UA President Robert Shelton's departure after five years comes mainly as a surprise but also as a foregone conclusion. With the state facing historic deficits and the university bearing unprecedented budget cuts, the UA has nonetheless ""accomplished an enormous amount,"" as Shelton put it.
Shelton presided over a term of great success in a multitude of fields, including financial aid, medical sciences and scientific research. He bore the harsh realities of unpopular tuition hikes while maintaining a dedication to keeping the UA on top.
Although nobody could stop the bleeding entirely, Shelton attempted to alleviate the burden through a multitude of actions, including job cuts, rises in tuition and reconstructions within academic departments. Shelton always made sure to reach out to the academic community personally. Whether he was taking time to move students into dorms, holding public meetings to explain changes at the university, or making appearances around the campus, Shelton was always visible. Shelton understood and was sure to embody that as the president he represented the entire university and everyone here. In that sense, he was truly a Wildcat.
No president, however, is without his drawbacks. Many will come to say that the quality of education at the UA suffered simply at the possibility of saving a penny while others will flat out cry foul and bemoan lowered admissions standards. The bitter truth is that enrollment has ascended, a fact that even Shelton mentioned in his farewell statement, and graduation rates have hovered around their norms. Nonetheless, this is evidence that the opportunity for education was broadened under Shelton. Additionally, it is no big secret that booming tuition prices hinder retention and cripple the economic feasibility of a four-year graduation path.
Although nobody could honestly say that they saw this coming, what makes Shelton's departure truly shocking is its timing and sudden nature, not the departure itself. Education spending is getting slashed with a butcher's knife, rather than nipped with a scalpel.
Anyone with eyes can see the writing on the wall; these are dark days for not only the state of Arizona but the state of education itself. Shelton has stood strong and vigilant but it's clear to see that the president can take no more. His eyes are weary, and evidently his endurance has faded. He leaves the UA for the role of executive director of the Fiesta Bowl and a reported $15,000 base pay decrease. Shelton also walks away from a contract extension that would have had him locked in until June of 2012.
Let us not, however, paint Shelton out as some sort of coward who is fleeing to far greener pastures. This move to the Fiesta Bowl presents difficulties only slightly smaller than that of the UA's. Shelton's career move is somewhat like jumping out of the fire and back into the frying pan. While the UA has seen its fair share of struggles, many of which Shelton has been left to stomach, he takes on a role vacated due to a massive scandal. It will be Shelton's sole responsibility to right the ship of the Fiesta Bowl and wipe clean its muddled image.
When it all boils down, no more should be said of Shelton other than he maintained a dedication to higher education and to this state. While his departure leaves the UA at a halt, it still leaves us with firm ground to stand on. Next comes the interim period until an official replacement is found. Let us hope that the void is filled by a capable president that can pick up the reins and keep the UA going stronger into the future.
— Editorials are determined by members of the Summer Wildcat editorial board. They are Kristina Bui, Miranda Butler, Storm Byrd, Rebecca Rillos and Alex Williams. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.