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Q&A: Mason talks internal audit, in-state tuition

BY DI STAFF | FEBRUARY 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Daily Iowan sat down with President Sally Mason on Thursday about her requests to the state Legislature about funding for the regent universities, her recent efforts of transparency, and the recent construction on campus.

The Daily Iowan: President Mason, this week you spoke to members of the state Legislature about funding for the regent universities. The Daily Iowan spoke with a few local legislators who said the state Board of Regents should’ve asked for an allocation larger than 2.6 percent. Do you believe the request was reasonable, or could the regents have asked for more support?

President Sally Mason: I suppose one could say we could always ask for more, but I think what we asked for is basically what we need. The last few years obviously have been difficult and challenging on the budget side. We’re pleased that the Legislature and the state has come through the recession and now has funds that officials are thinking about expending — that’s a change, obviously, from the last few years. And we are prepared to help shape use of those funds in any way that we can that would be helpful for the regents’ institutions. So at least the 2.6 percent on the base, that was at least what we needed to be able to freeze tuition. The governor recommended 2.6 percent. We hope that we end up with at least 2.6 percent going forward and certainly if legislators would like to augment those funds, we would not be anxious to turn them down in any way. I think it was really important for us to ensure that the base increase was there so that we could freeze resident tuition.

DI: You've expressed your interest in extending the tuition freeze for in-state undergraduate students throughout your remaining time as president. What are your plans for ensuring that this plan is put into action, and that officials at Iowa State and UNI will also support extending the tuition freeze beyond the next academic year?

Mason: I can’t speak for the other institutions and I wouldn’t even try to and the final decision is always up to the Board of Regents. My comments were that I would advocate for tuition freeze, assuming that we are able to get inflationary increases in appropriations from the state. We’ve worked very hard here at the university to be able to become more efficient to use our resources better so that we could be in a position to advocate this particular issue. I told The Des Moines Register this week that it was important to me personally that I am a first-generation college student. We didn’t have a lot of money, it was hard to go to college, it was expensive to go to college, even way back when I went to college. So I can really sympathize with our students who struggle and the families who struggle and 25 percent of our student body are first-generation college students. I had to work, I worked, some times I worked full-time while I was in college to get through. I know how hard it is to maintain your studies and work, so for me it’s important to try to keep college as affordable as we possibly can and I think we’ve worked hard to try to put that as a priority and I’m going to advocate it as strongly as I can going forward.

DI: Can you explain a little bit by what you mean by advocate?

Mason: Advocate means I am going to be very vocal about the need that I feel to keep tuition level or certainly at or below inflationary rates going forward but it isn’t entirely my decision — it is the Board of Regents decision. In no way am I trying to usurp their either priorities or their decision-making. They have the final decision, and they have to take all three institutions into consideration. That is entirely up to them there isn’t something I can do, the only thing I can say to them, here’s what I would ask for and here is why I would ask for it.

DI: What would you say to a graduate student or an out-of-state student who questions why the tuition freeze only applies to in-state undergraduates? How would UI officials continue to market the university as an affordable option as tuition continues to rise for that group of students?

Mason: Well we are the University of Iowa and our first responsibility is always to Iowans. That’s not to say that we don’t value the non-resident students or the graduate students for that matter. In terms of the graduate students, we always look closely at what graduate education costs and we try to keep those costs down and we would do the same for our non-resident undergraduate students too. I’d like to see us stay with no more than inflationary increases on tuition and certainly non-resident tuition but fees as well. It really is incumbent upon us to manage our resources very carefully so that we don’t have to pass the full cost of increases onto our constituents, our students.

Well you know I am really pleased that in two major college guides: the Fiske Guide, people look at the Fiske Guide a lot. Its ‘best buys,’ and we’ve been mentioned in the Fiske Guide year after year after year as a ‘best buy.’ And similarly Kiplinger’s recently looked at the top 100 ‘Best Buys’ in colleges and we made that list, so that’s how we’re going to market ourselves. We are high quality, we are a ‘best buy.’ We deliver very, very, very excellent education at a very affordable price, and I think that marketing is really important going forward you’re going to see a lot of that on billboards and TV commercials, you name it.

DI: Several local legislators proposed a bill that, if approved, would allow DREAMers to receive in-state tuition. A few regents told The Daily Iowan they would personally support the idea of in-state tuition for these students. What are your thoughts on offering DREAMers in-state tuition, and do you think it's at all likely that we could see this approved some time in the near future?

Mason: I don’t know if it will be approved, obviously. Any student who applies to the University of Iowa and who has graduated from an accredited high school here in Iowa, and has an Iowa address gets in-state tuition. There is no question on our admissions forms about citizenship. There are questions obviously about whether or not you have graduated high school, what your high school GPA was, so forth and so on. To us, that is the important question. We’re pleased obviously to accept any and all qualified Iowa students, and for us Iowa students are just what I described.

DI: Do you think the proposed bill will have an impact on any other universities?

Mason: I don’t know. I suspect that most universities, certainly the Regent universities, where so many Iowa students go to. We all follow the same rules, so all three of our institutions do the same thing.

DI: You also requested that the legislature provide additional funding for the State Hygienic Lab. The Daily Iowan previously reported that the lab was forced the cut full-time positions and the use of equipment in the facility. If approved, what specifically would you like to see the funding for the lab go towards?

Mason: The last several years have been pretty hard on the Hygenic Lab. So as you pointed out they have had to make pretty significant cutbacks, not only in the work their doing but also in personnel, and those are hard cutbacks to make. I made the point with legislators at the Education Appropriations Subcommittee the other day that one of the things that happened in 2009 is federal law came into being that said that the lab has to provide 24-7 transportation and analysis of samples. It’s a federally mandated law. That happened to be right economically at the worst time you could possibly imagine when budget cuts were large. So the lab has struggled and they don’t even have a choice they have to do this. They have to shift these resources in order to be in mandate with this federal law and still try and do everything before then. Which is pretty significant work if you look at the Powerpoint slide that I had, you can see how many samples that the lab processes each year from virtually every county in the state. They really do need to have some augmented funding so that we can keep the personnel and the transportation costs that we need to keep in check.

DI: The results of the Athletic Department's internal audit regarding Peter Gray were reported during the Board of Regents meeting last night. What actions are next for the university now that the results of the audit have been reported? What goals do you have to increase compliance university-wide for sexual misconduct training, as well as improving training for staff evaluations?

Mason: I think that the audit shows the importance of having a really strong and good internal audit program. Todd Stewart is first rate and he has some tremendous people that do great work for us. The two things to come from that particular audit that we are going to work on very closely and very carefully is to make sure and follow up on personnel evaluations so that evaluations are done in a timely way and evaluations are included in personnel files. And secondly we have mandatory training. We need to get the numbers there up. At one time we had better than 95 percent compliance on that but we’ve had turnover, new personnel coming, and we need to follow up and make sure we get that compliance back up to 100 percent. We will.

We will get there. People just need to be reminded of the training opportunities. They can do them in person, they can do them online. There are several different ways in which they can get training. We are always looking at new opportunities for tools, whether they be online or face to face kinds of training. We are always looking for new ones that can be useful to faculty, staff and students.

DI: This week, you met with members of the legislature and the editorial board of The Register. In terms of outreach and being transparent with the media and Iowa's governing bodies, how far do you believe you've come? If you had to estimate, how much do you have left to do before you believe the Regents would be satisfied with your outreach efforts?

Mason: We’re working on it. It’s always going to be a work in progress. Outreach never ends, outreach is something that I do all the time. We are going to be a more focused in our outreach. I want to make sure we reach parts of the state that perhaps we haven’t reached before. I want to make sure that our messages are consistent. I want to make sure that if there is information that the public wants from within the university, that we do our very best to make sure that it gets out there.

You should ask the Regents. That’s not one I can readily answer. They want to see more, and they are going to see a lot more. They are going to see it be very concerted. I’ll be carefully documenting, tracking the work that we are doing and looking for results. For me it is about the results. We’ve got lots of things that we are doing [like] the Hawkeye Caucus, which this year I think has shown that it is catching on. People are now trying to emulate it. Our Hawkeye days at the state house were so successful last year that UNI decided to do it this year. That tells me that we are getting some traction with some of the things that we are doing. We are going to keep doing those things and keep looking at what the results are and then adjusting, depending on what the results are.

DI: University officials told The Daily Iowan that the new home for the Center for Human Rights could be announced as early as this week. Following the student protests and miscommunication in recent months regarding the center, what do you envision for the future of the Center for Human Rights? How do you think UI administrators have handled the controversy surrounding the center?

Mason: It’s really in the hands of the Provost, but I would say that he is doing a great job of working with our academic units to find a really good, solid, long-term home for the center. It isn’t that we want the center to go away. That isn’t the point of this at all. We want to find a stable, long-term home where the scholarship, where the kinds of things an educational institution is known for, can be done right along side the other activities too. I think we are on a good course and hopefully he will have a formal announcement soon that he can share will everybody.

Some of these things take more time than people would like and negotiating a long-term, solid home I suspect took a little more time than Barry, our Provost, would have liked. If we had an answer sooner we certainly would have shared it sooner. I think he is working systematically in a good direction to find a good solution to the entire situation.

DI: Last week, the Center for Diversity and Enrichment inadvertently sent an email containing the names and GPAs of roughly 1,700 students, therefore violating FERPA. Chief Diversity Officer Georgina Dodge said the center would implement training to teach its staff how to properly accounts and prevent this incident from happening again. What lesson do you think can be learned from this? With all kinds of records being available and accessible online now, do you think an incident such as this calls for similar training across the university?

Mason: First and foremost let me say that it was very important and Georgina did the right thing—apologize to every student that was effected by this. It was a mistake, it was inadvertent—it wasn’t intentional. We all understand FERPA, we all understand our responsibilities in terms of students’ rights to privacy. To have something like this happen was extremely unfortunate. I’m pleased with the way EOD is handling this, in terms of apologizing to all the students and then doing the training to make sure this doesn’t ever happen again. It was from what I understand a part-time clerk who made the mistake. It’s horribly embarrassing to university as well as to the individual. Had it been intentional there certainly would have been very dire consequences. As it was, we are working hard to correct it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I think that we have to make sure that people who are responsible, especially for student records, are fully aware of the need to keep those private. I believe that most of our folks have pretty good training ahead of time. It’s a really of when you’re hiring temporary people that mistakes can be made before you know it.

DI: Following the resignation of former College of Education Dean Maragaret Crocco in December, what progress can you report having been made within the college? Have you touched base with any faculty who had expressed concerns? What do you think of the job interim dean Nicholas Colangelo has done? How soon can we expect to see a search committee established for a new dean?

Mason: I am very pleased with Nick Colangelo and his willingness to serve as interim. He is a world-class scholar. I think now the important thing is to listen and understand what the issues were that were of a concern to the faculty and the staff—make sure we get those addressed and the college is in good shape. And then we can think about the next steps for leadership there. I think the provost is still collecting information and understanding what the fundamental issues are there.

DI: The demolition of the UIHC Parking Ramp 2 has been well under way. With some concerns raised about the amount of construction on the west side during this time, what measures are UI officials taking in order to ensure that faculty and patients alike are affected in the least amount possible? 

Mason: We’ve taken some big steps already. The overpass from the parking ramp that is across from the hospital was built ahead of time because we knew when we got ready to do the demolition of the parking ramp and start digging the hole for the parking ramp, we knew that would be disruptive. I am a patient over there too. I get all of my medical care over at UIHC and I’ve been going out to the Iowa River Landing for my doctors appointments. It’s tremendous. That was the other thing we did-- building the River Landing Clinic out there and moving all of our ambulatory care out there. That cuts down on traffic. They are way ahead of schedule, by tomorrow the ramp should be gone. It’s been pretty good winter weather. If we could stay ahead of schedule, that would be great because there is going to be even more construction, and not just on the west side. When we start to build the school of music it’s going to get messy downtown. That project is a big one.

Hancher auditorium— they’ve started site preparation now. Between Hancher Auditorium and the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery building we are going to have a new art building. There is a whole lot going on. I apologize a lot to people for all the construction and the mess. The short-term pain is going to give us some long-term gain.

DI: David Hensley and Dan Reed are meeting with a subcommittee of the legislature today to request support for the university's entrepreneurship certificate. With Reed having now served in his position for a while, what can you say about his efforts since starting his tenure as vice president of economic and research development? Do you believe his efforts will contribute to the continuing growth of the entrepreneurship program?

Mason: He’s phenomenal. The work he is doing, the vision that he is putting forward, the knowledge that he brings to the University of Iowa is just phenomenal. We are very fortunate to have him. I think we are very fortunate to have the team of David Hensley, who knows Iowa. That team of David Hensley and Dan Reed is going to transform the way we think about research and economic development at the University of Iowa and the impact we can have not only locally but statewide—and nation-wide for that matter. So that any community in Iowa can have access to the same kinds of expertise we have here on campus when it comes to helping people think, behave like entrepreneurs.

DI: The Daily Iowan reported that the number of music majors has decreased since the 2008 flood and the displacement of the former School of Music building. Similar numbers from the Reigstrar's Office indicated that the same rings true for art majors. What can UI officials do to promise music majors a quality education and enjoyable time at the University of Iowa, despite lacking a central facility for music courses?

Mason: I think recruiting is going to get a lot easier next fall because the kids coming in in the fall are going to be able to see the pictures of the new building going up. They are going to be in those buildings. The faculty are excited about it, the staff are excited about it and if students don’t get excited about new art and music facilities I don’t know what else we can offer them. It really is an amazing transformation. It has been tough, the last four years. But, the end is in sight. There aren’t too many places around the country that are getting new state-of-the-art facilities. We’re going to be way ahead of the curve.


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