and then itemize each expense, and accompany the reimbursement form with each little scrap of paper. There must then be an institutional staff of individuals who receive, examine, and match to the form each receipt. When there are questions or ambiguity on either end, there will be phone calls and emails. If disputes arise there must be some procedure for their resolution. Future disparities will occasionally show up when the ultimate reimbursement does not match what was submitted on the form. If the employee is smart, he or she will make machine copies of everything. And all of this will have to be filed both by the employee and the bookkeeper/accountant.

With a per diem, by contrast, an estimate is made of what reasonable mileage, hotel and meals would be, per day, and that amount is given the employee. If he or she decides to walk instead of drive, sleep under bridges, and beg for bread in the streets, they can keep the per diem. On the other hand, if they'd like to stay in five-star resorts and eat at gourmet restaurants they can do that -- paying the increase over per diem out of their own pocket. Nobody needs to collect receipts. Nobody needs to confirm requests for reimbursement. You want efficiency? That's efficiency.

I don't know if I've ever billed the UI for expenses; certainly not for as far back as I can remember. But I'm told what the UI is forced to do is the worst of all possible worlds: a per diem is designated, but not paid; it is merely the maximum an employee can be reimbursed in exchange for the actual expenses supported by detailed original receipts.

So that's the possible win-win out of this late-night-talk-show-quality episode: the Regents learn that (a) they have to do something about controlling contractor's expenses, and (b) if they are truly looking for efficiencies, they might try putting faculty and staff on per diem allowances with no requirement for receipts.
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UPDATES
August 6, 2014

(1) Yesterday (August 5), as noted and linked above, The Gazette provided the story that inspired yesterday's blog essay. Today (August 6) its editorial, reproduced below, took a similar approach to the issues. Editorial, "Regents Should Seek Receipts," The Gazette, August 6, 2014, p. A8.

(2) With a masterful sense of timing, Deloitte has responded to the embarrassing $220,000-plus unverified "expenses" story with the announcement that the savings its efforts are going to bring about -- from just one of its little ideas among many -- will save the universities $193 million. The idea? Stop favoring Iowa businesses and workers with the universities' purchases, and shop from the lowest cost (third world wages) global conglomerates instead. (a) That may be an idea, but it's not necessarily a good idea. (b) Even if it were, it might not be politically possible; it's an "academic," "theoretical" suggestion of the kind for which "ivory-tower professors" are often ridiculed. (c) In any event, it's the kind of thing that everybody knows, for which Deloitte should not be given credit as an excuse for its $3 million-plus contract and $220,000 expenses. The Iowa Legislature, Board of Regents, and universities' administrators may or may not know precisely how much more they are paying for in-state purchases, but I rather suspect they are all very much aware that their purchasing preferences sometimes produce higher prices. Vanessa Miller, "Deloitte Projects Savings at $193 Million; Regent Concerned About Disadvantaging Iowa Companies," The Gazette, August 6, 2014, p. A1.

(3) Although no one has commented about this, I want to concede that my blog essay's description of per diem expenses practices in general, and at the state's universities in particular -- while well within the "poetic license" of a blogger -- are not, and are not intended to be, precise explanations of the standards, practices and procedures employed. Anyone who wants to explore that level of detail might want to begin with this publication and the links it provides: University of Iowa Travel Department, Travel Manual: Guide for Travel Policy, Payment Options, and Travel Related Processes," October 29, 2013. For example, receipts are required on some occasions for some items, but are not literally required for all expenses within fixed per diem guidelines. However, the rules do limit employees' reimbursements to their actual expenses -- that is, they are not entitled to receive the entire per diem (as some institutions provide), only the portion they've actually spent. Because this "honor system" could lead to abuses and institutional challenges, any reasonably prudent employee will probably be collecting all receipts anyway in the event they are asked to produce them later.

August 7, 2014

The response was swift: Vanessa Miller, "Regents to Require Receipts from Consultant; Change Comes After News Report on $220,000 Expenses to Date," The Gazette, August 7, 2014, p. A1.

August 23, 2014

A most bizarre report showed up in the Des Moines Register online edition, MacKenzie Elmer, "Academic Review of Regents' Universities Delayed," Des Moines Register, August 21, 2014. Apparently Deloitte has had a sub-contractor since January, KH Consulting, to help with the "academic" portion of its multi-million-dollar efficiency study on behalf of the Regents. Now Deloitte's decision to cast KH Consulting adrift has thrown even more delay into this ever-more-pricy endeavor.

For starters, since the Regents say they are looking for "efficiencies" in what are, after all, academic institutions, if Deloitte is sufficiently unsure of the adequacy of its "core competency" (improving efficiency in commercial institutions) to deal with Iowa's universities, perhaps that should have been taken as a sign that the Regents just might have selected the wrong global conglomerate consultant for what Deloitte calls the "academic review" portion of the project. See "UI Says, 'Deloitted to Meet You,'" March 29, 2014.

Joe Gorton, a UNI professor and leader of the faculty union, is quoted as saying, "I started publicly and privately raising red flags almost immediately regarding KH. For one thing, their analytical methodology was completely suspect and it was a real concern. So far this efficiency study, for the academic portion, seems to be remarkably inefficient."

Why were the Regents unable to see this? Even if they couldn't, why would they ignore Gorton's warnings? Even if the Regents weren't initially troubled by this evidence of Deloitte's inadequacy when it signed on KH Consulting in January 2014, wouldn't you think they would at least take as much interest in the selection of their "academic" sub-contractor as their prime, corporate consultant? And yet the Register reports, "Regent Larry McKibben, efficiency review committee chairman, said the decision to replace KH Consulting was made about a week ago by Deloitte Consulting. . . . 'I don’t micromanage who Deloitte brings in,' McKibben said. 'It was at their recommendation.'” Really? For the Regents to participate in the selection (and now dismissal) of the consultant who actually does the "academic review" portion of the study would be "micro-managing"?

Apparently, KH Consulting has been working away on its June-December assignment -- 1100 hours for $350,055. This is nearly the end of August. So how much work product have they produced, and what have they been paid? The Register says "its unclear." Joe Gorton says, "Faculty have already put a lot of time and effort into gathering data for KH Consulting’s review."

The solution? The academy's Keystone Cops are sending in their star quarterback, currently UI President Sally Mason's Chief of Staff, Mark Braun (known to the Regents as a former Regents' staffer). The chant goes up, "Mark Braun, he's our man, if he can't do it nobody can." I think that's right. He knows the players and has the experience. But it just may be that "nobody can." At a minimum, it's a little unfair to send him into the game when the team's getting beat by a score of 56-6 and there's only five minutes left in the fourth quarter. There are at least some limits to what even a Mark Braun can do with this disaster. Vanessa Miller, "Mason's Chief of Staff to Lead Efficiency Review of Iowa Universities; Braun Taking Leave of Absence for Temporary Role," The Gazette, August 22, 2014, p. A1.

Now, for those who would like to follow this ongoing saga in greater depth, here is a:

Chronological List of Newspaper Coverage, Feb. 11-Aug. 22, with Links to Full Text

Vanessa Miller, "Iowa Regents Choose Consultant for Efficiency Review, Spend $2.5 Million; Study Seeks to Identify Ways to Maximize Scarce Resources, Find New Efficiencies, Seek Out Collaboration," The Gazette, February 11, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "Protestors Interrupt Iowa Board of Regents Meeting; Protest Over Firm Hired to Audit Iowa's Public Universities," The Gazette, March 12, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "Iowa University Heads Pitch Performance-Based Funding Ideas; Performance-Funding Task Force to Make Recommendations in June," The Gazette, March 13, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "Iowa Universities Take Part in Efficiency Review; Deloitte Representatives Will Participate in UI-Centered Public Forum on Friday," The Gazette, March 24, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "UI Students, Faculty Express Concerns About Efficiency Review; Forum Is First of Three," The Gazette, March 29, 2014, p. A3

Vanessa Miller, "Efficiency Review Consultant Requested 230-Plus Items From Universities; Deloitte Consulting LLP Delivered Its 'Initial Data Request' March 13," The Gazette, April 2, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "Iowa Regents Have No Preconceived Notions About University Cuts, Efficiencies; Analysis Will Determine Core, Non-Core Elements to University's Mission," The Gazette, April 2, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "Regents to Pay More to Find, Implement University Efficiencies; One Board Member Says He's Been Impressed With Consultant's Work," The Gazette, June 4, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "Regent Efficiency Review Identifies Opportunities; Initial Report Provides Few Specifics," The Gazette, June 11, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "Iowa Regents Expect to Save $30 to $80 Million a Year in Efficiencies; 17 Opportunities Identified as Having the Most Potential," The Gazette, June 16, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "Iowa Regents' Longer Efficiency Report Lists 175 'Improvement Opportunities;' UI Hosts Public Forum Wednesday" The Gazette, June 17, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "Board of Regents Consultant: There Could Be Job Adjustments, Consolidations," The Gazette, June 18, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "Iowa Regnt Task Force to Discuss Longer List of 'Opportunities' for Universities; Implementation Will Be Monitored, Officials Said," The Gazette, June 24, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "Iowa Regents Could Approve Spending Money on Efficiency Review; Contractor Expected to Present 'Sourcing and Procurement' Strategies," The Gazette, July 29, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "Iowa's Public Universities Get $220K Bill Without Receipts from Consultant Firm; Iowa Regent Says Board 'Should Go Back and Review This,'" The Gazette, August 5, 2014, p. A1

Vanessa Miller, "Deloitte Projects Savings for Iowa's Three State Universities at $193 Million; Regent Concerned About Disadvantaging Iowa Companies," The Gazette, August 6, 2014, p. A1

Editorial, "Regents Should Seek Receipts," The Gazette, August 6, 2014, p. A8

Vanessa Miller, "Iowa Regents to Require Expense Receipts from Deloitte; Change Comes After Gazette Report on $220K Expenses to Date," The Gazette, August 7, 2014, p. A1

Vanessa Miller, "Regents' 'Transparent, Inclusive' Meetings Remain Closed; Open Meetings Proposal Could Cover More Advisory Groups," The Gazette, August 10, 2014, p. A1

MacKenzie Elmer, "Academic Review of Regents' Universities Delayed," Des Moines Register, August 21, 2014

Vanessa Miller, "Mason's Chief of Staff to Lead Efficiency Review of Iowa Universities; Braun Taking Leave of Absence for Temporary Role," The Gazette, August 22, 2014, p. A1

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

From Earmarks (D.C.) to TIFs (I.C.): America's Fascist Economy

July 15, 2014, 3:55 p.m.
TIFs -- Therrre Back!!
"The people who own the country ought to govern it."

-- John Jay; Frank Monaghan, John Jay, chapter 15, p. 323 (1935).

I like Marc Moen -- including many of his architectural and other ideas for Iowa City.

What I don't like is the City Council's infiltration of the efforts of Iowa City's entrepreneurs, start-ups, established businesses, and capitalism generally by picking and choosing which for-profit enterprises they will infuse with taxpayers' money.

Today's Press-Citizen reports that the Council's latest give-away is going to Marc Moen in the amount of $14 million!! That's a little rich even for the members of Iowa City's City Council. Mitchell Schmidt, "Committee Approves Chauncey Funding Model; Recommends That City Council Back $14.1M TIF Request, Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 15, 2014, p. A1 [Credit for photo of proposed building: Iowa City Press-Citizen.]
Here are some relevant numbers. According to the 2010 census Iowa City contains 67,862 people, 27,657 households, and 11,743 families. Divide $14 million by those numbers and you get: $206.30 per person, $506.20 per household, or $1192.20 per family. Is there the remotest possibility that if the question of making those gifts to Moen from every Iowa City resident was put to a vote that it would ever muster a majority of support?
For nearly a decade I have been writing in newspaper articles and blog essays about the problems with TIFs, providing lists of the categories of their objectionable consequences -- why these transfers are bad for taxpayers, consumers, competitors of the recipients, the general economy, neighboring communities and governments, among other reasons. One column, from this past April, may be a useful summary: "Tussling Over TIFs: Pros and Cons."

A list of 39 of those prior columns and essays can be found in "TIFs: Links to Blog Essays."

Earlier this year I wrote a tongue-in-cheek column essentially throwing in the towel, revealing my misunderstanding regarding transfers of taxpayers' money to for-profit enterprises from earmarks in Washington to TIFs in Iowa City:
"Like 'Amazing Grace,' I was blind, but now I see: We don’t have a capitalist system. We probably never did. So how should we describe our economy? The word 'fascism' carries too much baggage from World War II -- dictators, suppression of opposition, aggressive nationalism, and even racism. 'Fascism' doesn’t describe America today. But from Washington, D.C., to cities, counties and states all across America, in terms of an economy, ours is the economy of fascism."
"TIF Apology."

Whether in Washington, Des Moines, or Iowa City, our elected officials, like Italy's Benito Mussolini 70 years ago, love to intertwine government and business into a kind of fascist economic whole within which, in our time, they can give our money to for-profit businesses. Who wouldn't like to get the credit (plus campaign contributions, and the virtually guaranteed re-election they make possible) for spending other people's money?

And the citizens, taxpayers and voters go along. They may support the idea of TIFs, they may not be paying attention, they may understand and oppose them but figure it's fruitless to protest, that the deck is stacked against them. The net result is the same: the officials are re-elected, and taxpayers' money continues to flow to the relatively wealthy and for-profit businesses.

To make matters worse, Iowa City's TIF-lovers now propose to add disrespectful insult to economic injury, by raising the sales tax (disproportionately borne by the poor and working poor), and shifting most of the income from this sales tax increase to property owners in the form of reduced property taxes -- thereby softening any possible political opposition from them to the TIF giveaways.

Council members' governing principle is similar to that of John Jay (1745-1829), as expressed in the quotation with which this blog summary began: "The people who own the country ought to govern it." Delete the "ought to" from that line and it pretty well describes governing in America today, whether nation, state -- or Iowa City. And those who own Iowa City are the members of the business community and, as in John Jay's time, the property owners.

But until the Council exercises the candor to place Jay's quote over the entrance to the City Hall, openly and candidly acknowledging what they are doing, I will continue to protest the hypocrisy of the community's TIF-funded fascism.
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Monday, July 14, 2014

When Believing Is Seeing

July 14, 2014, 6:20 a.m.

Check It On Snopes

Note: For more on this subject see, "Snopes, Popes, and Presidents," December 26, 2014, and "Obama-Haters' Rhetoric and Media Responsibility," July 5, 2014.
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When Believing Is Seeing

Nicholas Johnson

Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 14, 2014, p. A5

Hitler’s Joseph Goebels is credited with the strategy that, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.” That’s deliberate lying.

More common is Mark Twain’s insight that, “It’s not what we don’t know that’s the problem, it’s what we know that ain’t so.” We’re not “lying.” We’re just repeating false information we assume is true because it’s consistent with our beliefs — something journalists are trained to guard against.

New York’s four-term U.S. Senator Daniel Moynihan famously admonished, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

But what are we to do when it is our opinion that creates our facts?

“Seeing is believing?” Yes, sometimes. But the reverse is also true: “Believing is seeing.” We tend to see that which supports our belief.

In a Yale paper last year, “Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government,” the authors report their research finding that even scientists, highly skilled in math, make more errors when the correct math answer leads to conclusions contrary to their political orientation.

The phenomenon occurs for what we love as well as what we hate. Fans of Pope Francis are likely to believe favorable, false stories about his good deeds, however implausible (e.g., he’s slipping out at night to visit Rome’s homeless). See, “Snopes, Popes and Presidents,” http://bit.ly/1mRLzLY.

Similarly, Obama haters are equally willing to believe almost any emailed negative assertion about our “Muslim, socialist, Kenyan, imperial” president — and send it on.

Snopes.com is a wonderful online service for checking the truth of the “urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation” that circle the global Internet each day. So when the occasional Obama-haters’ email comes our way, we check it on Snopes.com, and kindly inform the senders if the email is untrue.

Recently came a whopper, widely circulated since January.

It was so obviously wrong on so many counts it would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been seriously libelous in its efforts to link the President — and Hillary Clinton, too, for good measure — to words allegedly authored by community organizer Saul Alinsky: “Eight steps required to create a socialist state.”

To paraphrase Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s retort when Senator Dan Quayle compared himself to Jack Kennedy during their 1988 vice presidential candidate debate, “I knew Saul Alinsky. Saul Alinsky was a friend of mine. And believe me, Sir, Saul Alinsky never wrote those words.”

Nor could Barack Obama have received the mentoring from Alinsky the email hints at, since President Obama was only 10 years old when Alinksy died. In fact, during a conversation I once had with candidate Obama about community organizing, neither of us even mentioned Alinsky’s name.

The need to oppose, and demonstrate the evil in everything President Obama has ever read, thought, advocated or done can lead to bizarre results, one of which is the email’s effort to demonize community organizing as “socialism.” It not only reveals equal ignorance regarding both, but rejects what is actually just another description of democracy.

Community organizing is the study, design, and utilization of strategies by which neighborhoods, or other groups of individual citizens, can more effectively present their grievances and proposals to governments and other institutions. These are techniques millions have proudly used since our nation’s birth, including both the Tea Party and Occupy movements during this century.

What can we do?

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow simply tries to state the facts occasionally. Examples: “He really was born in Hawaii. And climate change is real. And rape really does cause pregnancy sometimes. And evolution is a thing. And no one is taking away anyone’s guns. And the moon landing was real. And regulations of the financial services industry are not the same thing as communism.”

You get the idea.

And for the rest of us? “Check it on Snopes or risk looking like dopes.”
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Nicholas Johnson, Iowa City, maintains www.nicholasjohnson.org and the blog, http://FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com.

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Saturday, July 05, 2014

Obama-Haters' Rhetoric and Media Responsibility

July 5, 2014, 6:00 a.m.

The Hatred That Blinds and the "Socialism" of "Alinsky-Trained Obama"
In summary, I believe there are many significant issues surrounding this incident in which an Obama-haters' email goes viral, is unacknowledged as the basis for a letter to the editor of a hard copy mainstream newspaper, and published by that paper. I do not believe that many of those most serious issues have even been recognized, let alone addressed satisfactorily, by either the Editor's note or the reply letter the paper chose to publish. -- Nicholas Johnson
In "Snopes, Popes and Presidents," Dec. 26, 2013, there's a discussion of the human quality sometimes called "believing is seeing." That is, "what we believe, or want to believe, can have a significant influence on what we perceive." It goes both ways. In that blog essay are examples of how fans of Pope Francis (including me) are as inclined to believe untrue flattering stories about the Pope, as President Obama haters are to believe untrue assertions about him.

Earlier this week The Gazette provided an illustration of the latter in the form of its leading letter to the Editor, prominently displayed above the fold with the headline, "Obama Has Created a Socialist State," July 1, 2014, p. A5. There is no link to provide you because The Gazette, understandably, given the quantity of letters it apparently received pointing out the letter writer's, and its, error, has removed it from its online collection of letters. (In the paper's email to me it noted, "We have received several letters in regard to that particular letter.") Going to the original link provides the message, "Couldn't find mapping for /subject/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/obama-has-created-a-socialist-state-20140630 and no default error page!" (exclamation point in error message).

To build his case against President Obama, the letter writer simply reproduced from an untrue Obama haters' email, viral since January, what the letter writer falsely asserted were Saul Alinsky's "eight steps required to create a socialist state." He concluded his letter, "Does any of the above sound remotely familiar? President Obama, who is a former community organizer and an Alinsky devotee, vowed to 'fundamentally change America.' Hillary Clinton wrote her master's thesis on this book. This is who they really are." [Support for Romney quote: Neil King, Jr., "Mitt Romney's Dad Was an Alinsky Follower," The Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2012 -- plus numerous other references from a Google search.]

Today, July 5, The Gazette has published one of those "several letters" responding to the anti-Obama letter, along with a statement from the Editor. Both the letter writer, and The Gazette have, in my opinion, missed many of the issues raised by this incident -- as well as their seriousness. Rather than further lengthen this introduction, however, I have posted my additional commentary of nine serious categories of unaddressed issues at the bottom of this blog essay.

Because the paper chose not to publish my letter, I also reproduce it, immediately below, followed by the original letter, the letter in response the paper published, and the Editor's statement, so that you can judge the matter for yourself.

Saul Alinsky and President Obama
Nicholas Johnson
July 2, 2014

In a 1988 vice presidential candidate debate, when Senator Dan Quayle compared himself to President Kennedy, Senator Lloyd Bentsen responded, “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”

A memory of that exchange prompted my reaction to Joe Gantner’s letter [July 1] -- Gantner’s attempt to link President Obama to community organizer Saul Alinsky and Alinsky “quotes” Gantner alleges reveal Obama’s socialist goals.

“I knew Saul Alinsky. Saul Alinsky was a friend of mine. And believe me, Sir, Saul Alinsky never wrote the words with which you have libeled him” -– along with President Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Nor could Obama have received much mentoring from Alinsky, since Obama was only 10 years old when Alinksy died. In fact, during a conversation I once had with candidate Obama about community organizing, neither of us even mentioned Alinsky’s name.

Some emotionally driven Obama haters are so convinced of their correctness they are willing to believe, and send on to others as true, any email they receive regarding our “Muslim, socialist, Kenyan, imperial” president.

As Snopes reveals, that’s apparently what Gantner has done – and now the Gazette has published. See, "How to Create a Social State; Claim: List reproduces Saul Alinsky's rules for 'How to Create a Social State.'/FALSE," January 2014, and “Snopes, Popes and Presidents,” http://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2013/12/snopes-popes-and-presidents.html.

Finally, the Obama haters should be a little more cautious about their demonizing “community organizing.” It’s just another description of democracy, involving techniques millions have used since our nation’s birth, including both the Tea Party and Occupy movements during this century.

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City
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Obama Has Created a Socialist State
Joe Gantner
The Gazette, July 1, 2014, p. A5

Saul Alinsky, considered the founder of community organizing, was the author of “Rules for Radicals.”

In that book he outlined the eight steps required to create a socialist state.

o Control health care and you control the populace.

o Increase the poverty level as high as possible as poor people are much easier to control and are unlikely to fight back when their basic necessities are provided for.

o Increase the national debt to an unsustainable level in order to increase taxes and create even more poverty.

o Control guns so the people cannot defend themselves from the government. This facilitates the creation of a police state.

o Create a welfare system to control every aspect of life — food, housing, income.

o Craft the educational system to indoctrinate the children with the state’s agenda.

o Remove belief in God from the government and schools.

o Divide the people into wealthy and poor classes to cause more discontent. Tax the wealthy with the support of the poor.

Does any of the above sound remotely familiar?

President Obama, who is a former community organizer and an Alinsky devotee, vowed to “fundamentally change America.” Hillary Clinton wrote her master’s thesis on this book.

This is who they really are.

Joe Gantner
Cedar Rapids
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Guidelines Should Be Taken Seriously"
Terry Heller
The Gazette, July 5, 2014, p. A5

[Currently available online at http://thegazette.com/subject/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/guidelines-should-be-taken-seriously-20140704.]

I think authors should be embarrassed after they place their names under email circulated screeds presented as letters to the editor, as did the writer of “Obama has created a socialist state” (July 1 by Joe Gantner).

The letter supposedly reveals the secret truth about President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

One can find a description and analysis of this letter at Snopes.com: http://www.snopes.com/politics/quotes/alinsky.asp, which rates its claims as false.

According to Snopes.com, it is false that Saul Alinsky wrote the eight “steps” to socialism in the letter.

Also, it is false that Hillary Clinton wrote her graduate master’s thesis on Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.” She did not pursue a master’s degree; but she did write an undergraduate “senior thesis” on Alinsky (without mentioning “Rules for Radicals”) at Wellesley College: see Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hillary_Rodham_senior_thesis.

While the Wikipedia story is not especially flattering to Clinton, it skewers the absurdity that the thesis shows she is a secret Marxist. A link to the text of her thesis appears in the Snopes.com story.

The Gazette letter guidelines say that the author vouches for the originality of the letter. Surely authors ought to be able to take this guideline seriously. Who wants to shout out that one is a plagiarist before one’s whole community? And who wants to be known for plagiarizing lies?

Terry Heller
Cedar Rapids
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Editor's Note
The Gazette
July 5, 2014, p. A5

Our letters policies have been to rely on authors to vouch for the originality of their work and agree to give us the right to edit for length, redundancy, clarity, civility and accuracy.

We'll be reviewing those policies and our fact-checking procedures over the next week to make sure we are offering the broadest possible forum for diverse viewpoints without facilitating the spread of inaccuracies and rumor. We welcome your ideas: editorial@thegazette.com; (319) 398-8262.

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Nicholas Johnson's Additional Commentary on the Issues Raised by This Incident

Plagiarism. The Gazette's choice of a letter of response suggests the paper agrees with the writer that the primary problem here is one of plagiarism ("I think authors should be embarrassed after they place their names under email circulated screeds presented as letters to the editor . . .. Who wants to shout out that one is a plagiarist before one’s whole community?"). The Gazette's "Editor's note" begins, "Our letters policies have been to rely on authors to vouch for the originality of their work . . .."

Yes, I suppose there are potential copyright and plagiarism issues involved whenever one passes on as one's original work the hate speech, pornography, defamation, national security secrets, private facts, or false and misleading advertising actually created by another. But isn't it a bit duplicitous and disingenuous to focus on the whisper of plagiarism when the bellow of the elephant in the room involves the content of the speech?

When believing is seeing. There is a phenomenon here, well worth analysis and commentary in its own right, that both the responding letter and Editor's note totally ignore. One of the consequences of the divisiveness in our culture and current political climate -- that clearly seems to be present in this instance -- is that the more emotionally attached we are to a given ideological, political, or religious position, the more likely it is that we will fall victim to accepting as true anything that supports our predispositions. As I pointed out in "Snopes, Popes and Presidents," Dec. 26, 2013, this affliction is not limited to the Obama-haters of the radical right -- nor haters generally. Lovers -- whether of ideologies, individuals, or geographical places -- suffer from it as well.

Digital media's audience. During an FCC commissioner term, I titled a book How to Talk Back to Your Television Set. The title was arresting because in the late 1960s it was impossible to talk back to your television set in any sense (beyond sending postal letters to the networks and FCC that were almost always ignored). Today the combination of the Internet and digitization not only permit talking back to the media, but creating one's own media (as with this blog), along with an economic body blow to the 20th Century media industries: book, magazine and newspaper; movie, television and radio; and recording. The Gazette, like many other newspapers still, used to see the value of reader interaction in the form of online public comments connected to its news and opinion pieces. The Gazette appears to have changed its mind about that some time ago -- along with abandoning its Sunday feature, "Blogspot," reproducing in hard copy excerpts from the writing of some local bloggers. While these seem self-defeating decisions, when newspapers need more readers as well as advertisers, I acknowledge that the Gazette, as a business, is run by folks with a lot more experience and knowledge of the newspaper industry than I'll ever have.

Volume of haters' false and unverified emails.
From time to time our normally responsible Republican friends (yes, we do have Republican friends) will send us emails analogous to the one involved here -- wild charges about President Obama that, on their face, raise suspicions as to their possible accuracy. We routinely check them on Snopes. Because such emails are distributed widely, and hang around for a long time, almost always they have been investigated by Snopes and found to be false. Sometimes we send the Snopes' report to our friends, other times we just let it slide. This is one of the downsides of digitization and "everyone their own publisher" -- along with the damage from easily spread defamation, online bullying that sometimes leads to teens' suicides, a variety of offensive speech, and misinformation. With over 1000 blog essays, have I sometimes been guilty? I'd hope not; but I wouldn't be surprised if someone could find factual errors somewhere in there. On balance, I'd rather have such open media than not. But there is a downside, and we all need to make greater effort to check our facts and those of others, and help clean up the Internet in general.

Socialism. Our political economy is a blend of models -- part capitalist, part socialist, and part fascist (in the sense of an interweaving of government and for-profit enterprise, one that takes the form of individual-corporation-benefiting tax breaks and earmarks at the federal level, and the transfer of taxpayers' money to the bottom line of for-profit enterprises by way of TIFs at the local level). Schools, parks, libraries, the Interstate highway system and other roads, bridges and many communities' water systems are "socialist" -- and happily supported by most Americans. So it's both inaccurate and a little silly to rail against "socialism," and label as "socialist," any program or proposal you don't like. The "universal single-payer" healthcare available to all citizens in most of the largest industrialized nations -- and that takes the form of Medicare and Veterans' healthcare in this country -- can be characterized as "socialist." The Affordable Healthcare Act ("Obamacare") cannot; it is a health insurance system, not a health care system, with ever-increasing profits and administrative costs (not present in Medicare) as a result of for-profit insurance companies, hospitals, and doctors. That doesn't mean you have to like it, but it does mean it's not very accurate to describe it as "socialism."

Community organizing. As noted in my submitted but unpublished letter to the editor of The Gazette, "community organizing" is "just another description of democracy, involving techniques millions have used since our nation’s birth, including both the Tea Party and Occupy movements during this century." It makes no more sense to demonize community organizing and community organizers than it makes to demonize socialism. It simply involves the study, design, and utilization of strategies by which neighborhoods, or other groups of individual citizens, can more effectively present their grievances and proposals to governments (or other institutions) disproportionately representative of powerful economic or other special interest forces.

Saul Alinsky. That George Romney spent time with Saul Alinsky, and would say of him (as quoted in the photo near the top of this blog essay), "I think you ought to listen to Alinsky. It seems to me that we are always talking to the same people. Maybe the time has come to hear new voices," should provide some indication that his work is more well regarded by reasonable people than the Alinsky-haters would have you believe.

"Actual malice" and media responsibility. This is neither the time or place for a lengthy explanation of defamation. To say to others, something about someone, that is false, and detrimental to their reputation, in their community, is defamation ("libel" if written, "slander" if spoken). It is a "tort" for which damages may be awarded. Saul Alinsky (now deceased), President Obama, and Hillary Clinton could have made a preliminary case of having been libeled by this email, and now published "letter." The one complication is that, as "public officials" and "public figures" the Supreme Court decided in the New York Times v. Sullivan case that they would not have the rights of ordinary citizens. They would have to meet the higher standard of "actual malice" against those who wrote and distributed the email, the letter writer, and The Gazette. So what is "actual malice"? It is legal shorthand for the defendant speaker or publisher either (a) knowing that what they were saying was false, or (b) with "reckless disregard" of whether or not it might be false. The mere fact one is merely repeating something that someone else has said is no defense; as the saying has it, "the repetition of a libel is a libel."

All of this discussion is not to suggest there is any significant chance that the letter writer or The Gazette is likely to be sued by President Obama or Hillary Clinton. That's not the point. My point is simply that what has happened here is a serious breach of (I believe) legal, and certainly cultural, standards. It's "not nice" to say untrue things about another that will harm their reputation and thereby have an adverse impact on their business, profession, or political prospects.

When obstruction and false accusations become treason. In "When Obstruction Becomes Treason; There Are Many Ways to Bring Down a Government," I explore the question of whether there should be limits to the extent to which the citizens of a democracy can legally and appropriately try to prevent their government from functioning, otherwise disparage and bring it and its leaders down. I won't repeat that discussion here, but it is another issue involved in this incident -- which you can read about there if you are interested.

In summary, I believe there are many significant issues surrounding this incident in which an Obama-haters' email goes viral, is used as a basis for a letter to the editor of a hard copy mainstream newspaper, and published by that paper. I do not believe that many of those most serious issues have even been recognized, let alone addressed satisfactorily, by either the Editor's note or the reply letter the paper chose to publish.
# # #

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Delight Consultants: How to Increase UI's Iowans

June 14, 2014, 9:40 a.m.

And see: "What Is It With the Iowa State Board of Regents?!" Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 16, 2014, p. A7, embedded in "Iowa's Economic Foundation? Graduate Education & Research," May 5, 2014; "April 1 Update: Early Deloitte Efficiency Proposals; Early Revelations Shock UI Faculty, Staff," April 1, 2014; and "UI Says, 'Deloitted to Meet You,'" March 29, 2014, with ongoing updates.

"I know we'll accomplish this"

Having successfully rebuilt a flooded university, UI's President Sally Mason, like a spunky, inspirational football coach at halftime, is once again asking her players to dig even deeper in battling the Regents' ongoing attacks: "We've faced challenges before, and I know we'll accomplish this if we all work together." Sara Agnew, "UI Lays Out Its Plan to Boost In-State Enrollment; Will Use More Paid Advertising, Raise Social Media Presence," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 14, 2014, p. A1.

What's she talking about this time? Responding to the Regents' nonsense about funding Iowa's universities on the basis of numbers of enrolled Iowans. As they say in business, "You get what you measure," and if the Regents want to count Iowans the UI is determined to measure up.

In addition to President Mason, the UI is blessed to already have as its "Vice President for Strategic Communication" the experienced, creative, and energized Joe Brennan. As Sara Agnew reports,

Brennan said he’s confident changes will come in response to a more aggressive four-pronged approach to UI’s marketing plan.

First, UI’s news service will ramp up its efforts to reach news outlets inside and outside of Iowa to raise awareness about the university.

Second, UI will use more paid advertising, which includes a new television commercial expected in early July.

Third, UI will continue building its digital and social media presence, working to engage more people on Facebook and other channels such as Instagram.

Finally, UI will continue to reach prospective students through email, postcards and brochures.
I thought, "This is a terrific beginning, but what more might we do?" Who better to ask than the creative folks at Delight Consultants?

After being put on hold and transferred a number of times, a fellow who said his name was Happy Joe, the new accounts manager, came on the line. He gave me what they call their "Delight-ful Welcome," and asked what he could do for me. I explained our plight. Remembering that Sara Agnew had quoted Joe Brennan as saying "there is a $1 million marketing budget," I asked what we could get for $1 million.

"I'm so glad you asked me that, Nick," he said (we were immediately on a first-name basis), "and you're going to be glad, too." He continued, "You see, we have a boilerplate report we give to all the universities confronting your challenge. Usually we charge $2.5 million for this publication once we change the wording to make it look like it's just for them. But this week, and this week only, we're only charging $1 million for that four-page document -- if you don't mind that we haven't personalized it for your school."

"Sounds like a real bargain," I said, "but can you give me some idea of the suggestions it contains."

I was amazed at his willingness to answer my question and continue the conversation, as he launched into a long list of suggestions. Among them were:
"Ignore the Regents' academic admission standards. Of UNI's student admits 15% don't meet them, why should you try to?" he asked. "Don't let pride of quality education get in the way of numbers. With no admission standards you should pick up quite a few more Iowans. Sell it as more fair. Use a slogan like, 'Eliminate academic elitism. Give everyone a chance to show what they can do.'"

I told him Sara Agnew had reported that "UI admissions will pull its weight by contacting Iowa high school students much sooner, reaching out to them as early as their freshman and sophomore years." "Hey," he responded, "Don't they know that college football coaches are looking at kids in junior high and even sixth grade? Why wait so late? What you need to do is find a way to get into the hospital delivery rooms when these kids are born. Babies love a soothing voice. They'll remember you later. And it gives you a chance at the parents when they are most vulnerable, and already enrolling their kids in everything from quality preschools to colleges."

"Have you thought of redefining 'Iowan'?" "What do you mean?" I asked. "Your residence requirements are far stricter than they need to be," he barked. "The relevant legal standard is 'domicile,' not 'residence.' 'Domicile' is a measure of personal intention, not external evidence. Where do you intend to live, more or less permanently? You can make instant Iowans out of anybody, so long as they're willing to swear they intend to make Iowa their 'domicile.'"

There was a brief moment of silence. Then, "You know what you ought to do?" "No, what?" I asked. "You guys ought to get out there on Interstate 80 and block traffic. Governor Christi has written a manual for us on how to do it. We will include it if you want with our four-page manual." "That would be great," I said, "but then what?" "Don't be so dense. You sign 'em up. One form to declare Iowa as their domicile. Another to enroll in the University's free online instructional program. Your governor seems to think online instruction is really cool; he says that's why you don't need a College of Pharmacy building. So he and his Regents should support that idea. That could almost immediately double the number of Iowans you would have enrolled."

"I've got to go," Happy Joe said, "I'm backed up with calls from other schools right now. But here are another couple of quick ideas. Trying to reduce binge drinking is killing your enrollment. Try to regain your Princeton Review ranking as a party school. And for goodness sakes no more early morning Friday classes. Frankly, you really ought to only schedule classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Nothing like the opportunity for drunken four-day weekends to attract the young ones -- especially if you'd repeal your silly ban on smoking on campus." [Photo credit: "Top 20 Party Schools," Princeton Review, 2013, reporting the UI as nation's top party school.]

"Anything else?" I asked hopefully. "I assume you've considered Father Guido Sarducci's five-minute university. Five minutes may be a little extreme. But you could have a one-day college degree. Send Iowa City's pilots out around the state to fly them in, and then back home the same evening. Think about it. Send me the $1 million, and I'll get our four-page report right off to you. You'll see why we're called Delight Consultants." And he was gone.
I was surprised President Mason and Joe Brennan hadn't mentioned Father Guido Sarducci's approach, and that I hadn't thought of it earlier.

If you're not familiar with the bit, actor Don Novello's character Father Guido Sarducci notes that five years after they graduate, college students remember very little of what they learn. He asserts that all they remember could have been taught in five minutes, hence the "five-minute university." He illustrates with Spanish ("¿Cómo estás usted? Muy bien"), Economics ("supply and demand"), Business ("buy something and sell it for more"), and Theology ("Where is God? Everywhere. Why? Because he likes you"). You'll find the video clip at the bottom of this blog essay.

The idea of a Five-Minute University -- or at a quality school like UI the more rigorous one-day university -- opens up a number of other possibilities for tier programs for Iowa students.

As a boy, Justice Hugo Black (for whom I clerked) attended an institution called Ashland College, which "not only awarded B.A. and B.S. degrees, but also included a grammar and high school." [Hugo Black, Jr., My Father, p. 9.] The University of Iowa once contained "University Elementary and High School" (from which I graduated in 1952). If the UI were to re-establish such a school, and the Iowa Child Welfare Clinic (for two-to-four-year-olds, which I also attended), it would be perfectly reasonable to count all Iowans attending either as "University of Iowa students from Iowa" it seems to me.

There are already cooperative programs between the UI and Kirkwood Community College. What if we would simply incorporate Kirkwood into the University as an additional college. That would add a lot of Iowans to our student rolls.

Perhaps we could have separate tracks, or tiers, for those who enter the University of Iowa under the old academic standards track, and those who enter under the new no-academic-standards-whatsoever track.

The possibilities are endless. As President Mason has said, "We've faced challenges before, and I know we'll accomplish this if we all work together."

What ideas can you offer?



Father Guido Sarducci's Five Minute University, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kO8x8eoU3L4 [3:56; 1,208,584 views; “Don Novello created the Father Guido Sarducci character in 1973 after finding a monsignor's outfit for $7.50 at a St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop. Adding sunglasses, a broom mustache, cigarette and a thick Italian accent, Sarducci became popular in a San Francisco nightclub.” “Don Novello,” Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Novello. Don Novello appeared during “the early 1970s on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and later in the 1975 Smothers Brothers TV show. His most prominent appearance was on Saturday Night Live in the late 1970s, during which time [Don] Novello was also a writer for the show.” “Father Guido Sarducci,” Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Father_Guido_Sarducci

# # #

Friday, June 13, 2014

DWI, DWT, DWD: Keeping Our Eyes On The Road

June 13, 2014, 8:00 a.m.

It's the Distraction, Stupid!

[Now [June 16] published as, Nicholas Johnson, "Is Texting the Problem, or Just Part of the Problem?," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 16, 2014, p. A5.]

The Press-Citizen thinks we ought to get tougher on DWT -- "Driving While Texting." Editorial, "Send Message to Lawmakers About Texting Ban," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 13, 2014, p. A9. Apparently, law enforcement in Iowa regarding this dangerous practice can only occur once a driver is stopped for something else. [Photo source: unknown.]

OK, it's hard to argue with the paper's position.

But might we benefit by thinking about this a little longer?

One of the toughest intellectual, linguistic and analytical struggles in addressing a good many challenges is figuring out what it is we are really trying to accomplish, conceptualizing the goal -- or as I used to put it to my colleagues on the school board: "How would we know if we were ever 'successful'?"

A lumber yard owner deciding whether she or he is in the "lumber business" or the "building materials business" can make the difference between profit and loss. Costco and Walmart have decidedly different ideas about how many thousands of items such stores should stock (as well as the impact on profits of paying employees a living wage!). What should be the goal, and measure, of a junior high social studies teacher: the test scores his or her students get, the test scores they get in high school social studies classes, the number who go to college and choose social studies-related majors once there -- or the number who apply what they were taught five and ten years after getting out of college, by registering to vote, actually voting in primaries, school board and city council elections, participating in political parties and campaigns, actually running for office, or becoming what Ralph Nader has called "a public citizen"?

When I was a boy, the speed limit in Iowa was, simply, "reasonable and proper." It might be a little ambiguous, but isn't that really our goal? Is it "reasonable and proper" to drive 55 mph in a 55 mph zone when the early morning fog still hangs over a very icy road? Of course not.

Similarly, is it really texting that is the problem? Isn't texting just a part of the problem -- one that no one could have anticipated 20 years ago? If we'd like to be a little more precise than "reasonable and proper," but less specific than "texting," and we'd like a word that eliminates the need to constantly revise the law as new technology comes along, how about "DWD" -- "driving while distracted"?

Isn't that the problem? Whatever your confidence about your "multi-tasking" abilities, it is impossible to compose (or read) text on a handheld device and keep your eyes on the road at the same time. But your driving suffers the same impairment regardless of the cause of the distraction: driving while shaving or putting on makeup, reading the paper, changing stations on the radio, turning around to watch kids in the back seat, looking on the floor of the car for the quarter or toll road ticket you dropped, figuring out your location on your GPS device, even concentrating on a serious hands-free phone conversation -- or an intense conversation with a passenger in the car.

Shouldn't this be our legislative, and editorial, focus -- DWD, "driving while distracted," what many claim is as hazardous as DWI.

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