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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Editorial: We don’t need no stinkin’ state

    The $11 million cutback to the UA’s budget announced last week by the Arizona Board of Regents wasn’t a surprise for anyone. Arizona’s economy has started to cool, and the state budget has been a fiscal disaster for months. With an already-stingy state Legislature facing a huge budget shortfall of its own, a measure of fiscal prudence is inevitable, and in the current climate it makes sense for the regents to prepare Arizona’s universities to cut back.

    But though the cuts were predictable, they won’t be pleasant. This year’s reduction can be ably absorbed, but shrinking budgets invariably mean faculty either lured away or asked to leave, fewer and larger classes for students and the loss of various other academic amenities. Preventing academic excellence from shrinking along with the budget is essential, and as state support for education starts to shy – a trend that will only worsen as legislators finally try to tackle Arizona’s billion-dollar deficit – it’s imperative that the UA looks beyond the state’s coffers to come up with creative ways to generate cash.

    Fortunately, they’re already doing a pretty good job of it.

    Although the public contribution to the UA’s annual budget is significant, composing about 23 percent of the operating budget, private contributions are integral as well – and one of the most innovative means of private support is endowed professorships.

    Nearly 70 UA professors already hold endowed chairs, in which a portion of their salary is drawn from interest-bearing private gifts. Endowments can supplement faculty salaries, or in some cases even pay them entirely. Either way, they reduce the UA’s dependence on fleeting funding from the state and free up money to be allocated elsewhere. Even better, many of them ensure that important research and excellent courses have stable, consistent financial support.

    Just this week, two retired Phoenix teachers left $2.5 million to the College of Medicine to fund a pair of new research chairs. This year, new endowments have also been established in dance, engineering, management and consumer sciences. More fortunately, the total value of UA endowments continues to rise, from $466 million in 2006 to $536 million this year.

    In his “”State of the University”” address last semester, UA President Robert Shelton promised to “”lobby for an endowed professorship incentive fund that would provide matching funds to private donations that create endowed professorships.”” That’s a smart idea that we hope the university will actively pursue, especially now that state funding is uncertain. But it’s essential that the UA also aggressively seeks more – and more creative – endowments for faculty and beyond.

    Endowed chairs are one excellent solution, but the UA ought to actively look for others as well. Other top-tier public research universities, like UC Berkeley and the University of Michigan, have been pushed to seek more private funding by dwindling state support. Through creative partnerships with donors and corporate sponsors, both have become far more self-sufficient. In fact, Michigan has been described as a “”privately supported public university.”” We already have some sponsorships on campus – consider the companies that support classrooms in the Eller College of Management – but the UA should focus on setting up private support beyond the business school, as well.

    Endowments are an excellent way to retain talent and reduce the UA’s dependency on public funds. We hope the university redoubles its excellent effort to seek them out.

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