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Volume 42, Number 3


At Iowa, Those Who CAN Teach

Four Year Grad Plan

Half the World Away from Home

In This Office, Students Come First

Pass the Plastic

Tax Deductions

Summer School?

Creating the Level Playing Field

Expanding E-Mail Network

Parent Times Briefs



So you're thinking that you'd like to be a vice president at The University of Iowa? Help to make policies that govern the state's largest Research I university; meet all kinds of interesting people; have lunch with President Mary Sue Coleman. Well, if it's Vice President for Student Services you'd choose, better prepare for 14-hour days six days a week along with the fun. Parent Times followed Vice President Phillip E. Jones around to see just what this energetic official does during a "typical" day.

The easy definition of Phillip Jones' job as vice president for student services at The University of Iowa is this: Anything having to do with students goes through this office. That's more than 27,000 students, mind you.

When central administration makes a policy change, Jones' office interprets it for student groups. When students want something new or different, Jones' office explains their thinking to central administration. When kids get into trouble, his office always is involved.

Two of the University's businesses also fall in his sphere, stretching different muscles: the Iowa Memorial Union and Residence Services. Several administrative offices that help specific groups of students report to him. In all, more than 500 fulltime employees and 450 students work for his office, bringing with them human resources and budget issues to be resolved.

Add into the mix the 63- student class he team-teaches with Prof. Paul Retish each Wednesday evening in spring semester, "The Culturally Different in Diverse Settings," and his trouble-shooting role when controversial speakers come to campus, and his role in campus planning for future student facilities, and a whole raft of administrative meetings that pop up regularly on his ancient Casio electronic calendar. Phil Jones doesn't have an awful lot of free time.

Jones and his staff take students very seriously. After a recent fund-raising event in the Iowa Memorial Union at which brief nudity was alleged to have occurred, he rose above the sensational news accounts to outline what he'd be likely to discuss with student organizers of the event when he met with them.

"This was supposed to be entertainment," he says. "The question is, does it fit the values of the University? It's not an issue we need to duck, nor would we want to. Many years ago, student organizations used to show the movie "Deep Throat" in the IMU ballroom whenever they needed to raise money. We spoke with them and they decided it wasn't a value they wanted to have. I don't want to leave the impression that everyone is free to do whatever he or she wants, but I'm also not in the censorship business."

This statement shows Jones' tendency to reiterate and reinforce the core values of the University in talking with students, and his tendency to let them make the right decisions by themselves. "It's the responsibility students must have for their own behavior," he says. "Something like this gives us a chance to communicate."

On the other hand, he's been dealing with young students for generations, and he sees a potential con job coming through the door. Sometimes it just amuses him. Sometimes it's more serious, and the student disappears behind his office door for a conversation that neither is likely to talk about later.

Most of the time, students arriving at his Jessup Hall office are contacting him just to figure out his opinion on an issue. "For good or bad, they know I have positions on things, and they want to make sure I'm not going to veto something before it gets a hearing," he says.

Recently students came to him with a proposal for a Finals Week concert by the popular Dave Matthews Band, using Jones' dedication to alcohol-free activities as their logical weapon. "They told me, 'If you want to combat the bar scene, you have to have no-alcohol activities to attract students,'" he says. "I thought it over and agreed with them. It seemed necessary to me to take their position to upper administration. I couldn't sell it to them, though."

In all his dealings with students, he has a definite strategy, born of his experiences as the father of two children. "I hustle students by trusting them," he says with a laugh. "I call it voluntary coercion. I give them as much information as I can about the possible rewards and consequences that might result from their planned actions. If you have information, then even making no decision is a decision. To paraphrase Camus, we're all condemned to be free. If we have information, we must choose. I get them in a position to be free."

What does that mean in practice? Jones cites the recent decision of social fraternities to ban alcohol consumption in their houses. Following the alcohol-related death of fraternity pledge Matthew Garofalo in 1995. In 1997, the University had told fraternities that they wouldn't be recognized at Iowa after 1999 if they still permitted alcohol use. Then the University was selected as one of six universities nationally to receive a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to open a new office called Stepping Up. The office made sure students had all the information available on the prevalence of binge drinking and its dangers. The fraternities decided to end alcohol use voluntarily a full year ahead of the University deadline.

Jones adds that he sees a growing awareness of the issue of alcohol consumption. "You hear a student say, 'Are you going out tonight?' and the answer sometimes is, 'No, let's go shoot hoops,'" he says. "You're not going to see much change in behavior yet, but it's in their minds."

Sometimes, though, it's the parent who contacts the office, not the student. Belinda Marner, assistant vice president for student services, says that in the past five to eight years parents have increasingly tried to advocate for their students. Sometimes they call rather than having the students fight their own battles, she says.

"Parents want to be careful to observe whether they are being used so the student can avoid making a decision," she says. "For example, if a parent calls trying to get a student registered, there's just no way they can do that-but several ways that the student can do it. We get a lot of calls on housing, especially roommate problems. Students can solve that, too.

"Many parents call only when they know that their student has tried hard to solve a problem but can't," Marner adds. "We take or return all parent calls."

Jones' first position at The University of Iowa in 1968 was recruiting minority students to come to the University. Now students are coming into his office who are children of the students he recruited then.

"In many ways, to some of the community, I'm seen as the person to take care of their kids-regardless of my title," he says. "That's not unusual. A very large proportion of the total students I see are minority students. Parents tell these students, 'You go see Phil Jones to get help.' Or they just check in with me to let me know they're on campus."

That makes his schedule, as Marner quips, "a bit improvisational." For example, a recent budget meeting in his office broke up immediately when a student arrived with no appointment to ask for help with serious financial problems. After they were done, the meeting resumed.

Marner says, "There's an open door policy here. If he's not available, I'll talk to them, Tom Baker (office legal counsel) will talk to them, or they'll schedule an appointment to come in or talk on the phone. With our support staff we have a policy that no one will leave the office or be forwarded on to someone else unless we're sure that it will solve their problem. We might call ahead to make sure they won't continue to get a run-around.

"Half the time when they come here they have been told to come to us after trying other routes, and half the time they've started at the top and haven't done what they should have done. We need to direct them on."

"In one sense we're a customer service office," Jones says. "Parents call with a question about a student or the president will e-mail. We do talk to the parents. Those comments frequently generate questions that need to go to other people. We talk to the press frequently, too."

And then there's the Board of Regents, the Faculty Senate, UI Student Government, staff and individual faculty members around campus, Iowa City citizens (and sometimes the police), central administration people, financial or legal experts, and so on.

"Having a vice president who can advocate for students may sound like it comes naturally, but it doesn't," Marner comments.
"Part of what we're trying to do is use this office as a forum for learning," Jones concludes. "We want to advocate for students. But since we're on the hook to advocate for them, it seems to me that students have a responsibility to advocate for themselves, too.

"They are responsible for learning. They are responsible for their own behavior. We are accountable to them but they also have to be accountable to themselves.

Jones leans back and smiles. "As I told my kids when they were growing up, 'When I pay, I play.' We're playing. We're advocating. We're putting out. But we also say: There are some standards that must be met. We set the standards, they set the expectations for their own behavior. Reasonable standards, high expectations, that's what we advocate. We want them to have high standards for their own performance."

-By Anne Tanner


Vice President for Student Services
Philip Jones


Phil Jones the problem-solver works with a student.


Phil Jones the employer, with Hancher Auditorium ushers.


Phil Jones the teacher, in his Culturally Different in Diverse Settings class.


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