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Bill to abolish tenure in Iowa ‘on life support’


DES MOINES — A bill introduced last year to abolish tenure at Iowa’s public universities failed to pass out of a legislative subcommittee Thursday — leaving it stalled, for now.

At least one member of the three-person subcommittee — Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville — was dead set against the proposal, which has been pitched as allowing state Board of Regents institutions to more easily fire professors.

“We need to strengthen those universities and to do something like get rid of tenure, that would really weaken us,” Dvorsky said.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, went nowhere in the last legislative session. Zaun argues regent schools can’t get rid of bad professors.

“I’m hoping that at least we have the conversation on this,” he said after debuting the measure last year.

Dvorsky said he’s all for conversation — especially in that it highlights processes already in place to weed out unproductive faculty and educates Iowans on the importance of tenure.

But, Dvorsky said, he doesn’t perceive much of a future for the tenure-abolishing measure.

“It’s hard to say anything is ever dead in the Legislature,” he said. “But it’s certainly on life support.”

Another subcommittee member, Sen. Mark Chelgren, R-Ottumwa, voiced concerns tenure separates professors into a special class with special privileges. But, to garner his support, the measure would need amendments, and Board of Regents staffers alleviated many of his concerns Thursday.

“No one has signed it at this point,” he said.

Zaun argued faculty sabbaticals have gotten out of hand, degrading the value of an education for students who are paying increasingly higher tuition.

Regent officers reported a small fraction of professors take sabbaticals every year, and many of their efforts while on break from teaching bring back millions to their universities — far outpacing the costs of letting them take a teaching hiatus.

When Zaun suggested some faculty show up on the first day of class and then leave the rest of the semester to a teaching aide, UI Associate Provost for Faculty Kevin Kregel said, “I’ve never heard of a faculty member walking into a course the first day and then passing a course off to a TA.”

“We would not allow that to happen if we heard about it,” Kregel said. “That does not happen.”

“It does,” Zaun said, to which board staff requested names.

“It should not happen, and if it does, tell us,” regent State Relations Officer Keith Saunders said.

Although Zaun acknowledged passage of his proposal is an “uphill climb,” he expressed appreciation for the conversation.

“I’m hearing from a lot of parents that are concerned about what’s going on at our universities,” Zaun said. “I wouldn’t have filed the bill if I didn’t want it to move forward.”

The issue of tenure is being raised at a time of deep cuts in state funding for Iowa’s state universities and proposals from the campuses to raise tuition rates in response — in hopes of having enough resources to retain and attract top faculty.

No lobbyists have supported Zaun’s legislation — 17 have opposed it and 11 have said they’re undecided.

In a statement, the Board of Regents strongly opposed the bill.

Saunders said the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa collectively bring in more than $1 billion to Iowa in outside funding.

“That wouldn’t happen without a tenure system because the best researchers, the researchers that are able to attract the big-dollar grants ... they’ll go someplace where they can get tenure and that money wouldn’t come to the state and our students wouldn’t benefit from those faculty members who do that teaching,” Saunders said.

UPDATE: Government seeks to revoke Iowa man's citizenship for Balkan killings, paramilitary involvement

ASBURY — The government is seeking to revoke the citizenship of a Bosnian native living in Asbury for “extrajudicial killings” during the 1990s Balkan conflict.

Authorities allege 51-year-old Eso Razic obtained his United States citizenship by fraud because he concealed his service in paramilitary organizations during the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

Razic allegedly took part in the killing of three people, including a wounded prisoner of war, while he was a member of the groups, according to court records.

The action to revoke his naturalization was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids.

“The United States will not serve as a safe haven for those who have committed such atrocities and then fled from justice. We will identify, locate, and work to prosecute and/or remove human rights violators in the U.S. regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, or religious background,” said Derek Benner, ICE Homeland Security Investigations deputy executive associate director.

Razic — also known as Esad Razic and “Brico” — is a native of Yugoslavia and subsequently a citizen of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. His last known address was in Asbury, in Dubuque County, according to court records.

According to the government’s petition, Razic entered the United States as a refugee in 1998 and obtained citizenship in 2004. During the immigration process, he disclosed he was a private in the Yugoslavian Army from 1985 to 1986. Records indicate his home was burnt down during the war, and he told immigration officials he and his wife, who is Serbian, faced harassment because of their mixed marriage.

But he allegedly never disclosed he was a member of two paramilitary groups in the area of Capljina during the 1992-95 Bosnian war or that he took part in the killings of two members of his own unit and a prisoner of war, records state.

The government alleges Razic was listed on the payroll of the First Battalion Support Platoon of the Hrvatsko Vijece Obrane — or Croatian Defense Council — as a soldier in November 1992. He was paid 40,000 dinars. He was also listed on the December 1992 payroll of the Independent Commando Company, where he was paid 186,700 dinars, records state.

While serving with one of the organizations, Razic and another member named Edo Sakoc took a wounded enemy combatant named Milan Misita prisoner in June 1992 near Tasovcici. They turned over Misita, a member of a Serbian paramilitary group who had been wounded by artillery fire, to other members who were to take him to a headquarters or detention center, records state. However, before arriving, Misita was taken to a stand of trees next to an electrical substation and shot with an entire magazine of ammo from five to 10 meters away, records state.

In October 1993, Razic was a “brigade scout” with HVO’s First Brigade “Knez Domagoj,” and he and six comrades allegedly turned on other members, killing two and taking two others prisoner, court record state.

He and others later surrendered, turning over 10 automatic rifles, two bazookas and three pistols, records state.

An affidavit filed with the government’s petition states documents from Republica Srpska indicate Razic was suspected of illegally detaining Serbians and looting their property in 1992.

The government is asking the court to find Razic procured his citizenship illegally by concealing facts and revoke his naturalization certificate.

Bob Dvorsky