- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

AMES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa State University has agreed to rescind the 2015 firing of its longtime student counseling director, who alleged he was let go after warning about potentially dangerous shortages in mental health services on campus.

ISU President Steven Leath signed an agreement this month changing Terry Mason’s dismissal to a retirement, making Mason eligible for medical benefits and a $2,000 payout for unused sick leave. Mason, 61, agreed to drop his complaints accusing the school of whistleblower retaliation, defamation and age discrimination and not pursue any lawsuits.

Mason, an assistant vice president who had been director of the ISU Student Counseling Service since 1993, said Monday that he was “very, very grateful” the parties were able to reach an amicable settlement and that he was ready to move on. He said the university has also done “an admirable job” in recent months of increasing its funding for student counseling.

In a complaint filed with the State Appeal Board, Mason said he warned in 2012 that Iowa State’s student counseling center needed more counselors and that it was unable to adequately serve the campus at a time of soaring need.

The complaint noted that he wrote a letter to then-Vice President for Students Affairs Thomas Hill warning that it was only a matter of time before a “mental health-related disaster would occur on campus.” According to the complaint, Mason warned in his annual budget request that the lack of funding and services could lead to students harming themselves or others, but that the university agreed to hire only one more employee and largely ignored his other requests.

Mason had alleged that Hill fired him without notice. As an at-will employee, the university didn’t need cause to terminate him.

Mason’s dismissal letter said only that Hill wanted a leadership change. But the complaint accused Hill of defaming Mason by allegedly telling employees that Mason was an unethical person who couldn’t be trusted. Hill retired as vice president months later but has remained a policy adviser to Leath.

The International Association of Counseling Services honored Mason months after his firing with a lifetime achievement award. He is the current treasurer and past president of that group and has since started his own consulting firm.

His complaint noted that the association recommends universities have one full-time counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. Iowa State’s staffing levels were nine employees below that goal when he was fired, it said.

The settlement says Iowa State disputes Mason’s allegations and requires both sides not to publicly disparage each other.

The university is moving to expand mental health services with a $24 increase in mandatory student health fees that will go into effect next school year. The Board of Regents approved the increase last month.

Iowa State spokesman John McCarroll said the new funding would be used to hire three psychologists, two nurses and a psychiatrist, and he noted that the increase was supported by student leaders.

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