Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A University's Strategic Communication

October 7, 2009, 8:45 a.m.

A Modest Proposal to the Regents' University Presidents
(brought to you by*)

The University of Iowa wants "strategic communication" and is searching for someone to provide it. "The Vice President for Strategic Communication reports to the President and is the chief communication officer responsible for conveying the University’s mission, vision, and values internally and externally. ""Position Description, Vice President for Strategic Communication Search," University of Iowa.

Until we find someone to fill this post, with its lengthy and intimidating Position Description list of responsibilities, I have a modest suggestion for how we -- and the other two Regents' universities -- might "convey the University's values."

These are tough economic times.

Tuition was increased 3.2% last year, 4.2% this year, and at least one Regent is advocating increasing it 5-6% next year. Out of state tuition for our professional schools is becoming less distinguishable from that of the most expensive private schools. Our so-called "public universities" are PINO universities -- public in name only. The free higher education California once offered, the nearly free in Iowa, the $25 a semester I paid elsewhere as an undergraduate, or tuition-free programs like the GI Bill after WW II have become truly ancient history. Stacy Hupp, "Tuition Increase Likely, Regent Says," Des Moines Register, September 18, 2009.

Iowa's universities' budgets have been cut, and cut again, and more cuts are coming. Brian Morelli, "Faculty worried about further budget cuts; State revenue estimate expected to lead to mid-year cut," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 7, 2009, p. A1. "Regent President David Miles announced in a statement Thursday a hiring freeze and a construction moratorium on all projects other than UI flood recovery projects." B.A. Morelli, "UI officials shocked by cut; layoffs likely," Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 9, 2009.

A "construction moratorium," that is, except for athletic facilities? Watch this space and see. "In a timeframe now measured in weeks instead of months, Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta expects work on the $47 million renovation of Carver-Hawkeye Arena to begin this fall . . . 'and we are on schedule to make that happen,' Barta said during an appearance at the Scott County I-Club dinner on Thursday." Steve Batterson, "Carver renovations on pace to begin in fall," Quad City Times, October 3, 2009; and Tom Witosky, "Budget woes might stall U of I arena's renovation," Des Moines Register, October 11, 2009: "The regents records . . . show that [the UI] athletic department receives $882,000 from the university general fund . . .."

Successful budget cutting, always a bummer, requires the appearance as much as the reality of fairness. Layoffs, reductions in compensation, "a hiring freeze and a construction moratorium" from which the football coach's salary and the basketball team's construction program are exempt does not have the appearance of fairness -- regardless of the rationale that may be offered for the exemptions.

The Board of Regents has held the universities presidents' salaries level and failed to award any bonuses for last year's performance.

However, "the university presidents still could receive bonuses for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2010. . . . If U of I President Sally Mason meets her performance goals, she would be eligible for an $80,000 bonus. ISU President Greg Geoffroy could receive a $50,000 bonus, and UNI President Ben Allen is eligible for a $25,000 bonus." Brian Morelli, "No pay raises for presidents of universities," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 18, 2009.

Some Iowa legislators questioned the symbolism, and economics, of even holding out the possibility of such bonuses in these economic times. "Rep. Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, Rep. Chris Hagenow, R-Windsor Heights, and Rep. Annette Sweeney, R-Alden, released a joint statement saying bonuses [totalling $155,000] should not remain a viable option this year . . .. 'This is hardly a pot shot,' Kaufmann said. 'It is amazing to me they continue to have these conversations out loud. It’s amazing to me they talk about tuition increases and performance bonuses of tens of thousands of dollars in the same meeting.'" Brian Morelli, "Dvorsky Backs University President Bonus Plans," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 29, 2009.

All of this creates a bit of a problem. Students, who are graduating with significant debt, are understandably upset about their ever-increasing tuition. University employees are understandably concerned about layoffs, and increased work for decreased pay. Legislators, no doubt reflecting their constituents' feelings, are criticizing the Regents for making bonuses possible. And the Regents would be understandably reluctant to appear to be backing down to legislators' pressure.

The public is justifiably outraged over the bank bailouts being funded with their taxpayer money -- and their great grandchildren's increased share of the national debt -- being used to pay the guys who caused the problem million-dollar bonuses.

President David Skorton once said, when some questioned whether he was being paid enough, "When the median family income in Iowa is around $45,000 and I make over $300,000, it’s hard to argue that is not a lot of money. It’s very generous." [Quoted in "Pricey Presidents Added Cost," below.] Many Iowans share his candid assessment, and probably consider bonuses on top of what is now much more than $300,000 a year to be Iowa's equivalent, with Iowa taxpayers' money, of what's going on nationally with Wall Street executives.

So what can be done? Here's an example from what was actually a much less stressful time over a year ago.

Iowa is not the only state dealing with the consequences of our Wall-Street-created economic disaster. Connecticut confronts similar pressure. Notwithstanding those stresses, Iowa's own Mike Hogan, now the very popular president of the University of Connecticut, was awarded a $100,000 bonus for his "exemplary services."

What did he do with all that money?

With no pressure on him to do so, or public objection to a bonus payment for such a popular president, he made the personal decision to not accept it.
Former UI Provost Michael Hogan, who was denied the UI presidency in 2006, this week turned down a $100,000 bonus for exemplary service as the president of the University of Connecticut. . . .

Hogan declined the $100,000 bonus because of the state and school's struggling economic situation, and he asked that the money be given to the university's graduate program, the Associated Press reports.
Lauren Sieben, "Regent: No 2nd Thoughts," The Daily Iowan, September 26, 2008, quoted and discussed in Nicholas Johnson, "Hero Hogan; Mike Hogan Is Alive and Very, Very Well," October 1, 2008. [The third comment to this blog entry, below, comes from a "UI Emeritus" and reports that this year, "Before the board in Connecticut even discussed his evaluation (which once more was reported to be exceptional, outstanding, extraordinary), he [President Hogan] asked them not to even contemplate a raise or bonus, in light of the economy and the struggles everyone is facing."]

[Graphic credit, and see, "PresRelease" -- a combination Web page, blog, photo album and Facebook-like location that University of Connecticut President Michael J. Hogan self-describes as "my own little page where I can share items of interest, celebration, or concern with my University colleagues."]

And see Nicholas Johnson, "Pricey Presidents' Added Cost," The Daily Iowan, March 7, 2006 (includes full text of source material and related support); Nicholas Johnson, "How Many Administrators Does It Take? Administrators Are Multiplying & Sucking Us Dry," July 16, 2009.

We're not talking much money here; $155,000 will scarcely be noticed one way or the other in the multi-million-dollar cuts the University of Iowa has made, and will have to continue to make. Moreover, the presidents are not guaranteed this money anyway. The Regents left open the possibility the bonuses would not be granted next year for the same reason they were not granted this year: the economy.

So the presidents wouldn't even be giving up all that much to agree to forgo them.

But I think it would make a huge difference in appearances if they were to say, either individually or in chorus: "We don't want bonuses next year even as a possibility, regardless of how well we -- and the economy -- may do between now and then."

If Iowa values can be exhibited in Connecticut, the presidents of Iowa's universities certainly ought to be able to muster up the courage to display them here in Iowa as well.

It might help soothe the legislature. It would get the Regents out of an awkward position. It could calm the anxious and angry students -- and their parents. It might make Iowans less hostile toward what they perceive as unnecessarily generous compensation for university administrators in these times. And it would communicate to the faculty and staff a little better sense of "we're all in this together."

You want a relatively cheap strategic communications way to "convey the University's values internally and externally"?

This is my modest proposal.
* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson
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Anonymous said...

A long long time ago, people at the Univ of Iowa were compensated for their skills. No more. Administrators, who run the place are compensated for their reputation, their past records, and their entitlements.

How skilled must this President be? Not very. President Skorton was both an engineer and a physician as well as a visionary. This President is an administrator. As are the others. Their skills would be worth the amount of money a good middle management bureaucrat at a large foundation receives, or perhaps a manager of a Sears outlet.

The compensation meter has run wild. For instance department administrators at the UIHC make form 120,000 to 150,000. Their skill sets would allow them to manage that outlet of Sears. So why do they make so much money?

There are professionals in the UIHC with PH.D.s who make around 70,000, maybe less. They bring in income with a skill set honed through years of training. However their 'managers' will pull down 120,000 to 150,000 with a skill set learned in first year business classes, and then reading 'The Prince' by Machiavelli.

There are Vice Presidents of the UIHC who make from 180,000 to 250,000 based on a skill set that might enable them to manage a small bank office, or maybe help out at a law office as a legal aid. so why do they make so much in compensation?

The Univ of Iowa is simply one more business, but with a bizarre pay scale where the middle management people think they are more valuable than the actual professors or professionals who staff the classes or the hospitals. These people are in charge, and they will do what they please while the public is sleeping.

What skill set does the Vice President for Health Affairs maintain that would be worth 500,000? Let him try to ply that much from seeing children in a pediatrics practice. No Sir, he has mastered the ladder of grabbing as much money as possible with puffed-up importance. He offers the vision that any other pediatrician can muster, but perhaps crappy clinical skills.

His close cronies also make 500,000 in self-aggrandizing fashion. Don't you wish you were them?

The disconnect between what administrators earn at the Univ of Iowa and what they are actually worth has widened and will continue to widen, as long as this academic fraud goes unchallenged.

Meanwhile they will attack the pocketbook of the vanishing middle class by jacking tuition, fire the lowly blue collar workers who clean the restrooms thus deepening the economic crisis, and invest their money in homes on Cape Cod so they can enjoy their retirements.

Dig deep, Iowans, for the privileged of bending over for these bloated autocrats and their entitled over-compensation for their bloated skill sets.

Fed up in North Liberty said...

Administrators all over the country truly believe they are the chosen people. There are absolutely empty suits (or dresses) to administrate these schools that offer fewer days in class, fewer skills for their students, and a very cloudy future.

However, like the financial 'leaders', the academic leaders cannot step back to examine how vacuous their empty leadership roles are. Many universities, including the Univ of California system will approve raises for top leadership while cutting costs for all others. The highest level of achievement in the USA now appears to be the generation of mountains of red tape (bullshit) and the skills to brown nose those above them on the career ladder while stepping on the poor oafs below.

There is no real oversight for the bloated universities. The BOR appears to be political. Any employee or line worker (read professor, staff, or professional) who objects will be treated like a misbehaving 3rd grader and sent home (fired).

The out of control universities need watchdog professional groups and concerned citizens to actually critically evaluate the compensation and job performance of these barons and baronesses who demand alms. Really, lunatics like David Gartner or absentee BOR members like Ruth Harkin to regulate the Univ administration is a joke.

It's fraud and it's unethical the way universities function these days. Just like the rest of the society these hollow halls feed into.

Anonymous said...

Nick, Good points. The amount isn't the point; it's the message that accepting/declining it conveys.

Also you might note that Hogan has declined a bonus or pay raise at the University of Connecticut AGAIN this year. Before the board in Connecticut even discussed his evaluation (which once more was reported to be exceptional, outstanding, extraordinary), he asked them not to even contemplate a raise or bonus, in light of the economy and the struggles everyone is facing.

Iowa clearly missed the mark in letting him go for Mason. Now is a time when integrity and compassion in leadership is more important than ever. Too bad for Iowa; good for Connecticut.

-UI Emeritus

Anonymous said...

These actions are the reflection of the autocratic leadership that evolved at the University of Iowa. Without a revolution, or without vision from outside sources, the U of Iowa will march on to some sort of mediocre status where the administrators sit fat and happy padding their courts (vice presidents etc.) and the people who actually provide the work will decline significantly.

It might be interesting to see Mason & Robillard and their lackeys push brooms around to clean up the place, or god forbid actually teach something.

That day will never come.

Look at the emperor's new clothes!!!

Anonymous said...

I work in the administration in Jessup. I can't tell you how many of us are wishing that we were back in the Skorton-Hogan era. It was far too short. Every day, when they came in they would stop and visit for a minute with each person in the offices around them. They'd ask about our families and our day.

I can also say that if you talk to faculty and staff, they say the same. Faculty didn't always agree with their ideas or direction, but there was tremendous 2-way respect for the civility and honesty that Hogan and Skorton conveyed. I'm glad for them because they're in a better place where they're appreciated. But the biggest mistake ever made was for Iowa to push Skorton out and then Hogan.

What did we get? A leadership vacuum. We have no compassion, no communication, no one who's willing to stand up and say they care about the faculty, staff, and students and to sacrifice like the rest of us. But look at the Cornell and Connecticut Web sites. Look what Skorton and Hogan are doing and how they are communicating with their faculty students, and staff.

I can only hope that we can see some change in the leadership of Iowa.

Nick said...

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-- Nick