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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    What is the role of an ex-UA president?

    Shortly after the school year began, President Robert Shelton had former presidents John Paul Schaefer, Manuel T. Pacheco and Peter Likins over for dinner. With the exception of Henry Koffler, who couldn’t make it, it was a meeting of the past 35 years of UA history.

    I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for that occasion.

    The most enduring symbol of the university is its campus, but the president is up there, and not just because many UA buildings bear the names of UA presidents. When the acting president speaks in public, he, figuratively speaking, is the university.

    Truth be told, they say they talked almost no business that night, with the exception of relating how one enduring challenge at the university has been the struggle to get funding from the state.

    But the meeting begs an interesting question: What is the proper role of a former UA president?

    One would think that outgoing presidents would maintain a working relationship with their successors, called in for their experience and expertise. But in reality, what’s more common is for the president to finish his last day and move on, only consulted on infrequent occasions when the current president calls for advice. The extent of their relationship is almost exclusively a social one.

    “”I saw (former presidents) occasionally socially, and there were a couple professional discussions, but they were essentially very good about not unnecessarily providing advice but very good when asked for it,”” Pacheco said.

    Indeed, Pacheco said each president has his (or, hopefully one day, her) own style for decision making. Shelton said he appreciates the freedom that past presidents are affording him.

    “”None of them intrudes with my presidency in any way – not even a hint,”” Shelton said. “”Yet each is available whenever I have questions about the history of the UA and how we got to our current position.””

    On the one hand, it would be nice if outgoing presidents would take a big role after the presidency. But asking them to do so would be selfish. They work their tails off as president, and they deserve a break. How many CEOs then become CFOs, and how many U.S. presidents then become senators?

    Instead, once a UA president finishes his tenure, it’s either the next venture or retirement, often depending on age. For Schaefer, who was a young 36 when inaugurated as UA president, it was a long tenure with Research Corporation, a foundation for scientific research. His big achievement was organizing the Large Binocular Telescope, and now he has retired and is working on building the even more ambitious Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.

    Pacheco moved on to head the University of Missouri system and only retired in 2003. He is currently out of retirement for a brief period serving an interim position at New Mexico Highlands University while the school searches for a new president.

    All of them serve on boards and commissions. Likins says he regularly travels to New York and Washington, D.C., for work with different commissions.

    But oftentimes a university president retiring is like a U.S. president retiring. In their field, it’s the big achievement. They are often finishing a long career of working up the administrative ladder, which means they had to put in many years of long hours. Likins says being the UA president is a demanding, 24/7 job. When it’s over, it’s like a giant exhale.

    “”My wife accepted my total commitment to my work for 50 years of marriage. She is now happy to see more of me, and to see me under less pressure,”” he said.

    Likins is now a frequent attendee of UA athletic and cultural events. He also plans to drive to California often to be with family.

    “”I am doing whatever I want to do,”” he said.

    Pacheco said he too enjoys the freedom that retirement provides.

    “”Being retired is terrific because you can pick and choose what you get involved with and pursue issues you’re really interested in, but because you want to, not had to.””

    Presidents certainly have a vested interest in the performance of their successor, however, so they can’t just walk away. Besides caring about the future of the university, they in turn are judged in part by their successor.

    “”A presidency is most effective in shaping the long-term future of a university when it is followed by another presidency with similar aspirations. President Shelton will have a great deal of influence in determining the long-term effect of my presidency. I will watch with interest,”” Likins said.

    Some would say that being the president of a university is a very good job to have. There’s universal affection, and then when it’s over, a building with your name on it. For Pacheco, it was being informed that he would be the eponym of the Manuel T. Pacheco Integrated Learning Center.

    “”I was very pleased about that,”” he said.

    Ryan Johnson is a senior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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