University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton traded in his suit for casual khakis and a navy blue polo shirt during an informal yet informative conversation with students about his presidency and the higher education system.
Shelton’s talk was a natural fit for the course, “UNVR 295A” or “Heritage and Traditions of the University of Arizona,” which is all about the history of the UA and its unique land-grant mission.
The class is quite popular and drew more than 150 students.
And students who attended the session seemed quite curious about Shelton and the administrative side of the University, asking Shelton questions about the Arizona Athletics budget, the most visible University programs and Shelton’s daily life as a university president.
“It’s really a rare opportunity that students can, in this sort of classroom setting, have a conversation with the president of the University,” said James Knight, an agricultural education professor who teaches the two-unit colloquium course.
Shelton’s conversation was light-hearted at times. He mentioned that he and his wife, Adrian Shelton, will be celebrating their 39th anniversary Saturday.
“I’m taking her to a football game in honor of our anniversary,” Shelton said referencing Saturday’s Wildcat football game against Idaho, to which the room of students erupted into laughter and applause.
At times Shelton’s conversation was serious. He spoke about the challenges the UA as well as other public universities face in improving student diversity while also maintaining open access and a high level of educational exchange.
“Especially with our land-grant mission, the challenge us is greater,” Shelton said, adding that the challenge is compounded by the UA’s need to inform the public about a range of issues, such as water, immigration, language, culture and health-related issues.
He also talked about the funding structure of higher education in the state of Arizona, pointing out that the majority of the UA’s $1.5 billion annual budget comes from “competitive federal grants” while a smaller portion comes from the state and tuition dollars.
The conversation was also quite candid, offering a glimpse into his world as president and also about both the challenges that public institutions face and the increasingly complex role of a university president.
“External relations. If you don’t do that, you’re not a successful president,” he said. “And why not? The answer is right here on this campus. Day in and day out, it’s the students, the faculty and the staff. A successful university president has to have the time and interest to get energized by the people the present is meant to serve.”