Sunday, December 13, 2015

Trouble in River City: Corruption Creep


This Has Not Been "A Quiet Week in Lake Wobegon"
Ya got trouble, my friend, right here,
I say, trouble right here in River City!
. . .
With a capital "T"
That rhymes with "B"
And that stands for Branstad
. . .
Mothers of River City!
Heed the warning before it's too late!
Watch for the tell-tale sign of corruption!

-- from the lyrics to "Ya Got Trouble," "The Music Man"

Harold Hill warned us there would be days like this.

One hopes that corruption (in the dictionary sense of "perversion of integrity") among those running major institutions is just a one-off thing, the rare trip-and-fall from the pedestal -- or, in the case of a post turtle* a fall from the post. But what we've been witnessing recently looks an awful lot more like a pattern.

As a concession to shortness of space, as well as life itself, a few examples from the past couple weeks will have to do -- rather than an endeavor to describe it all. Besides how could one know about all of it. Like Will Rogers, "All I know is what I read in the papers."

The majority is not silent, the Regents are deaf. The month began on December 1 with the revelation that the Regents' "transparency" and openness with the public takes the form of an opportunity for citizens to make video recordings that might or might not be watched by any regent, and would almost never be responded to or have any impact on Regents' actions. Vanessa Miller, "Speakers Fault Hiring of Harreld at Transparency Hearing; At Hearing Some Faculty Assail Video-Recorded Sessions As 'Essentially Meaningless,'" The Gazette (online), November 30, 2015, 9:53 p.m.; hard copy: Vanessa Miller, "Speakers Fault Hiring of Harreld; At Hearing Some Faculty Assail Video-Recorded Sessions As 'Essentiallly Meaningless,'" The Gazette, December 1, 2015, p. A3

Conflicts of interest. Regents President Bruce Rastetter has had a little difficulty distinguishing between his public responsibilities towards Iowa's universities and the opportunities they offer for his private businesses. He earlier obtained an interest-free loan from Iowa State University for $480,000. On December 3 we learned that he may stand to profit from his ownership in a company that may work on a University of Iowa project. Vanessa Miller, "Regents President Reports Another Conflict; Rastetter-Backed TelePharm Looks to Work on UI Project," The Gazette (online), November 30, 2015, 9:55 p.m.; hard copy: Vanessa Miller, "Board of Regents: President Reports Potential Conflict; Rastetter-Backed TelePharm Looks to Work on UI Project," The Gazette, December 3, 2015, p. A3

Allegations of Open Meetings violations. On that day (Dec. 3) we also learned that a lawsuit, charging the Board of Regents with violating Iowa's Open Meetings law during the presidential search, had been set for trial. Vanessa Miller, "UI Presidential Search Lawsuit Set for Trial; Former Candidate Calls UI Search Process 'Unique," The Gazette (online), December 3, 2015, 5:09 p.m.; hard copy: Vanessa Miller, "Higher Education: UI Presidential Search Lawsuit Set for Trial; Former Candidate Not Involved in Case Calls Search Process 'Unique," The Gazette, December 4, 2015, p. A8

The Rastetter-Robillard-Stead-Harreld connection. And we also learned of the ties between Jean Robillard (head of the UIHC hospital operation, interim president of the University and chair of the Search Committee), Jerre Stead (major donor to Robillard's projects, member of the search committee, and mentor to Bruce Harreld) in the naming of the $360 million UIHC Children's Hospital and the appointment of Harreld.

It's wonderful that the Stead family has been generous with its contributions to the University. With legislative cutbacks in financial support of public education, universities are more dependent than ever on generous major donors. We applaud them and are grateful. But this gift, and naming, does raise an interesting question regarding how the University of Iowa goes about selling off naming rights for its buildings.

This was at most a $25 million gift (and possibly only $5 million) toward a $360 million building, or slightly under 7% of its cost (if the higher number is used). Is that percentage typical? Does the UI have a rate card? How big a personal or corporate gift would be required to put a personal or business name on the entire university, such as "The Exxon University of Iowa"? Vanessa Miller, "University of Iowa Children's Hospital to be Named After Stead Family; Couple Says They're Motivated by Childrens' Health, Not Glory," The Gazette (online), December 2, 2015, 10:45 a.m.; hard copy: Vanessa Miller, "Health Care: UI Children's Hospital Honors Donors; New Facility Will Bear Name of Steads, Who Have Given $25 Million to Children's Medicine," The Gazette, December 3, 2015, p. A3 ("He [Jerre Stead] was part of the 21-member committee charged with searching for a new UI president, and Bruce Harreld — who was chosen for the job — said Stead was instrumental early on in recruiting him to apply for the job.")

Jeff Charis-Carlson, "UI Children's Hospital to be Named After Stead Family," Iowa City Press-Citizen (online), December 2, 2015, 10:31 a.m.; hard copy: Jeff Charis-Carlson, "UI Children's Hospital to be Named After Family; The Steads Make Single Largest Gift Toward the Hospital's Mission," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 3, 2015, p. A3 ("Bruce Harreld, who was appointed UI president in September, said in a previous interview that he has viewed Stead as a mentor for decades. He also said Stead helped persuade him to meet in early June with Robillard and other members of the UI Presidential Search and Screen Committee – a meeting that helped lead Harreld to consider applying for the job. 'We’re glad Bruce is there,' said Stead, who also served on the search committee. '... It will have a very positive way of balancing our investments in the future knowing that Bruce is leading the University of Iowa to even greater success.'”)

UI Deals With GOP Insiders. President Harreld has said he would focus on "integrity" (e.g., "Harreld said 'I told Gary [Barta] the winning is yours; I’m all about the integrity and the academics.'"). Well, here's one for him.

Will he (1) publicly condemn the practice described below? (2) Provide excuses and supposed justifications for why it was OK? Or will he (3) remain silent, leaving the responses (and responsibility) to others? So far he has chosen number (3).

Ryan J. Foley, "Documents Reveal UI Deals With GOP Insider," Associated Press/Iowa City Press-Citizen (online), December 9, 2015, 12:29 p.m.; hard copy: Ryan Foley, "Documents Reveal UI Deals With GOP Insider; School Awarded Several No-Bid Contracts Totaling $321,900 to a Prominent Consultant," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 10, 2015, p. A3 ("The University of Iowa has quietly awarded several no-bid contracts totaling $321,900 to a prominent GOP consultant . . .. [It looks] like a sweetheart deal among Republican insiders and a potential waste of money. The university sidestepped a policy that normally requires competitive bidding [on contracts of $25,000 or more; this contract was for $24,900] to ensure services are obtained at the lowest cost . . .. [S]ome of the money has gone for statewide opinion polling that the university is refusing to make public, saying doing so would 'serve no public purpose.'")

As a friend commented to me at the time, "What other institution creates a scandal in the process of trying to improve its image?"

The AAUP Report. The very next day there was news from the national American Association of University Professors, following its thorough investigation of Bruce Harreld's selection, in a report that even President Harreld acknowledged was "accurate from my perspective.”

The report concluded that the Iowa Board of Regents search for the UI's president -- involving Governor Branstad, Branstad's principal donor and his president of the Regents Bruce Rastetter, UI Vice President for Medical Affairs and Search Committee chair Jean Robillard, major hospital contributor and Harreld mentor Jerre Stead, and Bruce Harreld -- was "a crude exercise in naked power" undertaken "in bad faith," insofar as, among other things, the selection of Bruce Harreld was "foreordained." "It is difficult to see how anyone of intelligence and probity would permit himself or herself to be considered for a future presidency in Iowa." "College and University Governance: The University of Iowa Governing Board's Selection of a President," AAUP Bulletin, December 9, 2015.

See also, Vanessa Miller, "Regents Acted 'In Bad Faith' in University of Iowa President Search, AAUP Concludes; Board Could Face Sanctions from National Professors Group," The Gazette (online), December 10, 2015, 12:01 a.m.; hard copy: Vanessa Miller, "Higher Education: Report: Regents Acted 'In Bad Faith;' Professional Organization Concludes Harreld Was 'Foreordained' As UI President,'" The Gazette, December 10, 2015, p. A3
Jeff Charis-Carlson, "AAUP Calls UI Search a 'Crude Exercise in Naked Power,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen (online), December 10, 2015, 10:51 a.m.; hard copy: Jeff Charis-Carlson, "AAUP: UI Search 'Crude Exercise in Naked Power;' National Group of Professors Denounces the Recent Search for University's New President," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 10, 2015, p. A1
Eric Kelderman, "AAUP Blasts Process Used to Hire Bruce Harreld as U. of Iowa's President," The Chronicle of Higher Education (online), December 10, 2015
Stacey Murray, "AAUP Report Condemns Presidential Search," The Daily Iowan (online), December 10, 2015

President Harreld's communications consultant. Toward the end of last week [Dec. 11] came stories of Harreld's personal speech teacher. The first published report was brief. It essentially said that he had one, and was paying for it personally. The subsequent revision of the story provided some context. "Harreld Hires Consultant to Improve Communication Skills," Associated Press/Des Moines Register (online)/Iowa City Press-Citizen (online), December 11, 2015, 2:00 p.m., revised 5:28 p.m.; hard copy: "Harreld Hires Consultant to Improve Communication Skills; UI President is Paying for It Himself," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 12, 2015, p. A4 Here are some quotes:
UI President Bruce Harreld is paying for the services of Eileen Wixted, a crisis communications consultant, out of his own pocket. . . .

Wixted works for clients in nuclear power, health care and agribusiness, including Rastetter's corporation, Summit Farms.

Wixted helped Summit Farms respond to questions last year about $480,000 in no-interest loans it had received from a program based at Iowa State University, which critics called a conflict of interest for Rastetter.

She's also done some work for regents' institutions. She was hired for behind-the-scenes communications advice for University of Northern Iowa when regents approved the closure of its teaching laboratory school and numerous academic programs in 2012. . . .

Wixted said she conducted "on-camera media coaching sessions" for Harreld before he assumed the presidency Nov. 2, focusing on the "mechanics of being interviewed by broadcast media." She hopes to do more.

Wixted said she didn't advise Harreld on strategy and messaging, leaving those functions to UI. Since July, the university has been paying Terri Goren of Atlanta-based Goren and Associates $20,000 a month to oversee its Office of Strategic Communication on a part-time basis. Goren's contract, which called for her to develop a communications plan for the new president . . ..
For starters, what's with this Terri Goren contract? She is being paid at a $400,000-a-year rate ($20,000 a month for 3/5 time, or 3 days a week) plus a $25,000 cap on expenses. Developing a "communications plan" for President Harreld is her job. Why did he feel he needed someone else? If so, why did she need to be chosen outside of normal hiring procedures?

My comments on the pros and cons of communications consultants, and the elements of "crisis communications" can be found -->HERE<-- It's not that they can't do any good, but Harreld's primary "communications" need right now is mastery of the issues, creating and following his own moral compass, and communicating as himself -- not as an actor taking others ideas, and words, and style, and coming across as insincere.

We are reminded of Rastetter's $480,000 conflict of interest loan from Iowa State (free of any interest), and his judgment that such problems, if discovered, can always just be papered over with the help of communications consultants -- not the best of lessons for Harreld right now. And we're left to wonder about the extent to which he's providing other detailed directions, or suggestions, to Harreld, that Harreld feels obliged to follow -- and what, if anything, he gets out of throwing more business to Wixted -- like the no-bid contracts for polling, mentioned above, that were given to GOP insiders.

Robillard's private jet trip. Also on December 11 we were introduced to Jean Robillard's $10,747 private jet flight to Colorado.

The facts reported in this story raise so many questions -- including any possible relationships between a substantial gift to Robillard (for the Children's Hospital) from a Search Committee member and both of them supporting the selection of Harreld. Here are a few of those questions.

(1) It's 110 miles from Iowa City to Galesburg. With private jets flying out of the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids airports, if Robillard was really in that much of a hurry why would he take an extra couple hours each way to drive to Galesburg? Could it be he was trying to avoid any local record of this trip?
(2) The Steads have donated some $54 million to UI and the UIHC over 30 years. “'Dr. Robillard has had a tremendously long relationship with the Steads — more than 30 years,' [UI Foundation spokeswoman Dana] Larson said." Was this private jet trip really necessary to insure another $5 million?
(3) What was the incremental additional amount the Steads donated to have the $360 million hospital named for them -- $5 million?! It looks like all, or almost all, of their previous $25 million resulted in their being honored for something else.
(4) This was one week before Stead's friend Harreld (whom he first met over 20 years ago) was to be anointed UI president -- following the work of a search committee which Robillard chaired and on which Stead sat. That fact really had nothing to do with the trip?
(5) There are opportunity costs to any expenditure. Much is made of the fact the $10,747 trip didn't involve taxpayer funds. But what was not done with this money that otherwise would have been?
(6) Details of Harreld's travel expenses, reported in this story, have always been confusing. "He [Harreld] paid for all previous travel to Iowa during the search process, officials said." (a) Why would he do that? Why would the University require it (if it did)? (b) Regardless, the University's expenses for Harreld's travel "have totaled $7,278.44 -- including $5,709.04 spent before he officially took office Nov. 2 . . .."
Vanessa Miller, "UI Interim President Took $10,747 Flight to Secure Children's Hospital Donation; Trip Came One Week Before New President's Hire," The Gazette (online), December 11, 2015, 4:59 p.m.; hard copy: Vanessa Miller, "Higher Education: UI Leader Took $10,747 Flight to Denver for $5 Million kGift; The Trip United Two Presidential Search Committee Members One Week Before Decision," The Gazette, December 12, 2015, p. A1

Full employment plan for Republicans. And before I could put this together and post it, along comes today's news, involving the same governor and president of the Board of Regents, but a different executive-to-be and university (Iowa State).

Once again, it involves favoritism toward a fellow Republican, in this case the former Speaker of the Iowa House of Representatives, Kraig Paulsen; very possibly intervention by the Board of Regents, or its president; raising Paulsen's salary from the $45,828 he earned as speaker to $135,000 a year; to head a formerly non-existent job with a formerly non-existent program at Iowa State; hired without complying with the usual advertising of the position. It's a sad story, told through the email exchanges. Here's a link to the story. Read it if you think by now you have the stomach for it.

Vanessa Miller, "Emails: ISU Fast-Tracked Initiative for Kraig Paulsen Hire; University Had 'Handshake Agreement' Before Lawmaker Applied," The Gazette (online), December 13, 2015, 5:00 a.m.; hard copy: Vanessa Miller, "Higher Education: A 'Handshake Agreement;' Iowa State Fast-Tracked Initiative for House Speaker's Hire: Emails," The Gazette, December 13, 2015, p. A1

If you think I've been unfair with the telling of any of these tales, consider the linked newspaper stories and other documents as the best authority we have as to facts (rather than relying on what I've written), and then please use this blog's comment feature to tell me what you think should be changed.

If you agree with what's written here, give me some idea of what we can do. As the AAUP Report concludes, it's up to us: "The remedy, so long as these institutions remain under public control, must be found in an informed public opinion, in the expression of the public’s sense that such actions by members of a governing board not only undermine the ideals and purposes of the university but also affront the citizenry the board ostensibly serves."


* Post turtle (Texas). When you're driving down a country road and you see a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a post turtle. You know he didn't get up there by himself. He doesn't belong there. He can't get anything done while he's up there. And you just want to help the poor, dumb thing down.
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