Guest Commentary 

Dr. Peter Likins: the imperial University of Arizona president

Anyone familiar with University of Arizona President Peter Likins has to marvel at the varied programs he has embarked on which have wreaked havoc on the school and its surrounding community.

Likins' Five-Year Plan

One has only to drive around the university to notice the massive number of new buildings, from the new SALT Center to the graduate housing on Euclid Avenue and the two new parking garages. Likins' Stalin-like building spree was supposed to transform the UA into a great academic powerhouse, but it really has only transformed the landscape of the university into some sort of Cubist fantasy camp. While Likins and his lobbyists have been whining to the students and the state that they have no money, they have raised about $1 billion through "Campaign Arizona" and built more square feet in a shorter amount of time then any former administration. Apparently, Likins is trying to live up to the Churchill adage, "Never was so much owed by so many to so few."

Drowning the Students in Tuition

Between 1998 and 2004, tuition has risen 89 percent to more than $4,000 per year, forcing students from lower- and middle-class backgrounds to go hat-in-hand to the financial aid office. Likins claims he wants to bring the UA up to the "top tier" of the "bottom third" of universities in the category of cost. This rubric basically means that Likins will have to continue jacking up tuition to keep up with that "top tier" of the "bottom third."

Likins and the Nations

Stalin's great obsession was to move around the many cultures of Russia, thus transforming the social landscape. Dr. Likins has similar designs for the UA. The new Hispanicization of the UA began with the re-naming of the economics building as the "Cesar E. Chavez" building. Dr. Likins is on a crusade to transform the student body into one "mirroring" the surrounding community and has even questioned the university's egalitarian admissions standards, which allow anyone who has above a 3.5 GPA, is in the top 25 percent of their graduating class or scored higher than a 1040 on the SAT to be admitted.

The most recent cultural epistle from the great doctor came on Nov. 20, 2003, when he complained that not enough Middle Eastern students were enrolling. He said in an Arizona Daily Wildcat piece that enrollment by foreign students had dropped by 1.8 percent. In reality, this means a total loss of perhaps three or four Middle Eastern students, who have likely been dissuaded from applying due to heightened security measures.

Focused Excellence or Focused Destruction?

The ingenious "Focused Excellence" plan inaugurated by President Likins ends one of its threatened department closures with: "The Hydrology graduate program and its faculty are among the most highly ranked in the University of Arizona, and we believe that this distinction is best preserved by the elimination of this (the Hydrology) undergraduate program." This is typical of the reasoning behind the brutal dismantling of such unique programs as the Arizona International College and the College of Planning. "Focused Excellence" was supposed to streamline parts of the UA by cutting costs, but the reality is that little fat has been cut from the bureaucracy, whereas many valuable departments have been forced to merge or disappear entirely.

The problem with Dr. Likins is that his tumultuous makeover of the UA has accomplished almost nothing, except lots of empty space in the new buildings. The greatest scandal of Likins' rule has been the "brain drain" and decrease in classes offered. In essence, the students will be paying twice as much tuition for a diminished number of class offerings. And despite the massive building projects, the student-to-faculty ratio remains solidly pegged at 19:1.

No one knows how long Dr. Likins will be at the helm of the university, but one can be assured that every year he remains there will be a year of daring, decisive steps to change the familiar face of the UA.

More by Seth J. Frantzman

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