Mason discusses budget, flood relief with Staff Council

BY MORGAN OLSEN | MARCH 11, 2010 7:30 AM

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Two weeks after addressing the executive committee of the Staff Council in closed session, University of Iowa President Sally Mason spoke with the entire council on Wednesday.

After showing the UI’s latest promotional video featuring a voice-over by broadcaster Tom Brokaw, Mason spoke about flood recovery, economic hardships, and interim administration at the UI.
Mason came with both good and bad news about the budget.

While she said she’s pleased with Gov. Chet Culver’s proposal to return $14 million to the UI, it’s just one step to recovery.

“We’re still $50 million in the hole — that’s a big number,” Mason said.

Many councilors remain pleased with budget decisions the UI administration has made.

“Officials are doing the best they can,” said council member Eddie Etsey, the service delivery and operations manager for the UI Hospital and Clinics. “$50 million is a lot of money, but they are concerned about students and making sure they come first.”

Even with a deficit of $50 million, Mason said, she’d like to do something to thank UI employees this year — but it would likely not come in the form of raises.

Some council members asked whether tuition would continue to rise after next year’s 6 percent tuition hike.

While Mason didn’t have an answer, she said, tuition rates at the UI didn’t come close to matching the magnitude of those at schools in California, such as the University of California system, which added 30 percent to its tuition.

“Right now, we’re in a balancing act,” she said. “I didn’t want to put it all on the backs of students.”

Mason seemed happier to discuss the progress on flood relief.

She said she is confident replacements for flood-damaged buildings would be world-class structures. UI officials are still working on replacing such major buildings as Hancher Auditorium and the Museum of Art.

“We are making a steady but slow progress of recovery,” she said. “The rest is really hard work, and it will be hard work for some time to come.”

The UI is prepared for whatever flooding may occur this year, she said. Although she cannot predict what will happen, she said, she is confident the UI community will have the resources necessary to protect the campus.

Some council members were also curious about whether Mason planned to permanently fill administrative positions currently held by interim staff.

She will think over the summer about making current interim staff permanent, she said, but she is happy with the current situation, citing as an example the work being done by interim Vice President for Student Services Thomas Rocklin.

The most important issue facing the Staff Council is campus morale, Mason contended. She encouraged council members to keep an eye out for staff and students who may be struggling with the economy, especially because money is a major contributor to lower retention rates.

“It’s an important opportunity for us to get involved and have concerns heard,” said council member Amber Seaton, who will succeed President Glenn Kell in a few weeks.

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