Thursday, January 18, 2007

UI President Search Held Hostage Day 63 - Jan. 18

Jan. 18, 8:45 a.m., 5:00 p.m. (links), 9:20 (some commentary)

An Iowa state senator is calling for the resignations of all Regents. And Downer has an upper for the students -- he's essentially supporting their demand for some representation of the 30,000 tuition-paying UI stakeholders called "students" on the presidential search committee. Meanwhile, the search committee chair, currently searching for six more searchers, says . . . nothing.

A U.S. Senator is asking questions about the tax deductibility of "contributions" to the UI athletic program. And the UI athletic program, with its well-established ties to the gambling industry, sees nothing wrong with its new alliance with the Iowa Lottery. Meanwhile, The Gazette is editorializing about sources of revenue other than gambling to support higher education in Iowa.

The Press-Citizen thinks it wasn't so swift for the UI to erase Skorton's e-mails, and is upping the ante on its demand for Colloton's e-mails by publishing a facsimile of a letter he wrote to Interim President Fethke on UI stationery that, despite its "Dear Gary" salutation sure looks more "public record" than "personal" (as Colloton's attorney contends).

The former Johnson County Attorney was one of the toughest in the U.S. on enforcing open meetings and public records requirements. His highly-regarded successor is being tested on her resolve on such issues, having been asked by the Press-Citizen to look into the Colloton e-mail dispute, and having already begun her inquiry.

So, all in all, things are back to normal here at "Regents' Watch," as the UI President Search is held hostage for Day 63.

Follow-up to Yesterday's "Revisiting Optiva"

Trey Reeme kindly attached a comment to yesterday's blog entry about "Optiva." It prompted me to check out If you're really into credit unions you've long since discovered it and probably participate in its ongoing discussions. If not, check it out.

He says my entry prompted discussion on the site about credit union name changes. Indeed it has. And these folks (as distinguished from my off-the-top-of-my-head comments) really know what they're talking about. (The site says of itself: "Created as an idea exchange, Open Source CU is an outlet and resource for credit union leaders toward the goals of opening communications between members and management, using technology that fits the movement’s inherent cooperative nature, and converting marketing sales-speak into legitimate conversation.")

And speaking of "opening communications between members and management," many of those providing comments noted how essential it is that if there is to be a name change management fully and honestly explain to the membership the reasons. I think that has been one of the causes of the membership dissatisfaction with "Optiva" -- that the board and management felt (whether correctly or not) that they really were not free to discuss their reasons candidly in public.

John Colloton's E-mails

Read the letter, linked below, from John Colloton to Gary Fethke; it's dated July 11, 2006, and on official UI stationery (in the hard copy Press-Citizen presentation, but not the pdf it has online -- and I have linked). I cannot imagine anyone of independent mind reading that and concluding that it is a "personal" document (rather than an official "public record").

The Press-Citizen has asked the new Johnson County Attorney, Janet Lyness, to investigate the UI refusal to make public what appears increasingly, with every passing day, to be about as close to "public records" as any messages could be.

See links, below, to Brian Morelli ("Lyness to Investigate UI Denial") and Press-Citizen, "Private Correspondence or Public Record?" The UI Operations Manual, Section 17.3, which is linkeded under "References," is primarily related to the UI's destruction of the records of President Skorton, but is also relevant in evaluating the official status of the Colloton communications.

I've discussed at some length what I believe to be the best strategy for Colloton, Gartner an the UI to take in this situation (see, "Couriouser and Couriouser" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search Held Hostage Day 58 - Jan. 13," January 13, 2007). Instead, they've opted to continue to stonewall, which only intensifies media and public interest and suspicion with every passing day.

Because, ultimately, these e-mails will be released.

Destrction of President Skorton's Files

"It never rains but it pours," the expression has it. It almost makes you feel sorry for the University folks caught up in this mess. Perhaps anticipating the tar pit they're currently caught in with Colloton's documents, they apparently programmed President Skorton's computer to destroy all documents that might someday be requested, thereby saving the need, hassle and embarrassment of producing them.

Read Section 17.3, linked below, and decide for yourself whether you think this was a violation of University regulations. The Press-Citizen thinks so (see its editorial this morning, "UI Shouldn't Have Deleted Skorton E-mails," linked below).

Section 17.3 is not as clear as one might hope. However, consider the following clauses:
  • E-mail and voice-mail are governed by the subject matter contained within and should be retained according to the department's record retention schedule.
  • When there is any doubt as to whether or not any item is a non-record, it will be considered to be a UI record.
  • Ordinarily, all UI records are considered public records.
  • "UI record" means any documents . . . made, produced, or executed in the conduct of University business, including . . . administration.
  • Official records of this state . . . shall not be . . . destroyed, removed, or disposed of, except as provided by law, rule, or policy.
  • The UI archivist will have the opportunity to examine and review all UI records selected for disposal to determine whether the records proposed for disposal have research or historical value to the UI. The UI Archivist shall maintain those research and historical records in a manner consistent with this policy.
  • UI records in the possession of a UI faculty/staff member . . . whose employment . . . with the University ceases for whatever reason are presumptively the property of the University . . ..
This is not a "legal opinion." I haven't really studied Section 17.3, and certainly haven't seen any interpretations there may have been of it over the years. But superficially, these excerpts would seem to suggest that -- if it is in fact true that all of President Skorton's e-mails were routinely permanently destroyed (or destroyed after his departure) -- there may well have been violations of Regents' and University policy.

From the perspective of computer geeks, it would be interesting to know the details of how this was done.

But however it was done, anyone skilled enough to so program a computer would certainly have been skilled enough to come up with a system for destroying e-mails from patients -- said to be the reason for the "destroy all e-mails" policy -- without destroying everything. Talk about "burning down the barn to roast the pig." It really strains credulity that the practice was adopted for the reasons stated. (Besides, aren't there requirements for maintaining patient records as well? But that's clearly another issue.)

Dijon Vu (the same old mustard all over again)

So we have a new governor. But so long as Gartner remains as Regents' President it's just the same old mustard all over again.

While it's certainly significant that Iowa State Senator Brad Zaun (R-Urbandale) has asked Governor Culver to call for the resignations of all the Regents (see the three stories, linked below), the most significant line in the AP story is the reminder, "Culver said last month that he doesn't plan to seek any resignations from members whose terms aren't expiring." Clearly that is a category that includes Regent Gartner -- who is the primary focus of the public (and legislative) dissatisfaction with the Regents.

So long as he remains it's like Vilsack never left town. It's still "UI Held Hostage - Day 63."

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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. 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

Matt Nelson, "State Senator: All Regents Must Go," Daily Iowan, January 18, 2007

Tom Witosky, "Grassley: Do College-Athletic Contributions Merit Tax Deductions?" Des Moines Register, January 18, 2007 (with link to Tom Witosky, "How Deduction is Figured on Kinick Lease Payment")

Danny Valentine, "U of I students demand role in search; They fear they will have no say in the choice of the school's next president," Des Moines Register, January 18, 2007

Editorial, "Keeping Higher Education Affordable," The Gazette, January 18, 2007

Ron Boshart, "Senator Urges Culver to Ask for Regent Resignations," The Gazette, January 18, 2007

Diane Heldt, "UI Doesn't Cry Foul Over Lottery's Ads," The Gazette, January 18, 2007

Diane Heldt, "Regent supports students on search panel; Six spots have been filled on 12-member search committee," The Gazette, January 18, 2007

Editorial, "UI Shouldn't Have Deleted Skorton E-mails," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 18, 2007

Associated Press, "Lawmaker Seeks Regents Resignations," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 18, 2007

Brian Morelli, "Lyness to investigate UI denial; P-C appeals to county about records request," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 18, 2007

Press-Citizen, "Private Correspondence or Public Record? Letter to Fethke," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 18, 2007

Jared Taylor, "Iowa newspaper sues board of regents for closed meetings; Board discussed 'personnel matters,' officials say," Student Press Law Center, January 18, 2007


David Johnson, "Board of Regents: The Party Never Ends," January 18, 2007


Board of Regents Minutes, January 11, 2007 (search committee approval)

Letter from John Colloton to Gary Fethke, July 11, 2006

Section 17.3, Records Management Program [Part V. Administrative, Financial, and Facilities Policies; Chapter 17, Records Management], University of Iowa Operations Manual

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