The Daily Iowan

Mason discusses provost search, art museum


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The Daily Iowan: How has the university responded to the vote maintaining the 21-ordinance? What are the next steps?

President Sally Mason: We’re pleased that we can continue the experiment, which is to see whether or not it makes a difference. And we really hadn’t had enough time with just a few months having it in place … We certainly didn’t have a chance to see how that will play out over time, and now we do. Now, we have some time to really work hard with the city to make sure that partnership is strong and work with our students.

I don’t want this place to be viewed as student-unfriendly. That was never the idea behind any of this. I want it to be viewed as a place where students can come and have a safe and healthy environment in which to learn and to really grow up, become adults, and go out in to the adult world with jobs and interesting things to do, and so on and so forth, and do it in a safe environment.

So we’ve got the chance now obviously to see what we can do in the wake of the 21-ordinance to make sure students continue to want to come here to get the great education that we know they get and to move on from there. So a lot of work to do. It’s just the beginning.

DI: What qualities will you look for a new provost?

Mason: I would love to have a provost who would stay with me as long as I can be president here, so for another five to 10 years maybe. That would be terrific. I think every president hopes to have a provost or partner that they’re working well with and the two of them can do that side-by-side and I had that experience. I had a great experience at Purdue — where I was hired by a new president at Purdue and I was by his side for the entire six years until he retired. So, ideally, a provost who is willing to be beside you for your entire presidency is wonderful. But realistically, it doesn’t always happen that way.

DI: Is there any contractual obligation for provosts to stay here for a prolonged period of time?

Mason: Yeah, typically individuals who are hired into administrative positions know that at the end of five years they’ll be reviewed. But it’s not a formal contract insofar as I’m not going to put in there some clause that says if you don’t stay there for five years you owe us something. Now sometimes, individuals have [specified that] if you do stay in there for more than five years, you get something extra and I haven’t thought about if that’s a smart thing to do at this point in time or not. We typically haven’t done that here.

DI: Had you wanted more student representation on the search committee than the current two members — UI Student Government President John Rigby and doctoral student Heather Ockenfels?

Mason: We always give student leadership [and] elected student leaders opportunity to either suggest to us membership on the committee or volunteer themselves if they’re interested.

Now what will happen as we get into the search process is that other students groups will get more involved, while they won’t be on the search committee.

If that committee gets too big … it gets hard to manage the workload and to get the people together, so that’s sort of why we try to get good representation across campus for something as important as the provost-search committee, but it’s also the reason why it’s hard to put more than two students, for example, on the committee.

DI: Has there been any progress in FEMA’s approval for the Art Museum?

Mason: Not yet, we’re still waiting. Our appeal is in, so we’re still waiting to hear. If our appeal is in at one level, the regional level, and depending on what the response is, we may or may not have to take it to the national level. So we still have several layers that we can go through if we don’t get the answer we want from the regional level. So it’s going to take time. There’s always a window where FEMA has to make its decision, and that window is still open for us. I don’t know when they are going to do it.

DI: With newly elected legislators already planning to tighten spending at universities, how does the UI plan to take on those potential cuts?

Mason: We’ve been budgeting very carefully … We’ve been very frugal in terms of spending money, and we’re always looking for ways we can become more efficient and not spend money we don’t have right now. Because we are in a wait-and-see mode to see how the state progresses both economically and, obviously, now with this new administration in place.

DI: To what extent would you anticipate using tuition increases to cushion budget cuts?

Mason: I’d say that’d be a last resort, but remember, tuition is set by the Board of Regents. Right now, I don’t think any of the university presidents are advocating for higher tuition increase. That’s not where we want to go. Obviously, we don’t know what going to happen with the new budget and we don’t know what’s going to happen with the new Legislature, so we’re just going to have to wait and see, and I think the Board of Regents will take up the tuition discussion in February. I think that’s another one where I’m just going to have to say stay tuned.

DI: Have there been any problems in the progress of the music building?

Mason: My understanding is that we do have to acquire some property over there, and it looks like all of that is falling into place very nicely. There’s still a few pieces that are movable, but I think everyone feels that it’s all going to happen and what’s really exciting is when LMN [architects] came and gave the presentation — much like Pelli Clark Pelli when they did the presentation for Hancher Auditorium — they had some amazing visuals for what it’s going to look like.