Q&A with UI President Sally Mason

BY DI STAFF | DECEMBER 14, 2009 7:30 AM

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The Daily Iowan sat down with UI President Sally Mason for a monthly Q&A series to discuss recent issues in the Chemistry Building and developments from last week’s state Board of Regents’ meeting.

DI: With the serious health concerns some people have raised about the Chemistry Building and the ensuing investigation, why was the university community not notified right away about those concerns?

Mason: These are judgment calls that professionals make. And I tend to agree that you want the professionals to have some time to do an evaluation. It was a small number of individuals, and we took very seriously their complaints, their concerns … I think the fact that we took it that seriously and that we immediately went in to try to assess what the situation was speak highly of the way in which it was handled.

But we can disagree on that, and obviously, you have a viewpoint that suggests that we should have been out there telling the world right away. I tend to always be of the “let’s get some facts” before we react too quickly to these situations unless we truly believe that there is the possibility for serious harm to individuals. And we were at least assured early on that given the number of people and the traffic through that building on a regular basis, the likelihood of there being a life-threatening situation here was pretty low.

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DI: What action do you plan to take based on the recommendations the consulting firm Public Works LLC made to the Board of Regents?

Mason: We’re going to be looking at all of them. We think we’ve got some best practices that we can share with the state, and we’re happy to do that, and vice versa. In other words, we want to be good partners here. If there are some good suggestions in that report, we’re going to be right there ready to do what we can to implement them and try to do things collectively. There are times when doing things collectively makes a lot of sense, and then there are times where we’re just different enough from other institutions where it doesn’t make sense … If we benefit and it doesn’t cost us, believe me, we’re going to be looking hard at these things to do them.

DI: Is there a perception that the UI has not suffered as much from the budget crisis as Iowa State University or the University of Northern Iowa? Do you feel pressured to have more layoffs?

Mason: For me, the pressure is to manage this budget as best as possible, and if people on the outside want to second-guess how we’re doing it, that’s their prerogative. I mean that just is the nature of how people view these situations … Pressure may be the wrong word; there’s a perception out there that maybe we are not suffering enough because we haven’t had to lay people off. But we’ve certainly had to cut down our work force, and we’ve certainly had to cut back on things that we would normally be doing at the university, and we are looking at better ways to do that.

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