Mason on cuts, student services

BY DI STAFF | NOVEMBER 10, 2009 7:20 AM

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The Daily Iowan sat down with UI President Sally Mason to discuss how the budget reduction plan is progressing and what it means for staff and students.

DI: How can you assure staff and faculty that reductions to their retirement benefits will be temporary? Without an increase in the general fund, or a tax increase for state appropriations, how can you guarantee those reductions won’t be permanent or won’t be needed?

Mason: Well, we’ve already started working on a budget plan moving forward to take into account the fact that we are roughly $65 million thinner, leaner this year than we were a year ago. We’ve already put in place, as I outlined for the Board of Regents, a great plan for the first $34 million of that, so we’re more than halfway there. And I think through, again, careful management, we can manage down the rest of this and not ultimately, long-term, have to cut into things. This automatically reverts back by the action the board took in 20 months. And without some change, in other words going back and asking again, and that’s not my intention to do that, it’s going to go back the way it was.

DI: What do you say to the average student who is looking at this and saying, “Well, I might have to pay this extra $100 this year, and I might have to pay 6 percent next year, and my programs are not expanding but perhaps being cut, and I’m receiving either the same services or less, and I’m paying more?”

Mason: We’re actually hoping that you’re going to get more services. That’s what the Student Success Initiative is all about, and we rolled that into the tuition increase for next year. And if we’re able to keep our workforce in place, you’re going to still be getting it from the same well-qualified people that you’ve been getting it from. Our class sizes only increased at this point by two, on average, so we don’t think that’s hurting you. We’re doing everything we can actually to try to protect what you’re getting.

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DI: At the Board of Regents meeting, you turned down your proposed incentive pay. Gov. Chet Culver and a few people in his administration have taken a 10 percent pay cut — have you considered taking a 10 percent pay cut or have you asked anyone in your administration to take a similar cut?

Mason: Fifteen percent of my pay is in what’s called incentive pay. I set goals with the Board of Regents, and then, if I meet those goals, I’ve earned that. And for the last two years, this year and next year now, I’ve basically said I would forgo that 15 percent. … At this point I don’t feel that they need to make the sacrifices. I’ve made the sacrifice. I think that the leader should step up and do that just like the governor did. … I can tell you that it’s really hard when you start taking people’s money that they’ve earned away from them, especially when they’re really good people. So it’s not something that I want to do to somebody else.

DI: Could you give me your thoughts on the UI Hospitals and Clinics still needing to cut an additional $14 million and how it’s progressing in its efforts to meet that?

Mason: Obviously, it has had its work cut out for a while now, and that’s never an easy thing to do. Part of that additional $14 million is dependent upon what ultimately happens with Medicare in the state, IowaCare. And we really don’t know yet. That number is real, but if the Legislature comes back in session in January and backbills or puts some of that money back in, then it may not be. How [the hospital] manages the next $14 million to some extent will depend on how things develop during the legislative session.

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