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Focusing on Excellence: Painting a new future

DEREKH FROUDE/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Studio arts senior Ernesto Trujillo practices his painting technique for a class yesterday afternoon in the Arts building. Maurice Sevigny, dean of the College of Fine Arts, said the university has always focused on excellence.
By by Keren G. Raz & Jenny Rose
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday October 9, 2002

The state's short on money, the regents are ready for a change, the university presidents are accepting the challenge, but some programs' futures are uncertain

They've been frank: There will be cuts. Since the first mention of "Focused Excellence," the UA's plan to redefine its academic focus and become less dependent on state funding, administrators have warned that a new university identity will mean that not everyone and everything will be able to book passage on the journey to a new university.

Nevertheless, the plan, which is still only in its infantile stages, has been widely accepted by academic leaders on campus who are confident their programs will make the grade and fit into the new scheme.

Under the "Changing Directions" initiative proposed by the Arizona Board of Regents, the UA would become a research powerhouse, make the admissions process more rigorous and raise tuition, while ASU would educate the majority of Arizona students and NAU would focus primarily on undergraduate education.

Focused Excellence is President Peter Likins' plan to realize Changing Directions at the UA.

Focused Excellence comes a year after a blow to the university's budget that saw the elimination of the Arizona International College and a stripping of money from colleges across campus.

This year, the cuts won't be any easier ¸ in fact, they could be as large as 10 percent, although all numbers are just projections at this point.

But as regents and university presidents ponder a major overhaul of Arizona's three universities, deans and department heads are hoping Focused Excellence will rescue them from budget woes.

"The part that's so readily accepted is the excellence, not the focus," said UA Provost George Davis.

"The university is not completely accepting how difficult it's going to be to reduce the span of programmatic activities," he said.

So, while most understand the implementation of the plan will result in the cut or consolidation of programs, "excellence" appears to be in fruitful supply ¸ with department heads and deans confident their units will avoid the chopping block.
open quote marks
"The part that's so readily accepted is the excellence, not the focus."

- George Davis

close quote marks

Kiss those budget woes goodbye

Administrators insist that "Focused Excellence" would have arrived regardless of cuts in state funding.

Due to $16.6 million pulled from the UA last year and the threat of an additional $33 million in cuts this year, administrators have been backed into a corner, warning that academic quality will suffer permanent damage if no action is taken.

In the 1988-1989 fiscal year, 52 percent of the UA's more than $500 million budget was made up of state dollars. Last year, it was less than 40 percent.

As a result, the percentage of unrestricted dollars the university has access to is shrinking, meaning UA has less money that it can use for whatever it wants, Likins said.

"The bottom line is that the fraction of money that comes to the university that is unrestricted is going down down down," Likins said in a meeting Friday.

Tom Peterson, dean of the college of engineering and mines, said the proposed budget model of relying more on grant and research money and less on state allocations could harm programs at the university, because grant and research money is often restricted to a specific program.

"It's quite clear that we can't continue to cut the budget across the board so everyone slowly bleeds to death," Peterson said.

"If we set the bar high enough, then relatively small fractions of the campus will shine. Those that don't will have to reevaluate their size," Chris Impey, professor of astronomy and chairman of strategic planning and budget advisory council, said.

Jane Erin, interim associate dean of the college of education, said "Focused Excellence" is the best choice for the university's future because of the state's economic challenges.

"Given that the state is not forthcoming with funds for higher education, I don't think we have a choice," said Erin

Arizona state senator James Brown said the diminished funding has been caused by the state's economic downturn. He called education a top priority, but said "a lot of high priorities are taking hits."

Eugene Sander, dean of the Department of Agriculture and Life Sciences, sees Focused Excellence as a necessary step for the university to take, the only solution for the problems caused by budget cuts.

"We over in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have been practicing this for well over 12 years. This is about selected excellence rather than uniform mediocrity," Sander said.

But Maurice Sevigny, dean of the College of Fine Arts, said the university has always practiced focused excellence.

"The current pressure is in limiting that breadth of programs the university offers to its students."

Thomas Baldwin, head of the Biochemistry department, said "excellence" is going to require "steel will."

"We all have to join together to protect this university. If this university keeps cutting and cutting, we might as well close the doors and go home," he said.

And while most agree that "Excellence" could save the quality of the university, it will also mean some programs will have to go.

The big question on everyone's mind: Which ones will go?
EMILY REID/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Economics senior Stephan Robertson tends to his tomato plants as part of a hydroponics class offered by the plant sciences department. President Peter Likins said Friday that agriculture is a vital part of the UA's role as a land grant university.

"Excellence" for everyone

Most deans and department heads agree that it is too soon to tell what programs will be cut, but the majority is fairly certain that their programs will avoid the axe.

In an email late last week, Provost George Davis attempted to clarify the university's process of appraising what will go and what will stay.

They would include nationally and internationally distinguished programs, programs that enhance diversity, and programs that integrate research.

However, Davis said it would be difficult to separate programs into the ones that will stay and the ones that will go.

"We're a very strong university," he said. "The university has developed in ways that you can't look around and find a bunch of bad programs."

If university administrators were to do the "good thing" and not cut any programs, UA would never be able to be excellent, Davis said.

He pointed to the Arizona International College, cut last November, as an example.

Davis said AIC was a deviation from UA's mission, and the university could not continue to fund it and was forced to cut it.

While deans and department heads don't know what programs will eventually be considered excellent, most are optimistic of their chances of making the cut.

Because there has been little discussion about what programs might be considered weak, departments do not know the problems they may have to face in the future, Impey said.

Larry Evers, head of the English department, said it is hard to tell at this point whether his department will make the cut, but he said he is fairly confident the English department will make the grade.

"Given the excellence of programs in our department, it will be a comfortable fit and allow us to provide greater support for our programs."

Erin said she thinks "Focused Excellence" will benefit the college of education, and that it should be immune to being cut in the "Focused Excellence" model, because the teaching certification program it offers is important to residents of Arizona and because the College of Education does a great deal of national research.

"By no means is the research focus at odds with what we do here," she said.

While the department of near-eastern studies is not ranked on a national scale, its head, Michael Bonine, said it would not be adversely affected by the "Focused Excellence" plan.

"We have an obligation to prepare students for a global, international world," he said.

Bonine also points to an array of grant monies brought into the center for middle-eastern studies each year that should help sustain it in a budget model, which doesn't rely as much on state funding.

Mark Zupan, dean of the college of business and public administration, said he thinks his college will escape cuts because of the role it plays in developing future business leaders.

"I cannot imagine cutting any part of the business college," he said.

It will be difficult for faculty, deans and department heads to accept the harsh reality that their programs may be cut said Randy Richardson, vice president of undergraduate education.

"The reality is that we will have to merge programs and will have to make difficult decisions. At this early stage it's hard to have a realistic view of it all," he said.
SUSIE LEMONT/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Senior Kim Huston works on a project design in the Architecture building. The architecture program has a strong reputation among the nation's firms.

Casualties of the change

Sevigny said the College of Fine Arts has a place in the "focused" future of the university, because of the great deal of community outreach it does.

However, Sevigny also realizes that his college will have to cut in order to survive in the newly redesigned university.

"It will be very difficult, but we are looking at ways to downsize the film and media arts program by raising GPA requirements and enforcing our pre-major," he said.

The College of Fine Arts has already formed a task force to examine the college and determine where programs excel and where others can be cut.

"We're a little bit ahead of the game," Sevigny said.

J. Christopher Maloney, head of the Philosophy department, said he is not worried about the future of his department because "this department is generally recognized around the world as one of the best research institutions in philosophy."

"The faculty has accepted the concept that if we don't reduce while the budget is being reduced, we're going to be mediocre," he said.

On Friday, Likins did give some indication that there would be certain departments that he would protect.

"As a land grant institution, we have a certain responsibility. We have to prepare nurses, teachers, and engineers. I can't shut down agriculture, it's part of our identity as a public land grant institution."

However, every other area of campus will be affected, he said.

"We have to extract some things from science, extract some things from social and behavioral sciences, from art, from the humanities."

While he is "cautiously optimistic," John Olsen, head of the department of anthropology, said he is withholding judgement on "Focused Excellence" until he sees concrete plans from UA's administration.

"I'm worried that six months down the road, the administration says, ╬what we meant is cutting these programs,'" he said.

While he would accept eliminating sub-par programs from UA's catalog, Olsen said he did not want UA administrators using "Focused Excellence" as a blank check to solely eliminate programs.

"I'm not scared of cutting programs, but that must be one part of a bigger program," he said.

Administrators sitting at the drafting table insist that this is part of a large program: Creating a new identity for the UA, something that excites many on campus.

Dues said he thinks limiting enrollment and only accepting the top 35 percent of Arizona residents rather than the top 50 percent would help UA limit its range of students and improve the education it offers.

"(Focused Excellence) looks really sound, but there could be a lot of devil in the details," he said.

And Davis' email to the campus community last week tried to clarify the specific types of programs he wants to concentrate on and calm those fears.

While the list could change in the coming months, Davis said he would like to concentrate UA programs on biomedical sciences, cultural and ethnic studies of the American Southwest, and water-related engineering, to name a few.

While Davis' list excludes a hefty number of current UA programs, faculty members are optimistic about the plan.

At a faculty senate meeting earlier this week, faculty members said they supported "Focused Excellence," but wanted to be included in future discussions about the plan.


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