By Jenny Rose
file photo/Arizona Daily Wildcat
President Peter Likins addresses the Faculty Senate last week regarding his plan to focus the UA's academic efforts more exclusively on those areas in which it excels.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 18, 2002
President Peter Likins outlined his plans yesterday for restricting admissions, raising tuition and cutting programs in order to move the UA toward the private sector.
The plans have been met with some excitement and some opposition from members of the university community who are wary of the possibility that UA students will find a drastically different institution when they begin school next fall.
Likins said he wants to create new admissions standards that will allow the UA to raise academic requirements for admissions and make the university a more elite institution in a memo to the UA community yesterday.
Likins has not specified what changes he wants to make to UA's admissions process, but the idea of raising the bar for potential students is being received warmly by some in the university community.
"It's a wonderful idea," said Miklos Szilagyi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and a member of the Faculty Senate.
The current admissions requirements are "substandard," he said, which limits the quality of teaching that professors can do.
"We have to teach middle school material," Szilagyi said.
The shift in the admissions process will improve UA students' education, said ASUA President Doug Hartz.
"It will put us in the position to be competitive nationally, and the values of the education and the degrees would increase," he said.
If the admissions process were refined, students would see smaller class sizes, a better focus on their area of study and more educational benefits, Hartz said.
While he is in favor of raising admission standards, Szilagyi said he is concerned with the loss of state funding that would result if enrollment at the UA were limited.
Because the amount of state money the university gets each semester is dependent upon the number of students enrolled, downsizing admissions would cause a substantial dip in enrolled students, and as a result, state funding.
The university must be prepared to deal with this problem, or else it will find itself in even more financial difficulty than it is in now, Szilagyi said.
Raising tuition and financial aid
Although UA's tuition is low compared to other public universities, Likins said access to financial aid is terrible.
While he is wary of drastic tuition increases, Hartz said it is a necessary evil.
"I think (Likins) is right that even though we have low tuition, we have access problems (to financial aid)," said Chris Impey, a distinguished professor of astronomy and member of the Strategic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee.
Impey added that revenues need to increase to develop the competitive standing of the university.
"The odds are that taxes aren't going to go up and the general fund won't go up," he said. "If (the money) doesn't come from somewhere, there will be less class availability and worse professors," Hartz said. "If you're not receiving those things, you're not getting the education you came here for."
"I won't agree to tuition going up to the maximum, but people need to decide what students can afford to pay for their education," Hartz said.
"There's no escape unless the Legislature increases taxes in a pretty damned serious way, and none of us is counting on that," Likins said.
"It's important to identify other sources of revenue," Meaker said. "We're not looking solely to tuition."
Some undergraduate degrees could also cost more than others if they are ranked high among similar university programs on a national scale, Meaker said.
Shifting academic focus
The universities are shifting from public to private resources in terms of what they use in funding, as well as from state to federal financing, Likins stated in the memo.
Since private and federal dollars are dedicated to specific projects, the UA cannot divert them to underfunded programs and departments, which are largely those that don't earn research dollars.
To counter this seemingly inevitable problem, Likins plans to eliminate programs that do not perform academically or do not get sufficient funding.
"I am totally opposed to this," Szilagyi said. "'University' means it is a universe. A university that has some programs is not a university at all."
The university is supposed to be an institution where people can find experts and information about every field, he added.
"To change that mission is wrong," Szilagyi said. "It can be done by the entire university community, but the president should not be allowed to do it on his own. It should not be a dictatorship," he said.
Decisions must work through UA committees and bureaucracies and are not his alone to make, Likins said.
"This is a university, and we don't just make executive decisions and send out memos on Monday," he said.
Likins said the university community needs to be prepared to reinvest in fewer activities than in which it's currently engaged.
"There is no interest in turning the university into a polytechnic university with only five degrees," Meaker said.
At the same time, the UA cannot be expected to offer every conceivable degree, Impey said.
"You can't do everything. If you do, you wind up doing it badly," he said.
Programs that will be kept and aggressively invested in will depend on the volume of graduates they produce, the quality of their education, and the programs' rankings on a national scale, he said.
Science and engineering programs get research contract money. There is also a bit in social sciences, business and medicine; however, it's the humanities and arts programs that are not given dollars by the federal government, Likins said.
Some programs, most notably medicine, receive a lot of gift dollars, Likins said.
Art gets some gift money, but it's tough for humanities or social sciences to get gift dollars, he said.
These programs are the ones the university is working so hard to protect, Likins said, noting that these are not necessarily the programs most susceptible to be cut.
Some programs should be retained even if they don't bring in a huge amount of federal grant dollars, Impey said.
"Even if they're not rainmakers, so to speak, they do a good deal of teaching," he said, pointing to the colleges of math and humanities, as well as Native American studies and arid land studies because of their importance related to UA's southwestern location.
While UA seems to be hurtling towards reorganizing its basic mission at breakneck speed, administrators are quick to emphasize the process still has a long way to go.
"This is a step in the right direction, but it's only the first step," Meaker said.
"Before the spring, we'll maybe put the proposal on the table and talk about it all spring," Likins stated. "This requires very substantial consultation before we put the proposal on the table. The real challenge is to get this done in the current academic year, but we hope to get it done this year," Likins said.
Before Likins' plans can be put into action, the regents must approve the change.
"A lot depends on how the public perceives (the universities)," Meaker said.
Some administrators are optimistic about the potential changes the institution could see.
"I wholeheartedly support raising tuition, but vehemently oppose eliminating programs," Szilagyi said.
"I absolutely don't think he's jumping the gun, (with these plans)" Impey said. "We're cut down to the bone, and if those (federal) grants go elsewhere, the university will get poor in a hurry."
Likins said he is open to suggestions from the UA community in forming plans for the future.
He suggests e-mailing ideas to his senior associate Patti Ota, Provost George Davis and himself. They can be reached through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.