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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Shelton faces students

    UA President Robert Shelton answered students questions about the UA Transformation process Wednesday afternoon at the SUMC Tucson Room.
    UA President Robert Shelton answered students’ questions about the UA Transformation process Wednesday afternoon at the SUMC Tucson Room.

    After weeks of open forums, town halls and Faculty Senate meetings, students finally got their turns to speak out about the ongoing UA Transformation Plan, its possible consequences and what to expect for the future. The forum for conversation resulted in a lively student town hall meeting with President Robert Shelton at the Student Union Memorial Center on Wednesday.

    Both undergraduate and graduate students questioned Shelton about a variety of issues, but focused mainly on growing class sizes, rising tuition and the possibility of losing some of the best students or professors at the university.

    The goal of this plan “”is to make this an even better university,”” Shelton said to the crowd of about 80 students. This premise is convoluted by the “”hard facts of the matter,”” he said, pointing out that this is a hard time for the UA economically and that budget cuts are nothing new.

    “”We just can’t keep doing the same-old, same-old,”” Shelton said. “”We have to make hard decisions . . . based on collective wisdom.””

    These hard decisions will focus not on trimming back all programs, but eliminating some things so that “”what we are doing we are doing well, which is the core goal,”” he said.

    Such eliminations of programs will not affect students already in the programs, as Shelton emphasized that these students will be able to complete their studies and get a degree at UA, but that no new students will be added.

    Rachel Leffall, who is working on her masters degree in higher education, asked Shelton how the university plans to balance cutting programs with an increasing number of students without reducing the quality of classes.

    “”This is one of these situations where you’re literally between a rock and a hard spot,”” Shelton said.

    By reducing enrollment, the university can more easily manage class sizes and find open spots for students who need particular classes. However, it also means that “”when the State does its (budget) calculation on enrollment, we start to lose $1 million here, $2 million there,”” he said.

    “”We look very carefully at enrollment,”” Shelton said. “”We’re trying to feather our way through to slight increases and thus not lose more state money.””

    Lucy Blaney, a Spanish and Portuguese graduate student, teaches classes on both subjects to which Provost Meredith Hay added two more students each.

    Blaney, who did not receive a corresponding increase in pay, asked Shelton, “”While students are being asked to pay more in tuition, how are we going to be able to offer them quality education if we are packing them in like sardines and underfunding our graduate student teachers?””

    Speaking over the applause from students, Shelton pointed out that it is difficult to enroll all the students who need certain courses to graduate on time without going past the point “”where you are no longer to deliver that kind of education that you want to.

    “”We are going to continue to be between this rock and a hard spot until the state decides to fund higher education,”” Shelton said.

    Michael Slugocki, board chair of the Arizona Students Association, is concerned with preserving quality advising, class availability and an overall quality education from a variety of sources at the UA.

    Slugocki said the administration has been extremely cooperative with students and agrees that the state legislature “”doesn’t view education as the priority it should be . . . that it is a number one issue to how to increase economic growth in the state of Arizona.””

    Stephan Bieda, president of the Graduate Professional Student Council, agreed that the administration has been much more open about the UA Transformation Plan than it was with Focused Excellence, a plan that led to cuts in certain programs during former UA President Peter Likins’ term.

    However, the current plan is much more comprehensive and is restricted by a very short timeframe, Bieda said.

    “”I would call it Focused Excellence on steroids,”” Bieda said.

    Bieda has received a wide variety of concerns from graduate students around campus and is happy that the administration has been receptive to it, he said.

    The biggest concern is the timeline, he said. “”A month and two days is a little fast,”” Bieda said, referring to the amount of time between the announcement of this plan on Sept. 3 and the deadline for the White Paper Proposals on Monday.

    Ezekiel Gebrekidane, a chemistry senior and former senator for the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, asked Shelton if there is a long-term plan for the university to raise money so that students “”don’t lose some of the best professors on this campus.””

    Securing endowments to get the best people, both students and faculty, has been one of Shelton’s primary concerns since coming to the UA, he said. During his two years in office, the UA has raised 16 new endowed chairs, increasing the number by 25 percent.

    “”As soon as we cannot compete for the very, very best people – whether it’s the top students, staff or faculty – then this university’s reputation will start to decline,”” he said.

    Camila Guzman, a psychology sophomore, asked Shelton for reassurance on how to stabilize students’ stay at the UA.

    “”This University of Arizona is one of the great public universities in this country and the world. . . . It’s going to continue to be that,”” Shelton said.

    “”Quantity is not quality. We may be doing too many things,”” he said, referring to the possibility of cutting programs that are no longer relevant or do not fit the mission and specialization of the school.

    “”It’s going to be a hard 18 months . . . but you know, that’s life,”” Shelton said. “”I think there are a lot of really smart people at this university, and we’re going to use them to figure this out.””

    Both the ASUA and GPSC are drafting proposals for Oct. 13, and all of the white papers will be available on the provost’s Web site soon after that.

    Bieda and ASUA President Tommy Bruce encouraged students to share their views on the transformation with them at and

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