Q&A: Mason talks Children’s Hospital, Honors Program, and Peter Gray

BY DI STAFF | NOVEMBER 16, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Daily Iowan: President Mason, you’ve put out a statement about the allegations concerning Dr. Peter Gray and his resignation last week. You’ve said you won’t further comment on Gray specifically, I understand every situation is different, but is there any information you can provide to readers about the timeline or procedure for this sort of case?

President Sally Mason: Yeah, we are asking more questions, obviously. If you read the report, you know there are more questions to be asked and if you read the report you know we’re doing that right now. As soon as I finish the fact finding — which I hope we’ll wrap up today, maybe later, the latest tomorrow — I should have some pretty clear indication I could share with everybody about where we’re going to head, so stay tuned.

DI: Several officials including the Board of Regents have expressed concern about the rehiring process.  Will rehiring be examined throughout this process?

Mason: Absolutely.

DI: Why is it important to do so?

Mason: I think it’s really important to look at the hiring practices to make sure we follow our policies, state policies, and also to make sure that we do everything possible to find out as much as we can about candidates that are applying for jobs here at the university. Obviously, we believe we’re doing a good job — of that I need to make sure so we can do an audit and we can find out more about exactly how hiring processes are conducted and we’ll go from there.

DI: Head of the Presidential Committee on Athletics said that the fact that Gray was dismissed from Coastal Carolina should have been considered when Gray was rehired.  Do you agree?

Mason: I don’t know the facts of that at all, so I have no comment to make on that at this point.

DI: Should a dismissal from a previous employer play a roll when deciding to rehire?

Mason: It always depends on the circumstances. My understanding is that Coastal Carolina has said repeatedly that it had only to do with his performance regarding their expectations. Maybe that would play into that maybe it wouldn’t. It’s hard to second guess; it’s hard to know.

DI: Elizabeth Altmaier told the Des Moines Register that she “absolutely” should have been informed about the complaints against Gray.  Can you speak as to why she wasn’t informed?

Mason: I have no idea.

DI: What sort of chain of communication is in place for when harassment complaints are filed?

Mason: It would be good, if you wanted to know the full details of how this should be handled, our sexual misconduct response coordinator Monique DiCarlo, she should be informed any time there is sexual misconduct of any sort whether it’s sexual harassment, whether it’s sexual assault. We have tried to emphasize to people that the smartest thing you can do if you encounter something like this — if you have questions, if you’re not sure what to do, call Monique. She can help. That really should’ve been the first level of signaling right there is that Monique should’ve been informed about this.

DI: When complaints are made involving students and staff, are you informed of them?

Mason: It varies. It depends. I talk with Monique regularly, so sometimes I know about things she knows. I wouldn’t know about every unit and every incident. I would tell you that as soon as we became aware of the situation that we’re talking about right now, the individual was placed on leave and an investigation was begun and that’s the process.

DI: Once it reaches a certain amount of complaints are you notified or is it whenever you speak to Ms. DiCarlo?

Mason: It’s hard without looking at individual situations. It’s hard to draw generalizations about these things.

DI: In an interview with KGAN yesterday, you said you would be meeting with the Regents to discuss “a sound strategy” for moving forward.

Mason: I did.

DI: Have you spoken to the Regents?

Mason: I did this morning, yes.

DI: Can you elaborate on specifics of that strategy?

Mason: No, you’ll hear that just as soon as we’re done with the fact-finding.

DI: A Hawk Alert was sent on Oct. 31 warning students of an armed robbery on the north side of Iowa City, and while the alert appeared through text message and email, the UI webpage alert, the phone messages contained no real information.  The Daily Iowan has reported on several technical issues with Hawk Alerts in the past. What discussions are you having, if any, with the university’s Department of Public Safety in order to ensure that these alerts are as accurate and timely as possible?

Mason: I know the Department of Public Safety continues to look at these every time they issue one to see how we can make it better.

DI: Have you spoken to the department?

Mason: I have not, no.

DI: Construction to the front entrance of the Field House has begun and officials told The Daily Iowan that while the front entrance is being razed to make way for the two-way street for the new Children’s Hospital, the entire building could come down if more room were required for the Children’s Hospital.  As the Field House is a landmark obviously on campus and in Iowa City, would you want to see the Field House survive?

Mason: I don’t have a comment on that.

DI: Do you know when the community would know whether it’s necessary to demolish the Field House?

Mason: I do not, no.

DI: What progress has been made to the construction of the new Children’s Hospital?

Mason: Well, you can start to see the progress now. The walkway that goes to the new transportation center over there was to be able to move the transportation center from where it was, which would impede our construction of the Children’s Hospital to a site on the other side of Kinnick and that’s completed now, so you can get from the parking garage to the hospital in an enclosed walkway and then to the transportation center in an enclosed walkway, too. That was step number one. You can see all the fences have been put up now around the parking structure that will ultimately come down and a lot of the land is being prepared for the construction that will ultimately begin. So I said, you know it’s a work in progress. It’s going to be a long time coming, but it’s a big project because we have to move parking underground, so it’s going to be a big hole in the not-too-distant future.

DI: Officials say the UI Center for Human Rights will close due to a lack of funding, but students are protesting its closure in hopes of keeping the service alive.  What are your hopes for the future of the center?

Mason: Well, my understanding is that the activities of the center are being distributed to two of the colleges. I think that’s perfectly appropriate.  You know, we went through the serious budget problems that we went through as a result of the recession. We realize we couldn’t be all things to all people and while I very much appreciate the community and the students interest in this, I also appreciate the very much difficult decision that the provost had to make in terms of what could we continue to do versus what could we do perhaps similarly, but in a different capacity and save some money. It is what it is. We’ll see how it works in the future and I’m sure as time progresses if all of us who have concerns about The Center for Human Rights decide in the future that we need to be doing more or we need to be doing something different, we can certainly revisit that, but for now I think the decisions have been made and they’re sound decisions.

DI: Earlier this month, university officials announced they would be adding more requirements to the Honors Program, and that such changes would likely cut the number of students involved in the program by 50 percent.  What benefits could students see from a more competitive Honors Program?

Mason: It’s hard to say. I think Art Spisak is obviously the person who can best comment on the changes and why he feels it’s necessary to make these changes. Certainly as we have seen every freshman class for the last five years come in and they’re better prepared and they’re just really outstanding students and in some cases large numbers of them were automatically qualified for the honors program. I think it was appropriate to start to look at the qualifications for the Honors Program. It is supposed to be a special kind of opportunity for a certain type of student. So looking at those qualifications and making some changes makes some pretty good sense.

DI: What will this say about the university?

Mason: I think what I’ve been seeing at the university since I’ve arrived is we’re very, very fortunate to be attracting the best and the brightest and we’re very pleased about that. We want to continue to do that.

DI: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Mason: I would add we had the privilege last night of being with our student veterans, our student veterans group and sort of wrapping up a week long series of events honoring our student veterans. I’m very proud of the way we’re trying to serve student veterans — there are more than 500 of them on our campus and the numbers continue to grow. Last weekend at the football game, we were able to do some pretty amazing things with a wonderful flag display on the field that our student veterans participated in. I had the brunch I always have before the football games for our alumni and donors and friends, I had one of our student veterans speak to them, so he was with me up in our box at the football game. When our football team came out on the field, I saw those helmets, and I said to Alec, who is our student veteran, I said, ‘Gee, Alec you’d look really great in one of those football helmets.’ They’re really quite special. From way up where we were, you couldn’t see all the detail on them honoring the vets. The exact wording on the back of the helmet was quite special, and the Tigerhawk with the American flag motif was very special. So last night at my house, I was able to give Alec a helmet from last week’s game, and I was so pleased. It was really a very special event, so I think if I could add anything else, once again, thanks to our veterans for the service they provide to our country and thanks to them for deciding the University of Iowa was a great place to go to school.

What I always tell people the simple thing to do is to remember that if something comes up, call Monique. Call Monique. But stay tuned because I think tomorrow will have some very firm statements on how we’ll move forward to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

DI: So we can expect statements tomorrow?

Mason: At the very latest Monday, but I’m hoping to wrap this up. I’ve got a few more folks that I have to talk to a few more facts and questions I have to ask and I think we’ll be ready to go after that.

DI: And your statements will be regarding what the next step is?

Mason: Really ways in which I believe we can prevent this from happening again and take precautions that will keep our students and constituents safe, so that’s the most important thing.

DI: Do you have any idea what those precautions would be?

Mason: I’m not going to talk about those right now, not until they’re firm.

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