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UI faculty asked Mason not to sign letter to lawmakers

'Our voice did not win the day'

The Old Capitol Building and Jessup Hall (left) on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
The Old Capitol Building and Jessup Hall (left) on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

IOWA CITY — Many University of Iowa faculty members don’t support changes the Board of Regents approved earlier this year to how it will allocate state funds to Iowa’s public universities beginning next year.

But UI President Sally Mason last week joined the other institutions’ presidents and Regents President Bruce Rastetter in signing a letter to the Legislature backing the new performance- and enrollment-based funding metrics.

With the new funding model threatening to cut the UI’s portion of state allocations by $46.5 million over several years, Mason’s signature on the letter rubbed some faculty members the wrong way.

“We really still have genuine concerns about the current proposed performance-based funding model on our institution,” said Alexandra Thomas, a UI clinical associate professor of internal medicine and president of the UI Faculty Senate.

Mason met with several groups of stakeholders on campus about the issue, and Thomas counseled the president not to sign the letter and instead consider other options.

“But our voice did not win the day,” Thomas said, conceding that she doesn’t know what other factors Mason considered. “I’m not in the president’s chair. There’s a reason she’s the president, and we’re not.”

The letter in question describes the regents’ new funding metrics, explaining that 60 percent of state support will be allocated based on resident enrollment at UI, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. Another 5 percent will be doled out based on graduate and professional student enrollment, 5 percent will be left up to the Board of Regents, and the remaining 30 percent will be tied to performance outcomes — like degree production and access.

Because Iowa State and UNI have a higher percentage of in-state students, the new funding metrics could take $46.5 million from UI and redistribute it. UNI would get $23.6 million, and ISU would get $22.8 million, if the metrics were rolled out over one year.

To minimize that potential impact, the board put a 2 percent cap on the amount of money that can move from one institution to another. That means UI could lose no more than $12.9 million in the first year, and the Board of Regents have asked the Legislature to provide an extra $12.9 million in the next budget year to cover those losses.

Even though the new funding metrics have been approved by the Board of Regents, the Legislature has the final say on how much money the institutions receive and how the dollars are allocated.

The presidents’ letter to the Legislature, sent Oct. 27, pressed lawmakers to come through with the extra $12.9 million, and Mason said that’s why she signed it.

“I signed this letter because it asks the Legislature to support the Board of Regents’ request for $12.9 million to offset the immediate impact of the new funding model on the University of Iowa’s budget,” Mason said in a statement issued after some faculty members expressed concern.

Mason said the new funding metrics make it clear the Board of Regents want UI to increase its enrollment of Iowa students.

“We are actively working to do that,” Mason said, but “it will take time for our planned growth to be reflected in the new funding formula. That’s why it will be very helpful to have the $12.9 million in additional state appropriations.”

Supporters of the new funding model say it will solve the problem of an underfunded UNI, tie money to regent goals and use taxpayer dollars to educate Iowans, for whom tuition does not cover the cost of an education like out-of-state tuition.

Opponents say the new metrics don’t take into account the universities’ differing missions and models, devalue research and graduate and professional programs, and create unnecessary competition among the public universities.

Edward Wasserman, a UI psychology professor and former president of the Faculty Senate, said what he believes has been missing from the UI administration’s response to the new funding model’s focus on quantity of students is the potential impact on quality of education.

“What are we doing to increase the quality of education that we provide for these students when they arrive?” he said. “Where are the tenure-track faculty going to come from to teach them? This is one of the faculty’s prime concerns.”

Wasserman said the UI administration, perhaps, has responded in the only plausible way.

“If we have to do battle, then we have to join the battle,” he said. “But the long-term consequences to the university are disturbing.”

With too much emphasis on undergraduate enrollment, Wasserman said, the UI educational experience could suffer.

“If we don’t add value, then we aren’t any different from any other four-year school,” he said. “And we don’t want to be that way.”

Even though the recent letter supporting the new funding model doesn’t represent the views of UI faculty and staff, Thomas said, “We have to move forward.”

“We want to listen and talk with the stakeholders,” she said. “We remain optimistic that the University of Iowa will receive the funds it needs to maintain excellence.”

And, Thomas said, the faculty also remains hopeful that the metrics will be revisited.

“We won’t stop advocating for that,” she said.

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