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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Six keys to success for Shelton

    Ryan Johnsoncolumnist
    Ryan Johnson

    On his first day of work in July, new UA President Robert Shelton stepped outside his Foothills home to a cheering pep squad, including a band playing “”Bear Down, Arizona.”” Now, almost two months into his job, the cheering still hasn’t stopped.

    Indeed, Shelton has a tremendous air of optimism about him. Accessible and gregarious, informed and aggressive, he is saying all the right things and crafting the perfect image. The image he conveys suggests that the UA’s challenges will quickly be solved and success is imminent.

    For now Shelton is enjoying the same initial optimism as a rookie senator, CEO or football coach. Shelton hasn’t yet caused controversy or made a big mistake, but he’s talked a lot about a brighter future, and that gets people excited. But just as re-election approaches, earnings calls come in and the playoffs loom, it will eventually be time to determine if

    Shelton deserves a contract extension.

    He comes in with the wind at his back. A major construction boom during the Likins years and a dramatically improved state

    budget picture give him the tools and potentially the money to bring back some of the UA’s lost swagger.

    Here is what he should do:

    • Get more money

    Perhaps the president’s most important role is as fundraiser in chief. Shelton’s will make his biggest impact on the UA based on how well he does in attracting donors and state funding. Arizona State University’s Michael Crow has been judged a big success in this. When homebuilder Ira Fulton donated yet another chunk of his fortune last fall, he didn’t say that ASU would get more. He said that Michael Crow would get more.

    Shelton needs to use this power to build on Campaign Arizona, which raised $1 billion for the UA. Similarly, he needs to get more money from the state. Shelton has put himself in a role of eternal conflict over how much money the UA gets. Securing state funding is a game, and a crucially important one at that. Shelton needs to play strong and bring home the bacon.

  • Spend money more wisely
  • Shelton talks big about using an enterprise model in determining funding, as opposed to an agency model. In other words, the university needs to act more like a business than a government. This means that performance should determine where funding goes.

    Departments shouldn’t expect to get more money just for existing.

    Sounds great, but where will Shelton cut? If he succeeds in making big changes, he will have conquered one of Likins’ demons.

  • Improve classroom experiences
  • In his letter to freshmen that appeared on these pages, Shelton says that the UA will be a lot of hard work. He must not have been referring to general education classes or classes in many majors (communications and education come to mind). A 2005 exposǸ in The New York Times that extensively studied the UA found what students and professors have long known – that students who so choose can easily avoid work. The article said there was an implicit contract between students, who want to focus on partying, and professors, who want to focus on their research. So professors don’t hold students accountable in exchange for good evaluations. This vicious cycle of reduced expectations needs to end. This means less grade inflation and more work.

    The UA is doing itself and these students a disservice by allowing this to continue. Learning is hard to measure quantitatively, but pretending the UA doesn’t have a problem with it is a mistake.

  • Attract better students
  • Ultimately, the university is in the business of producing smart and well-rounded students, and the easiest way to accomplish that is to attract smarter ones to begin with and serve them better.

    One of the more unfortunate statistics at the UA is the deplorable freshman retention rate. Some of this is natural, but we could improve it by addressing such weaknesse as class availability, advising, financial aid and marketing.

  • Attract better professors
  • The “”brain drain”” is old news, but it is still a problem. With the UA’s salaries still 10 percent below those of its peer group, many professors are only here because of inertia.

    But professors we are recruiting don’t have a house and family in Tucson to bring them here. As older professors retire, who will replace them?

    This is a sticky situation because raising all salaries just eats more and more money. But if Shelton finds an answer, it will be a major feather in his cap.

  • Pay attention to the small things
  • Rankings get all the news. Maybe the UA should be excited that it modestly jumped in the annual U.S. News and World Report rankings. It definitely should be pleased with its continued strong grant presence. But more importantly, it’s the small things. Are students involved? Do professors have a say in planning the course of the university? Are there good discussions in the dorms, and are there enough parking spots? Is greek life fun but still safe? Is the university inventing things that ultimately benefit the community?

    Good luck, President Shelton. We’re expecting big things.
    Ryan Johnson is a senior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at

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