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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Editorial: Shelton clarifies his covenant

    When President Robert Shelton assumed the top job at the UA last year, he inherited a university in quiet crisis, as the anticipation of a new administration distracted from serious financial shortcomings. At his inauguration, Shelton vowed to forge a “”new covenant”” between the state of Arizona and its top research university, but progress towards that new vision was understandably sidelined by larger fiscal concerns.

    With a stubborn state Legislature unwilling to invest in higher education, and the legacy of an unbalanced budget left by previous presidents, Shelton was thrown into the difficult role of hard-nosed fiscal disciplinarian, leading a sometimes unpopular drive to shore up the university’s finances.

    His first year was dominated by two big budget cuts of almost $10 million each, along with other money matters such as nixing the big-ticket, small-brained “”Rainbow Bridge”” project and acquiring the notorious money-hole-cum-science-project Biosphere 2. Shelton’s sensible actions proved his mettle and demonstrated an ability to make tough administrative decisions – but for all his leadership, he had yet to articulate a clear vision for the University. Until yesterday.

    In his first State of the University address, Shelton declared that “”the state of the University of Arizona has never been better, our future never brighter,”” recapping an impressive list of the UA’s achievements over the past year.

    More important, however, he laid out a clear, commendable and ambitious vision for the university. “”We will be one of the 10 best public research universities in America,”” Shelton announced. “”We will improve the human condition for Arizonans. We will put people first, and quality will be our hallmark.”” Now that we are on sound fiscal footing, the UA can and should wholeheartedly dedicate itself to the pursuit of excellence. Shelton articulated a wise vision – one that we hope Arizona policymakers will have the courage to support, and UA leadership will have the dedication to carry out.

    Though he touched on faculty salaries, financial aid and facility improvements – all important issues for the UA in their own rights – the most intriguing and compelling item in Shelton’s address was his call for “”new funding models”” for Arizona’s public universities.

    Wildcats know all too well that the current criteria for funding higher education “”simply rewards size, without regard to quality,”” as Shelton candidly put it in his speech. As a university focusing on merit over might, state funding often fails to reward quality. Shelton suggested that the Legislature match research dollars attracted by top faculty, to leverage outside funding, encourage competition and reward excellence. Similarly, he called for an “”endowed professorship incentive fund”” from the private sector to help boost shamefully low faculty salaries.

    These are great ideas, but the president can’t do them alone. He’ll have to coax an unfriendly Legislature into encouraging competition between universities and recognizing the value of investing in excellence.

    He must also be willing to extend good ideas further. Skilled students are as important to an exceptional university as gifted faculty. Why not match scholarship dollars earned by talented students to build an incentive to recruit top students and increase access to the UA for Arizona students?

    President Shelton has articulated the covenant he promised a year and a half ago. Now, we hope he will lead with the fortitude necessary to fulfill it.

    Editorials are determined by the Wildcat Opinions Board and written by one of its members. They are Justyn Dillingham, Allison Hornick, Sarah Keeler, Connor Mendenhall and Jeremiah Simmons.

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