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'Excellence' needs 'planning'

Illustration by Arnie Bermudez
By Daniel Scarpinato
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday September 12, 2003

Tucson needs help, and now. Locals have stuck their noses up at expanding roads and highways, while at the same time opting out of public transportation development. The result has been devastating: rush hour is longer and sprawl has sprawled further.

But there is hope. Tucson can still make or break its transportation policy. And our fine city can do so in large part because the UA has a recognized program for urban and city planning with a highly accomplished faculty.

So it seems peculiar that the UA administration is devoted to cutting this program, one that is a major asset to the local community.

The plight of the School of Planning dates back to January, when President Peter Likins and Provost George Davis announced their plans to make the UA more "excellent."

The School of Planning cut was buried under a bunch of other changes that in most cases amounted simply to new lingo for preexisting departments and colleges.

Daniel Scarpinato

Yes, other areas were slated for cuts, like library sciences and humanities. Ultimately, library sciences was spared from the bloody axe. And while the humanities program will indeed be cut, it was not as specialized a field as planning, so faculty can still find spots elsewhere and students can still obtain a liberal arts education at the UA.

Now look, Likins and Davis are smart guys. One would hope that they have an understanding of how to run the university and where improvements can be made.

But it's interesting that after a year of talk about how the university would be trimmed here and tucked there through "Focused Excellence" in order to make it more manageable and equitable, the only program being aggressively targeted is planning.

Administrators have given some reasons why they want to cut it the most compelling being that planning is a one-degree program with no doctoral program available.

But that's pretty lame in the face of hard facts about the school.

In the first place, even administrators have conceded that the school has a relatively small budget, and thus that it's elimination wouldn't free up much money.

Furthermore, according to Barbara Becker, director of the school, over the past five years the school has brought $88 million to Tucson in federal and state funds. Among the projects the school has been involved with: the redevelopment of south 6th Avenue in South Tucson.

Even faculty at Arizona State University, which carries a planning program of its own, have urged that the school should stay. Its specialty in international borderland planning is unique and valuable, particularly considering the UA's proximity to the Mexican border.

Tucson has been at a fork in the road for years, and has yet to make a decision about which way to veer.

Does the Old Pueblo want to model itself after other modern cities, like Phoenix, and rely on almost no planning and thought? Or does it want to create an atmosphere that is enjoyable, livable and attractive?

Republican Mayor Bob Walkup desperately wants Tucson to be the "Optics Valley" of the west, meaning a place with a high concentration of high-tech optical companies; however, we might lose that fight to some other city like Boulder or Albuquerque. There are a lot of reasons for that, but a big one is the fact that Tucson is not necessarily the most enjoyable place to live.

Davis said of the program, "There hasn't been the kind of stability in programming to develop the excellence that we expect."

Well then, why not work to develop the kind of excellence that you expect, Provost Davis?

In 1994 the elite local media publicly hanged President Manuel Pacheco and Provost Paul Sypherd when they proposed cutbacks in programs. Why? Because the Department of Journalism was among them.

Now, nine years later, the same media is ignoring and in some cases praising the proposed cut of a far more important and recognized program than journalism because it doesn't serve their needs.

Becker is holding out hope, but the future looks grim both for the School of Planning and the future urban development of Tucson.

Let's hope the school's faculty will relocate and our sprawling city will recover.

Daniel Scarpinato is a journalism and political science senior. He can be reached at

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'Excellence' needs 'planning'
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