Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hiring Candid, Courageous University Presidents


"Business Background: Enough for University President?" September 2, 2015-present (updated) [this is the blog post that contains the repository of documents, news stories, and opinion pieces regarding the Board of Regents' presidential selection process and early selection of Bruce Harreld]

Nicholas Johnson, "Seven Steps for Transitioning University," The Gazette (online), September 27, 2015 (with links to 7 other related Gazette Writers Circle opinion pieces); hard copy: Nicholas Johnson, "Better Ways to Pick a UI President," The Gazette, September 27, 2015, p. C5

"UI's President Could Have Been Chris Christie," October 3, 2015

August 29, 2015

An Exchange with UI Presidential Finalist, Oberlin President Marvin Krislov

Links to Sections

Governance Model
Candor and Courage
President Krislov Exchange
Access Denied (but with video of exchange)
Regents' Disturbing Process
Regents' Search Fiasco of 2006-2007
Jeff Charis-Carlson's Report
Vanessa Miller's Report


Governance of major, public, research universities with associated hospitals, football and other athletic programs is somewhat bizarre in its complexity.

A central issue is how the governing board members of such an institution, and its president, consider and construct their relationship. Can the board, or even individual members of the board, tell the president what to do? If and when they give the president an order, is it their expectation that when they look back on the matter they will discover that, like Iran-Contra-arms-for-hostages Lieutenant Colonel Ollie North, the president will have "saluted smartly and carried it out"? Or, when compromise seems impossible, will the president stand up for what is perceived to be the best interests of the institution, rather than the contrary wishes of board members?

Few individuals coming on a board for the first time -- whether corporate for-profit, non-profit, public (city council; school board) -- have previously given much thought to governance. If they have given any thought at all to their role, it is more likely to involve the substance of the organization's challenges and opportunities.

But chaos or worse will result if no attention is given to "job one," clearly articulating the governance model, the process of decisionmaking: how and by whom decisions are made (i.e., the role of chief executive and board; defining what's delegated to the executive as "administrative"); how board members will relate to each other; the limitations on individual board members' authority (i.e., do members only speak and act as a board, rather than as individuals, albeit with public dissenting opinions?).

See collection of materials at, Nicholas Johnson, "Board Governance: Theory and Practice," where can be found, among other things, the writings of John Carver. As Carver has famously observed, most advice regarding board governance simply enables boards to do the wrong things better.

Candor and Courage. Of course, one of the most serious shackles on executives' candor and courage is fear of losing one's job. For middle level executives and supervisors this merely prevents the institution from enjoying the benefits of the suggestions from some of its best informed, loyal employees.

But when it restrains a university president, eager to please the board (in Iowa, the Iowa Board of Regents), it can be disastrous. It's contrary to the most effective board-administrator governance practices, severely weakens the president's ability to relate to stakeholder groups, enables the possibility of cronyism, and creates high risk of decisions improvidently arrived at.

For that reason, one of my preferences regarding university presidents is that their lifestyle and self-esteem not be tied to their income. (a) Maybe they have few major expenses, have trained themselves to live on relatively little, and are confident "enough" will always be available. (b) Maybe they have the confidence that they are in sufficient demand that there always will be other jobs out there providing very generous pay. (c) Maybe they are close enough to retiring that being fired a few years early would almost be welcome, should it happen. (d) Maybe they are otherwise independently wealthy. (e) Or possibly they even hold a perspective analogous to what then-Senator Joe Biden once shared with me: "Nick, there are some things worth losing an election for" -- in the context of a university president, "there are some things worth being fired for."

President Krislov Exchange. These were some of the thoughts going through my mind when I had an exchange with the first of the University of Iowa's four finalists, Oberlin President Marvin Krislov, during his public forum (a candidate, not incidentally, whom I liked and thought did well with his presentation).

Here is where you can watch the video of our four-minute exchange on August 27, 2015, in the Iowa Memorial Union. It starts about 45 minutes into the full video and runs from minute 46:47 to 51:07.

Access Denied. That is to say, you could have watched it if those responsible for the professions of "transparency" regarding the candidates' public forums -- which until today (August 29) included individual, publicly accessible Web pages for each candidate, complete with videos -- had not silently and secretly somehow denied public access to them sometime between Friday and Saturday (today, August 29, 2014).

Fortunately, I was able to find a clip from the public forum on YouTube, and you can watch it here:

But here is what you were told on Saturday, August 29, when you went to the Web page for Marvin Krislov ("candidate A"), formerly available at this site, "" -- "Access denied/You are not authorized to access this page." The warm welcome on the Web page for Tulane Provost Michael Bernstein today was identical. So much for transparency:

This is only the latest in a number of very disturbing features of this Regents' process for UI presidential selection: (a) the "search committee" (which included faculty and others, as distinguished from the expensive "search firm") was dismissed before the first finalist arrived on campus. (b) The entire on-campus presence of the four finalists is to be a mere four days (with an intervening weekend). (c) Public revelation of candidates' names is deliberately being withheld until the last minute. For example, the campus and public will not know who will be here on Monday, August 31, until Sunday night (which as a practical matter, for many people, means Monday morning). (d) As a result, there will be somewhere between little and no time for those with other obligations to search Google and other sources, call persons at the candidates' institutions or others known to have worked with them, read candidates' scholarship, or otherwise meaningfully inform themselves. (e) To the extent the faculty or members of the public do have information or opinion to share, as I understand it, comments are to be filtered through to the Regents by way of the search firm which, of course, has a conflict of interest insofar as revelations of a candidate's negatives that the firm failed to uncover, or did uncover but failed to pass on, tarnishes its professional reputation.

Regents' Search Fiasco of 2006-2007. For comparison, an even more disastrous process of UI presidential search occurred in 2006-07, and was chronicled here in a series of blog essays that the Chronicle of Higher Education characterized as "one of the most comprehensive analyses of the controversy." It began with "UI President Search I," November 18, 2006, the first series, that continued on through "UI President Search XVIII - Dec. 26-31," December 26, 2016. During 2007, the series was titled, "UI Held Hostage," beginning with "Day 54": "UI President Search - UI Held Hostage: Day 54," January 9, 2007 (for an explanation of where "UI Held Hostage" came from, see "UI President Search - Jan. 1-7, 2007," January 1, 2007). That series ended with "UI Held Hostage Day 505," June 10, 2007 and "More UI Prez Links," June 24, 2007. Each of those hundreds of blog essays, often lengthy, can be found by going to the "Blog Archive" in the right hand column of any of the blog essays (including the one you're now reading) and clicking on individual years, and then months.

Jeff Charis-Carlson's Report. Meanwhile, here is how the exchange was reported by Jeff Charis-Carlson for the Des Moines Register and Iowa City Press-Citizen, and by Vanessa Miller for The Gazette, with the relevant excerpts from their stories. The links will take you to their full reports.

One of the more lively exchanges came when Nicholas Johnson, a professor of law, provided a multiple-choice question on what Krislov would do if the Iowa Board of Regents demanded he take an action that he felt was completely counter to the interests of the institution.

Would he, Johnson asked, a) simply do it; b) explain why it was a wrong decision, but do it anyway; c) refuse to do it; or d) refuse to do it and be ready to offer a resignation if necessary?

“I’m a firm believer in finding common ground in understanding what people want and why they want it and posing alternative and options,” Krislov said. “There are times when one may come to an impasse, and then there are ethical and moral questions to be determined. I will tell you that it is not worth it to me to have any job in the United States of America if I have to sacrifice my ethical and moral principles, I will not do that. … But I don’t believe we will need to get to that point.”

Johnson said afterward that he appreciated the conviction behind Krislov’s answer, but given that such conflicts are inevitable between the university and its governing board, Johnson said he didn’t think Krislov actually answered the question.
Jeff Charis-Carlson, "Choosing the Next UI President: Krislov Stresses Humility, Morals; After Oberlin and Michigan, He Says Past Provides Insight," Iowa City Press-Citizen, August 28, 2015, p. A1. (The Des Moines Register carried Carlson's story the same day.)

Vanessa Miller's Report.
Krislov took question after question, including some referencing campus controversies involving sexual assaults, diversity and the regents.

Law professor Nicholas Johnson asked a “hypothetical” question that seemed to refer to the regents’ controversial proposal to implement a performance-based funding model that could have pulled tens of millions of dollars from the UI had it been approved.

Former UI President Sally Mason, now retired, signed a letter supporting it, drawing the ire of some faculty members. Johnson asked Krislov how he would react if “asked by the Board of Regents to take a position on some policy or to sign off on some document or fire someone” against his best judgment and beliefs.

“You have a reputation for being a great compromiser, but sometimes you can’t compromise,” Johnson said. “Some things are worth losing an election for -- a job for.”

Krislov espoused his belief in finding common ground by trying to “understand why people want what they want.”

“I will tell you that it’s not worth it to me to have any job in America that requires me to sacrifice my morals and values,” he said to applause. “But I do not think it would need to get to that point.”
Vanessa Miller, "Higher Education: 'I Would Like to be Part of Your Team,' Finalist Says; Candidate for President of UI Tours Campus, Takes Public's Questions," The Gazette, August 28, 2015, p. A2.

# # #

Local, Non-Profit Radio's Future

August 29, 2015, 7:50 a.m.

KHOI-FM Turns Three Years Old

Locally-focused, non-profit (or "community"), sometimes low-power (KHOI-FM is not low power), radio stations have been a part of America's broadcasting history from the industry's beginnings to the present day.

One such station in Iowa -- Ames' KHOI-FM -- upon realizing it had been broadcasting for three years, decided to thrown a birthday party celebration at which a former FCC commissioner might speak. (Photos of KHOI-FM's studio facilities and equipment, taken by KICI-FM's Craig Jarvie, are available here.)

In today's [August 29] Des Moines Register the paper's Arts Reporter, Michael Morain, has told the story of the station's beginnings so brilliantly that I have embedded it below. In it he identifies Iowa's other stations like KHOI: KPVL 89.1 in Decorah, KSOI 91.9 in Murray, KFMG 99.1 in Des Moines, KRUU 100.1 in Fairfield and KICI 105.3 in Iowa City. KICI is not yet on the air, but representatives came from Iowa City to Ames for the occasion.

Not having had access to his story and notes, I chose as the subject and title for my talk that day, "The Origins and Future of Radio." Where does KHOI fit in the history of local radio? Who were its ancestors, its friends, the economic forces and individuals that might have eliminated it?

Following the talk on Sunday, August 23, the following paragraph was posted on my Web site's home page:
KHOI-FM Birthday Party. Nicholas Johnson most recently spoke on Sunday, August 23, 2015, on the occasion of the third anniversary of Ames, Iowa, local, non-profit, radio station KHOI-FM. The speech was broadcast on KHOI-FM August 27, 2015, at noon as part of “KHOI Previews the Arts and Heart of Iowa,” and the audio is available here — following introductory remarks by KHOI-FM’s Ursula Ruedenberg and ACLU of Iowa’s Veronica Fowler (00:00-12:10), the speech runs from 12:10-52:45, followed by Q&A to 57:10. Although video and transcript are not yet available, a 21-page, 73-footnoted paper prepared for the occasion, from which material was drawn for his remarks, is available at this link: "The Origins and Future of Radio." The following day, KHOI-FM “Local Talk” co-hosts Gale Seiler and Ursula Ruedenberg told about the KHOI Birthday Celebration that took place on Sunday and played excerpts from the talk given by Nicholas Johnson. Click here for a link to that program.
So if you are curious and want more, there are your links to the audio of the 40-minute talk, and to the 21-page document that represents some of the research that went into the preparation of brief speech notes. [Photo credit: KHOI-FM; speaking from front of United Methodist Church, August 23, 2015.]

There will probably never be a transcript of that audio -- nor need there be. The paper, "The Origins and Future of Radio," should more than satisfy anyone who would have wanted a transcript.

But here are transcripts of some selected portions of the audio that will provide at least some sense of the content of the talk.
"This is an incredible accomplishment! I'm not sure if those of you here, and affiliated with this station, and fans of it, are aware of that fact. I read in Forbes recently that something like 80 percent of all the businesses that start up -- profit, non-profit, whatever -- 80 percent have gone belly up after 18 months. You have been around for three years. You are in the top 20 percent of American enterprise. I think that is an extraordinary accomplishment in just three years. Give yourselves a hand for that."

# # #

"What we're doing with these low power stations is a major building block in trying to build the social capital that supports a civic society. That's really what this is about."

# # #

"Locally focused radio has been a consistent purpose and presence in America's broadcasting from its very beginning until today, and has never been more needed than it is now."

# # #

"Nothing has ever come along as good as radio [for communicating over distance without wires] -- this invisible electromagnetic energy that is capable of carrying whatever information we can embed in it and send along with it at 186,000 miles a second."

# # #

"At that time [1927] what we had as radio is very similar to what you are doing with your station. These were relatively low power stations, in relatively small towns -- much smaller than Ames is now -- that were of necessity putting out local programming because there wasn't anything else. But they were also mindful of the purpose that served and why that was desirable. Those are some of your station's ancestors -- those early 8,500 amateur radio stations, those 700-plus broadcasting stations putting out programming and music and speech."

# # #

"But even though the miracle of radio was barely understood in 1926, there was an awareness of the risk of monopoly power and ownership. And one member of the House, from Texas, Luther Johnson -- no relative of mine or of Lyndon's -- said,
"American thought and American politics will be largely at the mercy of those who operate these stations. For publicity is the most powerful weapon that can be wielded in a Republic, and when such a weapon is placed in the hands of one, or a single selfish group is permitted to either tacitly or otherwise acquire ownership and dominate these broadcasting stations throughout the country, then woe be to those who dare to differ with them."
Woe be to those who dare to differ with them. How prescient can you be? He concludes,
"It will be impossible to compete with them in reaching the ears of the American people."
# # #

"There was equal concern about the coming of advertising. At the time of the Radio Conferences that Herbert Hoover called in the 1920s -- 1922, '23, '24, '25 -- he said, 'It is inconceivable that we should allow so great a possibility for service to be drowned in advertising chatter.' Can you imagine that today?"

# # #

"Another sort of example of your ancestors is [that what] the FCC was asking for in the 'Blue Book' [Responsibility etc 1946?] was similar to what radio was in 1915 to 1920."

# # #

"[I]t has reached the point where John Oliver -– a standup comedian -– now seems to be America’s most reliable source of the data and analysis necessary for American citizens to address their most serious public policy challenges.

Regional and statewide news coverage has suffered from many of the same pressures [as national news has from Wall Street insistence on profit maximization].

Which brings us full circle round to the role you and other non-profit local radio stations play in today’s media environment. It is, as it turns out, very similar to where radio broadcasting began 100 years ago, and where the FCC’s Blue Book told broadcasters they ought to be 70 years ago.

There is a there there. And you are there. The state of radio is good -– both as a technology and as a local civic service, an endeavor that comes as close as any can to the potential for rebuilding the sense of community we so desperately need in these times.

Thank you for the invitation, happy birthday, and now let’s party on!"

Ames Community Radio Beats the Odds

Michael Morain

Des Moines Register, August 29, 2015

[Information regarding subscribing to the Des Moines Register and following Michael Morain's reporting, can be found here.]

Three years ago a group of upstanding citizens of Ames — well-educated, highly functioning grown-ups — huddled under a tent made of blankets inside an old dry-cleaning shop just off Main Street. The quilt hut, as they called it, looked like the sort of makeshift fort their kids could have made from couch cushions back home in the living room. But its sound-muffling magic did the trick: It was the first studio of the fledgling community radio station KHOI-FM 89.1.

“It was like something out of ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’” station host Carole Horowitz said. “There were just two microphones, two chairs and a table.”

Now, as the station celebrates its third anniversary, it does so from the relative luxury of a real studio suite with fancy gear and foam-padded walls. It’s the buzzing, bustling hub for a totally homegrown operation — the sort of station that has flourished in other states but is still rare here in Iowa.

“In a lot of places” — especially Colorado and California — “the older community radio stations are a substantial cultural force,” said station manager Ursula Ruedenberg, one of two paid staffers among an army of KHOI volunteers. “The stations set the tone and really lead the conversation for the whole town.”

KHOI isn’t there yet. It’s still “a diamond in the rough,” Ruedenberg said, but it has already outlasted the odds.

In a keynote talk during last weekend’s anniversary festivities, University of Iowa cyberlaw expert and former Federal Communications Commissioner Nicholas Johnson pointed out that eight out of 10 entrepreneurial projects fail within 18 months.

“That’s why even mere survival for three years is worth a birthday party,” he said. “It’s truly a remarkable accomplishment.”

The station’s story, in fact, started much earlier than 2012.

Following a freeze on new FM station licenses for several years, the FCC announced that it would accept new applications for a single week in October 2007. The decision prompted a frenzied scramble for the remaining frequencies, especially on the lower end of the dial already crowded with religious groups and nonprofits.

Ruedenberg, an Ames native, works for Pacifica Radio Network and was living in New York at the time of the FCC’s big news. She studied a map of open frequencies — about 3,000 nationwide — and spotted a few up for grabs in her hometown.

She wondered: Would it be possible to start a community radio station in Ames? The short answer was “yes.” She recruited a few key players to submit a successful application for the license to 89.1, anchored at a tower in Story City.

But the long answer was more complicated. The FCC required the new station to start broadcasting within three years, a deadline that arrived more quickly than anyone had predicted. The team had to find a space (in the old Pantorium dry cleaners) and connect it to a tower (through a circuitous route west and then north to Story City) and then recruit a bunch of on- and off-air volunteers.

“We argued for a year and half (about the studio floor plans), but it worked out,” Ruedenberg said. “Everybody kept the mission in sight.”

When the signal was finally active, the sounds of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” clattered over the airwaves, an ironic nod to the out-of-state religious station that had been using the frequency, through a translator, for the past few years.

“We couldn’t resist,” Ruedenberg said.

But after that first giddy moment, she and studio engineer Rick Morrison looked at each other and thought, Well, now what? Now that they had all this airtime, how should they fill it?

“It was all very abstract,” she recalled. “It hadn’t registered yet. It was just unheard of in this community that people could get together and have a real radio station.”

At the time, Ames’ popular WOI radio station was joining the statewide Iowa Public Radio network, so folks around town were looking for a new place to hear local voices and local news. WOI’s longtime jazz and classical music host Hollis Monroe signed on to the new station, as did dozens of others with less experience. One of the engineers is a senior in high school. His mom stopped by the studio earlier this week to make sure he made it to class.

The program schedule, like the old quilt hut, is a patchwork of creative ingenuity. It’s about half talk and half music, with a smattering of quirky surprises. “Blue Collar Philosopher” Lance Sumpter has two hours every Friday night. “Planetary Radio” explores questions about outer space during a half-hour slot on Saturday morning.

Morrison spins electronic and new-wave music in the hours after midnight. “We get feedback from insomniacs that he’s very comforting,” Ruedenberg said.

There are still a few slots to fill, but nothing is set in stone — or even permanent marker, judging from the whiteboard schedule by the coffee machine.

“That’s the most important thing: It belongs to us. It’s our community radio station,” said Horowitz, who co-hosts a showtunes program on Tuesday mornings. “It’s easy: Just come in the door. Bring in an idea and you’ll go on the air.”

The station’s board of directors is still figuring out a long-term funding plan, especially now that most federal grants have dried up. This year’s projected budget is $140,000, funded almost entirely by private donors and a few local businesses.

But the board hopes that fundraising will be easier now that the station is up and running.

“We’re a service to the community as much as a public park or a public library,” Monroe said.

He was shopping at the Fareway meat counter the other day when one someone recognized his voice. The butcher had been channel-surfing when he stumbled on 89.1 and was happy to hear Monroe spinning music again.

“Thank you so much,” Monroe replied. “Is there something you’d like to hear?”

Community radio in Iowa

Compared with other states, Iowa has relatively few community radio stations, which are nonprofit organizations run mostly by local volunteers (as opposed to the pros at Iowa Public Radio). But the FM dial has a few here and there, including KPVL 89.1 in Decorah, KSOI 91.9 in Murray, KFMG 99.1 in Des Moines, KRUU 100.1 in Fairfield and KICI 105.3 in Iowa City.

# # #

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Recognizing and Reducing Racism

August 9, 2015, 8:30 a.m.

Note: This column was written as a part of one of the Gazette Writers Circle projects; in this case, the concept of "privilege." As the editor explains in the online and hard copy sections containing the columns,
When people talk about “privilege,” they are referring to rights, immunities or benefits enjoyed by some demographic groups over others. Members of The Gazette Writers Circle met last month in Iowa City to discuss the idea. Some of the questions we considered were: Is this something we see in Iowa City? Is it something we notice in our own relationships with others? If so, what, if anything can or should be done to counteract this tendency?
Given both the necessity of a narrow focus for such a broad subject, and the importance and tragedy of racism (primarily but not exclusively involving African-Americans) that is the subject of the following essay.

Six Writers Circle writers chose to write on this subject. All of the columns (including mine) can be found in The Gazette's online edition here. They also appear in the "Insight & Books" section of the hard copy edition for Sunday, August 9, 2015, pp. C2-C3.

Given the number of writers, and the length of the submissions, the Gazette's editor was required to make some cuts. Text below [in brackets] was submitted to The Gazette, but omitted from its hard copy and online editions. -- Nicholas Johnson

Recognizing and Reducing Racism

Nicholas Johnson

The Gazette, Gazette Writers Circle, August 9, 2015, p. C2

I am about as familiar as an Iowa white boy can be with the evil consequences of racism, as a result of spending most of the 1950s in Texas and throughout the South. There were still the poll tax designed to keep blacks from voting, black and white water fountains and restrooms, "No Colored" signs in restaurant and store windows, and the need for a lawsuit to open a law school to blacks. Crosses were burned in the yards of the U.S. Court of Appeals judges with whom I worked in their efforts to right these wrongs.

Such experiences helped shaped my reaction as an F.C.C. commissioner upon discovering that the broadcasting industry the Commission was supposed to regulate "in the public interest" was one of, if not the, country's most racist and sexist. I pushed for, and the Commission achieved, increased employment of African Americans and women in front of the cameras, in broadcast management, and ownership.

But there is no comparison between being a compassionate observer and being an unwilling target in such a world.

Make no mistake. The offensive Confederate flags may be coming down, but racism is still with us[, [south, north, east and west. Today’s black lives are more likely threatened by a bullet from a gun than a rope from a tree, but their churches are still burned by a match from an arsonist.]

The Southern Poverty Law Center's annual measure of hate groups in the U.S. indicates that while their number ranged from 131 to 149 during 2001 to 2008, during President Obama's presidency, from 2010 through 2014, the number ranged from 824 to 1360.

For those blacks able to avoid death, more common are the daily reminders of the painful ways in which they may have been negatively judged solely because of the color of their skin.

In a study, thousands of resumes were mailed to employers, identical except for the applicants’ names. Black-sounding names were 50% less likely to be called back.

Black people are charged prices roughly $700 higher than white people when buying the same cars.

Multiple studies show black drivers are twice as likely to get pulled over for the same driving behavior.

Realtors will show black clients 18% fewer of the available homes than they show whites.

Although blacks and whites are roughly equal marijuana users, black people are four times more likely to be arrested.

Black people are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white people.

In another study, doctors did not inform black patients as often as white ones about an important heart procedure.

White legislators –- from both major parties -- did not respond as frequently to constituents with black sounding names as whites.

So what is meant by “white privilege”? It’s what stand-up comic Louis C.K. is talking about when he says, “I've got a lot going for me: I'm healthy, I'm relatively young, I'm white. That is a huge leg up. Are you kidding me? I love being white. Let me be clear, by the way. I'm not saying that white people are better. I'm saying that being white is clearly better. Who could even argue?”

Harvard professor Mahzarin Banaji reports that even young black children absorb the social construct that white skin is prestigious and black skin isn’t.

But to truly understand the consequences of the systemic racism in the lives of our African American friends and neighbors, we must do more than merely acknowledge its existence. We probably need to feel it emotionally before we will act.

[Here are some videos that may help: two TED talks, each watched over one million times, plus a powerful poet’s presentation.

Start with James A. White’s experience trying to find housing:

Then watch and listen to the passion of poet Crystal Valentine’s “On Evaluating ‘Black Privilege’" --

Follow that with what diversity advocate Vernā Myers urges will make things better:

And then do your own search for the numerous additional videos on the Internet -– and the opportunity to know and enjoy the people and benefits of living in communities with rich racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity.]
Nicholas Johnson is a native born Iowan in Iowa City, who maintains and Contact: