Thursday, May 03, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 467 - UI's Stealth President

May 3, 2007, 7:30 a.m.

Shhh, It's a Secret

I'd tell you who UI's next president is going to be -- but then I'd have to kill you.*

You see, we have to keep it a secret. Brian Morelli, "Regents Debate Possibility of 'Hybrid' Open Interview Process," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 3, 2007. (And what might a "hybrid open process" be? Talk about "a little bit pregnant"!)

In fact, there's even a rumor going around that the draft contract contains a provision that the new president need not reveal his or her identity, or even come to Iowa City, throughout the first full academic year of their presidency. Apparently early negotiations with Vice President Cheney's office look good for working out a deal whereby the UI president can share Cheney's bunker during that time, emailing decisions back to Iowa City over a secure broadband network, with an Attorney General's ruling from Alberto Gonzales that national security considerations preempt the Iowa public records law, thereby preventing Iowa newspapers from being able to obtain copies.

What a sweet deal, eh? (Of course, I can't confirm this rumor. Terms of the contract are also highly classified.)

There's something that's always troubled me about the UI Presidential Search Committee II's seeming willingness to yield to candidates' demands that their names be kept secret.

I first became a part of the University of Iowa at age two, a guinea pig in the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station at 9 East Market Street. Notwithstanding my years in Washington, D.C., I've never been all that far from universities -- and their administrators. A handful have been among the finest people I've ever known -- a group into which I would place David Skorton.

(Skorton is the former UI president who was run off by lesser mortals, landed rather nicely on his feet at Cornell University at three times the income, thereby marking the beginning of what is, as of today, "UI Held Hostage Day 476." Since his "equal" is simply not to be found, we have had to spend quite a bit of time with our search for second best.)

On the other hand, I have also had experience dealing with educational administrators who have met the definition of "a mouse learning to be a rat."

Among the qualities of those for whom I've had little fondness is secrecy -- a quality that often takes the form of hypocrisy, duplicity, passing the buck, an extraordinary facility at "CYA," stonewalling, lack of loyalty and personal integrity, and blowing with the wind.

The advantages of campus interviews are well known. But abandoning them is not -- at this moment -- my focus.

(Those advantages include the benefits of the "campus community" feeling (however irrationally) that it has actually been included in the process; a positive foundation for individuals' first meetings with the president (rather than on-the-job first meetings that can involve unpleasant decisions); an opportunity for candidates to get a fuller sense of the multi-billion-dollar programs and tens of thousands of people who are "the University of Iowa;" and a chance for other stakeholders to feel included (e.g., legislators and other elected officials, Hawkeye fans, local business people, and the state's journalists).)

No, my focus is not on the loss of those benefits, it is: "Why on earth would you want to have a university president who is so seeped in secrecy as his or her basic method of operations that they won't even reveal their names and come to the campus before being hired?" Isn't that, as they say in Hollywood, "starting off backing up"?

Consider this analogy: A single woman has an adulterous affair with a married man, and ultimately marries him. Should she really be all that surprised when her marriage ends in his next adulterous affair?

If one of our candidates for president is sneaking around at night, refusing to tell colleagues who have a need to know where they are going and whom they are seeing, why do we think they would ever promote the cause of transparency and honesty from Jessup Hall? Especially if we hire them away with a significant raise in pay, why do we think they will not sneak around on us as well, and take the next best even bigger pay package?

Just think about it.

The Gazette has. Here are a couple items from this morning's (May 3) paper, copyright by The Gazette and reproduced here for commentary and educational fair use purposes only.

First, the editorial:
Search in public

Is there no end to the secrecy surrounding the hiring of a new University of Iowa president?

After a botched search steeped in secrecy last year, the regents seem bent on keeping the public in the dark again.

Signs of more secrecy surfaced Tuesday when David Johnsen, chairman of the ad-hoc UI presidential search committee, told the Board of Regents that the Iowa Attorney General’s Office was being asked to decide if the committee needs to announce when job semifinalists will be interviewed.

The concern is that if the public knows the committee is meeting with a candidate, somehow the public will deduce who’s being interviewed. Then some top candidates may withdraw from the search for fear their current employers will find out.

Meanwhile, the search committee, apparently with the regents’ blessing, refuses to commit to holding public on-campus interviews for finalists.

The Iowa Supreme Court has ruled that public boards can make job applications confidential, but it’s good public policy to introduce presidential finalists to the UI faculty and community as a part of the selection process. More especially, it’s required by law that the 13-member search committee give notice of time, date and place of each meeting, as well as a tentative agenda.

The regents and the committee need to abandon this course of secrecy, and keep as much of the search as possible in the public.

The best — and only — advice from the Attorney General’s Office should be to tell the committee to follow the law.
And then there's this from Mike Deupree:
Thinking about the continuing vacancy in the president’s office at the University of Iowa, I was struck by a possibility that hasn’t been mentioned, at least as far as I know. What if instead of difficulty finding someone qualified for the job, the problem is finding somebody willing to take it?

This could be a variation on the old Groucho Marx line about not wanting to belong to any club that would have him as a member. Would you want to be the product of a process that has lasted more than a year, cost nearly a quarter of a million dollars and produced nothing except juvenile squabbling between the Board of Regents and the faculty? It’s like being chosen to serve as hall monitor in a school for kids with ego management problems.

Put this in perspective: In the time it has taken to narrow the field to 30, the state replaced the men’s basketball coaches at all three state universities, the football coach at one of them, the governor and two members of Congress. No wonder the presidential search committee doesn’t want anybody to know how it’s conducting its business. I’d be embarrassed, too.

The search eventually will end, and the new president no doubt will be highly qualified. Let’s just hope the searchers don’t insult our intelligence further by saying he or she was their first choice from the start.
Oh, by the way, that editorial and column are supposed to be secret, too. So don't tell anyone about them. But since my old friend Daniel Ellsberg got away with publishing "The Pentagon Papers" I figured it was worth taking the chance.

And no, of course I don't have the phone number for Cheney's bunker, Silly. It's unlisted.

* Would you like some serious information about possible names? One of many adverse consequences of this being "UI Held Hostage Day 467" is that during those 467 days a goodly number of possible UI presidents have by now long since accepted positions elsewhere; specifically, Harvard, Indiana, New Mexico, Rochester Institute of Technology and West Virginia. Meawhile, those that know enough about this business to speculate about possible names offer six. For both lists, see Erin Jordan, "Favorites emerging for U of I post?; Experts suggest potential candidates for the presidency of the university," Des Moines Register, April 21, 2007.

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. Since then there have been two major additions: Nicholas Johnson, "Open Letter to UICCU Board" in "UI Held Hostage Day 423 - March 20 - UICCU," March 20, 2007, and "'Open Letter': Confirmation from World Council of Credit Unions" in "UI Held Hostage Day 424 - March 21 UICCU," March 21, 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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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As an attorney, one would think you would know better than to use heresay to prove a case. Skorton has never indicated he was driven out. He received a massive pay increase to take a step up career wise like a million other people before him. Too much is being read into this. EVERY job has its down points. In the end, positions like that are just mercenaries, and the public and regents will hang you out to dry so you best get as much pay as you can, because no one is going to pat you on the back at the end.