Saturday, March 17, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 420 - March 17

March 17, 9:40 a.m.

Lots of items this morning about the Regents and Search Committee II -- and a reprint of my own views regarding the "Qualifications for UI President."

Governor Chet Culver: The $8.2 Million Dollar Man

Turns out two of Culver's appointees to the Regents were the largest donors to his campaign among the 180 appointees the governor just announced. Bonnie Campbell and David Miles, plus their spouses, gave a total of $62,500 -- roughly equivalent to the combined contributions of more than 100 other generous appointees. Lee Rood, "Two regents picks are big donors to Culver; Campbell, Miles, spouses gave at least $62,500 to governor's campaign," Des Moines Register, March 17, 2007.

In fairness, there's no suggestion both are not well qualified for the position or that -- like some presidential appointments of ambassadors -- their contributions, qua contributions, played a disproportionate role in their selection.

Campbell's abilities have been widely recognized nationally (Washington official; in 1997 one of Time magazine's 25 most influential Americans) as well as within Iowa (Attorney General; candidate for governor), her ties to the Culver family go way back, and she may very well end up as president of the Board of Regents once Gartner's term runs out in 2008.

Rood notes that Miles "has served 11 years on the Drake University Board of Governors, three as chairman." That may actually make him the Regent with the most experience with university governance.

(Of course, it's conceivable that it might also create a modest conflict of interest of sorts on some issues (in which "what's good for General Motors is good for the country" isn't applicable; that is, what serves the welfare of the Regents' universities is not always going to be in the best interests of Drake). But I can't off hand think of what those issues would be, and they would in any event be minimized if he were to resign from the Drake board.)

Far more significant is Rood's report that total contributions to Culver were $8.2 million. For a job that pays little more than $100,000 a year, Culver would need to stay in office until he had his 123rd birthday to earn that much.

We have laws about open meetings and public records ostensibly because we recognize the need in a democracy for public confidence in the processes of government. As the online comments to Rood's story indicate, political contributions in the millions are doing more to undermine public confidence in government than an executive session of a small Iowa school district's school board ever could. We're not talking here about actual corruption; let's assume there's none. We're talking about appearances.

Public financing of campaigns is reportedly working in Arizona and Maine. Why should Iowa have to wait until there are 25 states doing it before we feel comfortable joining this movement? Until we do money is going to continue to flow to our state legislators and other elected officials, and that flow will continue to increasingly erode public confidence in our government like the rains of decades past used to erode our top soil. Like lost top soil, once that confidence is totally gone it will take generations, if ever, to rebuild.

Hope for the Future?

The Register and Press-Citzen both hold out hope for the new Board of Regents. The Register's editorial begins, "Given the mess the Board of Regents made in trying to hire a new University of Iowa President . . ." and concludes, "If the board [conducts the public's business with openness], there's no reason it can't steady itself and nurture further excellence at the universities - and Iowans' pride in their schools." Editorial, "A Fresh Start for Regents," Des Moines Register, March 17, 2007.

The Press-Citizen is a little less optimistic: "the public needs to be able to trust that the individual members [of the Board of Regents] are willing to listen to those with . . . firsthand knowledge. Right now, because that trust is nonexistent, new regents can expect no honeymoon period. With UI in the midst of its second presidential search process and with Gartner continuing to act as a lightning rod for criticism, they will have to rebuild that trust immediately from the ground up. Local officials are optimistic that these four are the right people for the job. We can only hope they're right." Editorial, "No Honeymoon Period for Any New Regents," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 17, 2007.

Regents' Advice to Search Committee

Meanwhile, the Regents have been invited to share ideas with Search Committee II, and they have some.

The Press-Citizen's Brian Morelli reports that Jack Evans, Hall-Perrine Foundation president, and new Regent nominee, offered the Committee this advice: "What I am looking for is exactly what the search committee is looking for and that is exactly the right person." Sounds like he's on board.

David Miles thinks what we should be looking for is "sound judgment and leadership qualities, someone who has desire to connect with Iowa."

Farm Bureau President Craig Lang decided what he wanted was to get out of the country, and he has flown off to places unknown.

Actually, Bonnie Campbell seemed to make the most sense. Search Committee I's finalists were rejected by Michael Gartner and his supporters on the Board because of their lack of health sciences administration experience. Campbell "said there isn't one mold the candidate must fit into. She wants to use the candidates' experience to decide, for example, if they have good judgment, if they are a good leader and if they are a good manager. . . 'We are going to get people with different skills that are more important than one particular part of their background,' Campbell said. "It's [a health science background] definitely on the plus side, [but] [t]hat is one of many professional experiences.'" Brian Morelli, "Regent candidates ready to join presidential search; But 4 appointees wait to offer more than general opinion on process," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 17, 2007.

Morelli also has a story about Search Committee II's meeting yesterday. There are over 100 possibles who need to be contacted and vetted, and Committee members are dividing up the tasks. Chair David Johnsen has invited the new Regents to provide input, and anticipates meeting with them after they have been approved by the Iowa Senate, sometime before April 15. Brian Morelli, "Committee Wants Input From New Regents," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 17, 2007.

Morelli adds: "Johnsen also said that UI's state government liaison Mark Braun was arranging for legislators to attend the next search committee meeting to give input on the search. Johnsen did not know who or how many legislators will be attending." See also, Erin Jordan, "Lawmakers, UI Prez Search Committee to Meet," Des Moines Register, March 16, 2007.

That strikes me as a little problematical. The governor nominates Regents; the Senate confirms them; the Regents oversee the University; the University has been tasked with providing finalists to the Regents from which the Regents are to pick the next UI president; the University has handed that responsibility over to Search Committee II.

On the one hand, the more direct contact legislators can have with the Regents' institutions the better -- if one believes, as I do, that the universities are impressive institutions that can not only withstand, but benefit from, more widespread knowledge and appreciation of their contributions to the state.

On the other hand, as a matter of governance, it is bad enough when Michael Gartner wants to reach down and conduct his own investigation of an IT breach at the hospital. But one of the main reasons for having a Board of Regents in the first place is to prevent this kind of intervention in the universities by legislators. Do we really want legislators directly involved in a University committee?

Worst case, what if the invited legislators take the invitation seriously, get involved in the search process, have nominees of their own, preferences among those under consideration, or qualities they believe essential in a UI president? And what if their desires happen not to coincide with the process of Search Committee II -- or the ultimate presidential choice of the Regents? What then?

Just a thought.

Qualifications for UI President

Since everyone else seems to be offering their view of the qualifications for a UI President, and given my relative praise of Bonnie Campbell's view of the matter, above, this might be a good time to repeat this excerpt from my take on it from last November, Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2007:

4. What are the necessary qualifications for UI's president? My take on educational administrative qualifications is different from what is suggested by Michael Gartner's statement.

Southwest Airlines CEO Colleen Barrett has said, "We tend to hire for attitude and train for skills -- —but don't get nervous, we don't hire pilots who can't fly a plane."

With all respect, from my perspective I think that's not a bad starting point in what we might look for in selecting a university president -- an individual with the necessary basics, capable of being a "quick study," who "plays well with others," and knows how to fly the plane.

The experience upon which I draw in the paragraphs that follow includes managing a multi-billion-dollar agency, being in effect a "board member" of another with perhaps 100 times that impact on the American economy, service on a number of boards, and once being identified by Newsweek as one of the top four candidates for university presidencies throughout the country (and, no, I neither applied, nor was considered, for the UI position). (For details see the long form bio.)

In the course of my career I have had to learn enough about nearly a dozen different industries to carry out my obligations responsibly and effectively. In my experience, and that of other CEOs with far more experience than I with whom I've visited over the years, that's been true for others as well.

The primary qualifications for the CEO's job are not years of experience in that agency or industry, or a mastery of every aspect of the business -- as a casual look at the bios of the Fortune 500 CEOs will attest. In fact, what's often needed is precisely the opposite: someone who doesn't think he or she knows all the answers; someone who will ask the naive questions, and then realize that because there is a lot they need to learn they best listen very carefully to the answers; someone who has a "fresh approach" and is able to "think outside the box."

What is most needed is Southwest's "attitude": a "quick study" with above average intelligence, yes, but not so far above average that arrogance impedes both positive inter-personal relations with, and respect for, everyone in the shop, and a willingness to put in the hours necessary with those individuals to truly appreciate what the institution does and why.

Similarly, since the Sixth Century, B.C., the most effective leaders have followed Lao Tsu's advice (in Tao Te Ching): put ego on hold, encourage genuine stakeholder participation and direction, such that, to the extent the leader's initial ideas are embodied in policy and action, "The people say, 'See, we did it ourselves.'"** (Sadly, this has been one bit of ancient wisdom the Regents have all too often failed to heed.)

There is both a substantive and a superficial element in "past experience."

Superficially, the staff of large organizations often like to see their CEO chosen from "one of their own," whether a scholar as head of an educational institution or a Foreign Service officer as an ambassador. It increases the comfort level of those whose professional and personal lives could be significantly affected by this new stranger chosen to lead them. This is not a trivial factor, but it doesn't go to, and is certainly no guarantee of, even competence, let alone outstanding leadership.

Clearly among David Skorton's charm and many intellectual and other strengths, his ability to function as a member of the faculties of medicine, engineering and computer science, while playing saxophone and flute, hosting a radio program about jazz, and demonstrating a capacity to have been a professional stand-up comic, helped his rapport with all.

But to insist that candidates as university president
have had experience as "leaders who oversaw complex health sciences operations," along with, presumably, comparable amounts of experience overseeing every other aspect of something as wide-ranging as the programs of the University of Iowa is (1) to hope for someone who never was and never will be, and, fortunately, is also (2) unnecessary, and (3) undesirable.

It is not the president's job (nor the Regents, if I may say so) to micromanage every program and function of the University of Iowa. (Nor could he or she do it if it were.) They need enough of a management information reporting system in place to tell them what they need to know about what's going on and to head off disasters, but their primary job is to get the best qualified people they can find to do the jobs that need to be done, enable them to work together cooperatively when necessary, and then leave them alone.

The UI has recently announced an expansion of its offering of foreign languages. In this global age it would be a plus for a university's president to be able, like the former Pope, to speak 15 languages. But since he or she is unlikely to find it necessary to teach those classes, the even bigger plus would be a president who initiates the processes, and maintains an environment, in which qualified foreign language professors are found, respected, encouraged, supported -- and retained.

Some leaders want to be surrounded with supporting staff and administrators who are demonstrably less able than themselves. Others want "the best and the brightest." It is the latter who are both most effective in their day-to-day accomplishments and subsequently the most favorably regarded with the hindsight of history.

Of course we want a highly qualified administrator of our health sciences complex, just as, if we are going to have a football program, it is useful to have one of the nation's most highly regarded (and paid) college football coaches.

But that doesn't mean we need, or want, a university president who can micromanage one of the nation's largest and most prestigiousus medical colleges and hospitals, any more than we need or want a president qualified to, and who does, tell the football coach what plays to call on Saturday afternoon.

What we do need is a president who is relaxed and comfortable working with a health sciences administrator, football coach, and others who are demonstrably more qualified to do their jobs than the president is to do their jobs, and to whom he or she can responsibly delegate that authority with confidence.


** There are many translations of, and sources for, "The Book of Tao." The quoted passage is from chapter 17. Here is one of many sources that translates it,

"The best leaders value their words, and use them sparingly.
When she has accomplished her task,
the people say, 'Amazing:
we did it, all by ourselves!'"

UICCU and "Optiva"

The UICCU-Optiva story is essentially behind us. There may be occasional additions "for the record," but for the most part the last major entry, with links to the prior material from October 2006 through March 2007, is
"UICCU and 'Optiva'" in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 406 - March 3 - Optiva," March 3, 2007.

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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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Media Stories and Commentary

See above.

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