Tuesday, April 24, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 458 - Regents Governance & VT

April 24, 2007, 3:00 p.m.

Virginia Tech and Iowa Regents' Governance

This is an illustrative follow up to the prior blog entry, Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on 'Governance,'" in "UI Held Hostage Day 451 - Open Letter to Regents," April 17, 2007.

On April 19, on Board of Regents stationery (which does not yet even have the new Regents names on it), a "Statement from Michael Gartner" was released.

There is much about it that is quite commendable. For example, he says "While it is natural for caring citizens and policy makers to have immediate and strong opinions about how to react to horrible events like the one at Virginia Tech, it is very important that decisions . . . not be made too quickly and without very careful and thoughtful analysis."

Gartner says the Board has, "asked the universities to undertake a comprehensive and detailed review of campus security protocols, procedures, technologies, and prevention counseling techniques that are currently in use by the institutions, and to explore process and protocol improvements as well as other improvements they may uncover in the course of this analysis [because] this information will be invaluable . . . to the Board of Regents . . .."

Why on earth would I pick this statement as my example? In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy am I really going to fault a public official for launching an inquiry into our universities' preparedness to deal with such events here in Iowa? Shouldn't student safety be among the highest priorities for a Board of Regents?

It is precisely for those reasons that I pick this example. This is the toughest possible example I could choose to try and make the point that the Regents are in need of a governance model. If I can make the point with this example there should be very little debate about the others.

So what's wrong with what he did -- from the perspective of the governance issues discussed in the blog entry of April 17, linked above?

1. Only the Board speaks for the Board. Most literature about Board governance models advises that Board members only speak as a Board. This is not to say that individual Board members should not speak out as and when they want to -- on any one of a variety of issues. It is to say that it is important for everyone to know that, if and when they do so that they are not speaking for the Board, but only for themselves. It is important for the other Board members to know this, and it is important for the public to know it. It is especially important for the CEO, administration, and others at the institutions for which they have Board responsibilities to know that they are free to ignore the statements of individual Board members, on and off their campus -- as distinguished from Board policies, by which they are governed.

This is not a matter of law. The Regents have the legal power (up to a point) to grant the Regents' President the authority to speak out whenever he wishes, on whatever subjects he wishes, and to endorse in advance (without knowing what he will say) whatever he does say as the opinion of "the Board."

It is only to say that most of those who have studied such matters have concluded that it is not a very effective way to govern any institution, including universities, from the perspective of any of the stakeholder groups involved.

(Now it may be, of course, that Gartner's April 19 statement followed a Board meeting at which the statement was approved, and that it was not merely the statement of its President. But even if that was the case, the statement would better come from "The Iowa Board of Regents" than be -- as the Board's document headlined -- a "Statement of Michael Gartner, President, Board of Regents.")

2. Boards that govern best manage least. However serious student security may be, however tragic the events at Virginia Tech that have been seared into our consciousness, board best practices suggest that the most effective boards govern through proactive policies that look forward (Carver's "ends policies," what others might call measurable goals) not reactive management that looks backward.

I'm not going to draft that "ends policy" here, but the point is that it would deal with results, not techniques, ends not means. It's up to the CEO to choose the means that she thinks will best produce the mandated end -- in this case the minimization of physical harm to students, whether from tornados, excessive drinking, or mass murderers.

This Board, speaking and acting through its President, has recently involved itself in a couple of personnel matters as well -- one involving what was apparently unauthorized access to an individual's e-mail, and another involving the dismissal of an employee. These are additional examples of counterproductive Board involvement in "management by rear view mirror" rather than forward looking policies and goals.

Of course, merely writing policies is not enough. "Governance" also involves a regular annual, or other periodic, review of results, and an evaluation of whether the "ends policies" are being reached, the measurable goals achieved.
Measurable goals will contribute little to governance if they only exist in a three-ring binder sitting on a shelf.

Indeed, this becomes the process by which the performance of the CEO can be evaluated. He or she knows in advance what the Board expects the institution to achieve, the CEO is left with responsibility for coming up with the means by which to do it, and his or her performance is judged by those results.

As mentioned in the April 17 blog entry, the Board is already doing much of this. That's good.

But that raises another problem. If the Board does not already have in place an ends policy regarding student security then shame on the Board. That would seem to be one of the first policies to which a Board would address its attention. But even if a Board adopts a reactive rather than a proactive policy, we have already had at the University of Iowa a tornado, a shooting, and deaths from excessive drinking. Even a reactive Board shouldn't need Virginia Tech's experience to have prompted it to action years ago.

This editorial cartoon appeared in the April 22 Gazette, is copyright by the Gazette, and reproduced here as fair use for educational and commentary purposes only. Other use may require permission from The Gazette.

It depicts a tombstone with wreaths labeled "University of Texas 1966," "Paducah 1997," "Jonesboro 1998," "Columbine 1999," "Springfield 1998," "Red Lake 2005," "Penn. Amish School 2006," and finally "Virginia Tech 2007" held by a person labeled "Law Makers" who's saying, "Our slow response? We thought the first shooting was an isolated incident."

And that's my point. Any Board of Regents that hasn't long since had a policy in place since 1966, any university that doesn't have contingency plans and procedures for emergencies, has been sleeping with Rip Van Winkle for the past 40 years -- and probably has not had an effective governance model in place during those years either.

If the Iowa Board of Regents really believes there is a need to review and adopt policies and procedures because of what happened at Virginia Tech, if it hasn't long since had both in place, if it doesn't routinely review them -- measuring performance against its "ends policies" -- it's really a little late for it to be starting now.

3. Boards support their institutions. No institution is well served by a see-no-evil-hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil governing board always trying to put a positive public relations spin on bad news. The Board needs to be informed as to what's going on, and to take remedial action when Board intervention is appropriate.

On the other hand, with a well constructed governance model, and regular reviews of progress toward agreed upon goals, there should be relatively little need for such intervention.

Moreover, to call for investigations of this and that, whenever a news item appears, projects -- whether intentionally or not -- the message that the institutions for which the Board has governing responsibility are incompetent, in need of "adult supervision," and constantly messing up. That is not a constructive message for any board to communicate about an institution for which it has responsibility.

I believe this most recent statement from the Board President falls into that category.

The University of Iowa has in place -- as Board members know, or ought to know -- a number of institutional units, procedures and practices for dealing with emergencies in general. Moreover, they have worked pretty well.

The reason we remember the date, November 1, 1991, is because the campus killing that occurred then was somewhere between so rare, and unprecedented, an event. There have not been (so far as I can recall) any handgun killings on campus during the 15-plus years since.

A year ago the University withstood a major tornado that tore up trees, and demolished homes, churches and other buildings. There was not a single death.

This week the University won an award of sorts for the progress it has made controlling the adverse effects of binge drinking.
In a country with 200 million handguns, in an age of open campuses, suicide killers, and the societal forces that contribute to the creation of mass murderers, this record must be, as it would be for any institution, in part simply a matter of dumb luck. No campus is, nor could it ever be, completely, 100% safe from handgun killings.

On the other hand, as Lyndon Johnson used to tell us, "They call me 'Lucky Lyndon,' but I always found the harder I worked the luckier I became." The UI's administrators have worked hard to produce their "luck" as well.

And they are continuing to explore additional means for providing as much student security as possible, as the Des Moines Register reported (with no mention of Regents involvement). Erin Jordan, "Universities study ways to warn students; Northern Iowa is starting a program that would send phone messages; Iowa is considering one," Des Moines Register, April 20, 2007.

All considered -- whether truly the case or not -- it tends to make the Regents President's statement look more like a public relations effort, and one at the expense of the University at that, than an effort to be supportive of the institution at such a time, and on such an emotionally loaded topic.

That's another consequence and disadvantage of the absence of a Board governance model, leaving the Board little option but to react to events after they've occurred rather than proactively addressing their prevention ahead of time with ends policies and goals.

So that's my story, my case, for a Board of Regents governance model that more precisely defines the roles of the Board on the one hand, and the university president, administration and faculty on the other. It in no way would diminish the authority of the Board; indeed, properly conceived and executed it would strengthen it. But it would make both the Board and the Regents universities into much more effective institutions, eliminate unnecessary misunderstandings and resentments, and make everyone's life more productive and pleasant.

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 FromDC2Iowa.Blogspot.com 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

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Models are all fine and well, and mean very little when it comes down to it. Systems are made or unmade by individuals. The Board of Regents functioned well for years and years without a model.

The current issues are related to the individuals involved.

There is an idea in Des Moines that the State Universities are for economic development. A bigger part of the problem is the the leadership of the state has NO connection to the UI as alums. Until the public speaks through their elected representitives in the legislature and places more value on higher education, nothing will change.

The Iowa Legislature currently is a sorry institution so don't look for anything there.

This whole episode is case in point why Democracy is a failure.