Two ‘non-traditional’ candidates reach short list for new UA president

Members of the Arizona Board of Regents discuss the two finalists for president of the University of Arizona. The regents will interview the two candidates next week. (Photo by Kaddie Stephens/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – A leader of innovation and research at Arizona State University and the chief executive of Texas Medical Center are finalists to become the next president of the University of Arizona.

The Arizona Board of Regents announced the finalists as Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan and Dr. Robert Clayton Robbins.

Panchanathan is executive vice president, chief research and innovation officer at ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise Development center, which researches and collaborates on initiatives involving biodesign, space, social sciences and other areas.

Robbins, a cardiac surgeon, has been president and CEO of Texas Medical Center, since 2012, overseeing initiatives into innovation, genomics, regenerative medicine, health policy and clinical research, according to the medical center website.

Bill Ridenour, a member of the board of regents who led the 27-person search committee, said the finalists were chosen from more than than 100 prospects.

“These two are categorized as non-traditional candidates, in that they are both involved and have academic backgrounds, and have been involved in cutting edge research,” Ridenour said. “We were trying to look for those candidates who can forward the University of Arizona in their mission.”

The search for a new president follows Ann Weaver Hart’s announcement that she would not seek a contract extension as UA president. Hart came under fire for her work as a board member for DeVry University, a for-profit school that recently settled a lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission accusing it of misleading students about job prospects. DeVry denied the accusation.

Weaver received $170,000 in annual salary and stock as a DeVry board member, in addition to her UA annual salary of $475,000, according to the Arizona Daily Star. Her contract is until June 2018 but she is expected to step down once a new president is chosen. She will become a professor at the university.

The regents board will interview Robbins and Panchanathan on March 6 and the two candidates will tour the Tucson campus two days later.

“We didn’t want a manager, we wanted someone with vision and who can be at the face of the university,” Ridenour said. “I think this is the most important decision that will be made at the University of Arizona in decades.”