Friday, September 28, 2007

Regents Examine Credit Card Scam

September 28, 2007, 9:45, 11:30 a.m.

Stonewalling Not a Winning Strategy . . .

. . . but President Sally's Mason's May Well Be

The current flap over the Regents' universities profiting from secret deals with bank credit card companies -- helping the banks increase students' debt loads with outrageous interest credit card fees by sharing otherwise-private mailing lists and data about the students and their parents -- has now come to the attention of the Regents. Clark Kauffman, "Regents Question Dealings with Bank," Des Moines Register, September 28, 2007. See blog entries for September 26 and 27, and Editorial, "Universities shouldn't push cards to students; Don't further temptation to increase debt," Des Moines Register, September 25, 2007; and
Editorial, "Disclose Details of Deals," Des Moines Register, September 25, 2007.

Since the universities don't seem to want to take the revelations seriously, the Regents are to be praised for trying to take a look at what's going on.

On the other hand, this is just a subset of all the consequences that we've seen flow over the past couple of years as a result of the absence of any meaningful theories and policies of governance -- a clear allocation of responsibilities between the Regents and the universities' administrations, the substitution of meaningful and measurable John Carver-style "ends policies" for vacuous
"strategic plans." I've written about these on numerous occasions, see for example, Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on 'Governance,'" in "UI Held Hostage Day 451 - Open Letter to Regents," April 17, 2007.

And, of course, the issue for which student credit cards is but a subset is one of the most serious and overriding confronting higher education today, one I spelled out in Nicholas Johnson, "It's the Mission of Higher Education -- Not the Naming of Buildings" in "UI's 21st Century Mission," September 20, 2007. With a meaningful governance process in place these issues (the academy's relation to corporate America) would have been long since identified, thought through, resolved, and been embodied in clearly articulated policies.

Sadly, a little "revenue is needed" crept into the Regents' inquiry. Kauffman reports, "Among the questions was one asking for the potential financial impact on the schools and their alumni associations if the agreements with Bank of America were vacated." (I'm aware it might be irresponsible for the Regents not to know the answer to that question, but one can hope the answer would not be decisive in deciding what to do about an arrangement the schools never should have entered into in the first place.) And "The board staff has not requested information pertaining to the use of student-athletes in the credit card promotions" -- a centerpiece of the entire arrangement.

The universities' administrators stone-walling on the details, in addition to being extraordinarily unseemly for public institutions, will probably come around to sting them like a scorpion in the end. Richard Nixon experienced that phenomenon, and it's amazing the difficulty others have had learning that lesson.

The regents are also asking for details pertaining to the financial benefits to the universities and alumni groups from the credit-card marketing; the schools' policies on sharing student and parent information with the alumni groups and others, and the process through which Bank of America was selected as the official credit card provider for each school's alumni group.

. . .

The answers to the regents' questions could shed more light on the schools' partnerships with Bank of America.

At the University of Iowa, many details of the relationship remain secret because of the manner in which the partnership was formed. The bank signed a contract with the private alumni group, and then the alumni association signed a contract with the school.

Only the contract signed by the school and alumni group has been made public. The alumni association refuses to disclose the terms of its deal with Bank of America and has also refused to say how much it is paid by the bank.

At Iowa State University, alumni association officials refused to make public its contracts with the bank and the school. After the Register requested the documents, alumni association President Jeff Johnson wrote to ISU President Gregory Geoffroy and others, saying, "I will not release our Bank of America agreement to them. I will not release the agreement between us and athletics (to) them, either."
Looks like this is all going to get very ugly before it gets better once it starts off with that kind of arrogance and intransigence. See, Editorial, "Disclose Details of Deals," Des Moines Register, September 25, 2007.

Meanwhile, UI President Sally Mason is Clarifying the Mission

As I've written from time to time, my primary concern about the UI's 21st Century mission is not so much what it ends up becoming (although I have my preferences) as it is the failure to have it articulated clearly. With ambiguity comes the potential for hypocrisy and inconsistency.

Recently, in a major though largely unreported statement, President Mason had some revealing things to say that, at a minimum, at least give us some insight into what she thinks we're all about.

Note: If anybody in Jessup is reading this, and if it was not all extemporaneous and unrecorded, how about posting the text of those remarks on the President's Web page?

Here's some of what The Gazette reported:

University of Iowa President Sally Mason is committed to an active economic development role for the university, going far beyond its primary mission and contribution of creating a highly educated work force.

Mason, speaking Wednesday to Corridor business leaders at the Iowa City Area Development Group’s annual meeting at the University Athletic Club, said UI’s research enterprise contributes significantly to Iowa’s economy.

“Our faculty, staff and students generated an all time record $382.2 million in grants and contracts for UI research, education and service in fiscal year 2007,” Mason said. “This amounts to almost a 5 percent increase from fiscal 2006.” Mason said the UI has brought more than $2 billion of research funding into the state’s economy in the last six years. She said a major portion of the research funding has been used to create jobs.

“Research projects often require hiring laboratory and other kinds of employees,” she said.

“We’re always in the employment business. The University of Iowa is a job creation juggernaut.” Mason said the university is working on technology transfer, commercialization of research, and academic entrepreneurship, which she termed “exciting opportunities in the world of the university today.” “The good universities, the best universities are doing this, and the University of Iowa is among the very best,” she said.

“Working in the marketplace is not just an exciting extension of research activity. I actually see it as a very important aspect of our public engagement obligations.”
George C. Ford, "‘Exciting opportunities’; UI leader, group voice commitment to state’s economy," The Gazette, September 27, 2007, p. B10.

And, in this connection, note the relationship between what President Mason had to say and what I highlighted from a recent Dick Doak column: Nicholas Johnson, "
The Good News and the Bad News/The Good News/Richard Doak: Almost Always Good News" in "UI Rips-Off Students Because . . . 'Revenue is Needed,'" September 25, 2007.

# # #

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Hold Onto Your Wallet -- Earthpark Defies Death

September 27, 2007, 9:30 a.m.

Earthpark Does a Terry Shiavo

Earthpark may be dead, but it's not yet buried under a tulip bed in Pella. There's a family member and at least one U.S. Senator who swear they saw it smile. Perry Beeman, "Georgia Company to Aid Earthpark," Des Moines Register, September 27, 2007.

I have been publishing newspaper columns (14) and other written analyses (15) of this ill-conceived, misrepresented, mismanaged, failed earmarked $50 million pork project since January 2001. Since February 2004 I have been maintaining what I believe to be the single most thorough Web site of commentary on the developments (probably well in excess of 100 pages if printed out), with links to the full text of dozens (if not hundreds) of newspaper stories, studies and reports. See, Nicholas Johnson, "Earthpark/Iowa Environmental Project/I.O.W.A. Child Project."

State29, whose very slug explains that he is "Keeping Track Of All Those Iowa Scandals While Remaining Insightfully Vulgar" (so don't say I didn't warn you parents that his commentaries usually have an "R" rating at best) has been tracking what he calls "Earthpork" as long or longer than I have. There's nothing I need add at this time to the investigative journalism he has done on this latest story -- far and away, above and beyond, anything the mainstream media has even attempted, let alone accomplished:

State29, "Perry Beeman Bends Over and Lubes Up for Rain Forest Chief David Oman," September 27, 2007.

State29, "Maxon Holdings vs. UBG Financial," September 26, 2007.

State29, "$10 Million in 'Services' for Earthpork," September 26, 2007.

A Register reader provided this comment to Beeman's story early this morning:

First, Maxon is giving "in-lind" support which means this may not count towards the $50 million goal. Nice job in talking ANYONE into donating even time, but that's not what the intent of the matching FUND meant.

Second, I read that Maxon is a shell company owned by Ted of the Earthpark supporters. Why doesn't Oman start a company and donate $50 million of "in-kind" support, too? HA!

Third, Ebay didn't "partner in a nation project based in Iowa" is simply a fund raising arm of Ebay that nearly anyone can participate in. My fantasy league commissioner also links to Ebay and gets a dollar to help pay for website costs when the owners click a link to buy something on Amazon - same thing in essence.

Fourth, I'm tired of hearing that 1 million people might attend each year. Those are the numbers in England. But England has a few other lures besides a dome and a slightly larger population base then Pella has. Oh, yeah, and Europe is just a chunnel away. So unless Earthpark people think that folks will visit because Missouri is nearby, welll...
DollarsAndSense, September 27, 2007, 5:16 a.m.

# # #

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Revenue is Needed" Updates

September 26, 2007, 8:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m.

"Revenue is Needed" Updates

The day after I posted the blog entry, Nicholas Johnson, "The Bad News" in "UI Rips Off Students Because . . . 'Revenue is Needed,'" September 25, 2007, last Sunday's story continues to walk on very sturdy legs for a three-day-old (Clark Kauffman, "U of I, Iowa State use student data to sell credit cards," Des Moines Register, September 23, 2007, p. A1).

The "revenue is needed" phrase originated in Nicholas Johnson, "UI Loves Gambling" in "UI Held Hostage Day 410 - March 7," March 7, 2007: "Once 'revenue is needed' is the Polestar for a university's financial decisions its moral compass begins to spin as if it was located on the North Pole."

And for a more general discussion of the corporatization of the UI see, Nicholas Johnson, "It's the Mission of Higher Education -- Not the Naming of Buildings" in "UI's 21st-Century Mission," September 20, 2007.

Although I didn't watch the show, I'm told that last evening's "Boston Legal" dealt with corporatization of higher education issues (an allegation that oil company contributions to a university were affecting its research results). "Beauty and the Beast," Boston Legal, Season 4, Episode 69, September 25, 2007.

The Register has a follow-up story this morning. Clark Kauffman, "State Probes Citibank Promotion," Des Moines Register, September 26, 2007 ("free" food offer doesn't mention requirement to sign up for credit card before eating).

State Senator Joe Bolkcom and Regents President Michael Gartner are concerned about the Regents' universities' use of students' identities for credit card marketing as a part of the universities' ties to the credit card industry. Associated Press, "Schools' credit card deals draw concern; Bolkcom calling for limits; Regents to seek information," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 26, 2007, p. A1.

The Gazette has weighed in with a forceful editorial, Editorial, "Look Out for Students' Interest First," The Gazette, September 26, 2007, p. A4 ("when a college or university loses sight of protecting student interests and focuses instead on the revenue to be gained through an exclusive contract with a credit card issuer, a higher power needs to step in. . . . The state Board of Regents should step in and . . . prohibit the universities from actively marketing to students . . .. If the regents won’t step up, then the state legislature should . . ..").

And don't miss the comment appended to this blog entry by "anonymous" at 10:49 a.m. It's much more informed, detailed and powerful than anything I wrote yesterday or today.

And State29 once again takes me to task for my concern about these issues -- not because he necessarily disagrees on the merits, but because he thinks it's naive of me not to have caught on long ago that of course universities are in it for the money and are willing to rip off their students in the process. State29, "I'm Shocked SHOCKED To Discover That ISU and The University Of Iowa Pimp Student Data Out To Market Credit Cards," September 23, 2007; and State29, "Speaking of 'Revenue is Needed,'" September 26, 2007 ("What the Register ought to be looking at is how financial aid departments at the state universities are pushing student loans onto the kids. It would not surprise me in the least if the modus operandi of these universities is to drain every last borrowed penny out of their record number of students. . . . No wonder all the kids at Iowa's universities are binge drinkers! I'd become a miserable alcoholic if the next 20-25 years of my life were going to be nothing but huge loan payments . . ..").

Although the UI has clarified that professors can still call students by name in class without violating the students' privacy rights, Brian Morelli, "No More 'Hey, You': Name Rule Clarified," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 26, 2007, p. A1, it has said nothing as of yet regarding its practice of selling off all kinds of student information (as well as that of their parents) to the highest corporate bidder.

And an op ed in this morning's Press-Citizen at least alleges the Regents with what is in some ways an even more serious selective application of privacy rules. Gwen Gruber, "UI Has Other FERPA Issues," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 26, 2007, p. A13.

Gruber charges that the graduate student union, UE Local 896/COGS, and the Regents' collective bargaining process produced a contract in March 2007 that included the union's rights to "bargaining unit information" (which I take to be, presumably, contact information for the constantly shifting UI graduate student population). She alleges that "weeks after" the contract was signed the Regents filed a lawsuit seeking to nullify the union's contract right.

Yesterday the UI's Faculty Council, sort of an executive committee for the Faculty Senate, discussed among other things the so-called "21-Only" proposed Iowa City referendum. (I say "so-called" because it's "21-only" in the sense that illegal sales of alcohol to undergraduates can continue to take place prior to 10:00 p.m.) Brian Morelli, "Faculty So Far Mum on 21-Only," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 26, 2007, p. A3.

I wouldn't even mention that meeting, and Morelli's report of it, but for the revelations toward the end regarding why some faculty members were reluctant to support the measure: "Opposing arguments included that the referendum would . . . lead to reduced enrollment . . .."

And why do we probably have this concern about "reduced enrollment"? Because reduced enrollment means reduced cash flow from tuition payments, and more pressure to find income from elsewhere.

In other words, whatever binge drinking may produce -- dropouts, fights, missed classes, illness and injuries, sexual assaults, and occasional death from strangling on vomit or other causes -- is of little concern to these faculty members.

Why? Well, because "revenue is needed."

And from the "Owners Stealing the Bass Drum from their own Brass Band Department" -- the equivalent of "revenue is needed" in the world of commerce -- comes the report that the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce has been accepting advertising dollars for its newsletter from the Quad Cities Airport! Now you may agree with me that competition between Iowa cities is no way to promote economic growth in this state. But the fact remains that's the environment in which chambers of commerce exist these days. George C. Ford, "Ad draws ire of C.R. airport; Quad City airport’s 1-month sponsorship of C.R. Chamber newsletter questioned," The Gazette, September 26, 2007, p. A1.

Now there's a new twist for the UI "revenue is needed" folks. The UI Alumni Association could run ads for the Mayo Clinic, or the advantages of sending your kids to Madison rather than Iowa City. Think of the ad revenue it could raise that way. The marching band could solicit funds from fans of the opposing team to play their songs rather than the Iowa Fight song. Want to run the university more like a business? Take a page from the Cedar Rapids Chamber of Commerce newsletter.

Finally, to bring all of this full circle, the Press-Citizen arrived this morning with one of those irritating stickers on page one covering up some of the news. It's message? The Riverside gambling casino is continuing to advertise the numerous advantages of its partnership arrangements with the UI athletic program -- with advertising on the scoreboard, sky box seats for high rollers, and transportation to and from the stadium from the gambling casino.

It was that partnership that got me thinking about the "revenue is needed" rationale in the first place.

# # #

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

UI Rips-Off Students Because . . . "Revenue is Needed"

September 25, 2007, 3:15 p.m.

The Good News and the Bad News

Last Sunday, September 23, brought both good news and bad news.

Oh, you want the bad news first? OK.

"Revenue is needed" has reared its ugly head again in academia. It's the basis for one of the best investigative stories in any of the Iowa papers since this blog began 16 months ago. More -- actually much more -- on this story further down in this blog entry.

The Good News

. . . Shaner Magalhaes: MBAs, They're Not Just in For-Profits Anymore. The first good news story is selected because it illustrates (a) the application of MBA skills to non-profits, and (b) the selection of employment on the basis of doing what you love rather than what will pay the maximum income.

The Johnson County Historical Society has a new Executive Director. His name is Shaner Magalhaes. That's a story for the reasons it's important to him and his family, and those who support or otherwise care about the Historical Society -- and that the local papers found worth prominent mention. Rachel Gallegos, "Mixing Business with History," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 23, 2007, p. A1; Emily Heiden, "All Work and All Play; New Historical Society Director Brings Wealth of Experience to the Job," the Gazette, September 23, 2007, p. J3.

I'm not disinterested in such factors. But it's not why I select this story as an example of "Good News."

It's because I've long advocated to public interest organizations and other non-profits on the one hand, and business students and business colleges on the other, that they get to know each other better. Non-profits need what MBAs have to offer. They're different from for-profits, of course, but both have far more in common than what differentiates them. Both need business plans, human resources, governance models, budgets and accounting, management information reporting systems, insurance, and so forth.

The late Molly Ivins once wrote about Texans for whom "too much is not enough." How many college graduates -- and not just MBAs -- select jobs on the basis of pay alone, or what they will "be" rather than what they will "do," without regard to what they're best at, most enjoy doing and gives them the most satisfaction?

Like the medical student who decides to specialize in "diseases of the rich," it's not uncommon for individuals to choose professional specializations that will permit them to bill the wealthiest Americans at the highest rates. This option is particularly difficult to resist among the MBAs who are offered jobs in the financial community that may ultimately pay millions of dollars a year.

It takes awhile, but many find that the old adage about money not buying happiness is true -- and that it is not necessary to have "too much" in order to have "enough" -- as they try to figure out where life went wrong. And so I've encouraged those with an aptitude for organizing and running institutions to think about the advantages of jobs with non-profits: looking forward to going to work every morning, an ability to sleep soundly at night -- and usually a salary that provides "enough."

As Magalhaes is quoted as saying, "My wife and I love this area. I really love history. I really believe in what the State Historical Society is doing. . . . I thought this would be a great thing to do."

The next Magalhaes story, a year from now, should be: "so what?" What difference did it make for the Johnson County Historical Society? Under the "but for" test, how different did it become from what it would have been without an MBA running it? Did he apply the John Carver -- or other -- approach to the activities of the board, and its relations with the CEO? Was there a better focus to the organization's day-to-day activities as a result of the board's equivalent of Carver's measurable "ends policies"?

Hopefully we'll get the answers to those kinds of questions a year from now if Gallegos and the Press-Citizen will do that interesting follow-up story.

Meanwhile, Sunday's story contains two lessons I consider "good news."

. . . Lonny Pulkrabek: Thinking Outside the Jail Cell. Rachel Gallegos has another story in last Sunday's (September 23) paper that is, by my standards, good news because it illustrates the possibilities when research, analysis and rational thought are brought to bear by public officials in the formulation and execution of public policy.

As with the
Shaner Magalhaes story, the Pulkrabek story is also one that is, among other things, important to him and his family, and those who support or otherwise care about the Johnson County Sheriff's office and the current sheriff and his re-election. That's primarily (I'm guessing) why the Press-Citizen assigned a good reporter to write it. Rachel Gallegos, "Pulkrabek announces bid for re-election; Says he has some unfinished business," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 23, 2007, p. A3.

Those aspects of the story are also of interest to me. But the reason it came to my attention as "good news" is for what it reports of his creative thinking about crime and punishment.

The story reports one supporter as emphasizing "Pulkrabek's role in creating more solutions for working with people with substance abuse problems, rather than just locking them in jail," and continues, "If re-elected, Pulkrabek said he wants to see through the work on a joint dispatch center and continue tracking the jail alternative programs that have been implemented in the past three years, especially the mental health diversion program."

I wrote an op ed in the Press-Citizen a year ago, when he was under attack for such innovative ideas, suggesting that we need to encourage, rather than attack, that kind of thinking by public officials. Nicholas Johnson, "Shooting Our Messengers," Iowa City Press-Citizen, March 3, 2006.

(Not incidentally, this story shares something more with the Magalhaes story than the existence of "good news." Pulkrabek also enjoys what he's doing: "it is a job," Gallegos reports, "that he 'really, truly enjoys. I've just really enjoyed doing it.'")

I'm not writing about the merits -- either of any of Pulkrabek's proposals or, indeed, the whole of his performance in office. That's not the point of this blog entry. Frankly, I don't know the details of Pulkrabek's day-to-day performance in office, and it's not my area of expertise. I see by the story that he's still pushing a "new and larger" jail. Are there more alternatives that could still be pursued, or has he truly exhausted all of them? I don't know.

What I do know is that we have altogether too much "shoot from the lip" in public policy discussions and political decisions. Some officials who are quite willing to invest three days in a conference -- 72 hours away from the office -- are "too busy" to spend 72 minutes researching a local issue on the Internet.

As is often said, "We have more problems than we deserve and more solutions than we have ever tried."

It is highly unlikely that there is any challenge confronting our County, City, University or School Board (among other institutions) that has not existed elsewhere -- existed, been identified, researched, resolved, with the solution implemented, written up, and made available for us to read (at no cost for "consultants") on the Internet.

Whether it's the creation and preservation of Eastern Iowa's green spaces, deciding on the most appropriate number of Iowa City police officers (a "peak-load" analysis, among other things), the arming of campus police, students' binge drinking, the most appropriate way to help those children who have been "left behind" in our School District, for the City of Iowa City to deal with economic development, or alternatives to the ever-escalating building of "newer and larger" prisons as a national response to the "crimes" of mental illness and substance abuse -- there are answers out there.

Lonny Pulkrabek has found a couple of them. And that's why this story was, for me, an example of "good news."

. . . Richard Doak: Almost Always Good News. The Des Moines Register's Richard Doak, former editorial page editor and continuing columnist, sort of combines both of the two prior elements of "good news" -- he clearly loves his work, and he's committed to research and innovative thinking. So I just selected the latest in his life's work of columns: Richard Doak, "Iowa Isn't Enough; Sell the Best Region in the Nation: The Midwest," Des Moines Register, September 23, 2007.

This time, in addition to the suggestion in the title -- that we should emphasize promotion of the "Midwest" rather than going it alone as "Iowa" -- he also reminds us once again of Richard Florida's advice:

Florida recognized the emergence of a new driving force in economic growth, "the creative class."

This new class is made up of people who make their livings by thinking, creating, innovating and independent problem solving - people such as engineers, scientists, designers, architects, educators, artists, musicians, writers and others.

. . .

Florida's great discovery was that economic growth occurs in regions that are most inviting to creative people. That's what revolutionized thinking about economic development.

The old model of development was that you create jobs and the people will follow.

The new model is that you attract creative people and the jobs will follow.

. . .

Iowa has not entirely embraced the new thinking. There's still a strong element of bribe-the-companies-and-they-will-come in the state's development strategies.

Nevertheless, Iowa communities increasingly seem to realize that their best hope for growth is to become the kinds of places that creative-class people would find attractive.

. . .

The smart thing to do would be to take all the money wasted on business incentives and plow it into education and quality-of-life improvements. . . .
Doak is right. "Money can't buy love," and bribing businesses can't buy economic growth. The good news is that Iowa can have both: economic growth and improved quality of life. Indeed, that's the only way we can have either.

The Bad News

I may not have seen it all, but I've seen much of it in my lifetime.

And yet even I was simply not prepared for the page-one story in last Sunday's Des Moines Register. Clark Kauffman, "U of I, Iowa State use student data to sell credit cards," Des Moines Register, September 23, 2007, p. A1. (You might also want to take at look at the 42 comments -- as of the afternoon of September 25 -- entered by readers of the story, most of whom, it turns out, responded as I did.)

(To remind: Last week was also when UI professors were told they could no longer refer to students by name in class out of respect for the students' privacy, and the laws and regulations protecting it. (The suggestion was subsequently rescinded.) Now it appears the UI thinks it's perfectly appropriate to sell students' personal information -- and that of their parents -- to banks for the purpose of marketing credit cards!)

As I have written before, "Once 'revenue is needed' is the Polestar for a university's financial decisions its moral compass begins to spin as if it was located on the North Pole." Nicholas Johnson, "UI Loves Gambling" in "UI Held Hostage Day 410 - March 7," March 7, 2007.

"Revenue is needed" is why politicians accept the bribes called "campaign contributions;" why "non-commercial" educational radio stations run commercials; why K-12 schools subscribed to "Channel One" and continue to sell sugared soft drinks to their students, knowing they will increase obesity, dental caries, and diabetes; why the UI's athletic program becomes a partner with the organized gambling industry's casino in Riverside; and why universities provide advertising on their buildings, and in naming their colleges, that promotes their corporate "donors."

But the Regents' universities have really set their moral compass to spinning with this one.

You have to read the full 2300-word Register-copyrighted story to become totally outraged, but these fair use excerpts will get you started:

Iowa's two largest public universities are aggressively marketing credit cards to their students as part of an arrangement that generates millions of dollars for the schools' privately run alumni organizations.

Publicly, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University have expressed concern over the debt of their students, many of whom graduate with $25,000 to $30,000 in bills to pay. The schools say they are trying to reduce that debt load.

At the same time, however, the two schools have signed deals with their alumni associations in which they have agreed to endorse, promote and profit from Bank of America credit cards marketed directly to students.

Records obtained by The Des Moines Register also show that the U of I has agreed to give the bank access to databases that include the mailing addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses of students, parents and people who buy tickets to Hawkeye football and basketball games. The university has also promised to provide its biggest-spending cardholders with exclusive access to university facilities, coaches and even student athletes.

. . .

In Iowa and most other states, the financial details of those partnerships are often shrouded in secrecy, despite the involvement of public universities that rely on taxpayers to provide a substantial portion of their operating revenues.

. . .

Consumer advocates . . . contend the schools are also facilitating on-campus marketing aimed directly at students who have limited income and are struggling with debt from student loans. They say public assets are being used to enrich corporate lenders . . ..

. . .

U of I alumni officials declined to say how much they are paid through their arrangement with Bank of America. Also, the bank declined to comment on its partnerships with Iowa schools.

But federal records show the University of Iowa Alumni Association was collecting $550,000 per year from MBNA, now Bank of America, through 2005.

Under the terms of the association's newest contract with the bank, the school is guaranteed at least $200,000 per year - all of which is to go to the athletics department.

. . .

Chris Bavolack, vice president of the U of I alumni association, declined to comment on the revenue-sharing deal that results in the association collecting additional money as cardholders' debt loads increase. . . .

The sales pitch that arrives in students' mailboxes in Iowa City is written on alumni association letterhead that includes the trademarked logo of the U of I.

The letter is signed by Vince Nelson, president of the U of I Alumni Association.

It begins: "Imagine the convenience of being able to purchase supplies for your classes without worrying about carrying a lot of cash. You could pay for your books - or get quick cash in an emergency - and put it on one easy-to-use account. That's the kind of flexibility every student can appreciate and it can be yours with the University of Iowa credit card."

Nelson's pitch also includes this postscript: "Bank of America helps support the University of Iowa with every account opened, and for every purchase made with the card. All at no additional cost to you."

[T]he alumni association . . . has signed a contract with the school committing the university to "creatively and aggressively" marketing the Bank of America card.

As part of that agreement with the association, the university has promised to provide Bank of America with lists of all people who purchase season or single tickets to athletic events - a list that would include students, parents and other supporters [as well as] for Bank of America's use, electronic lists containing the phone numbers, e-mail addresses and mailing addresses of students and their parents . . ..

In return for every new account opened as a result of the university's sales pitches, the school collects $50.

The agreement obligates the university to help sell the credit cards through public-address announcements during games at Kinnick Stadium and Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Card applications are mailed to buyers of sporting-event tickets, and the cards are promoted in advertisements during the coaches' weekly TV shows.

. . .

The [Iowa State] athletics department agreed to exclusively endorse the credit card program at athletic events and agreed to give the bank, free of charge, the names and contact information of season- and single-game-ticket holders.

. . . The company could set up booths and tables [at athletic events] to sign up cardholders at football and basketball games. To help with the "Charge it to Cy" campaign, the school authorized the bank to give T-shirts, hats and bobbleheads as gifts to new card applicants.

. . .

Robert Manning, a professor of consumer finance at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has testified before Congress [that] such programs increase the likelihood of students failing to complete school. He faults school administrators for having a "greater interest in increasing credit card royalties than in fulfilling their responsibility to ensure the graduation of their students with the lowest possible level of financial debt."

Using a credit card to pay for textbooks and class supplies can be risky, too. The U of I card offered to students has an interest rate that can balloon to 29.99 percent in the event of a single late payment. . . .
Governor Bill Richardson says he has been nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize. Well, I think this story of Clark Kauffman's should be nominated at least four times for a Pulitzer Prize.

It's eligible for any one of the first five (of fourteen) categories "for excellence in journalism work."

This is the kind of "investigative reporting" that serves to remind us of what newspapers used to be and should continue to be today.

That's the "good news."

The bad news is what he found, and needed to report.

What a sad commentary on what happens "Once 'revenue is needed' is the Polestar for a university's financial decisions."

# # #

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Iowa City's "Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms"

September 22, 2007, 4:20 p.m.; September 23, 2007, 4:30 p.m.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms

Iowa City is currently dealing with issues of alcohol, tobacco and firearms. It's a combination we come by honestly with solid historic precedent.

It was 1789, during the very first Congress, that the first federal legislation taxing alcohol was enacted -- in one sense the beginning of today's ATF.
By 1863 three enforcement officers -- presumably armed -- were added to its ranks. (The agency had found that not all moonshiners were enthusiastic about paying taxes.) Once a part of the Treasury Department, in January 2003 the ATF was transferred to the Justice Department as a part of the creation of Homeland Security. Its full name is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Nor has there been a shortage of guns.

The ATF publishes an annual report of U.S. handgun manufacturing. The agency is either woefully shorthanded or overly pressured by secrecy advocates among gun lobbyists and White House personnel, because the last "annual" report is for 2004. (Its website expresses the hope that the 2005 report may be ready sometime this month -- "mid-September 2007.")

Anyhow, in 2004 there were essentially four firms that accounted for half of the 728,511 new pistols (Sturm Ruger, Arizona; Bryco Arms, California; Smith & Wesson, Massachusetts; Beretta, Maryland), and two that were the source of half of the 294,099 revolvers (Sturm Ruger and Smith & Wesson). Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, "Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report," 2004.

Firearms Beget Firearms

At the outset, let me repeat that my primary concern has been, not the ultimate decision regarding the arming (or not) of our campus police. It is the process by which we arrived at it. It was not, to borrow the line from Fox News, "fair and balanced." It was a presentation by advocates for arming, not an academic, analytical evaluation of the data. And such arguments as were made were not very persuasive, such as, "everybody else is doing it," and "but we're properly trained" -- neither of which address the central issue: Is there a genuine need for more weapons on the UI campus?

As Regent Rose Vasquez noted, "There was no situation that sort of rose up or elevated itself to a level that but for a gun, things would have been different."

Very little (if any) evidence and data have been offered to support the notion that even if campus police were armed that they would have many (if any) occasions to use guns, or otherwise put, that their being armed would actually prevent acts of violence that, but for their possessing guns, would otherwise have occurred. (Even less analysis was provided regarding exactly what it is campus police do; how student safety is allocated between them and City police; how the required numbers of both might be altered by exploring other options in the allocation of those responsibilities.)

But let's put that aside. Let's assume that they would have occasions to use them.

There seems to be at least some basis for concern that "guns beget guns;" that is to say, if someone is thinking about bringing a gun onto campus anyway they may well be more rather than less inclined to do so knowing that they may have occasion to deal with an armed campus police officer.

Here are three items that would seem to support that concern.

State29, who takes me to task for my position on the weapons issue, State29, "What Makes You So Special?" September 20, 2007, concludes, "Actually, I'm in favor of allowing students to conceal carry while on campus. That would freak out the ivory tower crowd even more, even though students having weapons available to them have saved lives."

Apparently at least a couple of UI students have already followed up on State29's suggestion. Kelsey Beltramea, "Some Live the 2nd Amendment; Two UI Students -- An Aspiring Police Officer and Former Marine -- are Both Licensed to Carry Concealed Weapons, and Support Arming UI Police," The Daily Iowan, September 18, 2007, p. 4A.

How many other students are licensed to "conceal carry"? How many more will be as a result of the campus police being armed? How many will carry guns even if they are not licensed to do so?

This morning's Press-Citizen has a Letter to the Editor suggesting that they all should. It reads in its entirety,

In response to your Sept. 15 story, "I can't walk home alone," I say, "You could if there was just one gun law: Everybody carries one."
Robert G. Dostal, "Carrying Guns Could Improve Safety," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 22, 2007, p. 16A.

When Bob Patton had his editorial cartoon depicting President Sally Mason announcing "I think we should give armed campus police a shot -- perhaps I need to rephrase that" a reader named "airship" posted the comment, "Great idea, but I'm concerned that it might not go far enough. After all, what are the odds that a campus security officer will be right there when an incident occurs? Just to be extra safe and secure, I think we should arm all the students, too. With automatic weapons. And grenades." September 20, 2007, 1:52 p.m.
There's a certain superficial logic to these positions.

This is an age in which we do more and more for ourselves. We used to have to rely on a telephone employee to place our long distance calls. Now we can "dial" even internationally ourselves. Instead of elevator operators, we press the buttons. Grocery store employees used to get our groceries for us and then "ring them up." Now we get, bar-code-scan, and process our own credit card payments for them. The "service stations" of old are now but a pump and a credit card reader. Bank tellers have been replaced by ATMs -- a deprivation for which we pay, for the privilege of operating them ourselves. Not only have these changes shifted costs from businesses to their customers, radically increasing unemployment while employing us at something well under even slave wages, but they have imbued us with a do-it-yourself sense of responsibility and possibility.

The enthusiasm that university administrators across the nation bring to giving their campus police more deadly weapons teaches as lesson even more forcefully than if it were taught in a classroom: Safety and security in our society (or within other countries) can best be provided through the use of deadly weapons.

That being the case, why not -- as with the other aspects of our lives formerly provided by institutions -- carry the weapons ourselves, rather than rely on the institutional police? It appears the idea is catching on in some quarters, thus further increasing the weaponry on campus beyond the guns provided campus police.

This can be just one more way in which we can contribute to economic growth, with the increased gun sales, especially if the manufacturers see the potential in the academic gun market and ultimately offer us Microsoft-like "academic discounts" through the University Bookstore outlets and Iowa Book.


Once again we have a wonderful Press-Citizen juxtapositioning of a very well researched and written Rachel Gallegos page-one story with a delightfully incisive Bob Patton editorial cartoon. Rachel Gallegos, "Proposal Concerns Downtown Leaders; Businesses Worry Limit Would Hurt Profits, Vibrant Downtown Life," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 22, 2007, p. A1.

(Unfortunately, the cartoon is not yet posted. It depicts two guys at a bar. One says, "I can't wait for Iowa City bars to go 21-only! This will be such a boon to my business!" To which the other inquires, "What are you, a bar owner?" and the first responds, "No, I run a fake I.D. mill!")

This whole thing would be hilarious if it weren't so serious -- what it's doing to young peoples' lives, the quality of downtown, the reputation of the city, the demands on (and costs to taxpayers of) the police.

"21-only." For starters, to call the proposal "21-only" is like naming an act of Congress that gives major campaign contributors the right to increase pollution "The Clean Air Act." Everybody gets to stay in the bars until 10:00 p.m. I don't know when these bars open in the mornings, but for at least 12 hours every day they're wide open.

I'm not going to get into the sleeping habits of undergraduates, and I'm certainly not going to advocate laws and regulations imposing curfews (although universities -- including Iowa -- certainly had them for fraternity and dorm residents years ago). And see the Gazette story, Alison Gowans, "It's the Law; Whether It's a City or Parental Curfew, Teens Know Time to be Home," The Gazette, September 23, 2007, p. L1.

But it does seem to me that leaving bars before 10:00 p.m. might be a good idea for those few undergraduates who are actually attending college for purposes of getting an education (if, indeed, they would be wanting to binge drink more than once a week in bars at all). By the time you get your things together and leave the bar, stand outside for some last minute visiting with friends and saying goodbye, walk to your residence, wind down and relax, get ready for bed, and actually fall asleep, 10:00 is about as late as you ought to be staying in bars anyway -- especially if you know the relationship between good health and mental alertness on the one hand and going to bed at the same time every night and regularly getting an adequate night's sleep on the other.

And even that's meaningless. As Patton's cartoon suggests, young college students tell me, national studies and polls report, and this morning's story repeats, what with fake IDs, half-hearted enforcement by bar owners (who operate with the inherent conflict of interest that the more willing they are to ignore the law the richer they become), and the ease with which underage patrons can order alcohol for themselves or have someone order for them, there are simply no meaningful restraints on under-age drinking in Iowa City.

As Jim Clayton, vice chairman of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Commission, and executive committee chairman of the Stepping Up Coalition is quoted in the story as saying, "They make money on that drink whether you drink it yourself, you give it to a friend or you stumble and spill it."

Prohibition??!! That anyone could characterize this profit-maximizing "compromise" as something "similar to Prohibition" is simply stunning. And yet the story quotes a local business person as saying just that.

Then comes, of course, the old canard from him: "Prohibition doesn't work -- never has never will."

(a) In point of fact, from a public health perspective the epidemiological data documents that Prohibition very effectively did work (in reducing alcohol-related illness and disease).

(b) Gallegos' story immediately continues to report that "Iowa City has a 69 percent binge drinking rate compared with the 42 percent binge drinking rate in Ames -- where there is a 21-and-over ordinance." So if "prohibition" seems to be working at another of the Iowa Regents' universities won't you please explain to me once again just why it is it won't work at the UI?

(c) A recent Gallup poll reports that during the 1940s the percentage of Americans who were regular smokers was in the low to mid-40% range. As recently as the late 1980s the percentages ranged from 31-38%. The percentage in July of this year (2007) was 21% -- the lowest ever recorded by the Gallup organization. There are of course many variables affecting these numbers, but clearly the "prohibition" of smoking in UI buildings -- along with thousands of other restaurants and buildings around the country -- has had its impact.
Besides, the "prohibition," such as it is, is already in the Iowa law. There is a legal "prohibition" on bars selling alcohol to anyone under 21 -- raising some question as to why the local bar owners (and their advocates on the City Council) are fearful of less revenue, since presumably they would assert they're not selling to under-age patrons now anyway -- either before or after 10:00 p.m.

Iowa City's version of "21-only" doesn't even go so far as to enforce the laws already on the books in a rational way -- as is done in Ames! It leaves open the opportunity bar owners have to sell as much alcohol to under-age drinkers as they can possibly get away with up until 10:00 p.m.!

And you call that "prohibition"??!! Give me a break.

Our "vibrant downtown life." Another argument put forward by those advocating continuing the violations of the "spirit" and letter of Iowa's liquor laws is that to comply with the law, discourage binge drinking, and minimize the illness, violence and sexual abuse that accompanies it, would interfere with the "vibrant downtown life" of Iowa City.

My dictionary offers many definitions of "vibrant" but vomiting, fist fights, falling-down drunk, and sexual assaults aren't among them.

Sailing to riches on a sea of beer. What was that old drinking song?

"75 million gallons of beer on the wall
75 million gallons of beer . . .."

That's how much beer was consumed in Iowa last year -- a good bit of it in Iowa City.

At 8 16-ounce-pint glasses per gallon, that's 600 million glasses, and . . . Oh, you can do the math. We're talking billions, not millions, of dollars.

Bar owners are making more money sailing on this sea of beer than Columbus ever made sailing on "the ocean blue."

So we're back once again to "revenue is needed." ("Once 'revenue is needed' is the Polestar for a university's financial decisions its moral compass begins to spin as if it was located on the North Pole." Nicholas Johnson, "UI Loves Gambling" in "UI Held Hostage Day 410 - March 7," March 7, 2007.) Although, in this instance, the revenue that is needed is coming from sales that are expressly in violation of Iowa law.

Change the law. State29 has what he thinks is a better idea: Just change the law to permit 18-year-olds to drink. State29, "The Publican Campaign," September 22, 2007.

The least one can say for such a proposal is that it would contribute to greater respect for the legal system generally -- a goal I have as a result of my legal training. Any law that is routinely violated, whatever the subject, only further erodes respect for all legal standards.

I have always held out the possible advantages of an "over-18" standard being substituted for the "over-21" -- though I would like to see the data, others' "best practices," and make sure that in our time and place (when and where alcohol abuse is not only rampant but thought "cute" as a rite and right of passage) that it really would be a safe and wise choice. Lowering the drinking age would at least remove the current attraction of "getting away with something; beating the system" as a reason for binge drinking.

I've actually proposed that we at least explore the possible advantages of going further: encourage parents to introduce children to alcohol European style (in very small quantities, or watered down), as a responsible, family-oriented, thing to do at meals. My guess (though I'd obviously want to base such a proposal on much more than a guess) is that it would go a long way to removing the association of binge drinking with rebelliousness (and, ironically, "maturity") in the minds of young college students.
Until we're able to get to more of the root causes of the UI's binge drinking problem, however, I'm not confident that telling bar owners and those too young to drink (according to Iowa law) that they are only free to violate the law before 10:00 p.m. is going to solve very much.

# # #

Thursday, September 20, 2007

UI's 21st Century Mission

September 20, 2007, 9:15, 11:20 a.m.

Praise for Regents: When In-action is the Greater Wisdom

On the two big ones last Tuesday the Regents -- wisely in my view -- said, in effect, there's more to the corporate naming of buildings, and the arming of campus police, than the simplistic way these issues are being talked and thought about. Erin Jordan, "Rule On Naming Buildings at Universities to be Tweaked," Des Moines Register, September 19, 2007; Erin Jordan, "Regents Delay Decision on Firearms," Des Moines Register, September 19, 2007.

I'm reminded of a story told about a corporate CEO years ago -- it may have been Alfred Sloan at General Motors. After a brief discussion with a group of his vice presidents regarding a major challenge confronting the company he said, "Well, gentlemen, I see we're all in agreement. That probably means we don't understand the problem. I suggest we think about it some more and meet again in a couple of weeks."

In this case, the Regents are going to meet again in a month.

It's the Mission of Higher Education -- Not the Naming of Buildings

The Regents seem to recognize that the "building naming" issue goes far beyond the mere matter of turning Regents' campus buildings into one of the best advertising buys available to for-profit businesses anywhere, the gift that goes on giving forever: billboards for corporations that will last as long as a building stands.

The Regents are face-to-face with an issue no less significant than the proper role of higher education today in general, and for the Regents' universities in Iowa in particular.

Once the province of religion, with a primary purpose of training ministers, these colleges were followed by land grant universities envisioned to (among other things) assist the agricultural industry.

Once institutions enabling the perpetuation of the socio-economic status of America's elite families, they were expanded to offer opportunity for all -- though still funded by the state, and as close to "free" as possible for students (a goal continued with the GI-Bill following World War II).

Today state funding provides only a small fraction of the cost of running "public universities" that are, in almost every way, the full equivalent of "private universities" -- including the student loan debt that further enriches banks, and impoverishes students, once they graduate (if they do).

Once seen as a means to enrich the qualify of one's life over a lifetime other than in a monetary way -- with a greater appreciation of art, music, literature, languages, and a fuller understanding of nature and the products of science that fill our lives -- today a university education is increasingly pursued as (because, in part, it has been advertised as) a way to increase one's income over the course of a lifetime.
Increasingly, higher education is coming to be "corporatized."

Buildings that used to bear the names of ancient scholars now bear the names of donors -- as do faculty and auditorium "chairs," rooms, wings, and even entire colleges.

Facilities are provided for start-up corporations.

Faculty are expected to raise their own salaries from grants -- often, in effect, utilizing university resources and their own talents to increase the bottom line of for-profit corporations, doing research at bargain-basement rates that, but for the lack of state funding, they might not choose to be doing at all.

Universities contribute to the creation of an economy and society in which our very best artists (writers, musicians, graphic artists) are producing the advertising that manipulates consumer demand, and our very best scientists and engineers are paid from defense appropriations to create ever-more-efficient deadly weapons of war.
As I've pointed out in discussing these issues earlier, the primary problem (if such it be) comes from a university's solicitation and acceptance of the money in the first place. Putting the name on the building merely advertises to the world that we're for sale. But what we sold was sold when we took the money -- "with no strings attached."

So that's the issue confronting the Regents -- an issue in which the "naming controversy" is well buried within a substantial pile of more fundamental concerns.

I have my preferences, obviously, but my primary concern is the elimination of hypocrisy.

If our primary role in the 21st Century is to be an "economic engine," if we are simply recognizing our relationship as that of a "subsidiary corporation" in a world that is little more than the Fortune 500, so be it. Let's declare that's the case and do the best possible job we can of pursuing that path, and making those contributions.

Not incidentally, if that's what we decide we are, the controversy surrounding the naming of buildings for our corporate partners and masters thereby becomes a trivial issue to be quickly resolved.

But it's unseemly, in my view, to pretend and advertise that we're here for the students, that we're trying to enrich their lives, that we're committed to the pursuit of a "liberal arts and sciences education," when that's not the case. That's all.

I'd rather we first figure out, and then just declare, what we truly are -- and then start much more aggressively "haggling over price."

It's Not About Guns

As for more academic armaments on campus, I'm reminded of the bumper sticker: "Whatever is the question, war is not the answer."

In our case, "whatever is the security issue, weapons are not the answer."

The Regents are also entitled to some praise for wanting to give this one a little more time and investigation as well.

The matter is highlighted by this morning's Press-Citizen.

Bob Patton's editorial cartoons always put the matter most suscinctly, but there is also an excellent column on the editorial page. David Morris, "Guns Aren't Safe Solution," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 20, 2007, p. A7.

Ironically, the thrust of both the cartoon and column -- and the wisdom in the Regents' further inquiry -- are most effectively demonstrated by the paper's page-one lead headline and story: Lee Hermiston, "Chief: Public trust in police faltering; He details efforts to catch attacker as council vows faith in department," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 20, 2007, p. A1.

What's the greatest security concern on the campus at the moment? The fact that the Iowa City police -- armed or unarmed -- have so far (despite their best efforts) been unable to bring a halt to what is now a string of 30 women assaulted on the streets of Iowa City at night.

There are a number of lessons here.

1. As someone commented in an earlier blog here, the primary risk to the security of students occurs on the streets of Iowa City, not the campus of the University.

2. This, in turn, opens a can of worms about the relationship between the campus police and the Iowa City police. One of the arguments offered by proponents of arming the campus police is that they are responsible for patrolling many areas of Iowa City besides the campus, and that they are sometimes called upon by the Iowa City police to help out. Who made those decisions and why?

3. Thankfully, if I've read all the newspaper reports correctly, every woman attacked was able to defend herself and send the attacker running. Thus, it would seem that (a) this is a matter for the Iowa City police, not the campus police, (b) they are armed, (c) but being armed would not seem to be necessary in this instance, and (d) in any event, armed or unarmed, they have been unable to find and arrest the attacker or protect the women.

4. Thus, as Bob Patton illustrates, and I've discussed at length in other blog entries here (see, e.g., "Politics and Psychology," linked below), arming the campus police is little more than an irrelevant "security blanket," a decision being made at the wrong time (a response to Virginia Tech) for the wrong reasons, that (like our invasion of Iraq) is as likely to decrease rather than increase our security.

As Regent Rose Vasquez observed, under any rational benefit-cost analysis one has to acknowledge that arming campus police has the usual equation backwards: there are virtually no benefits to arming campus police (in saved injury and death of students), while on the other hand there are risks of significant cost (in lost lives). So why are we doing this? My best analysis remains Nicholas Johnson, "On Point, Politics, Psychology, Police and Public Relations" in "Politics and Psychology," September 14, 2007.

[As Radio Iowa reports:

Rose Vasquez of Des Moines says the issue shouldn't be bundled into a larger plan. Vasquez says she's ready to vote on arming officers, saying she's opposed to arming the officers and it won't have anything to do with not beefing up security measures. Vasquez says even after hearing from the directors of the three public safety departments about the threats that face campus police, she did not favor arming the officers.

Vasquez says, "There was no situation that sort of rose up or elevated itself to a level that but for a gun, things would have been different."

Darwin Danielson, "Regents Delay Decision on Arming Campus Police," Radio Iowa, September 18, 2007, 3:17 p.m.]
This week the Regents seemed to be 7-to-1 in favor of more weapons on campus, but they were unanimous that "campus security" was a much bigger and more complex issue than merely supplying more guns.

Even as to the guns, as I noted earlier,

"the evidence [regarding weapon-toting campus police] was, at best, equally divided as to whether arming campus police would make the UI community safer or more dangerous. The discussion of the issue was not driven by academic inquiry, data -- or even a traditional debate format -- with spokespersons putting forward their best case. It was permitted to be driven by those who advocated bringing more guns onto the campus." Nicholas Johnson, "On Point, Politics, Psychology, Police and Public Relations" in "Politics and Psychology," September 14, 2007.
Finally, I put to the students once again . . .

Think, Students: Do you Really Want More Weapons on Campus?

Students can be a real source of trouble for university administrators.

Sometimes it can be because of what the students do. Other times because of what they say -- or think -- the signs they carry, or the sit-ins they organize.

So while I've never had any difficulty understanding why university administrators would want more, and better armed, police and national guard soldiers to protect their campuses from whatever the administrators may find threatening at any given moment, I'm really bewildered as to why students would want more fully armed "authority" with which to deal.

Here's why.

Witness this event from the evening of September 17, demonstrating how the campus police at Florida University, Gainesville, made students "safer" on that campus when one was in the process of merely exercising his First Amendment right in asking former John Kerry a question:

That student in the video, Andrew Meyer, can be grateful that his campus police chose to limit the pain they inflicted to physical violence and the threat (or actual use) of a taser. Based on his screams, however, it sounded like they were pushing tasers to their limits.

Not incidentally, why did this story -- which received widespread national distribution and has been all over the blogosphere, and is certainly related to the current campus BIG STORIES receive nary a mention in the Press-Citizen? (The Gazette at least carried the AP story, with a picture of Meyer. Associated Press, "University of Florida investigating police Tasering of student at forum," The Gazette, September 19, 2007, p. A5.)

When guns are brought onto a campus to control students the results can be both painful and deadly. In the case of the Kent State Massacre, where armed national guard troops were used, the results were four dead students and nine injured from gunshot wounds.

For those students not old enough to have lived through the Kent State Massacre of May 4, 1970, you might want to review the video below. Because it starts with President Nixon's speech, just substitute "President George W. Bush" for "President Richard Nixon," "Iraq" for "Vietnam," and "Iran" for "Cambodia" to bring it up to date and make it easier to relate to.

Here's another take on those events, from "Democracy Now."

You can't imagine how much safer I feel, knowing that soon the UI will also have access to the deadly weapons necessary to control unruly students.

# # #

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sullivan, TIFs, Wellmark, Naming, Weapons

September 18, 2007, 11:45 a.m., 7:30 p.m. -- Additions (bottom of page) of video of campus police Taser incident Sept. 17 and Kent State Massacre in 1970!!

TIFs, Tiffs, and Sullivan

Rod Sullivan for Supervisor

Every once in awhile a public official comes along who is so outstanding in every way that it is hard for citizen-taxpayers to even fully understand, let alone appreciate, what they have.

Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan is such an official.

Name a positive adjective and it fits: bright, courageous, hard working, creative, leadership, compassionate, friendly, articulate, thoughtful, giving . . . the list is endless.

And there are two reasons why I mention that today. One is that he's just announced his campaign for re-election to a second term on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. Kathryn Fiegen, "Sullivan decides to seek another term," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 18, 2007, p. A3.

The other is an item in his weekly "Sullivan's Salvos," Monday's edition. (It's available to you, as a free email if you're not already a subscriber: Just email with "subscribe" in the subject line.) Not incidentally, while we're raving about Sullivan, this is in my opinion the single most useful of all the e-zines and email services maintained by any public official.

Not only does it keep you up to date on what Johnson County (and other counties) are doing, it contains personal items, and other informational pieces as well.

Wellmark Joins Doctors, singing: "Taxpayers, can you spare a dime?"

["Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" Songs of the Great Depression ("Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time./Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?)]

For example, yesterday's edition of "Sullivan's Salvos" contained the following:
A GREAT book for anyone who might be interested is The Great American Jobs Scam by Greg LeRoy. Are you tired of hearing about governments giving our tax dollars to big corporations so they can "retain jobs"? Me, too.

LeRoy debunks several common myths, such as "Company X would have left the community but for these incentives." LeRoy writes at length about the myths of TIF, Enterprise Zones, and many other common economic development tools used by municipalities in the name of growth.

The book offers important suggestions to the tax code that State lawmakers can use to protect our interests, such as combined reporting. This book also notes the work of UI Professors Peter Fisher and Alan Peters.

I urge everyone to read this book, then ask your state and local elected officials to read it as well. It is available at local libraries.
And speaking of TIFs, the Press-Citizen offered a well-written and balanced assessment of the proposed $600,000 subsidy for doctors on this morning's editorial page: Editorial, "TIF is the Wrong Prescription for Surgery Center," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 18, 2007, p. A11. (Why "balanced"? Because the paper sets forth the reasons for supporting the hand-out offered by the "Iowa City economic development staff . . . [because of the ] cumulative effect of a number of smaller reasons . . .." And the editorial repeats, "We've always asserted that [TIFs] can be a good tool when used effectively." My position has increasingly become that there is no worthwhile, benefit-cost-risk-justified basis for arguing their "effective" use in any circumstances.)

Want another example of outrageous corporate subsidies?

Since Wellmark is back in this morning's news anyway, here's a story from last Saturday reporting the generous contribution Des Moines recently dropped in the insurance company's tin cup. S.P. Dinnen and David Elbert, "Wellmark to build downtown; $175 million headquarters planned; incentives lead company to reject W.D.M. site," Des Moines Register, September 15, 2007.

Here are some of the details:
Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield will build a new $175 million headquarters in downtown Des Moines . . ..

Des Moines will provide a number of incentives . . .. [Des Moines] City Manager Rick Clark . . . declined to put a dollar amount on the incentives . . . , but [Wellmark Group Vice President Cliff] Gold said the combination of state and local incentives is more than $10 million.

. . .

The city's incentives will be in four areas, Clark said.

- The city will shoulder the burden of straightening out High Street to provide a little more room for the project.

- Eventually, the city will help extend the downtown skywalk to the building. That may take some time because the nearest connection now is at Ninth Street and Grand Avenue.

- Some type of mass transit encouragement for Wellmark employees to take the bus will be included.

- Tax increment financing will be use to rebate some property tax money to Wellmark. Clark declined to say how much TIF money might be involved.

Among other things, he said, TIF money will be used to make the new building LEED certified, a designation for buildings that are energy-efficient and use environmentally friendly building technology.

The city could also use TIF money to pay some of the cost of removing chemicals from the property now occupied by a dry cleaner.

The city will work with businesses located in the area to find new locations within the city, Clark said. City officials also helped negotiate the sale of parcels of land on the building site not owned by Iowa Health Systems.

. . .

Wellmark has more modest growth plans - perhaps as many as 100 new employees in the next few years, according to Gold. . . .

Advantages to a downtown site include a central location, access to transportation and sticking to a 68-year history with the central business district, Gold said. . . .

Gold said that Wellmark has adequate resources to pay for constructing the building and equipping it.

"We don't think we'll need to borrow," he said.
Note the following:

(1) At best, these corporate subsidies accomplished no more than shifting a building from West Des Moines to downtown Des Moines -- a classic example of intra-Iowa (in this case intra-city!) competition producing no benefit whatsoever for Iowa's taxpayers.

(2) Claims of significant new job creation are often inflated or downright bogus. In this case they were virtually non-existent with a "modest growth" possibility of 100 low wage jobs -- "perhaps."

(3) The real reasons for this corporate decision, as is almost always the case, involved factors other than bribery with taxpayers' money -- as the company's executives revealed they wanted the downtown location because of "a central location, access to transportation and sticking to a 68-year history with the central business district."

(4) Moreover, they didn't need the money. In addition to the fact that they earlier had enough spare pocket change to invest in a 66-acre urban plot they ended up not using, as Wellmark's Executive Vice President Gold put it, "Wellmark has adequate resources to pay for constructing the building and equipping it" and "We don't think we'll need to borrow." Not only does it not sound like low income housing (one of TIFs' original purposes) it doesn't even sound like a gold-plated corporate tin cup in need of additional funds from the taxpayers.

And speaking of Wellmark buildings . . .

. . . UI President Sally Mason would prefer not to have a policy on building naming.

The Regents decided to postpone coming up with a naming policy, but Mason is quoted as saying, "I would prefer our hands not be tied and we look at it on a case-by-case basis."

Sounds like we may be in for weapons in the hands of campus police AND corporate names on UI's building -- "on a case-by-case basis," of course.

Erin Jordan, "Regents Seek New Naming Policy," Des Moines Register, September 18, 2007, 9:34 a.m. ("New U of I president Sally Mason said last week that the Regents and the universities should remain flexible on the issue. 'I would prefer our hands not be tied and we look at it on a case-by-case basis,' Mason told Des Moines Register editors and reporters Friday.")

Brian Morelli, "Regents Discuss Naming Rights, Postpone Decision," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 18, 2007, 10:02 a.m.

Senator Joins Fruitless Call for Research and Balance on Campus Weapons Issue

Since the Regents are also looking at providing their campus police officers with deadly weapons I thought I might add today that four days ago I wrote, "the evidence [regarding weapon-toting campus police] was, at best, equally divided as to whether arming campus police would make the UI community safer or more dangerous. The discussion of the issue was not driven by academic inquiry, data -- or even a traditional debate format -- with spokespersons putting forward their best case. It was permitted to be driven by those who advocated bringing more guns onto the campus." Nicholas Johnson, "On Point, Politics, Psychology, Police and Public Relations" in "Politics and Psychology," September 14, 2007.

This morning we read that a much more authoritative -- but probably no more persuasive -- source is making similar suggestions: "In a Sept. 10 letter addressed to Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy and later sent to the nine members of the Iowa state Board of Regents, Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the report lacked data-driven analysis, trends in campus crime, assessment of risks and an analysis of possible effects of such a change." Brian Morelli, "Senator questions security report; Quirmbach: Recommendations lack thoroughness, objectivity," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 18, 2007.

Given Governor Chet Culver's last minute jump on the well-armed bandwagon (because of Virginia Tech), my "Politics and Psychology" analysis of this groundswell seems more and more correct with every passing day. Associated Press, "Culver Favors Arming Campus Police," Des Moines Register, September 18, 2007, 10:48 a.m. ("He [Governor Culver] says the shootings on the Virginia Tech campus in April highlights the need for serious consideration of security on college campuses.")

To no one's surprise, the Regents have now come down with a "firm, possible maybe" on the issue:
The Iowa Board of Regents delayed a final decision to arm campus police for at least a month. The board unanimously approved a motion to develop a comprehensive safety and security plan for Iowa's three public universities. That plan would be approved at a future meeting. The board then voted 7-1 to allow a provision as part of that policy allowing campus police officers to carry firearms in the regular course of duties. Before Regent Michael Gartner voted on the second motion, he clarified that the decision to arm police could still be reversed with a future vote on the comprehensive safety plan.
Erin Jordan, "Regents Delay Armed Campus Police Decision," Des Moines Register, September 18, 2007, 11:39 a.m.

On the other hand, they are far from unanimous:
Regent Ruth Harkin of Cumming says there are many other issues that go into a secure campus, and it's difficult to single out arming campus police. "I just wouldn't want to give the impression that we think we have responded to the security call by voting on a firearms policy," Harkin says. The board asked its staff to develop a comprehensive security plan that would include arming campus officers.

The only Regent to voice opposition to the idea - Rose Vasquez of Des Moines - says the issue shouldn't be bundled into a larger plan. Vasquez says she's ready to vote on arming officers, saying she's opposed to arming the officers and it won't have anything to do with not beefing up security measures. Vasquez says even after hearing from the directors of the three public safety departments about the threats that face campus police, she did not favor arming the officers.

Vasquez says, "There was no situation that sort of rose up or elevated itself to a level that but for a gun, things would have been different."
Darwin Danielson, "Regents Delay Decision on Arming Campus Police," Radio Iowa, September 18, 2007, 3:17 p.m.

Think, Students: Do you Really Want More Weapons on Campus?

Students can be a real source of trouble for university administrators.

Sometimes it can be because of what the students do. Other times because of what they say -- or think -- the signs they carry, or the sit-ins they organize.

So while I've never had any difficulty understanding why university administrators would want more, and better armed, police to protect whatever they may find threatening at any given moment, I'm really bewildered as to why students would want more fully armed "authority" with which to deal.

Here's why.

Witness this event from last evening (September 17), demonstrating how the campus police at Florida University, Gainesville, made students "safer" on that campus when one was in the process of asking former Senator John Kerry a question:

That student in the video, Andrew Meyer, can be grateful that his campus police chose to limit the pain they inflicted to a taser. Based on his screams, however, it sounded like they were pushing tasers to their limits.

When guns are brought onto a campus to control students the results are both painful and deadly. In the case of the Kent State Massacre, where armed national guard troops were used, the results were four dead students and nine injured from gunshot wounds.

For those students not old enough to have lived through the Kent State Massacre of May 4, 1970, you might want to review the video below. Because it starts with President Nixon's speech, just substitute "President George W. Bush" for "President Richard Nixon," "Iraq" for "Vietnam," and "Iran" for "Cambodia" to bring it up to date and make it easier to relate to.

Here's another take on those events, from "Democracy Now."

You can't imagine how much safer I feel, knowing that soon the UI will also have access to the weapons necessary to control unruly students.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Politics and Psychology

September 14, 2007, 8:20 a.m., 12:30 p.m.

On Point, Politics, Psychology, Police and Public Relations

Today's blog entry may involve an effort to weave together more seemingly unrelated items than any one ought to be permitted to try to plug into a coherent theme. But if you're willing to stick with me through this one I'll let you be the judge of whether I succeed.

The impact of fear on attitudes and action. It began earlier this week, when listening to a discussion on Tom Ashcroft's "On Point" program, carried on WSUI-AM910 from WBUR-FM90.9, Boston. The segment was called "9/11, Fear, and Politics," September 10, 2007. (If you are now, or later, interested in listening you can hear it at that link.)

Bottom line: when we are thinking about, or reminded of, death -- or are stressed with fear -- it tends to affect our attitudes and actions on a whole range of unrelated matters. As Ashcroft's intro put it, "
Research finds the mere mention of death changes minds. The image of the Twin Towers exploding is a psychological supernova." Guests included:

· Sheldon Solomon, professor of psychology at Skidmore College and co-author of "In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror"
· Martha Stout, clinical psychologist and former faculty member at Harvard Medical School, author of "The Paranoia Switch: How Terror Rewires Our Brains and Reshapes Our Behavior -- and How We Can Reclaim Our Courage"
· Graham Allison, professor of government and director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, author of "Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe"
When negatives re-enforce the opposite. That program, in turn, reminded me of a segment from another radio program, "On the Media" -- a weekly "must listen" media mavens. (It comes from New York Public Radio, and is hosted by Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield.)

This segment ("The Truth of False," September 7, 2007) can also be listened to, if you wish. The promo reads:

Good myths die hard. Recent psychological studies suggest journalists' attempts to set the record straight may in fact be perpetuating falsehoods. Shankar Vedantam, columnist at the Washington Post, explains.
If this interests you be sure to read his very powerful report of the supporting research Shankar Vedantam, "Persistence of Myths Could Alter Public Policy Approach," Washington Post, September 4, 2007, p. A3.

The neurobiology of politics. That reminded me of a story reporting on research that seems to indicate there's actually something different about the ways the brains of liberals and conservatives are wired. Denise Gellene, "Study finds left-wing brain, right-wing brain; Even in humdrum nonpolitical decisions, liberals and conservatives literally think differently, researchers show," Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2007 ("Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work. In a simple experiment reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information.")

Bringing the people to their leaders' bidding; just "tell them they are being attacked." And once I got to thinking about those three stories together, that in turn brought me back to a quote I've always found insightful and provocative:

Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
It was Hermann Goering who provided us this insight some 60 years ago. (Here's a link to a source that confirms the accuracy of the quote and identifies the source.)

Is the White House public relations strategy science-based? When the White House schedules General David H. Petraeus, Commander, Multi-National Force-Iraq, to testify on September 10 and 11 -- the anniversary of "9/11" -- is it in any, even small, part due to the awareness of President Bush (or more likely his advisers) of the material just discussed?

The research of those whom Tom Ashcroft interviewed suggests that when we are made to think about death -- or we're stressed with insecurity -- we are more likely to, among other things: (1) look for and follow authoritarian figures, (2) become less accepting of the "other" (e.g., races, religions, ethic groups, and nationalities), and (3) become harsher in the defensive means we're willing to use and penalties we're willing to impose on others.

One of the most startling revelations was what was found about the sentences handed down by judges. Needless to say, I don't know enough about this research to vouch for it, I haven't read it, and it's not my field. But what I got from it goes as follows.

A group of judges -- all of whom felt they were not swayed by external factors when sentencing -- were asked what sentence they would impose for prostitution (apparently a fairly common crime in Phoenix, where they were located). The average in such cases, in fact, is apparently $50. And that was, in fact, the average sentence imposed by those in the control group. Those in the group that was caused to think about death in one way or another were proposing fines that averaged more in the range of $450.
Could it be that the Bush Administration is actually building its public relations strategies on a foundation of their awareness of such research? Do they know they can jiggle the poll results, the President's popularity, the support for the War and for General Petraeus' report, by associating his testimony with the public's insecurities that are aroused by reminders of 9/11?

Can this research explain why we're arming our campus police? What does all this have to teach us about the arming of the campus police at Iowa's Regents' universities?

I don't wish to re-plow the arguments pro and con to try to persuade anyone on the merits.

But I have been struggling in my efforts to understand and articulate, "How did we get to this decision?"

As UI Professor Jeff Cox has pointed out, for 40 years the UI has operated without a gun-toting campus police. Moreover, there was no outcry to bring more guns onto the campus; not from students or their parents, not from staff or faculty, not from administrators, and not from Iowa City officials or other leaders.

The position of the CIA, and the National Intelligence Estimate, is that the War in Iraq is making us (as I joined many others in predicting) less safe, less secure, not more -- primarily by fomenting more terrorism, not less, and contributing substantially to the terrorists' recruitment efforts.

Similarly, the evidence was, at best, equally divided as to whether arming campus police would make the UI community safer or more dangerous.

The discussion of the issue was not driven by academic inquiry, data -- or even a traditional debate format -- with spokespersons putting forward their best case. It was permitted to be driven by those who advocated bringing more guns onto the campus.

The arguments were fairly weak.

(1) "But Johnny's mommy lets him do it." That is, "other campuses police get to carry guns, so we should be able to do so, too."

(2) "We're trained to use firearms." Yeah. (That's good; because they have firearms back at headquarters for an emergency (the likelihood of which is somewhere between "slim and none at all") and they better know how to use them.) And some campus police officers may be trained to fly private planes, too. But that doesn't mean we should have a single-engine plane constantly flying over the campus at low altitude.

(3) "If you won't let me be the pitcher I'm going to take my bat and ball and go home." What is this blackmail about, anyway? "'If it doesn't go through, I will lose 50 percent of my officers,' [the UI's] public safety director Chuck Green said." Brian Morelli, "Half of university officers to leave if regents answer is no," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 13, 2007. Who organized that walkout? The campus police have wanted guns for years. But if this was such a big deal, something that went beyond mere requests and protests, something that would actually cause half the force to resign, why weren't they resigning in 2006, 2005, and 2004? (There may well be an answer to that; but it's not immediately obvious what the 2007 Tsunami was that produced this rather dramatic threat.)
I could go on. But as I said earlier, the point is not to re-argue the merits. The point is that the reasons for this radical and abrupt U-turn in UI policy at this time, and the process leading up to that decision, are hard to explain without some theory.

And the research with which this blog entry begins may provide that theory.

The Virginia Tech shootings were our 9/11. They caused us to focus on death, and to imagine what it would be like on the UI campus if something like that were to occur. As a result, we were more willing to look to authoritarian figures for guidance, leadership, and advice -- and then follow their lead. In this instance, authority was in the guise, and uniform, of the police -- rather than the President of the United States and the military for which he is Commander-in-Chief. We were more willing to be suspicious of -- of what? -- of whatever is buried deep inside a sub-conscious of which we may not be proud, a sub-conscious that may hold fears of the "other" (whether race or ethnicity), a sub-conscious that is "sub" and often forgotten, but which rose to consciousness under these fearful conditions. And we were willing to take a more aggressive stance, a willingness to use guns, to protect ourselves, to provide us a greater sense of safety and security -- even though more guns would actually make us less safe and secure. Finally, the more opponents argued that "campus police don't need guns" the more the phrases "campus police" and "need guns" were linked in the minds of advocates -- rather than the reverse -- especially for those whose brains are less effectively wired to hold ambiguous and contradictory notions.

There's a public relations aspect to this as well, something that administrators must always be thinking about during their decision process.

There are two possible public relations disasters involving guns: (1) that campus police are armed and one of them accidentally or deliberately shoots and kills someone on campus, and (2) that the campus police are not armed and a member of the UI community, or an outsider -- persons other than campus police -- will shoot and kill a member of the UI community.

Both are bad for the administrator's public relations. But which is worse? The second -- even if the evidence is overwhelming that the failure to arm the campus police had absolutely no effect whatsoever on those events, and that had they been armed they could not possibly have prevented the deaths anyway.


Under the first scenario the administrators have done their job, they've "done all they could." A part of the price for providing Iraq with "security" is the unavoidable deaths of 100,000 or more innocent civilians. A part of the price for providing the campus with "security" may be the deaths of innocent students. Those deaths represent a price we're perfectly willing to pay for the greater good (or so it is presented and perceived by many) -- as we were when and Iowa City policeman shot an innocent Eric Shaw (and was never punished for his action).

The second (not arming the campus police, following which a student is shot) is much more serious for administrators -- however irrational, unfair and inaccurate the criticism of them may be -- because they will be portrayed as having failed to make a decision that would have made us safer and prevented the death (even though neither is true).

I don't know if these are sound analyses or not.

But it's my way of making sense of what the Regents' university presidents have just recommended the members of our Board of Regents are probably about to do.

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