Saturday, January 27, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 371 - Jan. 27

Jan. 27, 10:00 a.m., 8:00 p.m.

On this Day 371 of UI Held Hostage, the morning's stories are linked below.

In terms of the UI president search the news is all about Search Committee II: the membership, the first meeting, the planning process, rulings that Iowa's open meetings laws do apply and the committee's intention to hold weekly meetings (a subject to which Bob Patton directs his pen) and provide weekly reports, but the committee's disinclination to make a commitment at this time regarding on-campus interviews.

There's comment about the significant number of administrators leaving the UIHC, and a lengthy feature in praise of John Colloton.

And there's more to be said about the big business of UI's athletic program, with an op ed by Senator Chuck Grassley and transcript of Frank DeFord's NPR commentary a couple days ago.

And to this I add my brief letter to the editor in the Daily Iowan earlier in the week offering a snippet of systems analysis thinking about the planning and budgeting of public projects (in this case a new county jail) -- but an analytical approach also applicable to education in general, the local school district's proposed new tax, and the UI athletic program as well.

In Praise of Search Committee II

Virtually everything I can think of to say about the members of Search Committee II is laudatory and positive. They are quality people who care about this University, have a track record of service, and I am confident will take this responsibility seriously, do a quality job, and put in more hours on it than they probably should -- given their family and other obligations.

It is impressive that they are getting down to work and planning regular weekly meetings. It is reassuring that they seem committed to openness and are planning regular weekly reports to the University community.

We are fortunate they have agreed to serve, and we all owe them our thanks for doing so.

Search Committee II and Open Meetings Requirements

Yesterday (Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 370 - Jan. 26," January 26, 2007) I presented my interpretation of the Iowa Open Meetings law: the Search Committee II is required to hold its meetings in public -- and that it would be well advised to do so even if a technical legal argument could be made as to how it could evade the law.

I was soon reminded, by an Anonymous comment to my blog, that a column to which I had provided a link in early December revealed that this was the advice of the Iowa Attorney General to prior search committees. The authors of that column were Steve Collins, who chaired the 1995 search that resulted in the selection of Mary Sue Coleman (now president of Michigan), and Carroll Reasoner, a member of the 2002 search committee that ended up producing David Skorton (now president of Cornell). They wrote:

"The heads of the 1995 and 2002 University of Iowa presidential search committees were advised by the Attorney General’s Office that the search committee was a governmental body and needed to comply with the Iowa open meetings law. These leaders were also advised by that office on how to comply with the open meetings law, and they followed that advice. All discussion of process issues were held in open session at a public meeting in the presence of the press."

Steve Collins and Carroll Reasoner, "Golden rule for presidential searches," The Gazette, December 3, 2006.

From Brian Morelli's report this morning, linked below, we learn that "UI General Counsel Marc Mills was on hand to advise committee members on open meeting laws and the proper process for discussing candidate names.' We are a group sanctioned by the regents and, therefore, subject to open meeting laws,' said committee chairman and College of Dentistry Dean David Johnsen."

Since all now seem to agree that is the case, what is the basis for keeping the names of possible candidates "confidential"? Diane Heldt reports, "The group will go into executive session to discuss candidates and will keep candidate names confidential, but discussions of the process will be open, said Johnsen, dean of the UI College of Dentistry."

Search Committee II, Candidate Confidentiality and On-Campus Interviews

There are a number of issues regarding the confidentiality of candidates.

As I wrote yesterday, the primary exception to the Open Meetings requirements for Search Committee II would be when negative information about a potential candidate is being discussed -- information that would, in the words of the Iowa Code, cause "needless and irreparable injury to that individual's reputation." Iowa Code Sec. 21.5 (i). There is no exception, of which I am aware, for "personnel matters" generally, for "executive session to discuss candidates" (more colloquially, "closed, secret meetings") -- or, for that matter, a special distinction for "discussions of the process." Nor do I believe that the Code permits private bi-lateral agreements as a basis for closing meetings otherwise required by law to be open (or abandoning on-campus interviews); for example, an agreement between an applicant and Search Committee II that his or her application, and any discussion of that applicant, would be treated as "confidential" (i.e., be conducted in "closed" rather than "open" meetings).

There are two issues here: (1) can the names of candidates be revealed, and (2) can the pros and cons of candidates be discussed in open meetings?

Now I may be wrong. I don't have a copy of the act before me at the moment. There may be something in there that says the names of job applicants are (a) not "public records," and (b) can legally be discussed in "closed" meetings. It's just that, if so, I've either never seen it or can't now recall it.

Admittedly, the "needless and irreparable injury to that individual's reputation" language allows for some wiggle room. Frankly, I think that the phrase should refer (and may well originally have been intended to refer) to the consideration of the dismissal of an employee for reasons related to professional incompetence, or moral turpitude. To reveal that someone is under consideration for another position is something as likely to be viewed as "enhancing" rather than "injuring" someone's reputation -- indeed, it may well result in a proffered pay raise in an effort to keep that person in their present position.

The argument for confidentiality and closed meetings regarding candidates presumably is that, if they aren't selected for the position, that "rejection" may somehow reflect adversely on them; or that their supervisors or colleagues may think less of them because they were thinking about leaving. I guess I just don't think that can reasonably be said to meet the statutory definition of "irreparable injury to that individual's reputation" -- any more than qualifying for the Olympics in your sport, but then not winning the gold medal, could be said to be an "irreparable injury to one's reputation."

One can debate whether the law should be changed to provide for closed meetings when "governmental bodies" are discussing candidates for a position. That's another matter. I just think the law as written doesn't provide for such an exception.

There's an "administrative issue" with regard to how to handle the discussion of any candidate's record insofar as it includes negatives that could cause "irreparable injury to reputation." Worst case, it seems to me, a search committee could hold open meetings to go over candidates' basic resume data -- possibly including mention of the more positive comments from references. It could then hold a closed meeting for a discussion of the negatives, bad references -- even rumors and unsubstantiated allegations (if it's getting into such material).

In any event, I am unaware of anything in the law that permits closing an otherwise-open meeting merely because a candidate or candidates for a job opening are being discussed.

And I certainly am unaware of anything that would authorize keeping secret the mere names of candidates.

(It should probably be noted that, while a search committee cannot close a session without the agreement of a candidate, neither can it close a meeting merely because a candidate has requested it be closed.)

So that's a presentation (of sorts) of the negatives -- the reasons why the committee would be wrong to close meetings, and keep names confidential.

So what's the case for disclosure? Why should Search Committee II want to, for example, reveal the names of the four finalists and have them participate in on-campus interviews?

In terms of the law, note that the Iowa Open Meetings law both (a) starts with the presumption that questions should be resolved in favor of openness, and (b) makes expressly clear that nothing in the listing of exceptions (when meetings can be closed) imposes an obligation on a governmental body to close any meeting -- thus presumably including even meetings that would cause "irreparable injury." (I don't have the citations for those sections before me at the moment.)

So clearly (if my interpretation is correct) Search Committee II has all the legal authority it needs to run a totally open search. (In other words, even on those occasions when it legally could invoke closed meetings or confidentiality -- occasions which I believe to be somewhere between rare and non-existent -- are not occasions when the law requires that it must do so.)

1. Frankly, I would be somewhat put off by a presidential candidate who would even go along with a secret procedure with no campus visits -- let alone one who insisted upon it. Isn't it enough that we have a Board of Regents that wants to operate out of the sunshine? Do we really want a president who's also most comfortable functioning in the dark -- someone who doesn't even need to evolve into such patterns of secrecy, but who is comfortable beginning their administration on that note?

2. I really do not want a president who's in it for the money; someone who doesn't really want to work at the University Iowa; someone who just wants to be "a university president," any university's president; someone who's fully prepared to jump ship again in a couple years for whatever is the next best-paying and most prestigious position they can land.

Consider, by contrast, John Colloton's half-century at UIHC. As his former executive assistant, Amy O'Deen, is quoted as saying in this morning's feature on him, "'He was a very humble person,' she said.' He could have gone on to bigger, better paying jobs at other places across the country, but he didn't. He is a true Iowan, and this was his baby.'" Similarly, David Skorton, who gave so much to this University in so many ways, gave every indication that he, too, accepted the job with the intention of living out his career at Iowa.

(Not incidentally, this raises again what I described a couple days ago as "the elephant in our board room" -- Michael Gartner. (See Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search Held Hostage Day 70 - Jan. 25," January 25, 2007.) I believe Search Committee II simply must address those issues -- amongst themselves and with at least those who make it to the short lists near the end of their process. I won't repeat again what I discussed there.)

It is difficult to imagine a candidate with so little interest in the University, so little curiosity even, that he or she would be willing to accept the position as president without wanting campus visits -- unless their primary reasons for coming would be those I fear.

3. A president needs to be comfortable with faculty, staff, students, business and other community leaders, regents, legislators, and stakeholders. They, in turn, need to be comfortable with him or her. To leave all those individuals with the sense -- and the reality -- of having been totally excluded from the selection process is, as they say, "starting off backing up." And parachuting that new president down onto the Pentacrest, where her or she will meet those stakeholders for the first time after having already been designated as president, is a very substantial -- and easily avoidable -- additional hurdle for all to have to clear before the work can begin.

4. It would simply be a nice thing to do, a mark of respect, for the Committee and the Regents to say to the students, staff, faculty and administrators, "You matter. You're a part of this. We want you to have as much chance to meet and question the potential president of your university as you will have -- as an Iowan during this pre-caucus period, to meet and question the potential president of the United States."

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story, these blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006. Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.) For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each contains links to the full text of virtually all known media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006. My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006. And the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References". A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 (updated January 17, 2007) is also available.]

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Media Stories and Commentary

Nicholas Johnson, "New Jail Isn't Answer," The Daily Iowan, January 25, 2007 (with link to original DI editorial, "Talk of New Jail Should be More Than Just Words")

Erin Jordan, "U of I presidential search panel agrees to make its meetings open," Des Moines Register, January 26, 2007

Diane Heldt, "Campus interview decision put off; Committee members pledge openness," The Gazette, January 27, 2007

Diane Heldt, "String of exits draws concern; UI hospitals’ chief to stay, calls concerns natural but unfounded," The Gazette, January 27, 2007

Brian Morelli, "Search Committee Promises Openness," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 27, 2007

Kathryn Fiegen, "Colloton 'Leads by Example,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 27, 2007 (with link to "Colloton Records Request Timeline")

Bob Patton, "Shades of the Past" (editorial cartoon), Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 27, 2007

Charles Grassley, "Looking Out for Taxpayers by Looking at Donations," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 27, 2007

Frank DeFord, "Money in College Sports? Let's be Honest," Morning Edition, National Public Radio, January 24, 2007

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