Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Name Game & Other Moral Dilemmas

July 4, 2007, 6:00, 7:00 a.m. [addition of links and excerpt from "Conflicts, Cover-Ups and Corruption"], 8:35 a.m. [addition of "Other News" links], 3:10 p.m. [addition of links to photos of Coralville 4th of July parade (in "Other News" section)]

More on "The Name Game"

Yesterday morning, on reading the Press-Citizen's page one story that the University of Iowa was seriously considering the unprecedented step of naming one of its colleges after a corporation, I made an effort to think through some of the issues this raised in my mind. The blog entry on the subject ended up with 11 categories of issues involved in "The Name Game" surrounding the naming rights to universities, their colleges and buildings. Nicholas Johnson, "Wellmark's College of Public Health" in "The Corporate College of . . .," July 3, 2007.

By this morning it was obvious that I was not the only one who was concerned. Governor Culver, Board of Regents member Bob Downer, and numerous others were raising some of the same points that I had blogged about yesterday, reported in page one stories in the local press. E.g., Brian Morelli, "Possible Naming Raises Concerns; Some Fear Conflict of Interest with Wellmark, College," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 4, 2007, p. A1.

State29, apparently blogging on these issues about the same time that I was, came up with a similar analysis -- although, as always, expressed in much more colorful language. State29, "Enron Field," July 3, 2007.

What's happening, as I see it, is but a tiny sub-set of a much larger, looming challenge that I wrote about in an earlier blog entry. Nicholas Johnson, "Greed, Conflicts, Cover-Ups and Corruption" in "Conflicts, Cover-Ups and Corruption," June 26, 2007.

Our so-called "public universities" (increasingly "private" in terms of operating budgets and escalating tuition and other student expenses) are in a period of transition -- although to what is not altogether clear. I wrote about these alternative futures in a Press-Citizen op ed. Nicholas Johnson, "Where Are We Going? Who's Going With Us?" Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 19, 2007.

Faculties, funded by grateful legislatures and protected by tenure, used to debate issues such as whether it was still necessary to require all Ph.D. candidates to exhibit some fluency in Latin and Greek. Most professors probably did not know -- and would have seen little reason why they should -- anything about their university's taxpayer-funded budget (aside from their own salary).

Today, an ever increasing number of faculty are (a) employed without thenure, and (b) required to personally raise part or all of their own salary and supporting expenses. There's not much talk about Greek and Latin requirements in that environment.

But these are changes for which many faculty -- and those among them functioning as deans -- are ill prepared. Not only do they not have experience, or hold degrees in, "business," they (like the public-policy-driven aspiring young politician) probably did not spend their early years honing a passion to become, and then spend a significant portion of their lives as, a major fund raiser.

We are familiar with the "conflicts, cover-ups and corruption" in business. When State29 headlines his blog entry about the Welmark College of Public Health "Enron Field" it's a shorthand we all immediately understand.

Indeed, there are some who would suggest that "business ethics" is an oxymoron. Notwithstanding our business schools' courses in the subject the scandals continue to fill the pages of our newspapers, the reports of our congressional hearings, and provide grist for feature films. (Michael Moore's "Sicko" is only the latest in a long line.) See, Nicholas Johnson, "'The Corporation' and the Search for Agreement," October 1, 2004 (reflections and suggestions following a UI College of Business viewing, and discussion, of the film "The Corporation").

But the business community has some awareness of the inherent conflict of interest it confronts on an hourly and daily basis. The recent reports regarding products from China -- from pet food, to human medicine, to children's toys to automobile tires -- are reminiscent of our own history of business (not all of it ancient history). Off-shore tax havens, outsourcing manufacturing, reducing quantities while increasing prices, pumping up stock prices with "creative accounting," raiding pension funds, cartels and price fixing among competitors -- the examples are endless.

It is said, "You get what you measure." And when all you measure is what falls to the bottom line (and bounces back in the form of ever-increasing stock prices) there is a great temptation to let moral and ethical values fall as well.

Unlike the business community -- and ironically in some ways -- the academy is much less experienced, sophisticated or reflective about such moral dilemmas. Moreover, we're handicapped -- as are the clergy and many politicians -- with the genuine belief that, because we, our mission and goals are so pure of mind and spirit and set apart from worldly matters, anything we do is of necessity equally pure and commendable. Those in business, by contrast, are aware of the moral and ethical pitfalls. They may choose to ignore ethical issues and focus only on maximizing ever-increasing profits, but at least they are aware of what they are doing. They know what the ethical standards are; they know what they're doing.

Academics often do not.

To help explain, let me repeat some of what I wrote in "Conflicts, Cover-Ups and Corruption." At the time, of course, I had no idea the University of Iowa would ever actually consider selling off the name of a college, or building, to a corporation. I was merely writing about the kinds of potential conflicts of interest, and tough ethical and moral dilemmas our new President, Sally Mason, will necessarily find herself having to address. The discussion helps to set "The Name Game" in the context of a range of ethical dilemmas. Here's an excerpt:
The story illustrates another problem with greed. Once money becomes the sole coin of the realm, and the need for profits is replaced with ever-increasing pressure for ever-increasing profits, conflicts of interest become ever more difficult to resolve ethically.

Years ago magazines aimed at women said little to nothing about the fact that the number of women dying from lung cancer was increasing, ultimately surpassing the number dying from breast cancer. Editors knew the story, they knew lung cancer's relationship to increased cigarette consumption by women, they knew manufacturers were targeting women -- and doing so in significant measure with the ads the companies were running in their magazines. But they needed the advertising revenue and, well, "women probably aren't interested in reading those stories anyway."

The NCAA wants to distance itself from sports gambling, and the gambling industry generally, in every way possible. It expressly forbids association with gambling casinos at NCAA events or in its advertising. It highly recommends that NCAA schools follow the same practice. It has written the UI athletic program with regard to its partnership with the Riverside Gambling Casino. And yet our football program tries to rationalize the gambling partnership while refusing to do anything about it.

This morning's Daily Iowan reports, Ashton Shurson, "Mason, Barta Set to Work Together," The Daily Iowan, June 26, 2007, that our new president has paid proper respect to the athletics program and its director. The story quotes Interim President Fethke as saying, "You have to respect the athletics director's opinion and point of view and trust that person."

Fethke's "respect" was so substantial that he's never (so far as I know) said anything critical in public regarding the NCAA's slap in our face about our gambling partnership with the Riverside Casino. Will the leadership that Mason brings include the ethical, moral and legal issues this relationship raises -- or will she continue the deafening silence from Jessup Hall on the issue because, after all, the athletic program is increasingly responsible for raising its own money, they have to get it where they can, and a university president must show "respect" to the athletic director?

Universities are not immune from the pressures that in corporate American can produce an Enron, or the political pressures that produce a U.S. Congress that simply can't "afford" to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry. Mason has been advised that as much as one-third of her time should be spent in fund raising. Clearly it's a major part of what she has been hired to do, a major part of the "performance" that can produce an extra $50,000 a year under her contract.

As such, she -- like every other big university's president -- will be subjected to similar pressures as the editor who must decide whether s/he can "afford" to run an essential story that will cause a loss of advertising revenue, an athletic director who must weigh the advice (and standards) of the NCAA against the revenue that can come from the gambling industry, or a politician in need of campaign contributions deciding how to vote on a measure that will clearly help her constituents but cause a special interest group to cut off her funding.

How will she decide whether to accept a major contribution from a donor who wants a faculty member fired (or hired), or a program established that is antithetical to the university's mission?

We've already stopped naming colleges and buildings for scholars and started naming them for donors. Are there any limits? The CEO of Home Depot gave $200 million to the Atlanta museum. Would we, for an equivalent amount, become "The Home Depot University of Iowa"? What if Larry Flynt would offer $300 million if we'd change the name to "Flynt University"? (After all there's a "Stanford University" and a "Duke University" -- named for a guy who made his money from tobacco.) Why not a "Flynt University"? We need his money as much as Barta needs the gambling industry's money.

What about a corporation that is willing to underwrite a multi-million-dollar research program -- so long as it gets a disproportionate share of the benefits from what it produces?

How candid should she be about, or should she even acknowledge at all, a potential scandal that could deal a blow to fund raising?

The question is not whether she will confront such conflicts. Of course she will. It goes with the territory in an age in which what used to be educational institutions with public support have developed more in common with for-profit corporations. The question is how she will respond to them. These conflicts often involve shades of gray. The more profitable choice can often be rationalized in some way -- as Barta tries to do with gambling money.

How many bars are there within walking distance of the campus -- 40? They are so profitable -- and therefore so politically powerful -- that the City Council seems incapable of doing anything meaningful to curb students' binge drinking. Well, who are these customers anyway? They are students. The University's students. Our students. At a time when the University is in need of every source of income it can find, when it issues lucrative monopoly contracts to Coca Cola (so it can raise its prices) notwithstanding the product's health impact on students, why just wink at the profits from binge drinking when the University could be sharing in them? With a little ingenuity I think the University could be pulling in the lion's share of that money with its own entertainment venues. Something to think about.

I imagine that even President Mason cannot now imagine the choices -- the potential conflicts, cover-ups and corruption -- she will have to confront or how she will resolve them.

This morning's Register story illustrates how "just a little harmless doctoring of the promotional literature" is not only morally wrong, but can backfire. If those putting comments on that Register story represent the majority they may be, that may just be "all she wrote" on the sales tax for the wealthy.

The University's story? That's yet to be written.
Nicholas Johnson, "Greed, Conflicts, Cover-Ups and Corruption" in "Conflicts, Cover-Ups and Corruption," June 26, 2007.

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Other News:

Pictures of the Coralville Fourth of July Parade, with emphasis on presidential candidates (listed alphabetically by last name, Democrats and then Republicans) and other elected officials, separated by shots of other floats and scenes.

Note: As always, The Gazette's stories can be found at its main Web site.)

The Fourth of July: Speaking Truth to Power

Leonard Pitts, Jr., "America is at War With Itself," The Gazette, July 4, 2007 ("it seems to me it is not the people who make America great, but America that has made the people great -- [the idea of America] the idea of American exceptionalism")

And thanks to The Gazette for reminding us, today, of the full text of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, The Gazette, July 4, 2007, p. A7 -- the ultimate speaking of truth to power that made possible the birth of our nation.

Senator Biden's and Clinton's Visit

Here are the photos on my Picasa Web site for the Senator Biden event July 2, and Senator Clinton event July 3.

As always, John Deeth is the best (most thorough) source for political events. See John Deeth, "Biden Time on the Ped Mall," July 2, 2007, and "Clinton and Clinton Live at U Iowa," July 3, 2007 (with photos -- better than mine).

Rachel Gallegos, "Clintons visit Iowa City; Hillary Clinton talks health care, education in campaign stop," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 4, 2007

James Q. Lynch, "Former First Lady Ready to Lead, Clintons Tell I.C.," The Gazette, July 4, 2007, p. A1.

Thomas Beaumont, "Clinton Says Her Campaign Has Recovered from Slow Start," Des Moines Register, July 4, 2007.

Wellmark College of Public Health

Brian Morelli, "Possible Naming Raises Concerns; Some Fear Conflict of Interest with Wellmark, College," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 4, 2007, p. A1.

Diane Heldt, "Wellmark College at the UI?; Plan to put corporate name on school in exchange for gift prompts concern," The Gazette, July 4, 2007, p. A1.

Greg Thompson, "Some New Names for Other UI Departments," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 4, 2007.

State29, "Enron Field," July 3, 2007.

Our "Destiny"? Shifting Taxes From the Wealthy to the Backs of the Poor

Melissa Walker, "'Destiny' to hurt poor the most, economist says; Those living on fixed incomes spend more of their money on taxable goods, they say," Des Moines Register, July 4, 2007.

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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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Anonymous said...

This is from this morning’s story in the Gazette “Move to name UI public health college after Wellmark raises eyebrows”

“James Merchant, the college dean, sent an e-mail last Wednesday afternoon for an emergency faculty meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday, the following day. Faculty were not told what the meeting was about, and the college's Faculty Council was not asked to weigh in on the topic, faculty speaking with The Gazette who asked that they not be identified said.

Several faculty said they felt rushed to approve the naming proposal without having time to consider it.”

What exactly is the hurry? And once again, why the secrecy?

Let’s consider just one aspect of this particular situation – timing. First of all it comes after the last President left amid conflicts with Wellmark and after the University and the Regents have completed a contentious search for a new President but before the new President takes office.

It also comes in the midst of a Presidential primary campaign where one of the hot issues is health care and specifically the role of private insurance. Add to that the release of “Sicko” and a multi-million dollar PR response from the insurance industry to discredit the film and Michael Moore.

You don’t have to believe in corporate conspiracies in order to know that the mere appearance of naming the College of Public Health after the dominant health insurer in the state stains the reputation and the integrity of the University, the hospital and the medical school as well as the College of Public Health.

Anonymous said...

there is not overwhelming support for this in our college, as dean merchant and other bought-off faculty may lead the press and others to believe. many of us are deeply troubled. we couldn't all go to the meeting, though. we had hardly any notice and some of us are not even inthe state right now. so our opinions were not heard -- yes we emailed the dean. do you think hes' publishing it? if this is accepted by our university i will promptly look for another job and take my grants with me. this is a shameful situation and it is a clear conflict of interest. as downer noted our university has a contract with wellmark and it is disadvantageous. this only keesp us hostage to that poor situation. dean merchant is retiring and he is leaving us stained and sold out like a cheap bottle of mad dog.

even the holden cancer center got more (25 million) and its only a center. this is nothing more than a sell out.

Anonymous said...

Why can't the University have some goodwill building/program namings?

For example, why does the university continue to have buildings like "Art Building West" and "Theater Building" when it could have the "Grant Wood Art Center" or the "Tennessee Williams Theater Building"?

Have we really run out of legitimate accomplished faculty/alumni to honor that we must sell ourselves to the highest corporate bidder?

Anonymous said...

the university of iowa sold it's soul years ago in the name game.