By Shain Bergan
When UA News released this video last week of University of Arizona President Robert Shelton “on the issues”, it was met with little to no fanfare, or even rather no recognition. It’s not hard to see why; there is certainly a lion’s share of routine talking points and the usual stock quotes to which we’ve all become way too accustomed since the initial memo announcing the beginning of the UA Transformation Process hit the presses in September 2008.
You know them—they string together phrases like “world-class institution” and “quality education” as if anyone is really buying that the mass reorganization, consolidation and cutting of UA programs nearly across the board are making us into a better university full of better students who will become better people to create a better world following their UA edification.
The video is almost a perfect summation of the what the UA faculty and students have been damn angry about for almost two years now—the inability of the university leaders to just admit that we’re all screwed.
I get it. Times are tough. It’s difficult to run a university when the state slashes $100 million out from under you. But please, Mr. President and Ms. Provost, call it what it is. It’s not “maintaining a quality education”; it’s trying to make sure that at least some quality is left following cuts and tuition hikes unprecedented in Arizona’s educational history. Students aren’t children anymore; neither are the faculty members. It’s time to fess up and admit what everyone already knows—that the actual “quality” of that piece of paper you get following graduation isn’t what it used to be…and it’s only going to get worse in Arizona.
But a funny thing happened on the way to trying to take part in quality university education. The clouds parted and you saw your opportunity, Mr. President. You see, you’ve been a scientist and physicist at UC-San Diego, Iowa State University, UC-Davis and the University of North Carolina. You were even the Vice Chancellor for Research at UC-Davis and the Vice Provost for Research for the UC’s President’s Office.
You’re a science man and most likely proud of it (and rightfully so). So it makes sense that when the UA Transformation began in the fall of 2008, you saw an opportunity—an opportunity to take a university which was already excelling in science and research, and make that the university’s identity.
Oh, I’m sure you knew there would be casualties—fallen soldiers with names like Fine Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences. But hey, the UA’s funding was getting cut severely anyway. Those programs would’ve suffered nonetheless, I’m sure, right? So why not put most of the resources into science and research and cement the UA’s identity as an excellent research facility?
I’m sure this is exactly what you thought. And you put those thoughts into action, an action known as the UA Transformation Plan.
There’s just one problem, sir. There’s a thing called instruction—research’s quasi-cousin. And it is that instruction which is becoming the biggest casualty of all in the UA Transformation Plan. Slice and spin it all you want. Dress it up in emperor’s new clothes-esque phrases like “world-class”, but no matter what you call some excrement on your front porch, when push comes to shove, it’s still just a big pile of shit.
Science and research may be what bring in the big money grants, but social sciences aren’t just program names on a President’s Office dartboard. They are people—leaders, professors, students, etc. It’s these people who are suffering. What’s the excuse? Is it just for the “greater good”?
Tuition is on a ridiculous rise. Fees are being passed through a flawed system devoid of actual student involvement. Everyone knows their degree just doesn’t hold the candle it used to. And last, but not least, confidence in UA leaders is falling…dramatically.
You can’t handle this institution. You’ve said it yourself, Mr. President. You’ve said it every time that you’ve blamed the State Legislature for the UA’s problems. You’ve said it every time you release a memo whining about what you admit later were inevitable circumstances that should be planned for. You’ve said it every time you’ve brushed legitimate concerns aside with the assertion that people just aren’t as wise as you, so they don’t understand.
It’s long past due for you to show that wisdom. You can’t be a great leader when you assure everyone everything’s going to be all right on one hand, while panicking and tossing out blame on the other hand. You simultaneously harp on about the quality of the UA degree while at the same time signing off on half-baked consolidations and probably even uncalled-for dismissals of UA faculty.
Everybody’s sick of this charade, Mr. President. And it’s time to end it.
Either you can lead us or you can’t. Either we can excel or we can’t. Either the UA will prevail or it will fall at the hands of state cuts. You can’t have it both ways anymore. It’s time to pick a side. It’s easy to play the blame game—point the finger when things go wrong and taking all the credit when things go right.
But no one’s buying into it anymore. Your faculty and staff have no confidence in you. That should mean one thing: It’s time.
It’s time to put all your cards on the table and tell us straightforward what can be done and what can’t. It’s time for you to admit that in a few years, we’re going to be Arizona Tech. It’s time for you to let the students know that if they’re not planning on a career in science research, they should probably choose another university.
It’s time for you and the provost to stop using “world class” and “quality of education” in the same breath as the University of Arizona, because everyone can read right through it.
It’s time, Mr. President.