Friday, January 26, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 370 - Jan. 26

Jan. 26, 11:45 a.m., 1:30 p.m.

Why the jump in the "Held Hostage" days? We've decided the "Held Hostage" count should more properly begin with January 21, 2006 -- when it became known that UI President David Skorton was going to Cornell, and that we'd best get down to work with all deliberate speed to find his replacement -- rather than the day the Regents rejected Search Committee I's four finalists, abandoned the search, and fired the committee members (November 17, 2006 -- "a date which will live in infamy").

Day 370: Search Committee II is to Hold Its First Meeting

The most directly relevant item in this morning's papers is that Search Committee II is going to commemorate Day 370 by holding its first meeting this afternoon. (See "Presidential Search Committee to Meet," linked below.) It is appropriate that it give some up-front attention to organization and process -- but that's all that's on its agenda. It's wonderful that the meeting will start with a session open to the public and media, but disappointing that it will then draw the curtains of secrecy.

It remains an open question whether Search Committee II is required to comply with the Open Meetings law. There is certainly a reasonable argument that it is. But put aside the legal question. It's unseemly to argue (as the Regents have done on occasion) that so long as one complies with the strict, literal standards of the law (of anything) that no other considerations matter. The Committee would certainly be well advised to follow the standards of the Open Meetings law in any event. If it does so, virtually all of its meetings would be open to the public and the media.

(Aside from other subject matter discussions for which closed meetings are possible, the primary exception would be when negative information about a potential candidate is being discussed -- information that would cause "needless and irreparable injury to that individual's reputation." Iowa Code Sec. 21.5 (i). There is no exception, of which I am aware, for "personnel matters" generally. Nor do I believe that the Code permits private bi-lateral agreements as a basis for closing meetings otherwise requred by law to be open; for example, an agreement between an applicant and Search Committee II that his or her application, and any discussion of that applicant, would be treated as "confidential" (i.e., be conducted in "closed" rather than "open" meeting). )

[The relevant law is in Iowa Code Secs. 21.3 and 21.2 (1)(h). The first jprovides that "meetings of governmental bodies . . . shall be held in open session . . .." The second says that "governmental bodies means . . . An advisory . . . committee . . . created by an executive order of a political subdivision of this state to develop and make recommendations on public policy issues."

The Board of Regents would presumably be a "political subdivision." Clearly Search Committee II was created by an "executive order" of the Regents. That leaves only the question of the extent to which "recommendations" to the Regents regarding finalists for UI president constitute "recommendations on public policy issues."

Most reasonably and broadly understood they would. There would be no rational legislative reason for excepting this category of recommendations, and clearly -- as the last few months have illustrated -- there are public policy issues involved in the selection of a university president. On the other hand, in the most narrow sense one could argue that recommendations regarding hiring decisions are not recommendations on "public policy issues."]

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[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. Wondering where the "UI Held Hostage" came from? Click here. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.) For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most 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 time there was an entry containing the summary of prior entries' commentary (with the heading "This Blog's Focus on Regents' Presidential Search") is Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIII -- Last Week," December 11, 2006. My early proposed solution to the conflict is provided in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search VII: The Answer," November 26, 2006. And the fullest collection of basic documents related to the search is contained in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search - Dec. 21-25," December 21, 2006 (and updated thereafter), at the bottom of that blog entry under "References". A Blog Index of entries on all subjects since June 2006 (updated January 17, 2007) is also available.]

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Media Stories and Commentary

Editorial, "UI must show stability as education leader," The Daily Iowan, January 26, 2007

Erin Jordan, "State to appeal award to U of I fraternity," Des Moines Register, January 26, 2007

Brian Morelli, "Hay up for New Mexico presidency; UI vice president one of 5 finalists," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 26, 2007

"Presidential Search Committee to Meet," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 26, 2007

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The heads of the 1995 and 2002 University of Iowa presidential search committees were advised by the Attorney General’s Office that the search committee was a governmental body and needed to comply with the Iowa open meetings law. These leaders were also advised by that office on how to comply with the open meetings law, and they followed that advice. All discussion of process issues were held in open session at a public meeting in the presence of the press."

Quote from Letter to Editor by Steve Collins and Carroll Reasoner, The CR Gazette: December 3, 2006