University of Iowa President Sally Mason talks with students, faculty and members of the public during a campus forum Thursday.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Iowa Board of Regents met behind closed doors Friday afternoon to evaluate the performance of University of Iowa President Sally Mason, who has faced criticism over a remark she made about sexual assault.
Before the closed session, Board President Pro Tem Katie Mulholland publicly chastised Mason for her comment that ending sexual assault probably wasn’t realistic “just given human nature.” Mulholland said that comment was inappropriate, and board members were concerned that students continued to find it hurtful.
Mulholland said the board relies on university presidents to ensure student safety, and “that means zero tolerance regarding sexual assault.”
Mason apologized again for the remark, which was published last week in the student newspaper. She announced plans to impose tougher disciplinary sanctions against perpetrators, increase funding for training and prevention initiatives and increase support to victims.
After meeting for an hour in closed session, the regents adjourned without taking any public action against Mason.
Students who were upset about the university’s handling of sexual assault reports had seized on Mason’s comment, forming a group called “Not In My Nature” to demand an apology and push for changes. They argued the comment reflected an attitude among administrators in which assaults are seen as inevitable and sometimes the victims’ fault.
Mulholland accused Mason, who has led the university since 2007, of failing to keep board members informed during the fast-moving events of the past week. She said regents had been frustrated with her previously for poor communications.
“By failing to communicate with us directly, you gave us no other choice than to have this meeting today,” Mulholland, superintendent of schools for Linn-Mar Community School District, told Mason during a meeting at the board’s office in Urbandale. “Shouldn’t something as public as the events of last week warrant a board discussion and consultation?”
Mason replied “absolutely” and apologized for not “being on top of this as we could have and should have been.” But she added that she was instructed by the board’s executive director, Bob Donley, not to call the regents individually to discuss the matter. Donley said it had become clear the regents were planning Friday’s meeting and Mason could explain the situation then.
Mason also said she had agreed to meet monthly with board leaders to improve communications and was frustrated that hasn’t happened because of their busy schedules.
She asked for the regents help in enacting policies to crack down on offenders, including one change that would allow perpetrators in the most serious cases to be expelled instead of suspended.
The nine-member Board of Regents governs Iowa’s three public universities. Members are appointed to staggered six-year terms by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad. Mason is the only university president not hired under its current leadership, and some regents have expressed concerns about her in the past.
But she appeared to be on a stronger footing last August, when the board increased her salary by 4 percent to $513,000. Leaders of key student, faculty and staff groups have also praised her steady leadership as the campus rebuilds from a devastating 2008 flood.MORE IN Wire News
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