Saturday, June 14, 2014

Delight Consultants: How to Increase UI's Iowans

June 14, 2014, 9:40 a.m.

And see: "What Is It With the Iowa State Board of Regents?!" Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 16, 2014, p. A7, embedded in "Iowa's Economic Foundation? Graduate Education & Research," May 5, 2014; "April 1 Update: Early Deloitte Efficiency Proposals; Early Revelations Shock UI Faculty, Staff," April 1, 2014; and "UI Says, 'Deloitted to Meet You,'" March 29, 2014, with ongoing updates.

"I know we'll accomplish this"

Having successfully rebuilt a flooded university, UI's President Sally Mason, like a spunky, inspirational football coach at halftime, is once again asking her players to dig even deeper in battling the Regents' ongoing attacks: "We've faced challenges before, and I know we'll accomplish this if we all work together." Sara Agnew, "UI Lays Out Its Plan to Boost In-State Enrollment; Will Use More Paid Advertising, Raise Social Media Presence," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 14, 2014, p. A1.

What's she talking about this time? Responding to the Regents' nonsense about funding Iowa's universities on the basis of numbers of enrolled Iowans. As they say in business, "You get what you measure," and if the Regents want to count Iowans the UI is determined to measure up.

In addition to President Mason, the UI is blessed to already have as its "Vice President for Strategic Communication" the experienced, creative, and energized Joe Brennan. As Sara Agnew reports,

Brennan said he’s confident changes will come in response to a more aggressive four-pronged approach to UI’s marketing plan.

First, UI’s news service will ramp up its efforts to reach news outlets inside and outside of Iowa to raise awareness about the university.

Second, UI will use more paid advertising, which includes a new television commercial expected in early July.

Third, UI will continue building its digital and social media presence, working to engage more people on Facebook and other channels such as Instagram.

Finally, UI will continue to reach prospective students through email, postcards and brochures.
I thought, "This is a terrific beginning, but what more might we do?" Who better to ask than the creative folks at Delight Consultants?

After being put on hold and transferred a number of times, a fellow who said his name was Happy Joe, the new accounts manager, came on the line. He gave me what they call their "Delight-ful Welcome," and asked what he could do for me. I explained our plight. Remembering that Sara Agnew had quoted Joe Brennan as saying "there is a $1 million marketing budget," I asked what we could get for $1 million.

"I'm so glad you asked me that, Nick," he said (we were immediately on a first-name basis), "and you're going to be glad, too." He continued, "You see, we have a boilerplate report we give to all the universities confronting your challenge. Usually we charge $2.5 million for this publication once we change the wording to make it look like it's just for them. But this week, and this week only, we're only charging $1 million for that four-page document -- if you don't mind that we haven't personalized it for your school."

"Sounds like a real bargain," I said, "but can you give me some idea of the suggestions it contains."

I was amazed at his willingness to answer my question and continue the conversation, as he launched into a long list of suggestions. Among them were:
"Ignore the Regents' academic admission standards. Of UNI's student admits 15% don't meet them, why should you try to?" he asked. "Don't let pride of quality education get in the way of numbers. With no admission standards you should pick up quite a few more Iowans. Sell it as more fair. Use a slogan like, 'Eliminate academic elitism. Give everyone a chance to show what they can do.'"

I told him Sara Agnew had reported that "UI admissions will pull its weight by contacting Iowa high school students much sooner, reaching out to them as early as their freshman and sophomore years." "Hey," he responded, "Don't they know that college football coaches are looking at kids in junior high and even sixth grade? Why wait so late? What you need to do is find a way to get into the hospital delivery rooms when these kids are born. Babies love a soothing voice. They'll remember you later. And it gives you a chance at the parents when they are most vulnerable, and already enrolling their kids in everything from quality preschools to colleges."

"Have you thought of redefining 'Iowan'?" "What do you mean?" I asked. "Your residence requirements are far stricter than they need to be," he barked. "The relevant legal standard is 'domicile,' not 'residence.' 'Domicile' is a measure of personal intention, not external evidence. Where do you intend to live, more or less permanently? You can make instant Iowans out of anybody, so long as they're willing to swear they intend to make Iowa their 'domicile.'"

There was a brief moment of silence. Then, "You know what you ought to do?" "No, what?" I asked. "You guys ought to get out there on Interstate 80 and block traffic. Governor Christi has written a manual for us on how to do it. We will include it if you want with our four-page manual." "That would be great," I said, "but then what?" "Don't be so dense. You sign 'em up. One form to declare Iowa as their domicile. Another to enroll in the University's free online instructional program. Your governor seems to think online instruction is really cool; he says that's why you don't need a College of Pharmacy building. So he and his Regents should support that idea. That could almost immediately double the number of Iowans you would have enrolled."

"I've got to go," Happy Joe said, "I'm backed up with calls from other schools right now. But here are another couple of quick ideas. Trying to reduce binge drinking is killing your enrollment. Try to regain your Princeton Review ranking as a party school. And for goodness sakes no more early morning Friday classes. Frankly, you really ought to only schedule classes on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Nothing like the opportunity for drunken four-day weekends to attract the young ones -- especially if you'd repeal your silly ban on smoking on campus." [Photo credit: "Top 20 Party Schools," Princeton Review, 2013, reporting the UI as nation's top party school.]

"Anything else?" I asked hopefully. "I assume you've considered Father Guido Sarducci's five-minute university. Five minutes may be a little extreme. But you could have a one-day college degree. Send Iowa City's pilots out around the state to fly them in, and then back home the same evening. Think about it. Send me the $1 million, and I'll get our four-page report right off to you. You'll see why we're called Delight Consultants." And he was gone.
I was surprised President Mason and Joe Brennan hadn't mentioned Father Guido Sarducci's approach, and that I hadn't thought of it earlier.

If you're not familiar with the bit, actor Don Novello's character Father Guido Sarducci notes that five years after they graduate, college students remember very little of what they learn. He asserts that all they remember could have been taught in five minutes, hence the "five-minute university." He illustrates with Spanish ("¿Cómo estás usted? Muy bien"), Economics ("supply and demand"), Business ("buy something and sell it for more"), and Theology ("Where is God? Everywhere. Why? Because he likes you"). You'll find the video clip at the bottom of this blog essay.

The idea of a Five-Minute University -- or at a quality school like UI the more rigorous one-day university -- opens up a number of other possibilities for tier programs for Iowa students.

As a boy, Justice Hugo Black (for whom I clerked) attended an institution called Ashland College, which "not only awarded B.A. and B.S. degrees, but also included a grammar and high school." [Hugo Black, Jr., My Father, p. 9.] The University of Iowa once contained "University Elementary and High School" (from which I graduated in 1952). If the UI were to re-establish such a school, and the Iowa Child Welfare Clinic (for two-to-four-year-olds, which I also attended), it would be perfectly reasonable to count all Iowans attending either as "University of Iowa students from Iowa" it seems to me.

There are already cooperative programs between the UI and Kirkwood Community College. What if we would simply incorporate Kirkwood into the University as an additional college. That would add a lot of Iowans to our student rolls.

Perhaps we could have separate tracks, or tiers, for those who enter the University of Iowa under the old academic standards track, and those who enter under the new no-academic-standards-whatsoever track.

The possibilities are endless. As President Mason has said, "We've faced challenges before, and I know we'll accomplish this if we all work together."

What ideas can you offer?

Father Guido Sarducci's Five Minute University, YouTube, [3:56; 1,208,584 views; “Don Novello created the Father Guido Sarducci character in 1973 after finding a monsignor's outfit for $7.50 at a St. Vincent de Paul thrift shop. Adding sunglasses, a broom mustache, cigarette and a thick Italian accent, Sarducci became popular in a San Francisco nightclub.” “Don Novello,”, Don Novello appeared during “the early 1970s on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and later in the 1975 Smothers Brothers TV show. His most prominent appearance was on Saturday Night Live in the late 1970s, during which time [Don] Novello was also a writer for the show.” “Father Guido Sarducci,”,

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Friday, June 13, 2014

DWI, DWT, DWD: Keeping Our Eyes On The Road

June 13, 2014, 8:00 a.m.

It's the Distraction, Stupid!

[Now [June 16] published as, Nicholas Johnson, "Is Texting the Problem, or Just Part of the Problem?," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 16, 2014, p. A5.]

The Press-Citizen thinks we ought to get tougher on DWT -- "Driving While Texting." Editorial, "Send Message to Lawmakers About Texting Ban," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 13, 2014, p. A9. Apparently, law enforcement in Iowa regarding this dangerous practice can only occur once a driver is stopped for something else. [Photo source: unknown.]

OK, it's hard to argue with the paper's position.

But might we benefit by thinking about this a little longer?

One of the toughest intellectual, linguistic and analytical struggles in addressing a good many challenges is figuring out what it is we are really trying to accomplish, conceptualizing the goal -- or as I used to put it to my colleagues on the school board: "How would we know if we were ever 'successful'?"

A lumber yard owner deciding whether she or he is in the "lumber business" or the "building materials business" can make the difference between profit and loss. Costco and Walmart have decidedly different ideas about how many thousands of items such stores should stock (as well as the impact on profits of paying employees a living wage!). What should be the goal, and measure, of a junior high social studies teacher: the test scores his or her students get, the test scores they get in high school social studies classes, the number who go to college and choose social studies-related majors once there -- or the number who apply what they were taught five and ten years after getting out of college, by registering to vote, actually voting in primaries, school board and city council elections, participating in political parties and campaigns, actually running for office, or becoming what Ralph Nader has called "a public citizen"?

When I was a boy, the speed limit in Iowa was, simply, "reasonable and proper." It might be a little ambiguous, but isn't that really our goal? Is it "reasonable and proper" to drive 55 mph in a 55 mph zone when the early morning fog still hangs over a very icy road? Of course not.

Similarly, is it really texting that is the problem? Isn't texting just a part of the problem -- one that no one could have anticipated 20 years ago? If we'd like to be a little more precise than "reasonable and proper," but less specific than "texting," and we'd like a word that eliminates the need to constantly revise the law as new technology comes along, how about "DWD" -- "driving while distracted"?

Isn't that the problem? Whatever your confidence about your "multi-tasking" abilities, it is impossible to compose (or read) text on a handheld device and keep your eyes on the road at the same time. But your driving suffers the same impairment regardless of the cause of the distraction: driving while shaving or putting on makeup, reading the paper, changing stations on the radio, turning around to watch kids in the back seat, looking on the floor of the car for the quarter or toll road ticket you dropped, figuring out your location on your GPS device, even concentrating on a serious hands-free phone conversation -- or an intense conversation with a passenger in the car.

Shouldn't this be our legislative, and editorial, focus -- DWD, "driving while distracted," what many claim is as hazardous as DWI.

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Net Neutrality: Social Change Via Satire and Ridicule

June 3, 2014, 11:00 a.m.

NOTE: Hopefully, after watching this John Oliver bit you, too, will want to file a comment with the FCC regarding its Net Neutrality Proceeding. (My comment is at the bottom of this blog essay.) Although it's easy to do, here are the easy 1-2-3 steps:

1. Prepare in advance the text of the comment you would like to file -- a sentence, or brief paragraph or two (to avoid the frustration of having something go wrong when entering it in the box to be provided, and having to start all over again).

2. If you have difficulty reaching the FCC form for filing comments, try the usual: use a different browser; check your settings for cookies and pop-ups. To reach the form you have two possible paths. (a) One is to go to On that page you'll see a list of FCC proceedings, click on "14-28" ("Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet"). If you don't see the list of proceedings there (as I did not when I first tried), try (b) going directly to the FCC's "Electronic Comment Filing System" (ECFS) at: The "Proceeding List" (that is, list of FCC proceedings) is at the top of that page. The proceeding you want ("Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet") is now the proceeding at the top of that list. Click on the link provided for its number: "14-28."

3. Either 2(a) or 2(b) will take you to the "ECFS Express Upload Form,"

(a) The "Proceeding Number" blank is filled in for you already, "14-28." (b) Enter your name in the "Name of Filer" blank. (c) Enter your Email Address in its blank. (d) In the "Address" section, below, fill in your address, city, state, and zip (e) Block, copy and paste your prepared comment into the box provided (or just keystroke it if you didn't prepare one earlier) (f) When you're done, below that box click on "Continue." (g) This will take you to a page where you can either "Modify" or "Confirm" what you have just entered. If you are satisfied with what you see, click on "Confirm," and your comment will be sent -- and provide you notice that it has been accepted. (Note that this page also provides you with a link to where you can "check on the status of your filing.") You are now free to resume whatever you just interrupted in your life or work.

John Oliver Savages Federal Communications Commission

There are many alternative strategies for bringing about social change, reform, cultural change, or other improvements in the lives of ordinary people.

There is the academic approach: empirical research, data gathering, and the subsequent scholarly articles.

[Scroll down to view video from which this photo of John Oliver was taken.]

There are the popular books, think tank reports, congressional hearings and reports.

There is the use of legal and political process in the form of strategic litigation, or the lobbying of legislative bodies.

There are the philosophical or religious appeals to our better angels, what is required of us morally and ethically.

There is violence -- sometimes, as with our abolition of slavery, including actual war.

And then, there is satire and ridicule. For example, the movie "Network" addressed in roughly two hours what I spent seven years writing about in the form of dissents to FCC opinions.

There are also questions regarding the effectiveness of each of these alternative strategies. The major question regarding reform via satire is the extent to which it is taken seriously, let alone produces action. Is it as quickly forgotten as it initially brought on the joy of laughter? How many of the jokes you heard in someone's stand-up routine one evening can you remember the next morning?

John Oliver seems to have come up with an answer to that question -- or may have. We'll have to await reports of how many comments his appeal produced at the FCC.

Here is what I consider one of the most brilliant examples of satire in the cause of education and advocacy to action I can recall ever seeing.

[Excerpt credit: John Oliver last appeared on Comedy Central's Daily Show with Jon Stewart last December 2013, after seven years with the show. Since April 27 he has been hosting his own weekly show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO, Sunday nights at 11:00 ET. The excerpt from his June 1 show has appeared a number of places on the Internet; this one is from YouTube, See, Joan E. Solsman, "John Oliver's Net neutrality response swamps FCC,", June 3, 2014.]

Curious as to what comment I submitted to the FCC? Here it is:

The Internet is as much of a common carrier, a public utility, as the postal system and early AT&T, can serve similar functions in binding our nation together and encouraging communication, with low prices for users, equal access, pricing, and speeds of transmission for all. Without this structure and approach, the FCC -- however dedicated and committed -- will be unable to even know about, let alone prevent, the hundreds or thousands of abuses that will inevitably arise.
-- Nicholas Johnson, former Commissioner, FCC, 1966-73

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