Sunday, February 18, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 393 - Feb. 18

Feb. 18, 8:00 a.m., 11:20 a.m. (commentary)

Meredith Hay, New Mexico and the Role of Confidentiality

UI's Meredith Hay received the enthusiastic, unanimous support of the University of New Mexico faculty in its recommendtion that she become its next president.

The UNM Regents chose a guy named "Schmidly" instead.

The reasons why should make the UI in general and Hay in particular quite pleased and proud -- and also wary of what may be in store for us following the work of Search Committee II.

A Guy Named Schmidly

Who's Schmidly?

David Schmidly has been in educational administration for some time. From Texas A&M he went to Texas Tech, where he was sued for sexism (denying a promotion to a woman faculty member and using derogatory language to her), and decided to leave for the presidency of the University of Oklahoma, where he's been since 2002, and from which he will now assume the presidency of the University of New Mexico. The New Mexico faculty, following on-campus interviews, voted 32-22 to remove him from consideration by the New Mexico Regents.

Following that rejection by the faculty the Regents, of course . . . yeah, voted to hire him. Why?

Susie Gran reports that, at Oklahoma, among "His main projects have been fund-raising [and] economic development . . .. In his time there, OSU has spun off 35 start-up companies, with an annual payroll of $25.7 million."

Nothing is said of what happened to its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. (But a NM resident who supports Schmidly put in a comment to the news story indicating that he was delighted to have a president who would really get behind the UNM football program.)

More News from New Mexico
In case you've never been to New Mexico, let me tell you that much of it is desert-like. It can get quite hot in the summer. That produces two human reactions that result in a reduction in intellectual ability from the frying of the brain: drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, and staying out in the sun without a hat.

The first produces an excessive amount of drunk driving -- at least by males. Women seem to have more sense. The second produces bizarre proposed remedies -- perhaps suggestions that have come from the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.

The first idea was a State motto: "You drink, you drive, you lose." Much to everyone's surprise it didn't seem to produce much of a reduction in drunk driving. One explanation was that the drunks' vision was too blurry to read the chosen font size. The other was that no one could figure out exactly what it meant. Kind of like "Optiva."

The current campaign is even loonier.

It's talking urinals. Well, not exactly talking urinals; it's talking deoderant cakes in urinals. This does have the First Amendment value of enabling drunks to express immediately how they feel about the idea. No"How to Talk Back to Your Talking Urinal" manual is required. But it is not otherwise clear why the voices could not be triggered by the same motion detector that flushes the urinals for those numerous users who are inclined to forget that little courtesy -- especially when seriously drunk.

To get their attention the "urinal cake," as it is known to the NM Transportation Department, speaks in a sultry female voice. "Hey there, big guy. Having a few drinks? It's time to call a cab or ask a sober friend for a ride home." (That's a direct quote. It was not reported what other suggestions she might have.)

The Department has bought 500 of these cakes at $21 apiece. They last about three months each, thereby disproving the old adage about "having your cake and peeing on it, too."

And it offers further proof why we, and Meredith Hay, ought to be grateful that she is back in Iowa City, away from the land of excessive sun, Regents who see higher education as just one more profit center, and men who will only listen to a woman's voice if it comes at them from a urinal.

Welcome home, Meredith!

Could It Happen Here?

Our Regents have already demonstrated once that they are perfectly capable of totally disregarding the recommendations of the UI faculty -- and even their own Regents-directed Search Committee -- and rejecting all finalists.

Last time it was because they (or at least their leader, whom they seem content to let speak for all of them as if he was the Board) wanted a president with experience as a top executive from the health insurance industry; someone who would be compatible with Wellmark. Is it possible that (a) Search Committee II -- anticipating a desire on the part of the Iowa Board of Regents similar to what has just been reflected by the New Mexico Board of Regents (that is, that a UI president should be, above all, a fund raiser and creator of start-up companies) -- would actually include such an individual among their finalists, or (b) if it fails to do so, that the Regents will, once again, reject the finalists and find a business person on their own?

Let us hope not, on both counts. But if it can happen in Albuquerque it could happen here.

The Role of Confidentiality

I have written before of the legal issues regarding the ability of Search Committee II to hold confidential the names of applicants, their applications, and any discussions about them and their qualifications -- up to and including the refusal to identify finalists or hold on-campus interviews. See, e.g., "Search Committee II and Confidentiality; A correction to my interpretation of Iowa Code Sec. 22.7 (18)" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 384 - Feb. 9," February 9, 2007.

Bottom line: There is no legal requirement that applications be held confidential; there are a number of procedures by which they would, or could, be made "public records" discussed in "open meetings." But Search Committee II, if it can honestly make a finding that potential candidates would be discouraged from applying if their names and applications were made public, could exercise the discretion keep them "confidential" and discuss them in "closed meetings."

So this still leaves us with the pragmatic questions of policy: Given the known, and statutory, benefits of "sunshine," when is confidentiality in hiring clearly warranted, and when does it simply play to what seems to be the irrational, but common, human desire to keep secrets?

Meredith Hay's experience gives us at least one case study. It would be revealing six weeks, or six months, from now to interview her and get her own sense of how the experience has impacted her reputation and effectiveness on the UI campus. My guess would be that her reputation has only been inhanced. As a vice-president for research, she was not only considered qualified to be a candidate for the presidency of a major state university, in a competition with a sitting president she became a finalist for the position, and was the choice of that university's faculty. I'd say that's quite an honor and distinction.

But clearly there are those who believe that, in general, there will be some qualified candidates one would like to be able to consider for the UI presidency who would be, reasonably, disinclined to apply if their names must be made public before they are actually chosen.

I'm not inclined to dismiss those concerns out of hand, but neither am I inclined to buy into the notion that all requests for confidentiality are the product of a reasonable judgment that they are necessary.

There are anecdotal stories of sitting presidents who have been chastised, and even threatened by their Regents or Boards with being fired if they (a) apply for another job (even in confidence), or (b) apply for another job if that fact will become known.

On the other hand, there are also stories of applicants who demand confidentiality and then end up being the ones who leak the fact they are under consideration because it enhances their reputation on their home campus -- and possibly their pay as well.

I am told there are differences that apply generally depending on the position currently held. Sitting presidents have the greatest potential need for confidentiality. Provosts and vice presidents relatively less so.

Then there is the question of the stage of the process at which the name becomes known. There is relatively less need, and benefit, to the public disclosure of all names at the beginning of the search process. Four finalists will represent something between 3 and 10 percent of all candidates considered. That is not to say there would be no benefit to making the names of all available to the media and public. But there is relatively less benefit at that stage than there is once the stage of three to six finalists has been reached.

A happy, rough justice compromise -- even without supporting data, either in gross or with regard to individual applicants -- is the UI tradition: hold the initial applicants and their applications confidential, and do not discuss them in "open meetings," but then do reveal the names of the finalists and require them to hold on-campus visit-interviews.

Related: My earlier suggestion that, because of this desirable procedure, Search Committee II should decide what it is going to do in this connection (hopefully hold to tradition) and announce it to all applicants on the front end of the process rather than waiting until the finalists have been selected. If we lose someone as a result of that decision, so be it. The on-campus visits are worth that price -- and provide us some guarantee we're not hiring someone who is not only comfortable with doing business in secret, but is insistent upon it.

# # #

[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

Meredith Hay, New Mexico and the Role of Confidentiality:

Susie Gran, "Hay Wins Faculty Approval; Panel sends recommendation for president to regents today," Albuquerque Tribune, February 14, 2007

Susie Gran,
"Schmidly Picked as Next UNM President,"
Albuquerque Tribune, February 17, 2007

Associated Press, "Urinals Speak Out Against DWI," Albuquerque Tribune, February 12, 2007


Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site
Nicholas Johnson's Iowa Rain Forest ("Earthpark") Web Site
Nicholas Johnson's Blog, FromDC2Iowa
Nicholas Johnson's Blog Index


Anonymous said...

A business that sells alcohol has a liability if a customer causes an accident. They pay high rates for liability insurance as a result. If they were to install an alcohol detector in a urinal to notify their staff that a customer was impaired that probably would be considered an invasion of privacy.

What they are doing is to have a robot tell a customer that they are impaired. I assume that they tested the device before they put it on the market so it may help in some cases. The question is do they record such incidents so they can show they made an effort to prevent the customer from driving and does that help reduce their liability?

Anonymous said...

There is no legal age to drink in Iowa if the person is in a private place and the alcohol consumed was provided with the knowledge and consent of a parent who is present.

People who operate business that serve food and alcohol depend on employees under the legal age for kitchen work, bussing tables and other chores. So in order to keep them in business underage workers are allowed to be present.

The legal age to drink in Iowa was 21 and then was reduced to 18 when the voting age was reduced to 18. A few years later it was increased to 19 to clear up problems with 18 year old high school students supplying alcohol to their underage friends. I think the legal age to drink should be returned to 19 because it worked better than 18 and 21.

What we have now is selective prohibition that has resulted in massive noncompliance and a general disrespect for the law. Furthermore we have established an illegal system to provide alcohol to underage drinkers. As a consequence we have a unequal enforcement of the law. In some communities the police do not want to spend the time and money enforcing a law they used to violate when they were that age.

You are supposed to rule with the consent of the governed and the young folks are not consenting.