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.

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.”
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

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

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

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.


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.
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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.

# # #

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Net Neutrality: Social Change Via Satire and Ridicule

June 3, 2014, 11:00 a.m.

NOTE: Hopefully, after watching this John Oliver bit you, too, will want to file a comment with the FCC regarding its Net Neutrality Proceeding. (My comment is at the bottom of this blog essay.) Although it's easy to do, here are the easy 1-2-3 steps:

1. Prepare in advance the text of the comment you would like to file -- a sentence, or brief paragraph or two (to avoid the frustration of having something go wrong when entering it in the box to be provided, and having to start all over again).

2. If you have difficulty reaching the FCC form for filing comments, try the usual: use a different browser; check your settings for cookies and pop-ups. To reach the form you have two possible paths. (a) One is to go to http://www.fcc.gov/comments. On that page you'll see a list of FCC proceedings, click on "14-28" ("Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet"). If you don't see the list of proceedings there (as I did not when I first tried), try (b) going directly to the FCC's "Electronic Comment Filing System" (ECFS) at: http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/hotdocket/list.action. The "Proceeding List" (that is, list of FCC proceedings) is at the top of that page. The proceeding you want ("Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet") is now the proceeding at the top of that list. Click on the link provided for its number: "14-28."

3. Either 2(a) or 2(b) will take you to the "ECFS Express Upload Form," http://apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/upload/display.action?z=lexe8

(a) The "Proceeding Number" blank is filled in for you already, "14-28." (b) Enter your name in the "Name of Filer" blank. (c) Enter your Email Address in its blank. (d) In the "Address" section, below, fill in your address, city, state, and zip (e) Block, copy and paste your prepared comment into the box provided (or just keystroke it if you didn't prepare one earlier) (f) When you're done, below that box click on "Continue." (g) This will take you to a page where you can either "Modify" or "Confirm" what you have just entered. If you are satisfied with what you see, click on "Confirm," and your comment will be sent -- and provide you notice that it has been accepted. (Note that this page also provides you with a link to where you can "check on the status of your filing.") You are now free to resume whatever you just interrupted in your life or work.

John Oliver Savages Federal Communications Commission

There are many alternative strategies for bringing about social change, reform, cultural change, or other improvements in the lives of ordinary people.

There is the academic approach: empirical research, data gathering, and the subsequent scholarly articles.

[Scroll down to view video from which this photo of John Oliver was taken.]

There are the popular books, think tank reports, congressional hearings and reports.

There is the use of legal and political process in the form of strategic litigation, or the lobbying of legislative bodies.

There are the philosophical or religious appeals to our better angels, what is required of us morally and ethically.

There is violence -- sometimes, as with our abolition of slavery, including actual war.

And then, there is satire and ridicule. For example, the movie "Network" addressed in roughly two hours what I spent seven years writing about in the form of dissents to FCC opinions.

There are also questions regarding the effectiveness of each of these alternative strategies. The major question regarding reform via satire is the extent to which it is taken seriously, let alone produces action. Is it as quickly forgotten as it initially brought on the joy of laughter? How many of the jokes you heard in someone's stand-up routine one evening can you remember the next morning?

John Oliver seems to have come up with an answer to that question -- or may have. We'll have to await reports of how many comments his appeal produced at the FCC.

Here is what I consider one of the most brilliant examples of satire in the cause of education and advocacy to action I can recall ever seeing.

[Excerpt credit: John Oliver last appeared on Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart last December 2013, after seven years with the show. Since April 27 he has been hosting his own weekly show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO, Sunday nights at 11:00 ET. The excerpt from his June 1 show has appeared a number of places on the Internet; this one is from YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpbOEoRrHyU. See, Joan E. Solsman, "John Oliver's Net neutrality response swamps FCC," cnet.com, June 3, 2014.]

Curious as to what comment I submitted to the FCC? Here it is:

The Internet is as much of a common carrier, a public utility, as the postal system and early AT&T, can serve similar functions in binding our nation together and encouraging communication, with low prices for users, equal access, pricing, and speeds of transmission for all. Without this structure and approach, the FCC -- however dedicated and committed -- will be unable to even know about, let alone prevent, the hundreds or thousands of abuses that will inevitably arise.
-- Nicholas Johnson, former Commissioner, FCC, 1966-73

# # #

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Iowa's Economic Foundation? Graduate Education & Research

May 5, 2014, 3:30 p.m. [with related subsequent additions as the story evolved]

What is it with the Regents and the University of Iowa?
If you think education's expensive
Just wait 'til you start paying for ignorance

-- bumper sticker
Executive Summary: It costs much more to educate graduate students, especially those entering the professions, than to educate undergraduates. (For example, in allocating money to the University of California, the State's formula provides appropriations for dental students that are five times those for undergraduates). In the past, although the Regents have not formally recognized these disparities as such when allocating appropriations among the State's three universities, the formula it has applied had the effect of going part way in that direction (see paragraph 5 of text, below).

A Regents' committee is now recommending that (a) the disparity be removed entirely (providing the same amount, per student, for professional and graduate students as for undergraduates), and (b) that the allocation be provided only for students who are Iowa residents.

The effect of this proposal is to substantially underfund, and thereby weaken, the State's flagship, nationally recognized research university, the University of Iowa. Thus, if this new formula is adopted by the Regents, not only will it necessitate reducing the quantity and quality of education received by Iowans (and others) at the University (including undergraduates), it will also reduce the economic contribution of the University to the economy of Iowa -- currently estimated to be in the range of $6 billion a year.

There are five major sub-heads below, in bold. Scroll down to those that most interest you if you wish:

What the Regents' Committee is Proposing

What's Wrong With This Proposal? Its Adverse Impact on Quantity and Quality of Education

Weakening the University of Iowa Necessarily Reduces Its $6 Billion Annual Contribution to Iowa's Economy

What is the Economic Impact of the University of Iowa -- Now Threatened by the Proposed New Budget Formula?


And see Note, below.

A column drawn from this blog essay appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen May 16, and is available below: Nicholas Johnson, "What Is It With the Iowa State Board of Regents?!" Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 16, 2014, p. A7 (along with links to related material on that day's page of the paper).

And on another allegation: Are UI's entering students sufficiently "welcomed" and "comfortable"? Regents' president Rastetter charges they're not.

Finally, for some serious comment about the economic and other value of fully funding higher education -- set in an editorial cartoon format -- don't miss "Silhouette Man Wonders WTF Is Wrong With Americans."

Now that we're producing more dirty oil in the U.S., and moving it with tanker cars poorly designed for the journey, every once in a while they leave the tracks, causing massive fires and rivers polluted with “blobs of black glue” (in this case from highly toxic and explosive Bakken Crude from North Dakota). Paresh Dave, "Oil tanker train derails in Lynchburg, Va., triggering fire and spill," Los Angeles Times, April 30, 2014 ("Wednesday’s fire is the latest in a series involving trains carrying crude oil as the nation’s drilling boom fuels a surge in oil transportation"). [Photo source unknown.]

What the Regents' Committee is Proposing

That's kind of what happened last Monday [May 5] when the Board of Regents budget model committee jumped the tracks. The difference is that an oil spill and polluted river can be cleaned up -- sort of. The kind of economic damage to be done by the committee's budget model will still be hurting Iowans decades from now.

What the committee thought, or at least said it was doing is "performance-based funding" -- higher education's "flavor of the month" these days. I will leave to others an evaluation of this philosophy in general and what some may view to be the committee's application of it to 40% of the State's appropriations for Iowa's three Regents' universities in particular.

What I want to address is the 60% of what it did that is not, by any standard, "performance-based funding."

In the past, legislative appropriations for the three universities were divided 42% for the University of Iowa, 42% for Iowa State University, and 16% for University of Northern Iowa. The new formula will allocate 40% of the money according to "performance" regarding such things as graduation rates, degree progress, and job placement. [Former Dean Fethke asserts that "Taking cost differences into account, if the annual regent allocation to the UI, ISU and UNI were based on their reported relative costs per full-time student, the budget split would be 45-29-26, respectively." Gary Fethke, “One Size Doesn’t Fit All for Regent Schools,” Des Moines Register, May 9, 2014, p. A15.]

However, the Register reports, "The budget model the group proposed would consider above all the enrollment of Iowa residents in full-time degree programs in each of the three universities." That is, "60 percent [of the entire legislative appropriation would be allocated among the three universities on the basis of their percentage of the total number of Iowans enrolled in all three schools combined, including] resident full-time students in undergraduate, graduate and doctoral/professional degrees." Sharyn Jackson, “University funding plan focuses on Iowa students,” Des Moines Register, May 6, 2014, p. A7.

What's Wrong With This Proposal?
Its Adverse Impact on Quantity and Quality of Education
It's self-defeating; economically an assault rifle in the foot. Face it, Iowans make up roughly 1% of our nation's population. Our universities benefit from the higher tuition paid by international and out-of-state students. To the extent the Regents' universities are provided incentives to admit more Iowans, total tuition revenues will decline, ultimately leading to upward pressure on in-state tuition rates.

Iowa's economic growth requires immigration. "'For us as a state, not to have a strategy to continue to try to attract top global talent, we are not putting ourselves in a strong position for the future,' said Jay Byers, chief executive officer of the economic-development agency Greater Des Moines Partnership. 'We are a nation, we're a state, we're a region of immigrants, but (had it not been) for immigration over the last decade, the state of Iowa would have lost population. "Stemming the Shortage of Highly-Skilled workers in The Corridor, Nation; Immigration Already Has Hit Its Cap for H-1B Visas for the Year," The Gazette, August 25, 2013; updated March 28, 2014.

Diversity helps prepare Iowa's young for today's global economy. Exposure to a wide variety of individuals is a significant part of a young Iowan's education at our universities. Students from other countries and regions of our country, various socioeconomic levels, different races, ethnicities and languages, among other things, enrich education. Funding limited to Iowa residents provides incentives to our universities to cut back on the admission of out-of-state and international students.

This narrow world view of what's relevant for Iowans is illustrated in a "Non Sequitur" cartoon published the week following this blog essay.

[Cartoon credit: Wiley Miller, "Non Sequitur," May 12, 2014, gocomics.com/nonsequitur.]
The Board of Regents' equivalent to the parochial view of New Yorkers would be a worldview represented by a wall of clocks displaying the time in Sioux City, Des Moines, and the Quad Cities.

Aren't the Regents interested, at least in large measure, in promoting Iowa's economy by increasing the number of well educated Iowa residents who can help create jobs, or at least fill those going wanting for lack of highly skilled applicants? If so, would they rather the University educate native-born Iowans who then leave the state for more lucrative jobs elsewhere, or out-of-state students who want to come here so badly that they are willing to pay the out-of-state tuition and then stay here after graduation? Iowa's President Sally Mason says 40% of our out-of-state students do stay here. Think about it. O. Kay Henderson, "Mason says 40 percent of out-of-state students stay in Iowa after graduating," Radio Iowa, May 12, 2014.

It fails to take into account differences in the universities' entrance requirements. The University of Iowa requires that entering students have either taken itemized basic courses before coming to Iowa, or that they take remedial instruction in those areas at Iowa before graduating. It is my understanding that Iowa State does not have these requirements, and that the University of Northern Iowa has lower entrance requirements generally. Thus, unless the University of Iowa is willing to lower its expectations and entrance requirements it will be at a substantial disadvantage in recruiting entering undergraduates from Iowa in competition with Iowa State and UNI.

Graduate education and research is more expensive than undergraduate. There's a limit to how much a potential surgeon or dentist can learn by sitting in a 300-student lecture hall. Indeed, regardless of the subject matter, graduate and professional student education necessarily involves a lot of one-on-one and small group time with professors and researchers -- as well as often very expensive facilities and equipment. As noted above, Dean Fethke notes that for dental students this can run five times the cost of educating undergraduates.

Research and other grants go to top schools. Major government and foundation grants are not spread equally among all the nation's colleges. They go to the top research universities. The University of Iowa is one of them. To continue as such it needs the kind of funding that can attract, and then hold, top faculty in all departments. A funding formula that is (a) limited to Iowans, and (b) treats undergraduates and graduate/professional students as equivalent, is either designed to destroy the school's reputation and role, or the product of ill-considered policy. The money the University of Iowa brings into the state is very closely related to the quality of the faculty and their research. So cutting support there is definitely a foot shooting exercise.
Weakening the University of Iowa Necessarily Reduces Its $6 Billion Annual Contribution to Iowa's Economy

The University of Iowa is an economic engine for this state. It is exactly what our economy needs. We don't have a shortage of jobs for our most creative highly skilled workers. We have a shortage of workers adequately educated for the jobs that are available for those with such abilities in this highly competitive information age.
"As rising unemployment and layoffs beset workers around the country, Iowa faces a different problem: a surplus of jobs. Or to put it another way: a shortage of workers. A survey of companies by Iowa Workforce Development, a state agency, found as many as 48,000 job vacancies, in industries including financial services — Des Moines trails only Hartford as the nation’s insurance capital — health care and skilled manufacturing. One estimate projects the job surplus to reach 198,000 by 2014, with vacancies increasingly in professional positions. Greater Des Moines alone faces a shortfall of 60,000 workers in the next decade.

"The state provides a small, advance view of what some economists predict will be a broader shortage of skilled workers in the next 20 or 30 years, as tens of millions of baby boomers retire from the workplace, and the economy produces more new jobs than workers. Potential consequences include slower economic growth and competitiveness, as well as higher wages for skilled workers and greater inequality."
John Leland, "As Iowa Job Surplus Grows, Workers Call the Shots," New York Times, May 31, 2008.

"How did we go from the Great Depression to 30 years of Great Prosperity?" former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich asks. Robert Reich, "How Our Prosperity Became Stagnation," Des Moines Register, May 29, 2011, p. OP1 (no longer available online). "Government . . . widened access to higher education. The GI Bill paid college costs for those who returned from war. The expansion of public universities made higher education affordable to the American middle class. . . . Government could have enforced the basic bargain. But it did the opposite."

Public universities -- like the evolution of public K-12 schools centuries before -- were created to provide free or radically reduced-cost higher education to the people of their states, out of an awareness of the relationship between education, economic growth and quality of life.

How did California became the seventh largest economy in the world? It was in large measure because of its three systems of free education for Californians: the universities of California, the California state universities, and its community colleges -- similar to the way, as Robert Reich notes, the entire nation enjoyed the economic boost provided by the GI Bill that brought World War II veterans to the University of Iowa campus for a free education when I was growing up in Iowa City.

What is the Economic Impact of the University of Iowa -- Now Threatened by the Proposed New Budget Formula?

The positive economic impact of the University of Iowa on every Iowan is huge. See the the Tripp Umbach study, "University of Iowa Economic Impact Study; Fiscal Year 2008-2009," September 30, 2010.

"More than 30,000 students enroll at the University of Iowa each year. Some 58 percent come from Iowa, 25 percent from adjoining states, and 9 percent from the remaining states. International students from 104 countries make up 8 percent of the University’s enrollment. The UI educates many of the state's professionals: 79 percent of Iowa's dentists, 50 percent of Iowa’s physicians, 48 percent of Iowa's pharmacists and teachers and administrators are present in 80 percent of Iowa’s K-12 school districts." Id. at 3. Not incidentally, given the proposed budget model, "more than $143.7 million in fresh dollars entered the state of Iowa in the form of tuition from out-of-state students [with] a total impact on the state of Iowa of $380 million." Id. at 5.

Beyond the human capital, the direct and indirect contributions to Iowa's economy are enormous -- "$1.00 of every $30.00 in the Iowa economy is supported by the University of Iowa." Id. at 4.

According to Tripp Umbach, the University of Iowa Annual Impact on the Iowa Economy (explained more fully in its report) includes:
o $6.0 billion in total economic impact generated by UI operations in the state of Iowa

o $1.4 billion in total University-related spending (capital and goods and services)

o 51,818 jobs created in the state of Iowa as aresult of the UI

o $429.5 million in external sponsored research, supporting more than 6,275 jobs ["Iowa ranks 20th among public universities in federal research and development funding." Id. at 8. "These [6,275 research-related] jobs include not only direct employment by the University of Iowa research professionals (2,510 direct FTEs) but also indirect jobs created for supply and equipment vendors, contractors, and laborers for the construction and renovation of laboratory facilities, administrators and managers who support the research infrastructure, and jobs created in the community by the disposable income of the scientific workforce. Id. at 10. "Public research universities such as the University of Iowa stimulate economic development and extend the benefits of learning and discoveries to the citizens of the community, region, state, nation, and world. University-based research has proved to have a substantial and measurable affect on business formation and economic development. Research performed by Adam Jaffe at Harvard found that “. . . a state that improves its university research system will increase local innovation both by attracting industrial R&D and augmenting its productivity.” Id. at 11, citing Jaffe, Adam B., “Real Effects of Academic Research,” American Economic Review, March 1991, pp. 957-970.]

o $208.1 million in direct and indirect expenditures associated with people visiting UI

o $486.9 million to state and local government taxes, including sales, property, and business
Id. at 2.

In addition, the Tripp Umbach study estimates the economic value of voluntary contributions that benefit the state:
o 2009, UIHC provided more than $232.5 million in care to Iowa state residents for which it did not receive full compensation (charity care or bad debt).

o UI staff, faculty, and student employees donated $24.8 million in 2009 to local charitable organizations.

o UI staff and faculty provide hours of volunteer services. The economic value of such services is estimated at more than $17.0 million.

o UI students (undergraduate and graduate) also provide benefits in the form of contributions to local charities. It is estimated that the students donate nearly $6.5 million to local charities and that their volunteer activities are valued at nearly $20.5 million. These dollars are in addition to the [$6 billion] economic impact outlined above.
Id. at 13.


The Board of Regents, and its committee, probably have the legal right to ignore the University of Iowa's educational, research, and economic contribution to the state. They can work their will in dismantling it, by failing to take into account in budgeting the significantly higher costs associated with graduate and professional education and research. I haven't pursued the legal implications. But the thinly veiled consequences of this budget formula will cost every Iowan many multiples of any savings.

It is the Iowa Legislature, the Board of Regents, and its budget model committee -- not the universities -- that have made the decisions to abandon what Reich calls "the basic bargain." It is they who, by radically reducing the percentage of public support of higher education, have necessitated the escalating cost of Iowans' tuition.

Tripp Umbach reports that "In FY 08-09, the University of Iowa received $379.4 million in appropriations from the state of Iowa. For every $1 invested in the University of Iowa by the state, $15.81 is generated in the state’s economy. The total UI operation budget for FY 08-09 was $2.68 billion." Id. at 5. Thus, this public university, formerly named the State University of Iowa, received only 14% of its financial support from the State -- making it more like a private, than a public university, with tuition to match.

In short, like Walt Kelly's character in the comic strip "Pogo" once observed, "We have found the enemy and he is us" -- us and those we have chosen to elect as our governor and legislators (and the Regents they appoint), who have refused to provide adequate public support for what has been historically recognized as an enviable and productive American public good, and the graduate education and research foundation upon which a prosperous Iowa economy can be built.

Note: Let me make unambiguously clear at the outset that (a) whatever may be the outcome of the University of Iowa's funding will not affect me personally -- financially, professionally, politically, or socially -- any more than its impact on every other citizen of the state, and (b) I have not communicated or consulted with, or been informed or advised by anyone in the University's central administration, nor have they -- or anyone at the law school -- seen this before it was posted. The information contained here comes from the Des Moines Register's coverage of the story [Sharyn Jackson, “University funding plan focuses on Iowa students,” Des Moines Register, p. A7, May 6, 2014], and the opinions expressed are solely my own.

This essay focuses only on higher education. It is in no way intended to minimize the importance of early childhood, K-12, community college, and four-year programs -- all of which I have strongly supported in the past, especially community colleges. This essay's message is simple: If Iowa is to continue to receive the enormous benefits that a nationally-recognized major research university can provide (including the added benefits to the Iowa undergraduates who are there), it must be funded in a way that recognizes the disparity in costs between undergraduate and graduate/professional education.

Four days after the posting of this blog entry on May 5, the former Dean of the Tippie College of Business and Interim President of the University of Iowa, Gary Fethke, published his take on these issues. Gary Fethke, “One Size Doesn’t Fit All for Regent Schools,” Des Moines Register, May 9, 2014, p. A15. Totally consistent with this blog essay in tone and ultimate position, it contains more factual detail about costs per student, tuition, and appropriations, and fewer of the other arguments put forth here.

The May 12 Daily Iowan ran a "Guest Opinion" column signed by 13 very distinguished members of the University of Iowa faculty, each of whom had served one or more terms as president of UI's Faculty Senate. "New funding model hurts UI," The Daily Iowan, May 12, 2014 ("The recent recommendation by the Performance-Based Revenue Model Task Force of the state Board of Regents to allocate legislative funding largely on the basis of undergraduate Iowa residents enrolled would prove devastating to the University of Iowa. If fully implemented, the recommended revenue model would slash our annual legislative-general-fund appropriation by nearly $60 million, with those funds being reallocated to the other two schools.").
-- Nicholas Johnson

What Is It With the Iowa State Board of Regents?!
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen
May 16 2014, p. A7

What is it with the Regents and the University of Iowa?

An earlier Board ran off one of the most competent university presidents in the nation, who was quite willing to stay. (He had to settle on the presidency of one of the nation’s most prestigious universities at three times the salary, and is now president of the Smithsonian Institution.)

The Register editorialized March 8 that, “The Iowa Board of Regents took [UI President] Sally Mason to the woodshed last week” for lack of communication -- when it was they who cancelled the meetings she had requested.

Later that month, believing this efficient and innovative University needs to be more so, it hands over $2.5 million to a consultant. “UI Says, ‘Deloitted to Meet You,’” http://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2014/03/ui-says-deloitted-to-meet-you.html. ("Consultants borrow your watch to tell you the time; then they walk off with your watch.")

In their latest episode of “Can You Top This?” they have a committee proposing a new “budget formula” to transfer money away from the University of Iowa to Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa. Although they refuse to release the proposal, the Register reports [May 6] the formula funds graduate and professional students equally with undergraduates, and only funds students from Iowa.

Memories of Peter Yarrow’s March 9 Englert Theater rendition of “when will they ever learn” flows “gentle on my mind.”

As soon as I heard the May 5th news of this latest IED the Regents left along the road to Iowa City, I laid out some of its problems in “Iowa's Economic Foundation? Graduate Education & Research,” http://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2014/05/iowas-economic-foundation-graduate.html.

The short answer, of course, is that graduate and professional education costs much more per student than undergraduate education. For example, California’s “budget formula” appropriates five times as much for each dental student as for undergraduates.

Later, former Dean Gary Fethke added supporting detail of these cost disparities (“Regent System Shouldn’t Be One-Size-Fits-All,” May 10), followed by 13 former Faculty Senate presidents’ letter.

The proposal will necessitate reducing the quantity and quality of education received by Iowans (and others) at the University (including undergraduates). But its negative impact will not be limited to the UI’s students, staff and faculty. It will harm all Iowans by, among other things, reducing the University’s economic contribution to Iowa’s economy -– currently roughly $6 billion a year.

What else is wrong with this proposal?

The adage is right: “You get what you measure.” The proposal bases UI’s share of appropriations on Iowans, without regard to their disparate costs of education. That’s an incentive to compete for undergraduate Iowans by lowering admission standards, minimize professional and graduate students, and turn away international and out-of-state students who actually pay higher tuition. Why reject that 40% of non-residents who choose to come to, and then stay in, Iowa?

Besides, exposure to a wide variety of individuals is a significant part of a young Iowan's education at our universities. Students from other countries and regions of our country, various socioeconomic levels, different races, ethnicities and languages, among other things, enrich education.

In addition to the UI’s $6 billion contribution, what Iowa’s economy needs is not only more jobs, but more UI grads who can create jobs, and fill those going wanting for lack of highly-skilled applicants.

Major grants go to top research universities. The UI is one of them. To continue as such it needs to attract, and hold, top faculty. The near-half-billion UI receives in research grants is not inevitable. A funding formula that ignores this income is a foot shooting exercise.

Regents, however you feel about the University of Iowa, consider Iowa’s economy. Graduate and professional education is its foundation.
The existence and content of this column is solely the responsibility and opinion of Nicholas Johnson of Iowa City. It has not previously been seen by any University of Iowa-affiliated person.

Related material on that day's [May 16, p. A7] opinion page includes the letter from 13 UI faculty members who were former presidents of the UI's Faculty Senate, "'One Size Fits All' Funding Undermines UI's Mission" ("Each school has its own unique identity and mission. Why not continue to respect and celebrate those differences"), linked above to another source, and the paper's Editorial Board "Our View" editorial, "Do the Regents Not Want UI to be Research I?" ([Board of Regents President Bruce] Rastatter basically considers UI to be a third-rate university -- at least, in his words, to be the third choice among Iowas residents. . . . Hopefully [the two columns on that page] will be more effective than we were in explaining to the regent president how UI's mission necessarily differs from those of Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa").

Regents' President Rastetter Charges UI Not "Welcoming"

Iowa Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter has been quoted as believing that "Iowa typically has come in third as a choice for college of Iowans. We consistently hear from parents that they don't feel as welcomed . . . here as they do at ISU and UNI. Parents want to know that their kids are going to feel comfortable and that they are wanted." Sara Agnew, "Rastatetter: Kids Say UI Not As Welcoming; More Iowa Students Picking ISU or UNI," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 15, 2014, p. A1.

It prompted me to put the following "comment" on the paper's online version of the story:

A relief to read our observations about the different costs of educating graduate/professional students and undergrads is seeping into Regents' thinking. [Agnew reported, "Rastetter acknowledged that the metrics of the proposed funding model should be adjusted to accommodate the large number of graduate and profession degree students at UI." Id., p. 6.] But problems remain. See, "Iowa's Economic Foundation."

1. As for UI applicants "feeling welcome," someone needs to research and print, or put a comment up here, regarding the detailed differences in entrance requirements between the three schools. My impression is that Iowa requires students to take some relatively more difficult courses, if not in high school then before graduating from UI, that ISU does not, and that UNI requires even less. If that's not correct I apologize in advance. If correct, I can see why some students might prefer UNI or ISU over UI. The less that is expected of a student the more comfortable they may feel.
[I subsequently researched this and concluded, "The admission course requirements (for liberal arts students) at the three universities for Science, Math and Social Studies are relatively equivalent, essentially three years of each, and four of English. UNI's requirements are marginally more flexible on English (speech, communication, and journalism can count) and Science (for which "general science" counts).

Foreign language is the major difference. UI requires four years of a single language for graduation in Liberal Arts and Sciences, Business, and Nursing. Iowa State only requires two years of a single foreign language. And UNI applicants need only complete two years of high school foreign language with at least a C- in their second year.

Sources: University of Iowa. As a research university with a number of professional colleges, UI's admission standards vary between colleges. But here are the UI's "Minimum High School Course Requirements" for the Colleges of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Nursing.

Iowa State University. "Admission Requirements."

"UNI Freshman Admission Requirements".]
During this Press-Citizen online exchange, in response to my suggestion that the UI might have higher entrance requirements than Iowa State and UNI, a reader wrote, "Nicholas, that is not correct. ISU, Iowa and UNI all require a minimum of 245 on the Regents Admission Index (RAI) for admission. www.regents.iowa.gov/RAI/."

However, this morning [May 16] I received a comment from an official in a position to know that "the 245 RAI requirement is not a 'real' admission requirement. All three institutions can admit students below that threshold and, not surprisingly, ISU and UNI accept a lot more students below that threshold. If you go to the regents report at http://www.regents.iowa.gov/Meetings/DocketMemos/13Memos/October2013/fall2013enrollmenttables.pdf and scroll down to page 83, you'll see that Iowa's class this year of in-state students had 3.3% of students below the 245 RAI requirement. ISU had 7.8%. UNI had 15.4%. Iowa could accept more students below the 245, but we've chosen not to. The RAI is relatively new and it's 'interesting' that ISU and UNI have chosen not to adhere to it from the start (the previous 3 year of data are on pages 80-82)."

2. If anecdotal assertions regarding student happiness are to be our standard, my personal response when I see two parents and what appears to be their child looking lost on campus is to approach them, introduce myself, and take time to give them a bit of a tour. More than once has that child shown up at my office the following fall, recalling that experience. I can't believe I'm the only one doing that.

3. We have two good universities for undergraduate Iowans -- ISU and UNI. UI can also perform that function -- and as well. But that's not its primary strength and contribution to providing Iowa's towns with their doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals. That's not its primary contribution to Iowa's economy as one of our nation's major research universities. Of course, the UI can lower its undergraduate entrance requirements, pursue, enroll and educate more undergraduates. But is that really what the Regents should want?

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