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AZ Regent Fred DuVal: Why I support UA President Robbins' COVID-19 campus plan
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AZ Regent Fred DuVal: Why I support UA President Robbins' COVID-19 campus plan

Fewer students, higher costs, budget holes confront the University of Arizona

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The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

The COVID-19 crisis has hit the University of Arizona hard. The university has incurred huge unanticipated costs including significant new technology to transfer classes to remote delivery and massive testing and safety protocols on campus. We provided students with computers and mobile hot spots in rural Arizona to facilitate their work.

Our faculty have developed COVID-19 testing for students and Arizonans and have engaged in extensive research associated with the pandemic. Hotels might need to be leased for potential quarantines. And the university has shouldered the costs for rebates and reimbursements to students for unused dorms and meal plans.

Now, fall enrollments look deeply troubling. We expect significant erosion, particularly among valuable out-of-state and foreign students who pay a premium to attend the University of Arizona and subsidize our in-state students’ tuition.

We are likely to lose another semester of event income and possible loss of massive fall sports gate proceeds.

The budget gap at the University of Arizona is currently expected to be approximately $280 million, but it may grow larger.

In response, President Robbins took immediate steps to eliminate expenses without affecting employment by stopping approved construction projects, halting strategic plan funding, instituting a hiring freeze and delaying plans for merit increases. But beyond that, what are the remaining choices? Universities can’t borrow money for operations.

Our spending is tethered to our state legislative investment and our tuition revenue is driven by enrollment.

As a result, in April President Robbins proposed comprehensive and progressively applied budget cuts, including a faculty and staff furlough and pay reduction program effective July 1. And he — and all the senior management — have taken a 20% pay cut.

President Robbins has taken a holistic, shared-sacrifice approach to try to keep the university community whole.

While his original budget plan was properly scaled to the size of the crisis we face, President Robbins has delayed the proposed cost-saving measures for six weeks. He plans to have additional discussions with constituents across the university community regarding the shared sacrifice of the furloughs and pay reductions and listen to offered solutions.

I hope this will lead to a process of shared facts and campus-wide buy-in on the difficult steps that will be necessary to address the dramatic financial erosion that we now face.

But this delay in implementation also grows the budget gap even larger. The budget choices available in mid-August may be harder and more severe. I hope not. But we will need to be prepared. Every emergency tool – policy and fiscal — must be explored and made available.

The Regents applaud President Robbins’ consultative approach with faculty and all campus stakeholders. The input received will be heard and valued, however hard choices must be made. The board expects President Robbins to listen and engage — but ultimately to lead. And he has the unwavering support of the board as he leads to meet the challenges presented by COVID-19.

He is an outstanding president. Arizona is lucky to have him and will be fortunate to keep him.

As this engagement occurs, all ideas will be welcome save two: First, denial and delay are not viable strategies. Second, we will not abide those who would pass the fiscal burden to the students and families we serve in the form of tuition increases or reduction in financial aid in lieu of furloughs and pay reduction.

I have spent five decades of political life fighting for more diversity and inclusion, fairness, and broadened access to opportunity and share those values with many on campus. But we must square values and math. We have a genuine budget crisis. Any and all parties who want to make responsible contributions to real solutions will be embraced and welcomed as we manage it.

Fred DuVal was appointed to the Arizona Board of Regents by Gov. Doug Ducey in 2018. Regent DuVal previously served on the board from 2006-12 when he was appointed by Gov. Janet Napolitano.

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