Thursday, November 30, 2006

UI President Search XI

Today's Commentary

References to stories are by author (or publication, if no author is indicated) in the list of "Media Stories and Commentary," below, that provide links to the full text.

1. UI Reputation. The Daily Iowan editorializes: "Botched Presidential Search Puts UI's Reputation at Stake." Its editorial board is correct. This is a major issue for the University, as I wrote November 26: "I believe this [resolving the problems and rebuilding reputation] will take years, not months, and that the current situation is much more serious than any of us realize in terms of the UI's ability to maintain its national reputation, and its ability to attract and retain research funds, faculty and staff, international and domestic visitors and students." "The Answer/So What Do I Think We Need?" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006. The Daily Iowan's concern, and mine, are further born out in Ben Fornell's story of reactions from around the country, and the story that will appear in tomorrow's Chronicle of Higher Education. As I concluded "The Answer," cited and linked from above, "[T]he faster we can get this unfortunate scenario behind us, and have a new president ahead of us, the better for all involved."

2. Vilsack's commitment. Although I have run for U.S. Senate and House positions, as well as the local school board, and been involved in one way or another with most presidential elections since 1948, and was once asked (but declined) to be a presidential candidate for a third party, I have never actually been a presidental candidate. But I have some notion of the demands on Governor Vilsack's time that began (or continued and accelerated) with the formal launching of his campaign for the Democratic Party nomination for president this morning, and the travel that will take him over the next few days from Iowa to New Hampsire, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Nevada -- Nevada?! Surely not for its 5 electoral votes -- and South Carolina. See the accounts from Thomas Beaumont and Mike Glover, below.

Now most corporate or government executives at large organizations have staff to do much of what is presented as having been done by the executive; they can't possibly do it all themselves. Hopefully, that is the case with Vilsack's representations that he is going to clean up this mess with the Regents: some staffer is following through.

Although at this point, anyone not present at the secret Monday night meeting has to take everything on faith: that Vilsack did, in fact, represent that he would clean up the mess, that he specified just exactly what he was going to do and how he was going to do it, and by when, and how he was going to report back to the group -- as well as that, having made those representations, he intends to, and will, make good on them. If there is a responsible staffer, we don't know that either, or who it is, or what they are doing.

What we do know for sure is that Vilsack has succeeded in substantially suppressing, if not removing, stories in the national media associating his name with a disaster created by a Board to which he has appointed the members. He has the benefit of the appearance of the great negotiator. There were going to be "votes of no confidence" in the Regents' leadership, and he bought some time -- how much we don't know -- and succeeded in cancelling those votes.

What more will result from his intervention has yet to be revealed.

3. Timing. David Yepsen is calling for more delay in this morning's column. To support the suggestion he's laid out an agenda of issues he thinks should be resolved before a new president is appointed that (a) would take at least a year to resolve, and (b) presumably any new president would like to have at least an opportunity to become informed about, if not help shape. Whether this is entirely Yepsen's idea, or was suggested to him by someone who may have a different agenda from Yepsen, we can't know. But Kathryn Fiegen's story quotes a regent who is also supporting delay.

There is absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose from delay, as I wrote in
Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006 ("The Answer"/"OK, but what's next? Where is the next UI president going to come from?"/"2. The Regents should select whomever they believe to be the best of the four finalists who emerged from their search process."). As those much wiser in such matters than myself have said, "We need a president." The longer we delay the worse it gets. There is no reason to believe yet another search will produce better possibilities that the four before the Regents right now. Indeed, the way this search has been handled we will probably get a worse selection from the next search. The Regents have absolutely everything they need before them to make this selection -- either by themselves, in secret, or following campus interviews (if the candidates, having been promised confidentiality, can be persuaded to reveal their names). There is no reason a meeting for this purpose could not be held today, or tomorrow, or the next day, or early next week.

This all seems so obvious on its face. Not that it's the "best" solution; the best solution would have been to have avoided this disaster; but it is clearly "the least worst" solution. So that one cannot help but be suspicious of the motives of those urging delay, and begin to speculate about the principals involved.

4. Wellmark during the interim. With the concern about Wellmark's role, that only grows given the secrecy surrounding the presidental search process, there are also questions about what has happened so far, and may occur during further delays in the selection process, to benefit its interest in what one anonymous comment to this blog characterizes as the "cash cow" that is the UIHC. I've already discussed concerns regarding the proposed new vice president position to oversee the UIHC and College of Medicine. "The Vice President" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search IX," November 28, 2006. There would be even more reason for concern -- regardless of Wellmark's role (or the absence thereof) -- if a part of the motive of the advocates for delay is to be able to put that vice president in place before a president has been selected, thereby making that vice president someone who would owe his or her position to someone other than the president to whom they theoretically report.

And speaking of comments on these blog entries, many of which are, admittedly "anonymous," you might want to give them a read and evaluate for yourself what you make of their content, given that you don't know the source. There's a lot of material there.


This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search

Today's (November 30) is the 11th installment in this blog's report and commentary regarding the continuing saga of the Iowa Board of Regents' efforts to find a president for the University of Iowa. Here are links to the prior ten:

Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006;
Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search II," November 21, 2006;
Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search III," November 22, 2003;

Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search IV," November 23, 2006;
Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search V," November 24, 2006;
Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VI," November 25, 2006;
Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006;
Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VIII," November 27, 2006;
Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search IX," November 28, 2006;
Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search X," November 29, 2006.

Each contains links to the full text of such relevant reports, media stories, blogs and other commentary as I have found regarding the UI presidential search. Together I believe that collection of material to be the most complete available anywhere on the Internet. However, note that the references are not repeated from one entry to the next, so the lists in all the relevant blog entries must be checked to get the full collection.

The entries also contain some commentary of my own. For example,
  • The first contains, among other things, a summarized version of the facts, and a relatively long essay in paragraph 4 entitled, "What are the necessary qualifications for UI's president?"
  • The second includes my effort to identify eight separate categories of issues involved in these stories, provide a bit of legal analysis of Iowa's open meetings law, and reference a little history from Regent Michael Gartner's past.
  • In III I deal with the implications of the revelation that, among the reasons for rejecting the four candidates recommended by the search committee, these Regents, bedeviled by ties to health insurance company Wellmark in the past, may have nonetheless preferred the candidate they did because of her ties to a related health insurance provider. This story, of course, has implications for Governor Vilsack's presidential race, and the beginning of Governor-Elect Culver's term.
  • The fourth includes a contributor's list of Regents-Wellmark ties, and comment about what the Regents'-authorized search committee "Criteria Check List" reveals about the lack of early Regents' concern about health services experience, and some of the problems with search firms.
  • The fifth focuses on the UI's Provost, Michael J. Hogan, and what his rejection by the Regents (as one of the final four) reveals about the failures of the Regents' process.
  • In number VI the primary focus of the news, and my commentary, relates to Governor Vilsack's announcement of his meeting with Regent Gartner and UI officials in Cedar Rapids tomorrow, November 27.
  • In the seventh the discussion involved the revelations in Regent Bob Downer's column, and accompanying stories, regarding the role of Wellmark in President David Skorton's departure, and further evaluation of the perception that this Regents' mess is Governor Vilsack's Katrina as a presidential candidate, given his initial "stay the course" and "You're doing a heck of a job Mike" support of Gartner (which didn't even rise to sufficient importance for him to deliver personally, rather than through a spokesperson).
  • Number eight is limited to links to stories regarding the big story of that day: the closed meeting in Cedar Rapids with Governor Vilsack, and representatives of the Regents and UI constituent groups.
  • In the ninth my commentary touched on four issues: (1) whatever is decided with regard to the proposed "vote of no confidence," it's essential that the full list of grievances by the UI regarding the Regents behavior and process (that is, not just the way the search has been conducted) be assembled, documented, written up, and made public in order that all stakeholders may become aware of the issues that need to be addressed; (2) that the delay granted the Governor could turn into a way the issues can be deep-sixed by holding announcements until no one is on campus during the winter break, (3) that the current Regents' governance model is broken (with suggestions for repair provided from the reproduction of a column by Mark Schantz from last June), and (4) that the proposed new UI vice president position needs to be watched carefully for evidence of continuing efforts to put Wellmark-friendly in positions of conflict of interest.
  • Yesterday's, the tenth, included a "recap" regarding the proposed Vice President position, why "the grievances, the problems, need to be explained," and why "timing is everything."

Media Stories and Commentary

"Try Again," The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 1, 2006

Editorial, "Botched Presidential Search Puts UI's Reputation at Stake," The Daily Iowan, November 30, 2006

Ben Fornell, "UI Search Surprises Many; The Regents' Decision to Reject All Four Presidential Candidates Has Stunned More Than Those in the UI Community,"
The Daily Iowan, November 3j0, 2006

Kurt Hiatt, "UI's Search Firm Found Only 1 Finalist," The Daily Iowan, November 30, 2006

Richard Shannon, "Release Search Records," The Daily Iowan, November 30, 2006

Thomas Beaumont, "Vilsack kicks off long-shot campaign; The governor begins a five-state tour today to announce his candidacy for president,"
Des Moines Register, November 30, 2006 (with links to the Register site's photos and a graphic of his cross-country travel)

David Yepsen, "Slow Down, Let New Guard Sort Out U of I Mess," Des Moines Register, November 30, 2006

Diane Heldt, "Search tab: $195,227 so far; Documents released by regents reveal expenses and inner workings of the hunt for UI’s president," The Gazette, November 30, 2006

Kathryn Fiegen, "Regent: UI should not rush its search; Universities may be competing for candidates," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 30, 2006

Mike Glover, "Vilsack to Face Challenge on Home Turf,"
Washington Post, November 28, 2006

Blogs, "FromDC2Iowa: UI President Search VII: The Answer,"
November 27, 2006

Open Country (Maria Houser Conzemius), "Gartner and Wahlert to Resign?" November 29, 2006

State29, "The Great Negotiator,"
November 30, 2006

University Diaries (Margaret Soltan), "The Failed Presidential Search at the University of Iowa Gets More and More Interesting," November 29, 2006
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Anonymous said...

If Gartner and Wahlert resign then, yes, git er done, appoint one of the four.

If Gartner and Wahlert don't resign then who in their right mind, besides an insurance exec, would want the job?

If they don't resign then let Culver and the Legislature review the role of the BoR and the process and start from scratch.

Anonymous said...

The BOR has been damaged to the degree that it cannot function with Gartner and Wahlert as members.
If Vilsack intended to solve the problem quickly he would have removed Gartner and Wahlert.

My expectation is that Chet Cluver will find a rotting bag of garbage on his desk when he takes office in January. It is unlikely he will reappoint any of the three BOR members who terms will expire. How long it will take him to put together a functional BOR is hard to tell my guess is that the new search might possibly be started in April of 2007.

Anonymous said...

And this statement from Gov Vilsack's Presidential Campaign:

"He's going to challenge the nation to talk about big issues over the course of the campaign," said Craig Varoga, Vilsack's campaign manager.

Not to throw Gov Vilsack under the bus for everything, but....

In the middle of a mess, where unprecedented secret meetings were held, that in the end sabotaged the process, it is delicious irony that the public statements of Candidate Vilsack call for public discourse.

Governor, heed thyself.

Anonymous said...

Anyone see this column?

Anonymous said...

You noticed the DMR quoted you in Wednesdays paper right? I think your blog has definitly had some kind of impact on the public debate about this issue. It seems like the major newspapers are just a couple of days behind you on the issues which probably means your database and commentary have helped in establishing the agenda regarding news coverage and kept it from stagnating. some of these questions about wellmark and the insurance stuff may not have been asked if it wasn't for you.

Good lookin' out!

Anonymous said...

As much as it pains me to agree with Yepsen, I have to in this case. I have to disagree with you Prof. Johnson. I think Dean Fethke can do a fine job for another year if need be. I don't see any way that a Gartner and Wahlert BOR hire will have much support from the UI Community at this point.

I would hope that given this mess that former Congressman Jim Leach might be a candidate. Non-traditional, sure. However he would open doors that a traditional president might. The role of the president has changed to more a fund raiser than administrator. The VP's and Deans do most of the administrative work. Having someone who can raise funds is key. Leach fits that bill.

Anonymous said...

Ditto on the value of this Blog, Prof. Johnson...

I can't disagree more with the prior poster's assertions that Fethke can do a good job for another year. He is a train wreck. Have you seen the ridiculously paternal e-mails he sends to faculty, students, and staff? It is insulting. Furthermore, with the grammar, syntax, and punctuation errors, it looks like he learned how to use professional e-mail from Regent Wahlert.

Have you seen him speak at a public event? He spent a good 10 minutes at an awards ceremony for one college lauding the accomplishments of another college.

He has absolutely no sound knowledge of or appreciation for what a liberal arts and sciences education contributes to our state in terms of a very highly capable and trained workforce with an ability to analyze alternative perspectives of complex issues and to appreciate the contributions to problem-solving that these diverse perspectives contribute in a global society. All you have to do is listen to him spout off about why we don't need this or that degree. He just does not get it. While the University may not have done a very good job of explaining its contributions to the people of the State of Iowa, we DO need a President (now) who does understand it and work on doing a better job of communicating that message.

He says he wants to make the University a "destination" -- for what? A glorified voc-tech diploma that has "university" stamped on it? The University can bet on its destination becoming known as U-Phoenix-Heartland, if this persists too much longer.

There is much that is broken at this University and needs fixing. I think it starts with the Regents. That Fethke has arranged this secretive meeting Friday for a subset of Regents is only further evidence that he is their puppet. He gets off well -- more time to strut about as President, with absolutely no accountability to the students, staff, and faculty.

Arbisser said he was interested in hearing different views -- Let's all hear them! Where have these deans been all along, if they were so concerned about "participating"? If the Regents cared so much about hearing from them and other constituencies, why weren't they coming to forums on campus all throughout the search?

Instead everyone received that ridiculous e-mail from Wahlert a day or so before interviews started -- "send me your questions -- I'll ask them."

Here we go again. The students, staff, and faculty should be demanding that Vilsack stop this continuation of the secrecy and pandering back-room deals that have been going on for months.

Another point -- Arbisser says the controversy will bring forth good candidates? Arbisser's on the search committee and he says it was only after they had forwarded finalists names (after deliberating candidate files for how many weeks? months?) that he "realized" that the finalists did not meet what he thought the qualifications were. What planet does this guy live on? Should a person who has been so remiss in his duties that he now asserts he recommended unqualified candidates be permitted to continue in this important service role to our state? Sorry, I digress... Controversy does not drive good candidates to you, well, unless you think D. Freund is a good candidate... The people of Iowa are not stupid enough to believe that the Regents (who are very clever at times) only figured out that the candidates they recommended didn't meet their qualifications after THEY recommended them. No, the problem for the 6 Regents who dismissed the finalists is that the finalists did not meet their political and financial needs inherent in their PERSONAL agendas. This is a backroom deal and it is so patently obvious that it is embarassing.

We have four good candidates (almost all Regents and Vilsack have admitted it). Make a choice. Vilsack -- show that you can be a leader and put an end to this now.

Anonymous said...

The key critical question is 'who made the decision that the list of presidential finalists was inadequate'?

I have to reject the thought that Tom Vilsack had the knowledge or the time to make this call.

I don't think Teresa Wahlert is an expert in academic administration nor healthcare financing.

Michael Gartner, is a bright fellow. He seems smug and annoying, but bright. However, I don't believe he took a Ph.D. crash course in academic and health administration.

Someone, somewhere must unearth the real brains behind this group. Someone pulled the plug midnight before the committee announced their choices.

Members of the committee itself were stunned. That means that this decision went on outside the committee.

That means that someone has more knowledge of health care administration than committee member Dr Abboud, who was a Chairmen of Medicine since before the World War 1.

I don't know how anyone can investigate this. But someone must know who Gartner and Wahlert depend on for their information.

Love to see phone records and emails to people like:
Wellmark CEO Forsyth
Board of Wellmark members
Even old health care bosses who moved out of state

Someone in that group above called the shots.

Anonymous said...

Should we speculate? In the words of Jon Stewart; it would be irresponsible not to. With little information to go on what choice do we have?

Are big money donors to the UIHC pulling strings?