Friday, March 16, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 419 - March 16

March 16, 7:25 a.m.

Yesterday was the day. We have four new Regents. "What a difference a day makes"? That remains to be seen. Michael Gartner still has "UI Held Hostage Day 419." (Commentary below.) And . . .

Iowa's Disadvantages Not Eliminated by "Advantage Fund"

Yesterday the Press-Citizen launched a double whammy on behalf of something called the "Iowa Advantage Fund," introduced in the legislature as House File 730. It's another proposal designed to keep Iowa college graduates in Iowa by subsidizing employers who help pay off the graduates' student loans. The Press-Citizen's support took the form of an op ed column, Jay Christensen-Szalanski, "Iowa's Bipartisan Solution," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 15, 2007, and an Editorial, "State Should Set Aside for an Iowa Advantage Fund," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 15, 2007.

First, let me say that I love creative ideas like this and would rather encourage than discourage them. But I find that something like 90% of my creative ideas don't pan out for one reason or another and need to be rejected, and since I freely admit that, I think it gives me license to subject others' ideas to the same critical evaluation I give my own.

This is one that doesn't make it to the finish line.

Why do we need it, according to the Press-Citizen? Because "many young professionals graduate college with such a high debt load that they can't even consider a lower-paying job in Iowa."

Read that again, and then think about it. "A lower paying job in Iowa"? Might that -- just possibly -- be the problem?

This is not rocket science.

I'm reminded of what my high school track coach told me when I asked him how I could improve my time in the mile. He had only two words of advice for me: "Run faster."

You want to know how to keep graduates in Iowa? "Pay more."

We might start with our anti-union attitudes and laws in this state, and the opposition of public officials and the business community to "living wage" proposals -- even increases in the minimum wage. Whether an employer has 100 workers or 10,000, there's no way that an out-of-work individual, looking for a job, can bring anything like equal bargaining power to the table in negotiating their salary and benefits. They have little option but to take what they're offered. Unions level that playing field.

If it weren't for unions we'd still be working 60-hour, six-day work weeks. It's unions that fought for us -- literally -- to get us the weekend. We'd still be working for the third-world wages that American corporations pay to workers in countries without unions. We'd still have child labor, and even more death and injury from unsafe working conditions than we have now. Businesses will pay workers the least they can; some would even make the argument that they have an obligation to shareholders to do just that.

Unions? Forget unions, prevailing wage rates, "living wages," and "project labor agreements." We can't even get an Iowa Legislature that will pass a "Fair Share" bill. See this morning's report: Jennifer Jacobs, "Democrats postpone action on 'fair share'; House leaders realize they don't have enough votes to pass the proposal," Des Moines Register, March 16, 2007. And that's a legislature controlled by Democrats!

Want to know what "Fair Share" is really about? The Press-Citizen has a letter to the editor this morning, challenging the paper's opposition to this modest proposal, with an apt analogy. (The paper editorialized that "Fair Share" wasn't necessary because if workers really appreciated the higher wages the union got for them they'd naturally want to just join the union.) Here's an excerpt from the letter: "[T]he Press-Citizen should put its money where its mouth is. The Press Citizen should be giving subscriptions to anyone and everyone who requests one. Then after reading the paper for awhile, anyone who feels that they are getting the services, news and information that is worth paying for can pay the subscription fee. If they feel they are not getting the services worth paying for, no problem, they can continue receiving the paper for free. Sounds like a deal to me." Michael Petersen, "Editorial Misses Mark on Fair Share," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 16, 2007.

Don't like unions? Want to hold wages down? Think that improves your annual income as an owner/employer? OK. But then don't bellyache about young people leaving the state, or the fact that those who stay can't afford to buy your goods and servces.

Make it possible for blue collar workers to increase their wages and benefits and increases in the salaries of the young professionals will follow. Level the playing field. "Pay more." Don't subsidize poverty, eliminate it.

So what else is wrong with House File 750? The day before, the Des Moines Register offered its view of the "Iowa Advantage Fund" in Editorial, "Another 'Brain Drain' Bill Misses Quality-of-Life Focus," Des Moines Register, March 14, 2007. Here are some excerpts:

"Iowa needs to retain and attract more young college graduates. But a bill in the Iowa Legislature that would grant tax credits to employers who pay back student loans is a bad way to try to accomplish that.

"House File 730 would allow businesses that repay a new employee's student loan debt of up to $25,000 over three years to get tax credits of up to $7,500. Employers would have to pay the new worker a salary or wage of at least $25,000, employ the person within the state and start repaying the student loan within six months of the hiring date.

* * *

"But believing this program would create new jobs is a lot to assume.

"Businesses trying to attract young, educated workers can offer to pay back student loans without help from Iowa taxpayers. And who's to say employers wouldn't simply reduce starting salaries to make up for the cost of repaying loans?

"It would be a misuse of precious public money to pay off student loans for workers who might very well have stayed in the state anyway. . . . Also, there is nothing to stop workers from packing up and heading across the state line after a mere three years.

"Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this bill: It would be unfair to students and families who planned, scrimped, saved and avoided high loans. Knowing you can have $25,000 in student debt repaid could provide an incentive to borrow more.

"To reduce student loan debt, public money would be better used to hold down tuition costs at state universities, so students don't graduate with huge debt in the first place."

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There's a lot to that last point. We no longer have the "state universities," the "public universities" that were originally created to provide virtually free higher education to all Iowans. We have "private universities," charging -- and regularly raising, well beyond rates of inflation -- private universities' rates for tuition, room and board, and parking fees. Just as "pay more" is the best way to get our kids to stay in Iowa, so is "charge less" the quickest way to reduce students' loan burdens.

The Register also advocates "recreation, cultural amenities, clean water and good schools." It fails to mention the advantages of "pay more," but it does give House File 750 the once over it deserves.

What a Difference a Day Doesn't Make

OK, we have four new Regents on a nine-person board. They look reasonable enough. But I don't have a clue what they're going to do with our Regents universities, and I suspect they don't either.

What I do know is that to rearrange four of the deck chairs on the "H.M.S. Iowa Titanic," while leaving Captain Michael Gartner at its helm, setting its course, is like turning over the U.S. House and Senate to the Democratic Party while leaving President George Bush in charge of the Iraq War. In fact, four new Regents are even less likely to change course for our educational ship of state than a whole new House and Senate have been for the course of the War.

Sorry, Governor and media, but the story, the headline, is Michael Gartner, it's not Campbell, Evans, Lang and Miles. But if you'd like to read the media's take on the story anyway, including Culver's acceptance of Gartner's continuing as Regents president, here are a couple of links. Erin Jordan and Jonathan Roos, "Culver heralds 'a fresh start'; Selections impress university officials," Des Moines Register, March 16, 2007; Diane Heldt, "4 New Regents Named," The Gazette, March 16, 2007; Brian Morelli, "Regents ready for 'fresh start'; Culver says 4 appointees value openness," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 16, 2007.

UICCU and "Optiva"

The UICCU-Optiva story is essentially behind us. There may be occasional additions "for the record," but for the most part the last major entry, with links to the prior material from October 2006 through March 2007, is
"UICCU and 'Optiva'" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 406 - March 3 - Optiva," March 3, 2007.

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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.

Searching: 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 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

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Media Stories and Commentary

See above.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would like to hear what Tom Bedell thinks about this "fresh start".