Monday, January 08, 2007

UI President Search - Deafening Silence - Jan. 8

Brian Morelli is a good reporter, and his story in this morning's (Jan. 8) Press-Citizen is, as always, interesting and well written ("Regents Could Get New Look; Culver to Reshape Board," linked below). He quotes some thinly-veiled comments from former Governor Brandstad regarding Regent Gartner, and what a governor looks for in selecting regents:

"You want people who have the ability to get along with others, consensus builders, .. . able to respect other people [and who maintain] . . . the respect of people of the state. . . . You want people who are really fair minded . . .."

And it's no fault of Morelli's that there's little more to report than that regarding Culver's intentions with regard to the removal of Regent Gartner -- which is really what this is all about.

Of course, "Regents could get a new look" and "Culver to reshape board." There are going to be four vacancies in March, and Governor Culver would be guilty of dereliction of duty if he didn't fill them. However, he has not even pledged to replace all four; he may end up reappointing some. And he's said nothing whatsoever about replacing Gartner (whose term does not expire until 2011).

So I think it's time to take a vote among those contributing to the deafening silence regarding Regent Gartner.

Who could do anything about his removal?

1. Regent Gartner could tender his resignation, or stay on the Board but agree to give up his position as president. In "The Answer" (Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII - The Answer," November 26, 2006), I suggested, as I continue to believe, that this course would really be in his best interest -- as well as having other, broader benefits. However, he has repeated, expressly and often, that he will continue to refuse to do this.

2. The entire Board -- or at least eight of the nine members -- could pass their own "vote of no confidence" in their president, or otherwise take Board action insisting on compliance with the Open Meetings law, or establishing board policies regarding board meeting procedures, and an approach to their governance responsibilities generally. However, they, too, have refused to act. Indeed, they continue to follow and respond without objection to Gartner's practice of circumvention of open meetings requirements and other good management practices.

3. Governor Vilsack could have removed Gartner at any time -- including today.

In the chapter of the Iowa Code dealing with the Board of Regents, chapter 262, there are two sections dealing with removal. Section 262.4 provides that "The governor, with the approval of a majority of the senate . . . may remove any member of the board for malfeasance in office, or . . . [if] incapable or unfit to discharge the duties of office . . .."

This is true even if the senate is not in session (as it was not during some of this time). The Iowa Code expressly provides in Section 262.5 that if the senate is not in session, "the governor may suspend any member so disqualified . . . subject to the approval of the senate when next in session."

However, the Governor has chosen, instead, to consistently express his confidence in the Regents and has never come close to suggesting that Gartner -- who is one of his major backers in Vilsack's presidential bid -- should be removed or resign. Long after President Bush has abandoned the mantra, Vilsack continues to chant, "Stay the course."

4. Governor-Elect Culver will, as of next week, have the same powers possessed today by Governor Vilsack. But he has, similarly, expressed in public no inclination to pursue that course.

5. Members of the Iowa Senate, especially those representing districts around the University of Iowa and other of the Regents' institutions, could ease Governor Culver's life by organizing 26 of their colleagues to support a Governor's removal of Regent Gartner -- in advance of the Governor's action. This would avoid for the Governor the prospect of "removing" Gartner, only to have him remain as Regents' president because his action was not ratified by the "approval of a majority of the senate." There have at least been no public reports of such action by individual senators.

6. There is an alternative. It's contained in the Code of Iowa, Chapter 66, "Removal From Office." Section 66.1A provides that "Any appointive . . . officer . . . holding any public office . . . may be removed . . . by the district court for any of the following reasons:
1. For willful or habitual neglect or refusal to perform the duties of the office.
2. For willful misconduct or maladministration in office.
. . ."
The chapter continues, "The petition for removal may be filed: . . . 2. As to state officers, by not fewer than twenty-five electors in the state."

Thus, we can conclude that there are not even 25 of Iowa's near-three million citizens ("electors") who would like to remove Gartner from office -- or at least not like this enough to seek out a lawyer and sign a petition to this effect.

7. And, of course, the Iowa Attorney General also has this power, as the first-named party who can file a petition for removal. Section 66.3 1 ("The petition for removal may be filed: 1. By the attorney general in all cases.") But the attorney general has not only not filed such a petition, his office has even advised the University of Iowa that it may treat as "private," rather than "public records," e-mails prepared on university equipment, in a university office, by a well-paid university employee, for a former (now unpaid) employee bearing the title "emeritus." So apparently there's no point looking to the attorney general in this matter.

As a public speaker, I have sometimes (thankfully rarely) heard faint applause or experienced critics faint praise. But notwithstanding my earlier study of Zen, I have never heard the "sound of one hand clapping" -- until now, as this deafening silence regarding Gartner's removal echoes across the empty corn and soybean fields of winter, small rural towns and the modest canyons of Iowa's major urban centers, its legislative halls and public officials' offices, and the farms and homes of Iowa's citizens.

Like Orwell's character, Winston, in the last paragraph of the novel 1984, it appears that Iowans, too, have decided that "it is all right, everything is all right, the struggle is finished. We have won the victory over ourselves. We love Big Brother."

# # #

Media Stories and Commentary

Editorial, "Decisions via e-mail a bad course for public; Regents' actions break tradition of openness," Des Moines Register, January 8, 2007

Brian Morelli, "Regents Could Get New Look; Culver to Reshape Board," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 8, 2007
# # #

[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. 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".]

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That Iowa honored Gartner as a Regent is ludicrous. This is man who was involved with the worst scandal in network news history.

Because of a man who came darn close to ruining NBC News, the University of Iowa is without leadership.

No one appears to be listening to voices that would wake up the population. Where are the great Iowa voices of the past who constructed the University of Iowa?

No one cares? No one understands the damage these Regents are doing to the school?

In the same way the population appears to be drugged to the scandals of Wellmark buying influence on the BOR, the population appears drugged to the Presidential/Regents scandal.

It is as if beer and football drug everyone into a stupor.

Is this state going to get what it, by virtue of it's apathy, deserves? A third or fourth tier university with a third tier football team?

I guess at least next year we have a chance of going into the season with a coach. And if our coach resigned, you can be damn sure there would be a huge rush to appoint a new one in days.

And yet it takes 18 months or more to appoint a president.

I would suggest again, if the state let's Gartner run the University, it will be run into the ground.

And the state can let Wellmark run schemes and buy influence.

Who cares?