Q&A: Mason discusses increase in tuition, campus safety

BY DI STAFF | OCTOBER 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Daily Iowan: With another potential increase in tuition, UI student leaders said they will increase efforts for more state appropriations. What will UI administrators be doing in this regard? Is there an effort to lower tuition prices?

UI President Sally Mason: Same thing. It's never fun to raise tuition under any circumstances. We have worked really hard to not raise it too high, and we certainly aren't doing what a lot of other states are or other universities are doing. Yeah, we have costs that continue to rise — that's probably the big driver here. There are costs that continue to rise which we have very little control over. And I always mention everything from electricity to just the kinds of things that everybody has to pay for every day, and we have those same kinds of costs. So obviously, we feel just about the same way as the students do, which is we'd like to see the costs go down as low as possible, and one way to do that, obviously, would be to continue strong advocacy with our legislators to hopefully be able to get some increases in appropriations at some point in time. We also continue to look for cost efficiencies and take some of this into our own hands and save money as well. We're always looking at energy efficiencies, we're always looking for ways to manage down the cost of benefits— such as health care and insurance and things like that. We're always looking for ways to be administratively efficient — in other words, to make certain we aren't incurring any administrative costs that aren't essential for the operations of the university. Because at the same time as we take more students on here, we know that the costs of educating those students is going to go up. We need more instructors, we need more advisers, more people working in labs, and things like that.

DI: The 20-year anniversary on Nov. 1 of the Gang Lu incident in which a graduate student shot three UI faculty, one administrator, and two students is approaching. Though you were not at the UI during that time, what will the university do to reflect on that day?

Mason: I haven't checked up to see precisely what the university is doing, but I will tell you this. There's not a single person who was alive and working in higher education on that day who doesn't remember it. I happened to be at the University of Kansas, and I remember because I was in the Dean's Office that day, and we got a phone call, and I actually didn't believe it at first. Because the phone call said there had been a shooting at the University of Iowa campus. Now, Lawrence, Kan., and Iowa City are not that close, but we're not that far apart, either. And the campuses have a lot of similarities, and I think all of us were just incredulous. We could not believe what we were hearing. That this could happen on a Midwestern college campus and that this could happen in such a way that some of our colleagues and colleagues who we knew had been killed on that day. So it will be a day of reflection, it will be a day that clearly many people that were here and are still here, will be thinking, I'm sure, very serious thoughts on what happened on that day and why it happened. You know we've done a lot of things in the interim to better understand what happened, why it happened and try to prepare the university with how to deal with some of these tough issues in which many of them involve mental health and trying to deal more effectively with mental-health issues our students or our faculty or our staff may be dealing with.

DI: As a leader at the UI, how have you and others made sure to keep the UI community and students safe from similar incidents?

Mason: Well again, to segue from what I was just saying, everything from the development to good and better counseling services, an Ombud's Office, lots of resources on this campus — including a threat-assessment team — so that if there are people who are struggling with depression or with issues that are just overwhelming for them, that there are places for them to go. And there are people for them to talk to and there are ways in which we can help them no matter what their role might be here at the university. It's not just students, but faculty and staff are also dealing, at times, with a personal crises or issues that lead to depression or the kinds of things that really can negatively affect their ability to maintain a healthy equilibrium. We've continued to grow and develop these things over time.

DI: Following last week's release from the Iowa Medical Board, the case of Hunninghake would be the second instance of a UI staff member having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate. How does that reflect upon the UI and what's being done to prevent these offenses from taking place? Has the UI changed any of its disciplinary or monitoring policies?

Mason: You never like to see those kinds of things. That's never something you want to hear about but you do want to deal with it. When you hear about these things, the most important thing is to deal with these things effectively. You need to understand that the accused has rights and due process, but you also need to do everything you can to make certain that those who have suffered at the hands of the accused, assuming that that has happened, are taken care of as well. These are tough situations, there are very difficult and challenging situations. To do nothing would be really terrible, truly terrible. To take action and hopefully take appropriate action and prevent it from happening again is the most important thing. I can't sit here and guarantee it won't happen again. We just have too many employees and too many students, and people will do strange things. We're constantly looking at revising our policies and procedures. We're trying to find ways in which we can speed up processes in place to manage and deal with these situations. In other words, we are trying to improve and get better how we handle these situations when they arise. The policies are in constant revision. We have looked at our sexual-harassment and sexual-misconduct policies, and all of those have been redone just within the last several years.

DI: Hawkeye athletics has partnered with the Iowa Farm Bureau for the America Needs Farmers campaign. Since the bureau does so much lobbying and makes so many political donations, are you worried the university might be seen as endorsing the bureau's positions?

Mason: What the university is endorsing is something I think every Iowan holds dear, and that's how important farmers are to America, the American economy, to our way of life, to Iowa, and that's really what this is about. This was a movement back during the farm-crisis days, and Hayden Fry was the football coach back then. It's really spectacular that he stood up and said, "Ya know what, America needs farmers," and boy, did that catch on. And who better to partner with on a topic like America needs farmers like the Farm Bureau itself. So regardless of what their political stance, or views might be this very simply is a statement that is important to everyone who lives in Iowa and everyone who lives in the Farm Belt in the Midwest. Don't read more into it than that simple statement.

DI: Do you see any issues with Hawkeye Sports Properties and the Iowa Farm Bureau using student-athletes to promote the bureau?

Mason: I believe the only way they are promoting it at this time are the emblems on their uniforms, so from my perspective this is what was done originally with Coach Fry, and this is being done again out of respect to Coach Fry and out of respect to the whole notion of America needs farmers so I think it's quite appropriate. And I suspect that a good number of our young players come from farm backgrounds and feel very proud to wear an emblem that says: America needs farmers.

DI: Some Board of Regents members have said they will defer all questions to press availability during their monthly meetings. As a university leader, how could this affect transparency in the Iowa higher education's highest governing body?

Mason: You have to be ready to ask your questions during that press availability because that's when they are there. And then you can have your questions asked and answered. I really think it puts responsibility on the shoulders of the reporters to be sure they have the questions they need and want answered ready for that press availability. It's that simple.

DI: This year, UISG officials have placed an emphasis on campus safety because of past sexual assaults on campus. Have you been involved with some of their plans to promote more safety? What specifically have you been involved with? Is this the most effort you have seen from student groups on campus to improve campus safety?

Mason: Other then when we share information, which we do on a monthly basis, they've kept me informed, and I've been very supportive. I think it is a really worthwhile endeavor on the part of our students — obviously, we continue to do things, they continue to expand on some of the things that we've done and develop some new ideas themselves. It's great. One of the things I really appreciate about our leaders is they've been terrific partners. Ever since I arrived, I've been blessed to have really great student leaders that I've had the privilege of working with, and when they come to us with ideas, we are very receptive, very open, to figuring out ways we can help them or partner with them or whatever seems appropriate. I think it has waxed and waned over the years. Each student leadership group often takes on a cause or several causes. This one obviously has embraced campus safety in a big way. They're not the first student leadership group to do that, and they won't be the last. Student safety is a huge issue on campus. We first and foremost want to make certain we provide the best and safest environment for students to live and work in here. So I am always glad when student leadership says, and we want to be helpful with that, too.

DI: With the continual coverage of the Occupy Iowa City movement, have you stopped by College Green Park? This is arguably the longest-standing protest since your arrival on campus. What do you think the movement says about members of both the UI and Iowa City community?

Mason: I have not. I have followed from afar. I think my interest comes from my age. When I was their age, I marched for civil rights, I marched for women's rights, and I marched to end the war in Vietnam. So for me, I'm watching movements across the world. One of the great things about a democracy, one of the great things about living in a free society are peaceful protests. Actions like this — social movements — can often effect change in positive ways, and it's important to pay attention, it's important to see what the message is, and I have an intense interest in this, but it comes from my age. This is always been a community that has valued freedom, democracy, free speech, all of the things that we hold dear in society today and I think this is a manifestation of that.

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