Hold Mason to higher standards


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A letter obtained by the Des Moines Register revealed last week that University of Iowa President Sally Mason has worked without a contract for more than four months. The letter was written to Mason from Regent President Craig Lang after an August meeting in which the state Board of Regents decided not to renew Mason’s five-year contract.

Lang’s letter cited a need for Mason to “reframe and reprioritize” her goals for the 2012-13 academic year; specifically, the regents instructed Mason to further emphasize the UI’s positive contribution to the state and improve the university’s relationship with the Iowa Legislature.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that the regents are right to hold Mason to high standard while deciding how best to move forward. Mason’s contract should not be renewed until she and her administration show a true commitment to improving their communication with the public.

On Dec. 7, Mason released a statement playing down the significance of her lack of contract and outlining her goals for the university, which include expanding in-state enrollment, increasing collaboration with the state’s other public universities, and securing more federal research grants.

At the top of Mason’s list was a commitment to improve communication and public relations at the university. In August, she wrote to the regents that she would strive to “increase the amount of positive communication in Iowa about the University of Iowa to build greater support and brand recognition of the university by the general public and elected officials.”

Mere months after she expressed her desire to improve the university’s communications at the behest of the regents, Mason has only worsened the UI’s reputation, thanks to her commitment to opacity. Transparency has been thoroughly lacking of late at the top of the university’s chain of command.

In early November, Athletics Department adviser Peter Gray resigned quietly amid an internal investigation that found that Gray had repeatedly violated the UI’s sexual-harassment policies. The incidents, some of which included inappropriate contact with student-athletes, were made public only after the results of the university’s investigation were leaked to the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Since the information leaked, Mason and the university administration have ardently declined comment about the scandal and have maintained that the incident is a private matter.

Mason’s exceedingly poor response to Gray’s resignation has repeatedly drawn the ire of  The Daily Iowan, but last week the regents also weighed in on the matter.

“Clearly, the latest incident at the UI suggests the UI is not doing a good enough job in this area,” Lang said, referring to Iowa’s handling of sexual misconduct by faculty members. “It is my expectation that the university continues to address the obvious breakdown in the process, then develop and implement new procedures as soon as possible to ensure the full implementation of board policies to fully protect our students.”

Obviously, Mason’s behavior over the past month has not instilled confidence among her employers that she has made a serious commitment to improving public relations at the UI. If Mason is to restore faith in her administration and win a contract extension, she must finally put aside her apparent compulsion to keep secrets and recognize that the university is, ultimately, accountable to the public.

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