PHOENIX — A cardiac surgeon who runs the world’s largest medical network is the lone finalist for the presidency of the University of Arizona.
Dr. Robert C. Robbins, president and CEO of Texas Medical Center, will visit the Tucson campus Wednesday, March 8, to meet with the UA community and take questions from the public.
“I am honored and humbled,” Robbins told a crowd at the UA Medical School in Phoenix, where he was named as the finalist on Tuesday by the Arizona Board of Regents. “The University of Arizona is one of America’s great universities,” he said, speaking with a hint of Texas twang.
Regent Bill Ridenour, who chaired the search committee, said the board faced “an extremely difficult choice” in selecting Robbins over the other contender, Arizona State University executive Sethuraman Panchanathan.
“This may be the most important decision in decades for the University of Arizona,” Ridenour said.
One of Robbins’ great strengths is his ability to get people to work together effectively in a large, complex organization, Ridenour said, pointing out that Texas Medical Center is the largest medical system in the world.
Regent Ron Shoopman, vice chair of the search effort, acknowledged in an interview the big difference between what the UA president’s job pays — $670,000 this year — and the $1 million-plus annual salary Robbins now earns in Texas.
He said he feels “confident” the parties can come to a workable salary agreement.
Board of Regents Chair Greg Patterson invoked the book title “Hillbilly Elegy” to describe Robbins, who he said grew up poor in Mississippi and overcame many obstacles to obtain an education.
Robbins “could have written the book and starred in the movie,” Patterson said.
Robbins earned a medical degree from the University of Mississippi and is the former head of cardiology at Stanford University School of Medicine, one of the highest-ranked in the country. He’s been at his current job in Texas since 2012.
He said at a news conference Tuesday that students would be his top priority as UA’s president. In a sit-down with the students after he was announced as the finalist, Robbins talked about the need to better align teaching methods with the typical student’s attention span through increased use of technology in the classroom.
That impressed UA student Claudia Nguyen, 20, who is studying physiology at the Tucson campus and helped greet Robbins Tuesday in her role as a cheerleader.
“He has really great ideas about how technology will affect my generation. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us,” she said.
Robbins has a few more steps to go through before he gets the job. Regents will meet March 13 to vote on whether to start the contract negotiation process. His hiring would become final when regents vote to approve the contract.
Ann Weaver Hart is stepping down as UA president but will remain on the faculty.
To succeed her, the regents had said they were looking for an innovator who can drive advances in research, fundraising and other key areas, and for experience valuable to the UA’s two medical schools.
Robbins would be the university’s 22nd president.