Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 30, 2010


Host: Ted Simons

University of Arizona President


  • University of Arizona President Robert Shelton talks about the university and the state of higher education in our state.
Guests:
  • Robert Shelton - President, University of Arizona
Category: Education

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
The University of Arizona has 38,000 students pumps $2 billion a year into the state's economy. Here to talk about the challenges and opportunities facing the U of A and all three of the state's universities is University of Arizona president, Robert Shelton. Good to see you again. Thank for joining us.

Robert Shelton:
thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Ted Simons:
You guys are expanding into Phoenix. What's going on?

Robert Shelton:
It's a very exciting time. We have the Phoenix biomedical campus that brings our college of medicine, college of pharmacy, college of public health, and of course we're working closely with ASU, they have a fantastic college of nursing, and NAU already bringing down their health affairs programs to downtown Phoenix.

Ted Simons:
Continuing cooperation, this is going forward, not stalling anywhere too much?

Robert Shelton:
We are moving forward now in spite of all the budget constraints. Pretty soon you're going to see a big hole in the ground for the health sciences education building. That's going up. We're working now to bring a branch of the really world renowned Arizona cancer center to that biomedical campus. So we do have challenges, we're looking for donations. But medicine is important, it is going to be the financial, economic driver for Maricopa County in the future.

Ted Simons:
And I want to you talk more about the valley of the University research. We had Claudia Dreyfuss on the program, we talked about her book, which was cowritten, subtitled, "how colleges are wasting our money and failing our kids." Are colleges wasting our money and failing our kids? Is in a valid any that?

Robert Shelton:
As you can imagine, I have a very different point of view. I can't speak for all colleges, but I can certainly speak for the University of Arizona, where we turn out degrees, high-quality degrees, very efficiently. The research programs that we have in place, you mentioned the numbers, but in addition to the numbers,R are very much oriented to the needs of the people of Arizona. It goes hat in hand with the land grant tradition. So when we're working on issues like health, hydrology, all of those are important to the state of Arizona.

Ted Simons:
And yet she criticizes Universities in general saying that research especially hurts the primary mission of a University of a college, which is to teach undergrads. Talk about that idea.

Robert Shelton:
Well, I think there's where the dispute is. There are some great colleges in this country that do focus solely on undergraduate education. That's an option many people choose to take. For a research University, University of Arizona, member of the AAU, public and private, we have more than that one dimensional mission. In fact, we engage undergraduates in the act of discovery. Two-thirds of our students is undergrad was engage in some kind of internship, some kind of research, it might be in a lab, in a dig in the summer, and we have to realize, this is part and parcel of what we've always done. Back when we were focus order ago and mining, students would get out and do those internships in the field. So this is very much a part of the learning, the education process, students try these professions on for size, they decide where to go and they're learning outside of the classroom. That's available to them because of the $600 million a year that the University of Arizona faculty attract to the state of Arizona.

Ted Simons:
And yet she will say that's all fine and dandy, I think she would agree with you on that. But she would say, do we need another one or 2,000 papers this year looking into the historical context of William Faulkner?

Robert Shelton:
It's interesting, I am of the golden fleece era, and a lot of those awards went on for programs that have had great impact on society. For example, the laser. Who would have known what the laser was going to do when it came out it was used to pop red balloons situated inside of clear balloons. Now it's everywhere. What about issues in biomedical? Do we want people in Arizona to be the early beneficiaries of these research discoveries, or do we want them going somewhere else? You can always make an argument based on one anecdote here or there, but overwhelmingly I think people would have to agree that a research University puts back into the community a lot more than it takes out.

Ted Simons:
Very quickly, a criticism in this book and Goldwater institute put out this criticism, too much administrative bloat. I know you can't wait to get that the one.

Robert Shelton:
I hear from my faculty about the bloated administration. The goldwater institute decided what conclusion they wanted to draw, and they doctored the data. What they did was, they put everybody into the administrative bin, that wasn't teaching a class. So, for example, our research programs, our post-Docs, graduate students, teaching assistance, doing their own research, they were count as administrators. So what we're being is penalized for growing research, growing our ago extension programs, etc., those people would all be counted as administrators.

Ted Simons:
OK. I gotta keep things moving. Aims scholarships for Arizona students. Those are things that will be cut. What are your thoughts there?

Robert Shelton:
I think it was a step that was necessary. And the important point to remember here, and I appreciate getting this out to your viewers, the important point is, we will, as our sister institution, we'll continue to put all of those dollars into financial aid. It's just that we will now be able to gear the merit and the need-based aid according to merit and need, and not be confined by a test that really was sophomore level high school work.

Ted Simons:
And yet the school's chief, Tom horn S. baste saying this is a great motivational tool, that students in the Universities that are there with aims scholarships have better GPAs than those who aren't there. I don't know about those numbers, but the idea of a motivational tool, certainly there.

Robert Shelton:
I think we can still have motivational tools. When we tell people about our Arizona assurance program, when we tell people about merit-based scholarships. The motivational tools will be there, and they'll be better matched to those students that really merit significant cash and those students that have need for that cash as well.

Ted Simons:
A couple of state lawmakers, Pearce says universities have more to give as far as budget cuts are concerned, Kavanaugh says likely to see more cuts to universities than to K-12. How much more can higher education be cut?

Robert Shelton:
It depends on what kind of higher education you want in the state of Arizona. If, like me, if like the voters who passed prop 100, basically a 2-1 ratio, feel education is part of the future of this state, then I think you have to be very cautious about further deep cuts. We've lost $100 million from 440 to 340, that's a huge percentage cut. When John Kavanagh, whom I respect, when he says it's been a 5% cut in the last couple years, that's just a bogus number. He's using the tuition dollars that we remit to the state, they turn around and give us, he's using that as part of the calculation. I don't think that's the way the families who are paying this tuition would calculate state support to higher education.

Ted Simons:
So how do you -- I'm a lawmaker. How do you convince me that a state, when which the budget is going to go crazy in the next couple years, how do you -- tell me that we need to keep higher education where it is if not let it grow?

Robert Shelton:
What I've said all along is, we understand that the state has these severe budget problems. We as an institution are prepared to do our work to do our share, and we have been. We have cut 20% out of our budget. We have dealt with that by making hard choices. I think the legislature needs to make hard choices that include considering revenue generation. Look at prop 100. The voters understand that, yes, we have to make cuts. But you can't cut your way fully to a solution. There have to be other components.

Ted Simons:
Do you think, though, bottom level here, is there political will to push higher education in Arizona? Are we there yet?

Robert Shelton:
This is a really key question. And I think the disheartening factor to me isn't that we have a tough budget. Many states have tough budgets. It's where we're setting our priorities. And we're not preparing ourselves to come out of this for an educated population that's going to have high-paying jobs, that's going to pump money into the economy. We cannot go back to a situation where we're content with just high school educated folks in Arizona.

Ted Simons:
All right. President Shelton, good to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Robert Shelton:
Thank you.

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