Sally Mason: I have no concerns about job security

University of Iowa President conducted a 45-minute press conference Wednesday

Diane Heldt
Published: December 12 2012 | 6:10 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 3:18 am in
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IOWA CITY — University of Iowa President Sally Mason said Wednesday she has no concerns about her job security, despite working on an at-will basis since Aug. 1.

Mason said numerous times Wednesday she is satisfied with a deferred compensation package she has with the state Board of Regents that runs through June 2016, and when asked if a lack of long-term contract gave her concerns about her job tenure, Mason said “not at this point.”

"The contract issue to me is not one that I have much concern over, especially given the way I've been treated," she said.

Mason addressed a range of topics during a 45-minute news conference, including what some have criticized as a lack of transparency under her leadership. Recent incidents that have garnered scrutiny include the UI handling of sexual harassment complaints against former Athletics Department adviser Peter Gray and disagreements between UI administrators and faculty in the College of Education, which led to the resignation of the dean this week.

Obviously there is a disconnect between what Mason views as transparency and what others view as transparency, she said. But in some cases, she said, the information the university can reveal is determined by privacy laws that protect students or employee personnel information. Mason said she would relish an opportunity to have legislators look at those laws to see if they need more clarity, but it’s not in her hands to decide.

Arrogance is not the tone she wants to convey, Mason said.

“If it is, I have work to do, without a doubt, and I will work on that,” she said.

Regents President Craig Lang last week said the board has asked Mason to improve the university's statewide outreach and relations with the Legislature, and Gov. Terry Branstad this week said he was concerned by a lack of openness at the UI.

Mason has not spoken to the governor about those concerns -- she prefers to work through the regents when contacting the governor -- but she said there's no reason for Branstad to not have as much information as he needs.

"I know the issues of openness and transparency continue to come up, and I probably share some of the same concerns that many of you do," she said.

During the media session, Mason was frequently asked about her contract situation. It was revealed last week that Mason’s initial five-year contract expired July 31, and since that time she has been an at-will employee. The board gave her a 2 percent raise in August; Mason earns $493,272 this year.

Mason, 62, said there has been no discussion with the regents about returning to a longer contract, and she has no expectation of that. Her deferred compensation package, which provides an annual $150,000 contribution through June 2016, and the salary increase this year satisfy Mason. That deferred compensation timeline also takes her through many of the things she still wants to accomplish as UI president, including the completion of many flood-recovery projects and the end of the current $1.5 billion fundraising campaign.

“If I get all of those done I’m going to feel very, very good about the institution, about what I’ve been able to accomplish, and retirement might actually sound pretty good at that point,” Mason said, adding it’s “possible” she would retire within five years.

Regarding the discontent in the College of Education, Mason said she supports the decisions of Provost Barry Butler.

Butler asked some education faculty and staff to turn over comments from a recent survey and to delete emails of those comments, because he viewed them as a personnel matter regarding Dean Margaret Crocco. Faculty and staff argued those survey comments should be distributed to them, and members of a faculty advisory committee resigned from that group in protest last week. Crocco resigned Monday.

Obviously, much work needs to be done to mend fences and get the college back on track, Mason said. But she stated her confidence in Butler, and said she believes he was trying to make the best decision for the college and for the dean.

In her stints at three universities, Mason said such faculty frustrations are not unusual. What was unusual in this case, Mason said, is that some faculty "wished to share it with the world," rather than working the disagreements out internally.

Before the news conference Wednesday, UI faculty, staff and student leaders issued a statement of full support for Mason. The presidents of the faculty, staff and student shared governance groups said Mason and her administration have achieved outstanding accomplishments through “determined and skillful leadership.”

That support “brought tears to my eyes,” Mason said.

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