Tuesday, May 08, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 472 - Beagle's Landing; More Secrecy

May 8, 2007, 2:30 p.m.

The Beagle Is Landing; Plus: But before I do . . .

Having spent 320 days in the blogosphere, I am now on time and on course to return to the reality of Earth this evening for a brief rest before my next lift off into the blogosphere sometime later this month.

(The record for the longest time in space is, I believe, held by "medical doctor Valeriy Polyakov [who] set a new world space-endurance record by living on Mir for 438 days -- long enough for a spacecraft to travel to Mars." Glenn Elert, ed., "Duration of the Longest Space Flight," The Physics Factbook. This feat was, of course, eclipsed by our Board of Regents some 34 days ago -- on their way to today's "UI Held Hostage Day 472." Way to go!)

I believe this blog is adequately provisioned to sustain any who may shuttle up here and stop by during the interim, given that I cannot find everything written here even with all the available search features and the "Blog Index" -- and it's stuff I've written. So just look around. Ultimately you'll find more than enough to read.

I'm around. I'm not going anywhere. I'm just going to spend some time on Earth and get some non-blog work done, and survey what's happened to the Planet in my absence.

Meanwhile, I trust the Governor, Legislature, Board of Regents, UI administration and faculty to carry on briefly without my direction -- subject only to such commentary as may be necessary upon my return.

But Before I Do . . .

Having said that I'll trust all those folks while I'm out of the blogosphere, I just can't let this morning's news (May 8) go without comment.

Here are excerpts from The Gazette's take on the story. Gregg Hennigan, "UI interview location to be secret; Time, date, agenda will be posted for semifinalist interviews," The Gazette, May 8, 2007, p. B1:
The state’s open-meetings law requires that the time, date, place and a tentative agenda be posted at least 24 hours before a meeting of a governmental body.

The time, date and an agenda of the interviews will be posted, but their location will be kept secret and the meetings will be closed to the public to protect candidates’ identities, UI general counsel Marc Mills said Monday.

The decision came after consulting the state Attorney General’s Office. Mills said ‘‘the global thinking’’ is that the search committee is subject to the open-meetings law. ‘‘The intent is, again, to provide the notice as the law requires us to do but not to open it up so that the identity of those individuals is known,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s the balance we’re trying to strike.’’

Kathleen Richardson, the Iowa Freedom of Information Council’s executive secretary, criticized the decision.

‘‘If they’re going to follow the notice requirement, they can’t pick and choose what they’re going to provide,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘Otherwise, they’re again defying the intent of the law, which is that people who want to attend meetings should know where and when they are.’’

* * *
The public notice section of the law, however, lists no exceptions for providing the time, date, place and agenda for open and closed meetings. Bob Brammer, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, which often performs legal services for Iowa’s public universities, declined comment, citing attorney-client privilege.

* * *
The search committee has not yet decided how to handle finalist interviews.
There are multiple issues here.

1. Desirability of secrecy in hiring. I've repeatedly made my own position clear: I would not want as UI president someone whose first official act is their insistence on a veil of secrecy over their activities. I've spelled out other disadvantages in greater detail elsewhere: Nicholas Johnson, "Shhh, It's a Secret" in "UI Held Hostage Day 467 -- UI's Stealth President," May 3, 2007; and see Nicholas Johnson, "UI's Stealth President Update" in "UI Held Hostage Day 470 -- Stealth Pres; Cable; Media," May 6, 2007.

On the other hand, I've had conversations with knowledgeable persons who have personally witnessed the disadvantages of having to reveal the identities of job applicants. In at least one case a university president was told by his board that if he revealed the fact he was a candidate at Iowa (during a prior presidential search) he would be fired. I give them the benefit of the doubt that the concerns they express are genuinely held. I just disagree.

2. Applicability of Iowa's Open Meetings Law to Search Committee II. All seem to concede that Search Committee II is bound by the Open Meetings law (as the quote from UI general counsel Marc Mills, above, would seem to confirm).

3. Interviews conducted in Closed Meetings. I don't think the Act is as clear as some others seem to believe it is with regard to permitting interviews to be held in closed session. (The reference to "harm" from open discussion of personnel matters seems to me more directed to disciplinary proceedings, or firings, for violations of law, unprofessional or immoral conduct than it is to hiring someone for a prestigious position.) But there are strong arguments to be made for Search Committee II's position that it can, in some instances, go into closed session for the interview itself.

4. Creating a closed meeting. The Iowa law is very clear. In order to have a closed meeting one must first have an open meeting. During the open meeting a motion can be made to go into closed session, there is a statement of the statutory provision, the exception permitting a closed session, on which the body is relying, and then a vote is taken. At the conclusion of the closed meeting the body comes back into an open meeting before adjourning.

5. Open meetings requirements. At least 24 hours prior to a meeting the board or commission -- or in this case Search Committee II -- must make public (a) that an open meeting is to be held, (b) the day and time of the meeting, (c) the place of the meeting, and (d) the agenda of what is to be discussed and decided. All of these requirements must be met. The purpose, after all, is to enable the media and public to be present. It would do little good to know where a meeting will be held, but not what day or time; or to know the day and time, but not the location. These requirements are not like pizza toppings, where you get to pick any three of five. You have to take them all. When it comes to the law you can't say, for example, "I'm willing to keep both headlights working on my car, but I really think one tail light ought to be enough."

6. Changing the law. Admittedly, there is a potential conflict in the Open Meetings law: if, in fact, secret interviews are permitted because revealing the applicants' names would cause them harm, then it follows that requiring the mandated procedures for open meetings going into closed sessions would certainly risk the revelation of those names (as applicants would be subject to being seen as they arrived and left). But if there is a need for a change in the law (that has been there for some years now), that is something to be done by the State Legislature -- as Professor Arthur Bonfield and others (including myself) have advocated be done with regard to a number of provisions. It is not something that a governmental body should be doing unilaterally on its own to suit its convenience and the requests of job applicants.

7. Best strategy. If those advising Search Committee II do want to free the Committee from the legal mandates of the Open Meetings Law (a position I do not support), it seems to me they would be better advised to try to make the argument that none of its notice provisions apply. That's admittedly a tough argument to win. But it seems to me it would be easier than their present, rather loony "cut the baby in half" compromise position, that a law designed to enable public and media to witness government action can be adequately served by announcing the day and time of a meeting but not its location. Just argue that secret, closed applicant interview sessions are required and that any notice regarding when and where they are to occur will compromise that need.

8. The pragmatic solution. Put the law aside for a moment and think in systems analysis terms. Here's a simple solution to all the cloak and dagger secrecy -- that, not incidentally, fully complies with the open meetings law while radically reducing the cost of what usually turns into a $250,000 expense per search. Use video conferencing (if the Committee insists on seeing the applicant), or the even cheaper audio conferencing. Announce the time and place and agenda of the Committee's open meeting. Go into closed session for interviews (in a room that's adequately sound proofed that you don't have to be worried about being overheard). Interview to your heart's content; ask all the questions you can think of and more. When you're done, go back into open session and adjourn. It's simple. It's incredibly cheap. It saves an enormous amount of time of Search Committee II members travelling to distant (or even in-state) locations. Is it "the same" as interviewing someone face to face; is it as effective? No. But given the problems associated with the alternatives it's not a bad trade off. (A colleague (not Arthur) and I discussed this earlier in the day. But I didn't clear with him using his name in connetion with this idea.)

OK. Now I can land.

Good luck in the interim, my friends. Looks like you may need it.

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 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

See above.

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