Building a legacy
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Arizona Daily Wildcat
"When I get involved, I try to get involved eyeball-to-eyeball, face-to-face, person-to-person."
A President Peter Likins doesn't have to take finals, but he's losing sleep for another reason.
The University of Arizona's 18th president works 15 to 18-hour days to leave his legacy on this campus while juggling daily problems.
"I think people like me judge ourselves by our contributions to the long-term development of the institution, but others judge us by our ability to handle the crisis of the moment," he said.
Likins, who spent 12 years as president of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, has contended with many campus crises during his second academic year at the UA.
He saw the Memorial Student Union in disrepair without adequate funding for renovation. Student activists camped out in his office for almost 10 days. Likins also was faced with a state Legislature that proposed drastic, multimillion dollar budget cuts.
But he said rolling with daily punches is part of the job.
"When you pull back from a presidency, if you don't handle the crises of the moment well, you become an ex-president," he said.
Even projects that have the potential to benefit the UA far into the future, such as the new union, have been littered with short-term obstacles, he said.
"The union has a long-term impact on the university," Likins said. "But solving the problem of whether or not there's going to be a student fee - that's a short-term problem of the moment."
The problem was solved earlier this semester when UA Athletic Director Jim Livengood donated a portion of his budget to the project - $500,000 annually for most of the building's debt service.
Wildcat File Photo
Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA President Peter Likins, who spent 12 years as president of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, has dealt with many campus crises during his second academic year at the UA.
For the UA president, time management is the primary challenge, Likins said during an interview session that encompassed parts of two days and was squeezed between power lunches, administrative meetings and phone calls.
"That (work) is all I do with my life actually," he said. "The demands are such that you can feel like you are succeeding by just making it through the week, the month, the year."
While he said just getting by will never be satisfactory to him, Likins acknowledged the "hard reality" of his position is that critical situations are always popping up.
"Certainly the recent sit-in was stressful," he said.
Likins said he enjoys sitting and talking to students, but both the situation's potential for spiraling out of control and the demands on his time were constant concerns.
"A dialogue of that sort can explode, can go unstable at any time," he said. "I was trying to avoid that escalation that would require arrest."
Likins said he was "delighted" that both he and activists from the UA chapter of Students Against Sweatshops could reach an agreement that would set labor standards for the university's apparel manufacturers.
SAS spokeswoman Molly Snow said she respected Likins' handling of the situation.
"I think we definitely got something concrete out of it," Snow said.
Snow, a junior in speech and hearing sciences and psychology, said while she trusts Likins to keep his word, he seemed more concerned with public image than with her group's cause.
"My overall impression is that he is first and foremost a politician," she said. "I think he handled it (the sit-in) like a political thing."
Despite the criticism, Snow said she appreciated the time Likins took to negotiate with the demonstrators.
The president is known for devoting personal attention to the many projects he oversees.
UA Budget Director Dick Roberts, a central figures in the union construction project, said Likins had a personal management style.
"I've really seen more of this president than I've seen of the previous two presidents," Roberts said. "When you look at the size of this organization and how many people want a piece of his time, it's amazing to me that he finds the time for personal attention that he does."
Likins said he operates on an individual level in his business relationships.
"When I get involved, I try to get involved eyeball-to-eyeball, face-to-face, person-to-person," he said.
While Likins said it is too early to determine his long-term impact on the university, many administrators have credited him in large part for ultimately getting Arizona Board of Regents' approval for constructing the new union.
"We've been working on a union solution for literally eight or nine years," Roberts said. "We didn't make the kind of progress in the first eight years that we made in the last year primarily because Dr. Likins made a strategic choice about where he needed to spend his time."
Roberts said Likins' direct involvement made the difference in the project's success. The president's approach to the project could have been "sounds good, let me know how it turns out," he said.
This year also saw Likins initiating the most ambitious private fundraising campaign ever launched at the UA.
And Likins said he intends to stay at the university well into the future.
"If I'm free to decide, and frankly I expect to be - I've had a couple of very good years - I'll work as long as I have the strength," Likins said. "I'm 62, pushing 63 in July, so I ask myself will I be able to meet the physical demands of this job 10 years from now."