New UA President

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Ann Weaver Hart talks about the challenges and opportunities she faces as the University of Arizona’s new president.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon. I'm Ted Simons.

A lawsuit looking to overturn Arizona's new redistricting maps was thrown out of court today by superior court judge who rules that half the complaints were invalid and calling for a short, plain statement of the issues. The complaints were 135 pages long and included too much irrelevant information. The Republicans have until November 9th to file an amended complaint on the three issues that were not dismissed outright.

University of Arizona has a new president. Ann Weaver Hart began serving as the U of A's 21st President in July. She comes to Arizona from Philadelphia where she served as president of Temple University. Here now to talk about the challenges and opportunities she faces in her new role, here is Ann Weaver Hart.

Ann Weaver Hart: Good to see you, too, thank you for the invitation.

Ted Simons: What led to you take this position?

Ann Weaver Hart: The University of Arizona has been a leader in public research universities for many years. I've been familiar with it in my career of higher education and always admired the institution. Knowing that I loved the institution, the west, then the phone call inviting me to consider being a candidate was welcome. Here I am.

Ted Simons: There you are, indeed. As far as priorities and a vision for how you want to see the U. of A., talk about what you want to see in the future.

Ann Weaver Hart: I think the University of Arizona has the opportunity of our location in the West. This is the future, where the epicenter of the U.S. is moving down to the Southwest; we're a great land grant university. We have the opportunity to set up a model for what research in a 21st Century University can be. That's a great opportunity for us, and we intend to pursue it. We have lots of great things preliminary accreditation for a College of Medicine-Phoenix, which will be a great opportunity to contribute to the education of young doctors for our state. But also in research and clinical work, to really have an impact on the nature of health care. I'm very excited about that.

Ted Simons: Indeed. We've had state lawmakers on this program who will criticize Arizona, ASU, even to some extent NAU, for the emphasis on research. They say this is not necessarily what these universities should be doing, the primary mission for college is to teach undergraduates. How do you respond to that?

Ann Weaver Hart: Well, for our nation, the life we created after World War II has absolutely come out of the great research universities. There are so many developments in every field of human endeavor that have come because of basic research, and the basic research translated into changes in our lives, that we wouldn't have the life we have now without the great research universities. All of us have benefited from that commitment to both basic knowledge and translation of knowledge to changes in our daily lives. When the internet -- the internet was invented in universities. None of us can imagine being without our handheld devices. That's just one example. It's critical that we understand that our mission is to educate, but we also have to develop new knowledge in order to be able to advance education. That's the role of a great research university. When you add the land grant mission, which is a contribution of that knowledge to the social, economic and cultural well-being of the citizens, how more central can you be to the American way of life?

Ted Simons: Is that a fine balance, teaching and getting the research up operational and effective?

Ann Weaver Hart: It is in fact an integrated view. It is an obligation to participate actively with scholars in the promotion of creative work and other fields. And in helping students to feel like this is a part of their future, and they are engaged not only in learning what has been gathered in the past, but also to see themselves as contributing to that future. Undergraduates need to be a part of that.

Ted Simons: The last I've checked, Arizona was 49th in state funding. We may have moved one spot in either direction but you get the idea. In terms of state funding, a balance between state aid and institutional aid, what are you seeing out there? What are the challenges?

Ann Weaver Hart: The challenges in many ways come from entitlement programs that have tied the hands of state policy makers when they have to make hard decisions. In the last five years we all know what the economy has been like and the pressures added to knows responsibilities. While we have traditionally put a lot of support into higher education for our own future, that support has dwindled dramatically over the last decade, more recently in Arizona actually than in the northeast, where I was most recently. But it's actually switched the proportion of tuition funded undergraduate education, and state-funded undergraduate education is reversed. It's almost a perfect correlation. So we really have to think about more creative ways to help undergraduates achieve their goals, and ways to do it, but also all be very wise consumers. That's a part of what we try to do with students. Not only do we try to balance our own costs for education and be better and better at reducing how much of those resources we spend on overhead, but very simply, if you take six years to graduate with a bachelor's, it costs you 50% more than if it takes you four years. Helping students understand that and plan, and helping them and parents be good consumers is part of what we take very seriously at the University of Arizona. But also at my colleague institutions at ASU and NAU. It's a real focus in helping to be more effective like that with our students.

Ted Simons: Indeed. And the idea of sustained predictable funding, we've had all sorts of ideas floating around. I believe Fred Duvall was on the program talking about performance-based funding where freshman retention rates are looked at and rewarded. Credit hour efficiency, number of degrees, these sorts of things. Is that an idea you think has traction?

Ann Weaver Hart: Well, it has traction in Arizona. That is in fact how our funding model is built.

Ted Simons: Okay.

Ann Weaver Hart: I think what we need to do is have a very broad vision of what we want our institutions to perform well on. So for example, two of the key missions reserved to the University of Arizona in the state are medical education, and research, and the land grant mission and cooperative extension, which has a huge presence all over the state helping with economic development, including Maricopa County and/or big urban areas. I would appeal to the state to keep a broad vision of what you want us to perform well on and do, and that includes our contributions in other areas besides undergraduate education. That's very, very important for us to remember. If we aspire to be the kind of knowledge-based economy that I think Arizona can be, then we have to have a commitment to the full spectrum of knowledge.

Ted Simons: Okay. It's interesting because I guess we haven't talked about this in a while. Last time we talked about this, this was an idea, this performance-based funding and things like contribution to state needs and these sorts of things, freshman retention as I mentioned before. You're saying that's already in place.

Ann Weaver Hart: Well, the model has been developed. When we go to the legislature this year in the session, that will be part of the discussion, how much of the performance-based model is actually going to be funded. So the model is in place. The question for the legislature is, are you going to fully fund the model you've developed.

Ted Simons: I thought, goodness, gracious, where was I?

Ann Weaver Hart: It's been on the burner for a long time.

Ted Simons: Indeed.

Ann Weaver Hart: You think about how important that is. You want not just freshman retention but you want retention. You want to reduce the years to degree and increase the graduation rate. Imagine yourself as a young person in this current economic environment. You and your parents borrow significantly for you to be able to get a bachelors degree and then you leave? You have the debt, it can't be discharged. And you don't have the degree that will give you the earning power.

Ted Simons: In general, is there political will? Obviously you've been out for a while --

Ann Weaver Hart: Three whole months --

Ted Simons: Well, you should be an expert. Is there the political will from what you see and hear to push higher education in Arizona? I can get arguments on both sides of this.

Ann Weaver Hart: I'm sure you can, and you can get them everywhere. I was the president of the University of New Hampshire, so I've been through what is the most exciting political state in the country. You get to meet the candidates thinking of running in the primary at dinner parties in people's homes, and in Philadelphia. There is political will everywhere. There is also debate everywhere. I think it's incumbent upon all of us to take the responsibility to make that case.

Ted Simons: What would you tell a lawmaker right now about your needs, the past, and the future at the University of Arizona?

Ann Weaver Hart: I would ask her what kind of Arizona she wants her grandchildren to grow up in. I would say, do you want them to have the opportunity to have the aerospace industry, and the digital world and the high-tech industries, and do you want the intellectual property at your great universities to be the basis for new economic development and new business opportunities? Do you want to have the cultural experiences that enrich your personal lives, and that you hope will enrich the lives of your family? Those are the things that happen at great universities.

Ted Simons: Last question before we go: We talked about the universities and there seems to be more collaboration in recent years than maybe there had been in the past. What's your vision regarding collaboration?

Ann Weaver Hart: I think collaboration is our future. There are really, really smart people working at these three great places. They have a lot in common and a lot of opportunity. And also collaboration with private enterprise and other nonprofits. We have to build a more effective world based on knowledge and culture. Working together is absolutely in our future. And we will continue to compete with vigor on the field of athletic competition.

Ted Simons: Okay. More on that later. It's good to meet you, thanks for joining us.

Ann Weaver Hart: And thanks for them invitation.

Ted Simons: You betcha.

Ann Weaver Hart:President, University of Arizona;

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