Tuesday, February 06, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 381 - Feb. 6

Feb. 6, 12:10 p.m.

Never did get back to commentary yesterday. Sorry. It's amazing how often blogging can be interrupted by "life" and "work" some days.

So I'll have at it this morning.

Yesterday's items were:

Terry McCoy, "Undergrad on search panel unlikely," The Daily Iowan, February 5, 2007

"Ups and Downs; Here's the Balance Sheet on School Infrastructure Sales Taxes," The Gazette, February 5, 2007

Nothing wrong with UI/Lottery TV commercials," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 5, 2007

I then said of them: "This morning's papers bring more insight to the exclusion of undergraduates from the UI Presidential Search Committee II that would be truly hilarious if it were not so sad and serious (Daily Iowan), The Gazette's "pro and con" on the SILO 20% sales tax hike adds little to this blog's discussion yesterday (especially with its weak "pros") but is a useful summary anyway, and a bizarre editorial in the usually analytically sound editorial page of the Press-Citizen about gambling and intercollegiate athletics at Iowa. They're all linked below." Here goes:

1. Excluding Undergraduates From Search Committee II. So what was the "so sad and serious" item that would otherwise have been hilarious? An anonymous comment from "tdhcheri" following yesterday's blog entry captured it without any assistance from me: "Linda Maxon's comment as reported by Terry McCoy in the DI of February 5 is one the most amusing things I've read in the 21st Century. Imagine. A liberal arts dean consorting with undergraduates. Talk about earning your money."

The opening five grafs in McCoy's story read:

"The lone voice on the second UI presidential-search committee calling for undergraduate representation on the panel belonged to its only student.

"'Certainly, it would be better for there to be a graduate and undergraduate on the list,' Sarah Vigmostad, a UI graduate student, said on Feb. 2. 'They each have unique concerns.'

"But just as quickly as she decried the exclusion of undergraduate representation and the committee's general lack of contact with that group of students, other panel officials explained their opposition to her request.

"Committee member Linda Maxson, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said she frequently associates with undergraduates, and roughly half of the panel members raised their hands to demonstrate that they, too, interact with them.

"Panel head David Johnsen said he is not against adding an undergraduate student, but the state Board of Regents has the final say. The regents had set a maximum of 12 committee members before the panel was assembled, but they allowed 13 to sit, he noted."

What's wrong with this picture? As Elizabeth Barrett Browning might have answered that question, "Let me count the ways."

(1) Of all the stakeholder groups in the UI community undergraduates are, in number, second only to alumni. They are multiples of the faculty. Multiples of the staff. Many multiples of the deans and other administrators. As I've earlier noted in passing, in a lengthy discussion of this issue ("Search Committee: No Undergrads, Few Applicants, Lots of Confidentiality/Undergraduate representation" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 279 - Feb. 4," February 4, 2007), the Constitution provided that even slaves were to be counted in the census as 3/5ths of a person each. By what rationale can undergraduates be stiff-armed by the Regents-Search Committee II to the point of being excluded entirely, thereby relegating them, in the academic caste system, to something well below the dignity accorded slaves in 1789?

(2) It makes such a poignant picture: the sole voice on the Committee for undergraduate representation is a lone graduate student, aligned against every single "adult"! Do we have to start singing "when will they ever learn" again?

(3) And what is one to make of the defensive assertions from the "adults" that the Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean "frequently associates with undergraduates, and roughly half of the panel members raised their hands to demonstrate that they, too, interact with them." Isn't that too close to a reminiscence of "Some of my best friends are . . ." or "We're not prejudiced, we've just never had a qualified one apply" to actually be uttered in public in 2007? The anonymous tdhcheri got it right in that comment, quoted above.

(4) And then there's McCoy's report of Committee Chair Johnsen's explanation: "he is not against adding an undergraduate student, but the state Board of Regents has the final say. The regents had set a maximum of 12 committee members before the panel was assembled, but they allowed 13 to sit." (a) "He is not against adding an undergraduate student"? It seems to me this is one of those binary decisions. If he's done nothing to add one, votes not to do so, and goes along with the other adults in opposing the suggestion of the sole graduate student I'd say that qualifies as being "against adding an undergraduate." (b) "The state Board of Regents has the final say"? Is he suggesting that he asked the Regents if he could add an undergraduate and Michael Gartner said (or the entire Board voted), "No"? If not, what does that mean? (c) "The regents had set a maximum of 12 . . . but they allowed 13 to sit." "Allowed" suggests that Dean Johnsen did go to the Regents for "permission" to go to 13 (for a graduate student); something he was unprepared to do for an undergraduate representative (but that, based on the increase to 13, might have been approved had he asked). (d) Does this suggest that the Regents are even more open to student representation than Search Committee II and its chair? That is, did the Committee accept the Regents' "committee of 12" standard and fill the slots with other than students because their initial instinct, or preference, was to exclude all students, graduate and undergraduate?

I'm not going to prolong this analysis. I just think the treatment of undergraduates in this process is very unseemly for an institution that represents that it offers a four-year undergraduate education -- albeit one that takes six years -- in exchange for an ever-increasing tuition it is as pleased to accept from the one-third who never graduate as from the two-thirds who do.

2. SILO Pro's and Con's. The Gazette has made its skepticism about the 20% sales tax increase pretty clear (
Editorial, "School Sales Tax Too Long," The Gazette, February 4, 2007). But it also recognizes its journalistic obligation to present a range of views. In this spirit it put a summary of pro's and con's on its front page ("Ups and Downs; Here's the Balance Sheet on School Infrastructure Sales Taxes," The Gazette, February 5, 2007). But the paper's not willing to make up stuff, so here was its best effort at finding something good to say about this tax hike:

•• Local-option sales taxes, especially in retail-rich counties like Linn and Johnson, bring in revenue from people living outside the trade center.

•• That ‘‘pull factor’’ in the Iowa City/ Coralville metro area is 3.1 — meaning for every sales tax dollar generated by city residents, an additional $2.10 is collected from non-residents.

•• The Cedar Rapids/Marion metro area pull factor is 1.97. For every dollar paid by city residents, another 97 cents comes from people outside the cities.

•• The sales tax is a lucrative and predictable tax, allowing schools to budget accordingly. It is easy to administer and costs little to collect.

•• The more affluent pay more in sales tax annually, making it somewhat progressive.

•• Sales tax is not collected on groceries or medicine, which represent major expenses for people on fixed incomes. It is collected on retail items, like clothing and furniture, where some buyer discretion is possible.

(a) The first three deal with "pull." This is another word for "greed." Soak the neighbors. "I've got mine, Jack." The reason Johnson and Linn counties have a positive "pull factor" is that residents of neighboring counties must come there to shop in major malls. SILO will enable us to tax them with the 20% sales tax increase, so that they can help pay for our schools while their schools go without. Now that's a revenue system to be proud of!

(b) No one questions that the 20% increase is "lucrative." Darn right. The questions, put by The Gazette's editorial, and by others, are whether the plans for spending that lucrative windfall have been well thought out, and whether alternative approaches to education (producing better results at less cost) have been explored and tried.

(c) "Somewhat progressive"? I don't think so. In the context of taxing schemes that's an odd use of the word "progressive." Of course, the more income you earn the more income tax you pay. (Actually, this is not always true because of the deductions available to the rich that are irrelevant for the poor.) The more expensive your house the greater the property tax you'll pay. The more you spend on things that are subject to the sales tax the more sales tax you'll pay. But these increases in the amount of tax are not "progressive," they're linear. "Progressive" in the context of taxation refers to the percentage (not the total amount) of your income that goes to the tax in question.

And the reason a 20% increase in the sales tax is called "regressive" rather than "progressive" is that the poorer you are the larger a percentage bite this 20% hike will take out of your total income; the richer you are the smaller will be the impact -- in terms of the additional percentage of your total income that will go to sales taxes. This is because the poor must spend a larger overall percentage of their total income on things subject to sales tax.

(d) It's great in this connection that "sales tax is not collected on groceries or medicine" but that scarcely does away with the regressive impact of shifting what would otherwise be property taxes charged businesses and home owners onto the sales taxes that fall disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor.

(There's a letter to the editor this morning that I've linked below regarding the tax vote:
Ron Moore, "Look at all options before making a decision on tax," The Gazette, February 6, 2007. Mr. Moore is a former school board member and president. It's not totally clear whether he's advocating a vote for the tax (because the innovations he's advocating are on the brink of being adopted, but will require additional money to do), or against (because school board members and administrators don't show a lot of interest in such innovations). But it's worth a read in any event.)

3. The analytically bizarre editorial about athletics and gambling. I understand that the 11th Commandment of Journalism is "thou shalt not speak critically of professional or intercollegiate athletics." And I know that the Press-Citizen has done a great job of encouraging attendance in general, and of students in particular, at the Riverside Gambling Casino. So I'm not re-plowing that ground. But even accepting those positions, I just didn't think that the content of Monday's editorial supported its conclusion ("Nothing wrong with UI/Lottery TV commercials," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 5, 2007).

(a) It begins by noting that "the University of Iowa Presidential Committee on Athletics plans to discuss the university's involvement with the Iowa Lottery" at a meeting that will be occurring "at the same time that Sen. Chuck Grassley is urging Congress to re-evaluate whether quid pro quo donations to university athletic departments should be considered tax deductible." So far so good, except for the lack of any relationship. The former has to do with the propriety of partnerships between intercollegiate athletic programs and the gambling industry -- whether the Hawkeyes' partnership with the Riverside Gambling Casino or the Iowa Lottery. The latter has to do with the propriety of the tax code treating as a "charitable" contribution to "education" the payments to the football program that fans must make in order to qualify for the privilege of then buying tickets.

(b) It twice seems to suggest that a significant reason why this University partnership with gambling is perfectly acceptable is that it has been going on for some time: "Although UI has a longstanding relationship with the Iowa Lottery . . ." and "the partnership between UI and the Lottery is hardly new." I don't think this is a very persuasive argument. Nor did the Press-Citizen itself when it editorialized about John Colloton:
Editorial, "Celebrate the Colloton era, but don't return to it," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 2, 2007. "Colloton thrived in a very different period than our own," the editorial began. It concluded, "in the 21st century, we immediately become suspicious of anyone acting with such profound conflicts of interest or such monopolistic results. Someone -- including us -- should have said something long ago about the inappropriateness of such dual positions. Everyone -- including us -- should be doing everything possible to ensure that such conflicts are a thing of the past. We celebrate the Colloton era, but it's not a time we want to return to."

Why is it that the Athletic Department's partnerships with the gambling industry are perfectly acceptable because they've been going on so long, but what is alleged to be Colloton's "conflict of interest" is unacceptable notwithstanding the fact it went on for so long?

(c) There's what appears to be an unbecoming effort to ridicule those who question these practices: "Some fans and university alumni are shocked that UI would allow the Iowa Lottery to use treasured icons of UI sports." In the context of an editorial trivializing the problem this use of "shocked" seems (at least to me) an effort to suggest that "shock" (or, indeed, any objection at all) is simply unsupportable.

(d) And there's a more serious conflating of two arguments in the line, "Those critical of the Lottery as an institution obviously have their own concerns about the relationship." (1) Admittedly, those opposed to all gambling are presumably opposed to Bingo in church basements, the Riverside Casino and the Iowa Lottery -- and therefore also opposed to any partnership between the University and the gambling industry. (2) But the issue before the "Presidential Committee on Athletics," and the subject of the editorial, is the propriety -- not of gambling in general or the Iowa Lottery in particular -- it is the propriety of partnerships between the University's athletics program and the Iowa Lottery (which, when I was clerking on the federal courts, was prosecuted as "the numbers racket" run by the Mafia).

(e) Then there's the argument that this is nothing more than "two state institutions working together for each others' benefit," and presumably whenever that occurs it's OK, regardless of what those two institutions are. No one questions that both the University and the Iowa Lottery are two "state institutions" -- though I would hope they would not be considered to be equivalents as the Press-"Citizen's phrasing seems to suggest. Clearly the partnership benefits the Lottery. Clearly it brings money to the athletic program. The question is not whether money is a "benefit," the question is whether that benefit outweighs the costs in image and bad publicity. Is the implicit message, that gambling is an alternative to education as a road to riches, consistent with the University's mission and self-image? With the NCAA's concerns about (indeed, prohibition of) sports betting by college players and coaches? Or is it like the monopoly given to Coca Cola for soft drinks on campus: as long as it makes money, who cares what the impact may be on students' health and values?

(f) The only real argument for the position advanced by the editorial is little more than an ipsa dixit: "there is nothing unseemly about" partnerships between intercollegiate athletic programs and the gambling industry. No effort to offer an argument as to why there's "nothing unseemly" about it. Just the straight out declaration, like a child responding to "Why?" with "Just because." Because the Press-Citizen says so, academics, athletics and gambling do mix.

Oh, now I see.

(But the Press-Citizen, as always, is entitled to a lot of credit for honorably presenting a range of views on the issues it addresses -- and not only printing, but seemingly welcoming, letters and columns that differ from its editorial positions. I've linked to one from yesterday that seems to share my perspective that the paper ran alongside its editorial:
Tucker Kline, "Don't gamble with the UI image," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 5, 2007.)

# # #

[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. (As of January 25 the count has run from January 21, 2006, rather than last November.) For any given entry, links to the prior 10 will be found in the left-most column. Going directly to FromDC2Iowa.Blogspot.com 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 is also available. And note that if you know (or can guess at) a word to search on, the "Blogger" bar near the top of your browser has a blank, followed by "SEARCH THIS BLOG," that enables you to search all entries in this Blog since June 2006.]

# # #

Media Stories and Commentary

Ron Moore, "Look at all options before making a decision on tax," The Gazette, February 6, 2007

Nile J. Williamson, "Colloton's actions were appropriate," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 6, 2007

Tucker Kline, "Don't gamble with the UI image," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 5, 2007


State29, "I'm Shocked SHOCKED To Find That Estimates Were Too Low For The New Polk County Jail," February 5, 2007


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