President Skorton celebrated one year in office in March. The year has brought many challenges, not the least of which have been budgetary. Here President Skorton shares his thoughts on those matters, along with touching on topics that are the subject of stories in this issue of Parent Times—UI Student Health Service and undergraduate research opportunities.
I understand you spoke with the Parents Association Board of Directors at their most recent meeting. Can you talk a little about that?
This is the second time I’ve met with the Parents Association board since I’ve been president. I continue to believe that the Parents Association board, along with parents-at-large, can be a really important part of the dialogue about moving the University forward and dealing with a lot of the challenges that we face.
Mark Braun, the University’s director of governmental relations, and I met with the Parents Association board and, among other things, we discussed what parents can do to help with the University’s financial situation. It’s important in our political system for people to be activists—that’s the way the system works best. However, I don’t think it makes sense right now for constituent groups in our state to pressure the legislature, because the legislature is still dealing with significant revenue problems and they have a tough set of decisions to make—not only has education suffered, but human services have also suffered terribly in this era of budget cuts.
As I’m sure parents of students who live in Iowa realize, the governor has recommended some tax increases as a method of revenue enhancement. At the same time, the University has been working for the last five years—four of them with Mary Sue Coleman and one of them with me—on expenditure controls. I have no doubt that in order to climb out of the hole that we’re in in terms of state funding, and to be able to move forward and continue the University’s very excellent track record, it’s going to take a combination of both things. We’re not going to appreciate huge revenue increases just through tax increases—they’re controversial and they may or may not occur. I really appreciate Governor Vilsack’s interest in supporting us, but I think it’s unlikely and unrealistic to think that revenue enhancement from the state is the only way we can improve our situation. So we’re continuing to implement expenditure control.
What I’ve been telling the legislature when I visit with them is that my most important request is for stabilization of the budget. The Regents have asked for the money for incremental salary increases for faculty and staff members and restitution of the positions that were lost to attrition, particularly in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and it would be fabulous if that were to happen. I have even more modest goals right now, given the state budget, and these include the stabilization of the budget in the hope that we will not have our budget cut again—that it will be on par with last year’s budget.
In this issue of Parent Times we’ve included a story about UI Student Health Service. Parents are naturally concerned about their child’s health while away from home. From your perspective as the president, but also as a physician, would you talk about the health care available to UI students?
The staff at UI Student Health Service are super professionals. It’s a very difficult kind of practice they run—they’re generalists who have to deal with the entire gamut of issues of adolescence and late adolescence. My practice is adolescent cardiology and I think it’s challenging, but because I focus on one organ system it’s nothing compared to Student Health’s practice. They’re seeing a lot of students who are away from home and living on their own for the first time, who may be sharing living space with someone they may not have known, who may not be getting enough sleep, or may be from a different climate, and then there are also issues of substance abuse and depression. I have known Mary Khowassah [director of UI Student Health Service] for 20 years, and I have the greatest respect for her and her staff. They do a superb job.
In this issue, we also have a story about opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in research. You previously served as the University’s vice president for research—talk to us about why a large university like Iowa offers the right set of circumstances for students with research interests.
At Iowa, if a student desires, he or she can be involved in research right from the beginning of the undergraduate experience. If a student has an interest in research, and it doesn’t have to be a definite interest, there are opportunities. I had a very modest job in a research lab at UCLA during my first year of college—I washed glassware in a biology lab—but even at that level, I got to see what a lab was all about. It may sound corny, but in a lab you’re able to learn what inquiry is all about and to see where all the material you study meets up with unquenchable curiosity.
To be fair, there are so many good colleges in the United States, and a small liberal arts college can certainly offer a student the chance to be involved in research work, but the breadth of disciplines will be narrower than at a school like The University of Iowa, where you can literally work with faculty members who have expertise in everything from jewelry making to rocket science.