Thursday, September 18, 2008

Extra: Stolar Report

September 19, 2008, 8:00 a.m.
September 18, 2008, 3:15 p.m.

Stolar Report

For the most part, this morning's [Sept. 19] newspaper coverage of the Regent's meeting and the Stolar Partnership Report are not significantly different from the online coverage yesterday -- reports about "The Report." That full document is probably the best source for anyone really interested in the details. The Stolar Report [a pdf file uploaded by the Press-Citizen]. (The most complete Web site for all material related to these matters -- reports, basic documents, news coverage, commentary, and links to more -- remains "University of Iowa Sexual Assault Controversy -- 2007-08," July 19-present.)

Indeed, the Report is so relatively well done, candid and thorough (while attempting to avoid accusatory and mean-spirited language, e.g., "no cover-up"), that there is very little to add to it by way of anyone's commentary, including mine. (Of course, not everyone bought the "no cover-up" conclusion: "'The general counsel [Marc Mills] failed to turn over documents for no justifiable reason,' [Regent Michael] Gartner said, seeking clarification from Stolar. "What is a cover-up if there was a regents investigation by Tom Evans and there were relevant documents not turned over for no justifiable reason?' [Stolar lead investigator James] Bryant replied, 'I don't call it a cover-up, but it was certainly inappropriate.'" Source: Morelli and Hermiston story, below.)

So I'll keep it short.

There's one, last line in the paper this morning that I do not recall seeing in the Report itself: "'What this case reminds me of is a perfect storm. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong,' [Stolar Report lead attorney James] Bryant said." Brian Morelli and Lee Hermiston, "Report: UI mishandled assault case; Firm rejects idea of a cover-up," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 19, 2008, p. A1.

On the one hand it's a cute and clever line. But if you think about it, it captures a useful analytical approach to understanding UI officials' behavior over the past year.

Like the governments' (plural) response to Katrina, there are often two categories of problems when things go very, very wrong with an institution's response to crisis: (1) the behavior of individuals within the system, and (2) the system itself.

1. Individuals' behavior. In the movie "War Games" a government official, frustrated over the possibility that someone responsible for launching a missile might freeze up and refuse to do it, proposes to "get the human out of the loop."

As long as there are humans in the loop one can make every effort to minimize ineffective and unbecoming human behavior, but never successfully eliminate all of it.

Whether picking a president of the United States or others in positions of responsibility in business, universities and other institutions, one can look for qualities: common sense, good judgment and wisdom as well as intelligence, knowledge and information; an ability to learn quickly ("a quick study") enough about new responsibilities and bodies of information to enable one to know what they know, what they don't know, how to frame the questions of experts to find out, and the ability of a "judicial mind" to hold judgment in suspension until all the facts are in; a demonstrated capacity for empathy, respect, compassion and sensitivity for "the least of these" as well as the most powerful; action based on an awareness of the difference between data and diatribe, information and ideology; a basic honesty and sense of ethics, willingness to confess error and change one's mind; an advocate for institutional honesty, democracy, transparency, and candor -- and so forth. You get the idea.

The other thing an institution can do, having hired such people, is to provide them whatever additional training may be useful.

2. "The system" and procedures. One of the major tasks for which administrators get the big bucks is proactively anticipating a variety of possible crises (as well as more mundane day-to-day challenges and operations), designing systems that will enable the institution to deal with them most efficiently, effectively and fairly, and then running drills to make sure they work, and tweaking the procedures so that they will work better.

Upon discovering years ago that a major corporation found it could save 30% on its winter heating bill for an industrial plant by having the employees close a large sliding door, I was prompted to observe that any bright 10 or 12-year-old could probably walk through any manufacturing operation that had not been overseen by a good industrial engineer for the last 5 or 10 years and do equally well in coming up with savings; the opportunities are so obvious.

Lest you assume I'm disparaging the quality of the employees, quite the opposite is my intention. Workers often have much more creative insights when it comes to efficiency than managers. But they also haven't been asked, have full time jobs that require all their attention -- and such suggestions for improvements as they may have offered in the past are as likely to have been rebuffed or ignored as implemented.

Every University administrator has, of course, responsibility for their own behavior -- regardless of the system within which they must function. But it is not the responsibility of the football coach, or the director of EOD, the University's general counsel, or the Vice President for this or that, to address, let alone redesign, the procedures for handling sexual assaults by athletes -- or others. They have full time jobs operating under the system (or rather the lack of a system) that is currently in place. Even if they had the time, they might well have been criticized for undertaking such a redesign, and been charged with having meddled in something that "is none of their business."

Nor is this -- under a proper and effective system of "governance" -- the responsibility of the Board of Regents. See, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to the Regents on 'Governance,'" April 17, 2007.

Indeed, on August 7 of this year I wrote:

I'm not prepared to make a judgmental declaration as to what the Regents and UI administration "should" have done. But I am willing to suggest that much if not all of what's involved in "Story One" (events of last October 14), "Story Two" (what UI administrators did thereafter) and "Story Three" (the Regents' response and first, and now second, investigation of Stories One and Two) could have been prevented, and would have been avoided -- up to and including the current, postponed evaluation of UI President Sally Mason -- had more attention been given to the formulation (and application) of a workable "governance model."

I have written about the subject of board governance (board-CEO relationship) in general, Nicholas Johnson, "Board Governance: Theory and Practice," and with regard to the Iowa Board of Regents in particular, Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on 'Governance,'" April 17, 2007 (with links to additional material of relevance to Regents' governance).
From Nicholas Johnson, "UI Sexual Assault Update," July 19-August 8, 2008.

Systems design and procedures are, in the first and last analysis, the responsibility of an institution's CEO. And whether one's primary concern is for the institution's (and one's own) public relations, or a genuine compassion for victims, a university's systems and procedures that deal with sexual assaults by athletes would seem to be one of the first and most predictable of the potential crises that could be dealt with proactively by any major American university with multi-million-dollar semi-pro athletic teams.

So there it is as my guide as to what to look for while reading through the Stolar Report -- because it deals with both: Ask yourself, Is this part of the Report dealing with the (a) behavior of given individuals operating within the current non-system, or is it (b) describing that non-system, or making recommendations as to how an appropriate system might be designed? They are, as I've noted, questions that might equally well be asked with regard to Katrina -- or our current global financial crisis.

Also this morning: Erin Jordan, "U of I probe: Errors, no cover-up," Des Moines Register, September 19, 2008.

And, from yesterday [Sept. 18], here is the Press-Citizen's story from the Stolar firm's presentation of its Report to the Board of Regents meeting this afternoon (Sept. 18) in Coralville: "Report: UI Mishandled Probe, But No Cover-Up," Iowa City Press-Citizen Online, September 18, 2008. And see, John Naughton, "Investigators: Flaws in in how U of I handled case," Des Moines Register Online, September 18, 2008, 2:01 p.m.

Here is a link to the full text of the Report [a pdf file uploaded by the Press-Citizen].

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