Wednesday, May 23, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 487 - Governance Regents Number One Priority

May 23, 2007, 11:55 a.m.

Regents, Governance, PR Firms, Strategic Planning, Presidential Selection, and June 13

As I have written here at length over the past few months, the number one, top priority issue confronting the Board of Regents -- and especially its new additions -- is the study, eventual selection, and application of, a governance model. See, e.g., most recently,
Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on 'Governance," in "UI Held Hostage Day 451 - Open Letter to Regents," April 17, 2007.

Two recent items further illustrate this need.

So far as is known, the Regents' Executive Director and President, without formal Board action, have decided to hire a public relations firm.
"Request for Proposals: Promotional Services for the Board of Regents, State of Iowa;" see especially, Section F. Proposal to Implement the Statement of Work, p. 8. By May 21 there were sufficient questions regarding the content of this RFP that a "Questions and Answers" had to be issued. See, Associated Press, "Regents Want to Hire a Marketing, PR Expert," Des Moines Register, May 18, 2007 ("I don't have the expertise to say, 'How do we get this news on the front page of some newspapers around the state?'" [Regents Executive Director Gary] Steinke says. "That's the kind of thing we need to do a better job of — blowing our own horn.")

Clearly, anyone who would phrase the question in that way is in need of a little guidance. The way you "get this news on the front page" is to provide the newspaper, in timely fashion, with information which -- in their judgment, not yours -- is worthy of the front page, and then return their phone calls promptly when they call. Every for-profit and non-profit institution in the country, along with most celebrities, wants to "blow its own horn." Do you have any idea how much of their public relations firms' self-serving (and not incidentally very expensive) horn blowing on behalf of clients ends up in newspaper editors' circular files -- often unopened?

Actually, it's highly unlikely that there is advice from any public relations firm in the country that is even the equal, let alone better than, that which could be easily provided by the fellow who happens to be the President of the Board of Regents. He is, after all, a former newspaper editor, a frequent newspaper contributor, a newspaper owner, and former President of NBC News. Aside from his advice and guidance, most of the routine media relations tasks can be performed by someone among those 21 employees in Steinke's office ("The Board Office has 21 individuals," Answer to Question 9, "Questions and Answers," p. 3).

So it's not clear to me (without knowing more) why the Board would need a public relations firm. As "JackDM" put it, in a comment on the Register's May 18 AP story:

Since when do we need to hire PR and Marketing Firms for State departments or agencies? I mean are they going to do ads that say "We are better than the Illinois Board of Regents?"

The Board of Regents and their staff have never had a sense of reality. Instead of all those salaries they should disband the Regents Office and allow the Universities to govern themselves like the majority of states do. We save money on the building rent in Urbandale, we eliminate salaries and benefits for the goof offs in the office, and eliminate private plane travel, meal benefits at five star restaurants, and...the embarrassment of the Board of Regents. The money could be placed into the colleges to at least keep tuition steady. Go to the Board of Regents website and look at the budget they have!
Now don't get me wrong. I don't think we should do away with the Board of Regents, and I frankly doubt that its staff consists of "goof offs." But I do think the Board -- and we -- need to think through the governance model. What, exactly, is it that the Board should be doing and why?

Why does "the Board" need a public relations firm? There is relatively little news that comes from the Board of Regents, as such. Not only is a Board public relations firm unnecessary, it would make matters worse in a variety of ways -- not the least of which would be public relations.

The most newsworthy stories (mostly positive, but also negative) come from the Regents' institutions themselves -- such as the University of Iowa. In the nature of media relations -- especially in an age of the 24/7 news cycle -- efficient and effective coverage requires that the stories, and the media's contacts, come from those on the scene. So far as I can see, the institutions' news services are doing about as good a job as anyone could, given their resources. Requiring them to run their stories and responses to reporters' questions through "the Regents' public relations firm" would be one of the biggest steps backward imaginable.

So far as I know, it's relatively unusual for, say, a corporate board of directors to have its own public relations firm -- separate and apart from that which serves the company. So we're back once again to governance issues.

If you conceive of the Regents' institutions as the subsidiary corporations of a conglomerate corporation called The Board of Regents, with the President of the Board as the CEO, the Executive Director as the COO (his actual self-characterization), and the 8 other Regents as vice presidents reporting to the CEO, that's one model -- not very far from the way the present Board seems to work. Under such a model, it would still be inefficient, but otherwise understandable, to have all contact with the media run through "headquarters." [Source: "The single contact person will be the Executive Director . . . chief operating officer of the Board of Regents . . .."
Answer to Question 9, "Questions and Answers," p. 3.]

If, on the other hand, you apply the John Carver model to the Board, along with the 80-year-old national tradition of "shared governance" of universities, with the universities' presidents as close as you'll get to a CEO, responsibility for media relations would normally rest with the universities.

And that is why, before the Board can even think about the matter of hiring a public relations firm it first needs to address, as its top priority, the matter of a governance model.

The same thing can be said for Michael Gartner's unilateral announcement that the June 13 meeting is to be devoted in large measure to "strategic planning."

From this morning's Gazette: Diane Heldt, "Regents ready for strategic planning," The Gazette, May 23, 2007, p. B2.

The state Board of Regents, the presidents of Iowa’s three public universities, and a University Hospitals leader will discuss long-term strategic planning at the June 13 regents meeting in Des Moines. Regents President Michael Gartner, in an e-mail to the regents, the presidents of the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, and to Jean Robillard, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the UI Carver College of Medicine, laid out a plan for the discussion.

It’s a good time to jump back into the subject, Gartner told The Gazette, because the June meeting is light on other business, the UI presidential search is coming to a close, and four new regents are in place. ‘‘It seems like a good time to sit back and take an assessment of where we are and where we’d like to go,’’ he said.

It will be an informal, public discussion of the long-term views for the UI, ISU, UNI and University Hospitals, he said, and likely the first in a series of discussions.

Questions suggested in his e-mail include:
| What should the universities look like academically and structurally in 10 years?
| What areas should each excel in, both in teaching and in research?
| When is duplication needed and when is it a less-than-ideal use of resources?
| What existing areas at each institution need to be fortified, what new areas need to be launched, what areas must be maintained but not emphasized, what areas should be phrased out?
| How can each university best serve the state’s and its citizens’ changing and increasingly diverse interests?
| What can the universities do to make sure entering students are more than adequately prepared for a university curriculum?

* * *
This raises all kinds of questions. A month ago I addressed some of them in the context of the need for a Regents-Universities governance model. Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on 'Governance," in "UI Held Hostage Day 451 - Open Letter to Regents," April 17, 2007.

The Board of Regents already does some of this [establish John Carver's "ends policies"] with "strategic plans" and "goals" for its institutions' presidents. (See, for example, "2004-2009 Strategic Plan of the Board of Regents," which, while largely hortatory and devoid of measurable goals, anticipates such might be developed.) One of the most relevant sections of its "Policy Manual," Chapter 6, "Academic Policies and Procedures," is "Under Revision." Although the Board may also have addressed the equivalent of "executive limitations" I am not aware it has done so. But see, e.g., Regents' Policy Manual, Chapter 7.02, "Code of Business and Fiduciary Conduct," (3) "Compliance with Law."
Earlier, in January, I addressed related issues:

We know that Regent Gartner earlier wanted to get a "strategic planning" process started before UI had a president or the UNI president had much time on the job. Is that still going on? Will there be a new UI strategic plan in place to greet the new UI president (if one can ever be found under these circumstances)?

* * *

(5) A lot of work needs to be done on a new "strategic plan" -- as well as a governance model for Regents-universities' relationships. A new president will walk into either (a) the current vacuum, not knowing what will emerge from the Regents' process on either topic, or (b) very recently adopted documents the president had no opportunity to help shape.
Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search Held Hostage Day 59 - Jan. 14," January 14, 2007.

1. If we are, in fact, to have a new UI president selected by July 1, Search Committee II has concluded its clandestine interviews, campus visits are planned, and there's to be a Regents meeting on June 13, I would think (without knowing more) that the top priority on June 13 would be a consideration of Search Committee II's list of finalists for Regents' consideration.

2. Now it's one thing not to undertake strategic planning between last November and this month because we want to wait until we have a new UI president in place. That's proven to be a long time to wait. But wait we did. So now we're going to take it up two weeks before he or she has been selected? Why does that make sense -- especially given our prior patience?

3. The current Regents' strategic plan is titled, "2004-2009 Strategic Plan of the Board of Regents, State of Iowa." Since that would seem, on its face, to have a couple of years yet to go, it's not totally clear what the effect of the proposed discussion will be. Is the new Board about to "take it from the top" with a sort of "zero-based strategic planning," or will the output be revisions to the 2009 Plan?

4. Most fundamental, of course, once again, is the matter of governance model. Until the Regents and their universities' administrators have decided who is responsible for what and to whom and when and why, it is a little difficult to come up with what they call a "strategic plan," Carver calls "ends policies," and most would simply call "measurable goals."

5. Finally, we still have the related issue of the relative role of the President of the Board and the entire membership of the Board. My own preference (and that of many other students of governance) would be for the setting of agendas, the posing of discussion questions (as in Gartner's email), and the focus of the Board at its meetings to be something that comes out of prior discussions among all 9 members (rather than unilaterally from the President or staff).

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. Since then there have been two major additions: Nicholas Johnson, "Open Letter to UICCU Board" in "UI Held Hostage Day 423 - March 20 - UICCU," March 20, 2007, and "'Open Letter': Confirmation from World Council of Credit Unions" in "UI Held Hostage Day 424 - March 21 UICCU," March 21, 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 don't think I can take this any longer. Everyone has been tiptoeing around the bunker for the past six months hoping to God that nobody says a discouraging word about Sir Michael that will set him off again. Just fricking get over yourself dude, don't get all Nixonian about this. Enjoy your ballpark and build your nifty condos and think of the Regents as a kind of Board of Directors that doesn’t really do anything except put their stamp of approval on the general direction of academia in this state. Of course the Regents are a bit more than that but when you start thinking about that, you can’t help yourself, you get all carried away. Stop. Take a Deep Breath. Write a novel. Get drunk at a game. Enjoy Life. Just don’t take it out on Us.

No, I am not a professor. I am a janitor. I decided to become a janitor because I occasionally am compelled to express my opinion publicly and I didn’t want that to impact my ummm-professional status. And believe it or not as much as you would like some folks in this state to think that I do - I do not have tenure as a janitor. The only thing I have to lose is my child’s health insurance.