On June 1, 2017, Dr. Robert C. Robbins assumed the position of 22nd President of the University of Arizona. Since then, “Doc” Robbins has gone about putting his own, surgeon-like touch on the UA’s most visible and lucrative department — Health Sciences. But that’s not all.
Health Sciences, which includes the UA colleges of Medicine in Tucson and Phoenix, “employs almost 5,000 people, has nearly 1,000 faculty members and garners more than $126 million in research grants and contracts annually,” according to the university’s website.
In an interview with local NPR affiliate Arizona Public Media on June 2, 2017, Robbins laid out his priorities for the coming year.
"The issues that I think are highest on my priority list is, there are a couple of positions that need to be filled that I think are going to be really important," he said. "Having someone to run the Health Sciences Center is a big issue."
In November 2017, during meetings for UA’s Strategic Plan before the Arizona Board of Regents, Robbins cited the Health Sciences/Banner relationship as integral in landing the Precision Medicine Initiative.
The PMI eventually resulted in the largest National Institutes of Health grant ever awarded in Arizona, at $60 million over five years.
"The UA would not have earned this grant without its partnership with Banner Health," Robbins said.
Then, in April of this year, Robbins and the Board of Regents finally found their candidate. Dr. Michael C. Dake was named the new senior vice president of Health Sciences. Dake worked under Robbins previously during their time together at Stanford Medical School.
"I am excited about the appointment of Dr. Dake to this important leadership position at the University of Arizona," Robbins said.
In that same AZPM interview, Robbins touched on improving the UA’s aging buildings and infrastructure.
Part of Robbins plan included help from funding passed by the Arizona legislature in the form of House Bill 2547, which allocated nearly $1 billion for renovations and constructing new buildings.
The beginnings of that plan were on display in October 2017, when Arizona Governor Doug Ducey attended a ribbon cutting ceremony for the renovation of Building 90.
“The University of Arizona will receive approximately $400 million, with half of that going toward Building 90 and eight other existing buildings on campus,” Ducey told the Daily Wildcat. “The other half will go toward two new, cutting-edge research facilities focused on physical sciences, engineering, bio-engineering, bio-science, and biomedicine.”
Robbins was happy to refurbish one of the larger, older research areas on campus. He also hinted at more to come.
“I think the University of Arizona, with its land-grant mission, is poised to use these funds to be good stewards of the funds that the taxpayers of this state entrusted in us," he said.
From the very beginning, Robbins promised he would be an active member of the campus community.
"I think as the sort of coach, cheerleader, storyteller for the university, it’s my job to get out and tell the incredible story that makes this university so great," he told AZPM. "And I can't learn that unless I’m out meeting with people and learning.
Perhaps the best example of Robbins’ every-man spirit was a recent run-in he had with UA’s notorious campus preacher “Brother” Dean Saxton. During a ZonaZoo event on the Mall, Saxton and his acolytes began to heckle cheerleaders and passers-by.
“Go back to your brothel,” one of them yelled.
The President Doctor rode in on his custom golf cart, “Fight, Wildcats Fight” blasting from the speakers. Within no time, he had successfully reinvigorated the mood of the crowd and effectively silenced the taunts of Saxton and his cohorts.
Perhaps Robbins had foreshadowed such an interaction in that initial interview with AZPM.
“I’m going to be accessible,” he said at the time. “I’m going to be wandering the campus, I’m going to be at sporting events, I’m going to be in classes. And I want people to come tell me the good, the bad and the ugly.”
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