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University presidents: Proposed budget cuts would hurt research, innovation

Tom Anderes, president of the Arizona Board of Regents; Michael M. Crow, president of Arizona State University; Robert N. Shelton, president of the University of Arizona; and John D. Haeger, president of Northern Arizona University. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Lauren Gambino)

Waiting to address the House Committee on Higher Education, Innovation and Reform are (from left): Tom Anderes, president of the Arizona Board of Regents; Michael M. Crow, president of Arizona State University; Robert N. Shelton, president of the University of Arizona; and John D. Haeger, president of Northern Arizona University. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Lauren Gambino)

Preparing for another big cut in higher education funding, the presidents of Arizona’s three public universities reminded lawmakers Jan. 19 that the their institutions are integral to the state economy.

“We are educational institutions, but we are extraordinary economic development agencies,” Northern Arizona University President John D. Haeger said in a presentation to the House Higher Education, Innovation and Reform Committee.

University of Arizona President Robert Shelton said he’s confident in the universities’ ability to contribute to the state economy but warned significant cuts to higher education funds would impede that.

“We cannot cut our way to greatness,” Shelton said. “We are having success doing what we are doing.”

Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposed budget has Arizona’s public universities facing a

$170 million reduction in state funding for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The institutions have sustained $400 million in state budget cuts since the start of fiscal 2008.

Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow said expanding the institutions’ capacity to innovate and perform research would help them become more powerful economic agents.

“We need to ignite innovation, drive capitalism, and we have the critical ingredients to drive that forward,” Crow said. “I would agree, and many of you would probably agree, that one of the main drivers is what we produce: highly educated people, brand new and significant ideas and stuff.”

The presidents also shared plans to generate more revenue by expanding research and innovation. But they said they still would have to consider tuition and fee increases to offset the governor’s proposed cuts.

Public universities are not the only institutions receiving major budget cuts. Brewer’s budget plan proposes cutting state aid to community colleges by $64 million, or 46 percent.

Some committee members said they fear that further cuts would threaten the ability of universities to become more self-sufficient and have repercussions on the larger economy.

“Clearly, the cuts and the reductions in staff at our universities resulted in the loss of jobs in the private sector,” Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, said in an interview.

Steve Court, R-Mesa, the committee’s chairman, said lawmakers are looking for ways to help the universities.

“The whole state is stuck in a bad situation financially with revenues being down 35 percent, so the whole state is going to have to buckle up and make some sacrifices,” he said in an interview.

Proposed higher education cuts From universities:
$170 million, or 20 percent.

From community colleges:
$64 million, or 46 percent.

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