Sara Epstein Moninger, Office of Strategic Communication, 319-384-0045
Mason stresses maintaining momentum
Mason stresses maintaining momentum
Mason stresses maintaining momentum
Since joining the University of Iowa in 2007 as the institution’s 20th president, Sally Mason has focused on keeping undergraduate education affordable and of high quality and led the campus through unprecedented challenges. President Mason recently addressed questions about the university in 2013 and beyond.
What are your priorities for academic year 2013–14?
We announced this year the $1.7 billion For Iowa. Forever More. comprehensive campaign, so fundraising continues to be a major priority. The good news is that since 2008 we’ve raised well over $1 billion, and we now have three more years to finish the campaign. Another priority is making certain we don’t lose momentum on the various flood-renewal projects while also keeping the campus stable through all the construction.
What are the biggest challenges that lie ahead?
Everything I just mentioned is a challenge! I think your priorities should be your big challenges. These are not insurmountable challenges, but they certainly require that you stay focused and keep your attention on what’s important—and, for us, that is delivering a high-quality and affordable education.
What have you learned in the past year?
I just completed six years here, and one thing I’ve learned is that during challenging times the university has strong support. It’s so gratifying to know that when we do have tough times—whether it’s a flood, a bad recession, or some other challenge—I am able to turn to an extremely talented team, including students, staff, faculty, donors, and alumni, and ask for help. And they all step up without question.
When we were announcing the comprehensive campaign, someone commented that not only is it the largest campaign in the history of the university, it’s the largest in the history of the state of Iowa. And I said, “Only the Hawkeyes could do this.” And I mean that, because part of The Hawkeye Way is doing things as a family, as a team. There’s a very strong sense of commitment within the Hawkeye family. People care deeply about this institution.
You mentioned the campaign that seeks to raise $1.7 billion in private support by the end of 2016. Why such an ambitious effort, and why now? What will be the major beneficiaries?
I can think of no better time than now, and if we don’t have ambitions, we’re really missing the boat. It’s time to think in a bold way about what the future holds for our institution, for the young people who come here, and for the people who work here. We’ve worked very hard to grow and steward our alumni and donor base, and I think now is exactly the right time to take full advantage of that stewardship. Private support is critical today for institutions like the University of Iowa, and we need to mobilize people.
All areas of the university will benefit from the campaign. We’ve designed it very specifically and intentionally to articulate nicely with our strategic plan. There is a lot of focus on our students, our faculty, and on the activities they engage in together, whether it’s learning, research, engagement, or service. All of these things are important in this comprehensive campaign.
In a related topic, how is the university tackling access and affordability, especially for Iowa residents?
We’re freezing in-state tuition. We’ve done a really good job getting through this recession and becoming more efficient. We’ve cut down significantly on our expenses and redirected our spending to our strategic plan priorities, including student success. So we feel we’re in good position to hold the line on tuition increases, especially for Iowa residents—and especially with the help we receive from the Iowa Legislature. During the recession, we’ve intentionally held tuition increases to inflation or below. We know that the economic downturn affects everyone.
How has the flood of 2008 strengthened the university?
Lesser institutions might have had to close for a semester or a year, and might have given up on trying to keep strong the programs that were most affected. Instead, not only have we not given in to the challenges, we’ve embraced them. Our art and music programs will be stronger in the long run, and we’ll have state-of-the-art facilities in the not-too-distant future. It’s exciting to know that the next generation of musicians and artists and creative people will want to come to the University of Iowa, not only because we have a very strong and very accomplished faculty, but also because we have some of the best facilities in the country.
No one should have to suffer a disaster like the 2008 floods, but being able to turn such an experience into opportunity is an important characteristic of an institution and is indicative of the strength of leadership at that institution—and I mean that in the broadest sense. It takes a team of dedicated and talented people to keep these things on track and I’m very proud to lead this team.
What university accomplishments from the past year are you most proud of?
So many things have made me proud, but one in particular is the work-life study that many of our staff filled out last year. Not only did we have a high response rate, but better than 90 percent of the respondents said they would recommend the university as a place to work. I’m so pleased that given the flood and the economic recession, we’ve come through a stronger institution, one where people feel very positive about the workplace.
What else is happening on campus that alumni and friends can anticipate?
Just look at our health sciences campus on the west side of the river! We recently moved most ambulatory care to the new Iowa River Landing Clinic in Coralville—a quarter of a million patient visits a year—so that we can give the hospital a much-needed facelift and prepare it for the future of health care, and also construct a new children’s hospital. We’re also about to complete the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building, where we’ll bring together cutting-edge researchers and interdisciplinary teams to work on major issues in biomedical research, such as diabetes.
The UI has committed to increasing student retention. What strategies are being employed to do so?
We know that if we’re going to lose students, it’s often between their freshman and sophomore year, so our focus has been to ensure that our first-year students have the best possible experience at Iowa. The key is making them feel a connection to the university right away, so before they even start classwork, they participate in the On Iowa! program, which aims to instill in them a sense of community and comradeship with their fellow first-year students and alleviate some of the fears they might have about college. Another tactic is through living-learning communities, where students with like interests live and take classes together. Yet another is first-year seminars, in which students are connected with a professor or a senior administrator teaching a class in an interest area that the professor and student share.
Lots of things are working in tandem to make a difference, and we’ll continue to ramp up our efforts.
The Big Ten will add two new members—Maryland and Rutgers—in 2014. What will these peer institutions offer to the conference?
Both Rutgers and Maryland are members of the very prestigious AAU (Association of American Universities), so they are of comparable quality to the other universities within the Big Ten. Adding Rutgers and Maryland extends our footprint from Nebraska all the way to the east coast—giving all Big Ten institutions a bigger recruiting map. It wouldn’t surprise me if we see more students from New Jersey and Maryland coming to Iowa in the near future, and vice versa.
Click here to view a welcome video from Mason.