Friday, October 31, 2008

Regents Strategic Plan Needs Metrics

October 31, 2008, 7:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m.

Measuring Education's Value to Iowa

Examples of related blog entries:

Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on 'Governance,'" April 17, 2007.

Nicholas Johnson, "Of Mission and Metrics: Iowa Universities Presidents' 'Performance Goals,'" October 24, 2008

If you're familiar with the two blog entries linked immediately above you can understand why I would be pleased to see the Regents turning their attention to "strategic planning." There are excerpts from this morning's stories below to fill you in on the details.

My comments and caveats would include the following:

o Under the standards of many gurus of governance this should be the Regents' full time job, not something for a couple days of brainstorming (October 30, and February 2). Much of what the Regents currently do involves a level of administrative micromanaging that conflicts with most governance models, is counterproductive, can usually be better done by the universities' presidents (or those to whom they've delegated the tasks), takes time away from what the Regents ought to be doing, with the result that both Regents and presidents are left with little or no guidance as to measurable goals.

o The current Board of Regents includes individuals with an impressive array of the education, skills and experience necessary to do their job. They should do it; without the use of and reliance upon "consultants." (Moreover, of lesser significance but worth noting, at least by my standards $15,000 for a couple days consulting is pretty generous.) This is hard work. But it shouldn't be -- actually it cannot be -- "delegated" to staff or consultants.

o If individual Regents would like a little outside guidance, knowledge of what other universities (and other institutions) are doing, what are thought to be "best practices" in institutional governance, the best way to get it is through self-education; work at it; internalize the skills. It's all out there on the Internet (not incidentally, for free). Want an analogy? Law students use "outlines" of courses. Those who buy and read commercial outlines are sometimes able to pass an exam (barely), but retain little. Those who make their own outlines from the book and class discussion not only do better on exams, they internalize the information, skills and analytical abilities that they continue to draw upon throughout their professional careers. Regents need to do the equivalent of making their own, individual outlines regarding the analytical skills and process necessary to the task of mission/strategic planning/goal setting.

o Strategic planning basics: metrics, metrics, metrics. Any institution needs some general notion of what it's about. But many institutions, whether school boards or universities, never get beyond such generalized "mission statements" and "strategic planning." That's been my primary complaint about past University of Iowa "strategic plans" (and more recently the Regents university presidents' "performance goals," see "Of Mission and Metrics," linked above). If the plan is to be actually used, if it is to have a meaningful impact on anything (rather than be merely printed, shelved, filed, and stuffed into a Web site somewhere), it needs to have some (a) measurable goals, with (b) mileposts of accomplishment, (c) that are in fact regularly assessed and measured according to a, say, monthly or quarterly schedule, (d) reported on publicly with total transparency, and (e) modified as appropriate. (Not incidentally, these then double as the bases for university presidents' "performance bonuses.") You get what you measure;" measure nothing, you'll get nothing. We've not been measuring much.

o Focus. I'm not at all troubled that the Regents' first effort, according to today's press reports, below, was a pretty scatter-shot exploration of a wide variety of possibilities. That's part of the process. That's constructive. But what it does illustrate is that (a) this is a long process requiring much more than a couple of days' effort. Indeed, as I indicated above, properly conceived this is the Regents' full time job, something that should be the first item on every agenda. And (b) that at the end of this long process there comes to be a need, ultimately, to focus on a handful of measurable, attainable goals (what John Carver calls "ends policies").

o Big picture. Regent Michael Gartner threw out the idea of lengthening the K-12 school year. Many educators think he's right about that; others point out the complexities. Our school schedule is still being dictated by the needs of 19th Century farmers to have their kids in the fields, working on the farms, during the summer months. Few of our K-12 students have those responsibilities today ("more's the pity," some of my generation may think). One of the reasons I ran for, and served on, the local school board was because I finally came to the conclusion that we could not do, as law professors, what should have been done to improve writing skills during the K-12 years.

My point? If you're really interested in the role of education in Iowa, its impact on anything (take your pick), it will be most productive to see higher education as but a small part of the overall effort, from pre-natal care for pregnant mothers-to-be, early childhood health care and pre-school education, K-12, community colleges -- as well as other institutions' efforts at training and education -- and not just "higher education." That's what, I'd guess, Regent Gartner was trying to suggest.

Note in this connection that the Iowa Code already urges as much: "The board [of Regents] shall: . . . Explore . . . the need for coordination between school districts, area education agencies, state board of regents institutions, and community colleges for purposes of delivery of courses . . .." Iowa Code, Sec. 262.9 (26).

o "The price of everything and the value of nothing." I don't deny that "productivity of the faculty and the cost effectiveness of academic programs" might be both measured and improved, and that "helping Iowa with economic development [and] job creation" have a role to play in a university's mission. After all, I'm the one calling for metrics. Richard Florida talks about the value of a "creative class" to economic growth (and what it takes for a community to attract such people), something directly related to education. But there are other than economic benefits for the individual and the community of a quality education, "lifelong learning," individuals' curiosity, appreciation of the arts, awareness of history, geography, other cultures, science, involvement in the passions of one's time, that are central (I believe) to a university's mission even though less capable of being measured. I would hope that this enormous value, and purpose of education, would not be lost in the rush to put a dollar value on everything done by a university.

Note in this connection that the Iowa Code provides that "The university of Iowa ['s] . . . object shall be to provide the best and most efficient means of imparting to men and women, upon equal terms, a liberal education and thorough knowledge of the different branches of literature and the arts and sciences, with their varied applications. It shall include [a college] of liberal arts . . .." Iowa Code, Sec. 263.1.

o Do we have "public universities"? Do we want them? With a mere $750 million of the universities' $4 billion -- 18+% -- coming from the state, there's some question whether the people and legislature of Iowa even have, let alone want, a "state university." Regent Gartner says even this modest "level of state support is not sustainable."

The average number of years of education thought basic for most citizens, and paid for with public funds (because of its benefit to the entire community and nation), has extended over time from third grade, to sixth grade, to eighth grade, to the full K-12 "high school diploma." Wouldn't you have to agree that if K-12 was necessary, say, 50 years ago, that K-16 (i.e., a four-year college education) would be its equivalent today? If so, what is the rationale for stopping the community benefit from the public funding of public education at K-12?

Initially state universities were created to provide free or radically reduced-cost education*; now they charge more in tuition than our nation's most expensive private colleges charged not that many years ago. Might the Regents and presidents at least explore the implications of a complete split, a candid recognition that these universities have become, in fact regardless of name, "private universities"? If that's a feasible idea, perhaps the State could then provide more adequate funding for the community college system, putting on it the primary responsibility for liberal arts education (along with its associate degree programs), leaving the newly-private universities to focus on graduate and professional education and advanced research.
* The 1845 law establishing what became the University of Iowa and the Board of Regents (a) was expressly subject to revision and has of course been revised over the years, (b) uses the word "tuition" (though without specifying any amount, nor authorizing the Regents to collect it), and (c) does not expressly provide for "free tuition." However, it does speak in terms of the University being "equally accessible" to all, students being "freely admitted," and authorizes the Regents to "admit gratuitously."

"An Act to Incorporate the University of Iowa" of 1845 provides:

"Section 1. Be it enacted by the Council and House of Representatives of the Territory of Iowa, That a Seminary of Learning shall be, and the same is, hereby, established in Iowa City or vicinity thereof to be known by the name and style of the 'Iowa City University;' which shall be founded and maintained forever on the most liberal principles, being equally accessible to students of all religious denominations who shall be freely admitted to equal advantages and privileges of education . . ..

"Sec. 7. That the Regents shall have authority whenever in their opinion the funds of the Institution may justify the measure, to admit gratuitously, in whole or in part, as the respective case may require, such person or persons as they may think proper to enjoy the benefits of tuition in said University."

Laws of Iowa, Passed at the Extra Session of The Legislative Assembly Which Commenced on the 17th Day of June, 1844, Also, The Laws Of The Regular Session, Which Commenced on the 5th Day of May, 1845 (Iowa City: Williams & Palmer, 1845).Chapter 41, University of Iowa City, p. 61.

However, the Act of February 25, 1847, often referred to as the Act creating the University of Iowa ("There shall be established at Iowa City, the present seat of government of the state of Iowa, an institution to be called the 'State University of Iowa,' . . ."), does expressly provide (with regard to education of future "common schools" teachers), "That the grants . . . herein made are upon the express condition that the said university shall . . . commence and continue the instruction -- free of charge -- of fifty students annually, in the theory and practice of teaching, as well as in such branches of learning as shall be deemed best calculated for the preparation of said students for the business of common school teaching." Acts and Resolutions Passed at the First Session of the General Assembly of the State of Iowa Which Convened at Iowa City, on the Thirtieth Day of Novembeer, A.D. 1846 (Iowa City: A. H. Palmer, 1847), Chapter 125, Secs. 1, 7, p. 156 (February 25, 1847), in Laws of Iowa, First to Fourth General Assembly, 1846-1913, Reprint 1913.

Here are some stories reporting on the Regents' efforts:

Brian Morelli, "Gartner suggests lengthening the K-12 school year," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 31, 2008, p. A1 ("System-wide, the regents are a $4 billion enterprise, Regent President David Miles said, noting that is two-thirds the size of the entire state budget of Iowa, which is about $6 billion. 'We are an enterprise of scope, scale and significance that if we set our direction, we should be able to make a difference,' Miles said. . . .

The conversation included access for Iowa students; managing budgets, state appropriations and tuition; helping Iowa with economic development, job creation and attracting people as the population ages; improving diversity; increasing competition from overseas; and improving the quality of education, among others. One of the areas of focus was productivity of the faculty and the cost effectiveness of academic programs, and putting research into practice. . . .

Regent Michael Gartner discussed increasing the K-12 school year by 30 days as a way Iowa could invest in education and use it as an economic development tool. 'If we could say, "Move your company to Iowa, and when your employees' children graduate from high school, they will be a year smarter than if they were in Illinois or Kansas or Ohio," that would be awfully powerful,' the Des Moines businessman said. . . .

Another topic was the declining level of state dollars -- about $750 million this past year -- as a proportion of the regents' overall budget. 'The level of state support is not sustainable,' Gartner said.").

Diane Heldt, "Regents Want Goals with State Focus," The Gazette, October 31, 2008, p. B4 ("[Dennis] Jones, president of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, said he sees four areas the regents should focus on . . . closing the achievement gap . . . ; higher education's role . . . in economic development . . .; providing a trained work force . . .; keeping higher education affordable. . . . [W]hat are the societal needs in Iowa . . ..").

Erin Jordan, "Regents see population-tuition link," Des Moines Register, October 31, 2008 ("Iowa's state universities may have the potential to reverse the state's declining population trends, several members of the Iowa Board of Regents said. The about-face could be made by charging nonresidents the same tuition as residents or recruiting more international students, suggested regents and university leaders at a strategic planning brainstorming session Thursday.").

Amanda McClure, "Regents See Need for Diversity; Bringing People to the State on the Forefront of the State Board of Regents' Strategy," The Daily Iowan, October 31, 2008, p. A1.

Amanda McClure, "Regents Want to Burnish Iowa's Rep," The Daily Iowan, October 31, 2008, p. A4.

Other university news:

Brian Morelli, "Regents Turn to AG on Stolar Note Request," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 31, 2008, p. A5 ("The Iowa state Board of Regents is backing off statements that it intends to release notes from interviews conducted during an investigation of the University of Iowa's handling of a sexual assault case. Regent President David Miles said Thursday that the regents have turned the Stolar Partnership notes over to the Iowa Attorney General's Office and are waiting for direction.").

Erin Jordan, "U of I Hospitals to cut $24.8 million to meet budget," Des Moines Register, October 29, 2008

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

$2.20 Gift Keeps on Giving, Pays Dividends

October 30, 2008, 7:00 a.m.
Looking for "The Economics of Conservation," October 28, 2008?
Related sources, most popular entries, at bottom this page.

A $2.20 Gift to Our Great-grandchildren
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen
October 30, 2008, p. A15

The conservation bond offers one of the best returns on an investment of public money we're ever likely to enjoy.

• What's it worth to bike or cross-country ski along a trail? A fishing trip with grandchildren? It's Mastercard "priceless."

• Economists say recreation's value can be measured. It's at least what we're willing to pay for outdoor equipment, travel costs and related expenses. Clearly, more than $20 million over 20 years -- including profits for local merchants.

• Savings. The 2008 flood cost UI -- one institution from one flood -- more than $200 million, 10 times the bond. Conservation's reduction of flood damage may be its largest pay back.

• If matching funds materialize, $80 million of conservation for our $20 million bond is a better bet than any in Riverside or on Wall Street.

• Increasing values. New York's $50 million investment in Central Park in 1853 now is worth $500 billion. Imagine what our $20 million investment will be worth 150 years from now.

• Land and water stewardship is supported by all major religions and denominations. They know it's essential to continued life on Earth for all, including humans. That's another "priceless." For detail see ("The Economics of Conservation").

Of course, those who oppose all public expenditure -- whether for libraries, schools or parks -- oppose the bond. Why wouldn't they? But they can't deny either its ecological benefits or these returns on our investment.

And when their RoboCaller tells me the added $2.20 a month is going to increase my property tax by 25 percent to 30 percent I think they must be living in a smaller house than my son, Gregory.

For $2.20 to be a 30 percent increase would mean I'm paying $7.33 a month in property tax, or an annual total property tax of $88. I don't know about you, but my bill runs a good deal more than that. Sufficiently so that I don't think I'm going to miss that $2.20 gift to my great-grandchildren.

Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City

As usual, the skillful and insightful Bob Patton has used his clever pen to pose the basic choice confronting Johnson County residents:

[Credit: Bob Patton, Patton's Pad: "Happy Little Trees," uploaded October 28, 2008, 2:19 p.m., published Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 29, 2008, p. A23.]

In short, what our elected and appointed officials prefer is to take taxpayer money and give it to what he depicts as bloated "Out-of-State Developers," holding plans for "strip malls," "big box stores," and "corporate chains." The alternative? To give a small fraction of that to the cause of conservation.

Here's another:

[Credit: Bob Patton, "Patton's Pad: Natural Selection?" uploaded October 21, 2008, 12:46 p.m.]

In a choice, a balance, between money on the one hand, and "our natural resources" on the other, the money seems to be the weightier.

Conservation Related, 2008

Great Outdoors of Iowa (greenbelts, greenways, 100 organizations, news, more)

Nicholas Johnson, "The Economics of Conservation," October 28, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Go With the Flow," August 19,2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Floodplains," August 9, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Flooding: 'We've Found the Enemy' -- And the Answers,"
July 17, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Iowa's Everglades," June 25, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Gazette's Flood Plan, Floodplains & Greenbelts," June 21, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Greenbelts and Floodplains," June 20, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Flooding, Greenbelts & Catching Up With State 29," June 18, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Floods and Football," June 17, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Greenbelts, Greenways and Flood Prevention," June 16, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "GO Iowa! - The G-reat O-utdoors of Iowa," May 5, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Voting for Our Great-Grandchildren," March 7, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Preserving for Our Grandchildren," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Greenbelts for Grandchildren," February 15 and 20, 2008
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.
"The Economics of Conservation," October 28, 2008.
"Growing Iowa's Economy the Right Way," April 27, 2008.
"Random Thoughts on Law School Rankings," April 29, 2008.
"Police Accidental Shootings -- Of Themselves," May 9, 2008.
"How Much Do You Owe the Chinese?" September 8, 2008.
"Can We Trust Our Bankers?" October 29, 2008.
"Mission and Metrics" [UI President Sally Mason's "goals"], October 24, 2008.

And see, Database Index of 565 blog entries

# # #

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Can We Trust Our Bankers?

October 29, 2008, 9:00, 10:15 a.m.

Looking for "The Economics of Conservation," October 28, 2008? Click here.

"If You Can't Trust Your Banker . . ."

[Credit: "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres," Maverick, 2nd Season, 1958. The popular early television series, Maverick, "starring James Garner and Jack Kelly, remains the most famous and widely discussed episode of the Western comedy television series Maverick. Written by Roy Huggins and Douglas Heyes and directed by Leslie H. Martinson, this 1958 second season episode depicts gambler Bret Maverick (James Garner) being swindled by a crooked banker (John Dehner) after depositing the proceeds from a late-night poker game, then recruiting his brother Bart Maverick (Jack Kelly) to mount an elaborate sting operation to recover the money." It's also the source of two oft-quoted lines: "If you can't trust your banker, whom can you trust?" and "I'm working on it." See, "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres,"]

At the outset, let me make clear that I don't mean to be questioning the trustworthiness of our local bankers (notwithstanding the physical similarity between one of them and John Dehner). The "bankers" I'm talking about are those in Washington, represented by the President, his Secretary of the Treasury, those "to get along go along" campaign-contribution-receiving members of the House and Senate, and their Wall Street collaborators.

Given that they have fallen for the same "Chicken Little, 'the sky is falling, the sky is falling'" rhetoric from Bush on the economy that he used for the Iraq War,

[Credit: Jon Stewart, "The Daily Show," September 25, 2008.]

apparently what this country needs is a Washington invasion of chiropractors to strengthen their spines.

Europe is still providing examples of how to go about this bailout responsibly.

For example, in a story of some local interest we learn that the Dutch government is bailing out the corporate parent of Cedar Rapids' AEGON USA. Associated Press, "Netherlands Gives Aegon a $3.7 Billion Bailout," New York Times, October 28, 2008 (in this morning's Gazette as, "AEGON Gets $3.7 Billion Government Investment," The Gazette, October 29, 2008, p. B7 -- apparently Europe's "bailout" is America's "investment").

Note that the European AEGON parent has canceled dividends and executive bonuses for the rest of the year.

Note also that the government has given "Dutch Uncle treatment" a whole new meaning by simply nationalizing the biggest Dutch financial institutions, ABN Amro and Fortis.

Nor has it simply given AEGON $3.7 billion. It has acquired 750 million shares of a new class of non-voting AEGON stock which, if converted to common stock would be nearly a 50% stake in the company. It will name two members of the board. The stock will pay a minimum of 8.5% annually. And if the company ever chooses to buy them back it will cost them $5.6 billion, not $3.7 billion.

Meanwhile, here in the good old U.S. of A. it looks like Secretary Paulson is weakening on his commitment to obtain taxpayer equity in exchange for the $700 billion bailout. Meanwhile, apparently the banks are taking the money -- designed to ease the credit crisis -- and instead of using it to make loans have decided they might better enrich themselves by using it to buy up other banks at a bargain, thereby creating even larger financial institutions that "we just can't afford to let fail."

And the auto companies, having already been given $25 billion (I believe), are now back in line for whatever they can get from wherever they can get it -- a part of the $700 billion "financial institutions" bailout, the additional $25 billion auto "just for the hell of it" fund, and some $5 billion from the Department of Energy for retooling to (hopefully) begin building cars that Americans would actually like to buy.

The roughly $10 billion in government funds to support a merger would be in addition to whatever funds would be allocated under an already-approved $25 billion program to provide low-interest loans to the auto industry for retooling to make more fuel-efficient cars. . . .

Moody's Investors Service cut its GM rating on Monday deeper into junk territory on the view that GM's liquidity would continue to erode into 2009. The ratings agency also cut Chrysler for similar reasons . . ..

GM has a market capitalization of just over $3 billion based on Monday's close and roughly $10 billion of outstanding debt. Chrysler's privately held auto operations were valued at zero last week by Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE) . . ..

GM's shares have slumped nearly 80 percent this year and its market value has dropped below what it was in 1929.

Jui Chakravorty Das and Kevin Krolicki, "GM seeks $10 billion in aid for merger: sources," Reuters, October 28, 2008, 12:06 p.m. ET.
Far be it from me to yield to the persuasive forces of cynicism and conspiracy, but doesn't it kind of remind you of two things:

(1) Civil disorder and riots, whether in Baghdad after our invasion or American cities 40 years ago, with store windows broken and looters running down the streets with anything that was not locked down that they can carry. Even the foxes have stopped guarding the chicken coops and opened the door to any and all to come take as many as they can carry. This Administration and their friends in Congress realize that change is most likely coming. If they intend to keep on getting they best get while the getting is good. Since when they opened the vaults at Fort Knox they discovered they were bare, and they don't want the wealthy to have to pay taxes, they've simply run up debt for our great grandchildren to pay, and then started paying this borrowed money to themselves as fast as they can between now and January 20 (Inauguration Day). Maybe not, but that's sure as hell what it looks like to me.

(2) An almost equally valuable byproduct -- certainly politically -- of this unrestrained theft from taxpayers involves one of the most effective strategies of those who would like to do away with government entirely -- except for making war (while enriching the weapons merchants). By running up astronomical levels of debt they can totally eliminate any and all "discretionary spending" by the president and Congress. Remember Bush's adviser, Grover Norquist? "To Norquist, who loves being called a revolutionary, hardly an agency of government is not worth abolishing, from the Internal Revenue Service and the Food and Drug Administration to the Education Department and the National Endowment for the Arts. 'My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years,' he says, 'to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.'" Robert Dreyfuss, "Grover Norquist: 'Field Marshall' of the Bush Plan," The Nation, May 14, 2001 (online April 26, 2001).

It's a two-fer for them: riches beyond their wildest dreams of avarice, and a political body blow to any Obama Administration. After all, what will Obama's options be? ("You can't always get what you want; but you can get what you need"? Not if "Change We Need" is "Change We Can't Afford.")

1. He can capitulate to the neocons' strategy; fail to put any of his proposals in place, and cut back even more on the few social programs that still exist, further extending the gap between rich and poor and driving America ever closer to third-world demographics.

2. He can, irresponsibly, increase the national debt beyond the $10 trillion or more that Bush is leaving for him -- and the $55 trillion of unfunded future obligations -- and just hope that the Chinese, and other peoples with greater inclination to save than Americans, will continue to loan us money.

3. He can (a) pray for an economic recovery sufficient to radically increase federal tax revenues (without increasing tax rates), using the money to both pay down debt and provide at least pilot project-level funding for new programs, or (b) increase tax rates notwithstanding the lack of economic recovery.

There may be other options, but those are the only ones that immediately occur to me.

Of course, I may be too cynical. After all, "If you can't trust your banker, whom can you trust?"

# # #

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Economics of Conservation

October 28, 2008, 6:45 a.m.

Economic Analysis of Conservation Bond

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors has put a conservation bond issue proposal on the November 4 ballot.

I've been asked, now repeatedly, whether I think it makes economic sense for Johnson County's property taxpayers.

The short answer is "yes;" the longer answer continues below.

There are over 100 organizations, and thousands of individuals, whose recreational activities involve the use of Eastern Iowa's land and water. Iowa ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in public land. So many of them have been having to contribute their own land, money and efforts to improving Iowa's status.

But that's not the way our nation, and the other 49 states, have gone about creating this fundamental public asset over the last 200 years. They view this as a public function, appropriate for public expenditure.

Now Johnson County voters are being given the opportunity to join the rest of the nation. We get to vote on whether we want to invest $1 million a year over the next 20 years for the acquisition of private land voluntarily offered for sale. (This is not an "eminent domain" undertaking.)

Readers' comments. I welcome "comments" about my blog entries, and often benefit from their constructive criticism. But I don't use the blog to carry on an ongoing debate. I figure I have my say in the blog, and those making comments should be permitted their say unchallenged, leaving it to readers to sort it all out. So all comments except for overt advertising are retained on the blog.

But a recent anonymous comment directly asks for a response, and involves the conservation ballot issue:

Anonymous said...

People have been watching your blog for some type of analysis of the conservation vote coming up, the one where you and your wife sit on the board? You know, an analysis of the budget, the business plan, etc. The detailed plans about what happens to the land after purchase and who pays for it...the answering of questions related to conflict of interest...why we are expected to give away $20,000,000 without no more information that a one-page flyer and the exact one-page website???

We have come to expect greater thought on matters pertaining to our tax dollars. We expect more of you, Nick. How would a banker analyze your request for tax dollars? How should the general public? How can one vote on something with no details? Is it a desert topping or what?

10/22/2008 10:37:00 AM
I decided this was one comment that really did require a response, which I prepared over the weekend and intended to use today. Yesterday, he or she was back again, and after quoting from the "Missions and Metrics" blog entry of October 24, added a comment including this excerpt:

. . . These are the same issues being demanded regarding the $20 million conservation vote. All based on a one-page business plan? Give me a break Nick. By ignorning the issue you are agreeing with every argument the opponents of this handout have.

10/27/2008 11:33:00 AM
While I rather suspect that "Anonymous" is opposed to the bond issue, and will remain so regardless of what I write, it makes more sense to give him/her the benefit of the doubt and treat the comment as a serious inquiry.

Comparing Apples and Automobiles. While the implied economic questions can be and will be addressed (whether or not to the satisfaction of the author of the comment is another matter), there are some basics to address first.

1. Public money, private projects. Most of my concerns about public finance, expressed in newspaper columns and blog entries, have involved the transfer of taxpayers' money to private individuals and the bottom lines of for-profit corporations: the recent $700 billion bank bailout; earmarks such as the $50 million from Senator Grassley for the indoor rain forest proposal from Ted Townsend, Governor Ray, and Dave Oman; a vast array of other "corporate welfare" subsidies and programs; and locally the equivalent forms of gifts from the City Council to businesses in the form of TIFs and direct expenditures.

Such spending (rule by joint corporate-government authority is central to the classic definition of "fascism") should raise serious ideological problems for "free private enterprise" and "marketplace" advocates. But if it is going to be done anyway, I've argued, then claims such as those of projected ticket sale revenues, as for the rain forest or Stories Project, need to be subjected to the kind of analysis the author of the comment expresses as, "How would a banker analyze your request for tax dollars?"

2. Public money, public projects. By contrast, public projects, serving public purposes, that come from public bodies -- especially those funded with bond issues voted on by taxpayers -- are an entirely different matter.

That doesn't mean they should be exempt from economic analysis, only that comparing the issues they raise to those of typical corporate welfare projects is like comparing apples to automobiles.

When local school district residents voted a $40 million bond issue for more schools I had laid before them an alternative that would have eliminated the need for the $40 million. But enough voters were sufficiently uncomfortable with what the alternative involved (a modification of the high schools' senior year, and a different system for assigning elementary students to schools) that they thought the $40 million well worth it. And that was fine with me.

Taxpayers have as much right to make an additional contribution to new schools, or more conservation land, as they have to increase their tithe to their house of worship. (And yes, I understand that, unlike the voluntary tithe, once 60% or more of the voters vote for a bond for something those who voted against the proposal will also have to pay their fair share of the property tax used to pay it off.)

There's an enormous difference between, on the one hand, four individuals (Grassley, Ray, Townsend, Oman) deciding to spend $50 million of federal taxpayers' money on a private project in Iowa (their indoor rain forest idea), without meaningful consideration (if any) by the other 99 of the 100 senators, any of the 435 of the members of the House, or the White House staff, and no vote of Iowa's (let alone the nation's) taxpayers; and, on the other hand, the citizens of Johnson County voting to spend $1 million a year for the acquisition of additional public land for conservation and recreation in Johnson County.

Unlike transferring taxpayers' money to for-profit corporations, there are basic community functions and infrastructure that have historically been well within the role of state and local government.

Of course, public expenditures on public projects should be undertaken with as much administrative and managerial expertise, efficiency, and attention to alternatives and cost control as possible.

But there is relatively little debate that public projects can appropriately be undertaken by government -- at some time, in some way, to some degree. I would include in this category our public library, schools, roads, bridges, sewer system, and water plant.

Clearly, public parks and forests; wetlands, lakes and rivers; recreation areas and trails, have been seen to be an appropriate public purpose, and expenditure, since the time of the Boston Common in 1634.

3. "Our Land, Water and Future" and the conservation bond. Is the conservation bond proposal another example of for-profit corporations or wealthy campaign contributors trying to enrich themselves with taxpayer money? No.

This is clearly not only a "public money, public project" proposal, but one that originated with the Johnson County Conservation Board, with the approval of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.

I had earlier been researching, writing about, and had created a Web site for "greenbelts," and had made efforts to contact the Conservation Board, although unsuccessful in doing so. Frankly, I had not thought about a bond issue, had not a clue the Conservation Board was thinking about such a thing, and was stunned (though pleased) when I first heard that a bond issue was in the works.

The comment indicates that my wife and I are on the "board" of "Our Land, Water and Future." In fact, the organization is sufficiently informal that it does not have a "board" as such, only a "steering committee" more or less make up of everyone who came to the first meeting, along with a couple of "co-chairs."

Certainly the organization did not exist prior to the notice of the bond issue, and thus neither it, nor to the best of my knowledge any of its supporters -- unlike the rain forest project's promoters -- could have been instigators of the conservation bond idea.

The closer analogy would be to the "Yes! for Kids" group, organized after the school bond proposal was put forward and made up of those who thought it a good idea.

The conservation bond details. How much detail can a voter reasonably expect from a bond issue proposal? It's one of the questions put by my anonymous comment writer.

Another Anonymous person (not me, obviously) actually responded with a comment of his or her own on this point, quoting the ballot language:

Shall [a] the County of Johnson, State of Iowa, [b] be authorized to acquire and develop lands [c] with public access provided, [d] to be managed by the Johnson County Conservation Board, [e] in order to protect the water quality in rivers, lakes and streams; protect forests to improve air quality; protect natural areas and wildlife habitat from development, and provide for parks and trails, [f] at a cost not exceeding $20,000,000 and [g] issue its general obligation bonds [h] in an amount not exceeding $20,000,000 for that purpose, [i] to be repaid in not more than 20 years? [j] All expenditures will be subject to an annual independent audit. [letters added]
This is about as detailed as you're likely to get from any comparable proposal.

Bonds to build schools don't indicate where the schools are going to be, the precise land and building costs for each, what the architectural plans are, the schools square footage and number of classrooms, how many students will attend, what neighborhood areas they'll come from, who the teachers will be, or where the bus routes will run.

And of course, like schools, it would be both difficult and unwise to identify precise parcels at this point because it would drive up the cost of those parcels for the public, and because it cannot be known, today, precisely what land will become available for voluntary sale, and thought to be most appropriate to the conservation purposes, 5, 10 or 15 years from now.

So what is the economic value of this proposed conservation bond? A part of our "apples to automobiles" problem involves the calculation of the economic value of public projects. It's not that it can't be done, and I'm about to show how it can be.

But you can't measure the "economic" return on a community's investment in libraries, schools -- or parks -- with the same approach you'd use to evaluate the investors' return on their investment in a hotel or shopping mall. Public libraries and schools were never created with the expectation of the "profits" they would spin off. The economic return they provide benefits not only those personally involved, but the community as a whole -- from the enhanced education and information possessed by the citizens, entrepreneurs, workers, and public officials in that community.

Similarly, there is no universally agreed upon single measure of the value of conservation, but these approaches may help:

(a) It's what the Mastercard advertisements call "priceless." What's it worth to you, today, to know that your grandchildren will have access to land in addition to that which is located in a suburban development of homes, or under the parking lots of super malls? What's it worth to you to take a bike ride along a trail through the woods and along a stream? Or to cross-country ski that same trail on a new winter's snow? To spot a rare bird in a forest? To play a game of ultimate Frisbee? To go fishing or hunting with one of your children? To camp overnight along a river?

(b) Economists say it's not "priceless"; they attempt to put a value on it. They say that, at a minimum, recreational land is worth what you are willing to pay to enjoy such pleasures: the mileage cost of driving your car there; the cost of the boat and motor; the outdoor clothes; the sporting, hunting and fishing equipment; the mountain bicycle -- possibly even an RV. In fact, this understates the value; I suspect most of us don't think about the dollar value of such pleasures, and if we did would value them far higher than our mere out-of-pocket expenses -- indeed, if the benefit from the cost was only a wash we probably wouldn't buy the stuff in the first place. And, of course, what's a "cost" (and a "value") to you is a "profit" to some local merchant. So, while I haven't run the numbers, it seems reasonable to assume that there's at least a $20 million return over 20 years from this analysis alone.

(c) Cost avoidance. What did the most recent flood cost us? I don't know the total, but I do recall a University of Iowa estimate of, was it $250 million? It was something over $200 million. And that's just one institution's loss from one flood -- over ten times the cost of the bond!

Greenways and wetlands; prairies, pastures and recreational lands in floodplains; and buffers of filters along rivers can both reduce the number and severity of floods and virtually eliminate the damage to homes and businesses. Cost avoidance alone makes the bond one of Johnson County taxpayers' best investments.

(d) Matching funds. I don't emphasize the proponents' suggestion that the $20 million can and will be "matched" with state, federal and private funds (though I have no reason to doubt them). It may be. But I haven't seen the details on that, so I'm not including it here. Obviously, however, if our $20 million ends up producing $80 million that would be another very positive economic return in the equation.

(e) "Return on investment." From the time of the Boston Common until now, America -- indeed the world -- has had a serious commitment to public lands. And for many good reasons, not the least of which is "return on investment."

"Now is not the time," say some of the bond issue's opponents. But do you know when is the absolute worst time to acquire public land? Next year. Conditions are never better than right now, whenever "right now" and "next year" may be.

It was not easy for the New York legislature to buck the political opposition 150 years ago and come up with the $50,000,000 then necessary to buy what is today Central Park in New York City. But do you know what its value is today? Some 10,000 times that much: $500 billion dollars!

Over the years, from the Boston Common and Central Park, through our vast system of national and state parks and forests today, Americans have seen that kind of return on their investment. Some 23-76% of the land in our 12 western-most states is public land. The National Forest Service alone holds 8% of all the land in America, about 193 million acres.

Imagine what our little $20 million investment will be worth 150 years from now!

(f) We know of the contribution of public lands to Iowa's ability to hold our graduates here, and encourage the immigration of others -- and the economic value that must represent, even if it cannot be measured accurately.

But even more significant, and more difficult to measure, is the contribution of conservation to the continuation of life itself. A reliable water table. Clean water in lakes and streams. The wildlife that help keep both plant and animal life in balance. The retention of our topsoil. The forests that help keep our carbon footprint and greenhouse gases in check. Healthy air to breathe. We cannot continue to take and take and never give back and expect to survive. Survival; that's truly "priceless."

Opposition to all public expenditure. There is a political/economic philosophy held by some that we should eliminate virtually all public expenditures for public purposes and "privatize" most of those functions: schools, jails, libraries, water, trash pickup, and turn the Interstate system into toll roads; give Disney the national parks. (Even these individuals might be able to concede that there's something different about meeting conservation needs essential to continued human life that have not, and will not, be satisfied with "marketplace forces.")

But unless you agree with that approach to government (or, rather, doing away with government) there is no reason to take seriously the arguments of those who do hold that view when they oppose the conservation bond. They are not really arguing against the wisdom of the conservation bond as such -- any more than they argue against schools, libraries and jails as such -- so much as they are arguing against any and all public projects.

(There are also, of course, arguments that it would be more fair and just to provide public funding for public projects with an appropriately progressive income tax rather than property tax, but that, too, is no more program-specific as an argument -- nor likely to be adopted -- than doing away with all public projects.)

As I began, "There are over 100 organizations, and thousands of individuals, whose recreational activities involve the use of Iowa's land and water." My thanks go out to all of them, as diverse in purpose as they may be, for what they have done with their own time and money -- most recently pulling trash out of the Iowa River. Rachel Gallegos, "Difference Makers; Volunteers Help with Iowa River Cleanup," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 26, 2008 (available as, Rachel Gallegos, "More than 100 attend 'Make a Difference Day,'" Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 25, 2008).

"Flipping the ballot" and voting "Yes" for the conservation bond issue is a way we can all work together to further multiply their efforts -- while, in my humble opinion, getting one of the best returns on an investment of public money we're ever likely to enjoy.

# # #

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mission and Metrics

October 24, 2008, 11:45 a.m.

Of Mission and Metrics:
Iowa Universities Presidents' "Performance Goals"

The presidents of Iowa's Board of Regents and its three universities have announced the "performance goals" for the universities' presidents -- goals that will guide the Regents in evaluating the presidents' annual bonuses for superior performance.

Since I've been advocating this for some years, it's rewarding to see the process started.

But, alas, if I were teaching management instead of law, and these proffered "performance goals" were presented to me by my students as part of a class writing exercise, I fear they would be graded somewhere between a "D" and an "F."

That's OK in one sense; I guess, as the Frenchman explained when asked why he kissed women on the hand, "You have to start somewhere." The effort has begun and I'm grateful for that.

Before explaining the rationale for the low grades, let me candidly acknowledge my limitations. I am not now teaching management, nor have I ever done so. I have a law degree, not an MBA. Most members of the Board of Regents, and many of the universities' administrators, have had much more education, training and day-to-day experience with management and administration than I have. So I cannot, and would not if I could, suggest that my reactions must be accepted because they come from someone with more authority than the authors of these documents.

My reactions must be evaluated on their merits. Either they make sense to you or they don't.

That's not to say I'm totally devoid of experience. As U.S. Maritime Administrator I had responsibility for roughly 100 programs and projects with a couple-billion-dollar impact, thousands of employees, reserve fleet ships, a four-year academic institution (U.S. Merchant Marine Academy), ship building and operating subsidy programs, sea lift to Viet Nam, work with NATO, and so forth. During that time I created the "MARAD Management Information Reporting System" (a description of which was written up and published by the Government Printing Office for the guidance of other government agencies). As a local school board member I studied and led the adoption of the John Carver board-CEO governance model. And occasionally some of the business literature has caught my eye over the years. But all together it's more of a hobby interest these days than the kind of expertise that a College of Business professor, or business executive on the Board of Regents, would bring to bear.

See, e.g., U.S. Department of Commerce Maritime Administration, "The MARAD Management Information Reporting System" (1965); Nicholas Johnson, "Board Governance: Theory and Practice" (2000-2001); John Carver, "Remaking Governance: The creator of 'Policy Governance' challenges school boards to change," American School Board Journal, March 2000, p. 26 (a very useful, summary presentation of the Carver basics for all institutions); Nicholas Johnson, "An Open Letter to Regents on 'Governance,'" April 17, 2007.

So, for what it's worth, from my perspective there are two basic steps to the creation of "performance goals," neither of which would appear to have been applied in this case.

The first is the extraordinarily difficult task of figuring out what the institution -- corporation or university -- is really about. John Carver talks in terms of "ends policies" (developed by boards and executed by CEOs, that, not incidentally, double as the CEO's "job description" and basis for raises and bonuses -- or firing). What's sometimes called a firm's "core competency" is related, as are "mission" statements, or more generally "purposes" or "goals." I used to put it to the school board and superintendent in the form of the question, "How would we know if we'd ever been successful?"

The second is "metrics" -- the creation of a standard capable of precise measurement of the CEO/institution's achievement of its goals/mission/ends policies.

Thinking through the most appropriate expression of mission for any institution, not to mention the metrics for measuring its accomplishment, is very, very tough work.

An example I sometimes use is a mythical non-profit organization (or school board) devoted to reducing teen pregnancy. New board members insist on some measure of the success of their well-intentioned, but not very precisely focused, staff. Two years later the annual report proudly reveals improvements in the number of presentations in schools, condoms and pamphlets distributed, column-inches of newspaper coverage, and drop-in teens who've come by the office. It's well received by the board members -- until one of them notes that the purpose of the organization is not presentations, publications, and publicity; it's the reduction in teen pregnancy. "How can that be measured?" she asks.

Of course, there's all kinds of jargon, and software, that invades this process and may or may not be of help. See, e.g., Wayne W. Eckerson, "See It Coming," February 1, 2006 (Eckerson is the author of Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (John Wiley & Sons, 2005)); the article is reproduced as Fredericksburg Speakers/The Center for Success, "CEO Goals Implementation Process," undated ("If you don't have a coherent business strategy or haven't translated that strategy into a series of interrelated objectives and metrics, a performance dashboard is going to drive the organization faster, but in the wrong direction.").

Here's an excerpt from a corporate board's agenda item reviewing its CEO's "performance goals."

The current CEO goals were adopted on February 23, 2005 and are attached as Table A. While they cover a lot of topics unfortunately few of the goals are measurable and there are few high level summary goals or outside measures . . ..

A previous Chugach mission statement said:

"Maximize the value customers receive by safely providing competitively priced, reliable energy and services through innovation, leadership and prudent management."

It has been said many times in many forums,

"If it isn't measured, it doesn't get done." [emphasis in original]

In order to monitor our progress in achieving these objectives the BOD, members, and staff need a reporting mechanism that is directly tied to the critical items in the mission statement.

Ray Kreig, "Chugach CEO Goals," prepared as agenda item for August 10, 2005, Chugach Electric Board of Directors Meeting, August 5, 2005.

(As a Procter & Gamble executive and former school board colleague of mine used to express this truism, "You get what you measure.")

Of course, setting CEO performance goals, however essential, is not enough. The CEO must have the capability to, as Larry the Cable Guy puts it, "Get 'er done," as this oft-quoted Fortune article notes:

Of course you have to deliver results, but you're unlikely to do so if you haven't developed performance forecasts for the next eight quarters, not just the usual four. You should have ideas now for changes you may have to make six to eight quarters out. . . .

Every company, even the most successful, has bad news, usually lots of it. If you're not hearing it, are you letting the trouble build? . . .

Effective CEOs use processes to drive decisions, not delay them. They start by focusing on initiatives that are clear, specific, and few, and they don't launch a new one until those in progress are embedded in the company's DNA. . . .

Yes, strategy matters. A good, clear strategy is necessary for success -- but not sufficient for survival. So look again at all those derailed CEOs . . . smart people who worried deeply about a lot of things. They just weren't worrying enough about the right things: execution, decisiveness, follow-through, delivering on commitments.
Ram Charan and Geoffrey Colvin, "Why CEOs Fail," Fortune Magazine, June 29, 1999, p. 69.

Against this background, let's use as an example UI President Sally Mason's "performance goals." Erin Jordan, "University Presidents' Bonuses Now Linked to Goals," Des Moines Register, October 23, 2008; in this morning's Press-Citizen as Erin Jordan, "Mason's Pay Tied to Performance; President Must Meet Goals to Net $80K," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 24, 2008.

One goal involves new personnel: two vice presidents to replace those she fired, two others (including a new VP for "strategic communications"), and a new head of Equal Opportunity and Diversity (whose term is expiring), and to complete three of the searches by June 30, 2009.

A second involves flood recovery: (1) she will "continue restoration [and] reopening of facilities; [at a] minimum threshold . . . restoring reliabile utility service [from a power plant that sustained $20 million in damage]; and (2) "develop a comprehensive flood mitigation plan" especially "for seven campus buildings."

Third, sexual assaults: (1) "lead UI in developing a new sexual assault policy and investigation process," (2) "continue sexual harassment training for UI employees," with a "minimum threshold [of] (a) putting the sexual assault policy in place and (b) training a portion of faculty, staff and teaching assistants in the next year."

Alcohol, the fourth subject, led to a goal to "form a safety task force focused on reducing alcohol abuse."

Finally, fundraising: "to increase fundraising by the UI Foundation by 5 percent."

There may be more, but that's the full list from this morning's Press-Citizen.

So let's go through them one at a time.

For starters, all of them sound more like a "to-do" list than "goals," but we'll return to that in a minute.

The first, personnel, item at least has a specific deadline: June 30. Though it's not unfair to note that there's no reference to the actual hiring of these replacements, let alone their arrival at Iowa, only the search for them. And eight months seems a generous and easily attainable "goal" for any search. Isn't this a rather routine function, rather than a "goal," a change, or improvement of some sort in the institution's execution of its mission?

The same can be said for the second, the flood recovery effort that is to "continue." There's no offered metric for measuring what is "recovery," how it is to be measured, how much is the targeted goal for the remainder of the academic year, and so forth. As for the "plan," that's not difficult to come up with; the question is whether it's any good. Treasury Secretary Paulson came up with a two-page "plan" for reversing the economic downturn; it ended up being so far off the mark that he and the Congress agreed it needed to be radically changed. What kind of expert/peer review are we going to have of this plan? Is it really something that will reflect the UI president's personal input, or will it, like the Stolar Report, simply be farmed out to a "consultant" -- in which case why should she be paid all or part of an additional $80,000 for doing that?

The new sexual assault policy and investigation process is something the Regents have already asked of the universities and is underway. Some changes have already been put in place. Is coming up with a response to a Regents' command, one that involves and will represent the work product of staff from all three universities, really worthy of being called a "goal" which, if met, entitles a university president to a "bonus"? Moreover, to use "to continue sexual harassment training for UI employees" with a "minimum threshold [of] . . . training a portion of faculty" as the justification for a bonus is to reward the mere "continuation" of a program apparently already underway, without defining its content and change, the metrics for measuring its impact on the actual number and severity of incidents of "sexual harrassment" (presumably its purpose), what level of change would warrant reward, or how large a "portion" of faculty having been trained will meet this "goal."

Alcohol abuse is a serious problem on the UI campus. It is not unrelated to the sexual assault problem mentioned above, as President Mason has herself noted. Yesterday the new Provost, Wallace Loh, firmly spoke out in opposition to alcohol abuse -- certainly better than not speaking to the subject, or coming out in favor of alcohol abuse -- but without, however, proposing anything specific be done about it. But is the creation of "a safety task force focused on reducing alcohol abuse" worthy of financial reward? For starters, we have such a task force now, as I understand it, so any extra cash for this one is kind of a slam dunk. Second, we've kind of always had one for the last 20 years or more. Third, like my "reducing teen pregnancy" example, above, they've never really accomplished much in terms of either measuring or reducing alcohol abuse and its consequences -- aside from spending the grants for the "Stepping Up Project" over the years.

The State of Iowa provides only a small proportion of the University of Iowa's budget. That's sad for a "public" state university initially established to provide essentially free higher education for Iowans. But it's the reality, with the result that one of the major tasks to befall university presidents, including ours, is to raise money. But note how this goal is worded: "to increase fundraising by the UI Foundation." Why should the president -- as distinguished from those who actually did the work that brought about the increased fund raising -- be the one rewarded financially for this accomplishment? It goes on to specify "5 percent." That's commendable and much better than simply "to increase." If a given university president is especially adept at fund raising, and specific gifts and grants can be traced to his or her efforts, some recognition of that might be appropriate. Even in that case, however, should not a "bonus" represent performance above and beyond the expected normal? How much have grants and gifts normally increased from year to year? Would another 5 percent increase be a remarkable accomplishment, or the average expected increase, or even below average?

So even if these "goals" were the most high priority, central, appropriate aspirations for our University, I'm not convinced that they could not be improved with some rethinking and redrafting.

But put those concerns aside. I don't mean to be picky.

The far more fundamental disappointment is what they reflect about the Regents' and presidents' thinking about the purposes, missions, ends policies, and goals of our Regents institutions.

Do these goals reflect why we're here, or the most important things we're trying to accomplish with State higher education for our students and the citizens of Iowa: That we successfully hire replacements for those we peremptorily fire? That we get the water out of flooded buildings, negligently built on flood plains? That we raise more money?

Indeed, in order to raise that money, let alone spend it wisely, don't we first need to know what we're trying to accomplish with the money, and how those expenditures will contribute to the accomplishment of our mission?

What is our mission? (I have some ideas, but I'm not going to extend this by starting that discussion now.) How would we know if we'd ever been successful? What are the metrics by which we might find the answer to that question?

Once we figure that one out, aren't those the bases for coming up with the goals that truly matter, the goals that bring us closer to what we're really all about, the goals when met that might really be a solid reason for providing a bonus and "job well done" to an educational administrator?

# # #

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sex, Jail, Baseball and Bush

October 23, 2008, 10:00 a.m.

The Day's News

Coach Ferentz going to court; 200-signature petition going to President Mason; UI going to/for Johnson County Jail; Tampa Bay Rays put lie to "you get what you pay for;" 1967 flood warning more evidence of officials' need for Internet research training; UI wants explanation of the part of "public" in "public records" it doesn't understand; Movie "W" sympathetic to Bush

UI Sexual Assault Case: Year Two

Last week marked the beginning of the second year of the ongoing consequences of an alleged sexual assault on October 14, 2007. And there's still no light indicating an end to this dark tunnel.

Today's news contains three, count 'em three, stories related to the case.

Political Science Professor Michael Lewis-Beck's petition, calling for the reinstatement of peremptorily-fired former UI General Council, Marc Mills, has grown to 200 signatures, and will be presented to President Sally Mason late this afternoon. There will, presumably, be follow up stories regarding that meeting. Brian Morelli, "Prof will deliver petition to Mason; Wants Marcus Mills reinstated," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 23, 2008, p. A1.

The trial of the two athletes charged with the assault is scheduled for November 3 (when any media coverage of the case will tend to be overwhelmed by the presidential election the next day). But there are pre-trial hearings as well, and one is scheduled for today. The issue is whether statements made by an accused to the likes of Coach Ferentz, Fred Mims, and EOD (Equal Opportunity and Diversity) folks should be admissible in evidence or, as the accused's lawyer contends, are in essence "involuntary confessions" that should be excluded. The coach, and other UI administrators are expected to attend and testify. Lee Hermiston, "Ferentz expected to testify at UI Sex Abuse Hearing," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 23, 2008, p. A1.

Finally, the Des Moines Register and others have been asking the UI, "Just what part of 'public' don't you understand?" -- as in "public records" that happen to relate to a form of "student records." One federal law says they have to report to the public the campus crime statistics. Another says they must protect student "privacy." Some say the answer is to just remove the student/s' names from documents. Others say that's still a problem. Lee Rood, "U of I wants clarification after request for records," Des Moines Register, October 22, 2008 [and Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 23, 2008, p. A6].

800 Pound Gorilla Goes Directly to Jail, Does Not Pass 'Go' or Collect $200

When biking up town I often go along Capitol Street. I've noticed that it's mostly a University building and the Johnson County Jail, along with acres and acres of automobiles, but never examined it closely. So the other day, thinking about the jail expansion, I biked through the parking lots instead of on the street.

I've not been a proponent of a new jail, though I recognize there is some good data to support the idea. (My preference is for alternatives to incarceration, and multi-county regional jails for overflow -- the former already being done and the latter rejected out of hand). But as I was biking behind the jail the answer was obvious: If we're going to expand the jail wouldn't the cheapest, most efficient and least disruptive place to put it be right where it is now? There's sure plenty of unused space back there.

I forgot about that experience until I read in the Press-Citizen shortly thereafter that our Sheriff had been thinking the same thing -- only to be frustrated by an intransigent, dog-in-the-manger University refusing to sell. Brian Morelli, "UI interested in county jail space; Sheriff: Property's value estimated at $5M," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 21, 2008, p. A3.

That story, in turn, reminded me of the frustration the residents of some of Iowa City's old neighborhoods have had, watching the University destroy neighborhoods that could be real assets for the University as single-family homes, a walking distance from the campus (if not, in some cases, right across the street), that would be ideal in attracting new and visiting faculty to Iowa.

The University is, and acts like, the local community's "800-pound gorilla" ("Where does an 800-pound gorilla sleep?" "Anywhere it chooses.")

Nor is the problem limited to the state's universities. It's an issue involving state property needs generally. It has implications for Iowa communities' quality of life, for local property tax revenues, for flood control and flood plains.

It needs to be reviewed by the Legislature. Hopefully it will be. Meanwhile, given the University's contributions to the population of that jail (see stories above), you'd think it could be a little more cooperative and considerate in working with the institution's needs for expansion.

"You get what you pay for"? Not quite. Baseball and university presidents' salaries

How many times have you heard someone -- often a salesperson -- say, "Well, you get what you pay for"? The suggestion is both (a) you should always buy "the best" (even though, for a given task or general purpose, the "good" or "better" may be your "best buy"), and (b) in seeking "the best" the most reliable guide is price. The higher the price the higher the quality.

Over the near-70 years I've been aware of the Consumers Union's (CU) Consumer Reports it has been putting the lie to that canard. If a purchase is important to you, a brief review of CU's hard copy and online independent (no advertising) research can ensure both (a) that what you end up buying will be of higher quality and come closer to your precise needs and wants, and (b) often significant savings.

In short, "you get what you take the time to research and comparison price."

This year we have yet another example from the world of baseball.

I'm not about to predict who will win the World Series. For my purposes at the moment it makes no difference. My point is that this year's American League pennant winner, now playing the Phillies in the World Series, is the Tampa Bay Rays.

So what's the significance of that? Simply that the Rays, with a total player payroll of $43 million, are second only to the Florida Marlins for the lowest salaries of any of the 30 teams in the major leagues. (The Phillies' payroll is $98 million; the Yankees, $209 million.) Art Spander, "Philadelphia Phillies go one game up against the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series; So many subplots, so much artifice. So many cowbells and, honest, cownose rays swimming in a 10,000 gallon tank beyond the right field fence," [London] Telegraph, October 23, 2008, updated 11:06 a.m. (GMT).

"You get what you pay for?" Not if you're goal is to play in the World Series.

It's a story worth remembering next time we buy the "you get what you pay for" line when hiring university administrators (in the last couple weeks we hired another one in the $500,000-$1,000,000 range (salary, plus benefits, expenses, deferred compensation, etc.).

Iowa City has a relatively low cost of living compared with New York, San Francisco, or any of the other large urban areas with major universities. This is true for two reasons. (1) Some costs are lower: buying a house, going to a restaurant, or the theater. (2) Other costs can be avoided entirely: long commutes to work, parking costs, expensive (and expansive) wardrobes of clothes (see, e.g., Governor Sarah Palin's $150,000 campaign expense for two-months' clothes), or country club memberships.

Is there really no one in Eastern Iowa, the rest of Iowa, the rest of the United States or the world, who would be equivalent in experience, intelligence, social skills, judgment, and administrative ability to that of the administrators we now have, who would be willing to accept the prestige of such positions for a "living wage" of say, $150,000?

Just something to think about. Especially when thinking about the amount of money the CEOs who brought us this economic collapse have already taken for themselves.

[Literalists, statisticians, and baseball professionals should be sure to check out Professor Tung Yin's "Baseball and University Salaries," October 23, 2008, for a much more detailed analysis of the "you DO get what you pay for" theory, and a rebuttal of this portion of today's blog entry.]

1967 Report: "The 2008 Flood is Coming! The 2008 Flood is Coming!"

It turns out that Cedar Rapids officials were warned by the Corps of Engineers in 1967 that floods the seriousness of the one we all suffered this year -- or worse -- were well within the range of possibility.

The Report was referred to in a meeting of the Rebuild Iowa Advisory Commission's Task Force on Flood Plain Management and Hazard Mitigation. Said member Rob Hogg, state Senator from Cedar Rapids, "I've worked on these issues, and I was just shocked that there was a study that I never knew about." Rob Boshart, "Corps Warned of Risk in 1967; Engineers Predicted 'Perfect Storm,'" The Gazette, October 23, 2008, p. A1.

I don't mean to be critical of Senator Hogg, or others who expressed shock at the discovery, but it does illustrate one of my concerns.

When I used to serve on the local school board I would observe "with some 15,000 local school districts in America, it is highly unlikely that there is any challenge we confront that has not been experienced elsewhere, studied, resolved, written up and made available on the Internet."

I'm not sure that's true of this 1967 Report (though there would have been other ways to find it).

Of course it's good to talk things through and share personal anecdotes, opinions and intuition. But it is so much more efficient and productive to, first, do some basic research to find "best practices" from others (without the need to pay hefty "consultants'" fees).

I have always been amazed at the public officials who will willingly take two or four days from work to attend a conference, at considerable public expense, and rationalize the time and expense by citing how much they learn there. And yet they won't invest a half hour or less looking for the answers they need from the billions of Web sites, government and academic reports available to them for free -- and often Google-accessible in far less than a minute.

Movie "W" Sympathetic to Bush

Saw "W" last evening. It's sure not a political propaganda film that George Bush would want to use if he were running for re-election. But neither is it the kind of Saturday-Night-Live-style comic caricature we've seen so much of regarding our president. It won't alter by much your present evaluation of the kind of president he's been. But it will give you some additional sad and sympathetic understanding of why.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Personal Note and Update

October 22, 2008, 7:25 a.m.

Personal Note and Update

For the past couple weeks, in addition to my regular teaching at the University of Iowa College of Law, I've been involved with preparation for and presentation at the "Carterfone and Open Access in the Digital Era" conference put on by the High Technology Law Institute of the Santa Clara University School of Law in California.

It's amazing how well the world was able to keep on turning without my daily blog entries during that time. Also rewarding is the extent to which the 500-plus entries in this blog have apparently now become a reference source for users with or without daily additions; the daily hits remained pretty solid.

And at least some progress can be reported with regard to a number of the issues we track that is at least consistent with this blog's recommendations.

Here, then, are mostly mini-entry updates about a range of subjects: Global economic collapse; Afghanistan/Pakistan; Bars, Booze and Binge Drinking; Corporate Welfare; Sexual Assaults; Carterfone; and the Dysfunctional Airline Industry.

Global economic collapse. Since first making the suggestions that the first Paulson plan (approved by Congress) was flawed, and that the taxpayers should be getting an equity interest for their money (following the Swedish example from 1992), both the U.S. and Brits have moved in that direction. Similarly, more attention has been given to helping mortgage-struggling homeowners rather than just greedy bankers, holding down the personal compensation paid to the CEOs of bailed banks, the need to get a jobs program ready to roll out (which could do double duty in the repair and building of the long-ignored infrastructure featured on PBS last evening), the need for more prosecutions of those responsible for our current plight, some long term fixes, and an awareness that we're heading into an unprecedented and unknowable global recession/depression involving far more than the financial sector.

No; I suffer no illusion that any of these movements have been affected in the slightest by anything I wrote. But it is always reassuring to see one's early instincts and writings sort of confirmed by subsequent events, or the comments of those who really do know what they're talking about.

Afghanistan/Pakistan. Similarly, the evidence continues to mount, as I have earlier written, that there is no "military solution" to the problems we confront in Afghanistan/Pakistan (or Iraq for that matter). Indeed, the presence of our troops is in many ways counter productive -- angering local civilians, turning off both "hearts and minds," destroying rather than building a sustainable local economy, and contributing to the recruitment of terrorists. Most recently, yesterday, over the protests of the Kabul government, our continued bombing resulted in the killing of nine more Afghans -- this time soldiers fighting alongside Americans. Meanwhile, our relations with Pakistan, and our military activities there, have contributed to the disintegration of Pakistan's government and economy -- to the point that Pakistan (a nation with nuclear weapons) is probably now, potentially, the single most dangerous country in the world so far as America's national security is concerned. Not because it's leadership is "anti-American," but because it is a country where joblessness and chaos means starvation, and eventually uncontrollable revolution.

Bars, Booze and Binge Drinking. The City Council is taking another look at the social and economic costs of alcohol abuse that its policies, and those of the University, have permitted to increase over the years. It remains to be seen how effective any ultimate proposals may be -- the Council refuses to even consider a proposal that those who cannot legally buy alcohol should be required to leave the bars at 10 p.m. (erroneously called "21-only") -- but I'd rather the Council at least be addressing the problems than continue the "see-no-evil-hear-no-evil" approach.

Corporate Welfare. Surprise, surprise, the Sheraton has just been given -- for free, so far as I can gather from the papers -- a 13-foot swath of formerly public street and land. This was described as a "license." That sounds an awful lot like Senator Ted Stevens' effort to draw a distinction between a "loan" and a "gift" of property (e.g., a $2500 chair, a generator) he received, and didn't report on the ethics forms. Iowa City's taxpayers, who once owned Dubuque Street, had retained a 25-foot swath of it under the Sheraton for a public walkway. The City Council has just told the hotel it can capture 13 feet of it to expand its lobby. And while I'm on this subject, what's the deal about turning over public sidewalks to restaurants to expand their seating capacity? Do they pay to use that public property, or is that more of the Council's generosity with our land?

Sexual Assaults. The Regents and their universities are moving ahead with the effort to come up with new organizational arrangements and procedures for handling sexual assaults. It remains to be seen what they'll come up with -- beyond the Stolar Report recommendations. One of the toughest issues involves respect for the alleged victim's wishes. If she ends up deciding not to file a complaint with the police the university (especially if athletes are involved as alleged perpetrators) is open to speculation that it played a role in encouraging her to do so. If they don't report it on their own they can be charged with a "cover up." If they do report it on their own they can be charged with interfering with the alleged victim's rights of privacy.

Carterfone. As an FCC commissioner, most of the some 400 opinions I personally wrote were dissents or concurrences, explaining why I thought some or all of what my fellow commissioners were doing was wrong. One of the most significant opinions I wrote, however, was a unanimous opinion for the majority -- much more far reaching in its effect than anyone could have known at the time, myself included. Sufficiently so that a conference was held at Santa Clara University last Friday to celebrate its 40th birthday. Sometime early next year there will be a book-length collection of the papers presented, so I can't summarize all of the issues here in a blog paragraph -- even those addressed in my own keynote address.

It was decided at a time when AT&T had as close to a complete monopoly as any company in America. It both manufactured and owned all the telephone handsets, the cable, the switching stations, the long distance lines -- all of it. And it had an FCC tariff to insure it stayed that way. Nothing could be attached to the telephone network that was not AT&T's -- up to and including even a plastic cover on a telephone book, also called a "foreign attachment."

Tom Carter, a Texas cattle rancher, wanted to be able to take and place phone calls while out riding fences. He invented a device that enabled him to do it. The Carterphone could receive radio communication from his transceiver, hold a telephone handset, and switch back and forth as the parties spoke.

AT&T fought it as a violation of its tariff. The FCC, through the opinion I wrote, found the tariff illegal. It took another 10 years to implement the decision (with "Part 68" regulations), but ultimately Americans could buy telephones in drug stores, and almost unnoticed began using "modems" resembling Tom Carter's device, with "acoustic cups" for a telephone handset, to connect their early desktop computers to what became "the Internet."

Among the issues we confront today, some 40 years later, are whether the principles (or even precedent) of the Carterfone decision are relevant to resolving some of the bottlenecks and impediments the major cell phone carriers are imposing on their customers, and the suppliers of new devices (that sometimes take the form of computer "software" rather than "hardware"), in an age when cell phone ("wireless") carriers are rapidly becoming the primary on ramps to the Internet.

You'll have to wait for the book (or movie) to get the whole story, but that will give you some idea of what I've been up to while away from the blog.

Dysfunctional airline industry. Meanwhile, getting to California and back was just a further reminder of how dysfunctional our airline industry has become. This is not a new observation for me, nor I suspect for you. So much so that when Mary and I were going to Denver last August we opted for the train.

What a treat! We actually had a roomette, but I'm not sure I'd bother next time. The coach seats on a train are better than the first class seats on a plane. They go back further, and with foot rests make sleeping possible. They and tray tables don't have to be "put in their full upright position" every time you enter a station. Large picture windows in every car -- not to mention the lovely "observation cars" -- let you see (rather than merely imagine) what the countryside looks like. You can walk around whenever you please (the full length of the train if you wish), rather than be buckled in. Get food whenever you want at reasonable prices. Read, write on your laptop, make cell phone calls, nap.

Airline travel never was a big thrill for me, but I never experienced any fear of flying, and found it generally pleasant enough during the latter half of the Twentieth Century. Going to Japan with some regularity, it was often possible to find six empty seats where you could stretch out. On domestic flights there were enough flight attendants on board to bring you food and drink and be otherwise pleasant and attentive without being stressed. The seats, and space between rows, were wider and more comfortable -- with often an empty seat beside you where you could spread out papers and such. My memory is the seats went back further, too. Flights were usually on time; baggage usually came through safely. There were few delays for last minute "maintenance" or otherwise cancelled flights. There was little concern about hijacking or terrorists. A flight was a time to relax, away from phones and other interruptions. On the rare occasions when a canceled flight required an overnight stay, the airlines would pay for your hotel and meals until you could leave the next day.

There was a time when I represented American Airlines as a lawyer. And I later became almost a United Airlines groupie -- buying a lifetime Red Carpet Club membership (during a very narrow window of time when it was an incredible bargain -- never then imagining that my own lifetime might end up lasting longer than that of United), carrying a United Visa card, piling up my Mileage Plus miles, and usually travelling often enough to build a nearly complete collection of each month's issue of Hemispheres magazine. I even bought a little stock (which rose rapidly in value and then, of course, became virtually worthless).

What a difference "deregulation" and a few bankruptcies can make.

Air travel never did make a lot of sense as a transportation system. (Can you imagine how Bob Newhart might have played the banker being pitched by the world's first airline for a loan?)

o Moving a multi-ton container off the Earth, into the atmosphere, takes an enormous amount of fuel -- not to mention the harm done to the ozone layer and greenhouse effect from the exhaust.

o Any transportation system that depends on favorable weather conditions is inherently unreliable -- especially when its marketed "advantage" is the "speed" represented by an on-time arrival that can so easily be affected by snow, sleet, ice storms, fog, dangerous winds, and other conditions that are mere inconveniences for travel by train, bus or automobile.

o Aside from the fact that "your seat cushion becomes a flotation device" when your plane falls into the drink, the container does not "become a boat" when that happens, nor is there any other "fail safe" option (as with a car simply going into a ditch) if the system fails.

o Part of the reason I pushed containerization when Maritime Administrator is that I early on discovered 90% of the cost of moving cargo was incurred within 10 miles of the port; the trip across the Pacific was virtually free. So it is with air travel. You need to allow a margin of error for (a) the time it takes to pack the car and leave the drive (or wait for the shuttle) and get within the vicinity of the airport (allowing for the possibility of traffic congestion, accidents, or a train parked on a railroad crossing), (b) find a place to park and drag your bag to the bag check, (c) the line at the check-in counter which can take anything between 2 and 45 minutes, (d) ditto for the security check that requires you to remove all metal along with your shoes and laptop, and then dress and repack, and (e) the walk to the gate. (f) This is on the assumption there is actually a plane at the gate. For any one of a long list of reasons it may not yet have arrived. Or, if it's arrived, there may not be a crew. (g) Then there's the sitting on the tarmac waiting for clearance to take off. (h) The delay, and possible cancellation, because of maintenance needs. (i) Any possible delays during the flight due to weather or other factors, and (j) congestion at the destination airport, or (k) the fact there is no gate to park at, or jet walkway at the gate. At which point there's a similar routine regarding (l) your connecting flight, or if your destination, (m) waiting for your bag (which may not have arrived), (n) getting ground transportation, and (o) the time of the trip to your ultimate destination. Not to mention the high prices for tickets, and the nickle-and-dime extra charges for checking a bag ($15), or avoiding starvation.

o On my flight to California there were four legs: a flight from the Eastern Iowa Airport (CID) to a regional hub, the flight to San Jose, the flight from San Jose to a regional hub, and the flight back to CID. On three of those four flights there were cancellations or delays (in one case the necessity of transferring to another airline) because of the last-minute discovery of necessary repairs. One involved a defective switch that controls the part of the plane that provides the lift necessary to get it off the runway. Another involved a defective brake -- necessary to keep the plane from going off the runway. And the third was something I've never encountered before: (a) the need to remove fuel because there was too much on board and (b) the necessity to balance up the fuel in the tanks because it was so much out of balance that the plane couldn't fly. Now I ask you, could none of these problems have been anticipated or discovered prior to the moment of take off?

o While I'm on this rant, here's one more. If you buy 100 head of cattle and only get 87, or a dozen bagels and there are only 10 in the bag, you -- and the person who sold them to you -- expect that you will ask for, and receive, either a refund or the additional goods. What are you buying with an airline ticket? Speed of travel; arrival at a fixed time. As a result of the maintenance work, and necessary change of airlines, I missed an event in California I was scheduled to attend -- and for which I had allowed plenty of extra time in the travel schedule. When you do not arrive at your destination at the scheduled time -- for whatever reason -- you are not getting what you purchased. There is a "loss" associated with that delay -- for everyone on the plane. We can argue about how we should go about calculating the economic value of that loss, but that there has been a loss is clear. The question is, how should it fall; who should bear it?

If it is important to you to have something constructed by a particular time you can build into a construction contract provision for a bonus if it is finished on time, or a penalty if it is not. But we don't have such a provision in our contracts with the airlines -- nor do we have the bargaining power to negotiate for it. So the entire loss falls on us, the customers, those who have the least responsibility for the delay.

In sum: The airlines have become dysfunctional. Just one more reason why, while we're about the business of rebuilding our disintegrating early-Twentieth Century infrastructure we need to give really serious consideration, and funding, to rebuilding our passenger rail transportation system.

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