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Q&A: Mason talks performance based funding, flood recovery

BY DI STAFF | MAY 15, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Daily Iowan sat down with University of Iowa President Sally Mason to talk about the issue of sexual assault on college campuses, the performance-based funding model, and the ongoing flood recovery.

President Sally Mason: With commencement upon us, and we are about to graduate another great group of Hawkeyes in the next few days, starting with pharmacy and all the way through the weekend. It’s an exciting time on campus to see all of the great students, many of whom I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and working with over the last three, four, five years now — watching them graduate is bittersweet, always. But hearing what his or her plans are is exciting to someone like me. Knowing that so many of them do have plans, or so many of them are in the process of figuring it out what they are going to do postgraduation. So it’s a great time, it’s kind of chaotic, on town and in campus, as students are moving out of the residence halls now and moving out of town, and some of them moving away. And at the same time, we’re getting ready for graduation to commence right away.

As I reflect back on the year, and I reflect back on our students, one of the things I think I’m most proud of this year in particular, is the way our students have responded to the issue of sexual assault on campus. Without a doubt, they are stepping up to the plate, they are helping the administration, me included, deal with this very, very challenging issue, and I am proud of the way in which they have stepped up, and taken some responsibility, and to take some leadership, and to really make some serious efforts in dealing with these tough issues. From my perspective, watching the students and how they do their business and how they respond to things on campus, I could not be more proud of our students.

Obviously we’ve got a lot going on right now with all of the flood recovery, all of the buildings that are being built on the campus, all of the things that are happening that people such as me have waited six years to see. It’s gratifying, finally, to see that. So I am very pleased about the way we are making very tangible obvious progress in terms of flood recovery, and in a very short time now, in just two years, we’re going to have the new facilities for art and music, we’re going to have the new Hancher Auditorium, not a flood project, but we’re going to have a new Children’s Hospital as well. And just a little over a year from now we’re going to have a new residence hall, which is something we haven’t had on this campus in more than 45 years. So it’s very exciting in terms of the physical transformation on our campus. And I think that physical transformation is going to allow us to look into things seriously that we haven’t been able to think about, including growth. And this plays into some of the regents’ initiatives that are going on right now, the performance-base funding model, the efficiency study that Deloitte is doing for us, and I just want to say a few things about those because I think it’s important.

The Performance-Based Funding Committee has made some recommendations going forward, and I think these recommendations are very deserving of considerable discussion. Especially in view of the University of Iowa and what I think is our particularly unique mission. One of the things that can sometimes get lost in the conversation is how important our graduate-professional programs are. I think we have to make certain that our regents hear us that they are important, but they are also expensive. And that Iowa kids who are in medical school deserve consideration in the performance-based funding model, just as undergraduate students at all of the regent institutions deserve consideration, and that it does cost a lot more to deliver medical education, or dental education, or certain types of health-sciences education, than what I would call the standard undergraduate liberal-arts education.

So that is one point that we really have to emphasize because it really does set us apart from other institutions within the state, and I think in a good way, I think in a positive way, and I think in a way that benefits Iowa in a really positive way as a state because imagine a community where you didn’t have doctors, where you didn’t have pharmacists, where you didn’t have dentists, it wouldn’t be a very healthy community.  It probably wouldn’t be a community that is sustainable long-term. So it’s important for us to make our points and make sure that the regents understand that we have a unique piece to our mission that is worthy of further discussion and further consideration.

I remember when we started on the path to performance-based funding, the promises made by the leadership of the Board of Regents at that time were that the object was to do no harm to any of the institutions, and really the only way that I see potential for doing harm would be to ignore the mission and the differences in the missions of the three institutions, so I’m hopeful that we can have a positive discussion of mission differentiation, as well as differentiation of what it costs to deliver certain types of different education. That said, I think with several years to implement a new model, I think what you can expect to see is that the University of Iowa will start to grow now. With a new residence hall coming on the line, it’s a good time to think about growth for the future.

We’re going to work hard to ensure we are an attractive option for every Iowa student, and we are going to continue to work hard to be an attractive option to our nonresident students as well, because they are important to our diversity, and our student body, and really our global nature of what we try to do here at this institution.

I had the opportunity yesterday to sit down with the principles from Deleoitt, and we had a good conversation about some of the early findings that they are beginning to consider and some of the opportunities that will be there to help the university become more efficient. For me efficiency means finding savings that we can reinvest in the primary mission, which is making sure we continue to have the high-quality academic programs. I continue to be excited about the opportunities that might be there. It’s nice to have someone come in from the outside with fresh eyes and take a look to see what we’re doing, to give us comments on how we’re doing it, and to give us advice on how we can do it better in the future, and I think that’s where we’re headed with this.

Those are really the big things right now, that plus fundraising. I just spent the last few days, I spent yesterday in Dubuque, the day before in Davenport with alumni groups; we continue to do very, very well on the fundraising front, and I’m very pleased about that because that’s really one of the things that will make a big difference in the future for the University of Iowa. A lot of what we’re raising are scholarships for students, professorships, and the kinds of things that really play into the student success models that we’re building on here today.

DI: So to talk a little bit about Deloitte; you said you sat down with them Tuesday; what were some of the more specific recommendations that they made to you?

Mason: They didn’t have specific recommendations yet, they’re still working on the specifics of it, but generally, we talked about opportunities and areas such as operations and finance, IT, some of the bigger areas, and I think next week when they sit down with the regents and some of the administrative officials that they’ll have a few more details to add. The message I got was where there probably aren’t opportunities like the Power Plant, in food services, outsourcing food services, while it’s an attractive option what they said to us Tuesday, and I kind of pushed them on this, was that it really didn’t make sense in terms of finances and in terms of saving money that in fact [the UI] is already looking for good ways to be more efficient in terms of food utilization. It wasn’t going to necessarily save you a lot of money to outsource it to some other group that would do food services for you, so that was interesting. And I think there were a few other smaller things like that where clearly they’re suggesting that it doesn’t make sense to look deeper there, but they’ve got a lot of bigger areas where they think we can look for savings, not only internally but across the three regent institutions, and I think that makes very good sense.

DI: I know you talked a little bit about the Performance-Based Revenue Model Task Force and so you talked a little bit about how you have to speak with the regents, and other groups; what will you do specifically to present those differences?

Mason: I’m going to be speaking with regents individually and then, hopefully, they’ll have a good discussion at the Board of Regents meeting in June and include this as a topic.  I’m hoping that they’ll want to hear more from us in terms of the real costs, now they have a lot of that information that they can go back to, and I think it’s important that we get that on the table as a topic of further discussion for them.

DI: Do you feel that it’s something that hasn’t been expressed as much in the past? Do you feel that might be a reason they are overlooking that at this time?

Mason: I don’t think they’ve over looked it, I think they’ve undervalued it from my particular viewpoint. I want to try to make a stronger case on the value of and the cost of graduate and professional education, especially in the areas of the health sciences. I know our graduate professional students have been making the argument as well, and we’re going to continue to do that. Because we’re the only one of the three regent institutions that really has the full breadth of graduate-professional programs, it’s really our issue. So not surprisingly, it’s not an issue that is under great conversation on the other campuses. They have different pressures than we do.

DI: Have you worked with any graduate or professional officials from the colleges to kind of communicate those needs with the regents?

Mason: I work closely with the Graduate Professional Student Government leaders, that’s who I’ve been working with, and they’ve been great partners in this. They also get a chance to meet with regents at every meeting. So they’ve been really good, vocal proponents for the kinds of things that I’m talking about, which I think is terrific. Once again our students step up.

DI: You spoke a little bit about the issue of sexual assault this year, and the six-point plan was released in March; what do you think have been the successes of the program thus far?

Mason: We’ve made progress on every point, in those six points. Joe [Brennan, VP for Strategic Communication] can certainly give you more information on each one of those. I was very pleased at how responsive every office and every group on campus has been. We’ve got a lot of work to do, plenty more work to do. I think the students are now beginning to realize what I told them at the onset, that the hard part of this work is we get to start over again every year with a new group of students who come in, and they’re not aware — in fact in need of education on these particular issues, and we need to be certain that we get the right kinds of education to them, and they become partners with us going forward as well. So that’s going to be one of our big challenges, and I think as I’ve talked to Grant, and other members of the student task force, they’re ready to help us and I think we can make some progress.

DI: Where might the funding for these types of programs come from?

Mason: Different sources. It’ll more likely be central funding, in other words either Provost’s or President’s Office. These are the kinds of things where I can make some funds available on a short-term basis to do certain kinds of things, so we can build the funding into the university budget going forward if it’s something that we’ll continue to do going forward. If we’re just going to try it out as an experiment, we’ll give one-time funding, and if it is an experiment that works, then we’ll look for continued funding.

DI: Once this is, so to speak, completed, where you feel like the university is moving forward, what is kind of the next step? Will you present these findings to the regents?

Mason: This is never completed. If the regents would like, we will certainly give them regular reports, and I will ask them if that’s their desire. It may be regular reports that are oral; it may be in their agenda, so maybe written reports that they’ll each get to read. But we’ll keep them apprised, obviously, with the progress that we’re making. But even more importantly I want to keep the campus apprised. I want our students to understand what it is that we are doing, I want the faculty and staff to understand what we’re doing, so as I work with the shared governance groups, I’ll be sharing information with them as I get it on how we’re making progress in these areas as we get it. I’m obviously happy to share it with the DI when we have it, too.

DI: I know you mentioned all of the construction, the Theater Building just announced some of the work it will do this summer; how will those displaced from the building operate and where do you think that will take place?

Mason: That’s why we’re doing it in the summer. That’s when at least there are fewer people around, and they’ve been displaced before. It was much worse during the flood … there were trailers for them. I think that this point we are trying very hard to manage these projects so it creates the least disruption to the academic programs. It’s not easy because it’s not like we have a lot of extra space. And that’s been the problem since the flood. And that’s one of the problems that we’ve faced in terms of … We saw an increase of approximately 500 students the year of the flood, and that was extremely stressful. It’s part of the reason why we’ve worked hard to keep enrollment stable for those last five or six years, because what were we going to do if we grew more, where would we put them? Given that we had damaged buildings, destroyed buildings, and we knew we were going to have to do something significant to be able to recover from the flood.

Now that is all in front of us, and it is happening, now we can think about what the future is and what we should look like as a university going forward. And I think growth is in our future.

DI: What kind of growth?

Mason: Probably growth as much as anything on the undergraduate side. So we’ll be a larger university in the future, and I’d like to do this in a very planned and controlled way so it’s not thousands of students all at once coming to campus. That we can do this in a way that it’s manageable, and that’s going to take some careful planning.

DI: Any other plans, projects going on this summer that students, staff/faculty returning can expect to see in the fall?

Mason: The ones that are underway are going to continue to occupy a lot of time. In terms of new ones, the Pharmacy Building is probably the new one that people will begin to see happen as they come back next fall. And it won’t be dramatic yet, in other words it won’t be a huge hole in the ground, we won’t be tearing down another building just yet, but that’s the next project in line.

DI: The UI decided it was not in the best interest to allow “Girls,” the HBO series, to film on campus. I know that the director has expressed that the crew still intends to film in Iowa City, just to avoid campus. First of all, is that something that matters to the university? But second, is it an issue you stand by and would you ever revisit it?

Mason: I’m not intending to revisit it. I think Joe [Brennan] did a very good job for us, reaching out to them. He saw the script, read the script, and decided it really wasn’t in the best interest of the University of Iowa. I respect that, I agree with it, and going forward, the producers can do what they need to do but not with our help.


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