Monday, January 01, 2007

UI President Search - Jan. 1-7, 2007

Revised, updated Jan. 1, 11:30 a.m., 1:15 p.m.; Jan. 2, 10:15 a.m.; Jan. 3, 8:30 a.m.; Jan. 4, 8:00 a.m.; Jan. 5, 8:45 a.m., 1:45 p.m., 8:00 p.m.; Jan. 6, 10:15 a.m., 11:20 a.m., 1:30 p.m.; Jan. 7, 8:30 a.m.

EXTRA (Jan. 1): Gartner as Writer; Patton's Commentary

EXTRA (Jan. 2): Register Features Kurtz; John Neff's Blog Administration Suggestions; Laugh Along With Mike Deupree

EXTRA (Jan. 3): Major Chronicle of Higher Education Story Coming Friday -- Read it Here Today; Media's "Conflicts of Interest" and Open Meetings

EXTRA (Jan. 4): UI Held Hostage: Day 49; Mendenhall on Guys With Bow Ties; Related Education News

EXTRA (Jan. 5): UI Held Hostage: Day 50; Email Revelations; Ombudsman Persues Gartner; Gilchrist Sues Fethke; Vilsack Says "Pay More"; More on E-mail as Open Meetings; Press-Citizen's Timeline

EXTRA (Jan. 6): UI Held Hostage: Day 51; Shifting Hospital Responsibilities Called "New Vice President"; SUI Still "Secrecy University of Iowa"; One Regent Respects State Ombudsman; Gazette: Search Sequel Still Same Sinister Story

EXTRA (Jan. 7): UI Held Hostage: Day 52; Presidential Search Committee Meets Wednesday -- in Indiana

[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".]

Commentary - Jan. 1

Gartner as Writer

Although I have made no effort to hide my disappointment in Michael Gartner's relationships with the University of Iowa in general, and his handling of the Regents' UI presidential search in particular, there is much that I have, and continue to, admire about him. (See, e.g., "In Praise of Michael Gartner" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XV," December 15, 2006.)

And so it is this morning, as a part of my ongoing efforts to maintain a measure of balance in these commentaries by trying to humanize Regent Gartner, that I wish to share with you another example of his extraordinary ability as a writer that I happened upon this morning.

It is a bit of memoir about his father, published in USA Today last June under the title, "A Life With No Left Turns." Poignant, amusing, and beautifully written, it will make you laugh, and cry, in turn -- especially if you ever loved your father, or miss the one you once had. It's memoir at its best. So whatever you may have been thinking about Michael Gartner these days, if you teach writing, enjoy reading memoirs, have been thinking about writing one (or have already done so) this really is a "must read." Michael Gartner, "A Life With No Left Turns," USA Today, June 15, 2006.

Patton's Commentary

In my admiring reference to Bob Patton the other day (Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XVIII - Dec. 26-31," December 26, 2006), and the incisive editorial cartoons he's provided us regarding the mess the Regents' have made of their relations with the University of Iowa and the search for its new president, I included the captions to five or six of his cartoons and a link to where the drawings could be seen on his blog. What I failed to reference, was his Archive site, which is at, and has links to those and more.

Once there you'll find editorial cartoons going back to October 13, 2006 (at least they did today, January 1, 2007). And that collection includes the one on November 21, "Abundant Turkey Season," with the Regents' names attached to turkeys and Governor Culver offering to take Governor Vilsack's axe and do the honors if he won't; and the November 17, "Regent Madness," with Gartner holding a leash and explaining that all four finalists had to be rejected because "all of their necks were too small to fit into my leash."

Commentary - Dec. 2

Kurtz Featured in Register

Erin Jordan, who has done such a first class job of reporting the UI presidential search story in the Register, today turns her talents on one of the major figures in that story, Professor Sheldon Kurtz, President of the UI Faculty Senate. She's captured much of him in, Erin Jordan, "'Voice' of critics at U of I fuels feud with regents; Sheldon Kurtz is a respected law teacher, but opinions of his role in campus politics vary," Des Moines Register, January 2, 2006.

[The photo to the left is provided by way of a link to the Des Moines Register site. It is the work of, and copyrighted by, Register photographer Harry Baumert and the Des Moines Register. The Register has the following caption on the picture: "Sheldon Kurtz, a University of Iowa law professor and president of the Faculty Senate, often wears cowboy boots around campus. Kurtz has raked Iowa’s regents for their handling of a search for a U of I president."]

"Shelly," as we know him, is a man of many qualities. That he is a natural leader is borne out by his selection as a law school dean, twice being elected as UI Faculty Senate president, and repeatedly being sought out by the University, bar associations, law teaching organizations and others for various tasks. His impressive legal scholarship, as well as his "real world" contributions as a practicing lawyer for many years with a prestigious American law firm, are recognized by practicing lawyers and his colleagues at law schools throughout this country and abroad. He seemingly knows, and is known and respected by, "everybody" in many walks of life around town and around the country. His boundless curiosity and energy are exhibited on ski slopes, as Wyoming cowboy, fly caster on trout streams, as a gourmet cook, voracious reader, and as what electronics manufacturers refer to as "an early adopter." He's deservedly popular not only with colleagues, but with students as an entertaining, as well as effective, teacher. He has a quick mind, wit and sense of humor. He is, as we sometimes affectionately say of a friend, "a character."

Good journalist that she is, Ms. Jordan searched for balance. Kurtz' critics, while few and hard to find, do exist. And, she reports, "[they] say his frequent complaints about the regents have further detached the U of I campus from the state it serves."

And this "kill the messenger" response from some Regents is a point that needs to be addressed.

We Iowans don't like confrontation; better to work it out, or just deal with it, than to risk hard feelings because of complaining. Or, as one-time Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn used to advise new House members, "If you want to get along, go along."

But there's a distinction between a wife's petty complaints about her husband, and a repeatedly battered wife's declaration that she needs out of the marriage. There's a distinction between the early colonists' complaints about King George, and the significant list of grievances that became their "Declaration of Independence." And there's a distinction between professors' occasional complaints about administrators and Regents and the conditions which the UI community confronted -- and for which Shelly Kurtz, having been elected, was the spokesperson.

The complaints have not been "frequent." They were, however, of fundamental seriousness.

What follows are excerpts from Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search XIV," December 12-14, 2006.

# # #

Regardless of your own view of the conflict between the University of Iowa faculty and the Iowa State Board of Regents -- but especially if you are unsympathetic with the position of the faculty -- the single most important document for you to read is Shelly Kurtz, President, UI Faculty Senate, "Statement on the Resolution of No Confidence in the Leadership of the Board of Regents," December 12, 2006.

So why do I think it so important for you to read President Kurtz' statement?

I don't want to get overly dramatic about this with the analogies I'm about to provide with the "Declaration of Independence" and "articles of impeachment." The faculty is not creating a new nation nor declaring its independence from anything. And it has neither the power, nor has it made the fruitless effort, to impeach anyone.

What it has done, by way of this statement, is to forgo generalizations or petulant expression. It has begun the process of bringing to the public the details, the pattern of behavior that has gone well beyond the disastrous way in which the Regents botched the search for a new president.

That is the limit of the analogies. The Declaration of Independence begins, "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they [those taking the action in question] should declare the causes which impel them [to that action]." Similarly, the Congress can't just "impeach a president." It must have articles of impeachment; it must explain the charges and its reasons.

That is what the faculty has done with its resolution and the explanatory statement of President Kurtz.

It is important that journalists, legislators and the people of Iowa be made aware of the rather substantial list of reasons for the UI faculty's action. Faculties in general, and this faculty in particular, are reluctant to get involved in such serious matters, let alone pass votes of no confidence in their boards of regents . . . . So far as I know, this action is unprecedented during the prior [century-and-a-half] of the University of Iowa's history. It was not an action taken in haste, or without serious contemplation. . . .

It is my belief that anyone who reads, and considers, what President Kurtz has written cannot but agree that the extreme behavior described would have been inappropriate for Wal-mart management, not to mention the University of Iowa, that it seems to have been part of a pattern that holds out little hope for basic change, and that the best interests of the State of Iowa require that the Regents' leadership be replaced.

# # #

Nothing that has happened during the past three weeks has caused me to change that view.

John Neff on Blog Administration

As regular readers of this blog and its comments know, John Neff has contributed a number of quality comments from time to time (including one added to this blog entry this morning). Yesterday (Jan. 1) he had some constructive suggestions regarding blog administration. He requested:

"1. that you ask anonymous posters to number themselves (or use a unique name) so we can keep their comments straight. By the way I wonder if some of these persons really need to be anonymous.
"2. that you have a link to an updated complete list of links and you only include new links in the current post. This should reduce the length of a post by a considerable amount. Your posts get longer and longer as you add links and as a consequence it takes a long time for your blog to load."

Both points taken.

I, along with the U.S. Supreme Court, find enough benefit in anonymous speech that (in my case; I don't think the justices are blogging yet) I make no effort to exclude or otherwise discourage it. However, I think John makes a good point. (1) If you can, without personal harm, identify yourself it will make a stronger point if you do so. If not, we'll understand. Recrimination can be a reality. (2) But if you do need to be anonymous please consider his suggestion that you become "anonymous1" -- or some other favorite number, or added name, to make it easier for readers to track the threads.

The posts are long. No question. Especially as I group the commentary and links into a single blog entry covering a week or so (like this one). (1) As I may have written before, had I known this was not going to be over by early December I would have begun it as a new Web site (like I've done with the Pella rain forest), rather than as a six-month-long series of blog entries. Blog entries make it a less useful research source -- for me as well as other readers -- than if it was all on one Web site with a table of contents and easier searching.
(2) At some point I may get around to transferring this to a Web site. But right now I'm so backlogged with other responsibilities I just can't justify taking the time to do it (and I'm doing all of this myself without any staff help).
(3) As a minor correction: I'm not repeating links to sources from one blog entry to another (at least not deliberately). The reason there are some older pieces added is that I simply add them as I find them, rather than going back and putting them in prior entries where day-to-day readers would likely not find them. The inserted paragraph in each blog entry regarding prior UI President Search material is because I notice, of the dozens-to-hundreds of hits this gets each day, there are a significant number that seem to be coming from new sources that I figure may really need a little guidance.

Anyhow, thanks for the suggestions, and I'll get to it as I'm able.

Laugh Along With Mike Deupree

Whether you're old enough to remember Adlai Stevenson or not, I think you'll see the analogy to my feelings about this Regents' disaster. Stevenson had just lost the presidency to Dwight Eisenhower by an electoral vote count of 442-89. Asked how he felt he said the feeling was similar what Abraham Lincoln had once described: "like a little boy who had stubbed his toe in the dark -- he was too old to cry, but it hurt too much to laugh."

But laugh we must. And Mike lends us a hand. It's linked, below.

Commentary - Jan. 3

Major Chronicle of Higher Education Story Coming Friday -- Read it Here Today

The Chronicle will be summing up the current state of affairs in River City in its Friday issue this week. The story is linked below if you'd like to read it now.

Media's "Conflicts of Interest"

The Press-Citizen, and other media outlets, are more than perfectly capable of speaking up for themselves. After all, they do it every day. But given a couple of recent reader comments in op ed columns and letters, I thought I'd weigh in on the issue as well.

Drew Oetting writes in this morning's Press-Citizen ("Report, Don't Make the News," linked below) of his objections to the paper both (a) filing a law suit under the open meetings and public records laws and then (b) reporting and editorializing about it. He says, "I think the P-C has the right to sue to regents; I even agree with Lewers' opinion about how a closed government could jeopardize Iowans. I feel strongly, however, that the P-C has no ability or right to report a fair story and be a playing member in it." (J. Robert Hopson, "Why File Open-Meeting Lawsuit?" letter in the Register, linked below, deals with a similar theme.)

Newspapers sometimes must deal with their potential conflicts of interest. When this blog goes into its media critic/"journalism review" mode I even write about them myself. (See, e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "Mr. Editor, tear down this wall!" August 8, 2006, commenting on The Gazette's making "news" out of Wendy's Vanilla Frosty.)

There's a conflict whenever a story involves a present, or potential, advertiser -- or even the interests of the paper's business community generally. That's true whether a story critical of a business is killed, or buried in the back of the paper, or a story in praise of a local business, or its owner, is promoted.

This is especially true of business stories about the media business. You won't read a lot about the impact of owners' cuts in newspapers' budgets (and staff) on the quality of news reporting, or the impact of media mergers generally. You won't read much about the issues media is urging on state legislatures and Congress -- though you did see the consequences in Iraq war coverage of media's desire not to irritate the Administration and those in Congress whose votes they would need.

Nor is it limited to business. Media owners need to give some thought to how they'll cover the powerful generally -- whether labor union leaders, hospital and university administrators, or religious and ethnic groups. That's not to say they never "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," it's only to say they have to think twice about it before they do.

When was the last time you saw a major series of investigative reporting pieces, and editorials, about the actual or potential downside of our high school and college athletic programs? Didn't you think all the promotional stories about the Riverside gambling casino were a little over the top?

Ever notice how all papers have a "business" section, or page, but none have a "union" or "worker" section? And it's not just unions. Have you noticed how neither the politicians, nor the media, talk much about citizen movements -- the power the people can exert, when they get organized, to manipulate major institutions to improve their lives? It's all about what they are going to do for us. Where are the stories of what citizens are doing, the new strategies that seem to be working, the success stories, the newly formed movements?

It is said that, "Where you stand is a matter of where you sit." We saw this recently with Governor Vilsack's position on the indoor rain forest project, now scratching around in a Pella tulip bed for $200 million. As governor of a state he wasn't going to reject $50 million in federal funds (even coming from a Republican Senator Grassley, no less) coming his way from Washington. Now, as a presidential candidate, he's prepared to say the project is "nuts." Both positions actually make some sense.

All of us find our positions shaped to some degree by "where we sit." High school students want to be accepted by their colleagues -- as do country club members. Our own economic situation may affect our position on the relative merits of income, property and sales taxes. This morning's Press-Citizencarries the AP story that General John Shalikashvili, former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and opponent of gays in the military, has written an op ed for the New York Times acknowledging, now, that "the military has changed . . . gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers," (AP, "Ex-Leader: Let Gays Serve Openly," Iowa City Press-Citizen, Jan. 3, 2007, p. 6A).

An absence of "conflict" doesn't mean one's position is correct. I have about as close to nothing to gain or lose by what I've written about the rain forest project as anyone could. What I write, and the outcome, won't affect me financially, professionally, politically, socially, or in any other way of which I am aware. I may, nevertheless, be quite wrong in what I've written about the project. But to the extent I'm wrong it's not because of "where I sit" -- which is simply on the sofa in my living room with a laptop computer.

"Conflicts of interest" have come up in the context of Wellmark and the Board of Regents and the presidential search. Can someone simultaneously serve as President of the Board of Regents and CEO of Wellmark, when the two organizations contract with each other? The Attorney General of Iowa thought not. Similarly, I remember the days when newspapers were owned by newspaper companies and television stations owned by television companies. We benefited from some excellent newspaper reporting about the evils of TV in those days I can tell you. But when they came to be commonly owned, but before they also owned cable television, the broadcaster-newspaper owners were not above pointing out to their reader/viewers the enormous threat to our national security and way of life that cable TV posed.

But coming full circle back to Drew Oetting's point, that newspapers should not "make news" -- or at least, if they do, not report it, I think he has a much tougher case to make. When the Press-Citizen selects its person of the year it is both making and reporting news. Actually, it is the reporting of it that is the news. It was both making and reporting news when it held the "town meeting" about the rain forest in Coralville. It's both making and reporting news when it endorses candidates for local office. In a sense, any investigative journalism is both making and reporting news -- it is researching, uncovering, what turns out to be a story that it then reports.

Newspapers are the guardians of the open meetings and public records acts -- as they are for such protection as they are able to provide for "confidential sources." I often disagree with what I believe to be the extreme positions they take in these cases. But it is we whose rights they are protecting. It is we who are permitted to attend public meetings and see public documents. Because most of us don't have the time to bother with such things, the media is our surrogate.

If the press was using its political power to do the equivalent of putting pressure on judges, or influencing jurors, in cases in which they had an interest, that would be one thing. (And it may be the thing of which Oetting is complaining.)

Shy of that, however, so long as it is obvious what a paper's role, and interests, are in any story it may report, I think we have far more to fear from a paper's failure to report what it is up to (as with legislative lobbying) than what it does report.

Commentary - Jan. 4: "UI Held Hostage: Day 49"; Mendenhall on Guys in Bow Ties

UI Held Hostage

Why "UI Held Hostage"? The idea is not original with me. I've borrowed it from ABC and Ted Koppel's "Nightline." Here's the Wikipedia explanation which, on this occasion, I believe to be a sufficiently reliable source:

"The program had its beginnings on November 8, 1979, just 4 days after the Iran hostage crisis started. ABC News president Roone Arledge felt the best way to compete against NBC's The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was to update Americans on the latest news from Iran. At that time, the show was called: "The Iran Crisis—America Held Hostage: Day xxx" where xxx represented each day Iranians held hostage the occupants of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran. . . . That constant repetition contributed to the defeat, ultimately, of Jimmy Carter as president by Ronald Reagan." (The Iranian hostage crisis was resolved in 1981. Ted Koppel hosted the show, subsequently called "Nightline," from March 1980 through November 2005.)

Of course, I don't mean to suggest any analogy between President Carter's defeat as a result of this program and possible outcomes here in Iowa City as a result of my "UI Held Hostage" series. But now, some 27 years later, on our own "Black Friday, November 17, 2006," the University of Iowa was seized and held hostage by the very Regents who were appointed to negotiate its best interests. (Why do these people "hate freedom"?)

There are many aspects of the Regents' governance of the University that have been problematical; the botched UI president search process has only been one of the more visible and dramatic. But a recurring theme has been -- at least as it has appeared to this observer -- the somewhat casual approach to the urgent, and a seeming inability to distinguish it from the Regents' more routine agenda items.

If the Regents were going to call off the first search on November 17, as they did, I believed at the time (and nothing has occurred since then to change my assessment) they had a responsibility to announce at that time something better than that they didn't know what they were going to do next or when they would meet to discuss it. The next steps should have been thought through, and announced, at the same time. And, given what they subsequently did (offer the job to one of the four finalists), that was something that should have been done immediately.

Any university needs a president. Especially is this so as a new governor and legislature are taking over this month, and one of their first items of business is going to be an assessment of the Regents' universities -- and K-12, and community colleges' -- share of the State's education budget. The adverse public relations from Iowa's seeming inability to run a major university, the black eye the Regents have given the University of Iowa, only gets progressively worse each day.

There's no news today, again, about the presidential search. But this is a case in which it's not true that "no news is good news." In our case, "no news is news; it's bad news; it's news that 'UI Held Hostage' has now reached day 49."

(I thought about using the David Letterman line, "Oprah didn't call again today," that ultimately led to their make-up joint appearance on his show, but you kind of had to be there. And besides, I thought the "America Held Hostage" analogy was a little closer.)

Today's Amusement: Mendenhall on Guys With Bow Ties

J.D. Mendenhall has a column in this morning's Press-Citizen headlined, "Ask a Guy: For more advice, watch an action movie." It's his version of an advice column that, he says, is "offered as a public service to those readers who require assistance understanding guys."

You may find the exchange in the following excerpt amusing -- or at least cause for reflection on why I would include it in this morning's commentary about a presidential search.

"Dear Guy,

"My husband is a very controlling, meddling, domineering man. He tried to micromanage our family so much that two good men eventually left town. He developed this bizarre, secretive process to select a new baby sitter, but then rejected all four of the finalists and fired the referral agency. I'm afraid his heavy-handed, authoritarian ways will ruin our family's reputation. What can I do?

"'Afraid for the Future'

"--Iowa City

"Dear Afraid,

"The most effective way to neutralize an overbearing bully is to stand up to him and mirror his bullying actions until the narcissistic coward retreats. Oh, and take away his bow tie."

Related Education News

Nothing more on the presidential search, but there are some related general education items I'll link to later on today involving funding of the State's universities and community colleges, and the performance of Iowa's K-12 schools.

Commentary - Jan. 5: UI Held Hostage: Day 50; Emails; Ombuds; Gilchrist vs. Fethke; Presidential Pay; More on Email as Open Meetings

UI Held Hostage: Day 50

Well, "Oprah didn't call again today." Not only that, but Garter continues his casual approach to University governance by saying he hasn't even decided when the Regents might next meet to discuss what they might next do with regard to the search. So: "UI Held Hostage: Day 50."

Gazette Obtains Email Revelations

See Diane Heldt's story this morning, linked below, that includes a link to the full text of the Regents' emails between December 11 and 18. Quite a revelation. See More on E-mail as Open Meetings, below.

Iowa Ombudsman vs. Gartner

When the Ombuds comes after you, you know you're in trouble. Unless you're Michael Gartner, who says he's no more legally responsible for listening to the Ombuds' complaints and requests for information than if the Ombuds was a member of the Iowa faculty. See Erin Jordan's and Brian Morelli's stories from this morning, linked below. And see, More on E-mail as Open Meetings, below.

Gilchrist vs. Fethke

Looks like the quality of our "interim" governance is going to be evaluated in court. See a copy of the complaint (in "References"), Mike McWilliams' story and Maria Houser Conzemius' blog entry, all this morning, all linked below.

Vilsack Says "Pay More"

Presidential candidate Tom "Stay the Course, Regents" Vilsack's helpful suggestion of the day is that Governor-Elect Culver and the Regents find the money to pay the UI president a bigger salary. You know, if they'd all thought of that a couple years ago -- when it just involved the differential between 3% and 5% of $300,000, this whole mess might well have been avoided. Tom Beaumont's story in this morning's Register is linked below.

Relevant in this connection is a piece I wrote earlier, Nicholas Johnson, "Pricey Presidents Added Cost," The Daily Iowan, March 7, 2006, in which I quote David Skorton as saying $300,000 is "very generous," and I note the downside of attracting outsiders who are primarily in it for the money and look to Iowa as a springboard to even more.

Press-Citizen's Timeline"

Having a hard time keeping the dates straight? The string of chaos becoming a black blur? Now there's a timeline, linked from "References," below.

More on E-mail as Open Meetings

I take a somewhat different approach to the "e-mail as open meetings" issues than do those quoted in this morning's stories. Bottom line: I think much more is involved here than "simply" a violation of "the spirit of the law" -- though that alone ought to be enough to concern a public official such as a Regent. I think the letter of the law has been violated as well.

I'll set out as briefly as I can what I think is, and is not, involved.

1. We're talking about subject matter exchanges that, were they conducted in a face-to-face meeting among a quorum of the Regents (5 or more of the 9 members) would definitely need to comply with the Iowa open meetings law. That is to say, although the act contains exceptions for which a meeting might be closed, the subject matter of these exchanges (i.e., various aspects of the search process and composition of the committee) would not fall within any of those exceptions.

2. The act provides that, in general, interpretations, close questions and ambiguities are to be resolved in favor of openness.

3. The act expressly recognizes the possibility of electronic meetings to which the open meetings law would apply. Initially (before the widespread use of computers and the Internet), this contemplated meetings by telephone conference call -- such as that held by the Regents on November 17. But one can imagine a variety of scenarios in which computers could be used to exchange text in ways that clearly would be covered by the act.

Imagine that 5 or more Regents, separated from each other geographically, are simultaneously sitting with their desktops and laptops, sending and receiving electronic messages regarding matters clearly related to the official business of the Regents. The names for such exchanges include: email, instant messaging, text messaging, computer conferencing, list-serves, bulletin board systems, blog comments, chat rooms, and so forth. Any technological distinctions between these methods, and the software they require, are legally irrelevant for open meetings purposes, it seems to me.

The relevant facts are that (a) a quorum is present, (b) official business is being discussed, (c) involving subjects for which the act provides no exception authorizing a closed meeting, and (d) that those participating (whether reading, writing, or both) are simultaneously involved.

Thus, open meetings requirements would apply to such a session, either because (a) it is expressly covered by the statutory language regarding electronic meetings (which I believe to be the case), or (b) because, while not expressly covered, such a meeting is the "functional equivalent" of a telephone conference call.

4. Thus, the legal issue, it seems to me, is whether a court might find that (a) a deliberately devious, (b) repeated, standard practice, (c) of e-mail exchanges among Regents, (d) regarding official, decisional matters that, if discussed face-to-face (or by phone or computer in simultaneous exchanges) would have to comply with the open meetings law, (e) can successfully evade the requirements of that law if the electronic, computer exchanges are spread out over time.

Or, would the Iowa courts be more likely to find that this evasive behavior creates the "functional equivalent" of a "meeting" and thus violates the Iowa open meetings law unless it complies with its requirements?

5. Note what I am not saying.

(1) (a) Regent Gartner points to the necessity of phone and computer meetings because the Regents have only 8 scheduled meetings a year. I agree. Iowa may not be big enough to require private planes in order to go one-third of the way across the state. But, hey, this is the Information Age, folks. We can now hold meetings to exchange text (Internet), voice (telephone), or video (ICN) without the need to move bodies around anymore, however short the trip.
(b) I have written before that the Regents might treat urgent matters differently from routine. A failed presidential search I consider an urgent matter. ("UI Held Hostage: Day 50.") This is a time when the Regents ought to make an exception to their 8 meetings a year restriction.
(c) Note that I am not talking about email exchanges that do not involve official business (e.g., to one Regent, "Joe, can we make lunch Wednesday instead of Tuesday?" or to all, "I have an extra ticket to the ball game. Whoever asks first gets it.") Nor am I even talking about a clear violation of the law by one Regent to, say, four others, that only occurred once, a year ago, and was a relatively innocent oversight rather than a deliberate evasion. I am talking about a pattern of behavior that is seemingly designed to skirt just inside the law but is in fact a violation.
(d) My only point is that, when the Regents transact business via e-mail they should comply with the requirements of the open meetings law. This should not be a false choice between "we have to use email" and "you must never use email." Use it. But comply with the law.

(2) I should also note that I have written in a law review, and the Des Moines Register, that those covered by the open meetings law ought to have more freedom, rather than less, to discuss (by whatever means) matters that (a) bear some relationship to their responsibilities, but (b) do not involve decisions or action, pre-decisional discussion, or the creation of agendas for future meetings.

For example, a quorum ought to be able to attend a conference together. A member ought to be able to email colleagues, "Hey, you guys really ought to read this article." So in no sense do I support efforts to limit the improved collegial exchanges that today's technology makes possible.

Commentary - Jan. 6: Shift in Time Saves Nine; SUI the "Secrecy University of Iowa"; Ombuds: "I Can't Get No Respect!"; Search Sequel Still Same Sinister Story

A Shift in Time Saves Nine

There was a time when I thought I'd become a hospital administrator. I was playing high school football and folks were only half way joking when they said my parents couldn't afford to feed me at home. For whatever reason, I worked the cash register, and the food line, at the University Hospital Employees' Cafeteria -- and ate very well. A couple of my co-workers on the line were college students studying to become hospital administrators, and I found the idea quite appealing at the time. But when I came to the fork in the road, unlike Robert Frost, I took the road more traveled by, went off to law school, and for me, like Frost, "that has made all the difference."

More recently, I served as co-director of the University's Institute for Health, Behavior and Environmental Policy with the late, beloved, third-ranked U.S. jazz tuba player, Dr. Richard Remington.

But you' now know the full extent of my credentials for evaluating the earth tremors that suggest something is going to happen at the UIHC two days from now. In short, I haven't a clue as to what I'm talking about. With Will Rogers I say, "All I know is what I read in the papers."

And what I read starts with the headlines. Brian Morelli's story, linked below, is headlined, "UI May Name New VP." That, I suspect, is what those behind this reshuffle would like the headline to be. But on this occasion, I think the headline over Diane Heldt's story, also linked below, may come closer to revealing what's going on: "New Position Predicted for Carver Dean."

Dr. Jean Robillard is now dean of what used to be the University of Iowa College of Medicine and is now the "Carver College of Medicine." Although both the College of Medicine and the University Hospital contain doctors, in fact often the same doctors, they are organizationally two separate institutions.

Given the subject matter of the stories what's remarkable is their failure to say much about the hospital. The University has a hospital. In fact, it's sometimes described as "the nation's largest hospital-owned university." When I was born there it was called, simply, "the University Hospital." Today it's called "UIHC." "UIHC" is, however, very difficult to pronounce. Were there better coordination within the University the UIHC could have taken the name "Optiva," rather than letting the credit union run off with it. I always did think "Optiva" sounded more medical than financial anyway. ("Don't forget to take your optiva, Honey.") (Perhaps it could be tied in with our Ophthalmology Department's consistent number-one-in-the-nation ranking. "Optiva: The place for you and eyes.") That way the credit union wouldn't be turning away patients, and the hospital wouldn't be turning away loan applicants.

But I digress.

Largely ignored in today's stories is the fact that the University Hospital also has an administrative head who holds the position I was aspiring to in my youth. That's Donna Katen-Bahensky, and she holds the title now called "Director and CEO" of this $724 million operation.

The unnamed sources that say there is to be a new UI vice president also say that (a) it is to be Dean Robillard, and that (b) he will continue to function as dean of the College of Medicine.

Now I've already said I don't know what's going on, so if all of this is really important to you it's best you find another source. But this doesn't sound to me like a "new VP."

According to Ms. Heldt, the "new VP" will "oversee inpatient and ambulatory care, with the goal of better coordinating inpatient and outpatient services and a focus on patient satisfaction. It’s aimed at making the delivery of care more efficient and productive so UI clinics can better compete." (Presumably that last means "compete with the Mayo Clinic" rather than "compete with each other," but what do I know?)

I'm sorry, but aren't those the responsibilities of the "Director and CEO" of the hospital, any hospital?

It looks to me like we don't have a "new VP," we have simply shifted responsibilities that would normally reside with the hospital's CEO to the Dean of the College of Medicine.

For any one of a very long list of possible reasons, this may make sense. But "appointing a new VP" doesn't seem to me to be an apt description of what's happening.

Meanwhile, will this "shift in time save nine" Regents? Regent Gartner is rumored to have aborted the entire search process because he wanted a favorite candidate of his own who, in his judgment, had more experience with hospital administration -- or at least experience sitting on the board of a multi-billion-dollar health insurance company, which some Regents seem to believe is much the same thing. Governor Vilsack suggested that perhaps a "new VP" for health sciences could help move the presidential search along. (Where this idea came from I don't know; it's always possible it really did begin with the Governor.)

Is this what Gartner had in mind? That the medical school dean should have oversight of the hospital? "Is that all there is?" Or is there more behind all of this -- or less? Hidden agendas, conflicts of interest, or others of the speculative possibilities to which secrecy gives birth? Who knows? Will we know after Monday? I doubt it.

SUI: Secrecy University of Iowa

And speaking of secrecy, once again we turn to "Patton's Pad" for wit as sharp as his pen. Linked below ("The People's Business is None of Their Business") is the site where you can see today's editorial cartoon in full size -- as well as the all-purpose archive linked from "References." "None of your business," Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is telling voters, taxpayers and "John Q. Public," who had inquired of CIETC and the Regents what they had met about.

Why Miller? Because his office offered the legal advice that John Colloton's emails were not public records because he wasn't paid by the State -- even though he holds an emeritus title, occupies a very nice office, has a highly paid personal secretary, and access to university computers and phone, among other things paid for by the State. Now the Press-Citizen has requested documents produced by his secretary -- who is paid. The University, consistent with its comfort with secrecy, refuses to make her documents available either. See Brian Morelli's story this morning, linked below, "UI Refuses Records Request."

Downer to Regents: Respect Your Ombuds

Yesterday we commented about the story of the Iowa Ombudsman requesting the Regents explain their closed meetings during 2006, and asking what their plans were in that regard for the new search. Regents Gartner and Wahlert responded, in effect, "You're not the boss of me," and hung up the phone faster than if he was a telemarketer. This morning Erin Jordan and Diane Heldt are reporting that Regent Downer thinks that's a little hasty, that the Ombuds is entitled to a little more respect, and that some of his questions actually make sense and should be addressed. Their stories are linked, below.

Gazette Finds Sinister Sequel

The Gazette has one of its most forceful editorials ever on open meetings/public records questions this morning under the heading, "Same Sinister Plot in UI Search Sequel," linked below. It says, in part, "there was a glimmer of hope that the new search rising from the ashes would steer clear of the prats and pitfalls that undermined the process. . . . Well, so much for hope. The fatal flaw — the Regents President Michael Gartner’s penchant to conduct the public’s business in private — is very much a part of the new search, based upon regent e-mail messages obtained by The Gazette earlier this week. The board is continuing to essentially meet in secret to discuss the search versus affording the public an open discussion and full explanation of the process."

Kay Thistlethwaite Speaks for All

Kay Thistlethwaite's op ed this morning ("UI presidential search: A rare educational experience," linked below) nicely conveys the emotional side of this disaster. Sure, there are issues of law (open meetings and public records; the legal responsibilities of the Regents and the process for their removal), of management and governance (the 85-year-old "shared governance" model of most universities, including ours until last year), civility and collegiality, financial costs and the wisdom of using search firms, and so forth.

But there are also our feelings, feelings of sorrow and sadness that this could have come to pass. The concerns we feel that the Regents' behavior may make it difficult for the second search to come up with candidates remotely close to the quality of those found in the first search, or that the damage to Iowa's national and international reputation may take years to repair.

Those are the kinds of issues Ms. Thistlethwaite writes about. Here's a sample:

"University of Iowa's President David Skorton's leaving the university, and the tornado that struck Iowa City, were two of the most important local news stories of 2006. The first search to replace Skorton was such a disaster that it may take a lot longer to recover from than the tornado. . . .

"[Dean David Johnsen] will need all the help he can get to find a new president for the university and to begin to repair the damage done by the Iowa state Board of Regents. It will be a hard sell. . . .

"I shouldn't care about the search. But I do. . . .

"During the incompetent, ugly presidential search, my feelings ranged from incredulity, to anger, to hurt, typical of what many people still are feeling. . . .

"It may be the feeling of incredulity that bothers me most. I felt the same way about the search as I feel about the Iraq War. How could the Iowa regents, leaders in our state's education, not foresee the dangerous consequences of their actions?"

These are the concerns that, for many of us, float like a black cloud over the questions of law, economics, management and academics raised by the Regents' actions.

Commentary - Jan. 7: UI Held Hostage: Day 52; Presidential Search Committee to Interview Candidates Wednesday -- In Indiana

"Oprah didn't call again today." It's now been 52 days since the Regents botched the search for a UI president and then shifted into a casual neutral and stood still: "UI Held Hostage: Day 52."

There are rumors of a secret Regents plan to hold a meeting this week, but (a) it is yet to be announced, and (b) will probably focus on the proposed cheap way of creating "a new VP for health sciences": don't hire anyone new, just transfer some hospital administrative responsibilities to the dean of the College of Medicine. That's tomorrow's big news.

Meanwhile, presidential candidates are being interviewed -- but, unfortunately, in Indiana, where "IU" doesn't stand for "Iowa University." (Indiana University Media Relations, "IU Presidential Search Committee to Meet," January 4, 2006.)

Nor is Indiana University the only university out beating the bushes, looking for new presidents. A few miles to the east, Ohio State University has its own search underway. (See, Kathy Lynn Gray, "Wish list in works for next OSU chief; Attendance light at first public forum," The Columbus Dispatch, January 5, 2006.)

But wait, there's more.

Buried within that Columbus Dispatch story is the following: "Executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles is handling the hunt, including identifying and wooing candidates. . . . The contract states that all efforts will be made to complete the search within three months . . .."

Recognize that name? Heidrick & Struggles is the search firm that's supposed to be helping us with our search!

And three months? Here in Iowa we're talking about maybe "next summer" -- if Iowa's summer heat and humidity doesn't contribute to even more lethargy.

Of course, there are a great many more universities and colleges in this country besides UI, IU and OSU. But they are illustrative of one of our problems.

It's not just that the wound the Regents have inflicted on the University of Iowa just festers and becomes more serious, day by day, as the academic world watches and wonders at our governor's, and Iowa's, casual approach to our floundering Regents.

That's bad enough.

But a very specific and practical consequence -- in addition to our flying a very large red flag from the top of Old Capitol that tends to frighten away potential candidates -- is that other universities are busily hiring away those we and our search firm found last year and then rejected.

In our Regents' willingness to "let the great become the enemy of the good," the odds are high that this second search, no matter how well done (and whether that will be possible remains to be seen), may well end up with neither great nor good.

Media Stories and Commentary

Audrey Williams June, "A Failed Presidential Search Divides the U. of Iowa," The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 5, 2007

Des Moines Register

Erin Jordan, "Regents reach consensus by e-mail; Writer of open meetings law questions practice; Gartner defends it," Des Moines Register, January 5, 2007 (includes Readers' Comments)

Erin Jordan, "Ombudsman Wants Details About Search," Des Moines Register, January 5, 2007

Thomas Beaumont, "Regents should pay president of U of I more, Vilsack says," Des Moines Register, January 4, 2007

Erin Jordan, "'Voice' of critics at U of I fuels feud with regents; Sheldon Kurtz is a respected law teacher, but opinions of his role in campus politics vary," Des Moines Register, January 2, 2006

J. Robert Hopson, "Why file open-meeting lawsuit?" Des Moines Register, January 2, 2007

The Gazette

Editorial, "Same Sinister Plot in UI Search Sequel," The Gazette, January 6, 2007

Diane Heldt, "New Position Predicted for Carver Dean; Shift Seen as Part of Reorganization," The Gazette, January 6, 2007

Diane Heldt, "Downer: Regents Should Consider Ombudsman's Points on UI Search," The Gazette, January 6, 2007

Zack Kucharski, "Former UI Lab Director Files Suit to Regain Post," The Gazette, January 6, 2007

Diane Heldt, "Regents Weighed In on UI Campus Interviews in E-Mail," The Gazette, January 5, 2007

Mike Deupree, "Predictions issued, but no confidence in them," The Gazette, January 2, 2006

Iowa City Press-Citizen

Brian Morelli, "UI May Name New VP Monday," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 6, 2006

Brian Morelli, "UI Denies Records Request," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 6, 2006

Bob Patton, "The People's Business is None of Their Business," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 6, 2006

Kay Thistlethwaite, "UI Presidential Search: A Rare Educational Experience," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 6, 2006

Steve Theimer, "Lab is More Than Just a Bulding," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 6, 2006

Mike McWilliams, "Gilchrist sues Fethke, Hay; Ex-Hygienic Lab director wants job back," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 5, 2007

Brian Morelli, "Ombudsman requests details of UI search," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 5, 2006

Editorial, "Allow Records to Stand to Public Scrutiny," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 3, 2006

Drew Oetting, "Report, Don't Make the News," Iowa City Press-Citizen, January 3, 2006

Additional and Older

Michael Gartner, "A Life With No Left Turns," USA Today, June 15, 2006

Des Moines Register Readers' Comments (Re: Erin Jordan, "U of I Finalist Withdraws from Presidential Search"), Des Moines Register Online, December 7, 2006


Open Country (Maria Houser Conzemius), "Bravo, Mary Gilchrist," January 5, 2006

Open Country (Maria Houser Conzemius), "Putting the Fox in Charge of the Chicken Coop," December 30, 2006

State29, "Tom Vilsack: The Education President," January 4, 2006


Bob Patton, "'Patton's Pad' Archives"

Iowa City Press-Citizen, "Timeline of UI Presidential Search," January 5, 2006

Patrick E. Ingram, Complaint, Gilchrist v. Fethke, Johson County Distict Court, January 4, 2006

"Text of Ombudsman's Letter to Gartner," December 29, 2006

Des Moines Register, "Portions of Regents' E-mail Discussion on Search Committee," December 11-18, 2006

The Gazette, "Full Text of E-Mails Between Regents," December 12-18, 2006


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Anonymous said...

People keep saying that the UI should be run like a business and that it is paid for by the taxpayers (which is not close to being true). In many respects it is a business with state appropriations amounting to $296.4 million of revenues (13.5%) out of total revenues of $2,191.3 million. In other word we have business where minority stockholders demand that they run the whole show.

The largest sources of revenue are $622.8 million from UIHC sales & services and $365.3 million in gifts (about $100 million), grants and contracts. A substantial fraction of the gifts, grants and contract income is associated with UIHC so that UIHC related revenues amount to about $1 billion per year.

One of the reasons we are so irritable about the current foul up is that we do not think Gov. Vilsack and Regent Gartner are competent to run an enterprise of this size and complexity.

Anonymous said...

I urge you all to inspect the e-mail exchange carefully.

Gartner's summary of the e-mail exchange demonstrates his ongoing manipulation:

(1) We don't have all the responses -- no one does. He could be making up the tallies and NO ONE (not even other regents) would know!

(2) He treats lack of responses differentially -- sometimes asserting they are not necessarily a "vote against" a point, yet on other points, he suggests they might be a vote in favor of a particular point. He does it this according to his OBVIOUS own agenda.

(3) The UI Student Body should demand that Jenny Connolly resign. She did not even bother to respond in a timely manner when a very critical student interest is at stake -- committee representation.

(4) Related, I find it amusing that "two regents, perhaps three [again, what is this "perhaps"? -- either Gartner has a response or not!] believe there should be no student on the committee because Jenny is a strong advocate for any student view..." PLEASE -- SHE DID NOT EVEN BOTHER TO RESPOND IN TIME TO WEIGH IN ON THIS! Do the other Regents know she didn't bother to respond in time? Of course not, because he is only partially reporting. Would they think she is such a great student advocate if they knew of this egregious failure?

Again, I find this an incredibly disturbing example of how Gartner continues to manipulate the search toward meeting his own interests. The Regents need to quit allowing Gartner to manipulate the rest of them and us. They need to sit down in a face-to-face setting to see what they all really think and quit allowing Gartner to manipulate the collective opinion like this.

One doesn't need a PhD to see what is going on here -- only a careful read of this subset of e-mails and the manipulation becomes unbelievably obvious.