Gov. Doug Ducey made his first appointment to the Arizona Board of Regents, selecting Dr. Larry Penley, the former president of Colorado State University and the Thunderbird School of Global Management.
Penley will replace Mark Killian, who resigned from the board in September due to his appointment as director of the Arizona Department of Agriculture. Penley will serve out the remainder of Killian’s term, which was scheduled to end in 2018.
Ducey lauded Penley’s four decades of experience in higher education, which includes two years at Thunderbird, five years at Colorado State and 13 years as the dean of Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business. Prior to joining ASU, Penley spent 10 years as an associate professor and associate dean at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“Larry is an outstanding public servant who brings decades of experience and expertise both in higher education and management,” Ducey said in a press release. “His extensive background, familiarity with the issues and affinity for service will make him a great addition to the Board.”
The Governor’s Office cited Penley’s record of developing new degree programs and academic units, raising substantial funding for research and academic programs, starting a new virtual campus and leading Thunderbird in its merger with ASU.
In the governor’s press statement, Penley thanked Ducey for the appointment and said he had a “deep appreciation” for higher education.
“I’m honored to work with the governor and the regents to address higher education issues in our state,” he said.
The newest regent takes his seat at a time when Arizona’s higher education system is struggling with massive budget cuts. Ducey and the Legislature cut $99 million from university budgets last session to cope with a budget crisis. The regents have asked for some of that money to be replaced now that the state has a projected surplus for fiscal year 2016, but some higher education advocates have expressed skepticism than the funding will be restored.
Penley’s tenures at his prior jobs haven’t been without controversy. At the time of his resignation from Colorado State, news reports described it as sudden and coming after a flurry of criticism over his shifting of university funds to nonacademic functions such as athletics.
And more recently, his plan to ease Thunderbird’s financial woes by merging it with the for-profit Laureate Education Inc. sparked a dispute with alumni and trustees, leading several of the school’s trustees to resign. Thunderbird and Penley later arranged for ASU to take over the school after a national accreditation body rejected the merger with Laureate Education.
Penley left Thunderbird in December and now runs a management consulting firm.
Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for the governor, said the controversies at Colorado State and Thunderbird aren’t a concern of the governor. Scarpinato noted that Penley has extensive experience in higher education as a professor, dean, administrator and president, as well as years of experience on national boards such as the National Society of Hispanic MBAs, INROADS Arizona, the Association of Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.
“Dr. Penley is a well-respected leader in higher education and the governor is completely confident in his abilities,” Scarpinato said. “The governor feels that he has the perfect combination of experience you would want for someone on an important governing board such as this.”
Scarpinato also emphasized that Ducey called on the regents in April to create a long-term plan for higher education in Arizona, and said Penley is well-positioned to help bring that to fruition.
“I think when you look at his record and the things he did (at Colorado State and Thunderbird), it’s exactly the kind of innovative, reform-minded approach that we want in our higher education system here in Arizona,” he said.