When Robert Shelton arrived at the University of Arizona five years ago he brought his considerable talents and academic stature to lead an already excellent public university to even higher plateaus - and did.
Notwithstanding the unanticipated headwinds and turbulent seas stimulated by the recession and the largest per capita reduction in state funds in the United States, President Shelton led the UA to record levels of enrollment, worked with his nationally recognized faculty in managing a Mars Lander mission and securing the largest grant in NASA's history to explore beyond Mars, and made some strong hires in athletics that saw the return of UA excellence on the athletic field. That the UA's 10-year accreditation review was exemplary came as little surprise.
Most importantly, Shelton consistently and steadfastly supported his world-class faculty and focused on excellence. His mission was to assure that the UA classroom experience remained first-rate, that a UA degree retained its market value, and that UA research remained cutting edge and socially relevant. But change is inevitable, and can do us good.
For the next year the UA will be ably led by Gene Sander, who enjoys statewide respect and deep institutional support and understanding.
But Tucsonans, and all Arizonans, have a right to know what lies ahead for the UA. As the Board of Regents engages in a nationwide search for a permanent president, we are optimistic that the UA's academic and research base, exemplary faculty and diverse student body will attract the best available talent.
Should state leaders - now seeing some budget growth - choose to restore some of the cuts to higher education, and by doing so express a commitment to the role of it in Arizona, the candidate pool will be even deeper.
The future UA president will arrive to a strong institution, but we must be honest about the challenges we face and the changes we must make.
State funding will never return to old levels, and tuition is reaching unsustainable levels of growth. We must chart a new course for success while protecting the excellence that is the UA. That means creating more partnerships with the community colleges for seamless credit transfer and enhanced bachelor's degree pathways, increasing online learning, and focusing on retention so that the investment we make in entering undergraduates results in more graduates.
The Board of Regents is now applying outcome-driven performance metrics to the three universities that include community-college transfers, retention and research, and then we propose future state funding for the UA flow from attaining them. This process will instill the accountability we owe the Arizona taxpayers.
The UA is a place of the highest learning, discovery and job generation. It is a jewel, a statewide asset that should not be allowed to dull in the wake of challenging times any more than we would allow it of the UA telescope mirrors that that have led America's search of the stars. And, in support of UA's quest to continue to reach for the stars, we can assure Tucson we will find a talented new pilot to lead the way.
Fred DuVal is chair of the Board of Regents. Dennis DeConcini and Rick Myers are regents and co-chair the search committee.