Judge UI president on the facts

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April 1, 2014 | 3:35 am

By Jerry Zimmerman and Carolyn Brown

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We wholeheartedly agree with the recent letter of support given by the faculty and University of Iowa community for President Sally Mason. It is only fair that Mason be judged on her concrete, reportable and verifiable accomplishments at the UI.

Facing natural and financial disasters as she took office, Masonís steady leadership guided the university through the most difficult times to unprecedented success. While many of her accomplishments were remarkable, none was easy.

She received Aís for how she dealt with the aftermath of the floods and should receive very high marks for her handling of the universityís finances. The UIís overall budget was $2.4 billion in 2007, and it is now $3.2 billion. Freshman retention rates have improved, graduation rates have increased and research funding and fundraising are at all-time highs.

Despite the flood, the university opened its doors to the largest freshman class in its history just eight weeks after the floodwaters cleared. With total damages exceeding $1 billion, the UI is on its way to recovering all of the important structures affected, other than the Museum of Art, as the UI is still negotiating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Importantly, the art collection, valued at more than $500 million, was saved.

The new buildings that will renew the devastated arts campus are being designed by world-renowned architects. The buildings will be constructed with a combination of federal and private dollars, thanks to the hard work of many at the UI under the leadership of Mason. This new arts campus will be a jewel from which present and future Iowans will take joy and pride.

Mason also should be evaluated on her leadership when the university faced a reduction in state support which, among other things, led to a loss of $65 million. Increased tuition did not come close to offsetting this financial loss. Through strong and focused leadership, the UI crafted a solution that did not include any layoffs or furloughs. It did include an early retirement plan, identifying institutional inefficiencies and temporary reductions in retirement benefits.

Mason should get an A-plus in an area important to the state Board of Regents. In the last five years, the UI Foundation has raised almost $1 billion of private support. Three of its four best fundraising years came under Masonís watch in fairly difficult economies.

Important to the entire state is its reputation among prominent national education leaders. Mason has represented Iowa in several important national forums and chairs the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities board of directors. She was appointed by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to serve on the National Medal of Science selection committee, and served two years as chair.

Mason has kept an amazing schedule, visiting every major city in the state, speaking at service clubs and meeting with legislators. She has held alumni events in each city, spreading the word about the UI. As a board member of the UNESCO City of Literature, Mason is looking for ways to benefit and promote the university, state and community. She was instrumental in expanding the reach of a City of Literatureís signature program by offering a scholarship to the winner of a statewide writing competition to attract some of the best students in the state to Iowa City.

Mason has done extremely well for the university and state when measured on any objective metric. We hope she faces the current situation in her usual settled, analytical, problem-solving manner and continues her very productive tenure at the university.

Jerry Zimmerman and Carolyn Brown are founders of Iowa City-based company Foundations in Learning Inc., a developer of applications based on the science of how students learn. Zimmermann and Brown are also adjunct professors in the University of Iowa Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Brown serves as vice president for the UNESCO City of Literature board. Comments: jzimmermann@foundations-learning.com and cbrown@foundations-learning.com

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