Friday, December 15, 2006

UI President Search XV

Updated, Revised December 15, 5:00 p.m., 6:15 p.m.; December 16, 9:30 a.m., 9:15 p.m. (Links to additional stories and other material; additions of essays under "Mardi Gras," "Which Would be Worse?," "In Praise of Michael Gartner," "Wellmark: Malignant or Benign?," revisions and additions throughout.) December 17, 11:00 a.m. (See sub-heading "December 17" under "Commentary" and under "Media Stories and Commentary.)

[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 comprehesive 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.]


The pressure for Regents' resignations is mounting.

In addition to the "no confidence" resolutions from university groups, focusing on the need to remove the Regents' "leadership" (a euphemism for Regents Gartner and Wahlert) two Iowa State Senators have suggested that the better procedure would be for all regents to tender their resignations to Governor-Elect Culver, leaving him the option of re-appointing some and not others.

Today's Press-Citizen editorial supports this approach.

Consistent with this solution, a sitting regent, Tom Bedell, has announced that he will be the first to offer his resignation, along with his statement of the need for new Regents' leadership.

Former Regents president and UI supporter Marvin Pomerantz has said of Regent Gartner, "It's a policy-making board. Mike engenders conflict where ever he goes, . . . he’s not a great leader."

Blogger State29 has been reviewing the allegations of some troubling past history involving Gartner in previous administrative positions.

The Johnson County Democrats -- an organization central to any presidential hopeful's success in the Iowa caucuses (including Governor Vilsack's) -- has joined the chorus.

And virtually every possible representative group of UI personnel -- faculty, staff, College of Liberal Arts, graduate students, and student government -- has overwhelminglyly passed resolutions of "no confidence" in the Regents.

Earlier this week I called Faculty Senate President Shelly Kurtz' statement to the Senate on December 12 (also available as a link from "Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIV," December 12, 2006 (with updates and revisions)) the single most important document regarding the situation.

Why? Because it makes abundantly clear to all who will but read it, that what is happening is not what Regent Gartner has called a "circus," or "Mardi Gras," or "an Iowa City" phenomenon. Today's Des Moines Register carries Kurtz' statement in full to Register readers around the state -- along with the shorter op ed version which the Press-Citizen also carries this morning. Hopefully, it will help many Iowans better understand the seriousness of the situation.

Meanwhile, Gartner continues to dismiss, ridicule and trivialize the observations and complaints about his "leadership."

"Stay the course," says Governor Vilsack -- long after President Bush has abandoned the phrase. He declares that he still has confidence in the Regents' leadership -- a leadership which, in its spare time, is helping the Governor raise money for his presidential campaign.

Anyone old enough to remember the Viet Nam War may find Vilsack's position reminiscent of Pete Seeger's song, "Waist Deep in the Big Muddy," written for the "Smothers' Brothers Comedy Hour," but censored by CBS. It contained the line, "Waist deep in the Big Muddy, and the big fool says, 'Push on.'"

To remove any possible ambiguity, the purpose of this reference is not to suggest that Vilsack or Gartner are either "fools" or "big fools." I tend not to use that word myself, because I don't find it either very descriptive or analytically useful. To the extent it has a meaning it is not a meaning I would ascribe to either of those gentlemen.

The point of the reference is that there comes a time when what is increasingly seen to be a failed course of action should be abandoned, rather than pursued. It is my judgment that this is such a time (as I put forth in "Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII -- The Answer," November 26, 2006): that both Vilsack and Gartner would be personally advantaged (as well as doing the right thing for Iowa) to stop "pushing on," recognize the seriousness of the situation brought on by the Regents' failed leadership and that replacing that leadership is really their best "least worst" option at this point, and that every additional day's delay in doing so is simply making the situation -- and their own best interests -- worse.

Mardi Gras

Regent Gartner has compared the reactions of the UI's stakeholders to his leadership to "Mardi Gras."

Having spent some time working in New Orleans, I am tempted to reply with a reference to the exchange between Senators Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle during the 1988 debate when both were running for Vice President on their respective parties' tickets. Quayle compared himself to Senator Kennedy. Senator Bentsen responded, "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy."

"Regent Gartner, I served in New Orleans. I knew New Orleans. New Orleans was a friend of mine. Regent Gartner, what you have created is no Mardi Gras."

I have enormous respect for Regent Tom Bedell -- as I do for his father, Berkley Bedell. I will continue to praise him for his genuine commitment to Iowa, its universities, its Board of Regents, and his leadership in speaking out, courage to criticize the leadership of the Board on which he serves, and the sacrifice represented by his offer to tender his resignation.

Moreover, I even understand what might have caused him to criticize those speaking on behalf of the thousands of individuals in virtually every UI group of stakeholders who expressed their near-unanimous "no confidence" in the Board of Regents. He characterized it as "disgusting and embarrassing."

Clearly, there is human behavior that fairly can be characterized as "disgusting and embarrassing." It may be a child throwing a tantrum in the supermarket, a corporate CEO throwing a tantrum over a missed sales goal, an Army drill sergeant over a recruit's poor performance, a professor over the failure to get a classroom or a requested parking space -- or a regent whose top choice for university president didn't make it to the "final four."

But equally clearly, there are other occasions when the behavior of protest is understood to be an acceptable expression of personal conscience.

This was the case for Martin Luther when he declared his intolerance for the Roman Church’s corruption on Halloween in 1517, by nailing his 95 Theses of Contention to the Wittenberg Church door. It's the way most of us view the actions of his namesake, Dr. Martin Luther King, with his non-violent civil disobedience and marches in the South during the 1960s. It is true for the "conscientious objector" called to military service. It is the distinction we recognize between walking out of a marriage because of a verbal argument, and a wife's seeking shelter from an environment of perpetual physical abuse. It is the distinction between employees' general grousing and the protection we accord the "whistle-blower" who reveals an institution's practices that may be unethical, illegal or a potential threat to the health and safety of the public. In the most extreme, it is represented by the response of the early colonists in the "Declaration of Independence" that was to become the birth announcement for our nation.

As you may have guessed by now, I believe the reactions of the UI stakeholder groups is of this latter character. It is not mere professorial petulance. It is not, as Gartner says, a "circus atmosphere" or "Mardi Gras" brought on by a "lynch mob." It is not, as he asserts, "a governance issue" -- at least not in the sense that he means: "who governs the University of Iowa -- the Board of Regents or . . . the faculty over there?" (Indeed, as Faculty Senate President Kurtz stated directly, "Let me begin by emphasizing that the Faculty Senate fully recognizes that the Regents have the statutory responsibility to select our next president.")

It is for that reason that I do not believe these differences are something that, to quote Gartner's belief expressed in his "Iowa Press" interview, "time will take care of." Nor is it something that will be resolved with Regent Bedell's recommendation of "a cooling off period." A cooling off period can be an effective remedy when two kindergarten kids get in a fight. It can be useful after a married couple's argument. It cannot solve the problem of a husband prone to violence who regularly beats his wife. And it is not alone enough to resolve what Jay Christenson-Szalanski brilliantly identifies in his December 15 Press-Citizen column as a clash of cultures between the University and the current Regents' leadership. (My own efforts at describing a "university culture" and how to "manage" it is in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIV," December 12, 2006 (section I).)

It is my belief that the former and present Regents, Iowa State senators, editorial boards, and stakeholder groups that have taken a stand are genuine in their concern that the current Regents leadership's governance model is grossly at odds with that of prior boards of regents and with the very basic requirements of any university. So far as I know, this is the first time in the 160-year history of the University that these groups have felt so strongly about regents' misdirection.

That is why I am urging every legislator and regent, every journalist and editorial writer, every columnist and composer of letters to the editor and blogs, every educator from around the country who is following this saga, to read President Kurtz' statement word for word. Having done so, you may disagree with one or more of his facts, analyses, and conclusions, but I doubt that anyone would still believe that he is just the ringmaster for a "circus" or "inmates wanting to run the institution." The concerns of which he speaks are those of individuals who have agonized over what they believe are dangerous risks to a valuable educational asset for the people of Iowa.
Which Would be Worse?

"Which would be worse, in a way?" was a line used by UC Berkeley professor Michael Rogan in the CBS "60 Minutes" segment called "Ronald Reagan the Movie," December 15, 1985 (also the title of Professor Rogan's paper and presentation). Professor Rogan had discovered that President Reagan had referred in speeches to an event from a fictional film as if it really had occurred. Morley Safer asked Professor Rogan whether he thought the President knew he was misrepresenting history or whether Reagan thought the event actually had occurred. Rogan paused, then responded, before addressing the question, "Which would be worse, in a way?"

We are left to ask the same question about Regent Michael Gartner.

Gartner has made a number of public comments about the UI faculty in general, and individual members in particular, which faculty have characterized as "disparaging." (The Board of Regents inquired of the University regarding the salaries and teaching loads of each of the major spokespersons who had challenged their actions -- the Board said on behalf of a "legislator," whom they refused to identify. This was thought by many to have been a deliberate effort at intimidation.) For example, his email exchanges with Brian Morelli, published (with Gartner's permission) by the Press-Citizen, contain the following. Morelli asked if Gartner would like to explain why he would talk about the salary and teaching load of an individual faculty member (who served on the search committee and complained about the Regent's rejection of all four finalists). Gartner wrote:

"If repeating those facts - that [the professor] was teaching one course and that she was making $80,000 or $90,000 a year, or whatever, is disparagement, then I guess I don't know what disparagement is. . . . I probably also repeated another thing [she] told me -- that she uses only Citgo oil in her car, because she believes that that helps the poor people of Venezuela. I found that interesting."

"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. . . . I meet every six weeks or so with student representatives of all three student governments. There usually are two representatives of the University of Iowa there. I could well have commented on her salary and teaching load, because I find that interesting."

Many would find this behavior by the President of the Iowa State Board of Regents, his disparagement of the university and its faculty as an institution as well as the community of Iowa City, this effort to engage in deliberate ridicule, disparagement and embarrassment -- if not, indeed, intimidation -- of individual faculty members, this populist appeal to the anti-intellectualism that exists within much of the population, to be inconsistent with his responsibility to lobby and otherwise work for the best interests of the University.

And so we are left with the "which would be worse?" question for Michael Gartner. Would it be worse that he is unaware of his responsibility, his role, and the impact of his actions and statements? Or would it be worse that he is well aware of what he is doing and that he is deliberately setting about destroying the very institution he is sworn to build and advance?
In Praise of Michael Gartner

Regents President Michael Gartner has taken a bit of a beating around the ears the past couple of weeks. (This picture is from The Daily Iowan of December 12.) He may feel that I've even contributed to it with the comments immediately above and elsewhere. Others may feel that he's mostly brought it on himself.

But this morning (December 16), as I was reading today's Louisville Courier-Journal online, what should I come upon but Michael Gartner's book review of The Letters of E.B. White. It's a beautifully written review. And both what Gartner's written, and the way he's written it, show that -- like many of our generation -- he's clearly been influenced by, and is an admirer of E.B. White, whom the headline writer confidently characterizes as, simply, "America's Best Essayist."

My first reaction, at a human level, was a smile and the pleasure of knowing that, in the midst of all that's going on around him, Gartner was able to pause, relax, retreat into the writing of an old friend, and pay him the tribute he did.

My second reaction was to reflect back upon the words of Marvin Pomerantz -- words mostly remembered for his criticism of Mr. Gartner, supporting the chorus calling for Gartner's resignation: "Mike engenders conflict wherever he goes . . . he's not a great leader."

But Pomerantz, in fairness to Gartner, was more balanced in his assessment, also saying: "Mike is brilliant. He's got a lot of great ideas. . .." (He is also a Pulitzer Prize winner -- 1997, editorial writing.)

In addition to faculty and other complaints about Regent Gartner's handling of the UI president search, there were comparable complaints about the secrecy of -- and exclusions of interested parties from -- Gartner's earlier strategic planning efforts. But notwithstanding those process-focused complaints, all I heard was a general acknowledgment that the questions he was asking, and the issues he was raising, were appropriate and constructive.

So what's the point of this sidebar? It's that, while I continue believe that it would be in Michael Gartner's best personal interest to at least resign as president of the Regents, if not entirely from the Board, I think it would be a mistake to lose his input entirely.

I, too, have always liked to spin off ideas, proposals and analyses to stimulate good discussion ever since my high school debating years. When serving as a local school board member I wrote a column every two weeks throughout my three-year term exploring a wide range of K-12 issues. But I long ago came to realize that 90 percent of my ideas would be rejected -- some because they would have to wait 10 or 20 years before they'd be adopted, others because they really should be rejected in any age. My law school colleagues are especially skilled in pointing out those that fall in the latter category. Finding the 10 percent has always been the challenge.

I think it would be as big a mistake to let Michael Gartner dictate what the State's universities should become as it would be if all of my ideas about college reform were to be adopted (some of which can be found in earlier entries in this blog, see the Blog Index).

But considering his experience, range of interests, intellectual and writing ability and clear interest in higher education, so long as he is not president of the Regents, or chair of the strategic planning committee, I think that it would be equally short sighted not to benefit from what are bound to be his creative and controversial contributions to a discussion of the future of Iowa's universities.

In short, there's no reason not to acknowledge, praise and draw upon his strengths at the same time one is identifying what are perceived as his less well developed skills.

Wellmark: Malignant or Benign?

Having spent some of my professional lifetime dealing with a variety of corporate abuses and executives' greed and disregard of the public interest I would not refuse to listen to a fact-based explanation of why Wellmark represents just one more example.

But I emphasize "fact-based."

David Elbert's column in the Des Moines Register's business section, which I had meant to bring into this discussion a week ago, makes some assertions I can't buy: "conflicts of interests . . . exist, or should exist, on the boards of virtually every major business and institution in the nation. . . . [B]oards that don't have members who represent conflicting interests aren't doing their jobs . . .."

Sorry, but I don't think that conflicts of interest are either necessary or desirable for board members of any institution. Nor are they legal, ruled Iowa's Attorney General, Tom Miller, when John Forsyth was simultaneously serving as CEO of Wellmark and President of the Board of Regents (which contracts with Wellmark).

There is a lot of very stimulating commentary that has been appended to these blog entries. And what I'm requesting now is some more on the Wellmark issue from someone who understands it much better than I.

Elbert says that Wellmark is a "mutual," owned by the policyholders. If Wellmark is not, in fact, a publicly traded, for-profit corporation, what then is the primary problem, or conflict? Is it that its administrative costs are too high? That its executives are paid too much in salary, benefits and bonuses?

If, as Elbert says, Wellmark has an incentive to hold down hospital and other medical costs, what problem does that create? Is it that it "holds down costs" by shifting what would otherwise be policyholders' reimbursed medical costs onto those policyholders as "co-payments"? Is the "conflict" that Wellmark wishes to hold down the costs (for its policyholders, and which Wellmark would have to reimburse) and the UIHC wants to raise its prices/costs (with a resulting increase in the reimbursements it will receive from Wellmark)?

Is the problem that Wellmark is a single-source supplier, with a monopolist's power to set prices? Would it be better if the UIHC had the services of multiple insurance companies competing with each other on price and service?

Is Wellmark even an insurer for the UI employees, or is the University in effect "self-insured," and simply outsourcing to Wellmark the administrative task of processing the paperwork? What complications does this create with regard to the comparative charges for UI employees and those hospital patients who are not UI employees?

As I say, I'm prepared to believe anything that's fact-based. But it would be helpful to have an analysis or rebuttle of Elbert's column, with an explanation of the problems, from someone who's informed, inclined, and doesn't have their own conflict of interest on the issues.

Commentary December 17

1. Gartner and "natural leaders." On this morning's (December 17) "Meet the Press" former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said of himself, with regard to a possible run for the presidency, "I'm not a natural leader; I am a natural intellectual and gadfly." Here's a guy who's already at 10% in the polls for president of the United States and was chosen by his colleagues to be Speaker of the U.S. House of Represenatives (and thereby third in line for the presidency) who is able to concede on national television that his strength is more as an idea guy and gadfly than as a leader or administrator. That's the sort of thing I was saying of Garter yesterday under the heading, "In Praise of Michael Gartner."

2. The Wellmark "conflict." Yesterday I put out a call for information about the relationship between Wellmark and the UIHC -- since that has figured prominently in some of the sidebar criticism of the Regents' driving away Skorton and insisting on replacing him with a health insurance board member. Boy, did I get a response in the comments to this blog entry! And I thank all you anonymous contributors -- and John Neff -- for your participation. But I feel like the audience member who told the nuclear physicist after his lecture, "Before your lecture I was very confused about nuclear energy. Now I am still confused, but on a much higher plane." So far as the UIHC's problem funding the indigents and inmates it must serve, that's a real one, and serious -- but not, as I now see it, really Wellmark's fault or responsibility. Based on my limited understanding, it just strikes me as one more good reason why we need to join the civilized/industrialized world and adopt a system of universal, single-payer health care for all Americans.

3. "An Iowa City Issue." In his "Iowa Press" interview (linked below) Michael Gartner said of the Regents problem at UI: "the issue doesn't appear at Iowa State. It doesn't appear at UNI. It
's sort of an Iowa City issue." It turns out he may have spoken too soon. See "Officials at Other Universities Speak Out," linked below, for the sentiments from Ames and Cedar Falls supporting the UI faculty's concerns.

4. "Governance." Some of this morning's stories are discussing the "governance" issue. I have created a Web site devoted to governance issues, played a major role in fashioning a reform of a local school board's governance model using the John Carver approach, and have written about it at some length in a blog entry relating to this UI presidential search: Nicholas Johnson, "The Regents Governance Model is Broken and Needs Repair," UI President Search IX, November 28, 2006. Whether those interested in this subject care about what I've written and done is not crucial. What would be a tragedy, and not a little bit ironic in an academic environment, is if they fail to recognize that there is a substantial body of literature, data regarding "what works," case studies of success and failure with regard to the practices and procedures and governance models used by boards of directors in relating to CEOs and institutional personnel. Let's begin this process with a little bit of research, folks, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel based on our instincts and limited personal experience.

4. It's not all "governance." There are a variety of governance models. Some work better than others for boards of regents, although there are a goodly number of universal principles of board governance.

But once again, I refer you to UI Faculty Senate President Shelly Kurtz' statement regarding the vote of no confidence in the Regents' leadership. Many and possibly most of what concerned the UI faculty would have been -- and should have been -- a matter of concern regardless of the governance model used. Katherine Tachau has provided her own take on some additional facts, relevant in this connection, in response to Michael Gartner's assertion that “These people make emotional charges and they never, ever have facts.”

Representations ("promises") that turn out not to be true (e.g., campus visits by the final four), established processes and procedures abandoned at the last minute (e.g., a final four recommended by a 10-month search process, search committee, including regents, that are subsequently all rejected -- following which one is offered the job anyway), unnecessary secrecy about proceedings that may well have violated the letter as well as the spirit of the Iowa open meetings law, a demonstrated lack of civility and collgiality, a willingness to engage in disparagement and intimidation of employees -- the list goes on -- are not issues about a broken "governance model."

Regent Gartner said in his "Iowa Press" interview "the isue is who governs the University of Iowa, the Regents or . . . the faculty over there." There are a number of things wrong with that statement. (1) That's not an issue so far as the faculty is concerned, as President Kurtz makes unambiguously clear in the very opening of his statement. The faculty clearly understands that the Iowa Code places some form of governance responsibility in the Regents. (2) It's an incredibly naive and simplistic statement about governance, an understanding (let alone fashioning) of which is almost never aided by asking, "Who governs?" (3) It fails to acknowledge in any way whatsoever the concerns expressed in Kurtz' statement, and illustrated in the paragraph above, that exist without regard to governance models.


Media Stories and Commentary

Ben Fornell, "UISG Rebukes Regents, Vilsack," The Daily Iowan, December 15, 2006

Danny Valentine and Mason Kerns, "Regent Bedell Resigns; Blasts Board, UI,"
The Daily Iowan, December 15, 2006

Erin Jordan and Jonathan Roos, "Vexed Regent Bedell Resigns; He says U of I flap puts bigger issues on hold," Des Moines Register, December 15, 2006

Lee Hermiston, "Two Votes by Students Rip Regents, Vilsack," Des Moines Register, December 15, 2006

"Regent Tom Bedell's Letter of Resignation,"
Des Moines Register, December 15, 2006

"Regent Explains Resignation to Citizens" (Regent Tom Bedell's Statement), Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 15, 2006

Sheldon Kurtz, "Changing Leadership of Regents 'Essential,'" Des Moines Register, December 15, 2006

David Elbert, "Conflicts in U of I Search Difficult to Avoid; A squabble over perceived Wellmark link to regents and school's hospital has effect on hunt for leader," Des Moines Register, December 10, 2006

Diane Heldt, "Regent Resigns Over UI Search; Bedell blames all sides, hopes his exit shakes up leadership," The Gazette, December 15, 2006

Rebecca McKanna, "University of Iowa Students Add Voice to Regents Conflict,"
The Gazette, December 15, 2006

Editorial, "One Face-Saving Way Out of UI, Regents Impasse," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 15, 2006

Editorial, "Rogue Regents Wreck Search," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 10, 2006

Mike McWilliams, "Bedell Resigns, Says Regents Failed; Calls UI officials' actions 'disgusting,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 15, 2006

Brian Morelli, "Regents to Talk About 2nd Search; Open Meeting Monday,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 16, 2006

Brian Morelli, "Regent Defends Inquiries; Says it was not attempt to intimidate," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 10, 2006

David Barker, "Time to Move Beyond Iowa City's of 'Orgy of Self Righteousness,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 15, 2006

Jonathan Carlson, "Don't Abandon On-Campus Interviews of UI Candidates," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 15, 2006

Jay Christenson-Szalanski, "UI vs. Regents: Controversy is About Success Not Power," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 15, 2006

"Ten Letters to the Editor," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 13 and 15, 2006
  • William Stanford, "It's More Than a 'Radical Minority'"
  • Ilse Bendorf, "Why Are Regents Bullying Faculty?"
  • John Solow, "Using This Mess to Do Some Good"
  • Paul Maske, "Dems Are Right About Regents"
  • Thomas Miller, "Leave Politics Out of UI Search"
  • Harold L. Hammond, "It's Time for the Regents to Act"
  • Kirsten Jensen, "Get Rid of the Entire Structure"
  • Charles Miller, "Don't Lose Sight of UI's Mission"
  • Bill Decker, "More Than Just a Power Struggle"
  • Daniel C. Zwiener, "Request Designed to Intimidate"
Sheldon Kurtz, "Regents Haven't Met Their 'Duty of Care,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 15, 2006

"Memo From Deans to Regents, Governor,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 15, 2006

Darwin Danielson, "Regent Resigns Over Controversy With U-I President's Search," Radio Iowa, December 15, 2006

"Michael Gartner -- Iowa Board of Regents," Iowa Press/Iowa Public Television, December 15, 2006 (transcript)

Michael Gartner, "America's Best Essayist Showed 'an Eloquent and Lifelong Devotion' to Friends and Freedom; Book Review, Letters of E.B. White," Louisville Courier-Journal, December 16, 2006

Katherine H. Tachau, "'Facts' and Michael Gartner," December 15, 2006


Cyclone Conservatives, "One Down, the Rest to Go," December 15, 2006

Open Country (Maria Houser Conzemius), "Replies to Vilsack: Fly Home, Fire Gartner and Wahlert," December 15, 2006

Open Country (Maria Houser Conszemius), "Michael Gartner Stays the Course,"
December 15, 2006 (a review of Gartner interview on "Iowa Press," Iowa Public Television, December 15, 2006, 7:30 p.m.)

State29, "Statement on the Resolution of No Confidence in the Leadership of the Board of Regents," December 14, 2006

Straight Out of the Cornfield (David Goodner), "One Down, Eight to Go?" December 14, 2006

Media Stories and Commentary December 17

Erin Jordan, "Deans Fear U of I Brouhaha Will Drive Off Faculty; College leaders want regents to name a new president by July 1, 2007," Des Moines Register, December 17, 2006

Jonathan Roos and Erin Jordan, "State May Question Regents; Legislature could weigh in on U of I president search," Des Moines Register, December 17, 2006

"Officials At Other Universities Speak Out,"
Des Moines Register, December 17, 2006

David Yepsen, "Why Not Just Elect Regents?"
Des Moines Register, December 17, 2006

Editorial, "UI Search Not Quite Ready," The Gazette, December 17, 2006

Diane Heldt, "Who Runs State School? UI presidential search failure raises questions on shared governance," The Gazette, December 17, 2006

Diane Heldt, "Regents Prepare for Next UI Presidential Search," The Gazette, December 17, 2006

Zack Kucharski, "President Controversy Retreats at UI Graduation,"
The Gazette, December 17, 2006

Robert Anderson, Sen. Daryl Beall and Rep. Willard Jenkins, "Education: Treasure Iowa's Most Valuable Export," The Gazette, December 17, 2006

Editorial, "Rogue Regents and Frenzied Faculty," Iowa City Press-Citizen, December 17, 2006


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



Anonymous said...

A serious question arises about malfeasance.

Can a person entrusted to guiding a very vital public institution cause this much trouble? The Present of the Board of Regents has held possibly illegal closed door meetings, interfered with deliberate proceedings including the search for a new U of Iowa President, and apparently misused information against faculty members (regardless of whether he says he ordered the information dug up).

Can the Board of Regents President cause this much mischief, as he pleases? Can he be privy to any sort of information about faculty, students, and staff of the Univ? TO throw out and use as he wishes?

Consider these 'loose cannon' actions. Consider what appears to be massive conflict of interest on the boards of 2 institutions (Wellmark and Univ of Iowa; It would be like Officials of Hy Vee sitting on the BOR as the Univ declares Hy Vee the exclusive food vender).

Where is the State's Attorney General to investigate? And will the State House launch an honest investigation?

Anonymous said...

All of the university's health plans are indeed self-insured, with Wellmark as the administrator.

Anonymous said...

Some interesting speculations and questions over at the Press-Citizen forums .

Is the search being structured in a way that will allow Gartner to pick the next president? Or, with a more positive spin, are the Regents being careful to structure the search such that they will be immune to charges that Gartner picked the next President?

The BOR has the responsibility to pick the next president. But, they also have the responsibility to that job well. To do it well, the Board should listen very carefully to the accumulated wisdom on the campus and engage in vigorous debate among themselves.

Anonymous said...

I have been watching from the sidelines for awhile, but can't avoid contributing any longer. Everyone should listen to or read the transcript from Michael Gartner's interview on IPTV yesterday. It is very disturbing:

(1) He has already decided the composition of the search committee. He has already decided the president's qualifications and CONTINUES to lobby for Freund. Yet, again, he incorporates flawed logic in his argument regarding the committtee. Gartner's idea -- populate the search committee with donors, because this is an increasingly important funding source for higher education.

The biggest source, however, is TUITION. We need someone who understands the academic landscape and emerging tuition models. Can you say, "Provost" Regent Gartner? -- I know, Gartner chokes on it every time. Of course, Provost Hogan is about the only administrative leader since Skorton to stand up to Gartner.

While he is correct that philanthropy is increasingly important, we already have expertise easily tapped and not necessarily with special interests (which donors would have). Can you say "UI Foundation," Michael Gartner?

Why not include a VP from the Foundation? They know the ENTIRE landscape of giving and have the UI interests at heart, rather than their own special interests. Let's put one of them on the search committee.

Gartner keeps blathering on about a dean-led search -- but the DEANS THEMSELVES have suggested it should be faculty-led.

The faculty should be very appreciative of this gesture by the deans. They are clearly getting it and understand and care about creating a process that will engender a successful search. I hope the faculty recognizes this.

The deans' emphasis on a rapid search suggests something further -- Fethke is a Gartner puppet. He says things that almost immediately appear in the press out of Gartner's mouth. A great case in point is the following overheard at Fall Commencement from Fethke -- that we should have a search committee heavily populated by donors to UI.

I had to do a double-take to make sure Gartner wasn't at Commencement.

It is good that the deans won't be led around by Fethke. We might as well have Gartner sitting in Jessup. So, the sooner the search is conducted, the better.

To make matters worse, consider the recent Board of Regents meeting in Iowa City, where the new admissions standard was discussed. The index that was passed was well-below what would be indicative of a qualified student. Moreover, it was NOT what was proposed by the committee that studied this. Yet, Fethke sat there like a statue while Provost Hogan and Tom Rocklin (in charge of undergrad matters for the Provost) argued for a more rigorous standard. Why didn't Fethke support the UI? Because he is Gartner's puppet. He is no more competent as our president than Gartner is as a regent. We need him out as soon as possible.

Some suggestions to expedite things:

(1) Faculty led search, put a dean on there (they seem to be aligning with faculty).
(2) Make sure students and staff are involved, too.
(3) Include someone from the Foundation.
(4) Let Downer (only Regent with integrity standing) be the regent's rep.
(5) Automatically include anyone in the top 25 from the prior search (if they agree to be included).
(6) Have a one-month open application period to allow additional candidates to apply.
(7) Make a choice.

Anonymous said...

This is a complex issue. To follow through on one aspect (on the delivery end):

Wellmark contracts with the UIHC to take care of patients. It's called 'insured lives' (you're not a person, you're an insured life). For taking care of Y number of insured lives, Wellmark would pay the UIHC X dollars. For these X dollars, the UIHC then delivers all care for the Y insured lives.

The UIHC has to calculate what an average life costs.

Now go here:

That is the laundered complaint with Wellmark and UIHC/Skorton. Wellmark simply sets the rate. And, Wellmark's set rate is very low in some sectors. However, there was no negotiations. Wellmark said 'take it or else'. Skorton said 'else' and terminated the contract (or threatened to).

This is because the UIHC determined it could not operate on the revenue Wellmark gave it. Thus there was a controversy.

Now consider that on one side was President Skorton. On the other side was Wellmark. And consider that Skorton's bosses on the Board of Regents included John Forsyth (CEO of Wellmark and President Iowa Board of Regents), David Neil (Board of Regents, Board of Wellmark), Dr Arbisser (wife on Board of Wellmark) and Ruth Harkin (husband given contributions from Wellmark).

Does that sound like a conflict of interest? It sounds like it should be next to the entry of 'confict of interest' in Websters.

Forsyth supposed recused himself, however an insider said, when asked that question 'He says he did'.

Also consider that the President of the Board of Wellmark included John Colleton, long time CEO of UIHC, currently with an office in UIHC, and quite influential.

Does this all sound incestious?

Do Google searches on the Board of Regents meetings (which then were in the open) and you can see the problems with those BOR members who were invested in Wellmark and Dr Skorton. (one was even when Skorton was in Florida for a bowl game).

This conflict was noted in the national literature:
"Too close for comfort? Appointment of Blues exec as head of board overseeing Iowa system resurrects questions about corporate conflicts of interest."

The appearance is that of a huge conflict of interest is clear. Rather than someone proving that there WAS a conflict of interest, in the public arena, someone should prove THERE ISN'T a conflict of interest.

Someone could also look at the surplus over at Wellmark, as well as the salaries of top Wellmark execs. All of these issues have been raised in the media over the years. It isn't a pretty discussion.

(to be continued)

Anonymous said...

Many years ao during the Vietnam War the Rock Island Arsenal had a large contract with the UI computer center that was paying for most of the cost of the center. The RIA started to throw their weight around telling the UI when to jump and how high. This was not an acceptable state of affairs and the UI terminated the contract (the were other issues so the process of resolving the matter was complex).

The amount of money involved then was substantial so it took a lot of guts on the part of Sandy Boyd to do that but he had the full support of the computer committee.

The contract with Wellmark is much larger than the one with the RIA and the new president will need the nearly full support of the BOR to face down Wellmark. Under the present circumstances that will not happen and the new president will have to accept what Wellmark is willing to offer. In other words the new president will not be able to work for the best interests of the UI. In my view this is not an acceptable state of affairs.

Anonymous said...


Wellmark delivers certain dollars to the UIHC for care. However, not only does the UIHC have to deliver care to insured Wellmark 'covered lives' but also to other Iowans, many of whom have no insurance. Who pays for that?

1. The state of Iowa pays for some of this indigent care. Hardly enough.
2. The UIHC must make more than it's costs on insured patients, to cover indigents.

This problem has vexed academic centers all over the country in the past 25 years. The 'health insurance industry' does not want to cover indigent patients. The states do not want to cover these costs, especially with tight budgets. So who does cover the costs?

This is a very complex problem, and is not likely to be solved soon, because of the many vested players. However, note that indigent care has brought academic hospitals to bankruptcy.

Wellmark wants to keep costs down (as costs go up, in part to inflation, in part to regulation, in part to profits from insurance and bigpharma). How can Wellmark do this:

1. Pay hospitals less. Obviously.
2. Develop wellness programs.
3. Shift costs.

Simply put Wellmark will pay hospitals less, thus not covering the costs of indigent pateints. 'Not our problem' Wellmark says. Go to your state govt.

Wellmark like all health insurance companies will dump the sicker, more costly patients. Those patients become indigent, and then who pays for their HEAVY hospital bills. 'Not us' says Wellmark.

That is called cost shifting where Wellmark keeps the profitable healthy patients, and dumps the expensive sick patients onto the public roles.

Wellmark makes a 'profit' (called surplus), the state picks up the indigent patients, and the costs shift from the insurance company to the taxpayers.

There are fights about this all over the country. Skorton said 'simply enough'. We need revenue to supply health care to all Iowans. The state is not giving us enough. So we are going to cancel the contract between Wallmark and the UIHC.

That led to a dispute. However, again Skorton's bosses have VESTED interest in Wellmark's well being (so to speak). Skorton displeased those interests. The dispute was settled. Skorton was then treated as an under-performing district manager and given less a salary raise. That led, in part, to his leaving the U of I.

1. Wellmark wants to keep costs down, but will do that according to it's owns interests and 'surplus', as well as cost shifting.
2. Those who claim there is no conflict of interest need to explain all the connections, and all the facts, and all the history.

This is a microcosm of the health care industry mess in the US, and an example of the conflicts of interests that even today plague governments everywhere, even Washington DC.

Anonymous said...

The issue of 'self insurance' is a side issue at the UIHC. It would take a real expert to explain the association between the Univ Iowa insurance options and Wellmark. However, this is not entirely the issue.

A type self-insured program would be like Student Health at the UIHC. Students come in, however are not billed. The institution takes care of the student.

Some UI select policies may be designed for UI employees. Other insurance options are simply Wellmark.

If the UIHC is 'self insured' then it is very good at self-flagellation

For instance the UIHC bills a procedure at 200 (say); Wellmark offers the UIHC 40.00 in compensation (this is typical). If this is the UIHC self-insurance then it is in the business of screwing itself.

When an official diagrams out the health insurance-academic hospital relationships, and products, and reimbursements, you can be sure it will look like the FBI diagram of a Mafia family.......

Someone expert should also explain who takes risk in all this Mafia, I mean hospital business.

Anonymous said...

Conflict of Interest?

Look at the interesting case of David Neil.

Neil is a UAW man from Waterloo. He was appointed to the BC/BS board in 1999 (now Wellmark).

Neil was also appointed to the Iowa board of Regents in 1998. (he is at least the 4th recent BOR appointee to have direct connections to Wellmark: Forsyth, Wahlert, Neil, Arbisser)

Look at the Board of Regents Meeting from Dec 29, 2004. You can see the exchanges between David Skorton, and Regent Neil. You can see Skorton talk about the contract between Wellmark as not really being Regents business. You can see Neil making it Regents business.

You can also see Regent Arbisser involved. That would be Mr Dr Arbisser, whose wife, Mrs. Dr Arbisser was on the Wellmark Board.

Very curious to note that Regent Neil had resigned from the Wellmark board in Dec 2004 (or so he said he did), so he could participate more in UIHC-Wellmark interactions.

Later Neil resigned from the Iowa BOR in early 2005.

And interesting to note that Mr Neil, is once again on the Board of Wellmark.

Short resignation wouldn't you say? Curious interactions, wouldn't you say?

Perhaps, Mr Neil is extremely altruistic. Or perhaps Mr Neil is extremely connected.

Whatever, these conflicts of interest do not look good.

Again, if government in Iowa has intellectual honesty left, someone needs to start looking at these connections, and put people under oath...

Anonymous said...

From the Dec 29, 2004 Board of Regents Meeting. At debate is a resolution that expresses confidence in President Skorton to negotiate with Wellmark.

Regent Neil (who said he had resigned from Wellmark) contested the resolution, and even called into question President Skorton’s handling of the UIHC. Regent Neil also wanted to hand Wellmark a 60 day extension.

President Skorton talked about politicizing the Board of Regents. How that could potentially hurt the U of Iowa.

Other Regents commented on the tension at the meeting.

Indeed, with all the political wrangling at the meeting, the calling out of President Skorton, and the interesting flight of Regent O’Neil from his conflict of interest (which is later recanted), this could have been one more brick in the wall between Skorton and the Univ of Iowa Board of Regents.

This is one example of a possible conflict of interest. Someone needs to look at the entire history of the BOR vis a vis Skorton. That was one of the issues that brought the U of I to the mess it is in today.

This may go well beyond Gartner. It may speak to the basic structure and governance of the Univ of Iowa.

Any resolution must address the governance of a state university in an environment that is increasingly commercial.

Anonymous said...

Some questions:

1. Why is a flaming liberal like Michael Gartner behaving very much as a neo-conservative? A liberal should welcome open meetings, grassroots participation, and a democratic all-involved organization. Meanwhile in this case, Gartner is promoting a closed-meeting, top-down, dictitorical type organization.

Gartner even throws in a good measure of anti-academic, anti-intellectual rhetoric. That is very weird for a 'liberal'.

Does he favor an open, grass-roots governance, UNLESS Michael Gartner is involved?

2. Why the resignation of Tom Bedell? And why the name-calling on his part? He is a guy who has been invited many times to speak at the Univ of Iowa, and now he finds that a open discussion, and an organization that speaks up 'disgusting'? Again, a reputed liberal who apparently backtracks when liberal ideas are exercised.

Further if leadership is important on the Board of Regents, is Bedell telling us that his leadership does not extend to difficult times? That when the going gets tough, he is going to turn tail and resign?

That sort of leadership is not exemplary. When there are troubled times real leaders find a way to LEAD. I suppose Dwight Eisenhower should have resigned when faced with D-Day.

Frankly, the leaders in this episode are not impressive. Gartner has resorted to closed meetings, sneaky attacks upon faculty, and overall anti-academic stances (and he leads university systems? huh?). Bedell has simply run away. Vilsack has washed his hands to campaign for the presidency. Wahlert and crew have subverted the search for a President. Other than Downer, no one has stepped forward to do what a true leader should do.

Given this vacuum of true leadership, is it any wonder the faculty steps in to add to the mayhem?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous commented about indigent care but prison inmate care is a similar problem.

UIHC and the Iowa Department of Corrections have had a long association. I think that when it was established the legislature appropriated funds for prison inmate medical treatment at UIHC. Over time the appropriation diminished to zero or near zero but UIHC was still required to provide the needed inmate treatment at a cost of about $6 million per year.

I did some checking and it appears to me that $6 million would correspond to a UIHC patient surcharge of 1.5%. This appears to me to be an unintended consequence.

Another costly aspect of this policy is that prisoners who need medical treatment not available at their prison are transported to UIHC from all over the State when there were medical facilities that could have provided the needed services that were much closer. Most of the prisoners I have seen at UIHC are chained to a restraint chair and are accompanied by two guards. The good news is the DOC is concerned about public safety and has taken measures to prevent an escape. The bad news is that these measures costs about $75 per hour.

I think this policy should be reviewed.

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that Gartner (and apparently Yepsen) are holding Iowa State President Geoffrey as a example of shining leadership.

In fact, Yepsen's piece today was quite a little diatribe against the Univ of Iowa. I guess he doesn't like a democratic system either.

What does it take to please Gartner and Yepsen. A one day conference on 'Bio-fuel-sources' or somehting. How superficial.

When you read Gartner's and Yepsen's comments, I am struck by how superficial they are. What the hell are they talking about?

1. Why was Skorton considered 'underperforming'? Give the data Gartner and Yepsen. Was it decrease in grants? Decrease in academic papers? Decrease in degrees? Or was it that he fought Wellmark?

2. And what is this "six-figure paychecks, sweet benefits, light teaching loads and outside incomes of some faculty members" that Yepsen refers to? Can he justify he bombastic comments? Is Yepsen saying the Surgery department is underworked, overpaid, and on cruise? Would you spend a day with a neurosugeon Mr. Yepsen? Please?

I find the entire mess, a sordid exercise in superficial heresy that proves nothing.

Facts people facts. I though journalism was facts.

Prof Kurtz has produced a document of facts.

Mr. Gartner is busy with spring training and all but could he produce a document of his visions, his plans, and his critiques of the U of Iowa? Rather then going on public TV with a few softballs thrown at him, and using 'great' every other word, could Mr Gartner produce a simple document getting to the point. Specifically:

1. Why did Skorton displease him (or the board). Don't sugarcoat it.
2. What is his vision for the Univ of Iowa. Lay it out.
3. What does he think of the complex health care situation? Why should politics enter into those negotiations.
4. Why was Ms Freund his top candidate? What about her conflict of interests?

These are important questions. A leader needs to lead, not fight with superficial rhetoric any sharp-tongued newsman get spew.

Answers, Mr Gartner. Answers and vision will persuade people. Not rhetoric, and hyperbole, and snide comments.

Anonymous said...

President Skorton so UNDERPERFORMED that he became president of Cornell University, which (cliche coming) last time we checked was in the Ivy League.

The Univ of Iowa flounder so badly under Skorton's leadership that a president given a bad division manager job review, had to go to a 2nd or 3rd rate college.

What are these fellows in Des Moines smoking?

Anonymous said...

Quick comment on indigent care vis a vis Wellmark.

At a regents meeting Regent Neil pointed out the bottom line had fallen at the UIHC, which he used as a point of criticism against President Skorton.

The bottom line feel because Insurance companies, and medicaid, medicare reduce compensation to the UIHC. When these sources of revenue fall, there is less surplus to cover the cost of indigent care. Soon the UIHC is operating at a loss, again which so many academic medical centers now face. That would mean cuts in staff and services.

Wellmark simply decided it's own level of reimbursement. It did not negotiate. That seems very un-free-market-like. Thus some of the contentiousness between Skorton and the Board.

To say Wellmark is not responsible for indigent care is to miss a point. Health care unlike many other 'markets' bears a responsibility for the common good. If a person cannot afford vaccinations or diabetes car that has effects not only on that person but on public health.

Wellmark should be involved in indigent care because:

1. This is a problem for all health care, providers, insurance companies, government etc. It is a moral, as well as public health obligation to take care of the medically indigent.

2. Again if the amount of reimbursement Wellmark gives to the hospital is too low, the UIHC is in financial peril. Although that situation may help Wellmark's bottom line, everyone should agree that it is poor long term policy.

The final point would be that there was WAY too much of a cozy relationship between the leaders of Wellmark and the Regents that oversee the Univ of Iowa.

I dare the author of the piece in the Des Moines Register to find any other Board of Regents in any other state so packed with conflict of interest.

The fox clearly were tending the hens.

Anonymous said...

Gartner claims the disagreement between him and the UI community is about who is in charge. Hardly.

The argument is about what's best for the University. The reason that faculty, staff, and students want to participate in the search is that history has demonstrated that such involvement leads to the selection of great presidents. Our brief history with a regent-led search committee with heavy regent participation suggests that that approach leads to a disaster.

Members of the BOR are concerned citizens, typically with diverse and impressive talents. Rarely, if ever, though, do they have much knowledge about the "industry" of higher education. Any responsible board member in that position would be eager for advice from the people in the "company" who do know the industry. This BOR has been deaf to such advice-- witness the bizarre decision to fiddle with the Regents Admission Index cut score for admission after receiving a unanimous recommendation from a seven-member team of experts.


Anonymous said...

That column by Elbert in the Register is typical of the condescending paternalistic don’t-worry-you’re-pretty-lil-head you-can’t-handle-the-truth baloney that passes for journalism in corporate newsrooms these days. Is this a private corporation or a public institution? Do public officials have a duty to be transparent and accountable for their actions? Does the press have a duty to hold them accountable? It is that simple. And yes, the answers are complicated and it requires good investigative reporting and editors that have more dedication to public service than the bottom line.

Gartner understands this and he knows how cheap his slurs are when he makes decisions behind closed doors and then says his detractors are not telling the truth. We have no recourse but to speculate when public business is conducted behind closed doors.

And Yepson has no business pretending to be a reporter on PBS when he has made it clear over and over that he has an agenda. I don’t always disagree editorially with him but it is pathetic to watch him pretend to agree with Gartner in order to trash the University. It is obvious he is in pig’s heaven wallowing in Gartner’s mud.

We wouldn’t be in this mess if the press were doing its job. They should have been doing in-depth reporting about the relationship between Wellmark and UIHC fifteen years ago. They should be constantly asking where the profit motive advances the public good in health care and where it doesn’t. How does managed care incentivise medical decisions on the part of physicians and on the part of patients and to what end? Who benefits? The citizens of Iowa may be getting a fantastic deal but if they were you would think certain folks would be crowing about it and they are strangely silent. I don’t doubt that we all benefit from the generosity and civic mindedness of Regents and donors but their personal success does not give them license to avoid competition in the market or avoid accountability in public affairs.

Anonymous said...

When one reads the 'plans' Michael Gartner reveals it becomes increasingly obvious that the 'plans' are invented on the go.

From the PBS question about the new presidential search:

So the man who pontificates about a strategic plan for the future HAS NO PLAN FOR THE PRESENT.

That is incredible. Ten months of search. Countless meetings. 200,000 or 300,000 later. And the man who is the President of the BOR is making it up as he goes?

Unbelievable. Unreal.

Malfeasance. Simple out and out malfeasance.

Go back and read it again.

He is making up his plans as he goes along.

As Nick Johnson says, there are references on this thing called governance. Maybe Gartner should read them.

Anonymous said...

I think it is ok for people to post as anonymous but when there is more than one anonymous person posting it is confusing. Could some of these folks use something other than anonymous to post.