EDITORIAL: Education before profit

Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 19, 2006

Next president should run UA cost-effectively, but not at students' expense

By all accounts, campus power players seem to be exceedingly pleased, if not downright giddy, with the four finalists for UA president.

There seems to be no weak candidate of the four, and the search committee should be applauded for finding finalists who are diverse.

Yet while Tom Campbell, Deborah Freund, Yash P. Gupta and Robert Shelton appear different at first glance, Campbell, Freund and Gupta are, in reality, cut from the same cloth - business.

It's no secret that the Arizona Board of Regents has yearned for a president who runs the UA like a multimillion-dollar company. It was a topic raised during the search for President Peter Likins and again when Michael Crow was chosen to run Arizona State University.

There is a great deal of logic to the belief that a corporate-minded academic should be in charge at the UA. In 2004 the UA's total revenue was $1.1 billion, according to the UA Factbook. The UA also employs nearly 43,000 people in Arizona and has an estimated economic impact of $1.9 billion on the state.

In addition to managing a massive budget, the UA president must also be able to strategically plan the institution's future in light of the state Legislature's unwillingness to invest in education.

Candidates like Campbell, Freund and Gupta have distinguished themselves as ardent academics consciously mindful of the bottom line, and this must surely leave regents salivating at their prospects.

However, before regents and the UA community give the next president rubber-stamp approval and symbolically change the title from UA president to CEO, members of the search committee should carefully consider the university's purpose.

Before the UA was a world leader in research and biotechnology or a cultural and artistic center of the Southwest, it was a land-grant institution. Before any other purpose, this university was established for Arizona residents with the mission of educating them.

This university was created for students of this state, who attend through the aid of the state and its tax base.

Business savvy and long-term planning are a must for any candidate, but the committee must select an individual who has knowledge of whom the big decisions ultimately impact: students and faculty.

Financial game-planning and streamlining the UA won't increase graduation rates or solve class shortages. Slick talk and a corporate atmosphere won't stop brain drain or give students the tools they need to stay on campus instead of dropping out.

Fiscal planning that is more concerned with keeping the university ledger in the black will not solve minority recruitment and retention problems.

There is a host of problems that the next UA president must face, and there is no doubt the search committee is aware of all of them. But ultimately, the lure of a business leader must be tempered with the importance of a leader cognizant of the UA's true lifeblood.

To make the next president into a covert CEO would be a dangerous move for the UA, one that could ultimately stop the university from living up to its mission which has thrived since 1885.

OPINIONS BOARDOpinions are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Lori Foley, Caitlin Hall, Michael Huston, Ryan Johnson, Aaron Mackey, and Tim Runestad.