University of Iowa President Sally Mason recently discussed with Parent Times her priorities for the year ahead, tuition increases, sustainability and alcohol safety efforts, and more.
What are your priorities for the next year, and what will be the University’s biggest challenges?
They are the same—flood recovery and budget. We clearly have come a long way since the 2008 flood, but we have to make important decisions regarding new facilities, including a new location for the Hancher-Voxman-Clapp complex. Mitigation efforts are still under way at other flood-damaged buildings, including the Iowa Memorial Union, the Iowa Advanced Technology Labs, Art Building West, and the Theatre Building.
The budget also is a big challenge. We’ve taken two serious budget reductions in the past year, and this fall we faced a 10 percent across-the-board cut in state appropriations. I think we’ve done an extraordinary job of managing those cuts so far. We’ve shed many jobs, but we’ve done so in a way that has allowed us to avoid layoffs and other kinds of draconian or dramatic decreases to the workforce. We hope to continue managing our costs while still maintaining the very high quality education that we offer students—and doing so in an affordable, accessible way.
So how can the University ensure that tuition is affordable?
While the tuition increases that we’re contemplating right now may seem large, they will not bring us anywhere close to our peers. In the Big Ten, we’re already the lowest in terms of tuition, and among our peers we are in the bottom tier on tuition. We’re still going to be one of the best bargains in higher education in terms of the quality you get for the cost you pay. We hope people won’t react unnecessarily harshly to tuition increases, given the fact that we believe we can provide very competitive rates and very good financial aid.
What have you learned about the University community since last year’s flooding?
Our community knows how to pull together in a crisis. These are people who step up when they’re needed, they’re smart, they don’t complain, they just do what needs to be done, and they’re really very fine and special people. This was very apparent during the flood, and it’s been apparent during the budget crisis, too.Initiatives on campus last year included sustainability and alcohol safety. How satisfied are you with progress made so far in each area?
On sustainability, we continue to make good progress all across the board. All of our new buildings are LEED-certified, and our power plant has been a model in terms of using oat hulls for part of the fuel we use to produce energy on campus. The EPA has designated us among the top 20 green power users in the country. There also are curricular changes such as the new sustainability certificate. We’ve got more work to do on this—we’re just getting started. The more efficient we can become, the more we can lower our energy costs. All of this helps our bottom line, and we’re looking for every way possible to conserve on expenses; if that means being even better and more responsible stewards of our environment, all the better. It’s win-win.
On the alcohol initiatives, I’m actually quite encouraged by the things that are being done, not only on campus but also in the community. I think Iowa City has really stepped up to the plate, making changes in our zoning laws and the ways in which we deal with alcohol providers. I think it will be very helpful to the community long-term. The education that we now make mandatory for all of our first-year students also is useful. Again, we’ve got plenty of work to do; we’ve got a student body that turns over every year so it’s a constant education process. [See Partnership for Alcohol Safety site.]
What is your favorite spot on campus, and why?
I love the Pentacrest, but I have a number of favorite spots. Old Capitol is a majestic building that really sets a tone on campus of dignity and respect. It also has a lot of personal appeal to me, because it was the building in which I held an open forum during my interview for the job and really met the campus for the first time. Another is the President’s Residence, a stately mansion that overlooks the Iowa River. The river is very beautiful, and in the wintertime, to spend an hour on a Sunday afternoon reading on the west porch, watching the eagles fly up and down the river, is really very special.
by Sara Epstein Moninger