Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sally, We Hardly Knew Ye

June 28, 2007, 7:20 a.m.

Today: Newt Gingrich, 11:30, Quality Inn, 2525 North Dodge, Iowa City. Think I'll go see what the policy wonk (and possible Republican candidate) has to say. He's sounding much more thoughtful and less confrontational these days than he used to.

"Sally, We Hardly Knew Ye"

The link is to the title of my former neighbor Kenny O'Donnell's book about Jack Kennedy, drawn from an Irish song's lyrics, neither of which really has any relation to Sally Mason, aside from the fact that before she ultimately retires she may be able to write her own Profiles in Courage and we're only now "Getting to Know You." (The latter song's lyrics are a little more on point, coming as they do from The King and I and containing the lines in the introduction, "if you become a teacher, By your pupils you'll be taught.")

Why am I leading with this? Because there were two stories yesterday that I really wish we'd had -- either from Search Committee II or the media, and not just for President Mason but for all the candidates -- during Interview Week.

Erin Jordan, "New UI leader's goal is 'helping;' She knows how college students with tight finances feel. As an undergraduate, the new U of I president had to struggle to pay for school," Des Moines Register, June 27, 2007

Diane Heldt, "New UI leader raring to go; Mason doing her homework by calling key people, listening," The Gazette, June 27, 2007, p. A1.

Erin Jordan's piece presents essentially the "story" of Mason's life. It's the kind of stuff of which presidential campaign biographies are made. It kind of reminded me of President Clinton's convention video, "A Man From hope." In fact, I was half way through the story before I realized it was about someone who had already been selected as president of the the University of Iowa rather than someone running for president of the United States. (Speaking of which, Mason says she'll stay at Iowa until she retires. With a bio like that, and if things go well for her, I wouldn't be surprised to see her staying on after that as Iowa's Governor.)

From the beginning of this presidential search process I have expressed frustration and concern regarding how little Search Committee II -- and the media -- provided us by way of this kind of background on the candidates. Bear in mind, I'm not talking about anything "confidential," any invasions of privacy, anything to which a candidate could express legitimate objection to having been revealed. I'm talking about public information -- the kind of information one can find on the Internet, the kind of information Erin Jordan and Diane Heldt had in yesterday's stories.

Such feature stories, backgrounders, and revelations of Internet Web sites would have been a real public service, a legitimate news story, in any case. But on this occasion the Search Committee professed to want public evaluations of the candidates. No one is legally required to ask the public what they think about anything. But when we are asked I think that then imposes on whoever is asking at least some obligation to provide more of the public information in its possession than what, in this instance, a candidate for a job provides in his or her resume (c.v.).

I certainly don't see anything wrong with a feature story about a new UI president -- especially after "UI Held Hostage Day 516." It was quite a wait.

But I can't help but be curious about how it came about. Was it all the reporters' idea, or that of their editor? Was it generated by public relations folks at Iowa or Purdue? A call from Mason herself? Or have the Regents gone ahead and hired their own public relations firm, as they were talking about doing? See Nicholas Johnson, "Regents, Governance, PR Firms, Strategic Planning, Presidential Selection, and June 13" in "UI Held Hostage Day 487 - Governance Regents Number One Priority," May 23, 2007. Not that any one of those routes would be unusual or inappropriate. Just curious.

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[Note: If you're new to this blog, and interested in the whole UI President Search story . . .

This blog began in June 2006 and has addressed, and continues to addresses, a number of public policy, political, media, education, economic development, and other issues -- not just the UI presidential search. But that is the subject to which most attention has been focused in blog entries between November 2006 and June 2007.

The presidential search blog entries begin with Nicholas Johnson, "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006. They end with Nicholas Johnson, "UI Held Hostage Day 505 - Next (Now This) Week," June 10, 2007 (100-plus pages printed; a single blog entry for the events of June 10-21 ("Day 516"), plus over 150 attached comments from readers), and Nicholas Johnson, "UI Hostages Free At Last -- Habemas Mamam!," June 22, 2007.

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 entry related to the UI presidential search contains links to the full text of virtually all known, non-repetitive 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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