Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site www.nicholasjohnson.org

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Iowa Rain Forest ("Earthpark") Web Site

Return to Nicholas Johnson's Blog, FromDC2Iowa
 
 

Ombudsman requests details of UI search

Brian Morelli

Iowa City Press-Citizen

January 5, 2006

Text of Ombudsman's Letter to Gartner

[Timeline of] UI Presidential Search [as of January 5, 2006]
 

[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.]



The Iowa state ombudsman directed the Iowa state Board of Regents to promptly detail the initial University of Iowa presidential search process and explain how the second search will be open.

"My office is asking you to explain, step by step, the process that the regents plan to use in the recruitment and evaluation of the candidates and in the eventual hiring of a new president. We also want to know what opportunities the public will have during this process to listen to regents' discussion and to offer comments," Citizens' Aide/Ombudsman William Angrick wrote in a letter.

Addressed to Regents President Michael Gartner, the two-page letter dated Dec. 29 was copied to all nine regents and regents executive director Gary Steinke.

Angrick cited Iowa Code section 2C.11 as the reason for the request. He stated, his office "may review administrative actions that may be contrary to law, rule or policy, or unreasonable or unfair, or unaccompanied by and adequate statement of reason."

Angrick continued, "based on the recent observations of students and faculty, the media, the public and some Regents, our office has an interest in ensuring that the new search in accordance with the requirements and intent of Iowa's open meeting law."

Gartner of Des Moines did not return telephone messages left at his home or office Thursday.

Steinke said he would turn the letter over to the state attorney general, but he did not think the ombudsman had authority over the regents.

"The Citizens' Aide/ Ombudsman has absolutely no authority under the law to be involved in the presidential search," Steinke said. "It's more than a request. It is almost a demand that the search is going to go a certain way."

The ombudsman is appointed by the legislative council to hear grievances, and can conduct investigations, make recommendations and file reports, according to Iowa Code.

Iowa City Regent Bob Downer said the letter should be considered.

"There were some parts of it with which I agreed. Other parts I am not sure are mandated by applicable law, but I certainly think he articulated reasonable points," Downer said. "It is something we should consider as we move forward with the search; something the legal staff in the board office should review."

Regents have come under fire for their handling of the initial search to replace David Skorton, who was named Cornell University president on July 1. After a seven-month, $215,000 search, regents rejected four finalists and disbanded the search committee Nov. 17. At Gov. Tom Vilsack's urging, regents found support for one of the finalists, but that unnamed person declined.

College of Dentistry Dean David Johnsen was selected to lead the new search Dec. 18, though a committee has not been named.

Campus groups' fury erupted at several points during the search, and in December eight governing bodies overwhelmingly passed or endorsed no-confidence votes in regent leaders Gartner and President Pro Tem Teresa Wahlert of Waukee, who lead the initial search.

During the initial search, regents were beleaguered with accusations of secrecy. They conducted a weeklong rolling meeting between Nov. 9 and Nov. 17, in which they met at least four times without public notice. Regents have said they did so on the advice of their legal counsel.

The Press-Citizen filed a lawsuit Dec. 21 that argues those meetings violated Iowa Open Meeting Laws.


Text of ombudsman's letter to Gartner

December 29, 2006

Michael Gartner, President
Iowa Board of Regents
100 Market Street #515
Des Moines, IA 50309

Dear President Gartner:

As the Board of Regents begins its new search for a president of the University of Iowa, the Office of the Iowa Citizens' Aide/Ombudsman (Ombudsman) has an interest in understanding precisely how the process will proceed.

Under Iowa Code section 2C.11 the Ombudsman may review administrative actions that may be contrary to law, rule, or policy, or unreasonable or unfair, or unaccompanied by an adequate statement of reasons. The Ombudsman "may also be concerned with strengthening procedures and practices which lessen the risk that objectionable administrative actions will occur."

Based on the recent observations of students and faculty, the media, the public, and some Regents, our office has an interest in ensuring that the new search is done in accordance with the requirements and intent of Iowa's open meetings law (Iowa Code chapter 21). Section 21.1 states the requirements of the law are to assure "the basis and rationale of governmental decisions, as well as those decisions themselves, are easily accessible to the people" and that any ambiguity "should be resolved in favor of openness."

In addition, given the significant impact and public interest in the selection of the university president, our office is interested in seeing that the process be kept as open as possible so that all Iowans may have the opportunity to observe and participate in the process. Maintaining transparency in the selection process fosters confidence and effectiveness in the Regents' work.

In that spirit, my office is asking you to explain, step by step, the process that the Regents plan to use in the recruitment and evaluation of the candidates and in the eventual hiring of a new president. We also want to know what opportunities the public will have during this process to listen to Regents' discussions and to offer comments as may be customary and appropriate in such important decisions.

At a minimum, that process would conceivably include:

*the creation of a search committee
*the recruitment of candidates
*the assembling of criteria used to assess the candidates
*the interviewing of candidates
*committee discussion and debate on the candidates
*the short-listing of the original pool of candidates
*the on-campus visits of finalists
*discussion and deliberation on the finalists
*the rationale for the choosing of a president

We also want to know how the Regents intend to provide public notice of meetings related to the search process, whether they take place in person or telephonically. If the Regents intend to close any meetings or any portions of meetings, we want to know the legal justification(s) for those decisions. In particular, if the Regents anticipate holding any closed sessions under session 21.5(1)(i), please inform us of the process by which the Regents will 1) ascertain if an individual requests a closed session, and 2) determine the closed session is necessary to prevent "needless and irreparable injury to that individual's reputation."

Similarly, we want to know how the Regents intend to maintain records of their research and discourse on the presidential search. If the Regents choose to hold any of these records confidential during or after the search process, we want to know the legal justification(s) for those decisions.

As public officials, the Regents are currently under scrutiny to be inclusive, responsive and accountable to the public they serve. I hope you give serious consideration to the concerns and interests that have been raised as the process is developed and implemented.

We look forward to your prompt assistance and response.

Sincerely,
 

William P. Angrick II

WPA/BD/kfh


UI presidential search

Jan. 21, 2006: David Skorton is introduced in Ithaca, N.Y., as the next Cornell University president.
May 4: Regents approve an 18-person Presidential Search and Screening Committee and, in a controversial move, include four regents on the committee, including chairperson Regent President Pro Tem Teresa Wahlert, raising the ire of the campus.
Nov. 9 to Nov. 17: After ending an Ames board meeting in closed session, regents convene at least four times without public notice.
Nov. 10 to 11: Seven candidates are interviewed in Des Moines. All regents and members of the search and advisory committees are present.
Nov. 14: The search committee forwards the names of four candidates to the regents.
Nov. 15: Regents decide in a telephone meeting that they will reject the finalists.
Nov. 17: Regents vote 6-2 to reject the four finalists and dismiss the search committee. Regent President Michael Gartner of Des Moines says the candidates lacked experience in health sciences. The move angers the UI campus, some of whom say it was sparked by Gartner's preference for a candidate that was not a finalist.
Dec. 6: After Gov. Tom Vilsack's urging to reconsider the finalists, regents find support for one but that person declines.
Dec. 11 to 13: Five campus groups including the Faculty Senate, Staff Council and Student Government overwhelmingly pass no-confidence votes in the regents.
Dec. 18: Regents name College of Dentistry Dean David Johnsen to lead the new search.
Dec. 21: Press-Citizen sues the regents for violating open meeting laws.
Dec. 29: Citizens' Aide/Ombuds-man directs regents to outline initial search process and new search process to ensure openness.