Friday, January 19, 2007

UI President Search Held Hostage Day 64 - Jan. 19

Jan. 19, 7:30 a.m., 1:15 p.m.

Yesterday (January 18) there were 17 entries under "Media Stories and Commentary" (including "Blogs" and "References"), and my commentary on "Follow-up To Yesterday's 'Revisiting Optiva,'" "John Colloton's E-mails," "Destruction of President Skorton's Files," and "Dijon Vu (the same old mustard all over again)" (regarding Governor Culver's apparent refusal to call for Regents' resignations).

Given the persistent limitation of days to but 24 hours each, there's still more to be said about some of those 17 entries that will carry over to today -- when, what should I find as the top-of-the-fold headline on page one of the Press-Citizen but Brian Morelli's story: "Regent: Rumors of UIHC for Sale Untrue," linked below.

UIHC for sale??!!

One can almost be grateful that, once again, there's no news from the Search Committee ("Oprah didn't call again today"), which is why it's "UI President Search Held Hostage Day 64."

Selling the Nation's Largest, Formerly-University-Owned Hospital

When Iowa State decided to sell WOI-TV, I did a tongue-in-cheek op ed, rather than writing about it as the virtual giveaway of an incredibly valuable asset -- that would only increase in value over time with techological innovation, more uses for, and greater shortages of, frequencies. I wrote that selling off Iowa's assets was a terrific way to raise money and that in that spirit I had found a guy in Arizona who was offering to buy all of Iowa's topsoil.

The rumor is (or was) that the UIHC was going to be offered for sale, and that an "exclusive strategic alliance" would be created with Iowa Health Systems. Morelli tells us that's the firm that is "the largest integrated health care provided in the state with eight hospitals and $1.8 billion in net revenues."

Was there anything to the rumor? It depends on whom you ask. Regent Gartner says, simply, "That is crazy." Regent Downer says, "The concern [a Iowa Health Systems competitor] expresses was the intention of Iowa Health . . . somewhat beyond the rumor stage."

It is Morelli who tells us that "Iowa Health's April 2006 letter of intent for collaborative programs with University Hospitals such as medical education, employer health benefits and provider networking spiked Bressanelli's interest." And he quotes Genesis CEO and President Leo Bressanelli: "I do know that the matter was being discussed privately without the knowledge of those organizations that might be affected by such an arrangement. . . . I am not aware of any consideration or consultation with major health care stakeholders and supporters of the University health care system."

Once again, we're indebted to the Iowa Public Records law, and the willingness of the Press-Citizen to use it, for this information. It's not from an "open meeting." It's not the result of those who had this information realizing that, given its significance, it should be shared with the public. No, it's the result of the media having to use the law to pry from a public institution documents -- in this case e-mails to Gartner -- that would have otherwise forever remained secret.

Federal Subsidies for UI's Football Program

The Press-Citizn also has on page one this morning a Gannett News Service replay of the story we noted here yesterday (with links) regarding tax breaks for college athletic programs (linked below).

It turns out that Iowa's Senator Grassley, in an effort to regain his reputation as a fiscal conservative after giving his friends $50 million to build an indoor rain forest in a tulip bed, is looking at the tax deductions provided athletic boosters for their near-$1 billion-a-year in "contributions." The former chair of the Senate Finance Committee is joined in this effort by his colleague, and current chair, Senator Max Baucus.

The Senators have noticed that these programs, headed by $4 million-dollar-a-year coaches, undertaking near-$100-million "renovations" of stadiums used six times a year, with sky boxes for the wealthy (and, at Kinick, for gambling casino patrons), don't look very much like the academic instruction in college classrooms that the Senate had in mind when providing this federal subsidy of higher education.

Ah, but it is, says NCAA President Miles Brand. You just don't understand, Senators. "The fundamental purpose of intercollegiate athletics is the education of student-athletes in both the classroom and on the field or court."

Yeah, right. How could I have missed that?

"Honey, I Shrunk the Search Committee"

At an on-campus meeting of the Regents and UI community last March, UI law professor, Jon Carlson (who led the search that produced David Skorton, and is one of the five selected so far for this year's "Search II" committee) spoke on the value of relatively larger, rather than smaller, search committees. Unfortunately, so far as I know, there is no written record of his remarks.

But from what I can remember, the following were among his observations. (1) The "University of Iowa" is a community of tens of thousands of students, staff, faculty and administrators involved in hundreds of departments, programs and projects. It's not just that they need to feel that they have been represented on the search committee in order to get their constituencies to "buy into" the ultimate choice. It is that the ultimate choice will be a better one if their perspective is represented as candidates are evaluated by the committee, and finalists are questioned.

(2) Combined, those associated with the University have networks of contacts that cover much of American academia and beyond. Fully used, these contacts can identify potential candidates in even greater numbers than a commercial search firm. They need to be used.

(3) The search process involves a lot of work -- going over paper resumes, calling and interviewing references, and so forth. The more people who can share these tasks the faster and better that work gets done.

Unfortunately, these observations from one who led one of Iowa's most successful presidential searchs were not only ignored, they were rebuffed by Regents who thought they knew better.

And their thinking has carried over to "Search II." So much so, that it is, as of today, not even clear that there will be student representation on the search committee. Given that students constitute roughly 30,000 persons among the UI's various stakeholders, this is a pretty dramatic oversight.

Yesterday, Diane Heldt reported ("Regent Supports Students on Search Panel," linked from yesterday's blog entry) that "[Regent Bob] Downer said he intended to speak to [Search Committee Chair Dean] Johnsen soon to voice his strong support for having one UI undergraduate student and one UI graduate or professional student on the committee."

The committee chair is noncommittal. "Johnsen said Wednesday he and the five other committee members, approved by the regents last week, have discussed membership but he was reluctant to comment about it until their recommendations go to the regents for approval."

Of course, such reluctance to speak just raises further questions about the degree to which the committee is constrained, or the chair feels himself to be constrained, by the Regents, if he feels he cannot, or should not, reveal his own opinion on such an issue without first clearing it with them.

Hog Lots, Maybe?

This has all become sufficiently crazy that blogger J.D. Mendenhall has asked, "Hey, What's Going on Here?", linked below, and thinks he's found a possible explanation: "Airborne pollutants from ever-growing corporate hog lots have tainted the atmosphere causing . . . physical and mental paralysis of notable Iowans."

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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

Dane Schumann, "AD defends 'Hawk' Lottery," Daily Iowan, January 19, 2007

Henry C. Jackson, "Former NBC Chief in Faculty Dispute,"
Herald-Sun [Durham, North Carolina], January 19, 2007

Brian Morelli, "Regent: Rumors of UIHC for sale untrue; Iowa Health also denies trying to buy hospital," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 19, 2007

PC Opinion, "National Issues: Should Athletic Contributions be Tax Deductable?"
(with the Gannett News Service story on the subject embedded), January 19, 2007


J.D.'s Blog Bites (J.D. Mendenhall), "Hey, What's Going on Here?"
January 18, 2007


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There may not be a written transcript, but the March forum with the Regents was taped and is available online at
Prof. Carlson's remarks should be able to found at that link