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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Likins discusses time at UA

    Editor’s note: The day before UMC surgeons replaced part of President Likins’ pacemaker and repaired a muscle wall by his heart after he nearly fainted in his office, Wildcat reporters sat down for an hour-long interview with Likins to discuss his tenure at the UA.

    Reflections on a leader
    George Davis,

    “”He speaks on all topics honestly. He doesn’t hold the cards close to the chest.””

    Saundra Taylor,
    Sr. VP for Campus Life

    “”I always felt like he valued what I was doing. He had a way of making you feel special and integral to what he was doing.””

    Erin Hertzog,
    ASUA president

    “”I could talk forever about President Likins, and I think any student would. We are very grateful for him. He will be missed.””

    Ben Graff,
    student regent

    “”In all the ways we look at diversity, he truly has instilled in this campus that we can only learn in this campus if we are surrounded by a diverse faculty, diverse environment and diverse administration.””

    As the president of the UA since 1997, Peter Likins said he feels like he has accomplished an incredible amount during his time here, but he is unsure whether history will agree with all of his choices.

    Likins said he was proud of the decisions he has made, including the implementation of the Focused Excellence strategy, the historic expansion of the College of Medicine in Phoenix and his decision to cut certain programs while saving others.

    “”When you judge a presidency from a historical perspective, it is a totally different evaluation,”” Likins said.

    Likins has helmed the UA through a myriad changes in its funding, including a substantial decline in state contributions, the growing reliance on research dollars, sharp jumps in tuition and the need to focus university resources to select programs and departments at the cost of others.

    Likins said the decline in state funding is not unique to Arizona, and he has changed his message to persuade reluctant legislators into funding higher education.

    “”As a matter of practical reality, investments of the people through state taxes in public universities have been in decline for 30 years,”” Likins said. “”The way I get money today is to say ‘boy, give me a dollar to invest in a research building and the faculty will bring in $5.’ … Politicians are willing to invest (in higher education) when they see a return on their investments.””

    Likins said he has been willing to accept the need for increases in tuition because there is a public perception students should be paying more for higher education.

    “”So there is a kind of an idea out there, not my idea but America’s idea, that you educated young people derive much of the benefits, much of the rewards, so you should pay much of the price. There is a shift of financial responsibility from taxpayer to tuition payer. And I frankly think that is OK so long as the student can afford to pay,”” Likins said.

    When asked about Focused Excellence, Likins said he was proud of the program.

    “”I know in my heart and my mind that Focused Excellence is right for this university. We simply should not try to do all things for all people. If we do, we will perform at a mediocre level,”” he said.

    Likins also touched on his decision to eliminate certain programs at the UA.

    “”What we academics tend to cut are programs that are in the periphery because we think that is less central to our academic mission. We eliminated medical technology, that is out in the periphery, that is someone preparing someone for a career. We did not eliminate classics or philosophy because those are at the core of the university,”” Likins said. “”The markets would have said to eliminate classics, for goodness sakes, in order to save medical technology.””

    Likins said the UA is also competing with the likes of Stanford and UCLA for research contracts, which account for 37 percent of the UA budget.

    “”Competition for research dollars is becoming more acute, and it is a concern to us,”” he said.

    The day after massive protests across the country regarding proposed comprehensive immigration reform, Likins discussed some of the major protests held on campus during his presidency.

    “”The Students Against Sweatshops spent 10 nights in my anteroom in sleeping bags, and I respected the way they handled themselves and I dealt with them in a respectful way,”” Likins said.

    But the president said he had a different reaction when Students Against Sweatshops chained themselves to the doors of the University of Arizona administration building.

    “”Now some of those same students a couple of years later, in the dark of night, locked themselves to the doors to enter this building with the purpose of keeping us from entering in the morning. I got a call very early in the morning from a cleaning woman whom I know, a friend, who was locked in the building. That’s illegal. That’s illegal (because it’s a fire hazard) and (because of) other kinds of personal risks. So I called the cops and they were arrested,”” Likins said. “”If the student movement moves across a certain line, then I react firmly. But if they are just responsibly expressing an opinion about a subject that they feel passionately about, I think that’s wonderful.””

    He said it was important for students to become involved in political protests, remembering major student protests against the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa.

    Likins said that as president of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, he was pressured by the student and the local community into not investing in any corporations that had a South African presence, including General Motors and IBM.

    “”I think it is a very healthy thing for students to think beyond the moment … to think beyond next week’s exams, and think about what is happening in the world,”” Likins said. “”If you think about these things, then you feel this certain righteous indignation that some of these things are just wrong … you should express yourself.””

    When asked about what the future holds for him, Likins said he was unsure.

    “”I was always pushing myself. That means my whole life, not just my 24 years as university president but my whole life. I have been pushing, pushing, pushing all my life. And then in 2006, when I retire, I have no idea what my life will be like,”” he said.

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