Mason is hopeful about flood recovery efforts


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DI: I’m sure you’ve seen the most recent Princeton Review ranking the UI as the No. 4 party school, which is up from No. 9 last year. Are you discouraged by this? Does this reflect upon the programs and plans the UI has established to combat drinking?

Mason: Oh, not discouraged. It is perplexing, because I think we have done a lot, especially in the last year, to really turn the tide on what I consider the less safe activities our students engage in. Now, I’m delighted if this is an indication that our students come here and enjoy themselves. I’m less delighted if it continues to be an indicator that somehow we’re not making the kinds of inroads into the dangerous drinking behaviors that are out there. When certainly all of the evidence that we have certainly suggests that we are making inroads on those behaviors.

DI: Because last weekend was the first weekend for many students, there was a significant increase in the number of alcohol citations given compared with last year. Some have attributed this increase to the early arrival of younger students. Is this increase a concern for the university?

Mason: Yes and no. One of the things that we’re doing a lot of this year, and it started last year, but it didn’t start at the beginning of the year is our police officers are patrolling with the Iowa City police officers. So there are simply more police, and they are issuing citations. So not surprisingly, there are those kinds of activities occurring, they’re more likely to be noted, and the students are more likely to be cited.

We’re going to watch that carefully and see whether this is a trend we need to be more careful about and whether perhaps our AlcoholEdu program needs to start sooner.

DI: Over the summer, Dean Maxson of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences announced her resignation. What characteristics are you looking for in the next dean?

Mason: Well, you know, the dean searches are really in the good hands of the provost, and he’s going to do an excellent job at overseeing that, but I certainly participate actively in this. Linda Maxson has been an outstanding dean. I mean, what you really are looking for in a dean is someone that’s got experience, a vision, energy — take a look at Linda, and I think you’ve got a great idea of what type of a person you’re looking for. She was — oh, she is an accomplished academic, she’s someone who has achieved a lot not only in her own professorial career but also as an administrator even prior to coming to Iowa. We were very fortunate to have Linda here for almost 15 years at this point, which is fabulous as a dean.

DI: Emails recently released by the Governor’s Office show you spoke with the governor directly about UIHC privacy violations. What’s your relationship with Terry Branstad, and how often do the two of you talk?

Mason: We talk whenever is needed, and certainly if he has questions that he or his staff would like answered and if I’m the appropriate person to answer those questions, we talk. I have a great deal of respect and have had ever since I met him. I met Gov. Branstad when he was president of Des Moines University when I first arrived here. He’s, you know, he has a track record previously of being very knowledgeable of higher education and very supportive of higher education, which I very much appreciate.

DI: With football season coming up quickly, will the university maintain its “Think Before You Drink” policies? Since the policies began last year, what new changes are in the works for this year’s?

Mason: Yeah, absolutely. I think that campaign got some real legs last year, and one of the things that our Public Safety Department tells us is that the incidences of bad behavior in Kinnick Stadium that are typically alcohol-related were down last year, and that’s a good thing. What we’re trying to do, of course, is create a good family environment so that people will bring their families to Kinnick Stadium football games, and everyone can have a good time and not be worried about bad behavior and not be worried about things they wouldn’t want their kids exposed to, either. I don’t think we have a lot in the works for this year, not that I’m aware of. Obviously, as time goes on, we make adjustments if things are occurring that we notice and we need to adjust to it, but at least at this point, I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of adjustments. We’re going to continue the way we started last year.

DI: The UI received reports of a sexual assault in Daum Residence Hall recently. That’s the fourth alleged assault on campus in the last year. What is the university doing to prevent incidents such as those?

Mason: Well, you know, we’re constantly trying to provide education, we’re constantly trying to provide information to people so that they understand that if things like this happen what to do how to try to manage it, how to try to avoid it. Sometimes, the unfortunate things that can occur when you don’t expect these things to occur, you’re not looking for these things to occur, so recognizing when there might be a situation that could lead to behaviors that are not the kinds of things we’d like have our students exposed to is a good start in terms of understanding how then to respond or how to get help if in fact something like this were to occur.

DI: Students in UISG are working to establish late-night transportation for men. Do you think this is a good idea, and will the university support the project financially?

Mason: You know, I haven’t seen the UISG proposal, but I am sure that it will go to Tom Rocklin at some point in time. That’ll be his decision. I certainly think that if it’s feasible — it’s a good idea. We certainly started Nite Ride with the intention of making certain that our young ladies in particular had options — safe options — to get home late at night so that they wouldn’t be out on the street or vulnerable in ways that we certainly didn’t want to see them suffer any adverse consequences if they were out late at night, and I can understand men feeling like they would like to have something similar in place also. I’m pleased that UISG is exploring this, and we’ll wait and see what its proposal is.

DI: It looks as if this year’s freshman class is at least as big as last year’s. What’s the university doing to accommodate a larger student body?

Mason: Well, you know, we learned last year, obviously, having had a bubble last year, I was very hopeful that this year, we wouldn’t exceed those numbers, and I don’t think we’re going to. We’re going to be right on target, and we managed pretty well last year from that, and I think we’ll be able to manage even better this year in terms of making space and that the classes are in place, the instructors are in place, and housing is in place as well. So far, so good. I’m actually hearing that we have people right now in temporary housing, and it looks like they will be accommodated in a pretty timely fashion, so that’s a good thing.

DI: What are your goals for this coming school year? How specifically do you plan to reach these goals?

Mason: Well, you know, there are many, but I’ll give you some of the big ones. Obviously, flood recovery continues to be at the very top of the list to make sure that we stay on course with the big projects and we get some of these projects done. I’m excited that I think later this fall, we’re going to get the Art West Building back up online and functioning. We had a test run this summer of the invisible wall that will be in place should we ever have another flood. That invisible wall would protect the west building in the future, and I am encouraged by the progress we’re making on that one. I’ve seen early designs for Hancher Auditorium, and I understand that we should have some designs for the new art building and for the School of Music before very long, too, so that’s exciting. Fundraising is a big priority for me always. We’ve had some wonderful fundraising years since I’ve been here, and we want to continue that trend and keep working with our friends to make sure that we bring as many resources to this great university as we possibly can. Many of those support our students, and scholarships are always a priority when it comes to fundraising. And then I think finally, and as important as the other two, we have a strategic plan in place that provides us with a great road map of what we should be doing, and we will be true to that strategic plan. So those student success initiatives the Arts Campus, the cluster hirings — all of those things are a part of the university’s strategic plan, and all of those are priorities.

DI: Could you please elaborate on the invisible wall?

Mason: Actually, you might want to take a walk around the Art Building West only because you’ll notice there is a new sidewalk that has been built around the building. And it’s elevated from where it was initially, and there are places on that sidewalk where literally a wall can be very quickly constructed. We actually had a dry run — dry in a very real sense — this summer of that wall where we can put it up in a matter of a few hours, and we can take it down, too. So if we face a situation, as we did back in 2008, where there’s the possibility or the probability that we’re likely going to have a flood, we can put that wall up in place, and it should protect the building in the future. The technology is in use in places such as the Netherlands that routinely flood. They have used it very successfully, which is one of the reasons we were very interested in employing that technology for the protection of that particular building. So I don’t really ever want to test it but expect that at least probably once a year that wall will go up because we have to be sure that we know how to do it, and then, the wall will come back down. So its all in place now. And the building itself is starting to really look as beautiful as it did before the flood. It’s been a long time coming.

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