The University and Its Environment
February 20, 1995

CHAPTER 10: EXTERNAL CONSTITUENCIES

In recent years, the University has taken a more proactive approach to external relations and has generally shown more concern about communicating effectively with its many external constituencies. A new position, Vice President for University Relations, has been added to the top level of University administration, highlighting both the importance of external relations and its centrality to the University.

General Approach

The more assertive recent attitude exhibited by The University of Iowa contrasts with previous low-key, decentralized approaches to external relations. In countering a prior perception of aloofness and indifference, all components of the University community have come to realize that outreach and communication are central to the advancement of University missions.
The results of a recent University Relations Statewide Survey conducted by The University of Iowa Social Science Institute suggest that Iowans generally have a favorable impression of the University, but have some misconceptions about University resources. "The University of Iowa is perceived as an institution that provides good preparation for jobs, as a place for sports, as a major medical center, and as a major research institution. . . . The University's mission as a major research institution is clearly supported by the majority of Iowans, and very few people believe that the University is giving too much emphasis to research." Interestingly, although Iowans value the research and scholarly contributions of the faculty and staff, they mistakenly tend to believe that "most" or "some" of funding for research comes from state taxpayers rather than from external sources.

Alumni

The University has enjoyed positive relations with its alumni, and the University's Alumni Association continues to serve as a major focus for the planning of alumni activities. While there have been decided improvements, particularly in the form of a move to constituency-based programming, publications and creation of 70 Iowa Clubs throughout the country, much more could be done to increase the support to match levels that other University alumni organizations provide for their institutions.
The Alumni Association provides services that are of direct benefit to their members such as the alumni magazine, reunion weekends, and club activities. Because all club outreach is funded through the Alumni Association, financial resources continue to be a challenge. The role of the Alumni Association within the University Relations structure and its contribution to the University as a whole needs to be made clearer through more and better communication with alumni constituencies.
Many alumni activities are not channeled through the Alumni Association. Much of the identification with the University that alumni report, for example, comes through athletic programs. Many also hold strong allegiances with professional and academic areas. Fostering the multiple ties that alumni share with UI is a primary goal of not only the Alumni Association, but of the University as well.

Donors

The University enjoys generous and growing financial support from alumni and friends, who demonstrate their confidence in the University's future through donations to The University of Iowa Foundation or directly to the University. Particularly noteworthy was the early completion and huge success of the Iowa Endowment 2000 Campaign, which raised about $250 million--more than double the initial campaign goal--to strengthen the University's human resources. The Iowa Endowment 2000 Campaign also served an important communication function by making constituencies aware of what endowment funds are and how necessary they are to a strong academic future. Special campaigns and individual contributors have also played a vital role in recent capital improvements, such as the Pappajohn Business Administration Building.
It is likely that private fund-raising will be an increasingly critical component of future expansion and development of new initiatives at the University. Many of these will be focused campaigns to aid particular departments or colleges, and designed to add a layer of quality to the basic support provided by state appropriations.
It is important, both to donors and to the University, that contributions not be a substitute for lagging general support funds. The basic support for institutional activities must come from state appropriations, tuition, and the other regular sources of income. Funds provided by generous friends can stimulate new initiatives, enhance quality, and open new doors for scholarship, creativity, student opportunities, and service. The example of the Pappajohn Business Administration Building has demonstrated how the combination of state and private funding can greatly enhance the quality of facilities and programs.
The University has worked during the last five years to strengthen ties between donors and the University through the UI-UI Foundation Committee on Corporate Giving and the President's Council on Institutional Advancement. A major goal of the Foundation is to build the base of donors; future fund-raising efforts will depend on success in broadening and enlarging the pool of contributors. The UI Foundation has increased its recognition efforts to acknowledge the generosity of donors, but faculty, staff, and students probably are not as well informed about the critical role played by private donations to the well-being of University programs as they should be. More effort should be expended on publicizing the specific uses of contributed funds and their vital role in the academic enterprise.

Parents and Prospective Students

Although modest in cost in comparison to efforts from many private colleges and universities, The University of Iowa has an effective outreach program for prospective students and a program of continuing communication with parents. As the University continues to compete for increased diversity and quality in its entering students, these programs will increase in importance. Improved coordination among the many service and academic offices that assist incoming students and their families will be necessary to maintain the quality of admission information and serve the interests of both the students and the University.
The University of Iowa has been a pioneer in the creation of programs to inform and involve parents in the life of the institution. The award-winning Freshman Calling Project, a joint effort of University Relations and the Dean of Students, contacts parents of new students every fall. Parent Times, a newsletter published four times each year through University Relations by the UI Parents Association and mailed to all parents of undergraduates, is an important communications link with the campus. Parents Weekend annually draws over 1000 families to the campus and the UI Parents Association Board of Directors has made important gifts to the University.
For new students and their families, presenting attractive, accurate information is vital. Award-winning publications, jointly produced by University Relations and the Office of Admissions, are facilitating that effort; there has been a noticeable increment in the quality of all University publications in recent years. Maintaining contact and answering questions, primarily through the Office of Admissions, is a labor-intensive, personal enterprise that has direct consequences for the quality of the admitted students and their academic success. Part of enrollment management is designing materials, informational programs, and personal approaches that will attract and retain the students who can best succeed at the University.

State Government

The Office of State Relations, assisted by several University committees and units, has taken on a new importance in an age of increased accountability, legislative activism, and heightened public awareness. The University has a positive obligation to provide the legislative and executive branches of the state government with necessary information and to be an open, effective, fiscally-responsible organization.

Accreditation Agencies

Like other educational institutions, The University of Iowa is responsible to a number of accrediting agencies, boards, and professional associations. At the university level it is periodically reviewed by the North Central Association, with the next review scheduled for 1997. Professional colleges all have at least one accrediting agency for their discipline area and many have several. Many individual departments also have regular reviews and evaluations to insure that high-quality teaching and research programs are maintained. While these reviews are time-consuming and expensive (accrediting agencies charge programs and institutions for the cost of their visits and report preparation), they serve a necessary and valuable service in protecting the quality of educational programs.
However, the role of accreditation agencies is often not well understood by the general public. The demands of accrediting agencies exert strong influences on the nature and composition of departmental and college programs, sometimes forcing academic changes or requiring new facilities for the unit to maintain good standing. These requirements can have financial consequences that strain University resources or necessitate new requests to the Regents. Occasionally, the expectations of an accreditation agency may change radically or conflict with other agencies in the same discipline, causing units at The University of Iowa--and other universities--to make difficult decisions about conforming to the agency's requirements or withdrawing from the accreditation process.

The General Public and Media Attention

Media scrutiny intensifies every year and strongly influences both the external and internal perception of University activities from athletics to undergraduate education to scientific research to campus controversies. The Office of University Relations is taking a more proactive approach to media relations, as demonstrated by more national exposure and more requests for information from administrators, faculty, and staff. This attention, necessary in a rapidly-paced information age, places additional demands on institutional resources and personnel. Departments and administrative offices have almost daily requests for "stories" and follow-up information. Media training for key personnel has taken place for the past four years; this training is now being extended to high profile faculty members as well. A priority for future media relations should be increasing the public awareness of the broad range of university activities and how they are financed. Recent (and constantly re-occurring) controversies reveal the public's poor understanding of the relationship between athletics and academics, financing of research, faculty workload and responsibilities, the role and funding of staff, the range of student attitudes and expectations, and the importance of experimentation and diversity in the arts.

Summary

The University has a continuing obligation to communicate effectively with the citizens of the state, alumni, and the many friends and donors who contribute to the building of the future of the University. UI has strengthened its commitment to this vital area in recent years and now is in a position to define more clearly its messages to the many publics it serves.