UA President Robert Robbins speaks with student media during first-day rounds
Dr. Robert Robbins, the new UA president, is interviewed by members of student media. Robbins emphasized his goal of becoming engaged with students and campus life.
Dr. Robert Robbins officially took to his new office as the University of Arizona’s 22nd president Thursday, June 1, with an inauguration in front of Old Main and a meeting with student groups and media.
In addition to meeting with Matt Lubisich, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, Robbins sat down to talk with members of KAMP, UATV and the Daily Wildcat.
“I want to engage,” Robbins said. “I think the way that I’d like to do that is be accessible, be on the campus and just keep my finger on the pulse and stay informed.”
So far, Robbins has stated the main characteristic of his presidency will be interacting with students. Part of his role will be listening to and addressing student concerns, not only from individuals on campus, but in meetings with student groups like ASUA.
“We basically got to know each other a little bit,” Lubisich said. “Kinda talked to him about some student issues.”
Lubisich said they covered several student concerns during their 40-minute meeting including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, sustainability, deferred maintenance and sexual assault.
DACA students have been concerned about their status and safety on campus, concerns of which culminated with a protest held during the Arizona Board of Regents meeting on the UA campus in April. Students called for the college to declare itself a sanctuary campus, a movement to which regents were not receptive.
“We want to protect all of our students,” said Robbins. “If students choose to come to get their education at UA, we want to make it safe and a positive learning environment—a culture that is respectful to every individual and all groups.”
That said, Robbins said the law prohibits the UA from declaring itself under sanctuary status. How he plans on addressing those students’ concerns is unclear.
Still, Robbins is looking for ways to improve the quality of education and university resources.
“He seems like he likes to attack problems head on,” Lubisich said. “Everything I had to talk to him about, he was asking really good questions, really informative questions.”
Lubisich said Robbins took particular interest in concerns about sexual assault and deferred maintenance as it pertains to students.
While the university recently received new funding to address maintenance projects, some of the issues come down to student safety and comfort, which align with Robbins’ concerns.
“I think he’s going to be a lot more receptive to students,” Lubisich said. “I think students are going to be well aware of what’s going on in the administration.”
In addition to student concerns, Robbins has heard concerns from staff and faculty, which he said includes decreases in grant and state funding as well as faculty recruitment and retainment.
Lubisich is optimistic about Robbins’ presidency and plans to hold him accountable to his meetings with students, and plans on relaying to students what’s going on in the UA Office of the President.
“He’s made a lot of commitments already, and I as student leader, really want to hold him to that, because that is really refreshing for a university president to say,” Lubisich said.
During his interim between his previous job as CEO of Texas Medical Center in Houston, Robbins said he stayed at an undisclosed location on campus, an experience he said he enjoyed immensely.
Robbins is looking forward to developing a strategic plan that has elements of input from several stakeholders in and around the university.
He looks at the university as a single unit, rather than separate colleges, and hopes to use the framework of integration in the university to encourage collaboration between fields—something he sees as a challenge driven by students.
“I would love to see a more integrated, collaborative approach,” Robbins said. “I think the driver’s going to be the customer of the university, which are students. Students are going to demand. They’re not going to want to stay in one lane.”
Robbins sees today’s students as wanting a broader scope of education in different areas of studies and hope to implement that idea across the university.
Additionally, Robbins is looking beyond the boundaries of the university and has met with city and county officials about the college’s role in Tucson.
“The vibe I get, and the aspirational goal of some of the people, is Tucson is going to be the next Austin,” Robbins said. “It’s going to be focused on food and music.”
The aspect of Austin that Robbins wants to emulate most isn’t the food and music, but the innovation and entrepreneurship—something Robbins believes Tucson can do far better than Austin with the UA’s help.
“There was a term thrown around when Austin was coming out that wasn’t ‘Silicon Valley,’ but ‘Silicon Gulch,’” Robbins said.
One student Robbins spoke with was part of InnovateUA, the UA’s startup support program. Robbins took interest in the students’ own startup and participation in the UA’s role in developing local businesses.
Under his leadership, Robbins hopes to encourage a culture at UA that Tucson is a place with the resources to start and grow small companies.
“I would say we’re even more equipped [than other cities],” Robbins said. “Because the world is changing so rapidly, we cover from agriculture to astronomy, to law to business to medical, and I think there’s just tremendous opportunity to pull those assets together and work with the private sector to make Tucson the next real ‘Silicon Gulch’—or ‘Silicon Desert.’”
While less than a week into his presidency, Robbins is poised to bring a new relationship to the university between campus and leadership. Students in ASUA may carry the brunt of communication, but Robbins plans on giving that opportunity to other students as well.
“He’s really actively engaged,” Lubisich said. “A president who is actively engaged—students see that. I think it’s going to create this aura of positivity where you know, ‘hey, our university president really does care about us,’ which is really cool.”
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