Q&A: Mason discusses outreach, construction

BY DI STAFF | MAY 08, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Daily Iowan: President Mason, you helped announce the unveiling of the UI Foundation’s newest fundraising campaign. How did UI officials come to decide on $1.7 billion as the goal for the campaign? Can you speak at all to the immensity of the goal, and why this campaign is necessary now?

President Sally Mason: This campaign has actually been in the planning stages for five years. When I first arrived on campus one of my early conversations with Lynette Marshall was when was the last time that we did a major fundraising campaign and are we in the planning stages for the next campaign?

We weren’t then, but she was, like me, anxious to get started on planning for the next campaign. So the thinking goes back five years.

We, of course, didn’t have a goal in mind at that point in time. We knew that we would raise more than  $1 billion, because the previous campaign — the Good, Better, Best campaign — raised $1 billion. So the real question was, How much further could we go over $1 billion as a campaign goal? And we’ve worked with consultants. We’ve worked with our donors, our alumni, our friends, and our campus constituents, our deans, and other people who get involved in fundraising on campus to really study hard what the needs of the campus were, construct a plan based on what we believe the needs are for the university, and then come up with a number. And the number we came up with was $1.7 billion. And we have some alumni who think it should be $2 billion, and we have some alumni that are very comfortable with the $1.7 billion figure. I think $1.7 billion is a great figure to start with. Let’s hope we can exceed that goal, and maybe we can even get to a bigger number in the future.

Now, what are we going to do with all this money that we’re raising? I would tell you that a good bit of it, in fact the vast majority of it, will either directly or indirectly affect students. So a lot of it, for example, is for student scholarships, or for faculty chairs so that we can recruit and keep the best faculty here, which also benefits students, for new facilities, many of which will benefit our students in the short and long term. And of course the other piece of the campaign that’s pretty large is for our hospitals, for our patients. So our students and our patients tend to be our highest priorities in this campaign.

DI: A few weeks ago, the state Board of Regents received notice that FEMA had denied the UI’s final appeal for funding for the Museum of Art. How will money from the foundation’s campaign be used to fund a new facility? Did UI officials feel confident federal funding would be secured for this project? Is there any timeline in place now that officials know the replacement will be funded almost entirely by private gifts and donations through the campaign?

Mason: The bottom line is FEMA has turned us down on our appeals with regard to our appeals for the Art Museum and we spoke with the board and let them know that that was the case and what we would like to do is come back to the board in June with a plan. And we are working on that plan right now for how we would proceed to fund a new art museum. That plan is not something we’ll talk about before we present it to the Board of Regents but I would say this — clearly fundraising is likely to be involved in whatever we do going forward with the Art Museum. It may or may not be the entire way in which we fund the entire Art Museum. I suspect that we’re going to look at the opportunities for some public/private partnerships.

When we had our envisioning committee, when the Art Museum was taken out of commission after the flood, and I put together an envisioning committee, what that committee [members] came back and said was they’d really like to see the Art Museum more centrally located. So perhaps downtown Iowa City. So we’ll be talking with lots of people about what the possibilities might be. And I think by the June board meeting, we’ll have a better idea of what we would like to ask the board to allow us to do in terms of plans to proceed. So stay tuned. There will be lots more coming on that front.

DI: Two Iowa City bar officials have filed an affidavit with the city notifying it of their intent to collect signatures to repeal the 21-ordinance. Having worked with the Partnership for Alcohol Safety, among others, to decrease binge drinking among UI students, what are your thoughts about their efforts? 

Mason: I have to say that all the data we’ve been collecting since the 21-ordinance has gone into effect has been very positive, and I think positive for the community. I’d hate for us to reverse course on this right now. I actually think we have a healthier, safer environment as a result of the changes that were made back then. So while I appreciate the business owners — particularly the bar owners — and their desire to go back to what was working for them as a business model, it really wasn’t working for the rest of the community in terms of the health and safety of our young people in particular.

DI: The Transparency Task Force has met several times since the DI last spoke with you. Do you have any thoughts about its progress or what you’d like to see out of this group? What information has Vice President [Mark] Braun shared with you regarding the force’s efforts?

Mason: Right now, they’re still in information collection mode. Most of the meetings that they’ve been having are open meetings to allow the public to come and ask questions or to have input into what the task force’s work will be. I think it’s too soon to know what the findings or even what the work of the task force is likely to be. It has several more open-forum sessions before it will get back together as a committee and begin the work of sorting through the comments that were collected and hopefully coming to some ideas and a decision about what the real work of the task force will be going forward. So that’s another one of those we’ll have to just stay tuned and see how it goes.

DI: On Monday, UI officials announced the creation of the Office of Outreach and Engagement. Can you provide us with a little more detail on what specifically the office will oversee and how its creation fits into the university’s strategic plan? Do you believe the creation of this office will further your goal of being a more transparent university leader?

Mason: I’m not sure that engagement necessarily connects directly with transparency and I would encourage you to talk with the provost because this is in the Provost’s Office. He came to me with this idea. We universities — public universities in particular — have really looked at their mission over the last decade or so, and our mission has always been teaching, research, and service. A number of years ago, a commission was formed of university presidents to look at the traditional mission of, especially, public and land-grant universities. And they came back and said, Really today, it’s more about learning, discovering, and engagement. So redefining the mission to have words that we think are better descriptors of what we think the work of the university is, was a part of the then Kellogg Commission report. And I guess it came out more a decade ago.

It would be an interesting report to go back and read it, because it really does redefine the mission of what I would call the 21st-century university today, with more active words like learning instead of teaching, and discovery instead of research, and engagement instead of service. The Office of Outreach and Engagement here, my understanding is, this really will help faculty define the kinds of activities they have that go on both inside and outside the university that connect us with, in some cases, communities around the state as partners in projects. Dubuque is a great example where we’ve got some great partnerships between faculty and students in that particular community.

And that’s just one example of many, many hundreds of things our faculty and students are doing that affect communities across Iowa and sometimes communities outside of Iowa as well, including communities that might be in other countries.

So the whole notion of engagement and how we participate as partners in activities that allow us to share our expertise where it’s needed to help others, to help individuals or communities do the work they need to get done to be better communities. I think that’s a great idea. I think it’s timely for the university to put an office in place that addresses these issues. It’s been pretty commonly done at land-grant universities.

When I was at Purdue, for example, I had a vice provost for engagement, when I was the provost there. And I didn’t come here and tell our provost that he needed to do this. He came to that conclusion on his own with encouragement from our faculty, particularly from our Faculty Senate. And I don’t think it’s and accident that our Faculty Senate past president is going to be our first engagement officer here at the university. Because she’s been very, very involved in this kind of work her entire career. She’s the perfect person to lead the faculty in these efforts going forward.

DI: Also on Monday, a 66-year-old pedestrian was struck by a Cambus. This marked the second incident in less than two years in which someone has been struck by a campus vehicle. While you can’t speak to pending litigation, how can UI officials ensure that increased pedestrian traffic doesn’t pose a threat to an individual’s safety?

Mason: I think we do have to revisit these issues frequently and maybe even more frequently than we have been doing in the past, because our campus and our community are larger. Pedestrian issues are very serious. Obviously, we rely on Cambus to transport our students places around the community. We need to be able to have that kind of public transportation, and I think we pride ourselves on the training we give the Cambus drivers too. These incidents are of great concern. My heart goes out to the individual who was struck. That’s never certainly something that you want or expect to see. And we’re going to have to take a very careful look to make sure that we’re doing everything that we can to ensure the safety of pedestrians as well as the safety of the riders on our Cambus.

DI: When you say take a look at what can be done, what would that look like?

Mason: I suspect that both Public Safety and our Cambus operation will look at these incidents and see whether we need further training. Whether we need to be more vigilant in terms of making certain that our Cambus drivers are clearly the best people we can find for these jobs. There are a lot of things that we can take a look at, and I think this will just spur us to make sure that we don’t overlook anything.

DI: Do you have any new information regarding the search process for a new vice president for Strategic Communications or a new dean of the College of Education?

Mason: The provost will be in charge of the new dean of the College of Education. I don’t believe that search has started yet. The search for the vice president for Strategic Communication is underway, and they are busy collecting applications. And I believe they are getting pretty close to having a pool of people that they want to take a look at so that they can create a short list and eventually bring candidates to campus.

DI: Students involved in greek life at the UI have organized to meet at the Iowa City City Council’s meeting May 14. There, the councilors will discuss a proposed change in the city zoning code that would limit where fraternities and sororities can be built and what kind of renovations they can have. While this is under the city’s jurisdiction, can you speak to the importance of providing ample housing options for students involved in greek life at the UI?

Mason: Let me say that one of the things that I’ve been very pleased with is overall the response of our greek houses to a number of initiatives that we’ve challenged them on, including improving their behavior, including focusing more on some of their core values including things like philanthropy. And in each case I believe they’ve risen to the challenge. Tom Rocklin can speak to this even better than I can because he’s the one who has put the challenges out there to them. He reports back to me on how these things are progressing. And I have to say that our students who participate in greek houses today, that the vast majority of them are in fact living up to our hopes and expectations for them, and I’m very pleased by that. So I hope that whatever the City Council decides to do, it will also take a look at change in behavior that I think have happened in recent years as a result of many of our fraternities and sororities being far more responsive on some of the things we’ve challenged them on than perhaps we thought was possible. And I’m very pleased by that.

DI: As many students leave for the summer and won’t return to Iowa City until August, what changes can they expect when they return for the fall semester? What changes are you most looking forward to?

Mason: Well, probably one that some won’t necessarily think is so good is more construction.

Because we’ll be starting the School of Music and studio-arts projects. So that just means more construction, more mess. Over the summer, we try to catch up on all the road construction and some of the campus projects. We try to get those done when there aren’t as many students on campus so that there’s not as much of a disruption. And we’ll do a lot of that again this summer, but some of these big projects we can’t get done in just a summer.

So when they come back, expect that there will be even more construction. You’ll probably start to see signs of what the new residence hall will look like. The IMU project will progress, and I think the biggest thing that they’ll come back to in the fall is the Main Library. The main floor of the Main Library will be open to them now as a student Learning Commons. It’s beautiful. I believe it will be open 24 hours a day. There will be a café in there. There’s pretty much limitless wireless technology in there, and I think it’s going to be a great place for students to go and both socialize and study and work on projects together. I think it will be almost as exciting as when the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center opened for the students. So there’s quite a bit to look forward to next fall.

DI: And will the new Main Library commons be open?

Mason: It will be open for the fall semester. They’re just putting the finishing touches on it now. I think they might do a soft opening during the summer just to make sure things work.

DI: You talked about bigger projects that will take a little bit more time. Could you possibly speak to the specifics of what some of those bigger projects are?

Mason: Well, the School of Music Project. On the corner of Clinton and Burlington, those banks have got to come down and that corner will be a mess for a while, while we dig holes and build a beautiful new School of Music building, including two recital halls. And similarly, over by the Art Building West we’re going to have to do some clearing of the land up there so we can begin the studio-arts project, too. And the Hancher project has already started. The other thing that’s going to be dramatic this fall is old Hancher will come down. That will be very dramatic when that happens.

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