Thursday, November 23, 2006

UI President Search IV

Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search

Today's (November 23) is the fourth installment in this blog's report and commentary regarding the continuing saga of the Iowa Board of Regents' efforts to find a president for the University of Iowa. Here are links to the prior three: Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006; Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search II," November 21, 2006; Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search III," November 22, 2003.

Each contains links to the full text of such reports, media stories, blogs and other commentary as I have found, along with commentary of my own. For example, the first contains, among other things, a summarized version of the facts, and a relatively long essay in paragraph 4 entitled, "What are the necessary qualifications for UI's president?" The second contains my effort to identify eight separate categories of issues involved in these stories, provide a bit of legal analysis of Iowa's open meetings law, and reference a little history from Regent Michael Gartner's past. And in III I deal with the implications of the revelation that among the reasons for rejecting the four candidates recommended by the search committee, these Regents, bedeviled by ties to health insurance company Wellmark in the past, may have preferred the candidate they did because of her ties to a related health insurance provider. This story, of course, has implications for Governor Vilsack's presidential race, and the beginning of Governor-Elect Culver's term.

More on Wellmark Conflict

A couple comments on the last entry -- in which I raise a lot of questions about ties between Governor Vilsack, his appointees on the Board of Regents, and Wellmark (the insurance company in negotiations with the UI Hospital and Clinics) -- includes an impressive list of connections between the Board of Regents and Wellmark. Although the source is "Anonymous" the information is factual and can easily be confirmed (or not). Here's the text of those comments:

"Anonymous said...

The real issue here is the attempt to get a sweetheart deal for Wellmark with the Univ of Iowa Hospital.

That was the goal with 2 Wellmark officials on the Regents in the past.

And now the favored presidential candidate was an 'insurance-industry' candidate.

Who is promoting Gov Vilsack's presidental run? Gartner. Wahlert. Wellmark exec Forsyth.

Look at the Wellmark board.

Connect the dots. Follow the money.

11/22/2006 10:42:42 PM

"Anonymous said...

Let's look at some connections:

Teresa Wahlert: board member of Wellmark (past); President of Mid American

Marvin Pomerantz: current board member of Wellmark; CEO of Mid American

John Colloton: Past CEO Univ Iowa Hosp; Current board of Wallmark

John Forsyth: CEO Wallmwark; Past regent

David Neil: former regent; current board member of Wellmark (even briefly resigned as Wellmark member so he could vote on an issue as a regent)

Dr Amir Abisser, whose wife Lisa Arbisser was formerly on the board at Wellmark

And finally good buddy of the whole gang, Michael Gartner.

That, my friends is a hall of shame of conflict of interest at best and corruption at least.

Can you believe the regents of the University of Iowa are this corrupt?

Where is our attorney general to investigate?

11/23/2006 01:56:06 AM
More on Duplicitous Explanations

Investigative reporter, Erin Jordan, who broke the Deborah Freund bombshell of a story yesterday, is back today with the checklist used by the search committee in evaluating their 150 canddates. Erin Jordan, "U of I president search: Checking into the checklist; Health science record accounted for 10 of 180 points on presidential score sheet," Des Moines Register, November 23, 2006.

As reported earlier, but at that time not yet documented, the "Criteria Rating Sheet" used by the search committee provided for a numerical evaluation of candidates on a number of qualifications. Only two of the 36, worth five points each out of a possible total 180 points, had anything to do with health science. (It is now available, in full text, as a link from the Jordan story.) Moreover, Jordan reports, even these were only added to the Regents' list by search committee members, not Regents.

[Steve McGuire, a curriculum and instruction professor on the search committee, said faculty staff and students who served on the 18-member advisory committee charged with choosing four finalists were not told to give health science experience more weight than other qualifications.

'Teresa Wahlert encouraged us to find people outside of health sciences because it was too dominated by health science,' he said.

Five of the top seven candidates for the position either had a medical background or had leadership experience at an institution with a medical school or a hospital, McGuire said." Erin Jordan, "Adviser: Regents Had Job Finalist in Mind; Participants in the search for a new U of I president question the board's reason for rejecting the top 4 picks," Des Moines Register, November 21, 2006]

This is relevant because the ostensible reason offered by Michael Gartner for rejecting the four finalists, calling off the search, and firing the search committee members, was that the Regents "needed candidates who had more experience as leaders who oversaw complex health-sciences operations." Clearly, it now seems, that was not a qualification that had occurred to the Regents as of primary importance -- and certainly not as one calling for a rejection of all finalists if it was not met -- until they discovered their favorite insurance industry candidate was not among those finalists.

Search Firm Conflict of Interest?

The Gazette has a story this morning about possible search firm conflicts of interest. Diane Heldt, "Search firm tie to peer questioned; Some on committee saw problem with Ohio State as client," The Gazette, November 23, 2006. This comes about because they are often in the position of serving multiple -- and competing -- applicants and employers simultaneously (as was the case here).

My problem with search firms, beyond that, is that I don't think they're all that good. News reports are that most -- or at least many, including the "final four" -- of the applicants came from suggestions from the search committee, not the search firm. As tight a group as are the faculties and administrators of the nation's top universities, it would be a rare university that would not have the resources on campus to come up with a list fully as good as any search firm. Indeed, I have a law school colleague who could probably tell you off the top of her head every applicant for every law school dean search on any given day.

Moreover, I had an experience as a board member in which we were about to hire on the basis of a search firm's recommendation. I wanted more information and had only a weekend to get it. A simple Internet search, plus a lot of phone calling, produced an enormous amount of information that had simply never been brought to our attention. And most of those to whom I spoke regarding this, and other, applicants -- logical people to interview, as former colleagues, supervisors, employees who had worked with them, members of the media in their communities -- had never even been contacted by the search firm.

Near as I can tell, the primary function of such firms is to provide "protective coloration." It's like they used to say in the 1960s and 1970s: "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM equipment." If there is dissatisfaction with the ultimate hire after the fact, search committee members can say, "Hey, we got one of the best search firms in the country and this is what they came up with."

And apparently that's a powerful factor for, notwithstanding their costs (plus expenses), many boards of whatever seem to shell out the money.

Media Stories and Commentary

Erin Jordan, "U of I president search: Checking into the checklist; Health science record accounted for 10 of 180 points on presidential score sheet," Des Moines Register, November 23, 2006 -- with a link to the full text of the "Criteria Rating Sheet" used by the search committee

Blog Comments," U of I Presidential Search," Des Moines Register Newsroom Online, November 21, 2006 (updated November 22, and November 23 as of 8:30 a.m.)

Diane Heldt, "Search firm tie to peer questioned; Some on committee saw problem with Ohio State as client," The Gazette, November 23, 2006

Lawrence Rettig, "Michael Gartner should resign regent post now," The Gazette, November 23, 2006

Charles Miller, "Is UI Just Another Business?"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 23, 2006
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