Thursday, June 07, 2007

UI Held Hostage Day 502 - Show Me the Web Sites

June 7, 2007, 6:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m.

UI Presidential Search: The Utility of Campus Visits -- and the Internet

Make no mistake, I think it's great we're going to have on-campus visits and interviews next week -- however bungled the process will be with the Regents parachuting into Iowa City and crashing our party in the middle of that week. In fact, I think on-campus visits are essential.

But they're also superficial.

When it comes to doing background checks, if 100 hours are going to be invested in checking out a candidate I'd much rather it be 100 hours by one responsible and resourceful person than 20 minutes by each of 300 people.

In an earlier blog entry I wrote about a search in which I had participated (not for a UI president). We had a search committee and an expensive, well-regarded search firm. Before making our selection, as a backup to their work and just to make sure someone had touched all the bases, I gave a weekend out of my life to searching the Web and calling some of the most logical people regarding one of our top candidates. The result? I discovered to my horror that no one from our search firm (or committee) had contacted any of the people who knew the most about that candidate. None of the relevant 90 Web sites I'd found, containing some relevant negative information, had even been visited by them, let alone copied and passed along to committee members. Nicholas Johnson, "Search Committee II Meeting Today; Campus Visits Plan," in "UI Held Hostage Day 494 - Heathcare, Search, Downtown," May 30, 2007.

In an age when folks are Googling their blind dates before going out with them, thorough Internet searches about job applicants should be standard procedure.

So I'm wondering: Has our UI Presidential Search Committee II, or its search firm, done these thorough Internet searches on these folks whose secret identities are to be revealed to us next week? One certainly hopes so.

But because that
task can take a lot of hours, those are hours that -- once put in -- should not have to be individually invested by every single member of the University and Iowa City communities. There are many who will want to play some role in the selection process: becoming informed, asking questions in public sessions, and providing feedback and opinions to Search Committee II (as it has requested).

Search Committee II can argue that what it has found out in interviews with the candidates, the references provided by the candidates, and others its members have talked to -- along with any work product of committee members -- should be treated as confidential.

But there is no basis for its arguing that the Web sites it examined and found relevant should be confidential -- not what a member wrote in the margins of a Web site printout, not what was discussed in closed session about the information, not even what it was committee members found significant on that Web site -- just the URLs, the Web site addresses of sites containing information available to any member of the public.

We need, and are entitled to, Search Committee II's Internet links regarding candidates.

There is no justification for confidentiality with regard to the links to the public Web sites which committee members, having examined all mentioning the candidates, thought contained the most relevant and useful information.

There is no excuse, no justification, for not providing them to the University and Iowa City communities prior to the candidates arrival. What's on the Web is, after all, public information. But there's no way that I, or any other individual, could put in the time to search through all the thousands of Web hits on five very public persons during the one week available for the task. Nor is there any reason why we should have to if the work has already been done.

Without community access to even that minimal bit of information, the candidates' campus visits, their open interviews by the Regents, closed meetings with administrators, and public sessions during the afternoons, will be little more than a superficial public relations charade.

What if Search Committee II refuses to provide those links because it never bothered to find and consider them in the first place -- it simply doesn't have them? In that case we have another very real problem of enormous magnitude that will be somewhere between very difficult and impossible to resolve at this late date.

Here's an example of what's out there on the Internet.

Yesterday Erin Jordan broke the news that Purdue Provost, Sally Mason, is one of the five finalists. Since she's the only name we have, I put in a little time yesterday afternoon with Mason as my example. Please understand, I don't know her. I don't know anyone who does. I've interviewed no one. I may very well end up deciding she's the best of the lot. So nothing here is presented with a desire to either advance or retard her chances.

This blog entry is merely designed to be illustrative of the kind of information that is publicly available on the Internet. It's information that at least some individuals may think is worth taking into consideration when doing a comparative evaluation of candidates. On the other hand, some items would involve things that, in fairness, one would at least want to ask a candidate about before relying upon.

I decided to see what Google might lead me to on the Internet if I were to put in the search field ["Sally Mason" Purdue].

There were a total of 890 hits.

I just looked at the first 60. So what follows are (a) some arbitrary selections, (b) from a tiny sampling (7% of the available sites) for (c) just one of the five candidates. But hopefully it is enough to illustrate why I think it is so essential that we have access to Search Committee II's best links about the candidates -- both to avoid every individual having to find the relevant sites, and because the sites contain information many may think relevant.

Here are the standard basics on Provost Mason:

Provost Sally Frost Mason received her bachelor's degree in Zoology from the University of Kentucky in 1972, a master's degree from Purdue University in 1974, and a Ph.D. in cellular, molecular and developmental biology from the University of Arizona in 1978. She subsequently spent two years at Indiana University in Bloomington doing postdoctoral research before joining the University of Kansas in January 1981.

While at KU, she moved through the faculty ranks and in 1991 was promoted to full professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences. From 1986 to 1989 she served as acting chair of the Department of Physiology and Cell Biology and from 1990 to 1995 served as an associate dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Following a national search in 1995, she was appointed Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. In the spring of 2001, Dr. Mason returned to Purdue where she is currently a Professor of Biology and Provost of the University.
Most Web sites mentioning Mason involve news releases from the Purdue Provost's office and are of little consequence for our purposes. None of the other sites that I found were either exceptionally positive or negative. But there were a few that seemed to me to be of at least some interest and relevance:

* She's on the rebound, having just been rejected in her bid for the Purdue presidency. (That raises an interesting question: Did she put herself into consideration for the jobs at both Iowa and Purdue months ago without letting either know she had applied to the other? Or is she an "added starter" that only came to Search Committee II's attention within the past three weeks?) Here's the Chicago Tribune story from last month ("Purdue Provost Sally Mason, who had said when the [Purdue] search began that she would apply, said Friday she no longer was a candidate").

* Alleged research misconduct during her watch was sufficiently serious to attract the attention of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology, as revealed in this staff memo to the Chairman. (Although she was not, of course, personally involved in the research itself she was personally involved in Purdue's investigations and public statements.)

* Here are excerpts from the Lafayette, Indiana, Journal and Courier story:

A strongly worded memo a Congressional committee sent to Purdue [as distinguished from the House Committee staff memo sent to their chairman, mentioned above] Thursday scolds university officials for their shallow inquiry into multiple research misconduct claims and challenged the university to correct its mistakes.

. . .

Purdue held an inquiry into the allegations, but finally concluded there was no misconduct.

But the memo from the House Committee on Science and Technology's subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, argues that finding should have been impossible based on the evidence Purdue found . . . [and] should have warranted further investigation, the memo said.

. . .

The issue is a problem for Purdue because funding organizations could shy away from the university over the investigation. That could mean lost research dollars and difficulty attracting faculty.

. . .

Provost Sally Mason, in the release, said another inquiry was started in February, just after a decision was made not to go to a full investigation. She said further claims prompted the second inquiry.

"Under our policy on integrity in research, we began this new review in confidence, and we will endeavor to keep the committee's activities confidential until we make our report to Congressman Miller's committee," Mason said.

. . .

[The] Purdue vice president for university relations, said an investigation was never launched because the faculty committee that did the initial inquiry decided it wasn't necessary.

The memo outlines the inquiries from Purdue and said further investigation was warranted, but was never acted upon, violating the university's own procedures. If there was possible wrongdoing, the university should have launched a full investigation.

"There is no question that Purdue deviated from its own procedures in [investigating] this case and did not conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations . . .," the memo said.

. . .

The memo also suggests Mason tried to brush the allegations aside by calling them nothing more than personality conflicts in the Department of Nuclear Engineering.

"What you've got are really some individuals here who, for whatever reason, are pretty unhappy with each other and are going at it tooth and nail," Mason was quoted as saying in April of this year. "And they really like to use whoever they can as a scapegoat to make a point." [To which, in another story, "C.K. Gunsalus, special counsel at the University of Illinois who teaches leadership and ethics in business classes, said focusing on the internal strife is the wrong thing to do, though. She said any allegations that seem plausible should be investigated thoroughly."]

The memo, and a letter from committee chairman Brad Miller, D-N.C., urges Purdue to change its committee membership. The new committee contains people from the previous committees.

"Appointing new, independent and disinterested committee members would add credibility to the process," the memo said.
Brian Wallheimer, "Congress scolds Purdue’s cursory probe into research misconduct," Journal-Courier, May 10, 2007.

* A credentialed blogger reported this past March, from Reuters, that "neither Purdue Provost Sally Mason or spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg consider this a matter of fraud or even worthy of an investigation; instead, Mason said, it is 'a review of the research and the allegations related to it.'"

* Whatever the total of "lost research dollars" may amount to, they have been at least in part covered by a generous $2 million gift to Purdue last September from Provost Mason and her husband.

* But it may take a little more than $2 million given that, "According to the provost [Sally Mason], the University has 'lost ground' in improving faculty salaries because there simply isn't enough money." Sarah Michalos, "Faculty salaries continue to sink due to lack of funds," The Exponent, December 1, 2006.

* In February 2006 she received a presidential appointment from President George Bush.
Don't these random items make you wonder what are in the other 830 Web sites I didn't examine, and the 60 I did? (Since she's spent 21 years of her career at Kansas, there are also 196 hits produced by a search on ["Sally Mason" ("University of Kansas" OR "Kansas University")]. I looked at none of those sites. A thorough search would require the use of other search terms, too.) Let's hope someone with Search Committee II did look at all of them -- and will tell us which ones we should also examine -- not just for Provost Sally Mason, but for the other four candidates as well.

# # #

Today's news stories . . .

Editorial, "Openness, Good; Regents' Timing, Questionable,"
Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 7, 2007.

Erin Jordan, "U of I Finalsts' Interviews Will Be Public, Regents Say,"
Des Moines Register, June 7, 2007.

Gregg Hennigan, " Purdue provost mum about UI job; Mason didn’t deny being among 5 finalists interviewing," The Gazette, June 7, 2007, p. B2 [go to The Gazette newspaper site and use drop down menus to find "06/07/07" and page "B2"].

Gregg Hennigan, "Ex-regent calls UI faculty hypocrites; Secrecy condemned is now condoned, Wahlert alleges," The Gazette, June 7, 2007, p. A1; earlier as,
"Former Regent Criticizes UI Search Secrecy,"
The Gazette Online, June 6, 2007, 10:14 p.m. [and see instructions immediately above].

Brian Morelli, "Wahlert: Faculty Doing 'A 180,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 7, 2007.

Ashton Shurson, "Rumors Swirl Around Presidential Search," The Daily Iowan, June 7, 2007.

State29, "Do Google Searches and Background Checks Really Matter," June 7, 2007. (Note for clarification: State29 is not arguing there is no relevant information on the Internet about university hires; he's arguing that "the fix is in" on most of them and that, therefore, it doesn't matter what thorough research may uncover, they'll be hired anyway.)


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.

# # #

[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.]

# # #

Media Stories and Commentary

See above.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Anonymous said...

Various statements taken from today's Press-Citizen:
The leader of the initial University of Iowa presidential search, Teresa Wahlert, said the second search committee has not been public for critical parts of the search, and faculty are showing bias by not criticizing it.
Wahlert said the faculty just wants to support its own, showing a lack of credibility."I think this is about who is running the search and not who they are going to get (for a president)," Wahlert said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "Their point of view at the time was to take down the regents, not to get the most qualified person."

Wahlert may be correct in suggesting that the campus is more subdued than before in its response to Search Committee II's actions, but what's bitterly humorous is that the same person who was in charge of Search I is in charge of Search II: Regent President Gartner. But her question is good. One could rephrase it: where is the outrage? Is this tepid campus response a consequence of faculty "protecting their own"? Are they blind to the fact that this search is a ruse of major proportion, and that most of the faculty on that committee are no more to blame than they were in Search I?

Anonymous said...

Why are you entitled to the links they have? Based on what? Your personal need to know?

I dont recall that the ICCSD runs the approval of every school administrator by the parents or students.

Anonymous said...

The fight between the search committee and regents (reported in the press citizen) over the disclosure of names seems crazy at this point. It is only making this university look more like a circus every minute. Of course Gartner already knows who's on the list (and who's on first -- ok, bad pun).

This is just another attempt at an "exit strategy" for Gartner. Have you noticed how he didn't do or say a thing until we are heading down the home stretch? Now, days out and he is doing everything he can to stir up controversy.

Just watch -- we are headed for an attempt to declare the search a failure. I hope the other regents resist this blatant attempt to disrupt what was a very good process up until Gartner started flailing around.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it, anonymous 7:19...You begin by suggesting that Gartner knows who the finalists (and perhaps the final candidate) are, which implies that he's had the whole thing rigged (that's how it now appears to me) but then you go on to suggest things were fine until "Gartner started flailing around." As I see it, he's been "flailing around" from the start of this process, and it doesn't matter what anyone's responses are to any of the candidates that are coming in, and it doesn't matter if anyone screams about Hogan being omitted from the finalists, because he's already picked his candidate. Gartner already has a choice. (Or are you suggesting that choice may not materialize and so the search will once again be nullified?) If that's what you're saying I guess I agree. Regardless, this is insanity and I would think that it is precisely the new Regents and the Governor who might not want to intervene, but for whose intervention we should be grateful!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, 6/17, 13:00:

Yes -- this is what I'm saying...

Gartner has a pick; it might not gain enough support and he is aware of that; so, he has been working since the airport interviews to stir up controversy and set the stage for an exit strategy-- a failed search. I think it's a long-shot, but then, he's surprised us before.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, anonymous 6/8 there no way to avert this?