Mason talks tuition freeze, SAE, and children's hospital in DI Q&A

BY DI STAFF | SEPTEMBER 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Daily Iowan: The state Board of Regents proposed a tuition freeze for students as early as the next school year. Do you think there's a significant need for a tuition freeze now?

President Sally Mason: Well that’s certainly not they way we're thinking. When I proposed the idea of freezing tuition it really is as long as were able to continue to argue effectively for state appropriations I think we can hold the in-state tuition levels even going forward. From my perspective the goal is not to think of this, as ‘well we’ll hold it down for one year then jack it up even higher two years form now.’ In fact the goal is to hold it even or even to find ways to reduce it going forward —  a very different way of thinking about it but it’s a way of we hope allowing families to do some good planning for what the costs are likely to be. And for the resident students, for the Iowa kids coming to the University of Iowa, being able to plan for two, three, four years ahead on time knowing that tuition isn’t likely to go up very much if at all during that time, I think it’s a great thing, we’ll see what happens. Obviously we’ve got some work to do and the Board of Regents sets tuition — I don’t. I can make a recommendation and my recommendation is to hold it down for as long as we possibly can.

DI: The state Board of Regents will present the final report on the possible alternative for tuition set-asides at their next meeting. How will it benefit students?

Mason: I think that certainly what’s been proposed at the last meeting makes a lot of sense. And it’s an opportunity obviously to provide the kinds of financial assistance, need-based financial assistance to Iowa kids whose families really need it and that’s an outstanding opportunity for us and obviously for families in Iowa. I’m very enthusiastic about it. I’m enthusiastic about the opportunity perhaps to even be able to reduce tuition going forward depending on how all of the pieces fall into place and assuming that the plan works as proposed. It could mean I think a real opportunity for Iowa families to continue to get an excellent education at even better prices than they can today.

DI: Following the recent suspension of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity here at the UI due to hazing violations and other misconduct, do you believe this incident reflects on the University and the reputation of Greek life on campus?

Mason: I hope not. I certainly hope not. I hope this was an aberrant incidence of behaviors that really aren’t appropriate and don’t represent Greek life. My experience with men and women who are in fraternities and sororities on this campus has largely been one where I see the really good community kinds of service things that the young people who are part of these organizations do. That’s what I really think Greek life is and can be about. I certainly hope that the hazing and alcohol abuse issues that are a part of what happened with SAE is not the typical of what goes on here, and I applaud the chapter for taking swift action to discipline the fraternity and its members and going forward hopefully they’ll learn from this and realize that that’s just not good behavior under any circumstances.

DI: Malik Juweid recently requested that he depose you himself so he could use your statements in his appeal of the decision to dismiss him from the university. What is your response to Juweid's actions following his dismissal?

Mason: He’s entitled obviously to say and do whatever he feels is appropriate. Do I agree with it? Not necessarily.

DI: Construction of the UI Children's Hospital building is slated to start next month. Do university officials have an estimate as to when construction will begin?

Mason: It’s actually underway now, a lot of what’s going on over there in terms of preparing the steps for the eventually construction of the children’s hospital is going on. But some of the first steps will include tearing down the parking ramp that’s immediately in front of the main entrance to the hospital — hospital ramp two. We’re also going to be installing a more formal road; I always talk about it going right through the Field House. It’s actually next to the Field House. It’ll be a new entryway to the hospital. And that will allow us obviously to take down that parking ramp and then begin digging a very large hole that will become underground parking for the hospital long term. Once that part of the project is finished then the actual Children’s Hospital itself will begin construction for that project after that. It’s a couple years before you actually start to see the structure of the Children’s Hospital coming up, because of all that prep work that will actually mark or demark what I would call the new entry way to the hospital and the new structures will add to the front of the hospital, it's going to look very different than it does today. There’s going to be a lot more green space there and it’s a long-term plan. We’re talking about a 25- to 50-year plan now. The Children’s Hospital is the first piece of a very, very long-term plan for complete restructuring of the front of the hospital.

DI: The River Landing Clinic is slated to open next month. How do you think the new clinic will change the medical landscape of Iowa City?

Mason: We’ll have the grand opening a week from Friday and they’ll start seeing patients out there the following Monday, Oct. 8. So when I go for my next check-up with my doctor, I’ll be driving out to Coralville. We’re moving a quarter of a million … over 200,000 patient visits a year of people like me who come to see their doctor for regular checkups. That’s all moving now to Coralville. That should decongest some of the daily traffic we have going to and from the hospital. That’s really the reason why we can tear down that parking ramp and start the Children’s Hospital project with their configuration of the parking underground. We had to find a way to decongest things or it just wouldn’t have been feasible to still have all the traffic of all the people coming everyday to the hospital and at the same time trying to do major construction projects right in front of the hospital. It’s kind of a domino game where we’re putting the pieces of the puzzle in place one at a time and the completion of the river landing project allows us to go full speed ahead with the other major projects with the front part of the hospital. And that’s just one part of a very ambitious building program that we have going on right now. The Pappa John Biomedical Discovery Building is now starting to actually look like a building. That was the huge hole in the ground on Newton road for the last several years — but it’s really beginning to take shape now. That’s a facility that I think will be very exciting. It’s going to house interdisciplinary research. It will have some of the most cutting edge and valuable research that will go on in Iowa. For example, the diabetes research institute that the Fraternal Order of the Eagle has helped fund over the last several years will live in this facility. My partners, the Eagles, have said many times they expect diabetes to be cured in that building. And that won't be the only kind of research going on in there. There will be research into obesity, into Alzheimer’s, into all kinds of diseased right now that are very serious problems obviously for all of us and having a facility like that where we can bring together teams of researchers to tackle these big questions is going to be very, very exciting. On the other side is the new residence hall — the other big hole in the ground right now up by the Quad. There’s a fence up now so it's harder to see the big hole, but it’s obviously going to change the way that side of that campus looks, too. And in about three years we’ll have 501 beds for freshmen — for undergraduates at least. And the building is being designed to really facilitate the living-learning community concept. Each floor of that residence hall will have the opportunity to put maybe as many as two living-learning communities on a floor. We know that that’s a great help when it comes to our student success initiatives and our retention and helping students adjust to new life at the University of Iowa and ultimately getting their University of Iowa degree. We’re excited about the possibility after 45 years finally building another residence hall. And that’s another very big project. And then if we add all of the flood projects on top of that plus our request to replace the pharmacy building — that’s a lot of projects. The pharmacy building, you know, people look at the current pharmacy building and say well that’s not nearly as old as some of the other facilities we have on campus. One of the things that we’ve learned as we have become a more sustainable and more efficient university, we now have an energy center. And our energy center allows us to monitor every building on campus for energy usage minute by minute, day by day, 24 hours a day. We actually know which buildings cost us the most in terms of energy consumption. And I would tell you the pharmacy building right now holds the record for costing us the most in terms of energy usage on a daily basis. The rational of needing the new pharmacy facilities not only to have better facilities for training pharmacists of the future but also because that building is such a huge, huge energy drain on campus. We know we can design and build a more efficient building than the one we currently have. I’m excited about that project for lots of reasons, not the least of which is it will be far better and healthier for our campus facility once it’s designed and completed.

DI: As construction to the new residence hall on the West side of campus continues, have there been any changes in the timeline of completion for the new dorm? 

Mason: As far as I know were on time and going forward — now ask me after the winter. Around here, construction projects can slow in the wintertime depending on the weather, obviously. Last winter was great for us. I don’t think we had any delays in construction, if we had any stoppages they were short because the weather really cooperated nicely last winter. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we have another easy winter and the projects can just move right along.  

DI: With some students complaining of being inconvenienced, have UI officials made any changes or alterations to their plans to minimize the effects of the construction on students?

Mason: Obviously we knew people would be inconvenienced. It’s a short-term inconvenience for I think what will be a very long-term benefit to students on campus. I apologize all the time for all the construction projects we have. It’s hard these days not to be inconvenienced either by having to find a different way to go because a road might be closed because of construction or in the case of students that are living up on that side of campus — I know some have said that it’s noisy and I’m thinking ‘we don’t start construction before 8 in the morning usually and we finish pretty early in the evening’ so I’m not sure what their sleep hours are. I’m hoping they’re getting regular sleep hours and not trying to sleep during the daytime hours because that is exactly when we’re trying to do the work up there. We’ll obviously if we hear things that suggest that there’s a problem, we’ll look at it and see what we can do to accommodate and make sure that were not inconveniencing people to their detriment but in the meantime, sometimes the price of progress is a little bit of pain along the way. We try to accommodate the academic schedule. We go full speed ahead when school’s not in session on construction projects. You probably noticed if you’re here during the summertime, literally the day after commencement it's like the bulldozers all move onto campus and some of us. I didn’t realize this summer that we were going to start work so fast on the T. Anne Cleary walkway, so the day after commencement and I decided I’m going to walk to work in the morning and then discover that I can’t go the usual way I walk because they’ve just closed the Cleary walkway off and it was closed most of the summer. But we got it open just before classes started. So a lot of projects go on while the students aren’t here for the very reason that we don’t want to inconvenience them or in any way make it more difficult for them to get to class or do the things that they need to be doing on campus. But in the case of the residence hall, I’m afraid there is going to be a little noise and a little inconvenience for a while.

DI: It was announced this week that the groundbreaking for the new Hancher Auditorium building has been postponed to an undetermined date. Can you provide us with any specific details of what still needs to be done before the groundbreaking can occur?

Mason: I’ll be real clear about this. We have one more step to take with FEMA. We need one last signature from the Director of Homeland Security before we are absolutely confident we can move forward. I don’t want to put any of these projects in jeopardy by getting ahead of ourselves. So we’re just going to wait until we’ve got all the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed and once that’s done, then we can plan the groundbreaking, have a celebration and be very excited about starting the projects. So, stay tuned. I think it’ll happen pretty soon.

DI: A proposal for a new hotel in downtown Iowa City on the corner of Clinton and Burlington Streets was released yesterday — across the street from the future site of the new music building. Do you think the Iowa City community is prepared for all of the construction that is either planned or proposed for the next several years?

Mason: I don’t know, I guess were going to find out. It is a lot of construction, you know. It’s more than a billion dollars worth of construction just at the university alone and as developers get interested in adding projects to the mix I think we’re going to see lots of construction jobs here and, probably again, I’ll be apologizing a lot for people having to find different ways to get to work and avoiding construction sites for a while. But it’s exciting.

DI: Do you think all the new projects will enhance Iowa City?

Mason: I think it shows the health of this community. You can’t do this much development if you don’t have a healthy community. If people don’t want to move here, if it’s not an interesting place to be, this isn’t going to happen. And the fact that it’s all happening now I think speaks very well for the community and very well in the ways in which people view the community as a place that they want to move to, a place that they want to live. And more and more we’re seeing people interested in moving back into the city. It used to be that you wanted to move out to the suburbs and have lots of space all around you and now we’re seeing people actually enjoying being more a part of the city life. It’s great. It’s good to have those kinds of options.

DI: The University of Iowa Athletics Department announced earlier this month that they plan to have all student tickets for home football and basketball games be distributed through online. How do you believe this new ticket system for home sporting events will benefit students?

Mason: I hope it’ll make them easy to access, for one thing. I hope it’ll cut down on students losing tickets and we hope it will increase students coming to athletic events. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible and I think as readily available as we can so that students will take advantage of this and come and enjoy the athletic activities. Should be a lot harder to try and fake a ticket or pretend that you’re some other student and use their ticket and that sort of thing.

DI: Do you think there are any drawbacks to the new ticket system?

Mason: Change is always tricky, [and] can be hard. As connected as all of you young folks are it’s hard to imagine that this won’t be easier in the long run. All these devices that you carry it around — wouldn’t it be nice if you just had it on your iPhone, you could just show it and be done with it. As long as you don’t lose your phone you’re good.

DI: The University of Iowa signed onto a partnership with Iowa Central Community College, securing the University's partnership with all 16 community colleges in the state. How do these partnerships providing extended education for distance learners reflect on the University as a major institution?

Mason: I hope it’s viewed very positively. I believe it should be. I think the opportunity to continue to live in a community and have a full-time job and still earn a University of Iowa degree without having to come to Iowa City is a tremendous opportunity, and every community that we’ve gone to where we’ve signed these agreements and we’ve talked about how it’s now possible to get a University of Iowa degree right here in your home, in your backyard basically without having to pick your family up, move them to Iowa City, is a tremendous thing. I hear nothing but positives about that, I think we have to grow and expand these opportunities so that they’re even more of them in the future. We started out with each of the community colleges — we have a discreet set of offerings, things that we know the community needs like nursing degrees. There will come a day before too long when a two-year nursing degree won’t be enough to be a qualified nurse in a hospital or even in a doctor’s office, so having the opportunity to go ahead and earn that four-year degree and do most of your work online and not have to quit your job, not have to leave your family, whatever it might be, do it right there. I think it’s great and I think we’re just going to continue to see more of that in the future.  

DI: When providing topics for today's interview, Mr. Moore disclosed that you would no longer respond to questions regarding the University's contract with Anheuser-Busch. Can you tell us anything about why you've decided to no longer discuss the contract with The Daily Iowan?

Mason: I’m not talking about it anymore. You’ve beaten that to death. There isn’t anything else to say. I don’t mind because it’s The Daily Iowan — you’re learning. But it’s not news. You’ve beat it to death, you’ve had your fun with it — move on. Get on to some of the important issues. It certainly isn’t news.

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