Q&A: Mason talks sexual assault, tuition

BY DI STAFF | FEBRUARY 18, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Daily Iowan: A sexual assault on a female was reported by the Univesity of Iowa police on Feb. 3. This marks the sixth assault of the academic year and the fifth on campus. In a previous interview with The Daily Iowan, you spoke about the education the UI was doing to increase awareness of sexual assault. Has this education been beneficial for students, as more sexual assaults have been reported this school year?

President Sally Mason: Well, more assaults reported. I think that’s a key thing, and a key point that we need to keep in mind is that more people are coming forward and telling us about it now. It’s not that they weren’t occurring previously. You know, the real danger when bad things happen is that oftentimes people would like not to talk about it or forget about it or just get on with life and get away from the bad things.

In order to be able to do something significant when it comes to sexual assault and other kinds of bad things that can happen to people, you have to know more about it, we have to understand it, and I think what we’re seeing now is more people being willing to come forward and tell us when something bad happens. I’m pleased about that.

I’m not pleased that we have sexual assaults, obviously. The goal would be to end that, to never have another sexual assault. That’s probably not a realistic goal just given human nature, and that’s unfortunate, but the more we understand about it, the better we are at trying to handle it and help people get through these difficult situations, not bury it or try to cover it up or pretend it didn’t happen and to get away from that kind of mindset and to get a more educational, proactive mindset to help people understand when they might be at risk, to help people understand that if it happens, there are resources we have that can be helpful and can help you get through this, that you’re not all by yourself, that it wasn’t your fault, and that we have ways we can be helpful.

I’m not happy, obviously, that we’ve had repeated reports of sexual assaults. I am pleased that I think our education opportunities from this and our ability to better protect our students will be enhanced in the end by all of this.

DI: What kinds of efforts have been made, specifically, to raise awareness and make students more educated on this issue of sexual assault?

Mason: Whenever one of the sexual assaults is reported now, we send out a notification. In the notification, if you read that, it gives you some really good tips about the prevalence of sexual assault, the risks associated with how one might find themselves in a position to be assaulted, the resources that are available if you find yourself in a bad situation, so that’s part of it.

We’ve been doing a lot more educational pieces. I like the bystander training. I really think that all of our students should have bystander training because I think that if you understand that there are things you can do to help your friends and protect your friends from being in dangerous situations, then you’re willing to do those.

There’s no doubt that students who have been through that training have found it very useful and continue to encourage their friends to go through that training as well. Similarly, it’s mandatory for all incoming freshmen to have training to better understand what sexual harassment and sexual misconduct is. So hopefully, if something bad happens to them or if they have questions about what acceptable behavior is versus unacceptable behavior is and sort that out right from the very beginning.

I think what we probably need is, for our juniors and seniors, we need refresher courses. We need to remind people that while you may have had this kind of education coming in, it’s easy to forget about. It’s easy to not think about if it’s never happened to you or happened to a friend. But the national statistics, the very sad statistics, are that 1 in 5 women who attend college are likely to be sexually assaulted at some point along the way. That’s very sobering. That says to me that, although we’re doing educational things for our students, we need to do more.

DI: Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter told The Daily Iowan the regents couldn’t continue to ask the state Legislature for funding without analyzing the efficiencies of the state universities. What inefficiencies will the company be looking for?

Mason: We have for the last six years, and really starting with the flood, but certainly since I’ve been here, we’ve been very focused on becoming much more efficient at all levels of the university. Everything from energy efficiency to operations efficiency to just making all the things we do on this campus and anything we spend money on, looking at it in a way that says, “are we spending this money in the most sensible, most logical way and doing it efficiently?”

A tendency in big organizations is to think, well, there’s room for improvement everywhere, and I think that’s true. One of the things I’m excited about for this new efficiency study is when we sit down with the consultants from Deloitte, and we start working campus-wide, we can begin to appreciate where we’ve come from and all of the efficiencies we’ve achieved over the past six years, and now we can start to look forward to see what more we can do and were the efficiencies we’ve been creating along the way — whether is was through creating our Energy Center, whether it was in terms of some of the consolidation of some of our programming — how effective have these things been and are there better ways? Are there better ways going forward? You know, for me, this is an exciting opportunity going forward and to really begin to reflect on some of the things we’ve already done and look forward to some new things we can do and really become more efficient. I have to say, our students have been great supporters of this because the sustainability initiatives that I laid out, six years ago now, were really as a result of conversations with students. They would come to me and say, “You know, we recycle in my house at home, and we’re not doing that in the residence halls here. Why not?” And I said that was a very good question, let’s ask those questions, let’s begin to do some of those things. The students have the driver for a lot of the, what I call, the sustainable efficiencies that we’ve created across campus as well, and I think student voices will be very useful as we go forward on efficiencies, because sometimes they see things that we don’t see too. When they point it out to us, we can do something about it.

DI: Gov. Terry Branstad spoke in January about his decision to include another tuition freeze in the proposed budget. Have you or any other university officials discussed the possibility of freezing tuition for more than one year at a time, or having another freeze beyond the 2014-15 school year? 

Mason: Well, you know, we do budgets one year at a time, and so we really have to look at what the entire landscape is for budget planning each year. It’s not that we don’t consider years out, we do. I’d like to see a tuition freeze of course continue indefinitely, but until I see all of the factors of the budget that play into these things, it’s hard for me to know whether it’s realistic to propose that or not. The reason we can do it, the reason we did it this year and the reason I’m hopeful we can do it next year is that we’ve had a good relationship with the legislature. We need the help from the legislature to be able to do it, because in essence what the legislature’s doing is making up for those tuition dollars that we would’ve had to charge student. By providing us with appropriations, we can say that we won’t raise tuition for our Iowa students. The state has already paid for that.

DI: Sen. Jack Hatch from Des Moines, a gubernatorial candidate, recently voiced a proposal to UI students to keep college costs low. He proposed an “accelerated bachelors” degree where students could complete four-year college degrees in three years by completing course requirements at any Iowa college or university with easy credit transfers. How would this proposal fit in with the university’s goals to keep college costs low?

Mason: Well, you know, you can do that now, but you have to be very motivated. We haven’t been as intentional about it we could be. Part of the push now for the free summer tuition program that we have put in place is to do two things really, to allow students who want to accelerate to be able to accelerate and at no cost because they can do it through summer school or to keep students on the four-year track as well. Students who spend a semester abroad can quickly make up that semester abroad with the free summer tuition program and not lose any time on your way to a degree. For us, we know the more can do to keep students on track for a four-year graduation or even reduce that, which I think Sen. Hatch is really promoting in a very positive way. We think those are all good ideas. The fewer semesters you spend in school the less it costs you, right? We know that too. The less it costs us too. It costs us to keep you here for longer periods of time. We build our budget around students coming here and spending four years. So if you spend five years or six year or whatever it might take to finish your degree, that is going to impact our impact and generally not in a positive way, because it costs us. It costs you too in terms of tuition, so reducing the costs to us and the costs to you simultaneously by making sure we keep you on track. That’s also why we’ve put in place several opportunities for students to do the Bachelor’s and Master’s degree simultaneously in five years. So instead of taking four years to do your Bachelor’s degree and two years to do your Master’s degree, you’re end up doing them simultaneously, so your junior and senior year, you're basically working on a Master’s degree at the same time you’re working on your undergraduate degree. When you graduate in five years, you graduate with two degrees. That is a cost-saver as well, especially if you know you’ll need that Master’s degree at some point and if you want that additional credential. We think those are great ways to reduce costs. We’re not doing it not only for our undergraduates, but we’re doing it in a lot of our graduate programs as well where you can get a combined MBA-MPH and reduce the overall time and costs to those degrees because they work on them simultaneously. You’ll hear more about those. We’ll probably be promoting those kinds of programs more in the future because we do think it does help, especially for the motivated student. Once you have a good idea of what you’re going to do and what you need in terms of academic credentials, why not just get you on that track as fast as possible? We had a request that was not included in this year’s budget, but I still think it’s a good idea, is basically to take high school kids and really highly motivated, really bright high school students in their junior year of high school and start them in college too so that they’ll finish high and have only two years of high school left to finish once they’re through with their high school program too. I think that’s a great idea. It’s not going to work for everyone, but certainly for the high-achieving high school student who might be a bit bored in high school actually, this might be a great solution and it could be a great solution to keep some of our best and brightest in Iowa too. We’ll see where that goes.

DI: This week, a Seattle-based company will be visiting the university athletics department to outfit Hawkeye football players’ helmets with sensors to gauge the impact of hits to the head. What role does the university want to play in athlete’s safety?

Mason: Oh, a big role. I would say that this has been true across the Big Ten Conference. I can’t speak for the other athletic conferences, but I’m obviously very aware of the things in the Big Ten Conference that we’ve tried to do and one of them is to not only increase the awareness of head injury and concussions, but to take the resources of the universities within the Big Ten Conference. The Universities of Michigan and Iowa and others and have partnered with the Ivy League, the Harvard’s and the Princeton’s, and done some real studies of concussion and sports injuries, head injuries in particular, to try and better ascertain some of these safety issues for our players. So are there things that we can do both on the playing field and in practice and other setting that can reduce the likelihood of head injuries and things that can really lead to adverse effects later in life, especially later in life. We have to be involved with this. We should be involved with this, and where better than these great research universities with great medical centers to do the kinds of research that would allow us to make that kind of progress on this, so I’m very excited about this.

DI: Two weeks ago, contractors working on flood recovery for the Iowa Memorial Union found archeologically significant artifacts. State archeologists are now working in Hubbard Park to inventory the items. How is this going to affect the flood recovery timeline for the IMU?

Mason: Well, I’m told that it shouldn’t. I worry more about the weather right now affecting these projects than just about anything else. But, obviously, the archaeologists want a chance to take a look at this early history of Iowa City, because it looks like it goes back to Civil War times, which would really be early in the history of Iowa City and it would be important to recover those artifacts and catalog those and make sure we understand what went on on this property before we move ahead with a project that won’t allow archaeologists to take a look for a long, long time if ever. At this point, it’s not slowing anything down, but keep our fingers crossed between the archaeology and the weather. We seem to have lots of things happening out there that could slow us down.

DI: This year marks the 20th anniversary of the University of Iowa’s Women in Science and Engineering organization. How have women in science and engineering evolved since the program’s inception?

Mason: Well, I wasn’t here 20 years ago when it started, but I was a woman in science 20 years ago, so I remember when these programs started on a variety of campuses all across the country. I believe Iowa was one of the early universities to start these. I was an active faculty member, one of the few woman in science faculty members then at the University of Kansas, and we talked a lot about the Women in Science and Engineering program, and we developed one there, not surprisingly. It was important to do back then to try and encourage more women to get involved in disciplines, that frankly, there weren’t a lot of women in at that time. I was, for a long time, almost the only woman faculty member in my department. [My department] changed names a number of times over the years. It was the Department of Physiology and Cell Biology when I started at the University of Kansas. They had one woman who was close to retirement just before I was hired there, so I wasn’t the only woman, at least for a little while, but for a while, I was. That was not unusual. I was the first woman who was the associate dean for the sciences and mathematics at the University of Kansas. I was the first woman dean of arts and sciences there. I was the first woman provost at Purdue University. I was among the first group of women when I went to graduate school at Purdue University in 1972. That was the first year Title XIIII went into effect, so universities started paying attention to how many women they were recruiting and bringing into all of their programs. It made a difference. We’ve come a long way. We’ve come a long way, baby. We’ve come a long way in that period of time. These institutions are large, and they’re thriving now. I think young women are probably wondering why we have a Women in Science and Engineering organization. I hope they do, but 20 years ago, 25 years ago, 30 years ago, we really needed it, because there needed to be some way for the few women who were out there to be able to get together and encourage other women, young women in particular, to pursue these careers.

DI: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Mason: I’m pretty excited about our basketball teams and our wrestling squad right now that we’re getting closer and closer to post-season, NCAAs, that sort of thing. I’m really pleased at how our young men and women have performed on the basketball courts and on the wrestling mats this year and I think that, looking to that football recruiting class, we’ve got a lot to look forward to next year. We’ve got a new baseball coach who seems to be rejuvenating our baseball program. We’ve got a new volleyball coach, and it's too soon to know about that, but I’m pretty excited about that. I don’t normally mention athletics, but, you know, our student-athletes are some of the best and brightest on campus, and they work really hard as student-athletes. I’m always thrilled when I see how well they perform, not just in the competitions that they’re a part of but in the classrooms as well. I think that’s something Iowa can be very proud of. I know I am, so I thought I’d just give them a shout out at this point.

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