Mason 'offended' by Bloom's portrayal of Iowa

UI president says she's proud to live in state

University of Iowa President Sally Mason. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)
University of Iowa President Sally Mason. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

University of Iowa President Sally Mason on Thursday said she was offended and disagrees strongly with UI Professor Stephen Bloom's portrayal of Iowa and Iowans in a recent national article.

Mason's open letter to The Atlantic came a day after UI officials said Bloom does not speak for the university with his less-than-flattering portrait of the state, which was published on the magazine's website last week and has generated considerable discussion and backlash.

"As president of the university, I have the opportunity to travel far and wide across this great state frequently, and the Iowa I see is one of strong, hard-working and creative people," Mason wrote in her letter. "In this cynical world that can harden even the greatest optimist, the citizens of Iowa continue to believe."

Bloom, a professor of journalism and mass communication who is on leave this year teaching at the University of Michigan, caused an uproar with his piece "Observations from 20 Years of Iowa Life," which talked about Iowa's economic challenges and demographics but also paints a picture of rural Iowa that some have called inaccurate, elitist and exaggerated. The Atlantic has corrected some portions of the original article.

In her letter, Mason recounts the 2008 flood that devastated many eastern Iowa communities and the UI campus.

"What I saw, though, in some of our darkest hours was the best that Iowa has to offer -- our people," she wrote. "I didn’t see woeful distress or abandonment."

Iowans are defined by their deeds and actions, "not some caricature," Mason wrote.

"Iowans are pragmatic and balanced, and they live within their means. This lifestyle, while not glitzy, is humble and true and can weather the most difficult of times. One’s reputation and word are understood to be his or her most valued attributes. As a result, people cultivate a sense of fairness, cooperation, and humility," Mason wrote.

Iowa towns large and small are grappling with the economic downturn, Mason said, just as communities around the country are. But there is no shortage of "dedicated, creative and daring Iowans" who are finding what works, she said, pointing to Dubuque as an example of a river town that struggled but has reinvented itself by tearing down industrial plants to reclaim the waterfront and build a convention center and a museum."My husband and I are transplanted Iowans, having been born and raised on opposite coasts," Mason wrote in the letter. "We are both proud to call Iowa home, and we are fascinated by the Iowa caucuses and how thoroughly Iowans become involved in the selection process of a president."

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