Friday, August 10, 2007

Corporate Naming, Guns and Mason

August 10, 2007, 9:00, 11:50 a.m.

President Mason Foreshadows Positions on Guns, Naming

One week on the job and our new president -- who has elsewhere said she'll be listening for three to six months before weighing in on current issues -- is serving breakfast to the media at the president's residence and dropping clues as to her positions.

Guns. Although President Mason said, "I am not a fan of guns," here's what else Erin Jordan heard, and reported:
University of Iowa President Sally Mason seems to be leaning toward a recommendation that campus police officers be armed.

"I have not been on a campus before where officers aren't armed," said Mason, who was Purdue University provost before coming to the U of I. "Iowa has had shootings on this campus before, so clearly someone is armed."

. . . "Imagine what he (the shooter) [at Virginia Tech] would have done in the 30 minutes it would have taken them (officers) to go back and get their guns," Mason said.
I don't know how you read that, but it sounds to me like the UI campus police are going to get their wish.

Brian Morelli reported,
UI President Sally Mason said she found it "curious" that UI police don't carry guns. "I have not been on a campus where campus police had not been armed. That was curious to me," she said.
(President Mason's use of "curious" is somehow reminiscent of Regents President Michael Gartner's use of "interesting" -- a suggestion of disapproval buried in an opportunity for subsequent disavowal.)

There is, of course, another view. A Register letter writer draws upon his own experience at Iowa State in opposing armed campus police. Aaron Hurd, "Arming Campus Police Counterproductive," Des Moines Register, August 7, 2007 ("In fact, the absence of firearms on campus makes DPS more effective; it forces DPS and the students to become partners in keeping campus safe.").

And I've noted in other blog entries the Kent State massacre and Iowa City's Shaw shooting as examples involving armed police and national guard that are consistent with the statistics involving guns in the home. Apparently guns in the home are 16 times more likely to end up causing injury or death to family members than to hostile intruders. What are we to say regarding the deaths of innocent citizens, or students, shot by armed police? Are they, like the tens of thousands of innocent dead and injured civilians in Iraq, just the price we're willing to pay for our "safety and security"?

I've talked at length with police who have unanimously expressed a desire to be armed. Given their occasional need to deal with not very nice people who are (or who may be) armed (drunk and dangerous) the desire for as much security and protection as possible is easily understandable.

Just remember that the answer to this issue is not a slam dunk. There are few instances where having had armed police would have saved lives. (The fact that Virginia Tech's campus police were armed may make the campus community feel more secure, but it didn't make the victims any less dead.) President Mason is right,
"Iowa has had shootings on this campus before, so clearly someone is armed." But my belief (I haven't checked the facts) is that had UI police been armed on that occasion it wouldn't have prevented those deaths, either.

Bottom line: (1) The occasions when having armed campus police could actually save lives during the kinds of shootings campuses and schools have witnessed are rare indeed. (2) There is a very real risk that arming campus police will actually increase the likelihood of campus gun deaths (e.g., deliberate and accidental shootings by the police; guns stolen from police during a scuffle and subsequently fired; an increased felt need by those with criminal intent to carry guns to protect themselves from the campus police). (My belief -- again not recently checked against the facts -- is that gun deaths in Great Britain actually increased after the formerly-unarmed police began carrying guns.)

Corporate naming. On the other hand, Brian Morelli reports President Mason sounded a little more open to those opposing the naming of colleges for corporations:
On the Wellmark controversy, Mason said UI should not be soliciting gifts where there is a quid pro quo arrangement and said the issue of corporate naming had not been sufficiently vetted before the issue surfaced.

"UI shouldn't be accepting gifts if there is something more expected other than to be good stewards of the gift," she said.

She said it would not be "a good thing" to establish a name that faculty don't like.

She said much of the fuss stems from the emotional attachment to the name "Wellmark" rather than the real issue -- corporate naming. She said those issues need to be separated and the naming policy should be fully discussed.
This sounds like she's open to a policy prohibiting the naming of colleges (and even buildings) for corporations. I have often argued here that we need to separate out the Wellmark controversy and first address the more general issues: university-corporate ties generally, including the naming of anything, from chairs to the university itself. To what extent are the UI's stakeholders willing to assume a role as a subsidiary corporation to the Fortune 500 -- either as a matter of principle ("it's perfectly OK, what we ought to be doing and want to be doing in this corporate, for-profit 21st Century"), or as a matter of "revenue is needed" and principle be damned.

The Register's report of the chronology regarding the Wellmark naming offers some new insights.
As reported last week, Public Health Dean Jim Merchant had praised the gift, and U of I officials had drafted a news release to announce the $15 million gift in June.

"I had to stop them because the foundation board hadn't taken any official action on the gift yet. Thus, you can see why the later outrage from the faculty and the dean ... let alone editorial writers and bloggers ... is really odd," [Wellmark Foundation Executive Director Cliff] Gold wrote.

"The faculty had actually met and approved the gift, was ready to issue a press release, and it had been blessed by the president's office and vetted with the leadership of the regents. Then ... boom!"

"The outrage or change of heart at the college seems to have been caused by the official action taken from the foundation board of directors, which asked that the name be the Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield College of Public Health 'or something similar' (that's what the actual motion that was approved said) while the dean preferred the Wellmark Foundation College of Public Health or just the Wellmark College of Public Health. The issue was never whether the Wellmark corporate name would be on the college."

Gold said foundation and university officials never had a chance to discuss the "or something similar" before the faculty protested.
David Elbert and Lynn Hicks, "Biz Buzz: Wellmark 'perplexed' by U of I name snafu," Des Moines Register, August 7, 2007.

Dean Merchant. Marvin Pomerantz has called for President Mason to fire College of Public Health Dean Jim Merchant. Morelli reports,
Mason said deans report to the provost, and she has no intention of firing Merchant. "It is not on my priority list," she said.
If I were Merchant I'd like the "no intention of firing" comment, but wonder about the "priority list." Was that a jocular, understated bit of humor? Hopefully; otherwise it comes across as, "I might get around to it at some point, but it is not one of the most important things I have to focus on right now" -- which doesn't ring with as much "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie" as an official under siege might wish for from a university (or United States) president.

Hero Hogan's Replacement. Diane Heldt reports:
Mason . . . said she hopes to appoint an interim provost by Sept. 1. . . . A search committee will be appointed and Mason thinks a provost could be named by early spring. The search will be open and include campus involvement, she said."
UIHC Reorganization and the Athletic Program's Ties to Organized Gambling Industry. There may have been no questions about the UIHC reorganization and the UI partnership with the Riverside gambling casino. There may have been questions but no answers. There may have been questions, but with answers "off the record." Or there may have been answers that were simply not reported by the three papers covering the event. But as of this morning we know no more than we knew yesterday about her views on these equally controversial subjects.

Here are the links to the Jordan, Heldt and Morelli stories:

Erin Jordan, "U of I Leader May Support Arming Police," Des Moines Register, August 10, 2007

Brian Morelli, "Mason: Gunless police is 'curious'; Says she'll stay out of BTN/Mediacom dispute," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 10, 2007, p. A3

Diane Heldt, "Calm discourse urged on corporate naming; New UI president says issue deserves thorough discussion," The Gazette, August 10, 2007, p. A1.

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1 comment:

Aaron Hurd said...

I appreciate your position on guns on campus and that you cited my letter. :-) - Aaron Hurd