No one seemed surprised when Eugene Sander was named interim president of the University of Arizona.

Campus and industry leaders say the longtime dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is a natural for the UA's top job.

Even outgoing President Robert Shelton was quoted in a faculty newsletter praising Sander at a retirement party: "If I can become half the leader that you have been in your career, I will be a very happy and content man."

"(Sander) is a great and effective leader," said Joel Cuello, agricultural-biosystems engineering professor and chair of the College Faculty Council. "I know we're going to miss him a lot. It's a consolation that he's been appointed interim president."

Sander, 75, postponed his retirement to take the UA's top job for about a year, until a new president is chosen.

Here are three reasons why he was the first choice for the job:


"In terms of what he stands for, we're all pretty clear about that: open and honest communication," Cuello said. "He doesn't airbrush things. He gives you the real picture. Only when you have a clear picture can you make effective decisions."

That helps build trust with faculty, staff and students, Cuello said.

"Whatever he did, we knew it was in the best interest of the college and of the faculty, and he will do the same as president," Cuello said.

"He's extremely friendly, extremely personable," said Brittany Choate, a student leader at the Ag College. "He'll ask what's wrong, how he can help, how he can improve the program, constantly asking for feedback."

Sander traveled all around Arizona in his role as ag dean. He's well connected and he communicates well, said Ron Allen, animal science professor and department head.

"He's not just a Tucson guy." Allen said. "If there was a time when we needed to have somebody who understands the whole state and can make a case for our relevance statewide, this is the time and he's the guy."

Jim Klinker, chief administrative officer of the Arizona Farm Bureau, said Sander can make his case. He recalled a good pitch by Sander to fiscally conservative farmers about what they stand to lose if they don't support university funding.


"He'll continue leading and not just holding a spot. It would not be in his nature to just maintain the status quo during this period, and that's important in this time," Allen said.

Klinker said Sander knows how to involve people in change.

Sander was the first ag school dean to sit on the Arizona Farm Bureau board of directors and "his insight was invaluable to this organization," Klinker said.

But at the time Sander joined the board, 22 years ago, biotechnology was just beginning to evolve, and Sander faced a reluctant audience when he talked about what it could do for the agriculture industry.

Sander reached out and asked about concerns, Klinker said. He took farmers to the labs to show them how genes from one plant could strengthen another or how a bacterium could be a natural pesticide.

"He made us stay in harness and accept this technology, and reduce our use of pesticide and increase our yields at the same time," he said.


Allen said Sander's leadership shows best in his ability to get the right people in the right places.

"He has expected excellence and he has rewarded that," Allen said.

Through search committees, Sander helped hire many of the campus leaders, including the president, two vice presidents, a couple of deans and a number of department heads.

Sander himself says dividing up work and taking advantage of individual talents is an opportunity.

"The leadership of any great university is a team effort," Sander said at a news conference last weekend. "And we have a wonderful team here at the university.

"I'm pleased to become part of that team. It's the first time I've had a chance to play quarterback on a university team. Usually, I'm the guy who plays left tackle; I'm responsible for running interference."

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Contact reporter Becky Pallack at or 807-8012.