Monday, January 22, 2007

UI President Search Held Hostage Day 67 - Jan. 22

Jan. 22, 2:00 p.m.

Another day in which the biggest news is no news. A presidential search that, once called off by the Regents, could have nonetheless selected a UI president anytime after November 18, 2006, has yet to even announce who will serve on "Search Committee II." That's why this is: "UI President Search Held Hostage Day 67."

EXTRA (5:00 p.m.): The Press-Citizen (and undoubtedly other papers) will carry news tomorrow regarding the additional appointments to Search Committee II, to be recommended to the Regents at their Februry 6-7th meeting in Ames. The paper says they are on the Regents' Web site, but I was unable to find them there at 5:00 p.m. (Under "Agenda" for the February meeting the notice, in its entirety, now reads: "Agenda, Agenda Items and Committee Memos will be at this site prior to the meeting.")

However, here are the names (from Brian Morelli's 3:30 p.m. story update on the Press-Citizen online):

"The list includes: Sarah Vigmostad, graduate student in biomedical engineering; Jarjisu Sa-Aadu, finance professor, Cheryl Reardon, assistant to the dean/vice president for research, Gene Parkin, civil-environmental engineering professor, Ed Folsom, English professor, Sarah England, associate professor of physiology and biophysics, and Elizabeth Chrischilles, epidemiology professor.

“'The Chair sought nominations from the campus community who can represent the University’s major constituencies and who are able to articulate the issues facing the greater University,' an executive summary stated.

"Already on board are chairperson David Johnsen, College of Dentistry Dean, Linda Maxson, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean, Paul Rothman, internal medicine professor, Lee Anna Clark, psychology professor, Jonathan Carlson, law professor, and Leonard Hadley, retired Maytag executive and indoor rain forest project board member."

Of course, none of this affects the fact that the University of Iowa is still held hostage by the Regents, whose actions in November 2006, after a 10-month search, still leaves this University without a president.

Are Benefits for Colloton Unwarranted "Perks"?

There was, however, another story about John Colloton's role at the UIHC ("Perks for Ex-U of I Official Questioned," linked below). The issue originally arose with regard to whether e-mails from UIHC Director Emeritus Colloton were properly considered "public records" (and thus available to the media) or "personal" and "private" and thus subject to being kept secret by the UI.

His use of UIHC office space, phone, fax, computer and Internet connection, a well-paid UI secretary, University stationery printed with his title, and the best parking permit (all lots, for free) suggested that, even though not paid directly by the UI (it has been reported he receives $144,000 a year as a Wellmark board member), he should be considered a public official for "public records" purposes. This was re-enforced by the subject matter of letters from him that did have to be released by the University, the subject of which suggested on-going consultation with University administrators on matters of University policy.

Today's story deals with questions being raised by regents regarding the propriety of "perks" for emeritus faculty members generally.

A Case for Privacy and Institutional (University) Responsibility

In fairness to John Colloton, a word needs to be said regarding employees' reasonable assumptions regarding the privacy of their communications.

I believe the University, or any other public institution (the documents of which may be found to be "public records"), has an obligation to insure that its administrators and other employees are informed in fact (as distinguished from being the recipent of an e-mail or memo) regarding the public nature (or privacy) of their communications.

Especially is this so when there is the ambiguity surrounding such matters as exists for an emeritus professor, and when the state law defines a public record as one "of or belonging to" the State -- but then fails to define that phrase.

There is certainly an argument to be made that in the 21st Century's digital "Information Age" anyone's "reasonable expectation of privacy" (to use the phrase from privacy law) places a burden on the individual to know at least a minimal amount regarding the operation of e-mail systems, employers' practices, government surveillance, and the range of newly evolving technologies that enable a variety of kinds of "spying" formerly unknown (e.g., surreptitious recording of a computer's keystrokes, or heat and motion detectors).

But the fact remains that, if one assumes a level of privacy that is violated, the impact upon them is the same as if someone broke into their house, rummaged through, and then stole some of their papers. They feel violated -- and understandably so.

This is true even if their mistaken understanding was a result of ignorance, misinformation, or negligent disregard of warnings. It is true whether their assumptions involved the likelihood of being photographed, recorded, or videotaped without their knowledge, or of their "private" e-mails appearing in the mainstream newspapers.

I'm not proposing a solution to this problem -- because I don't have one at the moment. I just think it needs to be mentioned as one of the dimensions of finding communications to be "public records" when the author truly did believe them to be private and confidential. (Whether this applies to John Colloton's e-mails I have no way of knowing.)

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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

Erin Jordan, "Perks for U of I ex-official questioned; Two regents want such benefits reviewed, citing tight budgets and limited space," Des Moines Register, January 22, 2007


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Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site
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