Q&A with President Mason
The Daily Iowan: Following recent Supreme court action. How much of a priority does the university take in enrolling diverse and minority students? Is there a main focus on a specific demographic of minority students?
President Mason: "We're always looking to increase diversity at the university so that it better represents the world as you will see it when you graduate, and I think we've done a good job across the board, whether we're talking about underrepresented students from here in the United States or international students. We really bring a lot of diversity to our campus — a lot of interesting cultures in ways of viewing the world, too. It's a priority, without a doubt. We do our best, and have done our best over the years to admit students by using a very holistic process. That is, we take into consideration a whole variety of factors. No one thing is going to allow a student to have some major advantage over another type of student. It really comes down to what the whole picture is with individuals, and that's why the application process asks so many questions.
The DI: Is there anything in particular the university does to try and recruit these minority and underrperesented students?
President Mason: We do have programming that I'm particularly enthusiastic about. The Iowa Edge program is one of those programs that especially targets first generation students — many of whom come from underrepresented groups. I was a first generation college student, just for example. I think it's particularly challenging for young people whose families have never had a college experience to try and figure out, how do I do this? How do I try and find my way into a university and take full advantage of the things the universities have when I don't have advice or people at home who can give me good advice? The Iowa Edge program brings students in, many of whom are first generation or from underrepresented groups, and I think that it gives them a really good sense of how to take advantage of all the things the university has to offer, and as a result this program has been highly successful in terms of retention, and ultimately graduation.
The DI: Would you say that certain programs such as Advantage Iowa, which gives scholarships to minority students is an example of affirmative action by the university?
President Mason: Well, yes. We're always looking for ways to help students who need particular kinds of help whether it's financial aid, whether it's just finding a way around the institution, whether it's providing academic help because they're struggling. These kinds of programs are helpful to a variety of students. I don't think we have any programs that are exclusively for minority students, but many of these programs happen to help students from underrepresented groups.
The DI: Why do you think it's important to include and recruit underrepresented and minority students?
President Mason: Again, I think it's the whole way in which they approach life — which may be different from ways in which others approach life. The way they think, the cultural traditions that they perhaps were raised with. When you're out in the workforce after you leave the University, being exposed to different types of people and different ways of thinking and different ways of looking at life and different cultures and traditions, that's extremely important because that's likely what you'll be facing in the workforce. We know that many employers today are looking for people who have a diversity of experiences. In other words, haven't just been raised in one place all their life and never experienced any other part of the country or any other part of the world and that's part of the reason why we also do so much study abroad and why we encourage students to get involved in activities that might take them beyond the boundaries of Iowa and into communities that they perhaps haven't been exposed to.
The DI: Do you think the way Iowa's currently doing things does a good job of exposing students to those different ways of thinking and those different cultures?
Mason: I think we're always looking for even better ways. I think we've got some good ways, but we can always do better.
Is there anything new that's in the process now? I know we're expanding a lot of the programs that we know that work. We're getting to the point now where we're asking the question, what resources do we need to make this a larger program?
The DI: What is your response to accusations of unfair hiring? Does the UI maintain practices to ensure there's a balance of political viewpoints?
Mason: We adhere strictly to federal law. Every job advertisement we put out there says we're an equal opportunity employer, and we're careful to adhere to all the guidelines and all the laws that are out there on hiring. I would tell you political affiliation is not a question that's asked when we hire individuals. We would have no idea what an individual's political affiliation would be, so from that standpoint, I'm not going to comment on any ongoing litigation, but from that standpoint of being an equal opportunity employer I believe we do a good job and we do in fact adhere quite strictly to the federal laws and guidelines that are there.
The DI: Do you think the proposed measure to the expansion of the Clery Act, requiring UIPD to report instances of dating violence and stalking, will better reflect campus safety than the current procedure?
Mason: We're always looking for ways in which we can improve safety and information that can be useful to students and parents when they're making decisions. If this in fact would do it, and without trying it, I wouldn't know the answer to that question, but I'm all for it. It really all comes down to what's the best way to provide the safest environment and at least the best information about our environment to folks who are moving here, whether it's new students or other individuals coming to the community.
The DI: What are your thoughts on the College Republican's 'coming out week' and the backlash they received from the LGBT community? How have things changed from an administrative perspective from the incident last year involving Professor Lewin?
Mason: As far as our student groups go, I'm all for a diversity of ideas, opinions – you name it, as long as they engage in civil discourse and they do it in a respectful way, I have no issues whatsoever with student groups or any other organization on campus. For me, it really is about, let's have conversations, let's keep the discourse civil, and let's be respectful of each other's ideas and speech, and we go from there.
The DI: How does the university try to promote that civil discourse among groups?
Mason: I hope that the students are understanding it when they're in classes, too – that they're hearing it from instructors and that they're engaging in civil discourse and good and open and respectful dialogue with their peers. We certainly encourage this every chance we get through student activities and advisors helping students with activities or whether it's in the classroom, and professors engaging in similar kinds of opportunities for students to express opposing viewpoints and to do it in a civil and respectful way. We've certainly had a number of symposiums on campus over the years, certainly since I've been here. I can remember former Congressman Jim Leach coming to campus and speaking very eloquently on the topic of civil public discourse. It's an important topic and it's something that we'll continue to try and teach young people how important it is.
The DI: Recently, the UISG elections were held and the I Party won. Are you looking forward to anything specific with next year's leaders and initiatives? Anything in particular? What do you think UISG should be focusing more on?
Mason: I'm looking forward to working with them, I always do. Student leadership on this campus has been stellar. Some very good people have always been willing to step up and take on the responsibility of shared governance, and the UISG group is very much a part of shared governance. I rely on them heavily for viewpoint and for leadership amongst students. I think they do an excellent job of trying to take the pulse of the student body, and then trying to assess what we can accomplish. And remember, it's just a year, so it's a pretty fixed period of time. It means really putting a concerted effort into initiatives they might want to accomplish in a relatively short period of time, and I give the student leaders a lot of credit for pushing hard. I've watched them push hard on campus safety issues, very very effective advocates for the university in Des Moines. I think there's a variety of things that student leadership can accomplish on behalf of the university and particularly on behalf of the students of the university. I wish Nic [Pottebaum] and Jessie [Tobin] all the best. I think they'll be fine student leaders.
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