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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Great expectations for Shelton

    Today, Robert Shelton will be formally inaugurated as the UA’s 19th president.

    Tomorrow, the honeymoon officially ends.

    The start of Shelton’s term has been buffeted by seemingly innumerable welcomes, accolades, plaudits and public love-fests. But after tomorrow, the gloves come off. We’re expecting big things from Shelton – but it looks likely that he’s up to the challenge.

    During his short tenure here, he’s already made some fairly bold moves: He enacted campuswide budget cuts before summer break even ended and pulled UA support from the downtown Tucson Rainbow Bridge project when it became apparent that the project would entail greater costs than value to the university.

    While President Likins’ focus was consensus-building and developing a broad base of support, during his short time in office it’s been clear that Shelton’s key attribute is decisiveness. Hopefully, he’ll use that quality to help the UA grow into one of the premier public universities in America.

    The big issues for Shelton to address are clear: He must deal with the UA’s financial shortfalls, respond to ongoing retention issues and attract the best students to the school. How? Here are a few of our suggestions:

    Focus on money: With a mercurial state Legislature that doesn’t dependably make education a priority, Shelton must be willing to look for money creatively. The budget cuts already enacted were intended to take the UA out of “”crisis mode”” and develop sustainable funding channels for the university. That’s great. But remaining in budget-cut mode on a long-term basis is not sustainable either. Let’s see more pressure for full funding from the state Legislature and efforts to match Likins’ Herculean efforts in securing outside funding.

    Focus on programming: The committee established by the Faculty Senate to investigate and make recommendations to improve the status of general education classes at the UA is a good start, but it’s not enough. Right now, the UA’s gen ed program provides a random smattering of subject material taught at inconsistent levels of difficulty – a mere epigone for the broad and consistent core curriculums in place at other universities, both public and private. Fixing gen eds will help improve freshman retention rates – still a problem here after years of effort – by providing meaningful academic experiences early on.

    It would also be a smart move to direct more funding toward the Honors College. Right now, the college functions more as a “”bonus”” for students who choose to attend here. With more resources at its disposal, the college could certainly become an attraction to this university in its own right. Let’s take a page from Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College on this one.

    Focus on professors: Shelton has already requested an $8.4 million fund increase from the state to augment professor salaries. And that’s a good thing – UA’s salaries are 10 percent below those of peer groups. Retaining the best professors will help keep the best students and the best research at this university.

    As Shelton is inaugurated, our focus moves quickly to the accomplishments we’ll recall at his retirement. Hopefully, his time here will result in positive changes and unprecedented prestige for our campus, tempered with faithfulness to the traditions and spirit that make the UA what it is.

    Welcome to campus, Shelton. Now show us what you can do.

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