Saturday, February 17, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 392 - Feb. 17

Feb. 17, 8:10 a.m., 10:25 a.m. (links), 7:45 p.m. (commentary)

Three stories this blog follows are back in the news this morning:

(1) Mary Gilchrist's law suit (the judge ruled against her in what may be only round one).
(2) Search Committee II (not yet telling potential contenders whether finalists' names will be revealed and campus visits reqired; turns out UIHC administrators were never asked by the Regents-run Search Committee I what their opinions were about the need for UI's president to have experience with health science administration. Their opinion? It's not necessary.)
(3) Optiva. UICCU's board and administration, no more enthusiastic about giving members meaningful roles in this membership organization than they ever were, have at least decided to avoid a law suit, follow the law, and permit a second membership meeting on the issue of switching the name to "Optiva." It's to be at the Highlander, February 28th, at 6:00 p.m.

Mary Gilchrist's Case

I haven't a clue as to what the law is with regard to when employees can be fired -- in general, or in this particular case, or the protectons for whistle-blowers, or the lack of protection for "insubordination," or what constitutes insubordination. So I'm not about to say the judge was "wrong" on the law.

But I do think, for the benefit of employees, the public, the free flowing discussion in a self-governing society -- and even the repressive administrators -- that better means need to be found for transmitting the concerns and suggestions of employees on the front lines up the chain of command in hierarchal organizations and to the public.

Obviously, in this case, I also think that, if Interim President Fethke, or VP for Research Hay, disagreed with what Gilchrist was telling Regents and legislators that their wisdom, insights and recommendations also ought to have been made known.

But I'm troubled at the thought that (a) those with the most knowledge and experience are often not even consulted by higher ups, and that (b) "higher ups" often believe themselves possessed, as a matter of entitlement, with the right to censor all views from "below" not in accord with their own. You see it in corporations, government, the military, some non-profits and, yes, universities and hospitals. The result is often harmful for the administrators as well, when it is discovered that their arrogant assumption that they knew better results in a disaster of some kind which the world now knows could have been prevented had only they listened with a little humility.

A couple of UI examples come immediately to mind. One comes from today's reports of Search Committee II. Search Committee I was fired, the four finalists rejected, and the search called off because -- so the Regents said -- none of the finalists had sufficient experience administering health science institutions. Now we find that (a) our own health science administrators at the UIHC and College of Medicine were never consulted on that score, and (b) they believe that while such experience might be a plus of sorts, it is certainly not essential.

Another involves the fire in the Old Capitol dome that resulted from UI administrators' failure to respond to repeated e-mails warning this might be the result of using blow torches to remove asbestos from inside the dome.

I haven't thought this through sufficiently to propose "the" definitive solution. But an example that comes to mind would be to (a) impose no limitation on UI employees communicating with Regents and legislators, but (b) as part of a process that would require that an FYI copy of the communication be sent to all administrators "above" them, with the understanding that they should be free to send along their own differing views (if any).

So far as informing the public goes, the Press-Citizen is entitled to a good deal of credit, once again, for devoting essentially two full pages (editorial and op ed) this morning to the question of the most appropriate governance of the Hygienic Lab -- one of Gilchrist's issues -- now the subject of legislation before the Iowa Legislature and public debate.

UI Presidential Search Committee II

Look, the process and management and openness of Search Committee II is orders of magnitude better than Search Committee I. So I hate to say anything other than "thank you" and "right on." But that wouldn't make for much of a blog entry.

1. The Committee Chair promised there would be weekly reports and updates. There haven't been. The open sessions have been attended, and reported on, by the press. But that's not exactly the same thing -- nor what he was referring to.

2. There is a Web site at That's good. But under "Search Updates" there is no "update" at all for the meetings presumably held on January 28, February 2, 9 and 16. There are just emails to the UI faculty on January 8 and 22.

3. There has been a good deal of talk about openness and the confidentiality accorded those under consideration. The chair has indicated that at least 20 have been written. Without getting into the law and considerations surrounding the confidentiality of the discussions of applicants' submissions (which I've written about in the past and will again in the future) how about the letters that have gone out from the Committee? Leaving off the names of the addressees, why not post the content of those identical form letters on the Web site so that we can get a sense of how much of this confidentiality is being requested by the Committee, as distinguished from being requested by the applicants?

4. There is not just the usual need for transparency here. Search Committee II has the added burden of convincing the world that it is willing to go above and beyond in undoing the harm done on this score by Search Committee I. One easy way to do that is to put on the Web every document the Committee is creating or receiving -- as to which there is absolutely no legitimate claim of confidentiality. We can save for another day the discussion of whether some of the documents held back should have been made public. But why not get the benefit of the good will that would come from the perception of transparency as a result of putting as much on the Web site as possible?

5. Perhaps the most serious suggestion I have regards the on-campus interviews and public release of the names of finalists. I share the views of those who believe on-campus interviews are somewhere between "essential" and, for those who refuse to hold them, "a deal breaker." But that's not my point at the moment. My concern is that, whatever the Committee (and their Regent overseers) decide regarding this element of the search process that it be announced now. It is costly and inefficient for the Regents, UI, Search Committee II, and those potential candidates who make it through the process to the stage of becoming finalists, to not know -- when they apply -- what will be required of them in this regard.

It's even possible some candidates will not apply, rather than apply not knowing. Some may actually want on-campus interviews -- whether because they also think it's an essential part of the process and would like to know more about the University, would like to establish positive relationships ahead of time with those with whom they'll be working, or have the self-confidence to think they'll do better than the other finalists if given this opportunity. And it's possible some will go through the process, be chosen as finalists, and then drop out at the last minute because they are required to make their identity known and come for campus interviews.

Personally, I'm quite prepared to forfeit the "opportunity" to have someone as UI president who refuses to go through the on-campus visiting process. I think it's not only essential, not only a part of the UI tradition, I also think the willingness (even eagerness) to do it reflects on the character of the applicant. There will be opportunity enough once they get here to administer in secret behind closed doors without their insisting on starting off their very selection process that way.

UICCU and "Optiva"

I've written a number of entries about the UICCU name switch to "Optiva." See, Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 62 - Revisiting Optiva," January 17, 2007,
Nicholas Johnson, "Optiva," October 13, 2006, and also Nicholas Johnson, "Seattle's Optiva," October 23, 2006.

1. It may sound funny coming from a law professor, but I think it is unfortunate that the controversy has been perceived by all as a "legal" issue. The UICCU board and administration seem to feel that so long as they are not facing prison terms or heavy fines that they are being good leaders of this "membership organization."

In my opinion, this is not about whether the board members violated the law (although a case certainly can be made that they did), it is not about whether they have the legal right to refuse to call another meeting once a petition with the requisite number of signatures has been filed (they don't), it's not about whether they have the legal right to call that meeting after having instituted the name change, it's not about how much arms length they can keep between themselves and their membership.

2. The board and administration ought to want to consult the membership on something like a name change. They shouldn't want to force their unilaterally arrived at decision on the membership. It's not about the fact that the law refers to a "meeting," and seeing how many employees they can pressure (or "encourage," if you insist) to attend and vote in favor of the administration. It's about finding out how the full membership truly feels about the issue. That can be done with a poll of the members -- either all of them or a large, randomly (and scientifically) selected sample. It could be done by mail, by email, or by phone -- or all three. That was not done. They refuse to do it now.

They view this as a contest that they intend to "win," over the opposition of those members who do not agree with them. They really have no inclination to want to change their minds. And the odds are good they'll be able to work their will once again at another meeting, given the combination of (a) employees they can persuade to support them, (b) the members who are not employees, but who independently and genuinely believe "Optiva" to be a far preferable name to "UICCU," and (c) the vast majoity of members who won't care enough to come to an evening meeting -- or, like me, have a conflict on Wednesdays at that time.

3. It is really unfortunate that the two issues have been conflated: (a) the name "Optiva" should be rejected, and (b) the name "University of Iowa Community Credit Union" should be retained. Obviously, if "Optiva" is rejected then, by default, UICCU is retained. But there is a third option. (c) The reasons for a change in the name are found, if not persuasive at least acceptable, but the name "Optiva" is not; so that the process of selecting an alternatve name to "UICCU" will continue.

This may seem to be a subtle difference, but it is not. The real issue before the members at the February 28 meeting should be: Should there be a name change from UICCU to "Optiva"? NOT Should the name UICCU be retained? There will be individuals who would vote "No" to the first question who would also vote "No" to the second. In other words, a vote of "No" on the second cannot fairly be interpreted as a vote of "Yes" on the first.

# # #

[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.

Searching: 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

Ruling in Mary Gilchrist Case:

Erin Jordan, "Judge: Firing U of I lab director was legal; Mary Gilchrist was lobbying, not whistle-blowing, about lab concerns to state officials, the ruling says," Des Moines Register, February 17, 2007

Zack Kucharski, "Gilchrist Won't Get Job Back; Judge: Former UI Lab Chief Was Lobbying," The Gazette, February 17, 2007

Mike McWilliams, "Judge Denies Bid to Get Job Back; Gilchrist to Talk With Lawyer About Her Options," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 17, 2007

Search Committee II Meeting, February 16, 2007:

Erin Jordan, "U of I Seeks Input on Search for Leader; Committee members say the community favors public, on-site interviews with the university's top presidential candidates," Des Moines Register, February 17, 2007

Gregg Hennigan, "Does New President Need Health Expertise? It Should Not be a Requirement Say UI Health Leaders," The Gazette, February 17, 2007

Rachel Gallegos, "UI Committee Maintains Openness; Presidential Search May Include On-Campus Interviews," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 17, 2007

UICCU "Optiva" Reconsideration:

Dave DeWitte, "UI credit union members to reconsider name change," The Gazette, February 17, 2007

Kathryn Fiegen, "UICCU Will Vote Again on Optiva," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 17, 2007, with link to details, "If You Go (What, Where, When)"

Andie Dominick, "Show me what teachers' raise would buy Iowa," Des Moines Register, February 16, 2007

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Anonymous said...

RE: UICCU and Optiva

The whole attitude of the UICCU leadership is terrible, and this starts with one man; Jeff Disterhoft. His tenure has been marked by the UICCU behaving more and more like a bank, and less responsive to members. Recall the takeover of Hawkeye State Bank fiasco. The actions of the UICCU make it seem more and more a bank. Each year, the UICCU asks its members to lobby federal and state lawmakers to keep the tax perks credit unions enjoy because the bank lobbies work to have them removed. How can one make a serious argument at this point that UICCU under Disterhoft or Veridian (formerly John Deere CU) are any different than a regional bank like Hills Bank? If it looks like a duck....and walks like a get the picture.

Anonymous said...

And then there are the members (like me) who now live elsewhere and can't really feasibly pop back over to Iowa for a meeting. I actually went in to see if I could close my UICCU account the last time I was in town, in protest, but I still have a loan out from them and thus can't.

It's interesting to see how much conversation is happening on the web about the renaming decision--conversation that has been happening after the decision has been made (or made once). Wouldn't it have been nice if instead of sending us all a letter saying, "We're going to be changing our name and we're going to pay some people a lot of money to help us out," they had sent out a letter (or perhaps even put up a website where one could comment) saying, "We're thinking of changing our name for the following reasons. Do you have any suggestions?"