Monday, December 11, 2006

UI President Search XIII - Last Week

With a week having passed (since "UI President XII," December 1 and 2, 2006), a Board of Regents meeting today (December 11), and the prospect of a UI Faculty Senate and Staff meetings tomorrow to consider "vote of no confidence" resolutions regarding those Regents, it's time to catch up with last week before tomorrow's blog entry about this week's meetings.

(This entry may be expanded over time with links to any additional stories, editorials and others' blog entries from last week that may subsequently come to light. For the most part, however, stories from today (December 11) and beyond will be reported in subsequent blog entries.)

What can one say about this mess?

I'm reminded of the comment of a poor farmer during my congressional race. He had a small pig pen, with two or three skinny pigs trying to find nourishment in the mud. "How are your hogs doing, Fred?" I asked him. "Oh, Nick," he answered, "They ain't getting any fatter, they're just getting older."

That's our UI presidential search: It's not getting any better, it's just getting older.

You'd think there would have been some sense of urgency -- after the November 17 meeting when the Regents announced that none of the four finalists (for whom even most of them, and virtually all of the search committee, had voted) were acceptable, that the search committee members were fired, and the search was called off, with no indication of what would happen next. You would think this crisis would produce at least as speedy a decision and action as would follow the discovery that the office coffee pot was no longer working and would have to be replaced.

Why did the Regents not immediately go into a continuous meeting until they could fashion, and announce, a plan for what would happen next? How could they be so casual about a matter of such importance?

Is this a deliberate desire to leave the University of Iowa to "twist slowly in the wind"?

Because the pattern continued after their meeting December 4, and the call to one of the four finalists on either the 6th or 7th, with the announcement on the 7th that the person called had declined the offer. The suggestion was that "probably" there would be a new search committee, with more involvement from the campus. But there were no specifics. Nor -- having decided to go back to the four finalists -- was there any explanation of why, following one rejection, there was no willingness to offer the job to the next best of the four -- all of whom were thought well qualified by the search committee.

And again on December 11, at the regular Board meeting, held in Iowa City. Search process wasn't even on the agenda, nor was there an announcement of what the process would be -- although some Regents are talking in terms of a selection "by next summer" -- over a year after President Skorton's announced departure -- and a meeting by telephone on December 18, with subject matter, and whether it will be an open or closed meeting, yet to be announced.

During the past week we also witnessed some unbecoming behavior from the Regents' leadership, with Wahlert charging that the opposition to the Regents was coming from a "radical minority" on the campus -- thereby overlooking the criticism coming from the editorial boards of some of the state's major newspapers (owned by corporations headed by CEOs who seldom think of themselves as "radicals"), and the Chair of the Appropriations Committee of the Iowa Senate (who has suggested that all nine Regents should resign) -- among a great many more. (Meanwhile, Gartner has made clear he has no intention of resigning -- "of course not," he's said, adding the reminder that his term runs until 2011.)

This was followed with the revelation that Regents President Gartner thought it perfectly appropriate that the Board (ostensibly at the behest of an Iowa legislator whom the Board refused to identify) was requesting information about the salaries and teaching loads of faculty spokespersons -- actions, especially involving these individuals, and at this time, regarded by many as a not-very-thinly-disguised effort at intimidation.

Speaking of which, the news release issued by Professors Abboud and Tachau (linked as the last item in the "Media Stories" below) is very much worth a read -- especially by those who have given these events only casual attention. The fact is that there is a rather substantial list of grievances regardng this search process; indeed, one that, at least in length, rivals that in the original "Declaration of Independence."

Nor is the search process the only matter of concern. The Regents' behavior exhibited during the search is merely a continuation of their approach to governance generally, including the earlier new "strategic plan" for the University.

The secrecy continues. Whether it violates the Iowa Code "open meetings" requirements remains a matter of debate. To me the language of the statute seems clear. It expressly provides that no agency is compelled by its terms to close a meeting. The language is permissive -- and subject to conditions. The relevant provision involving personnel matters seems to be addressed to circumstances in which an employee's behavior may have been illegal, unethical, or otherwise subject to criticism of some sort; and so serious that a public discussion of the details might cause
"needless and irreparable" harm to that person's reputation. That's a relatively high standard to have to meet -- especially if no negative information is being discussed with regard to someone accorded the honor of being considered as a potential president of the University of Iowa. Even if the standard is met, the Board is not required to close the meeting, and is forbidden to meet in secret unless it is also the case that the person in question requests that it do so. Bear in mind, I am not addressing the policy issue of whether the Code of Iowa ought to permit a Board to close a meeting at which job applicants are being considered. That's another question. All I am saying is that, as I read the statute (and with the acknowledgment that others read it differently), it does not permit the Board to close all meetings at which applicants are being discussed. And it certainly does not permit the Board to close meetings at which some or all of the Board's discussion relates to the timing, process and procedure it intends to use in the course of making its selection.

Moreover, wholly aside from what the law may or may not require, it is simply good management practice, good human relations -- whether within families, large corporations, or universities -- among employees, customers, shareholders, or the public at large -- to be as communicative, candid and open as possible about what's going on with regard to things they care about. At the law school, when work is scheduled on the electrical, heating, computer, plumbing, fire alarm or other systems in the building, advance notice is provided to everyone by way of email. There's an explanation of what will be done, and why, and when -- and another notice when the system is back up and fully functioning.

The Regents' seeming deliberate desire to perpetuate unnecessary secrecy about much more significant matters is simply baffling.

Each of these matters, and much more, is discussed in the media's stories and editorials from the past week, listed below, with links to their full text.

This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search

Today's (December 11) is the 13th 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 twelve:

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.
Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XI," November 30, 2006
Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XII - Blog's Week Hiatus," December 1 and 2, 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.
  • 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."
  • Number eleven discusses the impact of all this on the UI's reputation, the problems surrounding Vilsack's offer to be of genuine help in resolving all of this while putting all his energy into his presidential race, Yepsen's and others' call for additional delay rather than a prompt resolution, which gives rise to concern about what Wellmark may be doing in the interim.
  • The twelfth noted the impact of Governor Vilsack's presidential race, the search costs, closed meetings, the reluctance of candidates to deal with a dysfunctional Board, the inevitable relationship between secrecy and speculation, and the substantial quantity of comments attached to these blog entries.

Media Stories and Commentary

(Material is arranged, generally, alphabetically by publication (e.g., Daily Iowan before Des Moines Register), editorials before stories, stories alphabetically by journalists' last name, and then chronologically within individual journalist's listing, followed by letters to the editor, and finally blog entries.)

Danny Valentine, "Regents to Look Anew at Four Finalists,"
The Daily Iowan, December 5, 2006

Danny Valentine, "Faculty Leader Hopes for Progress in Search," The Daily Iowan, December 6, 2006

Danny Valentine, "Regents to Start Search All Over Again," The Daily Iowan, December 8, 2006

Editorial, "Open the Doors This Time," Des Moines Register, December 8, 2006

Erin Jordan, "Critics Assail Price of U of I Hunt; Firm's Work in Stalled President Search Criticized," Des Moines Register, December 3, 2006

Erin Jordan, "Gartner Calls Regents' Closed-Door Meeting 'Productive,'" Des Moines Register, December 4, 2006

Erin Jordan, "Private Regents Talk on President 'Productive,' Gartner Says; Faculty Leader Says Meeting Shows Selection is Closer," Des Moines Register, December 5, 2006

Erin Jordan, "Top Choice to be U of I President Withdraws; Search Now More Difficult, Say Regent Critics,"
Des Moines Register, December 8, 2006

Erin Jordan, "Remove 2 Regents, Democratic Group Says; But the governor says he trusts that they'll find a new U of I president," Des Moines Register, December 9, 2006

"Searching for a New U of I President: A Timeline," Des Moines Register, December 8, 2006

David Leonard, "As Goes the U of I Search, So Goes the Country?" Des Moines Register, December 3, 2006

Editorial, "The Search for UI's Next President," The Gazette, December 3, 2006

Editorial, "Bring UI President Finalists to Campus," The Gazette, December 5, 2006

Editorial, "Regents' Resignations," The Gazette, December 8, 2006

Diane Heldt, "Regents Criticism Increases; UI Faculty: President Search Controversy Part of Wider Problem," The Gazette, December 5, 2006

Diane Heldt, "Board of Regents Reconsidering Final Four UI Presidential Candidates," The Gazette, December 7, 2006

Diane Heldt, "UI Chief Search Hits Major Stall," The Gazette, December 8, 2006

Diane Heldt, "Presidential Search; UI Faculty Skeptical of Request,"
The Gazette, December 9, 2006

Rod Boshart, "Governor Says He's Confident in Current Board of Regents," The Gazette, December 9, 2006

Gregg Hennigan and Lyle Muller, "Regents Back to Hunt for New UI President," The Gazette, December 5, 2006

Gregg Hennigan, "Local Dems Call for Regents' Resignations,"
The Gazette, December 9, 2006

"Excerpts from Gazette Editorial Board Meeting," The Gazette, December 5, 2006

Steve Collins and Carroll Reasoner, "Golden Rule for Presidential Searches," The Gazette, December 3, 2006

Pete Brown, "Problem in UI Conflict Lies With Faculty," The Gazette, December 8, 2006

Mike Nelson, "Another Guess About Regents' Motives at UI," The Gazette, December 8, 2006

Editorial, "Losing All of Our Confidence in the Regents," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 8, 2006

Editorial, "Regents Should Turn Over Closed Meeting Records," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 9, 2006

Brian Morelli, "Search leaders hope to avoid delay; They urge regents to choose one of rejected finalists," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 3, 2006

Brian Morelli, "Search for leader still up in the air; UI official expects president to be named this week," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 5, 2006

Brian Morelli, "Faculty Keeping Day Open; Search Meeting May be Tues.," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 6, 2006

Brian Morelli, "Regents' Preferred Candidate Rejects Offer; Presidential Search Scrapped Again,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 8, 2006

Brian Morelli, "Wahlert: Criticism from 'Radical' Minority; Regent Defends Secrecy During UI Leader Search," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 9, 2006

Brian Morelli, "Dems Call for Resignations," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 9, 2006

"Audio: The Presidential Search,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 8, 2006

"Another Closed Meeting; Still No President," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 4, 2006

John Westerfeld, "Identify the UI Finalists and Bring Them to Campus," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 7, 2006

Francois Abboud and Katherine Tachau, "News release from UI search committee members; Ask not why the search failed, ask why the Board of Regents failed the search," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 10, 2006


Army Post Road, "More Evidence," December 9, 2006

Dorky (kiyote23), "Steinke Asked Nov. 6 for Salaries," December 9, 2006

David Goodner, "Pressure Builds for Regents' Resignation," December 9, 2006

State29, "No Confidence," December 8, 2006

State29, "Regents' Search for New UI President is Costing Too Much Money," December 8, 2006

State 29, "No Wonder The University of Iowa Faculty Is Pissed Off At The Board of Regents," December 9, 2006
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Anonymous said...

Gartner; "I suspect there are people in this state who would think that $85,000 for nine months and the teaching of one course are simply interesting facts."

One could speculate why Gartner would think that some Iowans would find that interesting but we wouldn’t want to put words in his mouth when he could put words into the mouths of Iowans himself. In fact, as President of the Board of Regents I think it is his responsibility to the people of this state and to the staff to explain exactly what he meant by that.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 12/11/2006, 3:37:20:

Agreed. Look at Gartner's e-mail exchange with Morelli, however. It is worse -- he admits that he said to the students, "AND I WOULDN'T BE SURPRISED IF I SAID THAT I'D LIKE A JOB LIKE THAT -- BIG PAY FOR TEACHING ONE COURSE." [Capitals in the original.] Is this not disparaging? It is evidence of not only incredible disregard and disrespect for faculty, but also unbelievable lack of understanding about what faculty are required to do. Faculty do not just teach. (Indeed, it is less than the majority of the expectations placed upon them in the "average" case, and there is substantial variation.)

That a Regent does not know what faculty do is inexcusable. He is in no position to be making hiring decisions regarding who should lead the institution.

This man needs to be removed now. He is obviously incompetent and lacks any sense of ethics. (Note also, his incredible disrespect in "yelling" at Morelli in e-mail, when Morelli was persistent in seeking answers.)

I cannot fathom why Vilsack and/or Culver, as well as the Iowa Senate thinks this person has the appropriate moral character and competency to act as a Regent -- a trustee of one of Iowa's most important resources. "Trustee" is a joke in the case of this person. He cannot be trusted.

Repeatedly, he has demonstrated "malfeasance." Get him out and fast.

Anonymous said...

Regent Gartner; Do you think academic staff at the University of Iowa is overpaid? Underworked? How should the State of Iowa determine the value of academic staff? What is the role of the University of Iowa? How has the job market changed in the last 20 years for U of I undergrads and grad students? In the last 10 years? How should the academic staff adapt to global changes in the job market? How should the state of Iowa make sure that the graduates of the state Regent institutions are competitive in a global job market?