President Eugene Sander’s numerous roles and accomplishments are no secret.
But one of his more important positions, which he held for only minutes, remains unknown to much of the UA community, said Ron Wysocki, chair of the Appointed Professionals Advisory Council, at the president’s farewell and thank-you ceremony on May 4.
According to Wysocki, one of Sander’s most crucial moments came when he was sitting in a golf cart outside the Administration building and a student approached him pleading, “I’m late, I’m late. Can you drive me across campus?”
The president, realizing the student had no idea who he was, obliged.
As he and the student drove, they got to know each other. Sander asked the student what he was studying, where he was from.
“How long have you been working here?” the student asked.
Sander shrugged. “Twenty-five years or so.”
When they reached their destination, the student stepped out of the golf car and asked, “What do you do at the U of A?”
“Oh, I’m just the president,” Sander said.
As the crowd at his retirement ceremony demonstrated, Sander has been far more than “just the president” to many in the UA community.
“The saying is, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ and every village has an elder,” said Frank Santiago, assistant director of recruitment and student services at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and an alumnus of the college. “Well, Gene was the elder of the village who raised me.”
Guests from the UA, Tucson and Arizona attended the farewell event to demonstrate their appreciation for the president, who is leaving after 25 years of service to the university.
Sander came to the UA in 1987 to serve as the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences after a long career as a biochemist and educator. In 2006, he became the vice president of University Outreach. In 2007, he took on a second position as executive vice president and provost of the university.
He was set to retire on July 1, 2011, but postponed his retirement at the request of the Arizona Board of Regents. The regents asked him to fill in as the interim president during the search for former President Robert Shelton’s replacement.
“Now, the university is on a steady course and it’s ready for someone new to take the reins,” said Louise Canfield Sander, the president’s wife and a former UA professor. Ann Weaver Hart of Temple University in Pennsylvania will step in as the UA’s 21st president in July.
Several speakers, including Regent Rick Myers, Sen. Steve Pierce and Jacqueline Lee Mok, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, commended Sander’s integrity, dedication and no-nonsense mindset.
“He is a man of few words,” Mok said, listing Sander’s three most favored utterances: “No,” “Get’er done,” and, “Not only no, but hell no.”
When it was the president’s turn to take the stage, he conceded Mok’s claim, saying, “I’m a man of few words because tonight I don’t really know where to start.”
He thanked his staff, which he referred to as his “dream team,” and joked about the fact that just one year ago, a similar celebration was held to bid him farewell before he made the decision to assume the presidency.
“I’d like to thank all of you for attending my annual retirement party,” he said to the audience, which erupted in laughter and applause. “I promise if we ever do this again, it will be for my resurrection.”