Friday, January 12, 2007

UI President Search Held Hostage Day 57 - Jan. 12

Jan. 12, 10:15 a.m., 9:45 p.m.

For the third day in a row we turn to the Iowa City Press-Citizen for the main story of the day.

It's in Brian Morelli's report ("UIHC Looks Into Breach of Security"), linked below. But you have to read more than the headline. The most significant tidbit of news is in the tenth graf:

"On Nov. 26, the Press-Citizen received the first in a series of anonymous e-mails that included documents apparently authored by Colloton. Those documents appeared to be correspondence with top officials, such as Gartner and former University of Iowa president David Skorton, involving topics ranging from the UI presidential search, the Wellmark contract controversy of 2004 and 2005, and UI and University Hospitals' organizational structure."

If you don't immediately see the significance of that, I'll have a little explanatory commentary posted here a little later in the day, along with the other story worth mentioning -- the postponement of the Regents' approval of the 12-person search committee until sometime in February.

It may be that there's something more than a casual indifference on the part of the Regents to the naming of a president, there may very well be a deliberate delay until into the summer months. This was the strategy last November: push decisions into December when the University is in winter break. These delays seem designed to push the Regents' decisions into the summer months, when faculty and student populations are also at their low point.

There are more links and commentary to come, but I wanted to get this story out as soon as possible.
"Public Records" and "Personal" Use of UI Computers

Determining what are and are not "public records" ultimately requires an examination of a governmental unit's employee contracts and regulations. Why? Because a "public record" is defined as all documents and communications -- whether on paper or stored on computers' hard drives -- that are "of or belonging to" that governmental unit. Iowa Code, Section 22.1.3.

"Of or belonging to" is nowhere defined in the Code. Suppose a UI faculty member writes a book. Is it "of or belonging to" the University or the professor? The University of Iowa has an Operations Manual that deals with that question -- among a great many other matters. (If you're curious as to the answer to that one, see V. Administrative, Financial and Facilities Policies, Chapter 30.)

That Operations Manual also deals with the use of and production from the University's computers. The most general provision says that "University facilities, equipment, supplies, and other properties must never be used for personal or private business." [Part III. Human Resources, Division II. Standards and Ethics, Chapter 15. Professional Ethics and Academic Responsibility, Section 15.5. Responsibilities to the Institution. c.]

A more specific regulation, dealing with Information Technology, is a little more flexible. But even it provides that, while an occasional personal e-mail might be acceptable, "[P]ersonal use of computer resources should be kept to a minimum. Personal use may be excessive if it takes place during regularly scheduled work time, . . .." [II. Community Policies, Division II, Chapter 19. Acceptable Use of Information Technology Resources, Section 19.4. Individual Responsibilities. f.]

The issue -- at this moment in this inquiry -- is not whether someone who makes something between extensive and exclusively "personal" use of university equipment is violating University regulations. (It would seem that they are.) The issue for our purposes at the moment is, rather, whether what is produced with University computers is "personal" or is "of and belonging to" the University -- and thus "public records."

The answer is to be found in these regulations; that is, it is found in the definitions and conditions provided by the University with regard to the use of the University's computer equipment. And it would seem that those regulations clearly contemplate that what is being done with the University's computers is not "personal."

This is not surprising. It is what one would assume intuitively. When one "goes to work," in an office provided by a university (or other unit of the State of Iowa), with the aid of a secretary paid by the University of Iowa, it is reasonable to engage the presumption that what is done there, the documents and communications that are created there, are not "personal." This may be what lawyers call a "rebuttable presumption." That is, it may be possible to satisfy one's institution, or a judge, that a given communication or document is, indeed, private and personal and of no legitimate public intereest. And the University's Operations Manual would seem to contemplate that -- when kept at a "minimum" -- some such would be possible.

But it would seem somewhere between difficult and impossible to bear the burden of demonstrating that everything produced under these circumstances is "personal" and beyond the reach of the "public records" requirements -- especially given, if the emails to which the Press-Citizen refers are what they appear to be, the substance of those emails involves the sort of subject matter the paper says they contain.

Regents' Role in Personnel Matters

The fact that Regent Gartner has raised this matter at a Regents' meeting, characterized it as a "security breach," and called for an investigation by the Regents' staff, coupled with the fact that Morelli's story tomorrow (according to the Press-Citizen's online report tonight) will report that some of Skorton's documents were destroyed after he left and that Colloton has hired one of Iowa's top lawyers (and a former judge) only whets the appetite of reporters and readers that there may be a really big story here just waiting to blow up.

But Regent Downer has noted the impropriety of Regent involvement at this stage. It is, of course, inappropriate under any rational approach to Board governance. But that is another matter, of which I have already written a good deal with regard to the Regents' practices.

There is a much more serious matter.

Whatever Gartner -- and the reporters -- may think this controversy is about, it is, at this stage, a "personnel matter." That is, the internal investigation (underway before Gartner's intervention) is simply focused on whether a University employee obtained John Colloton's emails by some means that violated the law, or University regulations. If so, they may be subject to some disciplinary sanctions.

The problem arises because, if that employee is found, and punished, and the employee wishes to appeal, the appeal may ultimately go to the Regents. That is why they should not be involved in calling for an investigation, or informing themselves of "the facts," at this stage -- because they may be called upon later to provide an impartial review of those facts as presented by the accused and the University.
# # #

[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 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".]

# # #

Media Stories and Commentary

Erin Jordan, "U of I Examines Security Breach of Colloton Files; Regent Michael Gartner says the former hospital director's information was illegally accessed," Des Moines Register, January 12, 2007

"Regents OK Members of Search Committee," Des Moines Register, January 12, 2007

Diane Heldt, "Hospital: Employee Misused Computer," The Gazette, January 12, 2007

Diane Heldt, "Regents Approve 5 UI Search Members; Search chairman hopes to have 12 total members," The Gazette, January 12, 2007

Diane Heldt, "UI Medical Changes OK'd," The Gazette, January 12, 2007

Brian Morelli, "UIHC Looks Into Breach of Security; Regent questions board for looking into the matter," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 12, 2007

Brian Morelli, "Regents Approve 5 Initial Search Committee Members," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 12, 2007

Brian Morelli, "Robillard to Fill VP Spot," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 12, 2007

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

Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site
Nicholas Johnson's Iowa Rain Forest ("Earthpark") Web Site
Nicholas Johnson's Blog, FromDC2Iowa
Nicholas Johnson's Blog Index

No comments: