Friday, July 20, 2007

Regents Confront Bully, Guns on Campus

July 20, 2007, 6:00, 7:40, 8:10 a.m.

Regents Address Bullies, Corporatization Policies, Guns on Campus;
Mason's Dilemma

The Campus Bully -- and Why Wellmark by Any Other Name Would Smell the Same

Brian Morelli, "Regent Accuses Donor of Bullying; Says It Was Improper for Pomerantz to Call for Firing," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 20, 2007, p. A1

Erin Jordan, "Fethke Key to Rebound of Wellmark Naming Idea," Des Moines Register, July 20, 2007

Clara Hogan, "Regent Eyes Naming Policy," The Daily Iowan, July 20, 2007

Editorial, "UI could avoid future Wellmark controversies by standardizing rules on corporate donations," The Daily Iowan, July 20, 2007

Yesterday I wrote ("And the beating goes on") regarding the impropriety, and self-defeating quality, of Pomerantz' call for Dean Merchant's resignation. Today Brian Morelli reports the comparable response of the Regents to Pomerantz' behavior:

President Pro Tem David Miles: "I really think it is an improper attempt to dictate internal personal [personnel?] decisions at the regents institutions. He is attempting to bully our incoming president by threatening the loss of significant financial support if his demands are not met quickly. I trust the board will reject this interference. President Mason has my full support in the independent exercise of her authority as a Board of Regents appointee to manage the university and lead it forward. I think it is perfectly appropriate for Pomerantz to disagree vigorously. I think it is inappropriate to step across the line and demand the president fire the dean. Indeed, by its letter, the current policy would allow naming of a college after a commercial product. However, at least from what I have been able to find, it appears that naming a college after a corporate donor would be a first in higher education."

Regent Bonnie Campbell: "Terminating someone's employment is a very serious matter, and I would approach that skeptically. [Pomerantz] can say whatever he wants; we have a First Amendment. Obviously, it's a strong sentiment, but I don't know on what basis [Merchant] would be terminated."

Regent Bob Downer: "I am not aware of any basis at this point for calling for Dean Merchant's resignation. [Pomerantz] has earned the right to make whatever comment he chooses to make. Marvin Pomerantz is a great Iowan. No one I know has done more for education at all levels than Marvin Pomerantz."
I've written at length in prior blog entries about my view of the naming issue, and won't repeat that here -- except to note that the primary problem lies in taking the money, whatever name is or is not adopted for the college or put on the building, when there are inherent conflicts between the source and the recipient. (Given the ongoing -- and largely adversarial -- business relationships between the University and Wellmark that raises some question as to the propriety of the University accepting substantial grants from Wellmark for any purpose.)

Now that the movie "Sicko" is dramatizing the question of the propriety of insurance company profiteering from the delivery -- or, rather, the withholding -- of health care there is a special irony, as well as an offensive conflict of interest, in a College of Public Health accepting money (let alone naming itself after) a health insurance company at the height of the national debate over the future of Americans' health care and the negative impact of so-called "health" insurance companies.

"Sicko" -- Today's the Day! Today's the Day!

And speaking of "Sicko," yes, today's the day it -- at long last -- finally opens in Iowa City at the Sycamore Mall theater. Rachel Gallegos, "Group to Greet 'Sicko' With Pledge," Iowa City Press-Citizen, July 20, 2007, p. A1. If you go today, or this weekend, you'll have a lottery player's chance to win a visit -- at Michael Moore's expense -- to a country that provides free health care to all its citizens. The film also ties in with the SEIU's targeting of Iowa, and its presidential candidate visitors, for health care public policy. Representatives will be present at today's showings. Do see it if you haven't yet -- and then re-think the Wellmark naming issues.

Campus Police: "Believed to be Armed and Dangerous!"

Rod Boshart, "Campus Safety Changes Urged; Review Done in Wake of Virginia Tech Calls for Sirens, Cell Phone Messaging," The Gazette, July 20, 2007, p. A1.

Dan Piller, "Campus firearms issue goes to regents; Gov. Culver won't take a position on police having guns at universities," Des Moines Register, July 20, 2007.

No one wants to touch this one. The Governor says its for the Regents. The Regents say they'll respond to the universities presidents' recommendations.

Here are some preliminary thoughts:

(1) My memory is that the statistics indicate that those who keep a handgun in the house for "protection" are 16 times more likely to have it used in killing or wounding a member of the family or close friend than against a criminal. A similar phenomenon exists with armed campus police. They are much less likely to make tragic mistakes, much less likely to have their guns taken by criminals and then turned on them or other innocents, if they don't have weapons.

(2) Do we want University SWAT teams as well? Units of the National Guard housed on campus -- "just in case?" Hazmat crews? A university fire department? It's bad enough we have our own university bus system in a small community with some six or seven public transportation systems. My point? The Iowa City police headquarters is a couple blocks from the main campus along with one of the City's fire departments. The Johnson County Sheriff's headquarters a couple blocks in another direction. There are lots of resources to be coordinated and drawn upon -- including trained, armed police -- under a variety of foreseeable, and unforeseen, circumstances. We don't need to duplicate them all.

(3) A University loses something the more its campus communicates -- with metal detectors, video surveillance cameras, and armed police -- that everyone is so much at risk of physical harm that these 1984 measures are necessary. Are there risks in fact? Darn right. Although individuals' common sense (such as not wandering around dark streets, dead drunk, at 2:00 a.m.) can do a lot to minimize them. But it's hard to predict, let alone prevent, what those risks will be. Handguns are of little use in providing protection from tornadoes. To the maximum extent prudently possible, the more freedom of movement -- and absence of focus on "security," "terrorist threat levels," and military/police/weapons solutions to society's problems -- the better it is for a community of learning and research.

Regents: Guns, Naming and Governance

Diane Heldt, "Regents to Discuss Naming Rights Policy," The Gazette, July 20, 2007, p. B3.

Regents Miles and Downer are absolutely right to suggest -- as I proposed in a blog entry some time ago -- that the College of Public Health naming controversy needs to become part of an overall policy rather than treated as a single case to be resolved.

Ditto for guns on camps.

The point is, it all goes back to the Regents' lack of a meaningful, integrated, rational theory of governance. Without that they are going to continue to, at best, continue to only address policy issues after the fact as individual cases blow up like IED's along an Iraq road, and at worst not even see them as policy issues, micromanaging that which makes its way into the media and failing to micromanage that which does not.

As John Carver says, most advice for boards only tells them how to do the wrong things better. But they're still doing the wrong things. Figuring out what the right things are is this new Board of Regents' priority number one, in my humble opinion.

See, Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on 'Governance," in "UI Held Hostage Day 451 - Open Letter to Regents," April 17, 2007, and 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.

President Sally Mason's Dilemma

Ashton Shurson, "Diversity Tops Mason's List," The Daily Iowan, July 19, 2007

If Sally Mason were not a skilled street fighter she never would have become Provost, and a finalist for President, at Purdue -- or selected as the next president for the University of Iowa. So I have no doubt she's going to be able to handle herself just fine once she gets here.

But she is walking into some real challenges at a time when, whatever may be said about the eyes of Texas, the eyes of Iowans are going to be on her every move.

So far as I know, Fethke has yet to express himself on the UI athletic program's ties to the gambling industry (in the form of various partnerships with the Riverside Gambling Casino) over the protests of the NCAA and many on campus. So she'll find that one on her otherwise cleaned out desk when she arrives.

The Governor and Regents are handing her the hot potato -- or gun barrel -- regarding arming the campus police.

The organizational structure of the UIHC and College of Medicine was radically altered ten days before her arrival -- a near billion-dollar-a-year component of the University for which she's ultimately responsible.

Then there's the Wellmark naming controversy -- which Pomerantz wants resolved before she arrives, and for which the Regents and faculty want more time. She's going to have to reassure Jim Merchant that he's not going to have to retire before his previously scheduled retirement next year (or not), and see if it is possible to start the UI relationship with Pomerantz all over again.
But the substance of those issues (and many, many more) is the least of her problem.

The great dilemma will be how best to control and present herself in the first few weeks. There are lots of ways of avoiding taking a stand on issues. She can say she looks to Robillard to run the hospital and College of Medicine and Barta to make decisions about gambling industry partnerships. She can set up committees or task forces to study guns on campus or other issues, and then wait for the issue to go away -- or, when necessary, say she's simply adopting the proposals of those groups. She can say she needs more time to study an issue.

But there's a hazard in over-using those techniques. Ultimately they can leave her open to a perception that she is being weak and not in charge. On the other hand, if she immediately starts proposing new policies, changing directions and making decisions that are clearly hers, for which she takes responsibility, there's a risk that she may get some of them wrong (for want of sufficient networking and input), or be criticized for being too authoritarian and going it alone.

She's undoubtedly already figured this out -- and more. And there's every reason to believe she has the experience, skill and charm to pull it off. But it is going to be interesting to watch.

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Anonymous said...

Hasn't Pomerantz just made the logical conclusion that since the Regents have decided to depend primarily upon private donors then the Universities are primarily private institions that are accountable to large donors like himself. We should thank him, not only for his generous donations, but for explicitly demonstrating the benefits of public financing.

Anonymous said...

Pomerantz is a bully. He is a self-serving bully. Why do people tiptoe around him? Because of money. People with money get what they want.

Often monied people understand they need a modicum of decency. Pomerantz has gone above that. Disgraceful.

No we are not a private university, cow-towing to the monied class. Perhaps the state legislature should send back all of Pomerantz' donations and take his name off the building.

Anonymous said...

Dealing with Pomerantz is like dealing with Tony Soprano. Once you have accepted his money, or once you have let him in on a fund raising committee you can never get rid of his medling.

Bascially guys like this dangle money out as an enticement. You get some money, but you lose all ability to control the situation, as they will attempt to control and run things.

Deals with the devils...

And don't think money from Wellmark doesn't comes with strings attached too. Wellmark wants their advertising displayed. You can see how alturistic Wellmark is...once the advertising aspect is gone, so is their money.

Make that deal with the devil/Tony Soprano. You never get the roaches off your back.