Tilly: Mason's trip is not newsworthy

BY ZACH TILLY | OCTOBER 10, 2012 6:30 AM

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Last week, we consumers of the news were treated to a pair of stories — one in the Press Citizen and another right here in The Daily Iowan — about the cost of University of Iowa President Sally Mason’s trip to Asia in July.

Neither article explicitly deemed the cost ($130,000 to send Mason, her husband, and a 16-delegate posse on an eight-day trip) excessive, but the decision to run a story about the trip’s price tag on the front page had to have been made by somebody who believed the story was newsworthy.  

It wasn’t. In fact, Mason’s trip to Asia was cost-effective and wildly ordinary.

The trip, during which Mason and her merry band of world travelers hit most of the Chinese (and Taiwan) high notes — Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taipei, Beijing — was billed as a recruiting venture to keep the UI competitive on the world stage, but it may as well have been spun as a tour of the gold mine.

University spokesman Tom Moore told The Daily Iowan that international students pump more than $80 million into the local economy; half of Iowa’s international student population is from Asia. Given numbers like that, I’m for doing whatever it takes to keep our overseas connections in place. Drill through the center of the Earth and build an express tunnel to the UI, if necessary.

The potential recruitment benefits to be reaped from this trip (read: a whole mess of out-of-state tuition-payers) almost certainly outweigh the relatively low travel costs. Still, some bitter bean counters think it’s hypocritical for Mason to drop $130,000 on a trip when there’s plenty of belt-tightening to be done on the home front.

There’s a time and a place to get thrifty, of course, but this isn’t it. Trips such as this are the cost of doing business on a global scale; they’re standard operating procedure. The DI reported that other Big Ten schools, such as Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan, send administrators on international trips all the time.

So why is this story on the front page of my morning paper three months after the Masons returned to the States? Is it because somebody was banking on the fact that we’d see a six-digit number, our populist neurons would start firing, and we’d be appalled at the decadence of the Chosen Ones? Seems like it to me.

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