Sunday, March 11, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 414 - March 11

March 11, 11:55 a.m., 3:45 p.m.

Never did get back to the blog two days ago, when the topics were going to be "Iowa City as a writing community;" "Fair Share;" "drug courts;" "Colloton;" and "UICCU ('Optiva')." So here are those topics now along with a little more about
"UI, Athletics and Gambling Partnerships."

And my one-person exploratory committee and sole supporter -- the insightful, humorous, fearless, articulate, and often cited but never sighted State 29 -- is continuing to urge my Democratic Primary run against incumbent U.S. Senator Tom Harkin. (State29, "Tom Harkin's Half-Assessed Competition," March 9, 2007 (a reference to Cedar Rapids Republican businessman Steve Rathje, lest that headline leave any ambiguity), and State29, "Tom Harkin is Fundraising for Re-Election in 2008," February 12, 2007.)

I'm going to try to get some academic writing done during this "spring break" week, so the comments will be much shorter, and the references to newspaper stories will only provide links to the papers' online versions (if they're available on a non-subscription basis) rather than permanently available copies on my server.

Iowa City: A Writing Community

My comments about this are found in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 412 - March 9," March 9, 2007.

The primary article on the subject is Diane Heldt, "University of Iowa a Writing Mecca; UI hopes to add another jewel to its crown by launching an undergrad writing program," The Gazette, March 9, 2007.

"Fair Share"

The proposal that those who personally benefit from unions' negotiations for higher pay and better benefits and working conditions ought to pay their "fair share" of the costs of those union activities -- while not requiring them to "join" the union and pay the full dues -- passed the Iowa Legislature, sort of. Rod Boshart, "Senate approves 'fair share,'" The Gazette, March 9, 2007. (The Senate voted 28-21 for a bill that would apply the requirement to public employees only.) And see letter from Barbara Beaumont, "Non-Members Get Benefits for Free," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 10, 2007 ("When non-members receive the good benefits of negotiations, they don't join the union, they just consider themselves clever for getting something for nothing.").

"Drug Courts"

On March 8, in discussing prison overcrowding and proposals for bigger jails, I mentioned "drug courts" as a way to better solve the drug problem than putting addicts in jail, while also reducing the pressure on overcrowded jails. ("Prison Alternatives" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 411 -- March 8," March 8, 2007.) Blog comments seldom have more than a slight, if any, impact on public policy, and certainly not that one of mine -- if for no other reason than the timing. But it was a delightful coincidence to see on the front page of the Press-Citizen the following day that the idea is apparently being taken seriously. Brian Morelli, "Drug court proposal may lighten legal load; Diverse team would supervise offender," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 9, 2007.

John Colloton

The ongoing praise of John Colloton, in op ed columns and letters to the editor, continues (See, e.g., Shams Ghoneim, "Colloton is an Iowa Jewel," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 9, 2007.) And now a much more tangible honor has come his way as well. Diane Hedt, "UI Pomerantz gives UI $4 million; Half of donation from former regent will honor Colloton," The Gazette, March 10, 2007 (the John W. Colloton Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine).

As with those Colloton fans who have written earlier, Ms. Ghoneim leads with, "I have been alarmed by the unjustified and public criticism of John W. Colloton." As I have written before, the public commentary involving Colloton has seemed to me to almost unanimously sing his praises for his years building the UIHC into the highly regarded institution it is today. I have not sensed either "justified" or "unjustified" "criticism of John W. Colloton." And for his fans to suggest that it is he who is being criticized, and then try to knock down this straw man of their own creation with a flood of praise of the man, seems to me to do him no favors. It's almost a "they protest too much" suggestion that maybe there should be "criticism of John W. Colloton."

Colloton has been the catalyst in bringing three issues to public attention -- none of which, however, involves any hint of wrongdoing on his part.

One involves the legal issues surrounding "email as public records." This happens to be a personal academic interest of mine. Colloton honestly believes that his email messages should be considered personal, private, documents unavailable to the public and media as "public records." The Iowa Attorney General agrees with him as a matter of law. Others disagree. Email as "open meetings" and "public records" raise interesting public policy questions to which the Iowa Legislature is turning its attention. But no one, so far as I know, has suggested that Colloton did anything wrong in sending email, or in asserting his belief that his emails are not public records. So I don't quite see how discussion of the issue (for which he happens to have been a recent focus) can be characterized as "criticism."

Another issue involves the Regents universities' policies regarding emeritus status. Few, if any, have suggested that the emeritus title should be done away with for Iowa's retired university professors. Here again there has been no hint, of which I am aware, of any wrongdoing by Colloton. He was given the title, and such perks as accompanied it, by a grateful University for years of quality service. He didn't steal any perks in the dead of night. He simply used what he had been given. In fact, the person of John Colloton is almost totally irrelevant to the issues, which go to the clarity and consistency of the policies regarding who is and is not awarded the title, and what perks should go with it. Those are, again, public policy issues worthy of attention. But to address them in no way suggests a "criticism" of Colloton merely because his case is what triggered the discussion.

The third issue is a little more problematical, but even it is more a matter of fact finding and public policy than it is a criticism of Colloton as such. It involves the relationship between Wellmark and UIHC, and the fact of Colloton's role on the board of Wellmark. Whether that could ever be a problem requires a fact finding regarding the relationship between the two institutions and the ways in which their interests might diverge. Even to the extent there is a potential problem here, so far as I am aware there was never a misrepresentation by Colloton as to his roles with both institutions, a violation of any law of Iowa or regulation of the Regents or the University, or a protest of the relationships from anyone with a responsiility for oversight. As with the other two issues, conflict of interest issues are clearly worthy of attention, exploration, review and revision of policies and regulations -- if necessary.

I may be wrong. There may have, in fact, been public ad hominum statements focused on criticism of Colloton as such. But, if not, I think his friends might want to think twice about "defending" him from charges that have not been made.

UI, Athletics and Gambling Partnerships

The Press-Citizen reports the Presidential Committee on Athletics (PCA) will be voting April 5 on the ties between the Athletic program, Iowa Lottery and Riverside Gambling Casino. The Faculty Council unanimously recommended the ties be severed. PCA Chair Charles Lynch noted that, unlike some faculty governance decisions, faculty committees can only recommend regarding matters having to do with athletics. And since Interim President Fethke, Athletic Director Barta and, seemingly, PCA Chair Lynch all favor gambling ties it's probable any faculty opponents will be stiffed on this one. Ryan Suchomel, "Vote set on UI ties to lottery; Decision by PCA will be nonbinding," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 9, 2007.

As a reminder of what's at stake here, a related story in the Des Moines Register reported the consequences of gambling for Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, banker Deb Anderson. S. P. Dinnen, "Gambling pushed banker to steal $1.4 million; The longtime employee of Pioneeer Bank embezzled to feed her addiction," Des Moines Register, March 10, 2007. The paper noted that this is certainly not the first time this consequence of legalized gambling has occurred in Iowa.

UICCU ("Optiva")

As I've written before, the UICCU-Optiva story is behind us, so far as commentary from me is concerned. But since this blog contains one of the more complete records of the matter, for those who come here looking for the details I'll continue to add such items from time to time as seem important for that record. (
See Nicholas Johnson, "UICCU and 'Optiva'" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 406 - March 3 - Optiva," March 3, 2007 (last entry, with links to prior entries October 2006 through March 2007).)

Among the questions that have been raised is the extent to which the UICCU management used the employees as a means of "winning" the issue and the vote, specifically the pro-Optiva letter-writing campaign. Someone has now done the research on that one:

"It seemed that many of the pro-Optiva [letters] were written by UICCU employees, and I decided to do some research to determine what percentage of the pro-Optiva letters were written by employees. Of the 21 pro-Optiva letters I saw, 19 were written by employees, and 2 were written by people of unknown affiliation. Of the 12 pro-UICCU letters, none were written by employees as far as I can determine. It makes me wonder how there can be such a disconnect between management and non-employee members." Sue Travis, "Listen better to members' votes," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 9, 2007. (The names, dates and details of this research are on file with the Iowa Credit Union Division.)

As of March 11 there were two comments from individuals I do not know added to the Travis letter on the Press-Citizen location linked above:

UICCU among the nation’s elite Posted by: sillyme on Fri Mar 09, 2007 4:34 pm

The UICCU is a cooperative financial institution. That the word financial appears in that sentence is no accident. The prime measure of management’s responsiveness is not the debate of participatory versus representative governance but the degree to which the cooperative's profits are returned to the membership. In that key respect the management of UICCU President Jeff Disterhoft and Board Chairman Dean Borg has led this representative cooperative to a place among the nation’s elite.

UICCU: Straying from the point Posted by: fromafar on Sat Mar 10, 2007 2:00 am

The admirable financial performance by UICCU has never been an issue in the debate regarding changing the name of the credit union, so this has no bearing on the present discussion. Failure to communicate, failure to seek and achieve "buy-in" by members/customers, and failure to demonstrate understanding, sympathy or empathy towards those who questioned the name change all represent textbook examples (literally) of how not to lead a major change in a brand.

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[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.]

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