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Take Me to Your Leader 

Dennis DeConcini discusses the search for the UA's next president

The University of Arizona president of Dennis DeConcini's dreams would be someone who could raise money for the school and avoid raising tuition rates—despite the state Legislature's hacks at education funding.

"It's not a good time for education in this state and across the country. Not only do we have to live with what the state Legislature has created; we have to anticipate more cuts, and at the same time, have the capacity to raise money," says DeConcini, a member of the Arizona Board of Regents and a former U.S. senator.

"I've been opposed to the tuition hikes. My hope is that the UA could do what (Arizona State University's) president did. They increased research. The UA has, too, but (ASU) has had tremendous success in gaining revenues and donations through projects like the creation of the Global Institute of Sustainability."

However, ASU is guilty of raising tuition just as much as the UA. A report released in June by the U.S. Department of Education said that Arizona's four-year state universities joined 32 other universities across the country in having the largest tuition increases by percentage from 2007 to 2010. According to the report on in-state tuition increases, ASU's annual tuition increased 38 percent, from $4,971 to $6,844; NAU's increased 37 percent, from $4,844 to $6,632; and the UA's increased 36 percent, from $5,048 to $6,855.

DeConcini and fellow regent Rick Myers were selected by ABOR chair Fred DuVal to lead the search process for the UA's next president after Robert Shelton resigned to become the executive director of the beleaguered Fiesta Bowl. Eugene G. Sander, a UA vice provost and the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, postponed his retirement to become president while regents search for a permanent replacement.

Katie Paquet, a spokeswoman for the ABOR, says draft guidelines for the search process will be made public on July 27. On the ABOR website, a page is reserved for the search process at www.azregents.edu/uapressearch/uapressearch.aspx. The guidelines will be posted there, as will updates on the search process. Paquet says there's also a link to the e-mail address, uasearch@azregents.edu, for the public to ask questions and comment on the search.

A request for proposals for a search consultant was posted on the website this week. The next step for the ABOR is to establish a committee of regents to select the search consultant. Depending on how many proposals ABOR receives, Paquet says, the consultant could be hired before the end of August.

DeConcini says that based on his experience, he believes a search consultant offers networking capabilities that can help the regents find a qualified person. He says he's unsure how much a consultant will cost.

"But my experience in the past, and I don't know if this is still the case, a consulting firm gets a percentage of the first year's salary of the person hired," DeConcini says.

In the past, departures of UA presidents were handled differently. Former UA president Peter Likins gave the ABOR almost three years to find a replacement, which was Shelton. Manuel Pacheco, who served as president before Likins, gave the ABOR a year.

Shelton gave the regents two months.

"In this particular case, the good thing about it ... is that Gene Sanders wasn't hired as interim president, but president, and we did that on purpose for stability, and so that he would not be a lame duck sitting there," DeConcini says. "... I think he has brought that stability and credibility with staff and faculty, and he's not afraid to make decisions, good or bad."

Based on DeConcini's past experience with searches, he says the final search committee will not be as large "as the case when Shelton was picked. That committee was over 30 people. A number of us would like to keep it smaller."

That previous committee included 36 people representing different constituencies—business, Native American, Latino, women, contractors who work with the UA and others. This time, instead, input will be sought via e-mail and smaller committee groups.

"We will reach out to all these entities, even though they are not going to be on the committee. We will start with the website and the e-mail. Tell us what you want. We will look at it, not trash it or delete it," he says.

Typically, past searches aimed to hire a new president before classes started in mid-August, but DeConcini says that with Sander in place, the ABOR will look to hire someone by July 1, 2012.

DeConcini says he doesn't know if the ABOR will be able to continue offering a salary in the half-million-dollar range, due to the Legislature's financial hacking. That, he says, may add to the challenge of attracting quality candidates.

Shelton was paid a base salary of $470,000, but with benefits, it came to $610,000. Sander's contract comes with a $500,000 salary, plus a $50,000 housing allowance, a $10,000 car allowance and a cell-phone allowance of up to $100 per month. ASU President Michael Crow's current salary is $475,000, plus a $50,000 housing allowance, a $10,000 car allowance and a compensation payment of $50,000 from the ASU Foundation.

At the Fiesta Bowl, Shelton reportedly will make $455,000, with incentives that could bring that to $620,000.

"Can you justify a (president's) salary in that range under these economic conditions? ... Can you trim from faculty and staff to find an additional $100,000?" DeConcini asks. "It will depend on the candidates you have and what they require. I don't know what the market is now, but I do know there are a number of competent people who have been submitted to me that are provosts and deans at very respected universities who have research backgrounds and management capabilities. But I don't know if these are half-million-dollar people.

"That's why the search won't be trying to take away a president from an Ivy League school or perhaps even another state university president, but more likely a successful dean with management skills and a vision."

Competition may increase with other universities conducting president searches of their own, including the University of New Mexico; the University of Utah; the University of Nevada, Reno; and Colorado State University at Pueblo.

More by Mari Herreras

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