Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Scapegoat Bites Back

September 24, 2008, 9:00 a.m.

The Lawyer Did It

The first recorded use of a "scapegoat" of which I am aware was 4500 years ago. Whatever the actual facts may be, clearly it is an ancient and -- in modern times -- sometimes dishonorable ritual. [Picture credit: William Holman Hunt, 1854; Wikipedia.]

Is it being played out once again right here in River City?

UI President Sally Mason has responded to the Stolar Report of the University's mishandling of an alleged sexual assault last October 14 ("a perfect storm," the firm's lead investigator put it) by firing the UI's General Counsel Mark Mills (and also UI Vice President Phil Jones). She first checked with the Regents, who indicated they supported her action. The matter is to be reviewed by Regents tomorrow when she will presumably apologize, and they will, presumably, tell her to "go forth and sin no more" -- while at least maintaining (if not increasing) her $500,000-plus salary and benefits.

Before any of this happened I wrote "The Case for Mills and Jones" in Nicholas Johnson, "Rational Responses to Stolar and Global Finance," September 20, 2008. (The largest collection of documents, news coverage, commentary and links regarding all this remains the Web site, Nicholas Johnson, "University of Iowa Sexual Assault Controversy -- 2007-08," July 19-present. Sometime later today, hopefully, all of the enormous additional material available this morning will be commented upon, and linked to, from that Web site.)

In "The Case for Mills and Jones" I didn't attempt to defend everything the Stolar Report said they did (and didn't) do. But I noted five categories of reasons why their peremptory dismissals would not be appropriate -- never realizing last Saturday when I wrote it that they would be gone by yesterday (Tuesday). I mentioned, among other things, that because so many people were involved that it would be unfair to single them out; that if they were to be fired their overall performance needed to be evaluated in a routine and calm way (as the Regents are doing with President Mason); that "the buck stops," normally, at the CEO/presidential level, not the vice-presidential level; and that focusing on them, making it look like the problem was simply the consequence of the behavior of two individuals, diverts attention from the football culture of the campus and the need for organizational restructuring (as recommended by Stolar).

Finally, I noted that we had not yet really heard in full from Mills and Jones. We didn't know what the "back story" might prove to be.

We still don't know.

But we sure know a lot more than we knew yesterday afternoon.

I'll reproduce excerpts from Brian Morelli's story, below, and then provide some commentary of my own.

University of Iowa President Sally Mason was aware of how an alleged sexual assault investigation was being handled, a former UI executive said.

Marcus Mills said, "Yes, absolutely," when asked Tuesday if Mason knew what was happening in the investigation. . . .

Mills said he and Mason initially discussed student privacy concerns regarding the letters, but ultimately that did not preclude them releasing the letters to the regents.

The letters were not turned over because the regents didn't ask for documents during its investigation and because "we had the perception that whoever sent the letter, the family, did not want it to go to the regents and did not want it to be made public," Mills said.

Mills said he and Mason received a letter from UI public safety director Chuck Green, which Mills said he took to indicate Mason was aware of the family's concern about the letters becoming public. Mills declined to comment further on this.

Mills rejected his portrayal in the report as having the lead role in UI's investigation of an alleged sexual assault that involved two former UI football players Oct. 14, 2007, in Hillcrest Residence Hall.

"I didn't feel that I was overseeing the investigation. There wasn't an investigation in that sense. Different departments were heading up different aspects of the investigation," Mills said.

Mills also said Stolar failed to ask for his version of certain events and omitted parts of his testimony from their report, such as his side of conversations with the alleged victim's father. Mills also said UI's actions were affected by county attorney subpoenas, the criminal case against the former UI football players and a lawsuit filed by the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

"I think I handled this to the best of my ability with integrity under the circumstances," Mills said.
Brian Morelli, "Mills says Mason knew what was happening," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 24, 2008, p. A1.

Among the documents I make available in full text from Nicholas Johnson, "University of Iowa Sexual Assault Controversy -- 2007-08," July 19-present is Thomas Evans, "REPORT ON THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA’S COMPLIANCE WITH POLICY AND PROCEDURES WHILE INVESTIGATING A SEXUAL ASSAULT COMPLAINT," Iowa Board of Regents, Agenda Item 17, June 11-12, 2008 (a pdf file).

This is the report of the Regents' first investigation.

Why is that relevant?

Because it provides the foundation for judging the credibility of Marc Mills' assertions.

Consider the Board of Regents' characterization of their charge to Tom Evans regarding their own first investigation. As its "Executive Summary" puts it:

"On November 16, 2007, the Board of Regents requested the Board Office to review the University of Iowa’s compliance with University and Board policies and procedures and applicable statutes while investigating an alleged sexual assault that occurred on campus on October 14, 2007. The Board further requested the Board Office to examine whether current policies and procedures are adequate." (emphasis supplied)

And what was Evans' conclusion? "After a comprehensive review of the facts of the alleged incident and each of the applicable University policies, it is clear that University officials fully complied with internal procedural requirements."

Given this mission, and conclusion -- consistent with President Mason's assurances at the time that all procedures had been followed -- it becomes relevant to ask: Were any documents necessary to Evans' investigation? Were any documents asked for? If not -- especially if there was reason to believe that the alleged victim's family definitely did not want the letter/s made public at that time -- does the University President's, and General Counsel's, and others', failure to gratuitously offer up hundreds and hundreds of documents -- including those the family wanted to be kept confidential -- warrant the firing of the General Counsel?

I may have missed something (literally; I may have) but I can't recall off the top of my head anything in the Stolar Report of events -- of which the lead investigator said "everything that could have gone wrong did" -- that any one of those things "that could have gone wrong" included a failure to comply with internal procedures.

If President Mason thought there were none, and Evans found none, and Stolar mentioned none (after examining all those documents the University did not gratuitously offer up to Evans), and if Stolar found there was no effort at a "cover-up," it seems a little disingenuous to unceremoniously fire Marc Mills on the grounds, in part, that he failed to offer up the mothers' letter/s.

Moreover, if Mills' account is correct (and of course I'm not saying it is; how could I know?), it sounds like President Mason was more intimately involved in the decision not to turn over documents (including the letter/s) than she has yet let on. She earlier referred to a rationale that the material was covered by a federal law protecting student privacy. Mills is now saying they discussed, but rejected, that interpretation, and decided (jointly?) not to turn over the letter/s and other documents for other reasons. As Morelli reports, "The letters were not turned over because the regents didn't ask for documents during its investigation and because 'we had the perception that whoever sent the letter, the family, did not want it to go to the regents and did not want it to be made public,' Mills said."

Whatever President Mason has done with regard to Mills dismissal, and whatever the Regents may do about it tomorrow, I do think it is a little premature for any fair, impartial and judicious member of the public to be volunteering time and talent building the gallows for Marc Mills.

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Anonymous said...

Do the regents (or UI administration) have some course of action between "go forth and sin no more" (as you call it) and termination?

Something like a censure or a professional reprimand? It seems to me that that would be appropriate for Mason's situation.

Also, do Mills and Jones have to have some due process in their termination or do they just "serve at the pleasure of" Mason?

Anonymous said...

Jones has proven time and time again he is a complete failure as a Dean. He repeatedly screws things up, and with a bad attitude. Good riddance there.

Mills, however may have been pushed to fall on his sword for Mason, a leader he hardly knew.

If that is the case, this could get interesting.

Anonymous said...

aonymous 10:44,
they could certainly cut her pay, or, even, not give her a raise as a way to say, "shame on you".

However, they will probably do little in order to make it seem like they picked the right candidate 15 months ago. Yep, that's all it's been.

Anonymous said...

Mason was a second round draft pick. It shows.