Q&A: Mason talks campus safety, salaries

BY DI STAFF | FEBRUARY 17, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Daily Iowan: Considering last month's criminal incidents on or near campus, are the University of Iowa officials making any changes in order to better maintain campus safety?

UI President Sally Mason: Well campus safety has always been a priority, it always will be a priority. You need to kind of put some of these things in perspective — this is a pretty safe place to live. I was actually born in New York City and raised in New Jersey. For me, the perspective can be very, very different, obviously, depending in where you grow up. We constantly monitor what's happening across campus in terms of safety issues; we constantly ask ourselves questions, do we have enough public-safety officers, are we doing enough making sure the environment is just as safe as we possibly can. I think some of the incidents that you mentioned, things happen over the Christmas break with break-ins, things like that depending on the weather, on the economy, on this, on that we might see a bump up or a bump down. Similarly with other kinds of crime statistics, it's not always easy to know exactly what is happening and why it's happening, so we watch these things very carefully. I think having had a fairly mild winter has possibly contributed to some of the changes here; we haven't seen a winter this mild since I have been here. But I think it encourages people to get out and be out more, and opportunities for things to happen may increase during those times. We are always vigilant, we are always watching, and we're always trying to adjust resources to make sure we put the resources in the right place to try to keep students as safe as we can.

DI: Is the UI going to look into stepping up patrols or promoting student safety services such as Nite Ride?

Mason: We continue to do that, that's something we have always been interested in and continue to promote, and we've had good partnership with UISG and its efforts to not just expand Nite Ride if they can't or don't take advantage of Nite Ride. I really think Elliot Higgins and Brittany Caplin have done a terrific job focusing on student-safety issues and we support them 100 percent.

DI: Even though the proposal failed, what are your views on the recent legislation that would put a cap on salaries? What are your views on possibly having your salary affected?

Mason: I think it was just a cap on my salary, and that's really the Board of Regents' business. The regents set salaries, and that's their business, that's their purview. I think the questions are appropriately directed at them in this particular case. I don't have feelings one way or another; the regents sets my salary. They analyze my performance twice a year, and at the end of the August performance evaluation, that's generally when they determine when a salary increase is appropriate or not. I think they have done a terrific job at managing those issues.

DI: Would you ever consider reducing your own salary?

Mason: I took an $80,000 decrease in salary several years ago when our budget was at its lowest point and when weren't able to give increases to anybody. I don't know of anyone who took anything greater than that anywhere in this state.

DI: What kind of communication have you had with state legislators?

Mason: Lots. It starts well before the season. Once the legislators are in session, I don't bother them unless there is a need to. If they need info, if they request testimony, as the Appropriations Committee did a week ago, and I had a chance to go and testify a committee or subcommittee, I am happy to do that. But when they are in session, I don't tend to try to get in the way of their business. I spend a lot of time when they are not in session, going in meeting with legislators one-on-one whenever I have a chance. If I am anywhere in Iowa and there is a legislator willing to meet with me, I will sit down and have a face-to-face. I have had a lot of good conversations over the past year with a lot of elected officials. I very much enjoy the opportunity to share with them what the university is doing, what we're trying to accomplish, how we are helping the community … so just lots of information that I hope is relevant and helpful to them, given where they might be living or coming from. The Hawkeye Caucus is having an overall positive effect on getting the message out there and helping legislators and others understand the importance of the university.

DI: Is there any current legislation you hope is passed?

Mason: What I watch very carefully is the budget. We're just watching the proposals on the budget and working through the process and hoping to influence the regents, working very, very closely with them as they advocate for some, I think, modest budget increases for the regents for next year, and we're hopeful. It really is all about student success and all the things that we're able to do to help students, not only in their academics and classroom experiences but in all the things that will allow them to ultimately stay here and finish their degree. Those are important, and we put a lot of new programs in place, we're developing a lot of new classrooms — you name it. That's the kind of investment we need to make. We started with the freshman classes, and the freshman classes have benefited tremendously from this, and you can see it in our retention, because our retention has gone up. We want to make sure that we can now begin to provide the same kinds of services and expanded services for sophomores, juniors, and seniors. That's what this money would allow us to do — is really help expand the success programs put in place for freshmen across the board.

DI: In President Obama's State of the Union address, he called for cutting funding for schools that raise tuition. What is your response to that?

Mason: He said raise tuition beyond a reasonable level. Not raise tuition. I think Iowa is the perfect example of what he was talking about in a positive way. Because we haven't all through this recession, we have never had double-digit tuition increases. We've always kept our tuition increases modest. We have looked for other ways, we have looked for ways to save money, we have looked for ways to create efficiencies, we have looked for ways to make ourselves more integrated electronically. Every way we've taken measures to become sustainable, and that saves money on our infrastructure, all kinds of ways to save money so that we don't pass the cost of education onto students. Now that's not true in other states — if you look at other states, such as California. Now there's a state where you are seeing 20 percent increases semester after semester. And we didn't pass the cost of those on the students directly. When he came out with those statements, I was not concerned.

DI: What happened in your conversation with the University of Iowa Sierra Student Coalition? What was the President's Office response? Were there any goals or initiatives outlined?

Mason: I was exceedingly pleased with their passion and enthusiasm of their cause, and I agree with them 100 percent about weaning ourselves off of coal. Students and student's success is first — if it means to wean ourselves off coal, then that's the way it was going to be. But we were headed in a good direction, we were headed away from coal, we're headed toward more biorenewables, we're headed toward gas, we're headed towards cleaner sources of energy production for the long haul, but it's not a cheap thing to do, either. Right now, coal is still the cheapest form of energy supply that we have. To be able to get ourselves totally off coal is going to be a major, major expense. They asked the question, what about a student fee? I said you know if the students themselves think the fee is a good idea, then I am all for it. But we are talking about costs that are huge, and if you are talking about a $5 fee, it's going to be a long time before we're able to do what they want us to do. We have goals, and what I have been in favor of is meeting the goals or exceeding them. We're certainly going to work hard, and we'll go from there.

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