Mason Q&A on UISG vote, Hancher

BY ANNA LOTHSON | APRIL 02, 2009 7:42 AM

DI: UISG campaigns have kicked off. What role do you have in communicating with candidates to discuss the platforms with the leaders? Have the new party leaders come to speak with you yet?

Mason: They have not yet [met with me], and I always welcome them. In other words, if they want to come and see and talk to me, [or] if they want to wait until after the election — either way — fine. I look forward to meeting the new student-body vice president and president once they’re elected and having good conversations with them. I tend to meet with the student leadership group once a month and did that just today, in fact.

DI: You have quite an extensive science background. What can you tell us about the decision of the UI Hospitals and Clinics putting their expansion on hold?

Mason: They’ve slowed things down a bit, as you might expect, given that they’re facing some particular challenges with the budget and the operations of the hospitals and clinics. That’s not to say that they’re not going to do some of the things they have planned, it’s just to say we can’t do that right now. The budget situation is very difficult for all of us, and certainly for the hospitals and clinics. They operate as a business. They generate revenue, which pays the bills. And if that revenue falls off as it has, then it becomes harder to pay the bills, and they have to make the same kind of difficult decisions that any other business might have to make as well. Expansion right now at this very moment would be very difficult. That’s not to say it’s not needed, or we shouldn’t do it, it’s to say that we’re going to have to slow it down.

DI: There has been a lot of talks lately about moving Hancher. What discussions are you having in regard to this?

Mason: We continue obviously to work on our flood recovery. That won’t stop at all. That’s absolutely essential for the health and well being of the university. The flood was an unexpected and unprecedented disaster, and we can’t afford to let that set us back. So a lot of good work is going on in terms of planning and developing plans to share again with the Board of Regents at the April meeting so we can get to a decision about whether we rebuild those facilities or we repair and mitigate in place. I think once we get past the decision — that set of decisions — then we can begin to talk about what the next steps are. Because I know a lot of people are always asking me, “Well, where are you going to put Hancher?” Well first, we have to get to a decision that says the right thing to do would be to relocate Hancher, but we’re not there yet. That will be at the April board meeting. It was very educational and helpful to have the board here during the spring break recess to see the buildings, to see potential sites, to see what it is specifically we’re talking about when we talk about the damage that was done in these buildings and why [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] has said it will pay for 90 percent of the replacement costs for these facilities. I think now the board has got a pretty good sense of that. It makes the next piece of our job then to make a case for what we think the right next step is. So that’s coming.

DI: Legislators have said financial aid may be cut, but you and Provost Wallace Loh have stressed the UI will protect financial aid. How are UI officials going to manage to do so with less money coming from the state?

Mason: The best way we can protect our students is to continue to make education here affordable and accessible. Affordable means we’ve got to maintain our commitment on financial aid. We are raising tuition next year by a modest amount — 4.2 percent — but we’re taking those new monies from tuition and we’re setting aside a good proportion of that for financial aid. And we feel that it’s important obviously because there are students — some of them and some of their families — who are certainly feeling the effects of this economy just the way we are. So we’ll make some sacrifices in order to make certain the students are well served. We do it, of course, because the students are great consumers and take advantage of what we have to offer, and we want to continue to serve them as well as we can.

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