Two UA Environment Experts Named Regents' Professors

Robert J. Glennon and Thomas W. Swetnam, both experts in environmental science, are the latest UA inductees.
March 15, 2012
Robert J. Glennon
Robert J. Glennon
Thomas W. Swetnam
Thomas W. Swetnam

Two internationally respected authorities on the environment are the latest to be named Regents' Professors at the University of Arizona. The decision came from the Arizona Board of Regents.

The regents created the designation of Regents' Professor as an honored position reserved for faculty scholars of exceptional ability who have achieved national and international distinction.

The title recognizes the highest academic merit and is awarded to faculty members who have made a unique contribution to the quality of the University through distinguished accomplishments in teaching scholarship, research or creative work. 

Glennon's and Swetnam's appointments become effective on July 1 and include a permanent $5,000 salary increase.

Robert J. Glennon

Robert J. Glennon, the Morris K. Udall Professor in the James E. Rogers College of Law, has been a globally influential intellectual leader on the issue of water resources, as well as one of the most eloquent and tireless spokespersons for a more sustainable water future, both for local communities and abroad.

Glennon spearheaded a series of interdisciplinary and research collaborations that created important ties among many outstanding professors and projects working on water issues, especially those in agriculture, economics and environmental sciences.

Glennon earned a master's and a doctoral degree in history from Brandeis University and has a law degree from Boston College. He has developed an ability to weave law and policy together in his scholarship, and then translate it into writings and speeches that can engage government officials who make decisions on environmental policy.

His skills have directly impacted community and local governments, especially in Pima County, and internationally evidenced through his work developing water code for Saudi Arabia.

Glennon also has done leading work in American legal history, constitutional law and environmental law and policy.  His research on the intersection of legal history and constitutional law has gained him a national reputation, and his scholarly articles have been widely cited by commentators and courts throughout the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court.

For the past 20 years, his work has focused in particular on the problem of depleting water resources, which involved collaboration with hydrologists and others working to document this problem. The second stage of his work has involved the proposal of mitigation interventions and alternative balanced approaches to adopt sustainable water use.

"Glennon's renown is owing to the originality of work. It is equally important that his style of writing makes his books accessible and thought-provoking for a widely diverse audience," wrote the late David H. Getches at the University of Colorado Law School.

"The enormous importance of groundwater as a source of sustenance for economies throughout the nation notwithstanding, few scholars (other than hydrologists) have written about the subject. Glennon approaches the issue from the field of law and policy. Without sacrificing either intellectual rigor or exploration of hard issues, his research provides a scholarly resource that will have a more profound influence than the scholarship of many of us in the academy," Getches said.

Glennon's work extends beyond his own academic pursuits. He also teaches large, required classes at the UA law school, where he is consistently ranked among its top professors. He is a mentor to junior colleagues, an active participant in the life of the college and the University more generally and is a public figure within the State Bar of Arizona.

Glennon, who is on sabbatical in Australia, said, "I'm thrilled and honored and humbled to be named a Regents' Professor. In my 27 years at the UA, I've been privileged to work with a good number of Regents' Professors, each of whom is extraordinarily talented."

Thomas W. Swetnam

Thomas W. Swetnam is a professor and director of the premier center for research and education in the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the UA and is among the world's leading scientists in dendrochronology, or tree-ring research.

Swetnam studies the tree rings from the world's largest trees, the giant sequoias found on the West Coast of the U.S., and the oldest, the bristlecone pines in the highest mountains in the West and date back 9,000 years.

In particular, Swetnam specializes in analyzing climate changes through history and prehistory, dangerous insect outbreaks and forest fires. In recent years, enormous blazes, some 10 times greater than those that firefighters have been accustomed to seeing in California and Arizona, have forced scholars to attempt to understand this phenomenon.

The conclusions from Swetnam's studies of these so-called "mega-fires" and their alarming size, duration and frequency have made the scientific community, governments throughout the world and media to pay close attention. Swetnam has appeared on programs such as PBS' "NewsHour" and CBS' "60 Minutes."

"In my view, Dr. Swetnam is the foremost scientist nationally and internationally in establishing the historical context for changes in fire regimes that have been associated with recent changes in climate and fire managemen," said F. Stuart Chapin of the National Academy of Sciences and Alaska's Institute of Arctic Biology.

"This is one of the most hotly debated resource management issues in the U.S., and Dr. Swetnam's research has provided a sound scientific basis for understanding the reasons for recent increases in the extent of wildfires in western North America."

Glen MacDonald of the UCLA Institute of the Environment further noted that "Tom is turning out stellar graduate students to be the leaders of the future. He is an international leader in ecology and geoscience." 

Swetnam's distinguished record includes his devotion to students, the public good and fulfilling the UA's mission as a land grant university for the 21st century.

He graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of New Mexico in 1977, and he has a master's in watershed management and a doctorate in geosciences both from the UA. He then spent two years as a professional firefighter in New Mexico's Gila National Forest.

On the UA campus, he is known for his affable and inclusive approach toward his colleagues and students as well as for his ability to attract substantial grants for his laboratory.

His current projects include a new $9 million facility for the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and the creation of a Center for Mediterranean Archeology and the Environment, which he is developing with numerous university departments.

Said Swetnam: "I am delighted to be named a Regents' Professor and to be associated with such a distinguished group of UA faculty. This means a great deal to me especially because I started my scientific career here as a graduate student in the tree-ring lab in 1980. In many ways, this honor reflects the great support and talents of my colleagues and students at UA over the past 32 years."