Saturday, September 20, 2008

Rational Responses to Stolar and Global Finance

September 20, 2008, 9:00, 11:30 a.m.
Currently Most Popular Blog Entries

"University of Iowa Sexual Assault Controversy -- 2007-08," July 19-present (incorporating and updating original blog entry, "UI Sexual Assault Update," July 19-August 9).
"Extra: Stolar Report," September 18 and 19, 2008.
"How Much Do You Owe the Chinese?" September 8, 2008.
"Police Accidental Shootings -- Of Themselves," May 9, 2008.
"Growing Iowa's Economy the Right Way," April 27, 2008.
"Alcohol Update," September 6, 2008.
"Violence at City and West High," December 15, 2007.
"Governor Sarah Palin," September 4, 2008.
"Greenbelts for Grandchildren," February 15 and 20, 2008.
"More Awards, Understanding and Survival Skills," September 16, 2008.

And see, Database Index of 500-plus blog entries

Stolar Follow-Up and the Case for Mills and Jones

As always, the best single source for current and background materials, documents, and links to newspaper coverage and more is to be found at "University of Iowa Sexual Assault Controversy -- 2007-08," July 19-present (incorporating and updating original blog entry, "UI Sexual Assault Update," July 19-August 9) -- to no one's surprise the most popular site here yesterday. Some eight new newspaper articles and editorials have been added there this morning. (And see that source for summaries of, and links to, the editorials and stories referred to below.)

"'The Case for Mills and Jones'?!" you exclaim.

Well, yes and no.

No, I'm not defending the behavior of either as presented, and criticized, in the Stolar Report. But I did get your attention, didn't I? And I don't think peremptory firings are appropriate -- for the reasons set forth below.

Normally I find myself in agreement with much that appears on the Register's editorial page from its editorial board and columnists. But this morning they went to bat twice and struck out both times in my opinion when they suggest that Mills and Jones should be fired and that it is the Regents who should be drafting new procedures.

A desire for self-preservation is only human. But it often interferes with our ability to understand systemic institutional failures when the most popular response is to scapegoat someone -- other than oneself, of course.

o FEMA's Michael Brown was not the sole reason for the institutional disaster that followed the Katrina disaster.

o Ralph Nader was not the sole (or even primary) reason for the failure of the Democratic Party's presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004.

o And Marc Mills and Phil Jones were not the sole reason for the University of Iowa's disorganized and chaotic response to the alleged sexual assault of last October 14.

The Gazette's morning editorial acknowledged "[the] university’s mistakes, miscommunication and inconsistent actions [and the] lack of understanding and leadership [that] made a terrible situation worse [as] too many university leaders did too little to make sure the [situation] was handled humanely and efficiently." Editorial, "Inquiry Must Lead to Swift Changes," The Gazette, September 20, 2008, p. A4.

And, as he so often does, the Press-Citizen's classy editorial cartoonist, Bob Patton, captures it with a stroke of his pen this morning under his heading of, "The Heat is On." [Credit: Bob Patton and the Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 20, 2008, p. A21.]

The drawing shows the "Stolar Partnership" "Investigation into U.I. Handling of Sex Assault Case" as a magnifying glass focusing the heat -- like a small boy using a magnifying glass to cremate ants on a summer's day -- on Mills and Jones, while UI President "Mason" and "Rest of UI Administration" stand on the shady sidelines.

So, what's wrong with focusing on Mills and Jones?

"Let me count the ways."

1. It's unfair. As The Gazette acknowledges, and Patton portrays, there's plenty of blame to go around to all of those "too many university leaders."

2. Orderly and balanced personnel review. The Regents set the example: President Mason's performance review was bifurcated, as the Regents first considered (on September 17) her accomplishments and failings separate and apart from her handling of this sexual assault case, and will subsequently consider the latter.

Every employee's performance can be reviewed periodically. And when Mills and Jones next come up for review they should be entitled to no less consideration than President Mason: how they performed with regard to this case (however seriously deficient it may, ultimately, be found to be) should be considered within the context of their overall performance.

Peremptory dismissals -- the petulant, retaliatory, scapegoating firing of employees -- are as counterproductive as they are inappropriate and unfair.

3. The back story. Neither Marc Mills nor Phil Jones have had an opportunity to fully and candidly tell their side of the story.

Is it possible that Mills was not on a "frolic and detour" of his own, but was in fact doing either what President Mason directly told him to do, or what he assumed, based on prior experience, she would want him to do? Is it possible that Jones had a prior experience with the football culture that permeates the University, and experienced what happens to those who dare to challenge it, and knew it would be counterproductive as well as personally risky to challenge the Athletic Department's "informal procedure" in this case?

I'm not suggesting for a moment that either -- or other possible scenarios -- are true. How could I know? All I'm suggesting is that there may be some explanations for their behavior other than the knee-jerk conclusion that "both are ignorant, incompetent, unfeeling SOBs who must be blamed for all that happened and peremptorily fired."

And note that both are "damned if they do, and damned if they don't" reveal their back story.

Based on the refusal of virtually all administrators to speak to the media about this case and the UI's procedure for handling it since last October, one possibility is that they've been instructed by President Mason not to. If that's the case, for them to tell their side of the story either to the Stolar investigators or the media -- especially if their story involves putting more of the responsibility on her -- would not bode well for their continued employment by the University. And even if they were to wait to speak out until after being fired, that would scarcely endear them to any potential future employer.

4. "Take me to your leader." For The Gazette to talk about the University's "lack of leadership" suggests that the University has a leader. Indeed it does. It is the President of the University of Iowa. Whatever happened to "the buck stops here"?

Patton is right. President Mason has been given "a base on balls" by Stolar, the media, many of the public, and the Regents (so far).

I'm not suggesting "this is all her fault" -- any more than it is all anyone's fault -- or that she should be severely punished in some way.

What I am suggesting is that both (a) in terms of what happened and why, and especially (b) what now to do about it, the Regents and their universities would have much to gain by understanding what was, and was not, done by the UI President's office to review, redesign and refine the University's procedures for handling sexual assaults by football players both prior to October 14 and since that day.

Especially is this so given what must have been known by all regarding the University's handling of the Pierre Pierce case. As the Press-Citizen editorialized this morning, "more than six years after the first sexual assault allegations against former Hawkeye basketball star Pierre Pierce, the University of Iowa still hasn't figured our how to handle such situations correctly."

Following October 14, what "management information reporting systems" did she have in place to track the Unviersity's handling of the case? What procedures does she have in place for monitoring not only crises, but the operation of the University generally?

After all, most of the Stolar Report's recommendations are kind of no-brainers: crimes should be reported to the police; alleged victims should have assigned advocates throughout the process;
there ought to be a single office/clearing house; it should not be the University's general counsel; the function should not be merged in EOD with its responsiblity for sexual harrassment generally.

That's not to say we're not in the firm's debt for pointing them out. It's only to say that, once they do so, one's response tends to be, "Why, yes, of course. And why weren't we already doing that?"

It's one of those "which would be worse" choices. Would it be worse that neither the University president, nor anyone else in admnistrative positions, has thought to review its organizational structure and procedures for handling football players' sexual assaults over the past six years? Or would it be worse that a review was conducted during President Mason's first year in office but no one thought of any of the obvious remedies proposed by Stolar?

5. Diversion of focus. So a final reason why it's a mistake to focus on Mills and Jones is that it diverts the attention of the public, media journalists and editorial writers, Regents, and Regents' universities' administrators from the systemic, managerial and administrative problems that must be addressed if any meaningful progress is to be made.

Governance and Drafting the New Procedures

At the top I mentioned two Register editorials this morning with which I disagree. The second proposes that it is the Regents that should draft a new set of procedures for how the Regents' universities' handle athletes' sexual assaults.

I have written often and at length about the subject of board governance (board-CEO relationship) in general, Nicholas Johnson, "Board Governance: Theory and Practice," and with regard to the Iowa Board of Regents in particular, Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on 'Governance,'" April 17, 2007 (with links to additional material of relevance to Regents' governance). And I'm not going to repeat all of that here.

The point, in this limited context, is that under a governance policy in which a board limits itself to setting what John Carver calls "ends policies" (and the rest of us might call "measurable goals") (and leaves it to the CEO to select the means for reaching those ends/goals), creating the specific structures, procedures, hiring practices and training programs -- or whatever else a CEO might choose -- for dealing with sexual assaults is the choice of the CEO, not the Board. The Board focuses on the results produced by the CEO in reaching the Board's ends/goals -- which constitute both the CEO's "job description" and the basis for his/her performance evaluation.

That's not to say, in this instance, that it would be inappropriate for the Board to express its dissatisfaction with what happened at Iowa this past year, only that the expression of that dissatisfaction should take the form of "ends policies" rather than specific procedures.

Moreover, rather than come up with a one-size-fits-all set of organizational structures and procedures, the Regents might at least want to consider starting with both present structures/procedures, and proposals, from each of the three universities. At a minimum, that kind of approach might come up with some creative ideas that would otherwise not be considered; and it might just be that there are very good reasons for having variations between the schools.

[More to come: the $1 trillion bailout.]

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Anonymous said...

No one that I have seen has mentioned that the current sexual assault policies that the UI followed and which, rightly, are coming under such fire were the NEW ones implemented by the university AS A RESULT of the Pierre Pierce case. These changes were well-publicized in their time, if I recall. No one said, "That's crazy!" then.

Anonymous said...

Your point about Mills possibly being directed by Mason to act as liason is possible; but then, why didn't the investigation uncover that, in which case Mason would be sharing some of the blame? If true, it would suggest either that the investigation was inadequate, or Mills is taking the fall for Mason. This was one HELL of a conflict of interest: in the event the alleged victim sued, Mills would be defending the UI. This is kind of like the defendant's attorney helping the plaintiff sort things out. And claiming FERPA as an excuse to withhold documents from the Regents' investigator? He's either hiding evidence, or the UI's top attorney doesnt understand FERPA, which is utterly ridiculous. Either way, he'll make a fine scapegoat.

And Jones is the most excellent scapegoat. I'm supposed to believe that a vice president is afraid of a football coach? That Jones could so mercilessly run roughshod over so many people for so many years, possibly commit a felony in the process of busting a frat and get away with it, but he's afraid to intervene because the AD is all-powerful? They'd already kicked the alleged perps off the team. Why would they put up a fuss over kicking them out of the dorm? Unless it really was a coverup, that is...

Screw these guys. I'm sure they'll have a chance to defend themselves, both to the Regents and in the court of public opinion. And you apparently forgot that they've already had a chance to defend themselves when interviewed by Stolar; and they didn't exactly come out smelling rosy. It's about time some UI honchos got the crap kicked out of them, they've been getting away with way too much for way too long. Too bad they only nailed two of them. And look at what it took to accomplish that. This a truly disgusting institution.

Anonymous said...

1. The Stolar report seemed to treat Mason with incredible kid gloves. Perhaps a president is afforded a pass on this?

2. Phil Jones has long been known to be a huge jerk. He takes victims and turns the rage on them. That guys is an obstruction to logic.

3. Can you imagine if you were a rape victim or the family of a rape victim. Must be thousands of emails and conversations about your fate. Is this a sensitive way to deal with a sensitive issue.

For one week, parents of female students and females students should boycott the Univ of Iowa to show how displeased they are with the nonsense called 'procedure'.

The leadership is absolutely negligent here.

The term tossed around the past week of financial crisis 'moral hazzard' comes to mind. The bloated administration at the U of Iowa has no risk there -- they simply parade around making bloated policies and admiring themselves. They assume positions like Mills with incredible conflict of interest. It's a duchy with dukes and duchesses who are untouchable.

Anonymous said...


It is always a good idea to keep an open mind, and I admire you for doing so, but Marc Mills got what he deserved when he was fired. Well, actually, he deserved a lot worse. I got to know him personally, and ironically it was under circumstances eerily parallel to the situation that he now faces. You see, I am the person who discovered sensitive materials on a shared network drive at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clincs. Mills personally handled the investigation, and do you think he wanted to hear my side of the story? Do you think I received a fair shake, or an opportunity to defend myself? Absolutely not. Mills summarily dismissed me as a person and terminated my 20-year employment at the UI without cause. When I appealed, he played every dirty trick in the book to deny me due process. Even after the State Auditor's office performed its own investigation and found no violation of law or policy, Mills refused to reconsider his decision to terminate my employment. He is the most evil S.O.B. I have ever met in my 41 years of life on this Earth, and firing was too good for him. Good riddens to bad rubbish!