Two months at the helm, University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart has appointed key administrators and staff and engaged deans and other UA officials in short and long-term planning initiatives to better position the institution financially, academically and socially.
The UA's future largely will be shaped by both a state and global context, informed by the nation coming out of one of the worst recessions in its history, at a time of increasing costs and when higher education opportunities are in greater demand.
But Hart acknowledges that tremendous opportunities also exist, particularly in public-private partnerships, knowledge production and technology transfer, community-based collaborations and the engagement of the University's auxiliary units, such as Arizona Athletics.
“We must not lose sight of how critically important it is for our state and for our ability to have a prosperous and culturally and socially productive future that we have very well-educated citizens,” said Hart, who also holds a faculty appointment in the College of Education’s educational policy studies and practice department.
"We need to be careful to plan academically and also know our core strengths. We need a campus plan to provide both a great setting and also a financial plan. This is one of the most important things to do."
Hart came to Tucson with a tenacious advocacy for the improved support of public institutions like the UA. Immediately upon beginning her post on July 1, Hart organized several groups that were then tasked with developing strategic plans around academics, physical facilities and financial plans to aid in advancing the University. Hart also asked key administrators and deans to advise her as she devised three, six and 12-month plans to make the transition into her presidency the most effective.
“I believe that leadership is a shared success story,” Hart said. “I’ve accomplished what I have because of the great people I have worked with. We often are very, very busy, but it is the people we work with and for who make us successful.”
State and federal relations along with the UA's fiscal well-being naturally are top priorities for Hart, who said enhancing support to medical education and research enterprises also are top priorities, along with improved student success and community involvement.
Also, Hart has started discussions toward initiating a major capital campaign. The last UA campuswide fundraising initiative, Campaign Arizona, closed in 2005 with more than $ 1 billion raised for the institution.
“The consequences of not supporting institutions like the University of Arizona are many. They are both personal and societal,” said Hart, who was welcomed to the campus during a ceremony held Aug. 28.
Likewise, Hart emphasized the University's mission to expand educational opportunities, to generate new knowledge and also to attract top-level scholars and accomplished graduate students.
In searching for the 21st UA president, Arizona Board of Regents and search committee members were looking for someone "who was going to lead the University of Arizona in a different future than has been in the past," Regent Rick Myers said during last week's welcoming ceremony.
"Things have changed. It's going to be a very different environment that we want the University of Arizona to remain a great part of in the future," Myers said.
"The University of Arizona is one of the most comprehensive universities in the nation," Myers said, noting the UA's land-grant and research missions with an emphasis on medical education, the arts and humanities. "And there aren't a lot of universities with that scope and breadth."
Wanda H. Howell, Chair of the Faculty, said she is encouraged by Hart's leadership style and vision for the University.
"She's actually thrilled to be part not only of the University, but of Tucson and the surrounding areas," said Howell, a UA Distinguished Professor of nutritional sciences. "She's learned that we cannot separate ourselves from the community, and that is very encouraging and can only be good for us."
Indeed, Hart's vision for the UA promotes the institution as locally centered with a global impact, an adherence to its land-grant mission while being simultaneously true to its research mission.
"Although complicated problems exist, she brings a bright mind and wisdom to these problems," said Leslie P. Tolbert, UA's senior vice president for research
“She seems very committed to this place. She wants to be here for a while and really make a difference and make an impact on advancing the UA," Tolbert said. "The breadth of her experience is really remarkable, but she isn't simply going to take what she has done elsewhere and apply it here."
Myers and Tolbert each noted that Hart is a proven leader with broad experience and that she brings a promise of inspiring and guiding the institution. Now a three-time university president, Hart in her presidency at Temple University successfully led the institution in a major capital campaign that resulted in $380 million in funding, more than the initial goal.
Hart, both in her work at Temple and also at the University of New Hampshire, also has been lauded for initiatives to expand research portfolios, improve student diversity and success, usher in major infrastructure improvements and strengthen university bonds with both the business sector and community-based organizations.
And while Hart in her position as president is keenly focused on the administrative oversight of the institution, she has not lost sight of the student experience.
In particular, she views advising as hugely important along with long-term academic planning. Higher education costs, increased support for student-athletes and also persistence and graduation rates rank high among her concerns.
"It is crucial that we do everything we can to support students who are under stress and in danger of dropping out," Hart said.
"There is nothing more awful in the current American educational system than borrowing money to go to school and then dropping out," she said. "You still have the debt and you don’t have the degree, and we need to prevent that from happening to University of Arizona students."