Sander Addresses Budget, Evaluations, Pres Search at APAC Forum

The president kept the atmosphere serious but light as employees shared concerns.
Oct. 5, 2011

President Eugene G. Sander spent about an hour answering prepared questions as well as questions from the audience during the Appointed Professionals Advisory Council's annual meeting Tuesday afternoon.

In what could be considered a bit of a warmup for three other town-hall style forums he's planning for the University community this semester (see related story) Sander appeared relaxed as he peppered his responses with humor.

He began by telling the assembled crowd of about 150 people that when he first arrived at the University of Arizona, he thought of appointed personnel as "sort of the lost category of personnel that we had here. You weren't classified staff, and you weren't faculty, but the truth of the matter is, if you weren't here, we'd shut down."

He went on to discuss his role in the presidential search, his view on collaborating with Arizona State University, the need for performance evaluations for appointed personnel and his outlook for the budget, among other things.

Of the presidential search, he said a person shouldn't be too greatly involved in influencing who his or her successor will be.

"Or else you get the same old, same old, same old," he told those attending the forum, which was held in the North Ballroom of the Student Union Memorial Center. "I'm trying to stay hands-off in terms of what the search is all about."

He reiterated his oft-repeated statement that his aim is to create an environment where a new president can hardly wait to get to the UA.

Regarding the UA working with ASU, he noted the differences between the two schools, describing the UA as a "large, land-grant, Research I university, that sits in Tucson, Arizona," with a mission to educate, perform outreach and generate a lot of research money, which he said the school does very well despite budget cuts.

He described ASU as "a large, urban, Research I university that serves 73,000 students in a metropolitan area. ... What they do is somewhat different than what we do."

He expressed admiration for the way ASU has taken in about 20,000 more students in the last three or four years without adequate funding to help take care of them.

If that happened at the UA, he said, "Folks, you wouldn't be sitting here right now. You'd be out worrying about teaching somebody a course somewhere."

Sander said it's time to reach out to ASU and celebrate the differences between the two schools, stop competing with each other inside the state and work together to compete with out-of-state interests for the benefit of Arizona.

"We're tired of competing for in-state merit-based scholarships, where we give out X amount of money, and they raise the ante by 100 bucks, and we raise the ante by another hundred bucks a year later. That is stupid. Let's set the price and let the students decide where they ought to be based on the quality of programs," he said.

Collaborating with ASU on programs they're already good at, such as technology transfer, also will save the UA money because we won't be reinventing the wheel, he said.

APAC Chairman Ronald Wysocki, assistant staff scientist at the chemical synthesis facility in the College of Science, asked about how performance evaluations should be performed for appointed personnel, who don't currently have a yearly review process.

"You should have performance evaluations," Sander said. He described how he managed the concept in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, where he was dean from 1987 until retiring this summer and becoming president on an interim basis. "I simply said, ‘Any department head, I need a letter from you by the 15th of May indicating that every member of your department has gone through a performance evaluation, or when I do yours, we'll have a few words about that, and if there is any money to go around in terms of raises, you won't get one.' "

In response to audience laughter, he said, "I think if you go check the records, you'll find a whole bunch of letters in the files that say that everybody got a performance evaluation."

He called it a "lame damn excuse" for people to say there's no point in doing evaluations when people aren't getting raises anyway.

Linda Breci, a staff scientist in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, noted that there are many differences between departments, units and colleges across campus when it comes to how employees can advance within their departments.

"Is there anything that can be done to try to make the rules the same?" she asked. "Sometimes that's important. People can be doing very similar things in different departments, and yet their particular game plan is different."

Sander said there should be more uniformity in how employees are treated from department to department.

"One thing you've got going for you is, you can quit and go elsewhere," he said. "On the other hand, that's not very satisfying for you, and in the long haul it really isn't the best thing for the institution anyway. That is one thing that we do very poorly at the University of Arizona."

He said he's not sure he'll be around long enough as president to get on top of the problem and fix it.

Susanna Eden, a coordinator of applied research at the Water Resources Research Center, asked Sander to give a general outlook for the budget, noting that it no longer appears the University will "go over a cliff" financially next year as a result of accepting stimulus money from the federal government, as people once thought.

Sander said the University will not go over that cliff because the stimulus money was used for one-time expenses and not anything that was a continuing expense.

"People were not hired on stimulus money, which was a smart, smart, smart, smart decision," he said.

He expressed concern that the "real cliff" could be in 2013, when the voter-approved, temporary 1-cent sales tax to fund K-12 education expires.

"I can tell you one thing, that if that tax is not instituted again, how many millions of dollars that's going to take off the table," he said.

Despite all that, tax collections in Arizona are slightly ahead of projections, so that if the trend continues, the state will be ahead by $350 million by the end of the fiscal year, which ends June 30, he said.

Because so many financial gimmicks have been used to balance the state budget in the last several years, Sander said, he assumes any budget surplus will be used to pay down debt.

"The only thing that I'm somewhat optimistic about is that I think we are probably in a situation where there will be no further budget cuts," he said. But there isn't likely to be any increase in financial support from the state, either, he added.

Sander said since the University has lost about $100 million in funding from the state, about $65 million has been made up in tuition increases.

About 26 percent of the UA's total budget comes from the state, he said. The rest comes from grants, contracts, tuition and numerous other sources.

Sander was invited to the event by the APAC. It was the group's Annual Meeting of All AP, where it has become a tradition for the University president to speak. (Read about last year's forum with Robert N. Shelton.)

This year, the group also hosted its first-ever employee fair, which organizer Kathy Hawkes-Smith, director of university events in the Office of Community Relations, estimated drew an additional 100 people who visited but didn't stay for the president's forum.

What Sander had to say seemed to resonate with people who were there, though some felt he could have said more.

"I appreciate that he's comfortable telling us what he thinks and feels," said Jean McClelland, a program director in the Arizona Center for Rural Health. "He's absolutely sincere. He doesn't really have anything to lose. I think it's a labor of love that he's doing now."

But Trivikram Molugu, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said that although Sander "answered in a convincing way," Molugu was hoping for more in the way of problem-solving.

David Reiber, project manager of custodial services in Facilities Management, said he found Sander's comments to be quite positive and hopeful.

"It was very good," he said. "Most times, we hear about budget cuts, and that wasn't what we heard today."