Campus Leaders Support Embattled Univ. of Iowa President

University of Iowa President Sally Mason addresses the Legislature about budget cuts, one of the results of which has led to the University loosing faculty members to other schools, Wednesday February 9, 2011 in Des Moines. (Becky Malewitz/SourceMedia Group News)

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By Aaron Hepker

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Faculty, staff and student leaders issued a statement Wednesday offering their "full support" to University of Iowa President Sally Mason, whose job security has become shaky amid criticism from the school's governing board and the governor.

The university has made "outstanding accomplishments" during Mason's five-year tenure, improving student retention, recovering from a historic 2008 flood and minimizing the impact of state funding cuts, said presidents of the Faculty Senate, Staff Council and student governments representing undergraduate and graduate students.

"President Mason and her administration have achieved these through their determined and skillful leadership," the campus leaders wrote in a statement distributed to the media. "Under President Mason's leadership, the university has not only survived but thrived despite a devastating flood, one of the country's worst recessions, and consecutive years of state budget cuts."

The support comes at a tough time for Mason. The Iowa Board of Regents revealed last week that it had declined to renew Mason's five-year contract when it expired in August and now considers her an at-will employee without any job protections. The board also had directed Mason to reframe her priorities for the current year to focus more on improving the university's public image and relationship with lawmakers.

Mason is in the middle of managing the fallout from the resignation of an athletics department counselor accused of sexually harassing athletes for years. The case has resulted in a series of reviews and personnel actions, although the university has not released a full accounting of what transpired.

Gov. Terry Branstad also has piled on in recent days, criticizing the university for what he called "a lack of transparency" under Mason. The governor will leave it up to the regents to decide whether Mason, 62, should keep her job, his spokesman Tim Albrecht said Wednesday.

Michael Appel, president of the Executive Council of Graduate and Professional Students, which represents about 10,000 students, said the leaders of the university's key groups felt it was time to speak up on Mason's behalf and met Tuesday to draft the statement. He said regents should not make any decisions about Mason's future hastily or without consulting campus leaders.

"I would implore them to come to the University of Iowa talk to the faculty, students and staff about President Mason and they would realize that she really does have a pretty substantial base of support here," he said.

Appel, a third-year law student, said he is in his seventh year at the university and has noted positive changes under Mason, including record enrollment. He said he believes the university could do a better job of promoting its accomplishments to the news media and the state, but it's unfair to criticize Mason for a lack of transparency because she routinely makes herself available to the media and public.

The biggest complaint about Mason's stance on transparency has been the university's routine refusal to release personnel or disciplinary records, such as the resignation letter and internal investigation of Peter Gray, the athletics department official at the center of the scandal. But Appel noted that such records do not have to be released under Iowa's public records law, and he said Mason feels strongly that employees should have privacy.

Mason's critics, he said, should have the ability to "speak out and disagree with her" without worrying whether their personnel files would later be released.

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