University of Arizona President Peter Likins acknowledged that while the University has come a long way in its scholarly and research standings, the institution is severely underfinanced.
"I am conscious of my responsibility to try to strengthen the resources," he said at the annual meeting of the general faculty held March 9. "I've been very outspoken about our challenge of recruiting and retaining faculty in those fields in which the market place is driving salaries up, and we're not able to keep up.
"I've been very open with our regents, Legislators and anybody who will listen in the business community about the fact the University is a precious asset in the state of Arizona, and it is so financially undernourished as to be in jeopardy."
Likins said the local business community understands the need to fund higher education and he has deliberately enlisted its help in raising money.
"I know the political pressure that individual legislators experience from the business community is powerful," he said. "When the business community goes after the Legislature, boy, that makes a difference.
"It's not just the University of Arizona, but public enterprise in the state of Arizona is grossly under funded and it's a damn miracle folks like you have managed to build this University in such a splendid way," he said to the faculty. "As a consequence you have developed this place into an extraordinary university in terms of the power of the intellectual enterprise, a veritable miracle in the desert."
A member of the audience suggested that Likins not only secure the support of business but also look at other aspects of the community, such as non-profit organizations and religious groups, to which Likins agreed, suggesting that these cannot be viewed as conflicting interests.
When asked if he has seen any changes since he has been at the University, Likins said he that he feels morale has improved and people have come together to put strategies in place. Now he feels an obligation to deliver in response to elevated expectations.
In response to another issue, Likins agreed that the University suffered financially in the late 1980s and early '90s, but that was a trend experienced nationwide public universities. How each state handled the following recovery period differed.
"Arizona decision makers in the Legislature tried very hard to return tax money to the tax payer. That's been the primary Arizona state legislative response to affluence," he said. "But other states have looked to the longer view, understood the degree of which the national and global economy is changing and becoming more dependent on educated people and have made incredible commitments to the research universities particularly, trying to get a competitive edge in the market."
Likins said it is difficult in this state to convince legislators that the future requires an investment in education at all levels. He said there are two peculiar characteristics that make that persuasive argument difficult.
The first is that even though Arizona has major companies like Motorola, Honeywell and Raytheon in the state, it lacks in corporate headquarters whose leaders could intervene on the behalf of the state's universities. The second is the political environment.
"I don't know enough about Arizona politics, but in Pennsylvania, if the Republicans are in control of the legislature, that's generally a pro-business position. But the Republican legislative leadership here seems to be anti-business, anti-education, anti, anti, anti-everything, except when it comes to regulating behavior in the residence halls at universities."
Likins said there is not a shortage of money in the state, but the problem lies in the fact that the Legislature made the decision to dismiss Governor Hull's recommendation for bond issue financing and pay for building schools out of the general fund, which he said is creating the financial problem.
"They deliberately put upon themselves an enormous and rapidly growing financial burden," he said. "Having done that, they don't have money for school teacher salaries, they don't have money for the universities, they don't have money for health care, they don't have money for anything else. I'm probably being a little bit harsh on these people, but it's a self-inflicted wound."
Addressing other issues, he commended the Arizona Board of Regents for its support and the faculty members who worked with the regents in establishing a dialogue the issue of eliminating tenure surfaced.
"Magically there developed here a dialogue largely between regents and faculty. This tenure review produced most importantly a dialogue and mutual understanding and a mutual respect," he said. "Don't make any mistake about this, you started it and the administration had the good sense to stay out of the way, and that continues."
When asked how the UA ranks in terms of undergraduate scholarships, Likins said that "we are a low-tuition, low-aid institution. On both fronts we are modest players at best."
Despite the monetary ills that plague the University, Likins is dedicated to improving the institution in any way he can.
"I celebrate that this University is committed both to reaching throughout the student population and nurturing talent and at the same time reaching for the heights in terms of reputations for scholarship," he said. "This notion of a student-centered research university may, for some of you, be an unrealized fantasy, but it's a beautiful vision."
He said the combination of excellence, intellectual ambition and passion, and concern for young people make the University a fulfilling environment for all involved.
"I'm going to spend my presidency trying to raise money for all sources. And I'll be sure that we continue to use our limited resources wisely," Likins said. "I think that's the best thing I can do for you, try to heal wounds and build a sense of community, trying to hang on to the excellence that's here and put together the resources that enable us to bring in a continuing stream of extraordinary people to our faculty.
"We're obviously committed to providing a joyful human learning experience in this educational institution, enjoying both the discovery that comes with our scholarship and the absolutely extraordinary experience that we have with our students," he said. "It's just a wonderful, wonderful life. We need to think those thoughts first, and then we need to say 'where in the hell am I going to get the money to do this research or take care of that student.' Then we've got to deal with those problems."
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University of Arizona in the News