Q&A: Mason addresses flood recovery efforts, athletic success

BY DI STAFF | JULY 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Daily Iowan: President Mason, the third and final candidate for the vice president of Strategic Communication position visits the UI campus today. The first two candidates have stressed the importance of transparency and preparedness efforts. What specifically are you looking for from the candidate who is eventually chosen? What role will the new vice president play in ensuring that the university is committed to practicing open communication and transparency? 

President Sally Mason: All of those things are important, and I’m glad to hear that they’re speaking about them. Obviously, I’m looking at all of their qualifications, the kind of experiences they’ve had, and the commitment they have to Iowa in making us as good as we can be in communications as well as stressing the transparency issues. All of those things are very important.

DI: One of the candidates proposed expanding the university’s digital presence, including the use of Instagram, Vine, and Facebook, among other things. What’s your position on expanding or increasing the scope of the university’s existing social-media practices?

Mason: Well, because I’m a dinosaur when it comes to using social media, I’m really looking for someone that has the expertise, the interest, and the wherewithal to do these kinds of things. I’m very excited and open-minded about it as well. We don’t try to dictate every department or every college what they should do for communication, but for the university as a whole, we want to be connected as we can to our major constituents, which by the way, are young people, students. So the more we can do to be responsive to the technological needs of our students, our faculty and staff, the better off we’re going to be as an institution.

DI: Also falling under transparency, would you say there’s a need to improve the way university administrators handle breaking news, or situations that would require a swift response from officials such as yourself?

Mason: Yes and no. There are always going to be some topics that we’re going to be very careful when we talk about: pending litigation, student privacy. We have to respect HIPPA, which are patients’ right to privacy. We have to respect FERPA, which are the students’ rights to privacy. We have issues when it comes to personnel records, we have issues when it comes to certain other privacy requirements, and compliance requirements that we have with the federal government, the state, and others. Beyond that I think we should always be as responsive as we can when things are happening, and do the best job we can with the information we have at hand to explain what might be happening, and we’ll go from there.

DI: City officials and members of the community are trying to devise a plan for raising Dubuque Street 10-15 feet in the coming years. While there is certainly support and criticism for the proposed project, reconstructing Dubuque Street would certainly affect students traveling to and from Iowa City, especially those taking I-80. Do you have a position on the project, and do you believe it would have a significant impact on the university, as some suggest it would?

Mason: I think it could have a significant positive impact on the university. Obviously, having Dubuque Street closed, and now I’ve been here through two floods, so I’ve seen the major flood of 2008 was significant and kept Dubuque Street for much longer than even this time around. But with Dubuque Street earlier this summer, I think we saw the impact and not just on our students but also on employees, and people who come to Iowa City to work every day. It’s one of the major arteries in and out of Iowa City. To have it subject to flooding on a regular basis is something that’s significant, and we’re all hopeful that the city will be able to deal with in an effective manner. I think it will help all of us.

DI: University officials announced last week that many floodwalls and HESCO barriers around campus would start to come down. Do officials expect the cost for set up and removal of these mitigation efforts to change at all from the previously estimated $5 million?

Mason: No idea. I don’t think so. We’ll see when we’re done. I’ve seen it certainly, it doesn’t take too much effort to notice that there are no more HESCO barriers around Mayflower. Though you can see some sidewalk damage that will have to be repaired as a result of that. So if there’s changes in the cost, that’s the unanticipated, we wouldn’t know until after we’ve taken down the barriers what may or may not have happened. So we’ll just have to wait and see.

DI: Officials say the plan that was put in place after the 2008 flood was executed well and helped prevent any further damage to campus. Have there been any discussions about amending that plan at all, or would you say officials are 100 percent satisfied after having the opportunity to execute it earlier this summer?

Mason: We’ll have to wait and see. There’s always going to be room for improvement. We learn things each time we go through a situation like this, so we’ll go back through what worked and worked well, what didn’t work as well as we thought, but it’ll take time. It’s too soon to know just yet.

DI: Bijou recently announced that it would be leaving its current home in the IMU to join forces with FilmScene in downtown Iowa City. Do you think this new partnership will encourage more students to partake in alcohol-free activities?

Mason: We hope so. That’s part of the reason to do it. Those are certainly suggestions that came from our students. We’re obviously open to trying all kinds of things to make this a community that welcomes students and offers the kinds of alternatives that we hope will be fun and useful.

DI: As a lot of on-campus construction has progressed during the summer, how will the university adjust its schedule once students start returning to campus in a few short weeks?

Mason: A lot of it started before the students left, so there’s been a lot of adjustment already. We tend to do a lot of summertime projects to get the campus ready for fall. I don’t think you’ll see nearly as much disruption in the fall as you’re seeing right now. Some of that will go away. Some of that will be cleaned up. But there will be some large holes in the ground, and obviously some large projects underway. Exciting, exciting for three years out, but people will have to be a little patient with us for the mean time, because that is a lot of construction, there’s a lot of heavy equipment moving in and out of Iowa City, and on and off the campus, and we’re going to have to be a little patient and adjust the way we operate for a couple more years. A great payoff in the end though.

DI: The last time we spoke with you, we asked when discussions would begin about the potential to extend the tuition freeze beyond this upcoming school year. A number of other Big Ten schools enacted tuition freezes for this coming year as well, some lasting for several years. Would you say that what we’re seeing within the conference is a trend?

Mason: It’s good for students, period. Doesn’t matter where, but it’s good for students. I think it’s good at our state universities, where we’re all very cognizant of the pressures our state is under with budgets, things like that. We’re all very aware of the need to make our institutions as good as we can for our students, and not drive the costs for that up unnecessarily. It’s important to continue to remind people that we’ve very consciously set about making certain that we become as efficient as we possibly can, save money every place we can, and we invest it in the student experience. All of that talk in our strategic plan about student success is real. It’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do for the last four or five years now. We direct our resources to make sure the experience here is the best it can possibly be for students. I think that is a growing trend across the country. I think that everyone understands that you can’t keep growing, and growing, and growing, and spending, and spending, and spending. You have to be very focused in terms of how you use your resources. So we’re always going to be looking for ways to generate more resources, we’re always going to be looking to make certain that we make the right kinds of investments for those resources. Tuition is one of those resources. And I think we’re on the right course for tuition, sending a good message to students and their families that we’re going to hold the line on tuition. We’re going to make certain that we’re using our resources extremely efficiently and extremely well, and we hope that we can argue once again effectively, perhaps with the Board of Regents, starting there, and then with legislators, on the need to continue to hold the line on tuition. We can do that next year in particular because the legislature was able to allocate a 2.6 percent increase, which is roughly inflationary. So if we can get another inflationary increase next year …  I’m going to obviously advocate with our Board of Regents that we should try this again if we can. Let’s see if we can do it again and keep doing it.

DI: Would you be willing to discuss the possibility of extending a tuition freeze to in-state, graduate students as well?

Mason: Graduate programs are so different. They cost so much differently than undergraduate education. That’s a harder one. That’s a harder one for the simple reason that every graduate program is specifically tailored to a discipline. We often don’t have the large number of graduate students in any particular program like we do with undergraduates. So we have large numbers of psych majors, large numbers of biology majors. That’s not true in the graduate program. So necessarily they do cost more to operate. We’ll continue to look at our graduate programs, and the pricings of those programs, and make sure we remain competitive, but I’m not sure that’s the place to think about tuition freeze or things like that.

DI: Also on the topic of tuition, is there anything that you can report about how the summer scholarship program has fared in its inaugural year?

Mason: You should ask the provost. I haven’t gotten a full report. I’m kind of curious myself as to how well that program has been received. We think that first year we have room for growth there next year as the word spreads, but I’m still pretty excited about that program.

DI: With the recent exodus of a number of buildings on Riverside Drive, including a large car dealership, along with the city’s plans for the Riverfront Crossings, does the UI foresee any expansion in that area? Is there a potential for any public-private partnerships?

Mason: I don’t know. It’s a good question. We’re always looking around, and we’re always going to stay abreast of what’s happening, and whether there may be opportunities for us, but at this point in time, I’m not aware of any. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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