Sunday, February 11, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 386 - Feb. 11

Feb. 11, 10:15 p.m.

Lots of commentary below

SILO. The Daily Iowan, The Gazette and the Press-Citizen all contained an anti-SILO op ed column in their Friday, February 10 editions, that contained a misattribution of a quote to me that, in fact, I had never written or uttered. The Saturday editions kindly contained corrections and a letter to the editor from me that makes reference to comments of mine in this blog regarding the proposed 20% hike in sales tax called SILO. If you've come here looking for those comments, prior to the vote Tuesday, February 13, click here for a direct link to them.

(The full record -- the original columns with the inadvertent but mistaken attribution of a quote to me, the correction letter from the author, and my letters to the Press-Citizen and Gazette -- is contained in "Nicholas Johnson's 'Gazette Editorial,'" linked below. I've requested that a comparable letter run in the Daily Iowan tomorrow, February 12.)

There have been a larger than usual number of stories and editorials during the past three days regarding the range of subjects dealt with in these blog entries. All I could do yesterday, Saturday, was provide links to them. So today I've reproduced those links here, along with a couple more from today, in order that the following commentary can link to stories available within this blog entry.

Open Meetings, Public Records and E-mail

The so-called "Sunshine Laws" -- that public bodies should meet in public and make their documents available to media and interested members of the public -- have come up in a variety of contexts in recent stories -- and blog entries here.

I've taken more than a casual interest in these matters, not only because of their relationship to the welfare of the University of Iowa, but because these were among the issues I dealt with in my very first teaching and research assignment as an early '60s new professor at the University of California Berkeley Law School, specializing in administrative law; my work in Washington, D.C., as a lawyer at Covington & Burling, U.S. Maritime Administrator and FCC Commissioner; subsequently as a member of the ICCSD School Board; and now my research and law review writing at the UI College of Law.

There was the Regents proclivity for violating these laws -- some believed literally, and virtually all thought in terms of the spirit behind the laws. They would hold closed meetings during which some believed matters were being discussed that were not legally appropriate outside of an open meeting. They would go into closed session and not come out for a week. They would engage in e-mail polling and discussions that should have been open to the media, leaving little for the subsequent telephone conference "meeting" but a vote.

(Not incidentally, Erin Jordan's Feb. 10 story, linked below, reports the latest Iowa Poll indicates Michael Gartner and his Board of Regents is about as popular throughout the 99 counties of Iowa as President George Bush is throughout the Arab world.)

There were the e-mails from John Colloton, copies of which somehow found their way to the Press-Citizen (which has yet to release them), raising legal questions as to whether they were, in fact, "public records" as documents (as the Iowa law expresses it) "of or belonging to" the University.

There were the near-year-long meetings of the ultimately aborted Search Committee I under virtually unprecedented, Regent-imposed conditions of confidentiality to the point of silliness.

There is now Search Committee II, until recently keeping confidential even the number of applications received (see Brian Morelli's story, Feb. 10, linked below), flirting with a willingness to abandon on-campus interviews, and almost begging applicants to request "confidentiality" for their names and applications -- because the Committee wants to meet in "executive session" to discuss them. (See Linda Alexander's Feb. 10 piece, linked below.) And see Diane Heldt's Feb. 10 story about Fethke's appearance.

Partly as a result of these controversies (see James Lynch's Feb. 10 story, linked below), the newly elected Iowa Legislature is taking an interest in some variety of reform of Iowa's open meetings and public records laws. My colleague, Professor Arthur Bonfield, has presented an opening report to the Legislature regarding its options. See stories by Lee Rood and Brian Morelli, and the Press-Citizen's editorial, all Feb. 9, linked below.

The big news in this department, from my perspective, is Michael Gartner's announcement that e-mails involving five or more Regents (the quorum, of nine Regents, that triggers open meetings requirements) will henceforth be made available to the media and public by posting on the Regents' Web page. See stories by Diane Heldt and Kathryn Fiegen, Feb. 10, linked below.

Some, such as the quoted Faculty Senate President Shelly Kurtz, think this doesn't go far enough. I think it is very much a step in the right direction for which Gartner is entitled to a good deal of credit and praise for his leadership on this issue.

Because I am as concerned about laws, regulations and anxieties that curtail the proper and constructive use of this extraordinarily useful mode of communication as I am the abuses in its use, I was also pleased to see Gartner emphasize the positives of e-mail in the course of coming up with this proposal and reform.

Free Speech for Public Health or Insubordination?

Mary Gilchrist was fired from her position as Director of the UI Hygienic Lab for . . . what? She's sued the Interim UI President and Vice President for Research, the trial is under way, and maybe we'll find out. Her contention has been that she was playing the role of whistle blower on behalf of the health of Iowans with regard to the needs of the state's public health programs in the proposed new building and otherwise in the aftermath of 9/11. Needless to say, Interim President Fethke takes a different view of the matter. His testimony is the subject of the stories now available. She is scheduled to testify tomorrow (Monday, Feb. 12) or later in the week. See stories by Kelsey Beltramea, Erin Jordan, Zack Kucharski, and Mike McWilliams, Feb. 9, all linked below.

UI Thumbs Nose At NCAA: Won't Get Out of Bed With Organized Gambling

From time to time I "confess error" in one of these blog entries. I've been quite prepared to do that, and I am again if I'm wrong about this one. But I have to say I'm really appauled at the way the UI Athletic Department's latest partnership with organized gambling has been handled by the Regents and UI administrators.

If you haven't been following the story, the Athletic Department first partnered with the Riverside Gambling Casino. Now it's in bed with the Iowa Lottery. Not a peep from any of the Regents. Not a word from the Interim UI President -- notwithstanding the toothless, so-called "Presidential Athletics Committee" taking a look at it, that caused a couple of faculty members to speak out. I wrote about it, and provided a copy of the offensive UI-Lottery commercial at Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 383 - Feb. 8," February 8, 2007. See the linked stories below from Feb. 9 by Ashton Shurson and Scott Dochterman (as well as Dochterman's Feb. 9 story regarding contributions to the UI Foundation for the athletic program).

OK, where to begin?

For starters, this is not about opposition to gambling as such. The issue invovles concerns about a university, and its Athletic Department, courting partnerships with the gambling industry. The issue involves a university's responsibility to set a good example for its students. The issue involves the inherent conflict in using gambling revenues to help support an athletic program that is supposed to be completely clean of any gambling by coaches and players.

Let's start with the NCAA rules. You can read them at THE NCAA's ADVERTISING AND PROMOTIONAL STANDARDS, October 17, 2005, Update No. 1 - November 2006. To me, they seem pretty unambiguous:

"The NCAA's advertising and promotional standards are designed to . . . exclude those advertisements and advertisers (and others who wish to associate with NCAA activities) that do not appear to be in the best interests of higher education and student-athletes. . . .

"The items below are intended to provide specific examples of topics and entities that . . . are not permitted to be associated with the NCAA or its events (marked below as . . . Impermissible . . .).

Marked as "Impermissible" are: "Organizations or companies primarily involved in gambling or gaming business activities (e.g., publications, Web sites, products, services). This includes horse/dog racing tracks, off-track betting and state-run lotteries."

Just what part of "impermissible" and "state-run lotteries" does the Athletic Department not understand?

Apparently, all of it.

Dochterman reports that, "Barta said the commercial doesn’t violate NCAA rules, although the NCAA recommends athletics departments steer clear of gambling and alcohol advertising."

Shurson reports a member of the Committee said at its meeting last Thursday, Feb. 8: "the NCAA doesn't have any requirements, but it does have guidelines discouraging affiliations with gambling."

So what is the UI's position, that anything goes, no matter how clearly the NCAA states that it is "impermissible," so long as it doesn't involve criminal penalties resulting in prison terms or heavy fines? Or is even that OK so long as you don't get caught?

"Doesn't violate NCAA rules"?! "The NCAA doesn't have any requirements"?!

The even sadder thing is that it shouldn't require NCAA rules. It ought to be obvious. It ought to be common sense. You don't mix gambling of any kind, let alone remunerative partnerships with the gambling industry, with an institution of higher education -- and certainly not with a program of intercollegiate athletics.

Is there anything that would cause the UI Interim President, or the Regents, to say, "OK, now you've gone too far?" I wonder.

As Tom Witosky's story today (Feb. 11) highlights, what the Athletic Department and the Iowa Lottery cooked up also happens to have brought on a threatened law suit over their violation of the copyright laws as a result of their parody of the Iowa fight song. But, by my standards, that's the least of their problem.

They really just don't get it. At least I read nothing in the papers' coverage that suggested to me Barta had the slighest interest in severing ties with organized gambling. His "apology" had to do with this particular commercial -- not the fact that his program was in bed with the gambling industry.

And how cheaply they're willing to sell their honor. The proceeds from this shameful travesy? $14,000.

Building Prisons for the Mentally Ill

Before I hear any more about how we need to build more prisons and jails, I want the speaker (or writer) to watch the CBS 60 Minutes segment from this evening (Feb. 11) done by Scott Pelley on the death of Timothy Souders (transcript linked below). Betty Grundberg hit on a related theme in a letter in the Des Moines Register Feb. 8, also linked below. One needn't even resolve the question of whether the abuse the mentally ill are suffering in our nation's prisons and jails comes as the result of deliberate abuse by prison personnel, or as the result of their lack of training and ignorance. The bottom line is that a civilized society simply cannot continue to build prisons, rather than mental hospitals staffed with appropriately trained professionals, for these "inmates."

# # #

[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 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.]

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Media Stories and Commentary

Tom Witosky, "Lawyer calls ad's parody of U of I fight song illegal; He says that composer Meredith Willson's widow did not OK the Iowa Lottery TV commercial," Des Moines Register, February 11, 2007

Scott Pelley On The Plight Of The Mentally Ill Behind Bars, "The Death Of Timothy Souders," CBS 60 Minutes, February 11, 2007

Kelsey Beltramea, "UI officials: Gilchrist often disobeyed orders," Daily Iowan, February 9, 2007

Ashton Shurson, "Lottery's Hawk ad still sparking ire," Daily Iowan, February 9, 2007

Erin Jordan, "Iowa Poll: Board of Regents receives weak grades," Des Moines Register, February 10, 2007

Erin Jordan, "U of I officials rebut claims of ex-lab head; It's the first time they've said why Mary Gilchrist was fired as director of the state's hygienic laboratory," Des Moines Register, February 9, 2007

Lee Rood, "Fix open records, meetings laws, lawmakers told," Des Moines Register, February 9, 2007

Betty Grundberg, "Raise prisons' standards for treating mentally ill," Des Moines Register, February 8, 2007

Erin Jordan, "Regents fret about rate of minority graduations; On a percentage basis, the numbers are far smaller than those for non-minorities at all three state schools," Des Moines Register, February 7, 2007

Linda Detroy Alexander, "Memo to UI search, regents: Openness counts," The Gazette, February 10, 2007

Diane Heldt, "E-mail available online; UI search questions prompt new process," The Gazette, February 10, 2007

Diane Heldt, "Interim UI president details job's demands," The Gazette, February 10, 2007

James Q. Lynch, "Open government complaints increasing," The Gazette, February 10, 2007

Scott Dochterman, "Barta: 'I'm sorry' for lottery ad; Panel member tells UI athletics director to sever relationship," The Gazette, February 9, 2007

Scott Dochterman, "Foundation collects record amount in athletics gifts," The Gazette, February 9, 2007

Zack Kucharski, "Gilchrist painted as obstinate; Witnesses: Fired UI lab director wouldn’t accept trimmed plan," The Gazette, February 9, 2007

Dave DeWitte, "Credit union members demand new vote regarding name change; Opponents claim first election was illegal," The Gazette, February 8, 2007

Kathryn Fiegen, "Regents change policy to put e-mails on Web; Gartner: Rule balances openness, need for e-mail," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 10, 2007

Nicholas Johnson's "Gazette Editorial"
In the Press-Citizen . . .
. Nicholas Johnson, Quotation was Misattributed
. Mona Shaw, Correction in Vote No SILO Column
. Vote No Silo, With Still So Many Many Unanswered SILO Questions, Don't Approve This 'Cash Grab'
. Misattributed quotation
In The Gazette . . .
. Nicholas Johnson, The Gazette Was Source of SILO Comment
. Guest Column, Too Many SILO Questions Remain in Johnson County
. MIsattributed quotation (The Gazette)
. In The Daily Iowan . . .
. Guest Opinion, Too Many Unanswered Tax Questions
, Misattributed quotation (The Daily Iowan)
Brian Morelli, "20 Letters Sent to Presidential Prospects," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 10, 2007

Editorial, "Time to Remove Smudges from Sunshine Laws," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 9, 2007

Mike McWilliams, "Fethke counters Gilchrist's claims; UI Officials Say They Didn't Try to muzzle ex-director," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 9, 2007

Brian Morelli, "UI Prof: Sunshine Law Reform is Needed," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 9, 2007

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Anonymous said...

Jail and Mental Health:

Johnson County has had these services now for almost 2 years now I believe. Johnson County has also invested millions of dollars over the years in United Way Agencies such as United Action for Youth in order to help children avoid a life in and out of jail.

You seem to be getting into the question of how one defines mental illness. What is the difference between the criminal and the mentally ill? Is this something that we "know it when we see it"?

Johnson County needs a new jail if for no other reason than to replace the facility which is inefficient and structurally outdated.

Anonymous said...

Did you see the "Draft Johnson" campaign has been kicked off over at State 29?