Wednesday, November 22, 2006

UI President Search III

Clearly today's biggest story is Erin Jordan's revelation that at least some of the Regents, disappointed with the four finalists whose names they had approved, had a particular favorite in mind who didn't make the cut: Deborah Freund at Syracuse.

Ironically, although no one in a position to know gave me the name (or confirmed it after I found it), I was looking over Freund's online information last evening. After all, Gartner had emphasized the absence of women, was primarily looking at major universitys' presidents and provosts, and wanted someone with a strong medical institution management background. Isn't Google wonderful?

Erin Jordan, by contrast, has demonstrated real ability as an investigative reporter and clearly has some sources I don't. Her story is a "must read" this morning for anyone following the saga of the botched Regents' efforts to find a UI president.

Erin Jordan, "Adviser: Regents Had Job Finalist in Mind; Participants in the Search for a New U of I President Question the Board's Reason for Rejecting the Top 4 Picks," Des Moines Register, November 22, 2006.

Meanwhile, The Gazette offers us its "I have a dream" editorial. The editorial writer's dream is "That on a beautiful day next spring, the new University of Iowa president makes a stirring installation speech . . . [so much so] that the controversial search for the new president is already fading from memory." Editorial, "Restarting UI President Search," The Gazette, November 22, 2006.

Michael Gartner's statement, linked from here yesterday (November 21) as "'Getting their way' means regents are following the law, Gartner says
," Des Moines Register Online, November 21, 2006, is now a column in the Register, Michael Gartner, "'Getting Their Way' Means Regents Following the Law; U of I president search: Letter writers, including the board of regents president, comment on the hiring process and the rejection of all finalists," Des Moines Register, November 22, 2006.

I'll take these as my text for now.

1. The most serious and dramatic concern raised by Jordan's revelations is that "Among the boards on which she [Deborah Freund] serves is that of Lifetime Health Cos., a $5 billion health care company that includes all Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance plans in upstate New York, according to her resume."

This was, according to Jordan (see paragraph 2, below), among the reasons Freund did not make it into the final four. The search committee felt such an insurance industry tie was a negative rather than a reason to appoint her. At a minimum, those Regents who prefer her over all others are not troubled by this background (and for all we know, continuing relationship -- and presumably pay); worst case, they see it as precisely what they do want.

It is far too early, and I am far too inadequately informed and inherently disinclined, to be coming to conclusions. But if it is true that Governor Vilsack was willing to put a represenative of the health insurance industry on the Board, knowing it would make for a conflict of interest in the Board's negotiations with the UI hospitals, and if that contributed to David Skorton's mistreatment and departure (as a result of his standing up for the UI's interests vis-a-vis the insurance industry), and if Vilsack has received significant campaign contributions from the health insurance industry (as governor and as a presidential candidate), and if his appointments to that Board, and instructions to its members, related to the interests of that industry, and if the heavy-handed way the Board has handled the search process was driven by similar pressures, and if the Board's favoring the selection of Deborah Freund is in some way a part of this same scenario -- involving the removal of UI opposition to health insurance rates and payments by appointing an insurance-friendly UI president (rather than trying to serve the industry through Board appointments) -- all of which have been suggested in one way or another by others much more knowledgeable than myself -- then there is a much bigger story here than anyone (or at least I) ever imagined, a story of Pulitzer Prize-winning proportions. Clearly, that's a lot of "ifs." But they at least ought to be pursued and debunked, if that proves to be the proper disposition.

[Related to this subject, the Register's columnist, Marc Hansen, reports: "Contrary to popular opinion, the governor didn't just wake up one morning and decide he'd like an Oval Office with his scrambled eggs. On Sept. 19 [2006], for instance, almost two months before he announced he was running for president, Vilsack went to Chicago to meet with about 50 heavy hitters from around the country. He didn't go alone. He invited some big players of his own for support - [Bill] Knapp was one. So were Principal Financial Group boss Barry Griswell, Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO John Forsythe, ball club owner/publisher/Board of Regents president Michael Gartner and Sen. Tom Harkin [whose wife is another Vilsack appointment to the Board of Regents]." (emphasis added) Marc Hansen, "Vilsack Image 'Iowanonymous' -- But It's Early," Des Moines Register, November 19, 2006.]

2. The least that can be said is that Michael Gartner's statement last Friday -- "the Regents needed candidates who had more experience as leaders who oversaw complex health-sciences operations" -- "Regents Meet on University of Iowa Presidential Search," November 17, 2006, was at best disingenuous. The Regents' search committee had such candidates, and had included three of them in its final four.

Deborah Freund was among those evaluated by the committee. She was rejected as one of the final four. The reasons? Jordan reports: "Committee members said the reasons Freund was left off the list of finalists included her connections with the insurance industry, a belief that other candidates were stronger, and concerns about her management style." It would appear, as earlier rumored, that the problem was not that the four finalists were not qualified, or had no experience with "health-sciences operations," it was that they did not include (for good reason, so far as the search committee was concerned) Michael Gartner's, and others', favored candidate: Deborah Freund. (Whether those who favored Freund did so because of her ties to the health insurance industry, as explored in paragraph 1, above, is of course not known.)

3. Michael Gartner's statement yesterday, and today, linked above, demonstrates in my view a failure to understand the problem. No one (to my knowledge) has ever argued any lack of legal ability on the part of the Regents (with the possible exception of their violation of the Iowa open meetings law).

Those in positions of authority -- whether parents, presidents, corporate CEOs, or boards of regents -- have the legal right (up to a point) to be abusive, boorish, self-centered, dictatorial, disrespectful, isolated and secretive, petulant, mean spirited and so forth. This legal authority of the Regents to behave in any way they please is not in issue either.

The issue, the concern that has been expressed, regards the wisdom and consequences of the process they have used in the presidential selection: spending time and money with a search committee and applicants, with the implied (and perhaps even expressed) goal of producing a "final four" from which the Regents would select one, and then rejecting the search committee's work product for reasons that didn't seem credible when announced and have become even less so with time. (See, in this connection, "4. What are the necessary qualifications for UI's president?" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006.)

What process and Regents' behavior will produce the best president for all the stakeholders of the University of Iowa -- which include not only all Iowans -- and UI alums, wherever they may be -- but students, and the faculty's colleagues, from around the world? What will produce the best working relations between that president, once selected, and the faculty and other stakeholder groups on campus once he or she arrives?

The issue is whether the Regents' chosen process and behavior is constructive, well serves the broader community of stakeholders, is grounded in basic democratic principles, is deserving of praise and reward, creates trust and loyalty, and is consistent with the teachings of all the world's great religions.

Moreover, there is a difference in the rock-bottom basic restraints on the behavior of an "owner" and a "trustee." The Regents do not own the University of Iowa. They are public trustees of its assets -- which include its faculty and staff. Yes, they have the legal responsibility to select the university's president. But they have the trustees' ethical (and legal) responsibility to do so in such a way as to strengthen, rather than weaken, the institution.

4. It is worthwhile, I think, to reproduce here a letter in this morning's Register, describing an alternative approach to president selection, one used consistently and traditionally for years at the University of Iowa:

Here's how selection worked in the past

Having served as equal-opportunity compliance officer with the Iowa Board of Regents for 26 years, I had the opportunity to observe the selection process used in appointing presidents at Iowa's state universities.

When a president announced his resignation, the Board of Regents would select a search firm to identify candidates for the position. Simultaneously, the university would select an in-house committee to work with the search firm. The committee, which had to be approved by the president of the Board of Regents, had to represent a cross-section of the university, including administration, faculty and staff and include people from the protected classes (particularly people
of color and women).

It was understood at the outset that neither regents nor regents' staff members were to interfere with the selection process. The university committee would determine the best six candidates from the list submitted by the search firm and forward their names, photos and resumes to the Board of Regents. When it was confirmed that each member had received the information, the names of the finalists were released to the press.

Interviews, held in Des Moines, were arranged by the board office and were not open to the public. When all interviews had been concluded, the board deliberated extensively and then voted on whom they felt would be the best candidate to lead the institution.

This procedure was successful in the appointments of the following university presidents: James Freedman, Willard "Sandy" Boyd and Hunter Rawlings at the University of Iowa; Robert Parks, Gordon Eaton and Martin Jischke at Iowa State University; and John Kamerick, James Maucker and Constantine Curris at the University of Northern Iowa.

- Roger Maxwell, Windsor Heights.

As Mr. Maxwell points out, there is more to the process of involvement than superficial "respect" for the faculty -- as important as that may be. The fact is that full faculty involvement in the selection process -- not ultimate selection, but full involvement in the process -- has made, and can make, a significant and substantive contribution. The record bears that out, with UI presidents who have not only been successful in building the great institution it became under their leadership, who were not only well respected by the UI stakeholders, but who were so outstanding as to have been recruited away by some of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the world.

As discussed in paragraph 3, above, this is not a matter of a legal requirement imposed on the Board of Regents, it is a matter of wisdom, of collaborative rather than confrontational governance -- precisely because it will produce better results, and avoid the black eye the State, Regents, and University have sustained as a result of the Regents' alternative approach this year.

5. As for The Gazette's editorial dream (linked from above), I think it is a little overly optimistic. Sure, anger fades with time. And once a president is on board there will be the usual scramble for favor. But we must not forget John Viscount Morley's insight that, "You have not converted a man because you have silenced him." My sense is that this experience, this substantial departure from tradition, good management practices, and decency -- involving Governor Vilsack and his appointees to the Board of Regents, and their behavior in conducting this presidential search -- will not be soon forgotten by faculty, staff, students and other stakeholders -- certainly not by The Gazette's sunny, "beautiful day next spring" (of 2007).

A number of these stakeholder groups are now pursuing votes of "no confidence" in the current Board of Regents. They have a list of grievances that includes far more than the presidential search process. For the relatively peaceful groves of academe, this is the rough equivalent of the colonists' reaction to King George in their Declaration of Independence. To paraphrase (with remarkably few modifications):

"[W]hen a long train of abuses and usurpations . . . evinces a design to reduce a university's stakeholders under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government by Regents, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these stakeholders; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present Board of Regents is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over this University. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world."

As Stan Laurel would have said to Michael Gartner, "That's a fine mess you got us into, Ollie!"
Media Stories and Opinion:

Ellen Heywood, "Regents’ decision bad for University," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 20, 2006

Joseph Brisben, "Vilsack should fire Gartner et al.," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 21, 2006

Pamela M. Stewart, "Regents Acting Like Dictators," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 21, 2006

Danny Valentine, "Search committee members asked to sign 'incredible' confidentiality agreement," The Daily Iowan, November 22, 2006

Michael Gartner, "'Getting Their Way' Means Regents Following the Law; U of I president search: Letter writers, including the board of regents president, comment on the hiring process and the rejection of all finalists," Des Moines Register, November 22, 2006.

Erin Jordan, "Insiders: Regents favored candidate; Deborah Freund was not among the four finalists for the U of I's presidential job," Des Moines Register, November 22, 2006

Pamela M. Stewart, "Out With Regents, In With Hogan," Des Moines Register, November 22, 2006

Editorial, "Restarting UI President Search,"
The Gazette, November 22, 2006

Diane Heldt, "Who didn't make the cut in UI presidential search; List rejected by regents had an African-American but no women candidates," The Gazette, November 22, 2006

Brian Morelli, "Criticism of regent search continues; Gartner issues statement defending decisions," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 22, 2006
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Anonymous said...

My understanding is the vote was four to suspend the search and disband the committee two votes to continue with the process and one abstention which adds up to seven regents out of nine. Is that correct and if so why did two regents not participate in an important decision?

Anonymous said...

Has NO one figured this out yet? Three sitting provosts at major universities with medical schools... There are not too many people that meet this description, folks.

Provost Hogan applied for this position and was a finalist.

He has the broad trust of faculty, students, staff, and citizens of the State of Iowa and meets the qualifications for the job and more:

*He has experience leading the University, including its vast and complex health science mission.

*He has a proven track record in fundraising.

*He understands the core importance and value of a high quality liberal arts and sciences education, and how it contributes to preparing workforce leaders of tomorrow and thus contributes economic development.

Has anyone bothered to ask him about this? I doubt if the candidates had to sign confidentiality agreements (or would need to -- the candidates have all of the discretion on these matters).

He may not know that he was a finalist, but I bet the committee (which is now leaking like a tire that ran over a saw) would confirm.

Hogan may be the only qualified person who can or would lead the University at this point. He is probably the only one with the honesty, integrity, and lack of political obligations, alongside a deep appreciation for and understanding of the institution. He could start tomorrow.

R F Latta said...

As a new search procedes the context has changed; 1) a new Democratic legislature with a new Democratic Governor. 2) a new Democratic House and Senate at the federal level. 3) a new local Congressman who campaigned on a pledge to work towards a single-payer health plan.

This last election could be seen as a rejection of belief-based government and a return to evidence-based government. That has significant implications for research institutions.

We need a President whe sees Iowa City as a destination and not a stepping-stone, who has a global perspective and understands the potential of this state and this University to shape the future of this country.

Anonymous said...

The real issue here is the attempt to get a sweetheart deal for Wellmark with the Univ of Iowa Hospital.

That was the goal with 2 Wellmark officials on the Regents in the past.

And now the favored presidential candidate was an 'insurance-industry' candidate.

Who is promoting Gov Vilsack's presidental run? Gartner. Wahlert. Wellmark exec Forsyth.

Look at the Wellmark board.

Connect the dots. Follow the money.

Anonymous said...

Let's look at some connections:

Teresa Wahlert: board member of Wellmark (past); President of Mid American

Marvin Pomerantz: current board member of Wellmark; CEO of Mid American

John Colloton: Past CEO Univ Iowa Hosp; Current board of Wallmark

John Forsyth: CEO Wallmwark; Past regent

David Neil: former regent; current board member of Wellmark (even briefly resigned as Wellmark member so he could vote on an issue as a regent)

Dr Amir Abisser, whose wide Lisa Arbisser was formerly on the board at Wellmark

And finally good buddy of the whole gane, Michael Gartner.

That, my friends is a hall of shame of conflict of interest at best and corruption at least.

Can you believe the regents of the University of Iowa are this corrupt?

Where is our attorny general to investigate?

Nick said...


My understanding is, as reported in the media, the vote was 6-2-1. Perhaps the "4" comes from the fact that 4 of the 6 were actually formal members of the search committee (I don't know that), or are perceived as "the gang of four."

- Nick

Nick said...

Anonymous 1:

(a) Provost Hogan seems to be popular on campus, would clearly be qualified (it seems to me), and has a lot of vocal support (such as yours) for the position. I certainly have a high regard for him.
(b) The Iowa Code unambiguously vests power to hire the president in the Board of Regents. While, as I have written on this blog, the wisest leadership the Regents could provide would involve giving heavy weight to campus opinion and active involvement in the process of selection, the Regents are not legally required to be "wise," anymore than they are legally required to be polite. Legally they are perfectly free to be arrogant, pick whomever they choose, and do it all in secret (up to the point that they violate the Iowa open meetings law).
(3) They have, however, now created a situation most charitably characterized as a "mess." They, we -- all Iowans -- need "a way out." Hogan is one of the more obvious ways out -- in addition to being a good choice.

-- Nick

Nick said...


As for a UI president who "sees Iowa City as a destination and not a stepping stone" you might enjoy a look at Nicholas Johnson, "Pricey Presidents' Added Cost," The Daily Iowan, March 7, 2006, online at

-- Nick

Nick said...

Anonymous 2 and 3:

I've addressed the "Wellmark connection" in paragraph "1" of the blog post.

I agree that, on its face, it doesn't look good. You've added a lot more with that list of present and former Wellmark board members -- which I should have checked out, but hadn't. So thanks for that.

But in fairness to all involved (as suggested in my paragraph "1") we really do need some more digging by a good investigative reporter (or assistant attorney general!) to find out if the rejection of the final four and disbanding of the search committee, and the reported preference of the Wellmark-connected Regents for Deborah Freund is just one more piece in this jigsaw puzzle or a fully justifiable, rational and explainable coincidence.

-- Nick

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is important that an investigative reporter look into these connections.

Sources close to this action would not disagree with yout scenario. There are sources all over IC, however most will not talk on record.

Will anyone be able to actually verify such collusion?

Anonymous said...

An investigative reporter besides looking at the little gang of Wellmark friends on the Board of Regenst, should look at:

1. The contract between Wellmark and the Universsty Hospital. Is is fair.

2. The health insurance offered to Univ employees. I could be wrong on this, but it seems Wellmark is the 'preferred' insurer to the state's largest employer.

3. The low salary increase for President Skorton. Gartner says there is a letter. Does that letter contain words like 'Wellmark', 'negotiations', and 'UIHC'. Doubt it; Gartner appears to be wonderfully adapt at hiding his motives in his rhetoric).

3. Contributions flowing from places like Wellpac, Mid American, and individuals empoyed to Vilsack. In fact look into contributions to Wellmark PAC itself.

4. The papers written by Dr. Freund. Is she actually an 'industry candidate'. It sure doesn't look good that she serves on the board of BC/BS.

5. And the connection between Mr. Colloton and Dr. Freund, whom she 'had met several times'.