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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Shelton’s parting words

Robert Shelton
Robert Shelton

For five years, President Robert Shelton led the UA during some of the most difficult economic times in its 125-year history.

Two weeks ahead of his departure to become executive director of the Fiesta Bowl, he doesn’t deny the strain of the past few years.

“”The constant demands on my time just started taking their toll,”” Shelton said. “”The Fiesta Bowl came up on short notice and I just felt it was time for a change.””

That change comes in the aftermath of some of the steepest budget cuts in school history, the latest in a slide that has seen the UA’s state funding drastically decrease since 2008. But Shelton said he does not believe his departure will set the university back.

“”I think for the next few years you’re going to see a lot of stability from a budget perspective,”” he said.

Shelton also praised institutional fundraising efforts, which have set records for donations even during the recession.

As for the lasting impression he made on the UA, Shelton said he thought the university’s commitment to financial aid stands out, including programs like Arizona Assurance, which provides aid to low-income, in-state students. He also said steps taken to cultivate the UA’s research profile nationwide have kept the university’s name “”in the spotlight.””

“”All of these advances and successes are a collaborative effort,”” Shelton said. “”They’re certainly not just mine.””

Shelton characterized his biggest failure as an inability to communicate effectively with the state Legislature, particularly on matters of funding for the university.

“”I feel that I still haven’t gotten the message about how important we are to this state, having a research institution is important,”” Shelton said. “”And, as much as I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to communicate that to all parties.””

Shelton said the next UA president needs to be someone who is willing to embrace the UA’s practice of shared governance and accept input from all invested parties.

“”Somebody coming in has to have that mindset that says we are better because we work together, not try and be a top-down, dictatorial kind of leader,”” Shelton said.

But Shelton admitted that anyone taking the position will have to bear the burden of expectation.  

“”I think for this situation everybody wants someone who can walk on water, probably while playing the violin,”” he said.

On the man replacing him on Aug. 1, former Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Gene Sander, Shelton expressed nothing but confidence, calling him an “”inspired choice”” to lead the UA.

“”He (Sander) is a marvelous, stabilizing choice for this period,”” Shelton said.  

Shelton said he understands if students resent him for leaving the UA, but was quick to point out the Fiesta Bowl’s recent struggles: a corruption controversy that forced the resignation of several of the bowl’s highest-ranking officials.

He said he considered the scandal when debating whether to accept the position, but was satisfied by the clean-up efforts put forth by the bowl in recent months. He also said he views the situation as an opportunity.

During his time at the UA, Shelton was a member of the presidential oversight committee for the Bowl Championship Series, the system responsible for determining college football’s national championship. The committee is charged with managing the BCS, including matters of policy.

Shelton said he thinks his academic background will help him bring a new perspective to the realm of collegiate athletics. He also said his prior experience in managing large operations, some bigger in scale than the Fiesta Bowl, should also serve him well.

“”I’ve never been afraid to delve into numbers. As a physicist, numbers don’t scare me,”” Shelton said, laughing.   

Shelton also said he believes his experience with student athletes, including his daughter and wife, gives him the tools to succeed in his new position.

“”The challenge moving forward is emphasizing the academic part of student athletes, making sure we support those young men and women … but also give them the support they need in the classroom,”” he said. “”I’ve seen the amount of time that goes into this, and I really respect these young people.””

Despite his excitement about his new position, Shelton said there are things about the UA he is going to miss, especially one thing: the students.

“”I think the students here are the best,”” Shelton said. “”They’re passionate about the institution, they’re passionate about society, they’re always open, engaged and interested. Whenever I have a bad day, and I have very few of those cranky days, I find that talking with a group of students can remind me that everything is right in the world.””

Shelton will officially depart the presidency on Aug. 1 and Sander will replace him. The Arizona Board of Regents is currently conducting a search to find Shelton’s long-term replacement.

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