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Daily Iowan Editor-in-Chief Jordyn Reiland sat down with University of Iowa President Sally Mason on Monday to talk about the AIB College of Business, student enrollment, and the 21-ordinance.

President Sally Mason: [Sunday] was our Presidential Lecture. Linda Snetselaar gave it and talked about food, communities, and culture and did a wonderful job. I thought it was a really great way to kick off — not exactly kick off, because we’re well into the semester now — but the theme semester of food. I hope people are paying attention to that. I hope that folks are starting to think about the lectures and other things going on that have the food theme in them.

I hadn’t realized how much great research is going on this campus in regard to food, nutrition, diet, and all those kinds of things. I don’t know if you are familiar with Dr. [Terry] Wahls. Wahls has, I believe it’s multiple sclerosis but is in remission. She went from being in a wheelchair, barely able to walk to now being back almost to her normal self, and she would tell you, and she’s written a book, that it was all diet. It was all about changing her diet significantly, putting a lot more vegetables in the diet. Yesterday, she told me that they are now seeing some really positive things in regards to liver, and I said, “Oh you mean, we’re going to have to eat liver; I haven’t had liver since I was a kid when my mother used to make us eat it on a pretty regular basis.” She smiled and she said, “Well, there are some pretty positive aspects in regards to this.” There’s a lot going on in this community in regard to the very positive effects diet can have on our overall health and well-being and what it means in communities and cultures. So I hope people will start paying attention to that.

I shared this with board leadership last week, too: tracking how we’re getting ready for next fall and looking at the admissions numbers. Our admissions numbers are really, really strong right now, and I’m very pleased about that. We’re pretty much up across the board. We’re up in applications in virtually every category, whether it’s Iowa residents, nonresident students like our students from Chicago and Illinois and elsewhere, and our international students, too — which generally fall into the nonresident category. What’s gratifying to me is every year, we see the number of applications going up, but what we’re seeing at this point in time is acceptances of admits, and housing, and those kinds of things that suggests that we’re going to have a very large and strong freshman class. In fact I’ll predict, because I won’t be here to talk about this, but I will predict that we will once again have the largest, the most talented, and the most diverse freshman class that we’ve ever seen coming in next fall. The target is to be up by about 500, and I think we’re easily tracking on those numbers. I think it’s a good story; I think it shows that the work that’s been done is starting to pay off.

I said I would be tracking fundraising, enrollment, and the TIER work that we’re doing — the efficiency studies that we’re doing. One of the things that the board did was approve [the UI’s] early retirement request, so we have an early retirement program that’s in effect right now. I track that almost as often as I track the admissions numbers. Last week — which was the last time I looked at the numbers — on the early retirement we had more than 250 people who had applied for early retirement. We still have about two weeks before we hit the end of the window. My guess is we’re going to continue to see those numbers go up. Now why do I care? I care about this because the early retirement program really allows us to generate cost savings pretty quickly. Especially because we’re being very careful — anytime we do one of these programs we are very careful about whom we approve for the program. If there isn’t savings that’s going to be generated, then it seems kind of pointless to go ahead and approve it.

What we’re looking at right now is substantial savings that will be realized; this is something I hope I can hand to the next president, and they will be able to reinvest it into the institution.

Now, I’m not going to try to tell the next president how to reinvest it, but my guess is that anyone coming in and looking at what we’re going to need with more students coming — and there’s no doubt more students are coming — what we really need is to make sure that we’ve got the faculty and staff in place to be sure that those students are going to be well-served. There will be all kinds of pressures and tendencies to want to spend it on this or that. I’ve told a couple of people this if I have a regret of something I wasn’t able to get done during my eight years of being president, between the budget cuts that we’ve had to experience, and the flood and making sure that our budget was good and solid and stable going through all of these things, I wasn’t able to take savings that we were generating to be able to invest that back into faculty. I think that needs to become a really high priority for the campus moving forward.

The Daily Iowan: Now you talked a little bit about how you anticipate roughly 500 in growth. Is that higher than you expected, lower, right around pace?

Mason: That’s the target. We sort of have a target in mind. We want to do this in a very controlled way, because the worst thing that can happen is too many students come and we don’t have a place for them. We’ve worked really hard on making sure our four-year graduation rates are right where they need to be and continue to increase so that students are graduating in four years or fewer than ever before.

Last week, we announced the “Iowa Degree in Three.” I challenged the campus this fall, I said, “This is what we need to do next.” I was really pleased to see that we’ve got six majors that are all set to go for next fall, and there will probably be more as time goes on. And again, it’s not for every student, but for a motivated student and for students who can and are willing to go to summer school, we can help them complete their degrees much quicker than they might’ve thought they can do it in the past. That saves on lots of things. It saves on the kinds of things that are detrimental to the decision of making education affordable for some students. The whole idea is to try to make it as affordable as possible and not in any way damage the quality. The quality still has to stay high so the UI degree means something, but at the same time, we think we can do it in a way that doesn’t cost families and students as much as it would if they stayed for four, or five, or even six years. I think it’s a good thing to do for students.

DI: How does that play into students who are interested in double majoring?

Mason: Double majors, triple majors — and we see a lot of that — that’s harder. That could potentially be harder to do in three years. Not every student wants to do that, and I think if you are going to double or triple major what we’ve tried to do is make sure that it’s still very possible to do in four years. It used to be that if you wanted to do study abroad and you wanted to double or triple major, it was going to take longer than four years, and for some, it still does. That’s a choice that many students make. What we’ve been able to do I think is show students that there are pathways to be able to accomplish all of those things and still be in a pretty reasonable time frame so it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg or a whole lot of extra money. As a student, when I think about my undergraduate days, if I have any regrets at all, it’s that I never had a chance to do study abroad. I was always working pretty much full-time while I was going to school for four years because I wasn’t going to get support from my family for longer than that, either. I managed it, but it would’ve been an awful lot of fun to be able to do either a double major, and in the case of study abroad, I would’ve loved to study abroad.

DI: Much has changed since we last discussed the AIB College of Business and your plans to merge it as the University of Iowa Des Moines. Do you feel these changes have kept the original mission intact?

Mason: Describing it as a merger, I never used that word. This was always a gift. This was going to be gifted to the University of Iowa, and it was going to be an opportunity for us to be able to use that campus to serve the greater central Iowa community better, particularly in Des Moines. That’s really what’s exciting to us, and that’s still what’s exciting to us in all this. We’ll have the opportunity to serve the community in a very targeted way.

With the housing opportunities that are present on the AIB campus, the internship opportunities in Des Moines are really quite amazing. The businesses in Des Moines are always looking for interns. Internships might last two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks, and 12 weeks. If you’ve ever tried renting an apartment for two weeks, four weeks, six weeks, eight weeks, it’s almost impossible.

It’s very hard to sign a lease for a short period of time like that. But with the opportunities that we have in the housing on the AIB campus, much of which is apartment living, we’re going to I hope be able to set up an intern village where we can be sending students to businesses in Des Moines to do internships at whatever intervals work in their schedules and the work schedules of the companies in Des Moines.

So there are a lot of things that we can get started on relatively quickly. We have to be very respectful however of AIB working through issues with the accrediting agency — the Higher Learning Commission — to make sure that the AIB students can complete or finish out what they need to finish out without jeopardizing the accreditation status of AIB and its degrees.

DI: I know when the state Board of Regents discussed the regional center, it included participation from the University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University. Have you met with either of them to discuss further plans with this?

Mason: Not yet. Again, we need to wait for the Higher Learning Commission to give us the green light to go ahead with programming and the things that we’ll do for students. I’ve given you one idea what we already have for how we think the facilities especially can be useful to us and to the Des Moines community. But the programming itself, we’re just going to be patient and go along with the commission’s timetable, make sure we follow all of the rules and don’t do anything that somehow puts students in jeopardy.

DI: Do you have any timetable as to when you think those processes will go through?

Mason: That’s up to the Higher Learning Commission and to some extent AIB. So we’re just going to have to be patient for a little bit longer. I’m hopeful that at least in term of a gift agreement before I finish my tenure as president, we’ll have that gift agreement all set and ready to go.

DI: The regents plan to meet on March 11 in Iowa City and could discuss such plans. Do you feel you have the regents full support on this? 

Mason: I certainly haven’t heard otherwise.

DI: The Iowa Legislature has been in session for several weeks now. What specifically would you like to see from it as you finish out your term as president? Is there anything you’d like to see accomplished or discussed that would affect the UI?

Mason: I’ve been pretty clear about what my goals are going forward. We want to make certain we are in a strong position, both with respect to enrollment;, however, all of this might be determined by the Legislature. I want to be prepared so that the university is not surprised or caught off-guard and we aren’t somehow in a disadvantaged position going forward.

Similarly with the fundraising campaign, I’ve said all along that we’ve been very, very fortunate to have so many good friends to the university who are willing to step up and help out with donations, scholarships, programmatic funds, all of those things. I continue to work really hard to make sure that those dollars will be in place as well. There’s no doubt whether in order to do the kinds of things that we need to do on this campus for our students and our faculty. One way we’re going to be able to accomplish that is to be more efficient and to use those resources to invest back into the institution in ways to make us stronger academically.

DI: A new bill was introduced last week that would ban cities and counties from adopting any ordinance restricting people 19 or older from entering businesses that have liquor licenses. How would this — even bringing the discussion back up again — affect the Iowa City and UI community? 

Mason: I’ve seen what it’s like to have 19- and 20-year-olds going to the bars, and it weren’t pretty. It really wasn’t. I would hate to see Iowa City go backwards in that regard because I think it’s safer today than it was previously; I think we have data that show that. I think we can demonstrate that while there are house parties that go on, it doesn’t seem to be extraordinarily larger number of house parties going on, and that in fact, it was far more dangerous. When people are coming miles and miles away to come to Iowa City just because on the weekends they knew there would be 19- and 20-year-olds in the bars. I often described it as people coming to Iowa City to prey on the co-eds who would go to the bars on the weekends because they could, and it became a very, very dangerous situation for our students especially. It’s not that way now. I think it’s much more healthy and safer than it’s been in a long, long time. It would be a shame to go backwards.

DI: The UI College of Law is looking to roll out a program that would admit some students without having to take the LSAT. This program would only be available to UI undergraduates and graduate students. How would a program such as this affect the university? 

Mason: This idea has clearly been thought out by the [College of Law] in ways that make sense. I’m supportive of the ideas that are being put forward in order to make certain they are capturing the very best students that they can. That’s really what this is all about. These are extremely talented students, and you can argue whether the LSAT makes a difference or not in these particular cases. From my perspective, this would be an interesting experiment to do.

DI: The DI attended all three of the town-hall meetings to discuss what faculty, staff, and students want to see in the next president. Students mentioned your “inaccessibility” as something they’d like to see different. What would you say to those students who felt this way?

Mason: I’d be curious to know what they thought inaccessibility was, because I do spend a lot of time on campus — I think — with students. If there is a particular issue, I’d be curious to know what that was. If that’s what [students] want in the next president, then they should certainly get that out there as a characteristic. I teach a freshman leadership class, I’m exposed to students on a pretty regular basis. I meet with the student leadership once a month; I meet with [the DI] once a month, I meet with lots of different student groups. It’s hard to meet with all 31,000, though; I can tell you that.

DI: UI Student Government recently passed the Diversity Inclusion Education at Large Bill. This bill has two main goals — re-evaluation of the general-education program with a focus on the values, society, and diversity requirement as well as hiring staff to conduct training in diversity and inclusion at the UI. How feasible is this and has anyone from UISG reached out to you to get the ball rolling?

Mason: I think that’s something they are going to have to work with the faculty on, because it does mean some curricular changes, so working with the faculty and the staff especially in our diversity office is going to make the most sense. I think that there’s always room for work on these issues on any college campus, and we’re not unusual, so from my perspective, that the students have taken such a strong interest in this is something that we should pay close attention to.

DI: If 500 students are the target, does that mean the UI would be prepared for those students to come on campus?

Mason: We feel comfortable that we can handle 500. The new residence hall will open this fall, and we haven’t yet shut down the Quadrangle. We’ve got the capacity in terms of beds to house new freshmen, and we’ve got the capacity in terms of classes for them as well. We’re trying to be pretty careful at how we build the numbers and grow moving forward.

DI: Do you think that after the projected 500-student increase, do you think it would be beneficial to hire more faculty and staff? Is that more of a reality as opposed to a hope?

Mason: I think it has to become a reality. If we grow and maintain that growth, as I’ve said to people, one way to fix that in the short-term is to hire people temporarily — that’s the short-term. If we’re going to be bigger going forward, if we’re going to be 33,000-34,000 students going forward, we need a larger faculty.

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