Friday, June 28, 2013

What If Governor Branstad's Right?

June 28, 2013, 11:30 a.m.

Do Iowa's Universities Still Need Buildings?

Iowa's Governor Terry Branstad has been asking recently whether the new innovations in education delivery systems should perhaps cause us to question our continued construction of more and more buildings on traditional college campuses around the country -- including those at Iowa's three state universities.

Having dared to question university administrators' edifice complex, those congenitally committed to building, he's already concluded that he should veto the appropriations for some current proposals to plan even more.

While I disagree with his answer, I agree with his question.

As a declaration of interest, and conflict, I am a child (and adult) of the University of Iowa: born in its hospital, to parents who were Iowa grads (one of whom would become a UI professor), a young guinea pig in its Iowa Child Welfare Research Station, and later its University Elementary and High School, during my years in Washington often invited by the University back home to speak (including the last commencement address before U High was closed), and teaching at its law school since returning to my hometown (and the house I grew up in).

Over the years I've also picked up some understanding of how hard it is to get money from the Iowa Legislature for buildings. My grandfather played a major role as a legislator in getting the money for the University of Iowa's research library. It's never easy. So when the University says it needs a new pharmacy building, my bias is to give administrators the the benefit of the doubt.

For starters, there may be an online alternative to students dissecting frogs in a lab or classroom in a multi-million-dollar building. And there may be online global collaboration, and many other contributions from computers, for professional researchers working in scientific lab facilities. But it's a little difficult for them to do the hands-on research they do without a building to do it in. And a goodly proportion of the University's square footage in buildings is devoted to that kind of other-than-classroom purposes.
But none of this detracts from Branstad's sharing Bob Dylan's sense that "you better start swimmin'/Or you'll sink like a stone/For the times they are a-changin.'"

“I just think we need a very thoughtful approach,” Branstad told reporters. “We need to look at the long-term needs, and we need to look at how much of the learning will take place on campus, how much of it will occur online and elsewhere.”

He last week rejected a $3 million appropriation approved by the Legislature to design a pharmacy building renovation at the University of Iowa, which has a projected cost of $67.6 million. [Also: $2.5 million for planning a $42.5 building at Iowa State, and $1.5 to plan a $31.6 building at UNI.]

“I guess what I am trying to do and say is that the answer is not to keep building more huge, expensive buildings on our college campuses. I think we need to recognize that changes are taking place in the way that people learn. Rather than have a lot of buildings that are going to sit empty in future years, we need to really decide: Are these absolutely essential?” Branstad said.
Jason Noble and William Petroski, "Branstad defends trio of spending plan vetoes," Des Moines Register, June 25, 2013.

Let's start by identifying a number of distinct topics and issues here.
1. Conventional schools' technology in the classroom. Educators took a ribbing 15 or 20 years ago, with lines like, "It took educators 50 years to get the overhead projector out of the bowling alley and into the classroom." Fact is, today, there's lots of "technology" (as they call it) around most conventional K-12 schools, colleges and universities. Indeed, some of today's educational critics suggest there's all too much, as students sit in lecture halls working on their Facebook pages with laptops and smartphones. Many classrooms now have electric outlets for students' laptops; lecterns with instructors' control of large screens, projectors, computer access to the Internet, including live connection to remote sites for interviews with experts or other classrooms, and presentation of Power Point slides, or other audio-video material. There are electronic systems for providing the instructor real time quiz results, or other feedback from each student, throughout the class hour.

2. Conventional schools' online offerings. By "conventional schools" I mean colleges in the 20th Century model, with residential students, a campus, large buildings with classrooms, and a library filled with books. These schools may today offer their students various online services, such as registration, course-related material (that might formerly have been in a printed packet). They may offer online courses, with lectures, textual and video material their students can access with computers, whether on-campus or away. This may, or may not, require occasional conferences with professors, or group meetings. It may, or may not, require that participants be registered as regular, on-campus students.

3. For-profit universities. The University of Phoenix, cited by the Governor, may be best known for its online offerings. And it certainly has those. But in addition to its online offerings, it not only has "a campus," it maintains 100 locations in 41 states -- including Iowa, in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines -- probably more buildings than any other U.S. university. Phoenix, and other for profits, are criticized for a variety of reasons (e.g., quality of instruction, respect for degree, difficulty for many students maintaining the self-discipline). The Des Moines Register's Kathie Obradovich said of Governor Brandstad's Phoenix endorsement, "if he considers the University of Phoenix an example of the future of higher education, his argument crashes and burns." Kathie Obradovich, "Obradovich: U of Phoenix reference torpedoes veto argument; Branstad, who vetoed cash for university projects, holds up troubled school as higher ed's future," Des Moines Register, June 25, 2013. Nonetheless, at least 300,000 individual students seem to be sufficiently satisfied to go on paying tuition.

4. Free online quality college courses. There are now a number of sources of free, quality college instruction. Among the drawbacks, such as the need for self-discipline and the lack of contact with professors and fellow students, the most significant is the absence of college credit and diplomas.

5. Free college-level instruction with credits and diploma-equivalents. As I predicted over three years ago, opportunities for college credit and diploma-equivalents are now appearing. See, "From SUI to ACT: Higher Ed's Crumbling Monopoly," January 31, 2010.
What I'd like to focus on are what are identified, above, as 4 and 5 -- free instruction with college-diploma equivalency certification.

Let's start with the realization that a good many kids on college campuses aren't there to pursue their intellectual curiosity. Some are, of course, but not most. So why are they there? Because however little they know, however little they care to learn more, what they have figured out is that they don't want to go through life asking, "Do you want fries with that?" And the best way to avoid that fate, they've been told by counselors and parents, is to go to college. Of course, it's not the going to college that is the most important part. It's the finishing of college, which entitles the graduate to the piece of paper called a "diploma." They can then apply for jobs as a "college graduate" -- and if challenged, produce a piece of paper that proves their assertion to be true.
Let's forget the vicious circle in all of this for a moment. Why were they willing to obligate themselves to pay back loans of as much as $100,000, $200,000 or more (if going through graduate schools, and depending on their spending while in school)? Because they wanted the diploma. Why did they want the diploma? So they could get a job that paid more money (a triumph of hope over experience, which may or may not work out for them). Why did they need a job that paid more money? So they could pay back those student loans.

In addition to which, those exclusively financial motivations and goals entirely miss the point: the enriching impact of a diverse, broad and deep "liberal arts education" on the quality of one's life. What it enables one to see, hear, and feel is as if one went from silent, two-dimensional, black-and-white photographs to full-color, high definition, video with surround sound -- and holograms of people walking around your room.
The first complicating irrefutable fact for our Regents universities, is that the education we provide for ever-escalating tuition dollars -- the knowledge, the skills, the exposure to great minds -- can now be obtained by our students, for free, from professors at some of the world's greatest universities. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not asserting free online instruction is the equivalent of what we provide. It's hard to get to know one's professors online in the same way you can on a residential campus (if and when that's possible anywhere). The intellectual and social interaction with other students is different. Especially is this true for those seeking binge drinking opportunities at one of the nation's top-ranked party schools.

But for those who are motivated more by their intellectual curiosity than their desire for "a job," those who have the self-discipline to stick with it, those who can't afford the combined expense (tuition, living and travel expenses, the opportunity cost of four or five years' lost wages) and are disinclined to take on massive debt, a free online college education makes sense.

Phoenix University's enrollment of 300,000 is impressive. But the free operation called Coursera is so popular it now has some 4 million global students (or "courserians," as they call themselves), choosing from 400 courses taught by professors at over 70 top universities around the world. To pick a handful of the U.S. schools, the list includes Cal Tech, Chicago, Columbia, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, Princeton, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Yale.

The story behind the Kahn Academy is delightful. A hedgefund manager, Salman Kahn, in Boston, started tutoring his cousins, in New Orleans, with online math videos he created and uploaded to YouTube. Others started watching and benefitting from his free instruction; more courses were added. By 2011 (when there were a mere 2200 videos) he was telling his TED Talks audience that there were a million users a month downloading 100,000 to 200,000 videos a day. Presumably, with today's 4200 videos, there are even more students and downloads. Rather than describe it further, I'll just provide that TED talk, below -- already downloaded 2.5 million times. (Incidentally, although it's not online college instruction, if you're not familiar with TED ("Technology, Entertainment, Design") you will find TED's free offerings of 15-to-18-minute video presentations a real source of intellectual stimulation.)

Consider for a moment the role of general examinations in our formal, conventional educational establishment. An ACT test score may affect a student's eligibility for admission to college, just as her later GRE score may determine her admission to graduate school. In both instances, a certificate may also be required -- a high school or college diploma. But the exam is, in a way, the equivalent of those certificates -- the substantive evidence of education received, as distinguished from the superficial evidence of a document.

With high school education we go further. Former high school dropouts, without a diploma, who study for and pass the GED (General Educational Development) exam, will usually be thought eligible for jobs requiring a high school education.

In fact, this morning's Press-Citizen reported a GED commencement ceremony. Twenty-one inmates at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center were so honored for their successful educational efforts. "A total of 52 inmates are receiving their General Education Development certificate this summer. All of the men completed coursework at the prison and passed a qualifying exam. The prison GED program is facilitated by Kirkwood Community College." Adam B. Sullivan, "Inmates at IMCC receive GED certificates," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 28, 2013, p. A1.

It used to be that budding lawyers "read law" in a lawyer's office to become qualified to practice. Today, most attend law schools, obtain the required law degree, take a bar review course, and pass a bar exam. But there are still states that do not require a law degree as such (with its $100,000-plus student loan debt). Authorities in those states are more interested in how well their fellow lawyers do on their bar exam than how many hours they sat in a law school classroom.

If you can become a lawyer by taking an exam without going to law school, if you can get the status of a high school graduate by taking an exam without finishing high school, why shouldn't you be able to have the benefits of a college graduate by taking an exam without ever attending college?

Well, you already can, sort of.
Developed by the College Board, the people behind AP and SAT, the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) has been the most widely trusted credit-by-examination program for over 40 years, accepted by 2,900 colleges and universities and administered in over 1,700 test centers.

CLEP exams test mastery of college-level material acquired in a variety of ways — through general academic instructions, significant independent study or extracurricular work. CLEP exam-takers include adults just entering or returning to school, military service members and traditional college students.

It's not much of a leap from a GED, bar-exam-only admission to the bar, the GRE exam, and CLEP credits, to a college exam equivalent to the GED -- pass the exam and your accomplishment will be recognized by graduate institutions and employers as the equivalent of a college diploma.

And not just the equivalent. Based on the business persons I've talked to about this, one of their main complaints about "college graduates" is the lack of consistent standards for what a college diploma tells them about the job applicant's basic skills. They accept the fact that some on-the-job training will be required for new hires. What they don't accept is the cost of providing college graduates the basic education they should have acquired in high school or college. "All I ask," they say in effect, "is that they can speak and write the English language correctly, read with sufficient care and comprehension to understand the manual, and do the basic math required of everyone in this company. Give me that and I can teach the rest of what they need to know. But without that much it's hopeless."

Given the choice between (a) someone with sufficient passing marks in the credit hours required for a college degree, and (b) someone with the equivalent, in the form of something like CLEP credits, or a good score on some form of a modified GRE exam, those employers I've talked to say they'd prefer the latter. This anecdotal evidence seems supported by a recent study. "A new report based on data collected from approximately 4 million people who were examined for workplace readiness found there are significant skills gaps . . .. The ACT report cautions that relying on indirect measures of skills, such as education level attained, will produce inaccurate results of actual workplace skills preparation." George C. Ford, "ACT research finds workplace skills lacking for in-demand jobs; Results find programs preparing individuals for middle-education jobs are well aligned with the skills jobs demand," The Gazette, July 3, 2013, p. B5. See, "ACT Research Reports on Work Readiness."

Once those certification programs start gaining the momentum we've seen in Coursera, Kahn Academy, and Education Portal, with their millions of students worldwide, the Regents' state universities may actually need far fewer buildings.

And that's why I think Governor Branstad has asked the right question. However, until that day looms larger on Iowa's horizon, I think his answer, his veto, is premature.

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For More on This Subject See "From SUI to ACT: Higher Ed's Crumbling Monopoly," January 31, 2010; "Higher Ed: When UI Loses Its Monopoly," February 20, 2010; and the following column from the Press-Citizen.

"What Happens if UI Were to Lose its Monopoly on Certification?"
Nicholas Johnson
Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 20, 2010, p. A15.

Of all the reports about the challenges confronting higher education's missions, few address the worst-case scenario: the disappearance of universities as we know them. Unfortunately, the scenario has powerful analogies.

• Try 40, not 5-year plans. Over 40 years ago, when libraries had card catalogs, newspapers were printed, and TV only three networks, I predicted "Communications in the Year 2000" (ultimately a chapter in How to Talk Back to Your Television Set) would include "instantaneous, ubiquitous, no-cost access to all information." Today that's the Internet.

• The 99.99 percent-off sale. We're used to 10 percent to 50 percent-off sales. But 99.9 percent? Yet the $1 million computer 40 years ago is today $1,000 or less; 99.9 percent off. So what?

• Broadside blows. So unpredicted competition has caused companies and entire industries to disappear. That's "so what."

Ten years ago Facebook (300 million members), YouTube (20 hours of video uploaded each minute), Wikipedia (3 million articles; 161 language editions) and iPhone (3 billion downloaded applications) didn't exist. [2013 Note: These are 2010 numbers; for instance, by now, June 28, 2013, Facebook has closer to 1 billion users.]

The 4.5 billion smart phones in 200 countries have Internet capabilities. Cell phone networks may become the owners' preferred platform for the Internet.

Musicians no longer need record companies, filmmakers don't need studios, journalists newspapers, or authors publishers. Craig's List is the new classifieds. Amazon the new Sears. Downloaded movies closed video rental stores.

Why do we think our near-$300 billion higher education industry is immune to telecommunications tsunamis?

Forget for-profit Phoenix University. The online content of a Harvard, Yale or MIT undergraduate education is as free as the content of the New York Times. And 250 million Web sites provide the rest of what students need.

If students can learn for free, why pay? Because it's not about learning. It's about degrees. Degrees increase income, and universities control the degrees monopoly.

What if they didn't? Monopolies are fragile and short lived in today's "flat world."

• In 1971, 73 percent of college students wanted a "meaningful philosophy of life." Today, 78 percent identify "wealth" as their goal.

• Parents wonder if there will be enough of that wealth to make the $50,000-to-$200,000 cost of a B.A. plus professional degree a wise investment.

• Employers know a diploma doesn't guarantee basic math and language skills -- and that those skills don't require a diploma.

Southwest Airlines says, "we hire for attitude and train for skills." But as a local Fortune 500 executive told me, "We can't even train employees for skills if they haven't mastered the basics."

Passing the GED exam is high school equivalency. Passing the GRE, not the B.A., is the gateway to graduate school.

What if anyone could take a GRE-type exam, and if they pass have "college equivalency"? A local businessman told me he'd hire them for "college graduate" positions in a New York minute.

Educators are slow to change. Professors started lecturing 1,000 years ago because there were no books. Now, notwithstanding books, we're still lecturing to warm (if inattentive) bodies in lecture halls.

UI had a radio station 100 years ago (9YA); later the first voice AM west of the Mississippi; educational TV in the 1930s. Today those multi-million-dollar assets called WSUI and KSUI might as well be silent for all they're doing to advance the university's mission of engagement with the state's citizens.

Our university is among the nation's best. But we don't have 1,000 years this time. If UI ever loses its monopoly on certification, Marc Moen will be replacing four Pentacrest buildings with high-rise condos.

The certification process may remain in Iowa City, but be based on results of exams from ACT and Pearson, institutions with neither faculty nor students. Self study and certificates, rather than commencement ceremonies and diplomas, could become the passport to good pay for knowledge workers in a global economy.

It couldn't happen? I remember when no one else imagined a $1 million computer could ever sell for $1,000 and become part of a global network.
Nicholas Johnson teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law and maintains the blog, (where this discussion continues).

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Advising Iowa's Regents

June 26, 2013, 2:00 p.m.

Explaining Universities' Benefits to All Iowans

Since April of this year, the Press-Citizen has run an occasional feature it calls "On the Same Page," for which it asks a number of contributors to offer a response to the same question and then runs their answers online. On June 8, following Governor Branstad's appointment of two new Regents to the Board of Regents (governing Iowa's public universities), I was invited to participate by submitting “a short column providing advice for the newly appointed regents for how to be effective in their new role.”

My submission, and for completeness the responses of the others as well, are reproduced below.

Regents' Multi-Million-Dollar Unused Asset
Nicholas Johnson
"On the Same Page," Iowa City Press-Citizen Online, June 8, 2013

The request was for “a short column providing advice for the newly appointed regents for how to be effective in their new role.”

It’s not that I haven’t studied, experienced, and written about board governance — visit It’s that, given these regents’ experience, they are hopefully already seeped in the governance literature.

So instead, here’s some free advice, worth every penny, regarding regents’ effectiveness with a major substantive challenge.

When I was a member of the University of California, Berkeley, Law School faculty, public higher education meant near-free college education for students at a University of California, a California State University, or California Community College. The state’s percentage of post-high school educated was almost twice Iowa’s.

This was not unrelated to California’s rapidly growing economy — then among the world’s top seven, had California been a country.

Roughly three-fourths of Iowa’s adults do not have a college degree. It’s understandable that they would have little interest in, and less understanding of, the importance of our public universities to every resident.

One of our public universities’ greatest challenges is helping every Iowan, including legislators, understand the bargain represented by public support for education. As the bumper sticker has it, “If you think education is expensive, try paying for ignorance.”

Ironically, the regents control a statewide multi-million-dollar media network that is used almost not at all for this purpose: Iowa Public Radio (which the regents just acknowledged is a governmental institution).

I’m not suggesting the regents’ stations broadcast nothing but classroom lectures. But the schools have a half-dozen or more stories every week, distributed to, but seldom used by, the mainstream media, that could help build public understanding. Some could be one-minute items during program breaks; others five-minute radio news segments or entire programs.

Iowa’s distinguished Professor Jerald L. Schnoor has been doing this. But he had to find a network of 200 commercial stations to carry his programs, rather than IPR.

Ideally, I’d like to see program series teaming local officials with university experts on such things as local water quality, flooding, tourism, K-12 education, healthcare delivery — whatever Iowa’s communities would find most helpful.

There are lots more programming ideas in “Self Help for a Helpful University,”, and its links.

As a former FCC commissioner, I can assure you regents that when the FCC gave you broadcast licenses we assumed you knew they were only available for “educational” purposes.
Nicholas Johnson teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law and maintains and


To adapt successfully, we must work together
Kenneth G. Brown

My advice to the new members of the Iowa state Board of Regents is no different than it would be to any new member of a governing board. In fact, as I write this I recall back to a board retreat I ran a few years ago. I recall looking across a conference table and beginning with “thank you.”

Serving on boards is time-consuming and often thankless work, but it is critical to the long-term well-being of the organization, so it made sense to begin with sincere appreciation.

With that as a foundation, we sat around a table and discussed what we were there to do as an organization, who we wanted to be in the future, and what we faced as opportunities and threats. To contribute to these discussions, board members had to understand the organization and the industry, including the history, traditions and competitive dynamics.

So we spent time talking about the past as well as the future and talking about our peers and competitors as well as our own organization.

As I imagine the transition of our newest regents, I am daunted by all there is to learn.

Most of us know universities from one or two particular perspectives, having been a student, employee or community partner with, perhaps, one of the universities. But we are a system of large, complex public institutions.

Back in 1963, the president of the University of California system, Clark Kerr, coined the term “multiversity” to reflect the complex and often competing interests faced by universities. This term is accurate here in Iowa, as each institution is multi-faceted and complex. Although each faces some of the same pressures, each has different peers, competitors and strategies that will ensure continued success.

Everything you read today confirms that this is a time of profound change in higher education, and it is clear that our institutions must adapt. But to adapt successfully, we must work together — regents and institutional leaders — to better understand who we are and who we want to be. And we must find a way to honor traditions while pursuing thoughtful and deliberate change that may look quite different at each institution.

And speaking directly to our new regents, let me return to the foundation for the important work that is to come — thank you for being so generous with your time, energy and talents.

Kenneth G. Brown is a professor of management and organizations at the University of Iowa.

Teach students, universities to be more engaged in their communities
Charles Connerly

We live in a time in which people are suspicious of public institutions. Public universities are no exception. As tuition and other fees rise in public universities, the public increasingly sees them as overpriced. As costs increase, questions arise as to whether universities continue to play a leveling role or instead have become a divider of haves and have-nots. As faculty at research universities have become increasingly specialized, the value of their work seems to many to be remote.

How should the Iowa state Board of Regents respond to increasing skepticism of public universities?

One approach, already underway at Iowa’s regent universities, is a growing role for public and community engagement, particularly through the many classes our students take. By engaging students through their courses in our cities and towns, university faculty provide an important learning opportunity for students — one that requires them to apply their ideas and creativity to real problems that affect real people.

Moreover, as our cities and towns face challenges with economic development, environmental protection and the enabling of equal opportunity for all their residents, the need for new and creative ideas is paramount. Iowa cities and towns have limited professional staff who are kept quite busy by the demands of their daily workload. By encouraging regent universities to teach classes that engage students in solving the problems of Iowa’s cities and town, the board will not only enhance the quality of education in Iowa’s public universities, it will also be providing a direct service to Iowa’s communities.

An example of this is provided by a recent student project in Dubuque where, under the auspices of the University of Iowa’s Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC), seven School of Urban and Regional Planning students developed a comprehensive plan for the redevelopment of a 33-acre segment of Dubuque’s Mississippi River port.

Through IISC, other students in classes from business, library and information science, engineering, public health, geoscience as well as journalism and mass communication are working to design community improvement projects in Muscatine, Cedar Rapids and Washington. Besides IISC, there are many other examples of student-centered community engagement at Iowa’s public universities.

By encouraging and supporting the state’s public universities to take their students and their courses to the public, the regents can go a long way towards enhancing the quality of education, improving our communities and shoring up public support for higher education.

And when citizens from throughout the state tell their legislators of the wonderful things the universities and their students have done for their communities, then legislative support for higher education can only increase.

Charles Connerly is the director of the University of Iowa School of Urban and Regional Planning.

Improving the quality of life for the citizens of Iowa
Peter Damiano

The Public Policy Center is one of many units within the University of Iowa whose primary goal is to help improve the quality of life for the citizens of Iowa. Many do it through educating our students and preparing our community leaders of tomorrow-be they health care providers, lawyers, teachers, artists, engineers or social workers. The center (and many other units as well) contribute to the vitality of the state by conducting externally funded academic research to inform Iowa policymakers and the public about the most pressing problems facing the state.

The Public Policy Center researchers work daily with state government agencies to collaboratively conduct research so they have information on which they can make better decisions. Current research involves the Iowa departments of human services, public health, transportation and the attorney general’s office on topics from the housing mortgage crisis, to teen driving safety to air quality to transportation financing to health care access and quality. These activities directly touch the lives of citizens in every county in the state, often quietly and behind the scenes.

We also bring UI experts to the Statehouse during the legislative session for a “Lunch and Learn” series on topics from education reform to mental health redesign. We routinely invite policymakers and the public to learn and engage in civil discourse on important topics such as the subprime mortgage crisis or hear national and international experts speak, all the while educating and supporting students as a part of these activities.

Many other departments and colleges are equally committed to this same mission. The Iowa Flood Center within IIHR-Hydroscience and Engineering is mapping every watershed in the state and providing local communities for the first time with accurate data upon which they can make educated decisions about flood mitigation and disaster preparedness, with critical support from the legislature. The School of Urban and Regional Planning has numerous projects in communities such as Dubuque, using students to help provide valuable data on issues from housing to transportation. The College of Public Health is actively engaged in health promotion and disease prevention studies to improve the health of communities throughout the state.

The extra efforts needed to involve policymakers and engage the public in academic activities happens because UI faculty, staff and students are passionate that the best way to improve the quality of life in the state we love is through better information and vibrant conversation, of which UI is central.

Peter Damiano is director of the University of Iowa Public Policy Center.

Ensure the educational excellence of Iowa's public universities
Bob Dvorsky

Here are the areas on which I believe any new regent needs to concentrate:

• Transparency for the regent schools and for the board.

• Special schools need to be paid attention to and strengthened.

• The University of Northern Iowa needs to be supported well, and its unique role as the third school needs to be enhanced.

• Move forward with a comprehensive study of the “three schools,” highlighting their strengths, similarities and differences.

• Probably the most important issue in the near future is to make sure University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is prepared to move forward with the Affordable Care Act and the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan.

• Careful consideration of the views of the regent’s constituencies — students, staff, faculty and alumni.

• Work on translating the regents’ needs to the Iowa Legislature and the governor’s office.

The learning curve for a regent is steep, but the Iowa state Board of Regents is the governing body of a proud and storied tradition of educational excellence in Iowa’s public universities.

All regents must be prepared to carry on that historic tradition.

Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, serves in the Iowa Senate.

Nurture universities; don't micro-manage them
N. William Hines

I was in Minnesota this week and happened to watch a Minnesota Public Television documentary on the life of former Minnesota Gov. Elmer Anderson. Anderson served only one two-year term as governor in the early 1960s, yet his reputation as a public servant was so revered that the University of Minnesota named its library in his honor.

The civic leadership that earned Anderson this great respect was his many years as president of the Minnesota Board of Regents. When asked once what advice he would give new members of the regents, Anderson quickly responded, “I would urge them to nurture the university, and not try to micro-manage it.”

Excellent advice, in my opinion.

As a long-serving collegiate dean, I had the privilege of participating in the searches for four University of Iowa presidents. I always felt confident in assuring presidential candidates in those searches that they would thrive professionally at UI for three reasons:

• First, Iowans traditionally held their public universities in the highest esteem and supported them.

• Second, the Iowa state Board of Regents operated above petty politics and exercised its authority exclusively to improve the quality of the higher education students received at Iowa’s three public universities.

• Third, the Iowa regents respected and strenuously supported the campus decisions of the university leaders they selected.

I regret that I could not in good conscience have given those same positive assurances about the Iowa Board of Regents during the past 10 years. I know that many on the UI campus share this troubling observation and find it worrisome for the future of Iowa’s public universities.

My hope for the new regents is that they will embrace Gov. Anderson’s sage advice and will seek to return the Board of Regents to the longstanding Iowa tradition of nurturing the universities they oversee without trying to micro-manage them and to trusting university leaders to make the right decisions for their campuses without the issuance of marching orders from on high.

N. William Hines is a professor and dean emeritus of the University of Iowa College of Law.

Regents should serve all Iowans - regardless of age
Brian Kaskie

Certainly the newly appointed members should strive to uphold the mission and vision of the Iowa state Board of Regents as outlined in the most recent strategic plan. However, as I read these statements from the perspective of someone who is most concerned with advancing the health and independence of older Iowans, there are a few points that caught my attention.

• The first has to do with providing high-quality and accessible education to students. In particular, I would hope the new members of the board would embrace the notion that aging Iowans should be considered students as well (we like to call them lifelong learners), and not all students necessarily need to be enrolled in formal degree programs in order to participate in the world class educational opportunities offered across the regent institutions.

Indeed, since 2009, the Center on Aging has administered the Lifetime Enrichment Adult Program (aka, UI LEAP) which provides all adult learners an opportunity to attend lectures and workshops provided by many faculty and local experts, and in which they can learn about more about their own health, how to maintain their independence as they grow older, or just about anything else.

This program has been booming in recent years and more than 1,200 adults enrolled in UI LEAP courses just in the past year. Besides providing adult learners opportunities for intellectual stimulation, social engagement, and physical activity, this sort of educational programming meets an important objective in increasing the health literacy among our state’s aging population.

Indeed, while Iowa is ranked among the older state’s in the country, we do not rank as well in terms of how well educated our aging population is in regard to many important health and financial issues.

• A second part of the Board of Regents’ mission that caught my attention had to do with supporting activities that enhance the quality of life for Iowans.

In this regard, I would hope the new members of the board would embrace the notion that all Iowans include aging Iowans and our state’s aging population would benefit from continued efforts to enhance the provision of geriatric care.

In 2009, the Center on Aging submitted a report to the board that identified several ways the regent institutions could accomplish this. While several important steps have been taken since that time, there are still many left in front of us. This is no time to stop taking deliberate steps to advance the health and independence of our booming population of persons over 65.

In making these wishes, I am not asking the new members to think of this as some sort of new charge or distraction from current activities.

Rather I am hopeful that they embrace the notion that our educational institutions truly are meant to serve all Iowans, regardless of race, color, religion or age.

Brian Kaskie is associate director of public policy at the University of Iowa’s Center on Aging.

Encourage collaboration among the arts, social sciences, sciences and humanities
Teresa Mangum

First, welcome! I’m grateful to those willing to commit their time to supporting Iowa’s public universities.

As the director of a center that supports faculty research and innovative collaborations and as a faculty member who teaches literature and women’s studies, I see daily how strongly our students and state benefit from a university devoted to the liberal arts as well as the sciences. We all understand the importance of supporting business and STEM fields. But the best ideas grow out of collaborations that bring together the arts, social sciences, sciences and humanities — the world’s literatures and languages, anthropology, history, music, theater, philosophy, religious studies and more.

Let me offer an example being developed by one of the Obermann Center’s many Working Groups. To slow deforestation in northern India, one of our engineers provided solar cookers to women in a village, only to learn they weren’t being used. A feminist anthropologist on campus immediately asked — “Did you talk with the women? Did you go with them on their daily trek for wood?” Like any good humanities scholar, she knew that the first step in successfully addressing an issue is to understand the history, culture and ways of seeing the world that shape communities. Now they and a group of students will go to India together. Working with the village’s women, they hope to find innovative solutions that sustain both the forest and local culture.

In another case, professors of nursing and music created a music therapy program to help teenagers cope with a common, profoundly painful spinal surgery. This marriage of science and the arts is helping Iowa kids and their families endure a grueling medical process by giving them access to the powerful and lifelong resources of creativity, beauty, and the imagination.

I hope the new regents will help us to maintain the University of Iowa’s unique balance among fields that address practical needs and those, like the arts and humanities, that help us understand the diverse stories, histories, values, fears and hopes that can keep us apart or sustain us as Iowans and world citizens.

I also warmly welcome all of the regents to join arts and humanities faculty members from the UI, Iowa State University, Drake and Grinnell at the April 11-12, 2014, Iowa Humanities Festival in Des Moines. With our partners at the Salisbury House and Gardens, the Des Moines Art Center and Humanities Iowa, we look forward to building on the success of last year’s inaugural festival.

We hope to see you all there!

Teresa Mangum is the director of the University of Iowa Obermann Center for Advanced Studies.

Iowa moving in wrong direction on higher ed funding
Tom Mortenson

Iowa and its three great universities are involved in a death spiral, diminishing the welfare of both parties.

The state has been disinvesting in higher education since 2001, and — to survive — our universities have been turning away from serving Iowans in pursuit of alternative revenues to offset this loss of state support.

In FY2013 Iowa appropriated $6.25 per $1,000 of state personal income for higher education. This was down from $11.42 in 2001 and represents the weakest state investment effort in higher education ever in data first compiled in 1961.

At a time when higher education is more important than ever to economic growth, development and human welfare, Iowa has turned sharply away from investing in higher education. In fact, if the current trends continue, Iowa will become the second state to zero-out state financial support for higher education — reaching that ignominious goal of nothing around 2029.

In response to this loss of state fiscal support, Iowa’s universities have sought to develop alternative revenue sources — mainly from tuition. So tuition charges to students go up, way up. And since nonresident students pay far higher tuition rates than do state residents, the universities first pursue non-residents.

At the University of Iowa, for example, non-residents account for 55 percent of new freshmen. If current trends continue, UI may become a branch campus of the University of Illinois.

In this urgent search for alternative revenues, student “attractiveness” is measured not just in terms of their academic records and test scores, but now in terms of their revenue potential.

• The most valuable are non-resident students because they pay far higher tuition than do state residents.

• They are followed by state residents who can pay the full state resident tuition charge without the cost of an institutional discount.

• The least financially attractive are low-income Iowans, who need institutional financial aid to help them pay their college attendance costs.

This is reflected in the shifting enrollment patterns at UI. Between 2000 and 2010, the share of freshmen coming from outside of Iowa grew by 10.7 percent (so the share of freshmen from Iowa declined by 10.7 percent).

Moreover, enrollments at UI are moving away from serving low income students and toward more affluent students. The university’s share of the state’s undergraduates from low income families has dropped from 7.8 percent in 1999 to 5.3 percent by 2010, while UI’s share of students from higher income families has risen from 14.4 percent to 16.5 percent.

To attract these more affluent students, UI has opened a $60 million recreation building equipped with climbing walls, indoor tracks, swimming pools and rooms filled with exercise equipment.

Iowa has become a national leader is disinvestment in higher education. We are leading the race to the bottom.

It appears that students from lower income families are the first and primary victims of these public and institutional policy choices. These students are a rapidly growing share of Iowa’s K-12 student population, having grown from 23 percent of the total in 1989 to 40 percent by 2012.

They — and the state they will live in — face a bleaker future than would have resulted from a greater state investment in their future higher educations.

Oskaloosa resident Tom Mortenson is a senior scholar at The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education in Washington, D.C.

Recent regent history: a story of money and mission
Bruce Wheaton

The relationship between the University of Iowa and the Iowa state Board of Regents sure has changed in the last 30 years or so. Not so long ago, the board’s primary functions were to offer public cheers for its schools and to protect them from political intrusions.

Not any longer.

Maybe it’d be helpful to new regents to consider briefly how we got here. It’s a story about money and mission.

In the years following World War II, universities like Iowa behaved a lot like middle class families of the time — they grew, they got richer, they built new houses, and they doted on their kids.

The rising tide of growth helped insulate such schools from any minor administrative mistakes their leaders might make. It was easy for Iowa’s regents to be proud of UI — it was growing up to be such a strong, attractive adult.

The farm crisis of the early 1980s began to recast the relationship between the state and its universities and serves as a nominal watershed in the history of the regents and UI. Political leaders asked, then demanded, that the school become active in the economic future of the state.

The university responded with a plan keyed to its chartered mission but the state thought it heard the voice of a young professional whose parents had suddenly asked for help paying the mortgage. Accordingly, it responded with the political equivalent of, “You don’t understand the sacrifices your mom and I made for you. We need help … and now you’re too busy to give us a hand … really? Too busy?”

When this battle over UI’s proper mission first broke out, the regents patrolled the middle ground between the institution and the Legislature. Over time, though, the buffering function got lost and the regents themselves became a force in urging UI to reorient its policies to help advance economic and corporate interests — sometimes at the expense of federal guidelines or academic norms.

Ultimately a research university isn’t much good to its home state if it’s not an independent, curious organization dedicated to advancing the imagination. It needs to be more than a trade school with an endowment and a drum major.

It’d be great if new regents could develop enough sympathy for UI’s position to let this happen. Again.

Before retiring, Bruce Wheaton served as director of the University of Iowa's research park, its technology innovation center and its research foundation.

Learn about the everyday lives of the people who make universities strong
Rachel Marie-Crane Williams

As a faculty member who has taught at Iowa’s public universities since 1999, served on the faculty senate at the University of Iowa and worked with various community partners and state agencies, I have many suggestions for the incoming members of the Iowa state Board of regents, but I find a few issues to be quite pressing.

One issue that tops my list is affordable housing for married students, graduate students and students with children. Many of these talented students come from halfway across the globe or our country only to find they are offered housing through the universities that is substandard, dirty and even dangerous for their children.

In general, the safety and well being of all students would be improved if more resources were put toward student health centers, daycare facilities, rape crisis centers such as RVAP, and mental health and student disability centers. While recreation and sports facilities are important, it is equally important to realize that student wellness is comprised of more than athletics.

In the past decade faculty, students and staff at the institutions have suffered through a number of budgetary changes and shortages within their departments. This has been due to the economy, natural disasters, politics and the changing landscape of academia.

Some of the cuts such as slashing small departments, the University of Northern Iowa lab school and graduate programs have deeply impacted the opportunities we are able to offer students for interdisciplinary collaboration; they have affected the diversity of the universities as a whole.

In some cases our institutions have sought to fill these gaps through community partnerships and expanded existing relationships in order to create experiences for students, research opportunities for faculty and to solve relevant problems within our state that impact the environment, social services, education, culture and health as a response.

In order to make our future as Iowans better universities should be encouraged and rewarded for public engagement by the Board of Regents. This kind of work enhances teaching and research and broadens our service commitment to the state.

We are public universities; our doors should be open wide to Iowans regardless of their economic, geographic or social circumstances. The regents should invest in ways to offer more financial assistance to students, build bridges with K-12 educators and institutions, make transferring from a community college to a public university easier and fund more ways to welcome people to our campuses through the arts, athletics, health care and educational experiences.

The regents should also seek ways to recruit and retain minority faculty, staff and students, and to equalize the gender inequality that is prevalent within the academy.

In addition, it is my hope that the new regents will recognize the outstanding universities we have in this state and not subject them to unnecessary scrutiny in order to enhance their own personal political rhetoric without seeing the effects such idiocy can have in the lives of Iowans.

Finally, I would invite the regents to spend a day with a faculty person, a staff member, and a students each year in order to have a lens into the everyday lives and activities of all the people who make our universities strong.

Rachel Marie-Crane Williams is an associate professor in the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History.

# # #

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Shooting the Messenger

June 11, 2013, 11:30 a.m.

This series includes: "Lavabit Confronts 'Complicit or Close?' Levison Closes," August 9, 2013; "A Simple Matter to Drag People Along," August 6, 2013; "The Future of Surveillance and How to Stop It," August 4, 2013; "Surveillance: Differences of Degree and of Kind," July 3, 2013; "Shooting the Messenger; Should Government Be Able to Keep Its Abuses Secret?," June 11, 2013; "From Zazi to Stasi; Trusting a Government That Doesn't Trust You," June 9, 2013; "Law's Losing Race With Technology," June 7, 2013.

Should Government Be Able To Keep Its Abuses Secret?
I'd call the cops, but they're already here.
-- Mason Williams

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded . . .
Everybody knows the fight was fixed . . .
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied . . .
And everybody knows that the Plague is coming
Everybody knows that it's moving fast . . .
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But there's gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

-- Leonard Cohen, "Everybody Knows"

It’s very, very difficult, I think, to have a transparent debate about secret programs approved by a secret court, issuing secret court orders, based on secret interpretations of the law.
-- Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) Chris Strohm and Gopal Ratnam, "NSA Leader Seeks Openness on Secret Surveillance Orders," Bloomberg News, June 12, 2013

And what's the response when the cover of secrecy is breached? They lie:

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.): Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper: No, sir.
-- Connie Cass, "Mangled facts, secrecy, confusion leave Americans unsure what to believe about NSA programs," AP/Washington Post, June 13, 2013

[H]e [Edward Snowden] appears to be a product of . . . the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments. . . . [Their] life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world. Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state. . . . For society to function well, there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions . . ..
-- David Brooks, "The Solitary Leaker," New York Times, June 11, 2013, p. A23; To which an unidentified Times reader responds with the online comment:

I find it somewhat disingenuous to criticize the younger generation for cynicism and mistrust without acknowledging the wider atmosphere that's responsible for creating such attitudes in the first place. . . . [A]uthorities and institutions have betrayed us at every turn. We have witnessed our political system become hobbled by polarization and corruption, our economy crippled by financial elites, our media devolve into petty bickering and mindless infotainment, our liberties eroded by the unending War on Terror and War on Drugs, our social safety net cut to shreds, our incomes stagnate while the wealthy hoard, our jobs disappear while the stock market soars, our natural environment raped in the name of profits and convenience, our friends and relatives sent off to wars built on lies, and our privacy systematically invaded by corporations and the government. And you ask . . . why we have lost our respect for authority and trust in institutions?

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Catholic.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

-- Martin Niemöller

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" . . .. It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers.
-- Dr. Martin Luther King, "Letter from Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963

Whom do you call when the cops are the criminals? Where can a military woman find justice when she is raped by her superior, and even if he is found guilty his superior can overturn the conviction?

And, more to the point today, what is the most appropriate response of a democratic society to its whistle-blowers when what they believe they need to reveal regarding a governmental abuse has been classified "secret"? [Photo credit: multiple sources.]

As Senator Udall has reminded us (quoted above), "It’s very, very difficult, I think, to have a transparent debate about secret programs approved by a secret court, issuing secret court orders, based on secret interpretations of the law." Does that make the case for whistle-blowing about secret, questionable programs stronger or weaker? With all that has been, and will be, written about Edward Snowden's revelations, this is an issue that requires much more discussion among Americans and their elected officials. This blog essay is intended as a stimulus to a beginning of that discussion.

Senator Ted Kennedy said of his brother, at Robert Kennedy's memorial service, "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it . . .."

In a world governed by former Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn's advice to new House members, "If you want to get along, go along," a whistle-blower who "sees wrong and tries to right it" -- as an employee of a hospital, corporation, university, or military unit -- knows there will be a price to be paid: at a minimum, things will no longer be the same with their employer and colleagues. They may be fired. They may find it impossible to find work anywhere within their former industry. As an FCC commissioner challenging some of America's most powerful corporations with revelations about their practices, I knew that I would probably never again be either reappointed to the Commission or employed by law firms in Washington.

Most of us, faced with the choice between what we believe is our moral obligation to at least reveal, if not stop, things we believe to be illegal or otherwise wrong, on the one hand, and on the other hand, to remain silent and continue to be paid, will not casually choose the former over the latter. We have an endless list of our rationalizations for averting our eyes from what, as Leonard Cohen reminds us, "everybody knows."

But the question confronting America today is much more serious than the matter of how we treat everyday, conventional whistle-blowers. All they usually risk is unemployment and ostracism. Few, if any, must consider the possibility that their conscientious act will result in their death, with or without a trial, or life in prison.

That was the potential price that Edward Snowden knew he might pay. As he told The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald:
Yeah, I could be, you know, rendered by the CIA. . . . And that’s a fear I’ll live under for the rest of my life, however long that happens to be. You can’t come forward against the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies and be completely free from risk, because they’re such powerful adversaries that no one can meaningfully oppose them. If they want to get you, they’ll get you, in time. . . .

If I had just wanted to harm the U.S., . . . you could shut down the surveillance system in an afternoon. But that’s not my intention. And I think, for anyone making that argument, they need to think, if they were in my position, and, you know, you live a privileged life -- you’re living in Hawaii, in Paradise, and making a ton of money -- what would it take to make you leave everything behind?
"You're Being Watched": Edward Snowden Emerges as Source Behind Explosive Revelations of NSA Spying," Democracy Now, June 10, 2013 -- along with a transcript.

I'm not suggesting that those who make classified information public should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. But neither do I think they should all be knee-jerk labeled "traitors" guilty of "treason" and "espionage" and thrown into the trash pile along with terrorists and felons. ("U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein Monday called self-professed National Security Agency surveillance plans leaker Edward Snowden a traitor. . . . 'I don't look at this as being a whistle-blower. I think it's an act of treason,' said Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee." UPI, June 10, 2013.)

But what are we to make of our Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who flat-footed lied to the Senate regarding the existence of the NSA program that collects the metadata from millions' of Americans' phone records, quoted above? (Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.): "Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?" To which Director Clapper unambiguously responded, "No, sir.") Which is the greater treason? Who is the biggest traitor? Clapper, who lied? Or Snowden, who told the truth?

Note how our First Amendment protections work. Little to no actual harm came from Edward Snowden's conversations with, and gift of documents to, The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald. As a result of Snowden's actions only one additional person knew "the secrets."

The harm charged by our government, if any there be in fact, only came later. It came when Greenwald, his editor, and publisher, decided to tell all their subscribers -- knowing that other papers would pick up and run with the story, thereby ultimately spreading the secrets to millions. And yet no U.S. official, so far as I know, has argued that The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, or other papers telling the story of the government's secret spying programs should be prosecuted for treason. As the Pentagon Papers case [New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)] demonstrated, once the media is given information, however much the government would like to restrain its publication, the courts believe the First Amendment forbids them to permit the government to do so. The media may exercise self-restraint, including in response to government appeals that publication would threaten national security, but the media cannot be restrained against its will from publishing by government or the courts. The newspaper owner is not prosecuted, nor the editor who approved the story, nor the journalist who got the information from the source, conducted the interviews, and did the research.

One can at least ask, if the values of the First Amendment are so overpowering as to trump the government's judgment that the publication of secrets should be restrained, why are those First Amendment values not equally applicable to the source of that information, so valuable to a democracy -- namely, the whistle-blower?

We also, as a civilized society, recognize acts of conscience -- including with laws providing at least some protection for whistle-blowers. (The Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989 forbids retaliation against government employees who report misconduct.)

In Dr. King's "Letter," quoted and linked above, he says of civil disobedience, "One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law."

One of the most serious tests of respect for conscience occurs in wartime, when our government has recognized the right of "conscientious objectors" to decline to be drafted into front line killing of other humans -- substituting community service of some kind as an alternative.

The "Right to Life" folks believe that doctors, pharmacists and others who consider all abortions to be "murder" should be free to act on that belief.

So when Edward Snowden trades in a $200,000-a-year job in Hawaii for the possibility of death and the probability of prison time, I think we have to recognize that as an act of conscience.

I'm with Dr. King. I don't think one should be able to do anything, claim it was compelled by conscience, and thereby escape any recrimination.

However, the issue in Edward Snowden's case is one of the government's own making.

It is saying to potential whistle-blowers, in effect, "You are free to report our run-of-the-mill misconduct; but if you believe our misconduct to be sufficiently serious to constitute a constitutional violation, we can declare our activities to be secret and classified, and thereby reserve the right to prosecute you for treason or espionage if you reveal what we are doing."

Checks and balances? The whole point of whistle-blowing, as with reports of rape in the military, is that the system and requirements of "going through channels" and "following procedure" and "oversight" and "Inspectors General" often fail. Even if the Congress and courts were doing their job of protecting us from the NSA, everything the overseers are doing is also treated as so highly classified as state secrets that they can't tell us enough to reassure us. And, open or closed, there are at least allegations that the NSA sometimes refuses to provide the Intelligence Committees with requested information, and that the Committees have performed more as lapdogs than watchdogs. The FISA "court," some report, has been almost exclusively a rubber stamp for whatever the NSA wants to do. And the executive branch (regardless of who's sleeping in the White House) seems to have been more interested in expanding than restraining its powers.

And with the controversial, litigated, and revised Patriot Act Section 505 gag orders accompanying "National Security Letters" (searches without warrants), American citizens (and their legislative representatives) have even been forbidden to hear from those being searched. The only analogy to that procedure that comes immediately to mind is the pedophile who threatens his victim with severe punishment should he or she ever reveal to anyone how they have been abused.

I'm more interested at this point in stimulating a national debate about revelations of "secrets" than in particular solutions. But here are some of the questions, or standards, I think we might want to consider.

1. Intent. Intent is an element of most crimes; it's one of the differences between "manslaughter" and "murder" -- even though both bring about the death of one person as a result of the actions of another, the defendant. We need to distinguish between revealing state secrets to foreign spies with an intent to aid an enemy, in time of war, and revealing them to a journalist, with an honest intent to prevent government wrongdoing to American citizens.

2. Restraint. In free speech cases we speak of the "least restrictive alternative" standard in evaluating governmental action that impacts speech. In revelations of state secrets we might ask, did the whistle-blower use the most restrictive alternative. That is, did he or she release only enough information to make their point? Did they make an effort to minimize possible harm to the government, or specific individuals? Did they hold back and not disclose some documents, or redact names and portions of others? Or, worst case, did they deliberately try to maximize that harm? Did they personally publicize raw data and documents, or did they filter what was released, both personally and by knowing it would be processed through a responsible media organization, its journalists, editors, and owners?

Snowden told Greenwald, "[A]nybody in the positions of access with the technical capabilities that I had could, you know, suck out secrets, pass them on the open market to Russia. You know, they always have an open door, as we do. I had access to, you know, the full rosters of everyone working at the NSA, the entire intelligence community, and undercover assets all around the world, the locations of every station we have, what their missions are and so forth." The point is, as he's quoted earlier in this blog essay as saying, "If I had just wanted to harm the U.S., . . . you could shut down the surveillance system in an afternoon. But that’s not my intention."

3. Personal responsibility. Did the whistle-blower act behind the curtain of anonymity, or did they come forward, acknowledge, and take responsibility for their revelations -- in the spirit of civil disobedience?

It would seem to me, based on what I now know, that in the case of Edward Snowden he has fully satisfied at least all of those standards.

I am less clear as to the answer of the "So what?" question. I do think we may need new legislation to address that question, and that, at a minimum, meeting these -- and other standards that may be proposed -- ought to take such cases out of the category of "terrorism," "treason," and "espionage," and radically reduce such punishments as might otherwise be appropriate.

For purposes of my question, it is far from decisive -- indeed, it may be not even relevant -- how the American people feel about their government spying on them. (Pew's recent update of its survey indicates we are about equally split, depending on the question -- and, for partisans, which Party occupies the White House.) My question simply addresses the matter of punishment for whistle-blowers who, as a matter of honest conscience, must, in order to be a whistle-blower, reveal things the government considers secret.

There is already a growing support for Snowden (as well as growing disapproval). The photo depicts a demonstration of support in New York City yesterday [June 10]. Robert Johnson, "Rally Held In New York City Supporting 'Hero' NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden," Business Insider, June 10, 2013.

The White House maintains a Web site where citizens can start, and others can support and sign, petitions. On June 9 one was posted with the headline, "Pardon Edward Snowden," and went on, "Edward Snowden is a national hero and should be immediately issued a a full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed related to blowing the whistle on secret NSA surveillance programs." By this morning it was already nearly halfway to it's goal of 100,000 supporters (a number that triggers a self-imposed White House requirement that it respond to the petitioners). It's here. [On July 5th it had already surpassed its July 9th drop dead deadline goal, with 127,663 supporters.]

As of this morning [June 11] the Progressive Change Campaign Committee had already raised $20,000 for Snowden's legal defense fund. [By July 5th it stood at $32,000.]

For your further reflection, here is Amy Goodman's report, and reproduction of Glenn Greenwald's interview of Snowden, "You're Being Watched": Edward Snowden Emerges as Source Behind Explosive Revelations of NSA Spying," Democracy Now, June 10, 2013 -- along with a transcript.

# # #

Sunday, June 09, 2013

From Zazi to Stasi

June 9, 2013, 3:00 p.m.

This series includes: "Lavabit Confronts 'Complicit or Close?' Levison Closes," August 9, 2013; "A Simple Matter to Drag People Along," August 6, 2013; "The Future of Surveillance and How to Stop It," August 4, 2013; "Surveillance: Differences of Degree and of Kind," July 3, 2013; "Shooting the Messenger; Should Government Be Able to Keep Its Abuses Secret?," June 11, 2013; "From Zazi to Stasi; Trusting a Government That Doesn't Trust You," June 9, 2013; "Law's Losing Race With Technology," June 7, 2013.

Trusting a Government That Doesn't Trust You

Yesterday being the 64th anniversary of the June 8, 1949, publication of George Orwell's novel 1984, I thought it an appropriate time to review surveillance in America.

Unless you've just returned from a vacation, during which you had the good sense to never consult a smart phone, laptop, or newspaper, you know that we've just found out more about the government's spying on our phone calls and Internet activity.

The London Guardian's Glenn Greenwald broke the story that the U.S. super-secret FISA Court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) has given the NSA (National Security Agency) the legal right to gather all of our phone records indiscriminately -- even if there is no reason for the NSA to suspect we've done anything wrong -- in this specific case, the records of every Verizon customer (with legitimate reason to suspect similar authorizations have been granted for all other major phone companies). Glenn Greenwald, "NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily; Exclusive: Top Secret Court Order Requiring Verizon to Hand Over All Call Data Shows Scale of Domestic Surveillance Under Obama," The Guardian (London), June 5, 2013 (with link to text of FISA Court order). [Photo credit: multiple sources.]

Not to be outdone by The Guardian, the Washington Post soon had a story of its own to break: "The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post." Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras, "Documents: U.S. Mining Data From 9 Leading Internet Firms; Companies Deny Knowledge,” Washington Post, June 6, 2013.

Note the rather stark conflict here -- one that underscores the fact that it is the major corporations as much or more than the government that should be the focus of our privacy concerns. I'm not sure anyone has the facts at this point; I don't. But my intuition is that the NSA would have had little to no reason to lie, in a highly classified document it had no reason to believe would fall into the hands of the media, that it had the ability to tap "directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies" if it didn't have that ability. On the other hand, the "nine leading U.S. Internet companies" would have had an incentive to hide from their customers the fact that they were permitting the government to peruse your electronic files and mine.

In an earlier blog essay I provided some background regarding privacy law, and reasons why I think we need a new Supreme Court interpretation of the protections provided by the Fourth Amendment, given the current governmental and corporate access to intrusive technologies not dreamed of decades ago, let alone centuries ago. "Law's Losing Race With Technology; Redefining 'Privacy,'" June 7, 2013.

Ultimately, of course, these stories were picked up and repeated by mainstream U.S. media, as U.S. officials scrambled to reassure Americans that they (members of the U.S. House and Senate) had known of this all along and always considered it a dandy way to protect us from terrorists -- carefully noting that at least this order did not include the government’s right to listen to the content of our calls. "All they were doing" was gathering the date and times our calls begin and end, the locations of the parties to the calls, and the phone numbers involved. Charlie Savage and Edward Wyatt, "U.S. Is Secretly Collecting Records of Verizon Calls," New York Times, June 6, 2013, p. A16.

I don't deny these are significant distinctions. There is a difference between a corporation or government agency scanning, recording, storing, analyzing, and ultimately having a human listen to the content of your phone conversations, on the one hand, and, on the other, its focusing exclusively on tracking the phone numbers from and to which you make calls, how long you talk during each, their date and time, and the location of the parties.

But (1) both are a significant intrusion on your privacy, (2) taken alone, but especially when blended with "Big Data" collections of other personal information about you, they reveal a lot of information about you, and (3) the government has not always limited itself to this "meta data" (e.g., phone numbers and time).

Thirteen years ago, February 27, 2000, CBS 60 Minutes reported on "Echelon," a global fish net operated by the NSA that, according to those who had worked with the project and were interviewed, covered all of Planet Earth, monitoring airwaves and optic fiber, picking up everything from e-mail and faxes to cell phones and baby monitors. Today, President Obama and the Chairs of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees are assuring us that no one is listening to the content of our calls. But a former employee of Echelon said on 60 Minutes that she was shocked to find a fellow employee listening to the voice of Senator Strom Thurmond. There have been a number of other reports over the years about this, prior, and subsequent programs, such as "Total Information Awareness."

There are many potential issues with what our government is doing. (1) There is what they are doing: monitoring our phone and Internet activity. (2) There are questions regarding how they are doing it: what data is being collected, how long it is held, how it is being used (including sharing with other agencies, other governments, or even corporations), what other databases it is being merged with, how many people within the agency have access to it, the quality control processes in place to, among other things, avoid mistaken identifications of people. (3) The oversight by the judicial and legislative branches. There are reports that the FISA Court seldom, if ever, has refused the government's requests to spy on Americans and others; we are told that Congress was kept fully informed, but a number of elected officials have said they knew nothing of the program. (4) Secrecy. It was said during the Soviet era that their spies, and ours, were sufficiently well informed that each pretty well knew what the other was up to; the only people who were uninformed as a result of secrecy and classified documents were the American people. The government has expressed extreme concern about terrorists finding out about these cell phone and Internet monitoring programs. It is highly unlikely -- given terrorists' use of couriers and throw-away cell phones, that there is much in this month's papers that they did not already know.

Put aside, if you must, Benjamin Franklin's judgment that, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin_Franklin, It may well be that the American people, once honestly and fully informed regarding how corporations and the government are collecting personal information about our activities, would support such spying programs as a fair trade for the added security they provide. But at the moment, they do not even have enough information to address the issues, let alone form an opinion which could be polled.

The government says that we have been saved from terrorist attacks as a result of their spying on us. But their proof is limited to two leaked examples because, they claim, all the others are classified. One is the case of Najibullah Zazi.

Zazi was an Afghan-American living in Denver, who drove to New York with the intention of creating an explosion in the New York City Subway. Interestingly for our purposes, he was one of those potential terrorists who became aware that he was under surveillance, was stopped and let go by police, abandoned his plans, and flew back to Denver, where he was arrested. He is currently awaiting sentencing. "Intelligence Official: Phone Records Tracking Helped Foil Subway Bomb Plot; Suicide Bomb Plot Was Halted After Suspect Realized He Was Being Tracked," CBS New York/AP, June 8, 2013.

Hard to argue with those results -- though that doesn't automatically lead to the conclusion that the massive spying on Americans is worth it. Especially is this so because we are not going to be told how many other cases there have been -- or whether any of them could not have been solved by other means, or a significantly more restricted spy apparatus.

So I have concerns about what we already know is going on. But those concerns pale by comparison with my most serious concerns. "Give a small boy a hammer and the whole world becomes a nail." Make massive data gathering and analysis and other spying technology available to corporations and governments, and the temptation to use it is almost irresistible.

It is a very small step -- one we know the government has already taken in the past -- from collections of "meta data" (information about our communications) to collections of the content of those communications. We also know that many governments over the years have not trusted their people, and have gone to great lengths to find out what they are up to in order to control them.

Has that already happened to us? Are we being asked by our government to trust it, when it has demonstrated by its actions that it doesn't trust us?

If it is not already obvious, permit me to make express that this should not be about "trust." Most of all, it should not be about the personality of whoever occupies the White House at a given time. Some Americans seemingly hate President Obama, everything he stands for and advocates, everything about him. Others are such solid supporters that they can see no flaws, and become defensive when confronted with anything other than praise of the President. Personally, I was pleased to see Obama elected, and wanted him to be successful. But when I think he's wrong, I've said so, in this blog and elsewhere, believing that to be engaged in his presidency by doing so shows more respect for him, and the office, than blind obeisance.

My concerns about the direction of our government are institutional, not personal. I do not believe President Obama seeks a totalitarian state, a military takeover, or a 1984-style total surveillance of the American people. But I definitely do think that we have the risk, not the inevitability, but the risk, that a future president might seek to exercise such power. Most of what prevents that happening is the basic decency of the individuals involved, for the potential power is there, and the temptations to use it are powerful.

From Zazi to Stasi. Following World War II, the eastern portion of Germany came under Soviet control. In 1950 this German Democratic Republic, known as "East Germany," created the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, MfS, or Ministry for State Security, commonly known as the Stasi. "It has been described as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies in the world." "Stasi,"

Stasi had, amongst other divisions (including prison camps for "political offenders"), an "'Administration 12' . . . responsible for the surveillance of mail and telephone conversations," and a "'Main Administration for Struggle Against Suspicious Persons' . . . charged with the surveillance of foreigners . . . legally traveling or residing within the country." Ibid.

Fortunately, nothing like this exists in our country. For starters, we don't have "ministries," we have "departments." We don't refer to the "state;" we use the word, "Homeland," similar to the German Vaterland, or Fatherland. Obviously, there's a big difference between a "Ministry for State Security" and a "Department of Homeland Security."

Nor do we have anything with a name like "Administration 12." If we were ever to have a "surveillance of mail and telephone conversations" by the government, we would use legitimate, legal American organizations like the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, among others. Very different from an "Administration 12."

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