Tuesday, November 28, 2006

UI President Search IX

The Greivances, the Problems, Need to be Explained

Well, the big closed meeting with UI officials and Governor Vilsack ended last evening with very little revealed thereafter except that "progress" had been made and that maybe there wouldn't be votes of "no confidence" in the Regents' leadership after all.

The Daily Iowan editorializes, "No-Confidence Vote Not the Way to Go," The Daily Iowan, November 28, 2006. But its analysis conflates the no-confidence vote with curtailing all communication. I think that's a mistake and that there is a middle way.

Of course, communication should continue -- whether there's a vote of no confidence or not. Even President Bush is coming around to the view that perhaps a refusal to communicate with Syria, Iran and North Korea is not the best way to serve U.S. interests -- notwithstanding the equivalent of "no confidence" expressions from all sides. Similarly, there's no reason why the UI constituent groups should not continue to communicate with the Regents if the opportunity for constructive and mutually respectful dialogue presents itself.

But the no-confidence vote is another matter. Perhaps the name should be changed from "No-Confidence" to something less confrontational, such as, "A Petition from [the constituent group name] to the Governor of Iowa and the Iowa Board of Regents."

There's no reason why such a petition can't begin with a thanks to the Governor for his time and efforts in bringing the parties together, and an expressed willingness to continue negotiations so long as they continue to be profitable.

But it is essential, in my view, for all involved -- Governor, Regents, UI community and stakeholders -- for the UI groups to prepare and present to the world their lengthy list of grievances going back for years and involving far more than the most recent problems surrounding the Regents' presidential search process. Those problems should not be swept under the rug or provided nothing but a band aid in the emergency ward, in the name of "progress" having been made.

Nor should their presentation to the world be delayed. Surely everyone is aware that at least a part of what is going on here (in addition to some very commendable efforts to solve this mess) is an effort to calm the waters long enough that students and faculty are focusing on exams, following which the university will out for the holiday break, the alums are thinking about the Alamo Bowl, and the rest of the citizenry is wondering how they can handle their credit card debt in 2007 if they buy the kids all the things they want in 2006.

I first discovered this institutional public relations technique when serving as an FCC commissioner. Whenever the Commission was really up to no good it would tend to time the release of its decisions so as to minimize the media's attention. Finally, a particularly egregious example, involving a soaking of ATT's telephone subscribers with a big rate hike, prompted me to write about it in an article published by the Saturday Review under the title: "Why Ma Bell Still Believes in Santa," Saturday Review, March 11, 1972, p. 57 ("The commission . . . as usual chose a 'graveyard time' to announce an important decision -- the late afternoon of the last working day before Christmas -- in the hope that the press would not particularly notice the announcement.")

Given that the holiday season has already begun -- we've survived "Black Friday" and, yesterday, "Internet Monday" -- you can see why that old article might have come to mind, and why there may be those among us who also "believe in Santa."

Face it, the Iowa Board of Regents governance system and practices are broken (of which more later from a more credible source than myself). Those practices are not good for the State of Iowa, and they are certainly not good for the creation and maintenance of a quality academic institution. They simply must be addressed and reformed.

The listing of grievances
need not be called a "vote of no-confidence." It need not be mean-spirited. But it must be thorough and it must be candid, and it must be now.

The people of Iowa, their legislators, Regents, and the UI community must be made aware that the University's objections have not been the rantings of a bunch of petulant professors disconnected from "the real world." The full list of grievances will make clear these substantive problems are "the real world" and that the objections to them are both reasonable and responsible.

The Regents' Governance Model is Broken and Needs Repair

I have written about theories and practice of board governance, and the use of the John Carver model by the School Board of the Iowa City Community School District on which I served. See Nicholas Johnson, "Board Governance: Theory and Practice," with links to some of John Carver's writing. (One of his observations is that, without his or comparable clearly articulated governance models, "boards are incompetent groups of competent people.") And see, in the context of this presidential search, Nicholas Johnson, "What are the necessary qualifications for UI's president?" UI President Search I," November 18, 2006, par. 4. My experience and observations shape my perception of the Regents' governance problems.

But I have promised "a more credible source" on these issues than myself. And here he is -- along with a column of his from last June.

Schantz previously served as general counsel of the University of Iowa, solicitor general of Iowa and as a member of the First in the Nation in Education Commission. He is currently a professor at the University of Iowa College of Law. Thus, he's had some experience with all of this.

Needless to say, a part of the reason for a reference to Mark Schantz' take on these issues is that he and I see pretty much eye-to-eye on the problems -- and solutions. He, John Carver, and I would also tend to agree with the assessment of Steven Sample, quoted in Schantz' column:

Which decisions should be made by the Board of Trustees? Very few, if the trustees have the university's best interests at heart. The board should be concerned mainly with decisions that define vision and goals, and whether the president and his coterie of top-level officers are achieving their goals. In the long run, these may well be the only decisions that any university
governing board should make."

It is, however, important to note that Professor Schantz has not spoken or written publicly about the presidential search, and nothing in this column was written with that in mind. Nor is he the one who has suggested to me that I reproduce his column today in this context. But I think it is important to do so. Rather than link to it, I simply reproduce it here:

Why not a broad review of Regents' role?

Mark Schantz

Des Moines Register

June 24, 2006

Recent news articles indicate a legislative committee will raise questions about alleged Board of Regents micro-management of the University of Iowa.

Little good is likely to emerge from an investigation that focuses on specific incidents and personalities. What could be helpful is the appointment of a blue-ribbon task force by the General Assembly/governor to conduct a thorough review of the structure and functioning of the Board of Regents.

The three regents universities themselves have been the subject of several serious reviews in recent decades, as has been the K-12 system. But the basic structure and functioning of the Board of Regents has not been carefully examined from outside since it replaced the State Board of Education in 1955. That has not been the case in other states, Illinois for example.

What questions about the Board of Regents might be appropriately pursued by such a task force? The following would be a good start.

1. Should Iowa law provide a governing board for each institution rather than one overarching structure? There is necessarily some overlap in the missions and programs of the three institutions, but they also clearly possess unique strengths and face different economic realities. In an environment where available new resources are not keeping pace with increasing costs, a strategic focus of building on strengths may well make more sense than attempting equitably to allocate diminishing quality. A board dedicated, say, to Iowa State University could itself focus on goals appropriate to that institution and develop the specific expertise necessary for wise policy decisions. Certainly the current board manages institutions that are far larger, more complex and more expensive than they were in 1955.

2. Should the present trend toward centralizing the governance structure in Des Moines, often characterized as movement toward a "system" model, be halted or reversed? The staff and budget of the Board Office (staff to the Regents) has grown significantly faster than its legislative appropriation. Nearly $2 million has been reallocated from the institutions to support this growth, funds that might be better spent on hiring (or retaining) quality faculty.

3. Should the institutional governing boards be reconstituted as public corporations, as they are in many states, rather than as state agencies as they are in Iowa? Universities undertake few of the regulatory functions characteristic of most executive agencies. The public-corporation model would serve to underscore the fiduciary role of governing boards as "long-term stewards" of the universities, rather than as an extension of a governor's political program, as most true agencies are and should be. This change, then, would tend to return the boards to their historic role as buffers between short-term political concerns and long-term institution-building.

4. Should the boards and their officers be given at least general direction concerning their appropriate role? Steven B. Sample, who has led the University of Southern California to an enhanced academic reputation and relative prosperity has this to say:

Which decisions should be made by the Board of Trustees? Very few, if the trustees have the university's best interests at heart. The board should be concerned mainly with decisions that define vision and goals, and whether the president and his coterie of top-level officers are achieving their goals. In the long run, these may well be the only decisions that any university
governing board should make.

This is the advice given to all trustees by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, which includes trustees of public institutions often known as "regents." In the same vein, a board president should see herself as the presiding officer of a collective governing board, not as an executive officer superior to a university president.
MARK SCHANTZ teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law. He previously served as general counsel of the University of Iowa, solicitor general of Iowa and as a member of the First in the Nation in Education Commission. The opinions expressed above are his alone.

The Vice President

The proposed new vice president position at the University of Iowa for oversight of the UIHC and College of Medicine deserves a close look. This is not to say there is at this time any evidence whatsoever, of which I am aware, of anything out of the ordinary.

But the old "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" comes to mind. And this is not twice, or three times -- it's the fourth time.

1. The CEO of Wellmark was appointed to the Board of Regents. Given the fact that the UIHC negotiates with Wellmark over rates, this rather obvious conflict of interest ultimately led to the removal of that Board member.

The Wellmark influence by means of membership on the Board of Regents having failed, when the UI President, David Skorton, stood up for the University's rights in those Wellmark negotiations, the Regents' behavior that contributed to his ultimate departure began. As Regent Bob Downer writes, "why was Skorton denied a raise comparable to the other presidents? I would submit that it was due to Skorton's heresy in giving a notice of termination of the University Hospitals' contract with Wellmark in December 2004." (See link to "Many Fences to Mend," below.)

3. As an alternative to Regents control, the latest presidential search offered the last minute opportunity for the Regents to select a UI president -- Deborah Freund -- with ties to a $5 billion health insurance company.

4. It's possible, if in fact the Regents follow their own procedure, and the suggestions of Governor Vilsack, that the president will be selected from the final four. This will leave both the Regents, and the UI president's office, without a top health insurance executive in place.

According to an anonymous comment on this blog entry, the UIHC gets 25% of its revenue from Wellmark. I have no independent knowledge of that fact, but it certainly seems ballpark. The comment also suggests that these amounts were, formerly, unilaterally set by Wellmark -- until Skorton suggested they should be negotiated, and was, according to Regent Downer, apparently run off as a result.

5. Now, as an alternatve to an insurance-friendy Regent or UI president, it has been proposed that a new (or at least not presentaly occupied) position of vice president with responsibility for the UIHC -- and its negotiations with Wellmark -- be created. It is not insulting to anyone, or irresponsible, to suggest that the search process for filling this position needs to be watched for yet another example of Wellmark influence, and the possible return to non-negotiated relations between the UIHC and Wellmark.

Media Stories and Commentary

Editorial, "No-Confidence Vote Not the Way to Go," The Daily Iowan, November 28, 2006

Dean Treftz, "Search 'Progress' Reported After Meeting," The Daily Iowan, November 28, 2006

Erin Jordan, "U of I groups delay protest votes; The governor buys time for Iowa Board of Regents," Des Moines Register, November 28, 2006

Diane Heldt, "Meeting with Governor Cools UI Tension," The Gazette, November 28, 2006

Brian Morelli, "Officials tight-lipped after meeting; No-confidence vote on regents uncertain," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 28, 2006

Brian Morelli, "No-Confidence Vote Cancelled,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 28, 2006

"Fethke Urges Calm, Greer Discusses Meeting,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 28, 2006

"UI Provost Finalist for Delaware Job,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 28, 2006

Rachel Kipp, "Second finalist for president tours UD; Board hopes to make decision by year's end," The News Journal (Wilmington)/Deleware Online, November 28, 2006 [Provost Mike Hogan at University of Deleware]

Robert N. Downer, "Many Fences to Mend,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 28, 2006
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Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site www.nicholasjohnson.org
Nicholas Johnson's Iowa Rain Forest ("Earthpark") Web Site
Nicholas Johnson's Blog, FromDC2Iowa
Nicholas Johnson's Blog Index


Anonymous said...

Interesting comments.

Just consider this entire process as a coup. This is one episode. The coup dumped the offending President, David Skorton. The coup has not been completed.

If you follow this analogy, the pieces start to fit into place.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering how frequent it is for a major university to:

1) have its presidential search conducted in secrecy and

2) conduct interviews off campus? I am assuming no finalists was even given a tour of the very facility that he/she would lead. Certainly the candidates were never exposed to the general faculty, student body, or general public.

Given the fact that state is providing less and less support to the UI, it is troubling that the Regents/Vilsac want to exert ever increasing control. Seems like they see the UI as a cash cow (or even a source of personal wealth?)

I wish more faculty members would speak out. They are among the most protected class of employees. It'd be nice to see that privilege (tenured freedom) exercised at this time when the UI is being threatened.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the real issue that needs to be brought out is the role of Wellmark and of people from the Board of Regents and their involvement.

I want to know, what was the reasoning for not giving Skorton the 5% raise the ISU and UNI presidents got? One regent has come forward and basically said this involved Wellmark.

Now they are talking of dusting off an eliminated position to provide political cover?

I am sorry to say that nothing will do in this case but a total change in the regents. Including Bob Downer whom I respect a great deal. Appearance becomes reality. Give the interim president an extension and let the new governor name a new Board of Regents, totally free of Wellmark connections, and let them do a new process. I know this is not perfect, but sadly I can't see another way to do it.

Anonymous said...

I've never been terribly impressed with Vilsack (can you think of anything positive that he's done while in office?).

But this debacle is the last straw. Not only should the Regents be "dissolved", but Vilsack, in the interest of not embarrassing his political party, should give up on his quixotic race to the Presidency.

Tom: Wellmark should not control UIHC and you should not try to be prez.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #1 here:

1. Google 'Debra Freund' and you will see that she was involved in searches as UCLA and Arizona. Those searches, like most, are held out in the open, somewhat. There are early confidential sessions, but once it gets down to 4 or 6, usually there are extentive sessions with students and faculty. I was amazed that people expected a president to be named without any sessions in Iowa City.

2. The Univ of Iowa is not a cash cow. This is an important point. Do the Regents give a hoot who runs Home EC, or History, or Spanish? Well, yeah, but they are not that interested.

The 'cash cow' or the business is the UIHC. Since the onset of managed care, a huge economic issue is the financing and delivery of health care. One of the largest businesses in the state is Wellmark. Wellmark NEEDS UIHC like a baby needs milk. Because of the demographics of Iowa, a UIHC dominates health care unlike almost every other academic center in the country. Therefore the IUHC is critical to Wellmark, as well as a sweetheart deal with the UIHC.

The Principal can live without U of I. John Deere can live without the U of I. Aegon and Maytag (LOL) don't need the U of I.

Would it matter to Des Moines businessmen who is President of the U of I if there were no UIHC? No, and they would think it would be a pointy-head academic anyway.

However, the inclusion of a dominant medical center, when health care is a huge industry, then makes who is U of I President important, and important to money men.

3. Google 'Wellmark' and 'UIHC'. Check out the stories. 'Contentious' would be a mild word to use.

25% of the UIHC's revenues comes from Wellmark. Wellmark did set reimbursement rates without input or negotiation in the past. When former President Skorton objected to this, he was faught by Regent's members Forsyth (supposedly recused) and Neil. Later Skorton was run off by the Board of Regents (including former Wellmark board member Wahlert, and Arbisser, husband of Wellmark board member arbisser), and the 'friend of the industry', Gartner.

The conclusion is that the coup against Skorton is not complete until a health-industry favored president is installed at U of Iowa.

The condition in which such a president will be choosen needs secrecy, and influence from Wellmark on the Board of Regents.

Both have been established.

Gov Vilsack, and Iowa Govt should be ashamed of their role in this duplicity.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1,

This is Anon 2. Thank you for your elaborations. It is ashame that we don't have more concerned entities out there to

(1) further investigate and document this entanglement of interests and

(2) inform the public as to what's at stake here.

I've been disappointed at the Press-Citizen's non-investigative stance during this time.

It seems that "our" standard of living is so high that "we" tend to get lazy about defending and supporting worthwhile ventures. Higher education is one such venture. Many smart people are attracted to university environments NOT to make big bucks, but to pursue intellectual puzzles and share knowledge. Yes, that sounds idealistic, but I personally know that that is a real component of some academics and researchers.

Since the Reagan era, there has been a tremendous emphasis on "co-modifying" everything -- seeing every venture as a potential money maker.

If that notion is applied to higher education, we will destroy the essential, unique, element of better institutions and we will be teaching our children not the value of learning but the value of making a buck. (sigh).

Anonymous said...

Anon 2,

I agree that the "big" cash cow is the UIHC and that is perhaps indeed what gets the Regents drooling.

However, there are many other, admittedly smaller considerations. And they add up.

The UI, in general, has become more "business like", using more marketing approaches to recruitment, entering in exclusive contracts, lavishing $$$ on high-profile ventures, curtailing course offerings because of low student-to-faculty ratios (i.e., unprofitable courses), and putting more pressure on faculty to get grants. While the UI gets more top-heavy with administrators, those administrators really love grants -- and their F&A monies.

Finally, there has been a general push for various support organizations within the UI to act as their own "profit centers", which results in shifting work loads on to someone else. Example: anyone who's traveled on business knows that the UI travel office now requires the traveler to do a lot more the work that the travel office used to do. That's cost shifing. Another example: cut-backs on secretarial support. So staff and faculty end up doing a lot more piddly crap than they did 30 years ago.

My point is that the Regent debacle might concern the UIHC, but there is also this slow transformation of the university away from its roots. Building new buildings and sucking up to the sports behemoth doesn't necessarily advance the educational mission, but they seem to be perennial top priorities. These priorities do little to attract dedicated teachers and honest, smart researchers. The UI should, of course, run on budget, but should shun the "profit center" notion.

Anonymous said...

Again, one of the Anon's here.

I don't think we should dismiss out of hand, the business aspect of a university. Although I am a business idiot, we have to face it that athletics, health care, and some other things are a 'business'. There is no going back.

Having said that, I agree that times have changed a great deal. In many ways, academia is somewhat bogus. You point out some of the ways the various departments here fight for dollars.
- departments in the hospital open duplicate services, to steal each others business, in a struggle to survive.
- tuition increases as 'face time' for real professors decreases
- advisors for students are often vacuous, leaving students baffled about the application of their education, leaving them with a large debt, and no career

Now is a time for real leadership to assert itself to lead the Univ of Iowa to something better. Dynamic, energetic, creative leadership.

This is a time when there should be sessions for students and faculty and the community to meet the candidates to ask them serious quiestions about serious issues.

Rather than a dynamic search process, we get a coup to replace a health-industry unfriendly president with a friendly president. That is so disappointing it hurts.

Look at our current Board of Regents. Other than the obvious ties to Wellmark, not that many of them have actual educations in Iowa colleges, or ties to Iowa campuses.

You are going to tell me Ruth Harkin who hasn't lived here in 20 years is an effective Regent? That Gartner is in touch with the issues in Ames, Cedar Falls, and Iowa City? Wahlert has no Iowa school on her resume.

Downer does. And Connelly does.

The Univ of Iowa will live thru this crisis. Wellmark will get some kind of deal with the UIHC, although maybe not the sweetheart deal they want, to skim off profits. But I come to a couple conclusions:

1. Why doesn't Wallmark just be honest with people, instead of trying to stack the board. Now they have proven themselves to be devious and manipulative. I would say they deserve some tighter regulation.

2. And Vilsack has proven he is not a visionary leader. He is unable to manage a critical part of his responsibility to the state, that is the state's trust that he keep an INTELLECTUALLY HONEST educational system.

Vilsack and the Regents can try damage control as much as they wish. People in the state who are paying attention will not forget this episode.

Anonymous said...

Another problem is the response of the Faculty Senate. To add to the secretive nature of the presidential search process, the senators most involved with the search are clamming up. They discouraged open communication at the Faculty Senate meeting.

So this is what a public university has come down to? Secrets, deals,and handshakes behind closed doors.

God bless the public and the students, and the teachers, because apparently they are mindless debit-card carrying sheep to be led by the paternalistic leadership.

God bless those public servants who use the public monies to conduct secret business.

Anonymous said...

I was intrigued by the "DC 2 Iowa" title because I believe it reflects a larger problem with presidential searches than simply UI. Consider the Gallaudet search which was a fiasco. Another DC area search at Montgomery College, two year community college, was conducted by the same search firm that did Gallaudet's; two of the final candidates withdrew, leaving the "last man standing" as the Board's "choice"--but not the faculty's. Is there a major disconnect between Board and their colleges? Are search firms, especially those with ties to an institution, the best way to find a college president??