Sequester expected to be devastating to AZ's state universities

Published: Feb. 26, 2013 at 12:16 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 4, 2013 at 7:16 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The looming federal budget cuts, called sequestration, are expected to have a devastating effect on Arizona's three state universities and the jobs they provide our communities.

University research alone pumps one billion dollars into the state economy, helping to drive Arizona's economic engine.

The University of Arizona accounts for more than $600 million of that.

We caught up on Monday with University of Arizona leaders at a meeting of the minds in Tucson.

The regional conference discussion focused on research universities and how important they are to America's future.

When the budget cuts hit on Friday, it's research universities, such as the University of Arizona, that are going to feel the impact quickly and harshly.

Much of the research done at the UA could not happen without federal grants that are about to be slashed.

That's everything from cancer research to finding ways to keep clean water flowing to our taps here in the desert.

There's the space sciences in which the UA is a leader, and research whose goal is to minimize the risk of huge wildfires in the western United States.

The UA says the looming federal budget cuts threaten the research and the improvements it can bring to our health, to our lives.

UA leaders say it also threatens jobs.

"Faculty bring in grants. They hire people. Those people buy houses and shop for groceries and so on. The impact is the creation of a research industry really within the university. So the impact on jobs, on workforce is going to be significant," says UA Senior Vice President for Research Dr. Leslie Tolbert.

She says even a short sequester will be damaging.

"It's going to be a real struggle to try to figure out how to keep teams together even if sequestration is short term. We have to keep teams together so that they will be competitive for federal funding in the future," Tolbert says.

Another topic at the regional conference: how changing times call for innovative thinking to keep universities from closing their doors, or just being too expensive for most of us.

The question for the UA is, how do you provide a quality, affordable education, after the economic downturn led to huge state budget cuts?

UA President Ann Weaver Hart says, "The world shifted with the economic crisis of five years ago and we will never return again to old funding models."

So the UA has begun forming new partnerships with industry and government.

However, it's not only to benefit the university.

The relationships have to go both ways.

Hart calls it a mutual benefit.

"In not-for-profit partnerships, in government and city partnerships and in industry partnerships where it isn't just the university that benefits, it isn't that you go to your corporate foundations and ask them to contribute, but you go together to find ways in which we put our resources together to be more successful at each of our goals," Hart says.

Dr. Hart explains that the partnerships help the UA with research and educating the workforce.

That, in turn, provides the university's partner with the benefits of that research and those workers.

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