Monday, January 29, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 373 - Jan. 29

Jan. 29, 8:30 a.m.

It has now been 373 days since we knew we needed a successor to UI President David Skorton. The Regents have yet to hire one. This is scarcely the fault of Search Committee II, which is now up and running, has held its first meeting, and is planning to meet -- and report -- weekly. But the resignations of UI administrators continues (in spite of assurances that this is nothing to worry about), and who can blame them given the past year's history with this Board of Regents and the lack of even a hint from the newly-elected Governor that he's willing to replace the Board's "leadership"?

There are no stories as such in the media this morning regarding the presidential search. If that continues to be the case over time, as Search Committee II meets weekly, this blog will continue to mark the days the UI has been "held hostage," and look out for, link to and comment on such stories as may run from time to time. But we'll also probably get back to a wider coverage of issues as we did pre-November 2006.

In Praise of John Colloton

The Press-Citizen's Letters to the Editor from January 27, 28 and 29 are not yet available online, but there was one from Dave Nagle last Saturday that sets the tone for this little commentary. Dave Nagle, "Colloton Has Left Us a Great Legacy," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 27, 2007.

Nagle refers to articles "attacking John Colloton," and concludes, "A great man has left us a great legacy. His example should be honored, not diminished."

Nagle raises a point that I think needs to be addressed -- both generally and with regard to John Colloton.

Dave Nagle has served in Congress and as chair of the Iowa Democratic Party. For wholly understandable reasons, politicians have a tendency to see people (including journalists) in either-or terms. "Understandable" because, as they are sometimes reminded, "You're not paranoid, you have real enemies." Sycophants, those who lavish praise unsullied by any comment that could be interpreted as even mildly critical, are "friends." "You're either for me or against me" -- and thereby eligible for something akin to Nixon's "enemies list." "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

So it's understandable that former Congressman Nagle would equate questions regarding Iowa's public records law, and the rationale for, and details of, a university's designation of a professor as "emeritus" -- occasioned by events surrounding John Colloton -- as an "attack." In the world of Washington it is very often the case that such issues, or any embarrassing allegation, would be raised, not to explore the substance of the policy, but as a way to "get" one's "enemy."

Diane Heldt's story yesterday, "Emeritus Faculty Continue to Contribute" (linked from yesterday's blog entry), describes a response from former Regents' President Pomerantz similar to that of Dave Nagle:

"Regents Amir Arbisser of Davenport and Bob Downer of Iowa City have asked how universities distribute the free parking and office space that Colloton and other retired UI professors and officials receive. Both said they were not criticizing Colloton and that they admire what he has accomplished for the UI. . . . [Pomerantz] chastised Arbisser and Downer in a letter . . ..

"'You either have a fundamental void in your knowledge . . . [or] bias that stands in the way of clear thinking. . .. [Y]ou ought to be applauding him in retirement, not knocking him!'"

1. Let's get this out of the way: I have tremendous admiration for what John Colloton has accomplished with his life in general, and for the University of Iowa in particular. In my encounters with him he has always been friendly and gracious; I have no negative memory of him. I like the guy.

2. I am in no way troubled by the emeritus program in general, or its application to John Colloton in particular. If anyone is entitled to some recognition after a half-century of contribution to the University it is him.

3. In all the writing I have done about public records and open meetings, while I am generally in favor of openness, I also recognize that we must acknowledge an individual's "reasonable expectation of privacy" and that "open meetings" requirements should be applicable to some areas where they are not now, but should not be applied to some areas where they now are.

4. As I've read the coverage of these issues in the context involving John Colloton I may have been naive, but I don't see any of it as an "attack" on Colloton, let alone one driven by his "enemies." (a) I've seen nothing in the articles inconsistent with the fact that the emeritus status was granted him by a grateful University, not stolen by him in the dead of night. He did not write the rules. If they are vague -- or even non-existent -- that can't be laid at his desk. I haven't heard anyone say that it can. (b) As for the e-mails, there's nothing to suggest that he did not think, at the time they were written, that they were, and would remain, private and personal. He has been advised, not only by his own personal lawyer, but by the Attorney General of the State of Iowa, that his initial assumptions were correct.

5. I won't repeat here all the discussion found elsewhere in this blog regarding the substantive issues.
(a) Public records. I happen to think that the Attorney General's ruling is wrong. But, hey, he's the Attorney General and I'm not. At a minimum I'd agree there are many ambiguous and complicating factors: the statutory "of or belonging to" language that's nowhere defined, the University's Operations Manual that clearly contemplates some personal use of UI computers, but the difficulty squaring all use as "personal" when public resources (secretary, office, stationery) are invested.
(b) Emeritus. I support the idea of post-retirement emeritus status; no one (of whom I'm aware) is arguing it should be abolished. But it appears that some of the standards and details of the program are not as clearly defined or regularized as they might be. Whether these details should be the product of the University Administration or the Regents is a question I haven't addressed. But it seems to me perfectly appropriate for the Regents (as full Board action, not an individual's request) to ask for information about almost any aspect of the Regents' universities (unless, as recently, it appears the motivation may be one of intimidating faculty).

But note that none of these questions can fairly be considered an "attack" on John Colloton, who has been highly praised for his service and nowhere (of which I am aware) even alleged (let alone proven) to have done anything wrong, to have violated any law or regulation.

6. Perhaps the media -- and other commentators, including myself -- should have been more precise in distinguishing (a) the person of John Colloton, and (b) the substantive issues raised by the public records request for his emails. But it seems to me that distinction was pretty clear to anyone who was reading closely.

Meanwhile, I think there's some obligation on the readers, as well, to not be quite so quick to take offense over stories in which they, or their friends, are mentioned -- unless, of course, they have been falsely charged with something damaging to their reputations, which is the definition of "defamation."

Because I like to be encouraging and complimentary to those I encounter throughout the day, I have become aware that there is a (thankfully) very small percentage of folks who seem to start off every day offended and then look for reasons why someone who is in fact complimenting them is, from their perspective, being disrespectful, or critical, or making fun of them.

As for the friends of John Colloton (a group in which I include myself) we need to be able to develop the intellectual capacity to hold two thoughts in mind simultaneously: (1) John Colloton is a very decent guy who has made a great contribution to the University, and (2) a recent request for his emails has highlighted a range of issues that we will all benefit from addressing and resolving.

7. Meanwhile, The Gazette has the local papers have run a couple of lengthy features in praise of the emeritus system in general and John Colloton in particular: Diane Heldt, "Emeritus faculty continue to contribute; Scrutiny stems from recent questions about resources granted former hospital director," The Gazette, January 28, 2007, and Kathryn Fiegen, "Colloton 'Leads by Example,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 27, 2007 (with link to "Colloton Records Request Timeline").

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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

Board of Regents, Agenda Item 11 (revised), February 1-2, 2006 ("Presidential Search Process," "Duties of the Search Firm," "Duties of the Search Committee")


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Anonymous said...

From an article in today's Press-Citizen titled "Will UI funding return to 2001 level?";

"While some are concerned that retribution for the negative publicity surrounding the regents could come in the form of a smaller budget, Steinke and UI's state government liaison Mark Braun, who is at the Legislature when its in session, say they are not hearing flak.

Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, though said regents' management and recent events are troubling.

"There is an interim president and a barely functioning board of regents," Jacoby said. "With the regents in disarray, it is hard to get a vision past that next year. We need to see how it is going to look, say in 2015.

"The turmoil with the regents and the selecting a new president made some of the negotiating much more difficult. Everyone, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, everyone is concerned about how money would be invested."

When university and regent officials visited the Legislature last week, Jacoby noticed the absence of Regent President Michael Gartner, who has been a subject of much of the criticism.

"That is a darn good strategy. In terms of discussing funding, it might be best not to have Michael Gartner there at this point in time," Jacoby said.

Davenport Regent Amir Arbisser said he understands Legislators' concerns and applauded Gartner for staying out of the picture.

"There is an attempt to separate the request from other political issues going on. In particular, Michael Gartner was not present," Arbisser said. "I am sensitive and even Mr. Gartner is sensitive in staying out of that discussion."

Is Culver going to make this a moot issue or not?

Anonymous said...

Why don't you comment more on say the FCC basically saying local government cable franchise agreements are dead?