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Regents reach consensus by e-mail
Writer of open meetings law questions practice; Gartner defends it
Des Moines Register
January 5, 2006
Portions of [Regents' e-mail] discussion on search committee
Erin Jordan, "Ombudsman Wants Details About Search"
[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, 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 Des Moines Register.]
E-mail messages between regents discussing who should serve on a new presidential search committee are legal, but they may violate the spirit of Iowa's open meetings law, said Arthur Bonfield, a U of I law professor who wrote the meetings law.
"The spirit is that this stuff is supposed to be done in public," Bonfield said Thursday. "But it would be impracticable to bar all discussions that don't invoke a quorum of board members."
E-mail messages from Dec. 11 to Dec. 18 indicate the regents reached consensus on these issues:
- A U of I dean should lead the committee that will choose finalists for the university presidency. Several e-mails mentioned David Johnsen, dean of the College of Dentistry, who was ultimately selected by the board in a public conference call Dec. 18.
- Regents should not require on-campus interviews for presidential finalists. On-campus interviews have been a tradition at Iowa's public universities, but a growing number of colleges are keeping candidate identities secret.
- The search should not be limited to academics. Regent Tom Bedell asks in a Dec. 12 e-mail whether former U.S. Rep. Jim Leach could be a candidate. "There are examples of individuals who would be spectacular even though they did not have an academic career," Bedell wrote.
Regents responded in a series of e-mails to questions posed by Regents President Michael Gartner.
"As you know, we have a phone meeting set up for next Monday at 5 p.m.," Gartner wrote in a Dec. 12 e-mail. "I assume it will be an open meeting and we will not be discussing any candidates. I am trying to get a sense of where everyone on the Board is in terms of the makeup of a Search Committee."
Gartner defended the use of e-mails as a necessary mode of communication among the nine-member board.
"The board meets eight times a year," he said Thursday. "It is ludicrous for anyone to think that there is no contact - or should be no contact - between meetings. We would be remiss in our jobs if we weren't communicating with one another regularly."
The e-mail messages also show that Jordan Cohen, dean of the university's College of Pharmacy, was considered to head the latest committee to select finalists for the U of I presidency.
According to an e-mail sent to other regents by Gartner on Dec. 17, Cohen is retiring "and thus has a great amount of time to devote to this." Gartner added, "The deans are the people entrusted with the running of the academic side of the university - as they made clear ... when we were invited to meet with them a few weeks ago - and their input is vital."
Even though the regents unanimously voted to name Johnsen to lead the new search, Bedell initially advocated postponing the search.
"I do not feel now is the time to be discussing the make up of a new search committee," he wrote in an e-mail dated Dec. 12. "There are too many agendas of personalities, intrigue and politics. The whole state is caught up in the drama. Let's let the dust settle; appoint Gary (Fethke as interim president) for another year - all of 2007."
Bedell, who is leaving the board, went on: "The committee should not limit its search (to academics). Could Jim Leach be a candidate? Would you give Bill Gates the job? I realize I am being silly, but there are examples of individuals who would be spectacular even though they did not have an academic career."
Gartner's Dec. 17 e-mail compiling the opinions of his colleagues on the board states that six regents believe the search should not be limited to academics, one regent thinks it should be and two did not answer the question.
Sheldon "Shelly" Kurtz, president of the U of I Faculty Senate, said Thursday that he was concerned about the e-mail discussion. Campus groups decried the secrecy of the first phase of the presidential search, which broke down last month without the naming of a new leader.
"If they want to discuss the process of the search committee, let them do that in public," Kurtz said of the regents.
Bonfield, the drafter of the open meetings law, said e-mail conversations may occur outside public meetings, but they are still subject to open records requests, such as one filed by the Register to obtain these messages. The regents charged the Register $90.30 for 153 pages of e-mails.
The regents have said they hope to name a new U of I president by this summer.
Members of the Iowa Board of Regents appeared to reach a consensus in e-mail discussions on several issues pertaining to a new search for a president for the University of Iowa. Here are excerpts from several of those e-mails.
Of course, as many companies are now learning, ALL email can be easily subpoenaed. Better to have everyone knowing what's going on than the sneaking around that all levels of government seem to becoming more prone to do.
We're paying these people
to do OUR business. We should EXPECT transparency. We CAN use technology
to make government more accountable.
Reader Comment Fri
Jan 05, 2007 10:22 am
Darn that new fangled email!
Next thing you know people
will stop churning their own butter!
u of i Fri Jan 05,
2007 10:06 am
how 21st century, in a society where technology is driving people further and further apart and teaching them how to get through life without ever speaking to another person face to face, this kind of sums up where we're headed.
REGENTS Fri Jan 05,
2007 9:18 am
I AM VERY DISAPPOINTED BY HOW THE REGENTS HAVE HANDLED THE INTIRE PROCESS FOR A UI PRESIDENT.
FIRST OF ALL, HOW COULD IT BE ALLOWED OVERALL THAT A NUMBER OF REGENTS ALSO HAVE STRONG RELATIONSHIPS WITH A DRIG COMPANY....THAT IS NOT A LITTLE CONFLICT OF INTEREST...BUT HUGE AND HOW CAN IT BE ALLOWED.
AS A FORMER RESIDENT OF THE STATE AND A STUDENT AT UI, I CANNOT UNDERSTAND HOW THIS IS GOING ON AND HOW STUPID THIS MAKES THE REGENTS AND THE STATE LOOK TO THE COUTRY.
SOMEBODY NEEDS TO WAKE UP RIGHT NOW!
Des Moines Register
January 5, 2007
Iowa City, Ia. - The state ombudsman has asked the Iowa Board of Regents to explain the process to be used in the selection of a new University of Iowa president based on concerns about secrecy with a previous failed search.
"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," wrote William Angrick, Iowa's citizen's aide/ombudsman, in a Dec. 29 letter to Regents President Michael Gartner.
Faculty, staff and student groups at the U of I approved resolutions of no-confidence in regents' leaders last month after the regents rejected four finalists for the presidency.
Campus groups said they did not like the secrecy involved with the search committee, which was discouraged from speaking to the public about the process. There were also concerns about whether presidential finalists would come to the campus for public interviews - long a tradition for Iowa's public universities.
Angrick asked Gartner to explain, step by step, the process the regents will use to recruit and evaluate candidates and to list opportunities the public will have to listen to the discussion. He said the process should include creation of a search committee, on-campus visits and a rationale for choosing the president, among other things.
Angrick also said he wanted to know how the regents would provide public notice of search committee meetings. "If the regents intend to close any meetings or any portions of meetings, we want to know the legal justification(s) for those decisions," he wrote.
Angrick concluded by asking for a prompt response. "As public officials, the regents are currently under scrutiny to be inclusive, responsive and accountable to the public they serve," he wrote.