Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Duplicate of UI President Search XVI - Dec. 18-20

Revised and updated Dec. 18, 11:30 a.m., 11:00 p.m., Dec. 19, 10:30 a.m., 11:55 a.m., Dec. 20, 6:30 a.m., 1:00 p.m.

Note: This is a duplicate of the immediately preceding blog entry which has become overloaded with volumes of automatically inserted html formatting codes and slow to load in Internet Explorer (though it seems to work fine in Firefox); if you were able to load and read the prior entry you've seen everything in this one.

EXTRA [Dec. 18]: Regents Meet 25 Minutes; Select Dentistry Dean Johnson Search Committee Chair; To Meet to Select Search Committee Members in January; Rebuff Three-Campus Faculty Request to Meet With Regents

Each of the major journalists covering the UI president search story (Erin Jordan, Diane Heldt and Brian Morelli) have articles in their morning (Dec. 19) papers, linked from below under "Media Stories and Commentary."

[Last evening (Dec.18) I provided this link to one of their online reports: Erin Jordan, "Regents Tap Dentistry Dean to Lead Search for U of I President," Des Moines Register Online, December 18, 2006.]

UI Faculty Senate Shelly Kurtz' letter to Regents (Dec. 18) and email to faculty regarding the new search process (Dec. 19) are now (Dec. 19) available; see, "References" under "Media Stories and Commentary," below. Tomorrow's (Dec. 20) papers will have mention of these items, and newly released data regarding additional search costs since the report of $195,000 -- now (Dec. 20) linked from below.

EXTRA [Dec. 20]: Erin Jordan Reports Another Regents' Conflict of Interest: UI Billed for Regents' Flights on Private Planes Owned by Regent's Husband. [It's not known why this rather stunning revelation was not alluded to in the Gazette's and Press-Citizen's stories about the search cost increases.] Des Moines Register Editorial Slams Regents' Secrecy, Violation of Iowa Open Meetings Law Purposes and Spirit.

[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story, these blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006. For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the leftmost column. Going directly to will take you to the latest. Each contains links to the full text of virtually all known media stories and commentary, including mine, since the last blog entry. Together they represent what The Chronicle of Higher Education has called "
one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." The last entry containing the summary of prior entries (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006. My proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006.]

Commentary - Dec. 18

The big story today is that the Regents are meeting, by phone, in open meeting, this afternoon at 5:00 p.m. -- though you wouldn't know it from the hard-copy media. (The Register makes passing mention of a meeting in an editorial (with no details), and The Gazette Online has a notice, with meeting places (and the promise of post-meeting reports at least online). The Daily Iowan is on a publishing hiatus -- one of the many benefits for the Regents, discussed in this blog earlier, that comes from their postponing from November 17 to now, just prior to the winter holiday, whatever it is they decide to do.

"Faculty Insist They Appoint Their Own Boss." In its editorial this morning, the Register repeats once again the representation that the real problem in Iowa City is that the "faculty insist they appoint their own boss." Editorial, "On U of I Search: Let's Take a Time Out; Allow for calm consideration of next steps," Des Moines Register, December 18, 2006. Here's my response, which I uploaded as a comment following that editorial, and repeat here in its entirety as blog comment:

Bashing UI Faculty Inaccurate and Diversion From Real Issues

Thanks to the Register for the excellent ongoing journalism regarding the Regents UI president search, and for providing the online archive. (To which I might immodestly add the note that The Chronicle of Higher Education has said the blog,, "has provided one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy.")

Here's a small bit of that analysis.

Regent Michael Gartner said in his "Iowa Press" interview, "The issue is who governs the University of Iowa, the Regents or . . . the faculty." You editorialize ("On U of I Search: Let's Take a Timeout," Dec. 1) "members of the faculty . . . insist they be allowed to appoint their own boss."

Both statements are factually flat wrong, unfairly pejorative, and overly simplistic.

There are many reasons why I have characterized Faculty Senate President Shelly Kurtz' statement regarding the no confidence vote as "the single most important document" for those seeking to understand the issues. See One reason is his opening statement that "the Regents have the statutory responsibility to select our next president."

(The past practice of "involving" the faculty in the "search process" -- while leaving the Regents "to select" the president -- can be judged by its results: a relatively smooth and timely process producing presidents subsequently hired away by some of the nation's most prestigious institutions. For a faculty member merely to refer to that history is a far cry from saying the "faculty . . . insist they . . . appoint their own boss.")

In fact, I have not seen, heard, or read anything from any member of the faculty suggesting that the faculty should either "govern" or "appoint their own boss" at the University. That untrue, oft-repeated, straw-man diversion gets in the way of understanding what's going on.

As the Register's stories have reported, one major issue involves thinking through, articulating and then applying, the most appropriate governance model for the Regents-University relationships. (The present one is somewhere between "broken" and "non-existent.")

But another major issue, that President Kurtz' statement details, consists of a long list of Regents' actions and statements (going well beyond the search itself) that any reasonable person would find totally unacceptable under any governance model in any institution, corporate or academic. They, too, must be addressed.

For more analysis, a virtually complete record of the coverage and documents, and a very lively flow of commentary regarding the blog entries and issues, take a look at

Nicholas Johnson
(Nicholas Johnson is not a member of the UI Faculty Senate, and does not speak for the University of Iowa in any capacity. These are his opinions as a Hawkeye literally born in the University Hospital and with continuing affection for the institution thereafter.)

# # #

"Regents, don't let 'the great become the enemy of the good.'"

Regent Gartner has said he wants a "great" president for a "great" university.

The problem with that aspiration, aside from its relative lack of useful meaning, is that by rejecting the "good" presidential candidates we already have, with little prospect (at this point) for finding any who are any better, let alone "great," we may well end up with no greater a president and a much less great university.

Because of the Regents' preference for all-pervading secrecy I can't know who's left over from Search I. All we know is that there were four finalists, one of whom has withdrawn his or her name and one of whom is Mike Hogan. I'm not supporting anyone; I don't even know who the other two are. But, as I've written before,

(a) I think it unlikely (given recent history) that Search II will do as well as, let alone better than Search I.

(b) Everything that needs to be addressed -- from Regents' resignations and replacements through strategic planning, governance models and legislative participation -- would have been ideally dealt with by now, but it hasn't been. That will take a lot of time.

(c) There is no "good" solution for finding a president at this point, only "least worst" solutions. We have already lost a year since Skorton announced his departure. Every additional week of delay is a further black mark on the formerly great reputation of the University of Iowa. The deans have already expressed concern about losing (and their inability to attract) top faculty. Obviously, they and I put more weight on gettting this all behind us than do the Regents (and the Register's editorial writers).

(d) My preferred least worst solution would be for the Regents to work off the list that they have. There are three remaining finalists; the best from a thorough search; recommended by the search committee and its Regents members to the full Board of Regents; subsequently returned to (after having been rejected) for the one (rejected) offer.

(e) Clearly, Mike Hogan was among them. While I am not campaigning for him, I know he is very well regarded on campus and I know nothing about him that would suggest he would not make a good (even "great") president. He has the added advantage, at this point, of having been here during the past year (and more). He's "up to speed," he "knows the territory." His appointment solves our public relations problems. Now. He can, at a minimum, serve during the two years or so it will take to sort out the governance and strategic planning issues. If, at that time, the then-current Board of Regents wants to replace him (which I would think highly unlikely) it always has the legal authority to do so. At that point, with a goverance model and strategic plan in place, we would be on much more solid ground in going out nationally for a presidential search.

(f) If there is some rational reason for not asking him to serve, there are others among the 165 considered by the search committee who were well thought of. If there are other individuals who have just come on the market during the last month or six weeks, their names can be quickly added.

(g) Bottom line: I do think there is some urgency about the selection of a new president one year after his predecessor's departure; there is little possibillity of finding a better selection in a second search at this time; there is much to be lost by additional delay; there are plenty of "good" possibilities available -- including one who is already in place and would only require a short move down the hall; I believe the Regents should start making offers after this afternoon's meeting, and thereafter, and have a president named by early January (rather than "next summer" as some have suggested).

Commentary - Dec. 19

Once again, today (Dec. 19), it's necessary to make the point that we're not dealing here with legal rights and powers -- whether to "govern" the University or "select its president" or to prescribe the Regents' operating process for either.

What is at issue are good, basic practices of administration, of anything, that are hopefully learned by any first year business student; we're talking about wisdom and maturity; common sense and common decency; collegiality and collective participation; openness and transparency; behavior that makes a contribution, rather than being counterproductive, in producing smooth institutional operations.

And as I think about the seemingly instinctive contrary practices of our Board of Regents, and especially its leadership, I think of the contrast represented by a number of experiences during my Washington years.

Here's one. The phone rang at the house one morning about 5:30. I picked it up. It was the President, Lyndon Johnson. He was thinking about a particular cabinet appointment, knew I'd had a little contact with the guy under consideration, would have to report to him if he was put in that cabinet position, and wanted to know whether I thought he'd do a good job. Now, before I go on, let me explain that I was not a member of the president's cabinet; I was not a member of his White House staff. Yes, I held a presidential appointment (at that time Maritime Administrator, before I went to the FCC), but so did about 4000 other people in Washington.

There is nothing in the Constitution that required the President to engage in that consultation. No Act of Congress or Executive Order required it. It was just an example of his characteristic way of reaching out and including in -- not because he was legally required to do so, but because it was just good admnistrative practice.

The UI President of the Faculty Senate, Sheldon Kurtz, wrote a letter yesterday requesting an opportunity for faculty representatives from each of the three regents' institutions to meet with the regents for the purpose of reviewing the pros and cons of past university president selection processes. Now that the Regents are contemplating a new approach to a presidential search but have not yet decided what it will be, a meeting with those who've had past experience struck me as a useful, generous and gracious offer from President Kurtz and a really smart thing for the Regents to do -- for a variety of reasons. In fact, it was the kind of thing that if I (or Lyndon Johnson!) was on the Board of Regents would have been initiated by the Board.

What was the Regents response? Nothing. They didn't even accord the three institutions' faculties the dignity of a brush off from a Regent in the form of a reply to President Kurtz' letter. They simply handed off to their executive director, Gary Steinke, the task of telling Kurtz there would be no meeting.

Now, do the Regents have the legal right to do that? Of course they do. That's not the issue. The issue is whether it was the wisest thing to do.

At the Board meeting, according to press reports, "Gartner said that there were differing opinions on the board [as to whether Regents and students should serve on the search committee] and that he would talk with regents individually before calling the board back together for a decision." Does he have the legal right to conduct Board business in this way? Here the answer is not so clear. Some courts have ruled that a process deliberately and repeatedly used to evade and violate the letter and spirit of the open meetings law is, in fact, illegal. But let's put that aside for the moment and assume he could survive such a legal attack on his personally preferred process.

As a sidebar, the open meetings law does not come into play unless there is, first, a "meeting." A "meeting" requires the presence -- either in person or on the phone or otherwise electronically -- of a sufficient number of the body in question that they could take action in the name of their board or commission. Thus, if five or more of the nine Regents would assemble (or engage in a conference call) to discuss the role of students and Regents on the search committee those discussions would be open to the media and the public. When Gartner talks to an individual Regent that is not a "meeting" and thus is not required to be an "open meeting." However, note that when he proposes to "talk with regents individually," and then does so, the net effect -- however awkward and time-consuming for him-- is the same as if there had been a meeting (in addition to which, not incidentally, he creates and retains a power, far in excess of the single Regent vote he legally possesses, to shape the agenda, the positions of other Regents, and the actions they take).

As with stiff-arming the faculty, once again (on the assumption he finds a friendly judge) the issue is not whether he has the legal power to do what he's been doing and proposes to continue. The issue is whether it is the wisest thing to do.

Have the Regents learned from their unfortunate series of experiences during the last 10 months? It would appear that they have not.

Commentary - Dec. 20

Open Meetings Violations and Governance Principles.
The Register -- which we all owe a vote of thanks for beating the open meetings drum -- went after the Regents in its editorial this morning, linked below, "Regents on Openness: How Low Can They Go?" Obviously, we all should be concerned with any violations of law by the Regents. As someone who has written about open meetings laws (in the Register and law reviews as well as this blog), I think the Regents have violated more than just the purposes and spirit of the law. Earlier in this blog entry I wrote about some other factors that are involved in the Regents' behavior beyond just whether they have, or have not, actually violated the law. I spoke of such things as collegiality and openness, human decency and effectiveness. But there's another issue I failed to mention.

When I've written on this blog about goverance, and suggested that the Regents' "governance model" is somewhere between "broken" and "non-existent," the implied aspect of governance has involved working out the details of the relationship between a board (essentially a board of directors of anything: for-profit or non-profit corporation, or a university's board of regents) and its CEO. The John Carver governance model (with which I am most familiar) suggests the board should say, in effect, (a) here are the measurable goals we want you to meet (he calls them "ends policies"), and (b) here are the things we forbid you to do (which he calls "executive limitations"). The CEO is then free to choose the means for reaching those ends, and free to engage in any activities not expressly forbidden.

But there are other aspects to board governance which deal with the board's conduct as a board, board members' relations with each other, and individual board members' relations with the CEO and other administrators and staff of the organization.

The Regents have violated a goodly number of what many would consider good board governance basics. But the one involving Regents President Gartner's use of one-on-one polling and e-mail exchanges, notification of some regents and not others, and unilateral action as a Regent but without board deliberation, discussion and approval -- which the Register has addressed in the context of open meetings law violations -- also needs to be addressed in terms of just good board governance practice.

And that's not something that requires newspaper editorials, or law suits for open meetings violations. It's something that each individual regent not only has the power, but the legal responsibility, to raise, protest, discuss, and remedy. It cannot all be chalked up to the Regents' "leadership."

"Come fly with me." Erin Jordan's piece this morning, "In-State Flights by Regents Cost UI $2900," linked below, speaks for itself. But I'll add a word or two of my own anyway. (1) Red flags should have been popping up all over, like the American flag displays at a political appearance of the president, at the suggestion the Regents leadership fly around Iowa in private planes owned by a Regent's husband for which the University of Iowa would be billed. As the current TV commercial has it, "What were they thinking?" Conflicts of interest with Wellmark are one thing; maybe they're a little too sophisticated and subtle for the Regents. But this one! This one is in chapter one of "Conflicts of Interest for Dummies." (2) Note that all expenses of the Regents, not just this one, are passed along to the University of Iowa -- food, hotels, private planes, whatever. Simply as a matter of good basic accounting practice might it not be better for the Legislature to give the Regents their own budget to manage, rather than just a blank check, or a credit card, with no responsibility for their expenses? (3) Look, I understand that it's fun and convenient to fly in private planes. I got a kick out of every ride on Air Force One, and the other non-commercial planes on which I've flown over the years. But we're not talking about international, trans-continental, or even in-state travel around Texas here. This is Iowa. How long can it take to get anywhere in the state? And the Regents only meet eight times a year. Reimburse Regents for their mileage. If they want to pay the additional for private planes, fine. That's their choice. Besides, don't they have cell phones, palm pilots, i-pods, laptops, and books and other reading material? I've been following Rudyard Kipling's advice since I was 15 ("If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run"). I know Regents' time is valuable. But travel time need not be lost time. If they can't get around the state like other Iowans do, if they truly find the burdens so heavy to bear in the midst of their otherwise full lives that they must hold 20-minute telephone "meetings" and use private planes to get to the regular meetings, they might want to consider resigning.

"You paid what?!" I predicted long before the numbers came in that the costs for the search (what it turns out is now referred to as "the first search") would run well over $200,000. And so it has, with possibly more costs to come. Based on my own experience -- and the fact this wonderful search firm apparently came up with only one candidate (out of 165) that made it to the final 7 -- I haven't found search firms very useful. Certainly, as I've written earlier, the pool of potential Big 10 university presidents is sufficiently small, and sufficiently well-known within the collective networks of a faculty the size of that at Iowa, that (as our experience has borne out) there's very little a search firm can add -- except "protective coloration." (This is, not incidentally, just one more major reason why any Board of Regents ought to make the fullest possible use of this resource represented by a faculty when undertaking a search -- and why the Regents made a huge mistake in turning down Shelly Kurtz' offer of a meeting.)

"You Want Facts?" Regent Gartner has occasionally charged that those questioning his governance behavior don't know what they're talking about, aren't familiar with it, and have no facts. Katherine Tachau provides chapter-and-verse response in this morning's Press-Citizen ("Michael Gartner and Facts," linked below). UI Facuty Senate President Shelly Kurtz' statement to the Faculty Senate on the occasion of its vote of no confidence in the Regents is another collection of facts. There is now a "version two" of that statement, and an abridged version, both linked below. Mary Gilchist's piece, "Keep Lab Intact and at UI," deals with another aspect of Regents' governance. And there are a couple of more letters to the editor, others blog entries, and The Chronicle forum comments.

Media Stories and Commentary

Editorial, "Regents on Openness: How Low Can They Go? Board's phone meetings shut out public," Des Moines Register, December 20, 2006

Erin Jordan, "In-State Flights by Regents Cost UI $2,900,"
Des Moines Register, December 20, 2006

Erin Jordan, "U of I Dean to Lead Search Panel; Rest of committee that picks president will be named in January, regent leader says," Des Moines Register, December 19, 2006

Diane Heldt, "Regents' E-Mail Swaps Legal, Expert Says; UI search messages put openness into question; regents defend methods," The Gazette, December 20, 2006

"Costs Exceed $211,000 for UI Presidential Search," The Gazette, December 20, 2006

Diane Heldt, "Dean Selected to Lead UI Search; Johnsen: Presidential hunt will ‘engage’ community at UI as much as possible," The Gazette, December 19, 2006

"UI Request for Meeting Turned Down," The Gazette, December 19, 2006

Brian Morelli, "First Search Tops $200,000; UI presidential hunt spent $1,000 on IMU food,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 20, 2006

Katherine Tachau, "Facts and Michael Gartner," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 20, 2006

Brian Morelli, "Regents Tap Dean to Lead Search; Johnsen starting fresh in hunt for UI president," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 19, 2006

Brian Morelli, "Kurtz Calls for Meeting With Regents," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 19, 2006

Peter Green, "Selling UI to the Highest Bidder,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 17, 2006

Kristin Summerwill, "Alumni Have Little Confidence Either," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 17, 2006

Additional, Earlier Publications

Nicholas Johnson, "Bashing UI Faculty Inaccurate and Diversion From Real Issues,"
Des Moines Register Online Forum, December 18, 2006

Mary Gilchrist, "Keep Lab Intact and at UI," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 18, 2006

"3 Sites Open to Listen to Regents Meeting," The Gazette Online, December 17, 2006

"Faculty Senate at U. of I Votes No Confidence in Board of Regents"
(with 14 comments from readers), The Chronicle of Higher Education Online, December 12-14, 2006

O. Kay Henderson, "Gartner Says 'Lynch Mob' Mentality Exists at U-of-I," Radio Iowa, December 13, 2006


Krusty Konservative, "Krusty's Christmas List,"
December 20, 2006

State29, "David Broder Sugarcoats Tom Vilsack," December 19, 2006


UI President Sheldon Kurtz, "Statement to Faculty Senate Regarding Vote of No Confidence in Regents," version 2, December 12, 2006

UI President Sheldon Kurtz, "Statement to Faculty Senate Regarding Vote of No Confidence in Regents," abridged version, December 12, 2006

UI President Sheldon Kurtz' letter to Regents requesting meeting between faculty from the Regents' three universities with presidential search experience and the Regents, December 18, 2006

UI President Sheldon Kurtz' email to faculty colleagues
, December 19, 2006

UI Faculty Senate Web Site


Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Nicholas Johnson's Iowa Rain Forest ("Earthpark") Web Site

Nicholas Johnson's Blog, FromDC2Iowa

Nicholas Johnson's Blog Index


No comments: