The University of Arizona

A Retrospective: Shelton's Five-Year Tenure

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Commmunications | June 14, 2011

Since 2006, UA President Robert N. Shelton has led the institution not only through great financial strife, but also during a time marked by continued enrollment growth, degree expansion and great scientific feats.

Since his arrival at the UA in 2006, UA President Robert N. Shelton has worked to advance the University's status and stature while also expanding enrollment and access during one of the country's most tumultuous economic periods.
Since his arrival at the UA in 2006, UA President Robert N. Shelton has worked to advance the University's status and stature while also expanding enrollment and access during one of the country's most tumultuous economic periods.

Since University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton arrived in 2006, he has led the institution through a period of continued enrollment growth, degree expansion, great scientific feats and significant fundraising accomplishment – all during a time of tremendous fiscal challenges and unprecedented state budget reductions.

Shelton will depart the UA at the end of next month, having served five years as the institution's 19th president. He will become executive director of the Fiesta Bowl, beginning Aug. 1.

With experience as executive vice chancellor and provost at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Shelton arrived at the UA with a strong commitment to research excellence, campus diversity, transparency, fiscal discipline and community engagement.

Since his arrival, Shelton has seen the UA through the most difficult economic downturn in nation's history, leading the institution through a major reorganization while simultaneously maintaining continued enrollment growth and expanded access at the main campus and in other parts of the state.

During his tenure, the UA College of Medicine–Phoenix  welcomed its first class of students in 2007, helping to remedy a regional shortage of physicians. The UA medical school graduated its first class in Phoenix this year.

As the UA's president, Shelton has aided the University through a major reorganization and also continued enrollment growth and expanded access.

In 2010, the donor-supported Diamond Children’s Medical Center, a new pediatric medical facility, opened at University Medical Center. Also that year, the faculty-initiated Confluence: A Center for Creative Inquiry was launched to support research in the arts, humanities and social sciences with strong backing from both Shelton and UA Provost Meredith Hay.

And space exploration – a signature activity at the UA – achieved international prominence and acclaim during Shelton’s time in office. The UA led the Phoenix Mars Lander mission, with the spacecraft landing on the Red Planet in May 2008. This year, the UA was chosen by NASA to head up the approximately $800 million OSIRIS-REx mission to gather samples from the 1999 RQ36 asteroid.

Other highlights during Shelton's five years at the UA include: 

  • The launch of Arizona Assurance, an donor-supported institutional financial aid program for the state's neediest families. Shelton initiated the program to financially and academically support students so that they could graduate with little or no debt.
  • Shelton stood beside U.S. President Barack Obama and others after the Jan. 8 shootings in Tucson as the UA offered its “home” as a venue for a community-wide tribute.
  • In 2010, the UA was ranked No. 1 by the National Science Foundation in funding for research expenditures in space research, chemistry and physics. In 2007-08, UA physical sciences faculty members were awarded nearly $174 million in federal and state grants and also private funding.
  • Shelton worked extensively with community and campus groups to further the UA's goal of being inclusive and welcoming. Shelton also appointed a Special Advisor to the President for Diversity and Inclusion. 
  • Countless UA programs continued to see strong national rankings.
  • UA degree offerings expanded, through critical partnerships with Pima Community College and Cochise College. Multiple streamlined pathways to bachelor’s degrees are now accessible through both the UA’s main campus and UA South.
  • UA reached an all-time annual fundraising record during fiscal year 2008. Shelton also created a faculty chair position under the 1885 Society, a donor supported organization meant to leverage additional discretionary funds for the institution.
  • Shelton initiated the Academic Leadership Institute to prepare UA faculty, administrators and others on campus for institutional leadership.
  • He also helped the University's Veterans Education and Transition Services, or VETS center, garner national prominence. 

Shelton earned each of his three degrees in physics, completing his undergraduate work at Stanford University and graduate studies at the University fo California, San Diego, or UCSD.

He began his career at UCSD as an assistant research physicist, later moving on to Iowa State University where he was named an associate professor. 

Years later, Shelton returned to the California system where he chaired the physics department at the University of California, Davis, later being named the institution's vice chancellor for research. In 2001, he took a position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, serving as its chief academic and chief operating officer for five years.

Shelton and his wife, Adrian A. Shelton, have three adult children.