Q&A: Mason talks Board of Regents, campus renovations

BY DI STAFF | APRIL 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Daily Iowan: The Iowa Senate rejected on Monday two of Gov. Terry Branstad’s appointments to the state Board of Regents, including the reappointment of Regent President Craig Lang.  How would you describe your working relationship with Regent Lang?

President Sally Mason: I’ve had a good working relationship with President Lang. We’ve certainly had many, many opportunities for discussion and conversation. He needs to be thanked for his service on the board. He has done a good job on the Board of Regents. Citizen volunteers — that’s who these people are that serve as regents, and they are hard jobs. I’m prepared, anxious, and willing to work with anyone who is appointed, and that decision is of course up to the governor and the Legislature.

DI: A new president will now be appointed among the regents following Lang’s departure. What challenges do you believe the new president and the regents as a whole will face following the Senate’s decisions?

Mason: I don’t know that the challenges are going to be very different. The challenges are helping the institutions, the special schools, and the three universities — helping us obviously achieve our aspirations and our goals. The regents do a darn good job of that. It will be saying goodbye to Regent [Jack] Evans and Regent [David] Miles and Regent Lang in April. They all need to be thanked for the wonderful job they have done on behalf of Iowans for the Iowa regent institutions.

DI: The Transparency Task Force met for the first time April 5. What are your thoughts following that initial meeting?

Mason: I am not part of that meeting, but Mark Braun, my chief of staff, is a member of that committee, so he keeps me informed. I think the committee is feeling its way along. Exactly what work it will do, how it will, I hope, come to some consensus and some agreements on best practices and will inform all of us at the regent institutions about how to do our work with regard to transparency even better. That’s what I am looking forward to.

DI: Can you talk specifically about what you and other UI administrators have accomplished since you were asked to “reframe and reprioritize” your goals for the 2012-2013 academic year?

Mason: A lot of that was around communication. A lot of that is in process. Certainly, Hawkeye Caucus Day was a big part of communications. We are also now doing a lot more to let people, certainly across Iowa and legislators in particular, know about what is happening in their local areas. So hometown Hawkeyes, caucus information that is being shared, doing a better job of communicating information and letting more people know about the impacts that our students, our faculty, our staff have, and not just locally but across Iowa, and even across the boundaries of Iowa — that is part of how we reframed some of my goals for the future.

DI: Following the dismissal of former Rutgers coach Mike Rice, you were quoted by KCRG as saying that the video of him physically and verbally abusing his basketball players “made your skin crawl.” Head basketball coach Fran McCaffery can be a vocal coach, often seen yelling at his players. Where do you as president of this university, and as chairwoman of the Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors, draw the line when it comes to coaching? 

Mason: Certainly some of what was seen in the video was very physical. Yelling is one thing. Becoming emotional is one thing. You can learn a lot watching those things, you can learn a lot from getting to know the players. I think a good conversation on this topic can be with the athletics director, because the athletics director is typically the person that is closest to the day-to-day operations of the coaches and the day-to-day operations of student athletes. From the perspective of questions that I have, and I’ve had conversations with our athletics director to make sure that there aren’t the kind of things that were obvious on that video going on here. I appreciate emotion, and I appreciate excitement, and I appreciate energy as much as the next person, but there are lines that do need to be drawn. From time to time, sometimes we have to remind people that you have an audience here of young people, including children, that come to watch sporting events. Let’s keep it so families continue to want to come to these events.

DI: With Rutgers set to join the Big Ten, what kind of discussions will be had among university presidents and administrators to ensure that a situation like this one doesn’t happen again?

Mason: Discussion of events, whether it was Rutgers or Penn State, go on all the time, among presidents certainly, among athletics directors certainly. This just adds to the conversation. We’ve been working on ways in which the Big Ten, as a conference, can be helpful to institutions when the run into problems or have issues that are in some cases larger than the institution. Sometimes they are of a very serious nature, and they deserve conversation, and we need to learn from them. We need to learn lessons from them; we need to obviously move on from them. And we need to be certain that they are not repeated in the future.

DI: What does university administration, and you specifically do, to ensure that student-athletes are students first?

Mason: It’s been certainly part of my commentary and my comments from the very beginning. I am a big believer in the student-athlete, and we put “student” first for a reason. The thing that I have enjoyed a lot is that our coaches believe that, too. You see that in our graduation rates we have for our teams, you see it when I have the opportunity to interact with student-athletes. For the most part, they are very serious athletes, performing at a very high level — and yet they are also athletes performing at a high level in their respective sports. I have tremendous respect for the young folks that do that. It’s not easy.

DI: While there’s been a focus on the construction of new facilities following the 2008 flood, a source told The Daily Iowan that there’s a possibility Seashore Hall could come down in a few years. Likewise, there’s been rumor of the Communications Center being demolished to allow for expansion of the Seamans Center. Can you address either of these rumors? Can you speak specifically about what efforts are currently being made to restore and renovate existing buildings on campus?

Mason: They are just rumors. I have said this a couple of times to groups that we need to do something about Seashore Hall for sure. That’s a building in much need of repair. It’s not a building I can proudly show to people and say, “Look at this great academic facility.” I had in my mind assumed that Seashore Hall would probably be next on our list to repair, replace, modify significantly. Because we have an energy center and we can look at buildings in terms of what facility is the least efficient facility we have on campus, and much to my surprise, the old Pharmacy Building turned out to be least efficient and the worst building on campus. I think Seashore Hall is not far behind it. Don’t be surprised if our next priority, once we get pharmacy taken care of, very likely will be Seashore. [Renovation is] an ongoing process. Its sort of like any homeowner will tell you.

You do restoration, renovation, both according to need and what you can afford. We are always looking at our budget and saying what can we afford to do and what are our priorities with regard to renovations or improvements in buildings. A lot of our decisions are driven by efficiencies. Can we make a building, for example, [that] costs us less to run? If we can, then we work hard to find the resources to be able to do that. For example, the buildings up here on the Pentacrest, over a period of several years, got new windows. Those windows are far more energy-efficient than the old ones were. It costs less now to power these buildings than it did previously. That’s good, that’s a saving in the long term. We look at all kinds of things with regard to the age of a facility, what the needs are currently, what the needs are for students to make sure that we have the classrooms or the residence halls up to code as well as efficient as they can be. It is not an easy process to just say something needs to be repaired or replaced. We have to prioritize, and we have to have good reasons for spending precious few dollars that we have available for this.

DI: The election for the next University of Iowa Student Government party comes to a close today. What initiatives are you hoping to see from the next pair of student leaders?

Mason: I’m open. I always enjoy hearing the students’ ideas. I know when Nick [Rolston] and Nic [Pottebaum] were running last year, and I had a chance to talk with them, we talked a lot about tuition. The whole idea of the tuition freeze, when I mentioned that to them and said this might be a possibility, they were very enthusiastic, obviously. So occasionally, I’ll have an idea I can share. At this point in time, obviously we are working hard towards a tuition freeze and we’d like to continue that. I hope whoever is elected can help us continue that initiative and beyond that, I hope that they have some good ideas, some things that they as students would like to push. Things that I can help them with, things that I can help advocate with them for.

DI: What stands out in your mind as the successes of this year’s student government?

Mason: The tuition freeze is going to be a big one. Assuming that things hold in the Legislature and the budget right now as it is laid out is where we are going to end up, I think we can all cheer that resident tuition for our undergraduates won’t be going up. That’s a big one, by any measure. It’s hard to imagine that we could be at a place like that. It’s a great initiative that students have pushed for, I’ve pushed for, and our Board of Regents is pushing for. The Legislature and the governor seem to be very responsive. It’s worked beautifully. It’s worked perfectly. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that nothing happens between now and the end of the session.

DI: What were your thoughts on the name of the parties?

Mason: It was explained to me that they were acronyms, although I can’t tell you exactly what they stand for. I thought — oh students, they are so clever sometimes. If I were a student, I would think it was funny.

DI: UI officials introduced the summer tuition scholarship program last month. Some students have expressed concerns about the limitations of the program. What is the overall goal of the program?

Mason: The goal of the program is to make summer school both affordable and an option for more students. We would certainly like to have more students stay and take summer school classes if they can. Also, more importantly on the student success initiative is to keep students on track for graduation. That’s probably the most important goal and why we are trying to do this. We know that occasionally a summer-school course can make the difference between graduating in four years versus having to take another semester or even another year. If that’s the case, we want to make sure summer school is a viable option for as many students as possible. It’s that simple.

DI: What is the incentive for out-of-state students to get a head start on their academic careers at the UI as well?

Mason: Obviously, if they get a head start on their out-of-state careers, then in the end they will graduate on time or maybe faster, and it costs them less. On-time graduation means that you can budget and plan for a four-year college graduation. I don’t think too many people are budgeting and planning necessarily for five or six years. Sometimes, it works out that it takes that long. I worked 30 to 40 hours a week when I was an undergraduate, managed to graduate in four years, but I didn’t have a lot of time to do a lot of extra things. I wouldn’t have had the time to do study abroad. I didn’t have time to take advantage of all of the extracurricular activities that I actually think are important for students to do. I don’t advise students to work that much, but I know a lot of students are like I was. They do have to work.

DI: It’s been a few months since the College of Law was chosen to house the Center for Human Rights. How have you been involved, if at all, with the discussions surrounding the future of the center?

Mason: Not at all. The provost has led those discussions, and I think he has done a fine job. I also give praise to our College of Law dean. She has worked hard to have the faculty over there understand what the center is, and how important it is to our university and now the College of Law as well. I think it’s a good solution.

DI: A female student reported that she was sexually assaulted at an off-campus party this past weekend. While UI officials don’t discuss individual cases, can you elaborate on any new efforts that address sexual assaults and campus safety?

Mason: We have been working hard to try to improve people’s awareness — how to take some responsibility not only for your safety but for the safety of your friends, on and off campus. And even more importantly, if something like this happens, you need to report it. We need to know about it, because we can’t do anything about it if we don’t know about it. Unfortunately, the data that are out there suggest that too many of these things go unreported. I know it is very frustrating for the county attorney ,who would like to be able to prosecute more of these things. Getting witnesses to come forward, getting someone who has suffered from assault to come forward is very hard — it’s a very personal thing. It’s very challenging and difficult to get people to understand that yes we can deal with these things. We had a former student sentenced to a prison term this year for assaulting another young women. How unfortunate for the young women who was assaulted. But in the end, clearly there is punishment that can be meted out to the individual that did the crime and, hopefully, maybe discourage others. I don’t ever pretend to believe that there won’t ever be assaults, that we could find some way to prevent all assaults. People unfortunately do bad things from time to time. But punishing them, setting examples, that this is bad behavior and it won’t be tolerated, we need to be able to do more of that. And I know it’s not an easy thing. The statistics tell us that overall this is still a very safe place, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be assaults, that there won’t be sexual assaults, that there won’t be things that won’t or don’t happen here. Getting educated and understanding how to keep yourself safe, keep your friends safe — we have lots of learning materials, education materials. Our Public Safety Department is always doing workshops and providing opportunities for students, staff, community members, to get some training both in terms of personal safety but what would you do if you witnessed something. Would you intervene? How could you intervene in the situation in a way that would help the situation? That’s where our department of public safety can help our students understand what their responsibilities ought to be, but also how they can keep themselves safe as well as their friends. I would encourage students to look for these opportunities and take advantage of them. You can’t be too safe. Young people generally like to think of themselves as immortal until they have a wake up call that says life can be unpleasant sometimes. Understanding that, and taking precautions and learning how to deal with that if you happen to find yourself in a bad situation. There are things you can do and we can help you with that.

DI: A female student who was struck by a Cambus in fall 2011 is now suing the university, the Cambus driver, and the regents following the incident. At the time, the UI didn’t release a comment about the lawsuit. Is there any statement now?

Mason: No, it’s ongoing litigation. There really isn’t anything to comment on at this point.

DI: The search for the next University Librarian started this month, with two candidates already having interviewed for the position. Can you speak about the importance of this position, especially with the digital revolution changing the way students both learn and study on college campuses?

Mason: This is a search that is conducted through the Provost’s Office. Obviously, he would know more about this than I do. But let me say this because it is an important position, a university-wide position. Libraries are changing. Things are changing — technology is driving a lot of that change. Not surprisingly, as we look at candidates for librarian, we are really looking for a person that has a vision for the future. The library is going to be a very different place in the future. Our library is already is a different place. Learning commons are just about completed. They will be open for business in the fall. I think they will be great places for students in the fall. They will be wired to the hilt. It’s going to be a very different place. It wouldn’t surprise me if students spend time in the wellness center and then come across to the library to study in groups, study individually. I think it’s going to be a fabulous space, and it was designed with students in mind, students of today in mind. So we need a librarian obviously that has a vision for today and the future. That’s going to involve technology, that’s going to involve a different kind of library than I was used to and being very responsive to what students are looking for when it comes to their own learning experience.

DI: Are there any updates on construction at the UI?

Mason: For me, right now it is exciting to wake up and look out my window and see the earth being moved for the new Hancher Auditorium. I believe they have started the deconstruction of the old Hancher, but because it is a building that is filled with asbestos, you won’t see very much progress for a while. They have to take it down from the inside out, so at least for a while they will be doing asbestos mitigation. Eventually we will start to see old Hancher come down while new Hancher is going up. I understand the hole that will be the underground parking lot and the new Children’s Hospital is completed. And there are signs of concrete and steal over at the new residence hall site. We were thrilled to learn that the college of public health achieved Leed platinum status. That is very exciting—that is our first on campus, our first academic building.

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