Q&A: Mason discusses budget cuts

BY DI STAFF | JANUARY 25, 2011 7:10 AM

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Interview Audio: UI President Sally Mason

The Daily Iowan sat down with University of Iowa President Sally Mason for a monthly interview.

The Daily Iowan: Do you feel meeting with legislators about cuts to higher education over the holiday break was effective?

President Sally Mason: They were good. We have a lot of work ahead of us as a university, obviously, to help legislators understand what some of our issues are and vice versa. I think Friday night I was able to attend one of the events associated with the new governor; it was good to be there and to talk with him. We really want to help the governor to grow the economy and to help jobs that are really important to Iowa in a really tough economy.

DI: Have you met with legislators more than usual considering the topics of debate surrounding higher education?

Mason: Our Board of Regents does a lot of those meetings. It’s entirely up to them. We’re prepared. I think the university is prepared at any point in time if we’re invited to come and testify and talk and when we have opportunities either through the regents or in other ways to have conversations as it seems appropriate. I always start my conversations with any of the legislators with, “I’m available whenever you need me. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to call. Just let us know what you need, and we’ll do everything we can.”

DI: Reflecting on the results from last week’s vote in the House, which included the possibility of a $10 million cut next fiscal year, how is the university preparing?

Mason: The real difficulty in our situation is not knowing. What would be most helpful is to know what we may face on the budget front. And we are anxious to see what the governor will propose in his budget and what that will mean for higher education. It’s a long process. We’ll take what the House did last night and what the governor proposes and then ultimately see how those conversations progress from there going forward. It’s too early to tell right now exactly what this will mean for us going forward.

A big freshman class has really helped us budgetarily, and it looks to me from just the early sense from this spring semester that our retention continues to be good. That many if not most of those students are back this semester, and that is a good thing for us. We know retention is important as well. So our student-success initiatives — you’re going to hear a lot more about student-success initiatives, making sure that you have the best experience we can give you here. The way we have built our budget in our strategic plan going forward and it’s the same thing we’re going to stay focused on this year as well is to make sure that we continue with the best efforts we can to make sure students can be successful.

DI: What are your plans regarding next year’s budget, knowing that this year’s had a small boost from federal stimulus money?

Mason: That money’s gone. That money was one-time money, so we never built a budget around that money going forward. Our budget is balanced, and it doesn’t include those stimulus dollars. So we’ve made the entire budget cuts that we needed to make up for that $55 million in appropriations that now have been lost.

DI: How do you look at utilizing resources in the continual reduction of funds?

Mason: That’s a very good question because the budget is fairly complicated. The budget for this entire operation has many, many pieces, and if you look at all the various pieces, if you look at the state appropriations, what you see is a 20 percent reduction in appropriations over the last two years. If you look at the other parts of our budget, everything from tuition to auxiliaries to research money and all of the other pieces that make up our budget, all of those have gone up. Fundraising, for example, the money that’s coming in from people who care deeply about the University of Iowa is up significantly this year. That’s a great thing. Our research money [was] up significantly. That’s a great thing. And our enrollment is up, that means more tuition dollars.

So in spite of the fact that we have a decrease in appropriations, we’ve been able to manage very well during this difficult economic time, because so many other pieces of our budget have been able to compensate for that.

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