UI President Sally Mason answers questions from The Daily Iowan

BY DI STAFF | NOVEMBER 20, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Daily Iowan: The UI reported a sexual assault on Sunday, making it the second reported UI sexual assault this month and the third this semester. Is the UI doing taking any measures to help decrease these assaults?

President Sally Mason: Well we’re certainly sending out much more information on a regular basis, obviously every time we’re notified of one of these things we send out information reminding people again of the—some of these things are probably obvious to people but how to protect yourself and your friends, how to report things when they happen. We have wanted to improve reporting of sexual assaults, we want students to come forward — I’d probably be even happier if students would let us go to the police and investigate but I understand that for a lot of people that’s a very difficult step to take. And we don’t want to discourage people who have suffered from a sexual assault from coming forward and at least letting us know that this has happened so we can try and protect others, and send out information about the prevalence of these kinds of instances—when there’s a lot of alcohol around, when there’s conditions that you’re not with friends or you’re not with other people. All too often unfortunately things like this can happen. We hope over time as students become more and more aware of the reasons for these kinds of things happening and the ways in which you can try and help prevent them and we’ll see fewer. Right now I’m actually gratified that students are reporting—it’s a first step.

DI: Since your administration responded to the Hillcrest assault in 2008 how do you feel the university has improved both its response to sexual assaults and counseling of victims?

Mason: Well we have a single point of contact now; Monique Dicarlo’s office is one where they’re very busy, not surprisingly. And we’ve done a lot to try to educate and help people understand what the conditions of the situations are, and the whole idea of reporting. Who can you go to? Who can you talk to? Where can you get some help? If you find yourself in a situation or you’ve been sexually assaulted or perhaps it’s been threatened or things like that. Obviously there’s mandatory sexual harassment training for all of our employees so that’s been completed and all of our incoming students also get training on these issues. So we’ve done a lot since then to try to improve the whole outlook of the campus in terms of understanding what the issues are, and how we can try and best effectively deal with these issues. I think then the understanding and obviously the reports and response have improved and I would love to tell you that the whole issue of sexual assault is and will go away but that’s not going to happen. But more than likely unfortunately people are going to continue to do things that we wish they wouldn’t. But I think education is a key in helping people understand how they can either in some cases avoid situations that  might lead to unintended consequences or in other instances at least understand what you can do if in fact you find yourself in a situation where you’ve been sexually assaulted or someone’s threatening you.

Perhaps what we need to do is remind students that that [survey incoming freshmen take] was the first time that we wanted you to begin to understand what’s available and what options are and this is probably the right time to send out refreshers and reminders for students. It might, after 3 reported assault this semester maybe it will sink in a little better.

DI: UISG announced last week they endorse hiring a full-time LGBT liaison to work at the UI, a position previously filled mainly by students working part-time. Do you support this as well?

Mason: Well, I haven’t had a chance to talk with the student leaders but I will be curious to hear their report to me. We’ve always been a leader here at the University of Iowa when it comes to LGBT issues and rights so I’m not surprised and it seems generally like a good idea to me but I’ll be curious to hear from our student leaders what they’ve been doing and what their rational is.

DI: What ideas do you have for the position?

Mason: Again, I will talk to the student leaders and we’ll brainstorm together on this.

DI: What do you feel about the climate for LGBT students and employees at the UI and where do you feel they can turn when they have issues?

Mason: Well, I hope they feel that there’s lots of resources out there for them, there’s certainly lots or resources out there generally, everything from the Ombund’s Office to an LGBTQ Center to Student Government to Administration — I mean I hope that they would never feel that there weren’t many options available if there were issues that were of concern to anyone, especially with regards to discrimination. We have a chief diversity officer, we have an equal opportunity office; we have many many resources on this campus that I think would be helpful to students with issues that might touch on discrimination or that might touch on things that were happening to them that might not be happening to the general student body. I haven’t heard certainly through any of the channels that I talk to or meet with regularly that there are any issues right now that would be of major concern to this population or any other population on campus with the possible exception of our international students. And I know that our international students are having an active discussion with administration and with support offices about “how do we make this a more welcoming campus for our international students and of course this is a relatively new large population on campus. Not surprisingly, there’s some issues that we have to deal with.

DI: Last week, Hawks Ridge Apartments announced they will no longer be a part of University Housing and Dining. Officials said this is due to a decrease in the overflow in the dorms.  Do you feel older students who want housing with the university will still have an adequate number of options without Hawks Ridge?

Mason: Older students at the University have always been kind of on their own to find housing, and its not that Hawks Ridge is not still an option it just will not be an option through us. And with the flood in 2008 we had two things happen, we had the flood happen at the same time as we had 500 more freshmen show up on campus—additional freshmen, over and above the usual number. We needed housing and we needed it right then and there because we had potentially flooded housing and we had more students coming all of a sudden. So we’ve contracted with them, they’ve been a good partner from what I’ve understood, you might want to talk to Tom Rocklin if you want more details about how we make these kinds of decisions but by and large what we were trying to do is a accommodate a combination of flood and increased students. But we’re recovering from the flood, we’re not to far away from having a new residence hall up and ready to go, I think we feel pretty comfortable right now that we can handle the housing issues without having to extend that contract any further so it’s just going to go back the way it was before the flood.

DI: The bike sharing program has also been an ongoing project at the UI, which still needs to be funded by a few different programs like the Iowa DOT. What are your thoughts on the program, and do you have any updates?

Mason: Well I don’t have any updates per say, but I am really pleased that our office of sustainability has taken the lead on this again because it tells me students are involved, and if students are involved then it tells me we could have a successful bike sharing program. I just came back from Washington D.C. where they’ve had bike sharing there for a couple of years now and its always interesting to me to walk by these big racks of red bicycles in our capital and see how many of them are in use. The even more interesting thing is that not only are many of them in use but they haven’t been vandalized, nothing bad has happened, and they seem to be a really good thing in a big city where tourists could use them and get around a little easier in some cases instead of a taxi cab or a car, or even for some, the Metra. So if it could work in Washington D.C. I think it could work pretty well here. So well wait and see, I’m hopeful that we’ll get this all set to go sometime next year.
What I’d like to see obviously as they get this set up is I think they’re talking about three stations, mostly on this side of the river because this is where most of the undergraduates are, and in what we call high density traffic areas so like on the ped mall, probably by the residence halls, maybe something a little closer to over by engineering over by the Old Capitol Mall, the Wellness Center, and the Library and so forth. So it’s a good start, let’s see what happens with it, let’s see if students are interested and willing to use these. They seem to like the zip cars that we have, those seem to be well used and that’s sort of a similar idea where rather than own a car, you can have a car when you need one. And it’s the same thing with the bicycles, rather than own a bicycle, when you need one, they’re available.

DI: President Mason, you recently went to Washington D.C. along with other university presidents to discuss a variety of topics, including keeping college affordable. Can you tell us what was spoken on during the visit, and any reactions you got from legislators?

Mason: Well I was in Washington D.C. last week for two main reasons — one was to attend the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities meetings where I completed my term as chair of the board of directors for that organization. And during that national meeting, the president of that organization, Peter McPherson, was called by the White House and the White House asked whether or not there were some university presidents that could come to the White House on Tuesday morning for a discussion with Gene Sperling, I believe he is under Secretary of Economic Development for the President, and talk about issues around low income students and access to affordable higher quality education. And there are a number of issues around this. I was one of those students once. I was a first generation college student, my family didn’t have a lot of money, I was clueless about how to get to college in the first place, I was clueless about how to even pick one, let alone get to one, how to afford one — all of the issues that our first generation students today still struggle with were ones that I am very familiar with. So I was pleased to be a part of the conversation, there were five other university presidents and myself invited to the West Wing for an hour long discussion with Gene Sperling and he laid out some ideas that the President and the First Lady in particular are very interested in having a national discussion on. And they all are around the notion that it’s really important for especially college ready low income students to be able to make good choices — rational choices — when it comes to a college education. And not feel like they were somehow blocked out of high quality higher education. There were some ideas that they had already thought about in terms of ways in which you can help families understand what financial obligations are when you go to college – how to cover those, the admissions process, starting early – we had a broad ranging discussion on these topics and I think it was a good give and take. We all talked about some of the various programs that we have in place, many of them to help these types of students when they get to college but probably not as many to help them decide what their options are before they ever even decide to apply to college, and I think that’s where we could put a lot more effort into and I think that’s likely going to be something in the future that we will put a lot more effort in to. So stay tuned I think theres a lot of room for more discussion on this topic and likely will be a lot more discussion on this topic because I think both President Obama and the First Lady feel passionate about this because they themselves didn’t come from a wealthy background either and college obviously has meant a lot to them, it meant a lot to me, and it made a huge difference in my life obviously – I’m still here, I’m still in college, what can I say – it was such a good thing that I thought I’d stay.

I talked a little bit about the program that we have here called Iowa edge, and it is a great program, a lot of our first generation under represented students are part of the Iowa edge program, and we try to provide help for them once we get them here on campus… College can be a scary place for someone who’s never been to college and who has no one in their family who’s ever been to college, these kinds of things. So it’s a different kind of operation there, I did say, and I think this is absolutely true that it would be really helpful if we, especially students from low income families, we need to stop scaring people about two things. One, the value of the college education once you attain it, and two, the cost of a college education. For one thing, if you’re from a low income family, I guarantee you that a college education is going to mean a better life. There’s no doubt about that. If you’re from a very very wealthy family, a college education may not necessarily mean you’re going to be as wealthy as everyone in your family, but it’s certainly not going to hurt you in any particular way. And there’s been a lot of discussion nationally lately about the value of higher education and whether it’s quote worth it. And there’s no doubt for low income families that a college education is absolutely always going to be worth it. The other thing is scaring people about the cost of higher education. You don’t have to go into huge debt to attain college education. We know for example, 40 percent of our students graduate with no debt, and of the 60 percent that do have debt when they graduate, the average is somewhere between what the national average is, somewhere between $25,000 and $28,000 a year. But we’ve looked at that, and we’ve even seen that among those who are taking out loans, we know what the difference is between what we call need based debt and what some have called lifestyle debt—what you really need to go to college versus what you feel you want to be able to go to college. And the difference there is pretty substantial, it’s about half of that total debt is really need based debt. So it’s affordable, we can help make it affordable but we have to be able to have conversations with families of underrepresented low income first generation students to be able to explain to them how we can help you afford that and sometimes they’re not even coming and sitting down and allowing to have those types of conversations so we’ve got a lot of work to do, I think there’s plenty of room for improving the conversation about college cost, affordability, access, so forth and so on, and ways in which we can make this priority a reality.

DI: Last month it was reported you received a retention bonus for your time at the UI. Last year, you were reported to not have a solid contract with the UI. Can you tell us what standing you do have with a contract? What do you see as your future here at the UI?

Mason: Well, I wouldn’t call it a retention bonus, when I was hired I was promised deferred compensation, which meant that after five years, money that they had been putting in the bank for me would pay out, which it did last year, so it looks like I got this big salary last year when in fact it was money that had been accumulating for five years. I have another four years through 2016 of a similar arrangement now. So I think the Board’s been pretty clear they’ve never really had contracts for presidents beyond the initial letter of employment that we each receive and I have one of those, but the fact that they have extended deferred compensation for me through 2016 suggests to me that they seem pretty pleased with my performance and I’ll be around at least till then. I’m pretty comfortable with the arrangement, I think it’s fair compensation, they’ve treated me well and we’ll go from there.

DI: The UI Children's Hospital continues to be an ongoing process. What can you tell us about any updates that are happening?

Mason: Well, obviously, that big hole in the ground over there, their starting to fill it in now, which is good. The foundation is being laid for the new children’s hospital. I’m told that once that foundation is done that it takes about a month per floor so it’ll start going up pretty quickly, I mean, you’ve seen how fast the residence hall went up after they got that foundation poured. And I think the Children’s Hospital, once that foundation is completed, and the underground parking area is all fleshed out—and we’ve put up a third crane now over there so we have three gigantic cranes—so I think the construction will really start to shape up quickly over the next few months, I would guess probably sometime in the new year, assuming weather cooperates, that it will really start to take on a shape that we can recognize as to what will be the new Children’s Hospital. The really important thing of course is the medicine that will go on inside that Children’s Hospital—the people that will work there and the children that will be treated there. This will be a state of the art facility for the children of Iowa. And I think a fabulous example of modern medicine and the kinds of breakthroughs that we can have in modern medicine today and all for Iowans and the children of Iowa so they’ll be well served and I’m pretty excited about the end result.

DI: We have also seen a change in the UI flood recovery, with construction happening over campus.  What can you tell us about updates to flood recovery at the IMU and art building?

Mason: The IMU – that project is underway finally – it’s about time. We’re so glad that we’re finally on our way to full recovery of the IMU. The art building is probably the last of the three big projects that’s just now getting underway and you can see the orange fences and the area where it will be. We have renderings of what that building will look like it’s a pretty amazing and impressive facility like so many of the others. Probably the thing that is most dramatic right now is old Hancher coming down because it’s nearly all down. I mean they are starting to dig out the foundation of that building now and I predicted that by new year it would be gone and I think we’re still on schedule for that to be totally gone by then. It’s dramatic to say the least, probably more dramatic then the new buildings going up, the old one coming down.

I was by there last night and noticed that you can really start to see the new one coming up now. There’s some structures that have some height to them and it looks like new construction rather than just more demolition or more deconstruction going on over there so it is pretty exciting. The other thing that I’ve noticed because I can see it from where I live is they’re there—I was up at six o’clock this morning and the lights were on over there, they were working under the lights. And often times if the weather’s good, either early in the morning when it’s dark now or in the evening when it’s dark now they’ll have the lights on and they’ll still be working over there so they’re determined to stay on schedule and keep the building progress going so it’s going to get very exciting.

DI: Also at the last Board of Regents meeting there was discussion of the art museum. Do you have any updates on when this will be completed and what is response to those who want the museum inside the arts campus?

Mason: This is a process that’s ongoing; we probably will have more information sometime in February for the Board on the art museum. We’ve had some good discussions – we had a request for information that was out there and we had a variety of people come in and talk to us about what the possibilities would be for an art museum so I think we now have a better understanding of what the scope of possibilities might be in terms of partners who would be willing to help us with an art museum and in terms of what an art museum could look like and in terms of where an art museum might be placed in town and I don’t think any decisions have been made at this point, I do still go back to some great work that was done by an envisioning committee that I put together shortly after the flood that came back to me with a recommendation that we look hard at the downtown area for the new art museum because that’s really where we’re likely to have the most foot traffic, people will benefit most from having the art museum there, not only our students but also the general public and we have to think in terms of both of these audiences, not just our students but I think both of these audiences are important and we want to make sure it’s a good resource for us, as well as our community. So stay tuned, there’s a lot more that’s yet to be done before we get to a decision on what to build and where to build it.  

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