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Fred DuVal: Select the next University of Arizona president carefully
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Fred DuVal: Select the next University of Arizona president carefully

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The announcement of Ann Weaver Hart’s retirement in 2018 as president of the University of Arizona is an opportunity to both measure the last few years of accomplishment and envision the future of one of America’s premier universities, Arizona’s land-grant institution and one of the most important economic assets in Arizona.

The UA is stronger today than ever and is successfully executing its strategic plan: Never Settle. Enrollments and graduation rates are up, research is growing, innovation is occurring, and transformational partnerships such as with Banner Health are game-changing. The UA is succeeding at the largest fundraising campaign in its history. And the Wildcat teams are winning!

To survive and lead in the 21st century — the UA must be even more adaptive, innovative and relevant.

Throughout its first century, the UA was the undisputed premier higher education leader in Arizona and could rely on alumni and legacy for public and political support. Now, with two other growing and successful state universities, that equation has changed. The next president must have a presence and impact in Phoenix and the Arizona Capitol and play a leading role in the economic development strategy of the state.

For example, Tech Launch Arizona, Bio5, UA Health and Optical Sciences are all UA-hosted drivers of the state’s 21st century tech-innovation economy that is creating good jobs that will stay in Tucson. Yet each relies on the renewal of Prop. 301. And further, any hope to reverse our state’s disinvestment in universities must include stronger alignment in its degree production with our state’s workforce needs.

The first College of Medicine brought me to Tucson, and I have served on its hospital board. In an innovation-based economy there is no more strategically important public asset in the state of Arizona. Creating the right synergy between the two colleges — and Banner — that enlarges the research platform while retaining its principal obligatory focus on patient care and clinical outcomes is complicated, controversial, and critical. It will require constant engaged attention from the next president.

The existing undergraduate degree delivery model – a 4- to 6-year degree track at approximately $50,000 a degree in cost — is not sustainable. In order to simultaneously increase degree production and cap tuition costs, the UA must significantly accelerate its integration of online learning modalities, increase its community-college transfer rate and enlarge the number of integrated degree pathways — statewide.

Modern infrastructure is not only a matter of competitiveness and educational quality — but of safety. The deferred maintenance backlog is now hundreds of millions of dollars. The football stadium is but the most visible example. New innovative partnerships to finance infrastructure will be required.

With ever-increasing reliance on philanthropy, the relationship between the UA Foundation and the UA president is more critical than ever and requires maximum engagement, collaboration and alignment, driven by shared purpose and strategic objectives.

The university’s essential charge is the creation and dissemination of knowledge. To retain its national standing the UA must recruit, retain and motivate distinguished faculty, instill a premium on good teaching, and recruit the best students from within and beyond the state.

For the UA to succeed, Arizona citizens must rededicate to the mission, importance and funding of the higher education enterprise. In a new global economy where talent and ideas travel freely and where innovation generates startups and economic growth, the creation of that talent — and retaining it in-state — is Job 1. The next UA president must chart a new future for the university — and the university for the state.

Lame-duck presidents can either be marginalized or emboldened by their impending departure. Ann Weaver Hart can use her remaining time to lead, and should be joined by a community looking forward to harness this transition period to chart a path for the next chapter of a great institution.

Fred DuVal attended the UA and is a former chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents.

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