Mason: stay the course

Guest Editorial

By Tim Terry

Observing Gov. Terry Branstad, and his surrogate, State Board of Regents President Craig Lang’s, unveiled attempts to poison the well of public opinion against University of Iowa President Sally Mason, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Winston Churchill. He said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something in your life.”

Those of us who have observed, at close range, the University of Iowa under Ms. Mason’s leadership can attest to her successes. We are also not blind to her mistakes. Like all of us, she has feet of clay.

Like a micromanager who is determined to find fault, Mr. Branstad and Mr. Lang seem to ignore the obvious: the University of Iowa is an enormous public institution. Look at the numbers:

Students: 31,500

Employees: 12,500

Payroll: $1.5 billion

Revenue: $3.5 billion

If this were a public company, it would rank among the largest in the country. Leading this institution is no small under¬taking. With 12,500 employees, each and every day presents the potential for controversy. Factor in the intense academic environment and it is no wonder there are headlines aplenty. The point is simple enough: perspective must be maintained.

Does this mean Ms. Mason should get a pass on criticism? Absolutely not. Constructive criticism promotes excellence. When we cease to inquire, to review, to challenge, we run the risk of mediocrity becoming the accepted norm. That is not the case here. Anyone who has worked with Ms. Mason understands her willingness to challenge and be challenged in the pursuit of excellence.

They also appreciate her integrity and balanced approach to the challenges confronting the university. Ten months into her position, the Iowa campus was devastated with a flood that left almost $1 billion in damages in its wake. Faced with the closure of 20 major buildings and the arrival of a record setting class in eight weeks, Ms. Mason and her team executed a well designed plan that allowed the university to open on time with limited disruption.

Simultaneously, the recession taking shape in 2008 threatened to undermine many programs. In spite of it all, the university has increased its budget 33 percent from 2007, while raising almost $1 billion in pledges and contributions.

Her leadership has allowed the university to manage these economic and budgetary challenges while increasing enrollment by almost 4 percent during her tenure. This is no modest feat considering the challenges confronting her.

The fact is that Ms. Mason has accomplished quite a bit during her time at the university. While there have been plenty of reasons for raised eyebrows and close questioning, any balanced review leaves you with the unmistakable conclusion she has been an exemplary leader.

This makes the public comments of Mr. Branstad and Mr. Lang all the more disturbing. In a political environment where private agendas supplant sound public policy, an analytical, confident and responsible leader who will not succumb to such narrow-mindedness is a great target.

I am hoping the readers of this opinion piece reflect on the wisdom of Andrew Carnegie. He once said: “The older I get, the less I listen to what people say and the more I look at what they do.”

To Ms. Mason I say, “stay the course” and heed the wise advice of Mr. Churchill, “When you’re going through hell — keep going.

TIM TERRY is founder and partner at Terry Lockridge & Dunn and World Trend Financial, with locations in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. He can be reached