More secrecy unwise in universities’ hiring decisions

Randy Evans is executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. He can be reached at IowaFOICouncil@gmail.com.

Iowa’s three state universities made a U-turn this summer, and they now are headed down the road toward secrecy with some hiring decisions.

The about-face should trouble taxpayers of this state. It also should bother state lawmakers, who have expressed concern in recent years that the universities are out of touch with the people of Iowa.

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State universities hiding insider hires from public

In a reversal of longstanding practice, Iowa’s three state universities now refuse to reveal names of employees hired without open job searches, Vanessa Miller reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette on August 20.

The University of Iowa informed Miller in July that its Office of General Counsel, in consultation with the Iowa Board of Regents staff, “has determined that search waiver records are confidential personnel records […].” Staff for Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa subsequently declined to provide records related to employees hired without following the normal guidelines for public searches (such as advertising the position, forming a search committee, and interviewing candidates).

For years, Miller has periodically requested and received documents showing who was hired at each state university without a formal job search.

The about-face happened soon after former University of Iowa President’s Bruce Harreld’s departure, suggesting the university may be trying to conceal one or more cushy jobs Harreld secured for cronies on his way out.

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Poorly-drafted law opened door to Iowa City mask order

Republican lawmakers intended to prohibit schools, cities, and counties from requiring masks when they amended an education bill on the final day of the legislature’s 2021 session. But House File 847, which Governor Kim Reynolds rushed to sign within hours of its passage, was not well crafted to accomplish that goal.

An apparent drafting error opened the door for the mask order Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague announced on August 19, with the full support of the city council.

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Regents pick highly qualified leader for University of Iowa

Mercifully, history did not repeat itself on April 30, when the Iowa Board of Regents selected Barbara Wilson to be the next University of Iowa president. Wilson is supremely qualified for the job, having served for the last six years as the second-ranking administrator at the University of Illinois system, and in several leadership roles at the Urbana-Champaign campus. A news release enclosed in full below describes her relevant experience.

All four finalists considered this year were far more qualified than outgoing president Bruce Harreld was when the Regents picked him in 2015, following a search marred by favoritism and secret meetings that appeared to violate Iowa’s open meetings law.

Whereas the Faculty Senate voted no confidence in the Board of Regents after Harreld was hired, and the Daily Iowan newspaper ran the front-page headline “REGENTS’ DECISION CONDEMNED,” reaction to Wilson’s hiring was overwhelmingly positive from students and faculty. The Daily Iowan’s editorial board had endorsed either Wilson or Georgia State University Provost Wendy Hensel as the best choices to take the university forward.

I was pleasantly surprised the Regents tapped Wilson, even though she fired a football coach and an athletics director at Illinois over scandals including alleged mistreatment of student-athletes. During Harreld’s tenure, Iowa’s Athletics Director Gary Barta continued to receive raises and a contract extension even after costing the university millions of dollars in lawsuits over discrimination and a hostile work environment.

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University of Iowa can't keep utilities deal secrets from auditor

The University of Iowa must comply with a subpoena from State Auditor Rob Sand seeking details on a 50-year deal to lease the university’s utility system to a public-private partnership, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously determined on April 30.

The Iowa Board of Regents approved the arrangement in December 2019 and closed on the deal in March 2020. But the university withheld many details, including the identity of “Iowa-based investors” who supposedly put up about 21.5 percent of the $1.165 billion lump-sum payment to operate the system for the next five decades.

The State Auditor’s office has been trying to enforce Sand’s subpoena since January 2020. The university and Board of Regents insisted they did not have to provide “confidential” information and disputed the validity of the subpoena.

None of the Supreme Court justices found the university’s stance convincing.

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Courting an Ex

Ira Lacher: It’s long past time for women’s college sports to again be governed by an organization committed to promoting women’s college sports. -promoted by Laura Belin

Anyone who tuned in on Saturday, March 27, to watch the University of Iowa take on top-seeded Connecticut in the women’s NCAA college basketball tournament should have been made aware of how poorly the NCAA has treated the women’s game.

Since the tournament in San Antonio, Texas, began, articles have repeatedly evidenced the utter inequality between it and the men’s tournament, in Indianapolis. Optics that include no on-site TV commentators until the round of 16, the dearth of marketing presence around the Texas city, inadequate weight rooms, the outright ban on the term “March Madness” for the women’s tournament, and the investment disparity, prove more than ever that the NCAA’s treatment of women’s sports is how W. C. Fields deals with annoyances: “Go on, kid, ya bother me.”

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