You’ve been the University of Iowa president for more than half a year now. Have your goals for the University changed?
My goals have not changed. They still include maintaining the excellence of the core undergraduate disciplines, and protecting those disciplines within that group, especially the arts and humanities, that do not have access to external resources on their own, in an attempt to buffer the effects of state shortfalls. I intend to continue emphasizing the importance of diversity, particularly in the context of the recent Supreme Court decisions on the cases at Michigan. I also intend to maintain a collaborative, responsive posture to the state’s desire to have the University do whatever it can, including economic development activities, to help our state climb out of a financial hole that we’re in.
Since I last communicated with parents through Parent Times and with the Parents Association board in person, I’ve realized the extent to which the state is really focusing on those activities that we do in economic development. So I’m reemphasizing in my discussions with legislators and others that the University is pleased—more than pleased—we’re eager to be active in economic development, but that we cannot be primarily judged by our activities in economic development. We have to be judged primarily by how we deal with 20,000 undergraduates and thousands of graduate and professional students and how we do scholarly activities.
There have been a number of changes in the structure of the administration. Please talk about them and what they mean for undergraduate students.
Changes are occurring in response to the goals I’ve outlined. I wanted to increase the responsibility in the provost’s office, first of all because I believe it’s appropriate to emphasize the role of the chief academic officer, the provost, and because it brings us more in line with other peer institutions. If we’re going to make some changes, it seems to me that a very opportune time to do so would be while we are hiring a new provost. [A national search for the new provost is under way.]
Changes include moving the oversight of Information Technology Services from the research office to the provost’s office, with a strong participation by the vice president for research and the vice president for finance and operations and University treasurer, Doug True. Also, we will be involving the provost as a partner with True in the initiation of the University budgeting process each year. This will serve to make sure that our emphasis is very carefully focused on both the academic and nonacademic priorities of the University. In addition, I’ve asked Doug True to help me oversee the athletic department, as I’ve taken that on as a direct report.
Moving athletics to direct oversight by the Office of the President was also a response to my view that we had a model quite different from the majority of our peer institutions, including Iowa State, where the athletic director reports directly to the president with help from another senior officer. So those were examples of changes that were proactive and follow up on ideas that I’ve had for some time.
Another change was in response to Vice President for Health Affairs Robert Kelch’s decision to accept an offer at the University of Michigan. [Skorton has decided not to replace the vice president for health affairs at this time, but rather have the dean of the College of Medicine, Jean Robillard, for the patient-care aspect of his position, and the director and CEO of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, Donna Katen-Bahensky, for all her functions, report directly to him.]
I’ve witnessed six forms of governance for the health sciences since I came to Iowa, and I participated in aspects of five of those different governance systems. In 1996, President Mary Sue Coleman asked me to oversee the health sciences center for one year, as a special assistant to her. I also organized a review to recommend to her what to do about future governance, and our committee recommended that we not have a vice president for health sciences. Although it had been very effective, I thought it was reasonable and possible to remove an entire layer of administrative activity. So I guess it’s predictable that I would again want to try to operate without a vice president, at least for the time being.
Right now I’m comfortable doing this. I think the ability to work a system like this is dependent to some extent on the particular background that I have. If a president was in a field very distant from the health sciences, it might not be the best-advised thing to do, but I’m comfortable doing it. [Skorton is a cardiologist, who still sees patients at UIHC.]
I would like to reassure our parents, many of whom have children who are in a the pre-health science area, and all of whom have children who depend on things like Student Health Service and at times the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to keep their kids healthy, that this will not affect either the opportunities for learning or the excellent health care provided for students.
Have you been able to have much contact with students?
It hasn’t been enough yet. I’m not happy with the amount of contact I’ve been able to have. I do meet regularly with leadership of UISG (University of Iowa Student Government) and I have met with other student organizations. I’ve just begun to meet with The Daily Iowan staff for regular conversations and Q&As. I’ve been asking student leaders and other students I meet here, there, and everywhere, how I can have more meaningful conversations with students. They’ve recommended some variations on things like Mary Sue Coleman’s fireside chats, so we’ll be trying some of these ideas in the fall semester. And I have had a chance to visit with the Parents Association board once already and intend to do that on a regular basis.
What other issues would you like to discuss with parents?
A few parents have asked me, “What will you do to improve the environment to prevent and deal with sexual assault and violence on campus?” [An investigation of a recent case led to concerns about the best way for the University to handle this kind of situation.] Sandy Boyd [UI president emeritus] had charged three reviews of various aspects of University procedures, policies, and the campus climate. We have received two of those reports and I have accepted virtually all the recommendations, and we are in the process, with all dispatch, of implementing those recommendations.
What other issues or concerns have parents shared with you?
I’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of parents, at the Parents Association board meeting, at the Best of Class events, at orientation during the summer, and of course they want to know what’s going on with tuition. Just to reemphasize what I’ve mentioned before—we still have the lowest tuition in the Big Ten and we are still a terrific value for the quality of education here. Nevertheless, the unpredictability and rapidity of the rise in tuition is a big concern to me and to the Board of Regents. And while Iowa’s university presidents don’t set tuition—the Board of Regents does—I anticipate that tuition will not rise at the same rate, but that it will continue to rise because of real costs and because of shortfalls in the budget.
How does the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on affirmative action at the University of Michigan affect The University of Iowa?
The Supreme Court did not reject the concept that race could be taken into account as one factor in admissions—they did not reject that, which would have meant a complete overturning of the Bakke decision. They did reject the undergraduate point system that Michigan has had. We don’t have a point system here, we don’t have set-asides, and we don’t have quotas. I don’t believe that these Supreme Court decisions will materially affect our admissions process, but just to be sure, we’re reviewing everything in our admissions policies. So the bottom line on this is that we were on the right side of the law to start with and we’re going to continue to emphasize the legitimacy and importance of diversifying our campus.