Mason stresses mutual support in economic crisis

BY TESSA McLEAN | APRIL 09, 2009 7:40 AM

While UI officials consider faculty and staff layoffs, slashing pay, and a salary freeze, UI President Sally Mason maintains nothing is certain.

At each of the two budget forums Wednesday, she said the UI will not find out final budget reductions until this month’s state Board of Regents meeting. She presented a brief overview of budget challenges facing the university as well as took comments and questions from attendees.

“Now is the time to carefully craft a path that will position us to be strong, focused, and more creative than ever for the future,” Mason said. “That same spirit of community and mutual support [that formed from the flood] will be the keystone for weathering this current economic crisis. Just as we bonded together to protect our campus last June, we are bonding together to address these budget issues.”

Federal stimulus money will allow the university to buy time, she said, but it is only a temporary solution.

In the preliminary education budget passed by the Iowa Legislature’s joint education appropriations subcommittee, the UI and the regents would both see state funding cuts of around 12 percent.

Heather Stalling, the academic-initiatives manager in the Office of Residence Life, said she thinks budget forums are important in allowing university and community members to express their opinions and concerns.

“It is good to see our leader out front,” she said. “Working in Student Services, I am concerned about the message to students; they are not just coming here for class but for the college experience.”

The Bijou’s 100 seats were full, and only standing room was available at the morning session, which Stalling attended.

Jim Henderson, the UI Carver College of Medicine assistant dean for facilities planning and management, asked Mason at the second session what the administration is doing with the more than 400 suggestions submitted to the UI’s budget website.

“There are some very interesting ones,” he said. “If people submit suggestions and then don’t get feedback on them, then they don’t know if they’ve been heard.”

Henderson suggested Mason and other officials acknowledge those who have submitted suggestions and encourage them to keep offering ideas.

Mason noted the need to preserve faculty to ensure the quality of education to students, adding UI officials are doing everything they can to prevent layoffs.

“Faculty and staff have consistently told me and others in the administration that they would rather accept personal reductions in their own compensation or work time than have others loose their jobs,” she said.

The issue of pay reductions was especially concerning to attendees at the second session — held on the medical campus — after officials at UI Hospitals and Clinics announced on Tuesday two new voluntary programs that could save money for the hospital. The first would allow UIHC employees and UI Carver College of Medicine faculty and staff to participate in a “voluntary temporary reduction in pay.” The other asks roughly 8,500 UIHC employees to give back one or more days of their vacation time.

The regents will discuss the UI’s budget at its April 29-30 meeting in Cedar Falls.

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