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- Sunset Now: Season LIV, Episode 1 – Patrick Peterson – July 1, 2020
The University of Arizona, for all intents and purpose, is Tucson, Arizona’s claim to fame. The university is the city’s largest employer and, as a member of the illustrious Pac-12 athletic conference, the school brings the most press to southern Arizona simply via the broadcast of its sports teams. More than that, Arizona (as in, the University, not the state) is the heart and soul of the southern Arizona community. With few other local sports teams to rally behind, the Wildcats are the pride of Tucson; most notably the men’s basketball team.
But in the periphery of Wildcat fans is the day to day news of what is happening with the school. As has been highlighted previously, Tucson is a poverty factory. The accomplishments/failures of the University ripple throughout the community. The spotlight is never not on the U of A. We talked in Ch 4 about Tucson’s system of government and I can guarantee you more locals can name Wildcat coaches (past and present) than Tucson mayors and councilmen. And so today I want to talk about the previous president of the University of Arizona, Ann Weaver-Hart.
Before we get into it, I’ll say right now that I have a negative view of Hart because, frankly, I don’t think she was a good steward of the President’s Office or the university as a whole — and, more importantly, she enriched herself at the expense of the university. She was not incompetent, she was corrupt. If her decisions, by virtue of her position, didn’t have such a ripple effect throughout the community then I wouldn’t bother with this at all. For example, Pima Community College nearly lost its accreditation in the late aughts– and this is actually a really good story in addition to the fact that, I think, they deserved to lose it — but they didn’t and so it was kind of a no harm, no foul situation. Point is, this series isn’t about tabloid hit jobs and this will be the first time we focus on the record of a single individual. Some may disagree but I think I’ve given appropriate consideration to the gravity of her actions and why they are worth discussing.
With that out of the way, Ann Weaver Hart (aka Ann Hart, aka AWH) held the position of University President from 2012 to 2017. Hart has previously been president of Temple University for six years but was not poached from the Owls. In 2011, Hart informed Temple that she would be leaving in June 2012 to be closer to her mother in Utah. She had received her degrees, including a PhD in educational administration, from the University of Utah so a job in the west wasn’t a shocker. When hired as Arizona’s 21st President, Hart made history as the university’s first woman to fill the office, which she almost-immediately relocated to Old Main.
Built in 1889, Old Main is the first building constructed at the U of A and serves now as the figurative center of the institution. It’s tiny and old so, naturally, the building houses top-level figures who really don’t need a lot of space to work. It’s a symbol as well as the way people talk about decision-making at the school (ex: “The decision came down from Old Main so that’s what we’re doing.”) We’ll get to Old Main more in a minute but back to Hart.
Hart was hired in a time of relative uncertainty for the university. She replaced Eugene Sanders, who staffed the presidency for less than one year on what was effectively an interim basis. Sanders had been a career education professional, planning to retire from his position of Dean of the College of Agriculture in mid-2011. However, when then-president Robert Shelton rather abruptly stepped down to take the Executive Director position with the Fiesta Bowl, Sanders took over while the search commenced for a new president.
The Fiesta Bowl, a charity enterprise that is best known for the college bowl game bearing its name, was rocked in early 2011 by a publicity scandal centered on, basically, CEO John Junker misusing Fiesta Bowl funds to make political contributions, curry favors with the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), and, of course, treat the organization as his personal piggy bank. Junker would go on to plead guilty to felony campaign finance crimes and, after threatening to remove the Fiesta Bowl from the lineup altogether, the BCS levied a $1 million fine against the organization but left the Fiesta Bowl in the BCS rotation (so it seems Junker’s efforts were effective). Shelton, who had earlier in his career been director of the Arizona Sports Foundation, was not a shock replacement for Junker at the Fiesta Bowl and, overall, his early voluntary exit was not mourned terribly by the University of Arizona community.
Robert Shelton had been the “man after The Man” when he was hired to replace Arizona’s 19th president, Dr Peter Likins. Likins, in addition to being a Stephen Hawking doppelganger, was the Arizona president from 1997 to 2006. After receiving engineering degrees from MIT and Stanford, where he earned his doctorate in engineering mechanics, Likins career brought him to Arizona at a time of great change. Entering the post after the men’s basketball team won the 1997 NCAA Championship, Likins was responsible for the reorganization that created the modern University of Arizona, including leading the Campaign Arizona fundraising initiative that secured over a billion dollars in giving. Likins was a stud university president. He oversaw a very solid reorganization and expansion of U of A while state rival, Arizona State University, stumbled out of the blocks on their campaign. During his tenure the school was very accomplished athletically, expanded campus locations to Phoenix, and executed massive much needed campus construction projects. Likins left the post in 2006 only due to health reasons.
Years later I ended up in a jury room seated next to Dr Likins. I didn’t mention that I recognized him but he was just the nicest guy and still very sharp and confident. The judge ended up being sick so we got dismissed but I’d have ruled however that guy went because Peter Likins is just a smart man and professional to boot. And it was this level of integrity, consideration, and humility that the Arizona community feared would be damaged when the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) selected “a business man” in Shelton to continue building on the foundation Likins had constructed. After all, if there is one thing business men aren’t known for, it’s stripping down and selling off the accomplishments of dedicated intellectuals in the academic field. Shelton really did none of that and, all in all, wasn’t a bad president. He did see the school through the great recession, which took a heavy funding toll on the states education system, but most of his lasting work and accomplishments were on programs that helped first generation college attendees enroll, succeed, and graduate without debt — not exactly a priority issue for most Tucsonans. However, Shelton did oversee the hiring of Athletic Director Greg Byrne, who oversaw the final years of Lute Olsen and the transition period that led to hiring Sean Miller to run the basketball program (we’ll get to all this drama at a later time). These were lean years for Arizona athletics, including the end of the 25 consecutive March Madness appearances. However, Byrne ended up being a very good AD and was eventually poached to Alabama where he is currently employed. So I’ll just say I don’t think Shelton gets enough credit for hiring Byrne.
Anyways, so Shelton left to save the Fiesta Bowl in 2011 and Sanders was handed the school to keep an eye on for a year while ABOR searched for their next president. I would not say Hart was unqualified to take the position but….I dunno look, the point is, Arizona was going to hire a woman from the get-go. They’d gone too long without one. The murmurs were there. The woman — and the only finalist in the nationwide search to fill the position who had not even visited the campus before the decision was made — ABOR selected was Ann Weaver Hart.
Hart was welcomed to Arizona with relatively open arms. Whereas Likins was a very smart man and Shelton possessed a crafty business background, Hart was an education professional and I’m not sure anyone knew what to think about that. If nothing else, she seemed like a competent conservative choice who, most importantly, had Greg Byrne as an established and competent AD. He had overseen the expansion of Arizona stadium, hired Sean Miller (also Rich Rodriguez but that football program is cursed so that’s a pass), and made the decision to move the baseball team off-campus to nearby, and Tucson-loved, Hi Corbett field in 2012 where beer sales were allowed, which spiked attendance, and may/may not have lead to the Wildcats winning the NCAA championship that year. So all Hart really had to do was keep her nose clean and keep humming along on the realized vision of 15 years of planning and solid leadership.
Hart had three major episodes during her tenure that basically torpedoed any love Wildcat faithful would have with her. The latter two related to her handling of the athletic department and her consultancy gig with DeVry University. The first, however, happened almost immediately and this was the decision to dip into the university general fund to pay for renovations to Old Main.
The timeline of this is very simple and really illustrated Hart’s approach to the presidency. Her first day was July 1, 2012. At the July ABOR meeting, the $13+ million renovation for Old Main was approved on the condition that donations be used to fund the work. Very simple, very clear — use donations because, as much as Old Main needed renovations, the universities were still struggling to pry dollars from the state and renovations to a nonessential building didn’t fit in the budget.
Emergency building funds and debt refinancing fronted the costs for the renovation with plans to payback those funds as donations were received. This was not a popular decision with alumni and donors who publicly commented that they were holding back donations — across the board, not just to the Old Main fund — in part, because of this decision. The rub, of course, is that the building needed structural renovation. The work needed to be done. But walking in as a new president, with a directive from ABOR to fund this work with donations, and then front the costs with university funds just to see donations go down is not a great way to build soft capital with the community.
Could Hart have proposed to ABOR a narrowed scope to structural preservation and saved the remodeling for a later date? Would this have made for a more palatable project in ABOR’s eyes? Would she have had more success leading a donation campaign to restore Old Main, while keeping her office in the administration building? Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not going to second guess that but the bottom line is that walking in and fronting university dollars so the new president can have herself a newly remodeled office in Old Main was never going to sit well and it became the low-hanging fruit for any alumni or donor who wanted to take a jab at Hart.
So maybe not tactful and definitely not criminal, there was a direct benefit to Hart and her staff in this decision that really made it look sketchy. The Old Main Renovation project was the foundation of Hart’s tenure and the first example of the simple fact that, whatever happens with the school, Hart was always looking out for Hart.
This trend would resurface periodically as Hart regularly took to ABOR and the school for more personal compensation as well as pushing for higher raises for her immediate staff than the university as whole, which was still dealing with a budget crunch. Hired on at with a package worth over $620K annually, within the first six months Hart requested an additional $150K per year to be paid from the University of Arizona Foundation (UAF), a non-profit that basically serves to manage philanthropic donations to the school. This supplemental compensation, which would also come from funds donated to UAF, was rejected by the Foundation board and further soured major donors on the new president’s tact. It’s not a shock to see Hart lobbying for more money from ABOR — we’ll get into what a derelict body that group is another time — but going to UAF and asking for donation money while the state is cutting nearly $100 million from public universities is objectively shameless.
And this shamelessness — which, I know, seems tame in the light of recent national/Ohio State University leadership failures — was the lens through which the Wildcat community immediately interpreted Hart’s behavior. She made decisions that were obviously unpopular and her reasoning was never explained beyond a brief tone-deaf response. When asked why her staff should get a greater raise than other parts of the university, it was simply because they were doing a good job. When asked why UAF should give her a six-figure bonus right our the gate, her response: “it’s available to [Arizona State University President] Michael Crow.” Not nothing that Crow had a decade of solid performance at ASU, including a strong track record on fundraising, since 2002.
So I’m not going to touch on every little issue that popped up under Hart. Nor am I going to dismiss her biggest accomplishment, merging the $1.2 billion University of Arizona Health Network (UAHN) into the established Banner Health system. To-date, I can say the measure was bold — it includes rebuilding University Medical Center in Tucson, land sales, and academic affiliations with the UA medical school branches in both Tucson and Phoenix — and, overall, successful. While UAHN was operating in the black, the partnership brought heavy cash resources from Banner to support the UAHN mission. It’s obvious that Banner is the lead part on all of this (they’re effectively just buying into the UA system) but, credit where due, I’ve never heard any major objections (beyond typical doctors/administrators pissing contest complaints) to the decision.
Unfortunately, Arizona is not the pride of Tucson because of it’s medical school; it’s because of the basketball team.
In 2011, the Universities of Colorado and Utah joined the Pac-10 to form the Pac-12. Conference Commissioner Larry Scott, had been brought in during the early rumblings of conference realignment in mid-2009 as the man who would oversee the expansion of the conference as well as bring more media dollars to conference members. Up against established network scheduling sequences and conference (or even school, in the case of the Texas Longhorns) specific networks, the Pac-10 was falling behind in ratings and this was a problem across the board: less media means, less attention, which leads to weaker recruiting and, to an extent, worse draws in the NCAA tournament, and less revenue. And less revenue means less impressive facilities which hurts recruiting which hurts performance…..and the cycle continue. So Larry Scott was the executive who was going to take the reigns and make a bigger, badder, more profitable conference.
I’ll just say, Larry Scott is not a popular man with conference fans and no fan base hates like Arizona. And while Scott’s agenda was already in motion when Hart was fired, it was known by her arrival in 2011 that Scott, like Hart, had an attitude of putting the conference first and that will mean some sacrifices from the schools. Of course, this is why you hire a university president and pay her well over half-a-million a year to live in one of the cheapest cities in the nation — so she can represent your interests and minimize your sacrifices to the conference because there’s plenty of burden sharing to go around.
Enter Spring, 2013. Scott has launched the Pac-12 Network, was securing tv deals, and had started its move into some lush top-dollar bay area real estate. Schools were anxious to get to the big payout that was promised and there were a few murmurs that the conference was overspending before the revenues followed but Scott assured everyone that the conference was going to make so much money that these were just necessary expenses that wouldn’t bother the payouts to the schools. The biggest lacking matter — no deal with DirectTV. I’m not going to dive too deep into the matter but Scott never cut a deal with DirectTV who, at the time, was a broadcast leader with its packages including NFL Sunday Ticket. Bars had DirectTV. Fans had DirectTV. When asked what fans who had DirectTV subscriptions were supposed to watch the big games that Scott naturally kept for the Pac-12 Network, his response was for them to switch providers. This was not a popular answer for fans who were hearing how profitable the Pac-12 Enterprises already were and so why did the fans have to do without broadcasts of their favorite teams?
What’s the fucking point of a Pac-12 Network if fans can’t watch it? Ann Hart never once spoke up against Larry Scott. Why? Because the money. Her interests in the school was about hitting administrative performance milestone like retention rates and this Pac-12 money was going to bring her to the those goals. Arizona sports fans — well, they were on their own under Hart. And as other school presidents and chancellors began to publicly question some of Scott’s moves and revenue projections, the distrust Wildcat faithful felt from Hart’s deafening silence grew. And this isn’t “the talking heads on ESPN say…” kind of distrust; this alumni and fans and multi-decade season ticket holders and Wildcat Club donors — the fabric that is the cloth of the University of Arizona — wondering what are the motivations of the university president.
Then March of 2013 happens. A sort of internal unstoppable force/immovable object clash. You all may vaguely remember the below clip of Arizona basketball coach, Sean Miller, after getting T’d up and ejected near the end of a semifinals loss in the conference tournament.
I need to get you all a spinoff chapter on the Ed Rush scandal but the long-short is this: Miller’s fourth-year team was an outside Final Four contender in a brutal Pac-12 conference. But, more importantly, it was the foundational team of what would be Miller’s strongest run at Arizona and the first glimpse of real hope Wildcat fans had enjoyed in about seven years. There had been good teams before this but now Arizona was rebuilding its roster — its program — and were in an arms race with Oregon and UCLA to establish conference dominance.
So in the semifinals game, Miller — who had received 0 technical fouls that season — well, here is the LA Times summary:
So Miller was given a $25,000 fine for some comments he made to officials and a conference staffer post-game. Being a college officiating incident, the knee-jerk fan reaction was that the fix is in, right? Arizona was getting a high tournament seed regardless and UCLA needed a little help. Scott had never been bashful about the need to gain conference interest in the California markets, especially Los Angeles. Then a nonsense technical drops during the final minutes of a major game during an Arizona run. It’s the kind of incident that the offended fan base puts in the file of grievances while everyone else just shrugs and says, “it’s no conspiracy; we all get jobbed by terrible calls sometimes.”
Except then it came out that Pac-12 head of officiating, Ed Rush, had — according to a conference investigation of the matter — tongue-in-cheek offered cash or a trip to Cancun to any official who gave Miller a technical during the conference tournament. When this news came out, pressure quickly mounted on Scott to act. Even if Rush was joking, as was the defense, such a statement cannot be tolerated from the head of officiating. Even UCLA, USC, and Washington’s administrators made public statements as much, highlighting the absolute need for officiating integrity in the conference. Hart did not follow suit.
Rush ended up resigning in April, pushed out by Scott with one of those, “it was a bad joke I should never have made” explanations. Shortly thereafter, USA Today released FOIA’d emails from Arizona regarding the situation. The release showed Byrnes fighting Scott’s office on behalf of Miller, unsuccessfully lobbying to wipe the fine on account of Rush’s comments, and getting only condescending dismissive responses from the conference. The punctuation on the communication? Byrnes forwarding one of the conference responses to Hart who replied, “We need to let this go now. You did your best.”
Spineless. Disinterested. The president of the University of Arizona was more committed to the conference that had just wronged her school and her response was a shrug. While other institutions — leading institutions in the conference like USC and UCLA — were calling for the Pac-12 to act on this mistake, Arizona’s leader failed to even recognize the problem. Miller ate the $25K fine rather than apologize to Scott for his comments and has basically had a hard on for the conference since. Fans at Arizona have sided with Miller, most notably expressing their opinion of Scott the following year when Arizona won the conference tournament and, after being introduced to present the trophy, was rained down with boos from the Wildcat faithful — a feat that was most-recently repeated by Univeristy of Washington fans when Scott presented the Huskies with their conference football trophy in 2018.
Hart would continue to be a Scott sycophant for the entirety of her career at Arizona. It took but one year for Hart to create a schism between Old Main and the University of Arizona community that would never heal during her tenure. Further, Hart’s go-it-alone attitude hampered her ability to make progress on internal deal-making. I earlier mentioned the Banner-UAHN deal which was notably successful as an outside partnership. Internally, however, Hart was also tasked with projects like setting up the UA’s veterinary school. Failing to put together an adequate proposal to receive necessary funding from the state, amongst other problems, the vet school didn’t move to significantly materialize until after Hart left office. It was credentialed in October 2019 and is scheduled to begin accepting students in 2020.
There are other failures of leadership from Hart’s remaining years that are notable but not worth elaborating on here. When the conference began starting football games later and later, with kickoffs approaching 10 PM to home teams, to appease Scott’s desire to put Pac-12 games on television — regardless of the audience — there was an notable lack of sharing amongst schools with Arizona (and ASU) being regularly slated to the poorly marketed #Pac12AfterDark slate. Hart never said a word. So it was no surprise when Byrne left to take the AD job at Alabama. Hart never made an honest effort to keep Byrne.
But now I want to skip to the most egregious of Hart’s actions while president of Arizona– her decision to accept an appointment to the DeVry University board of directors while maintaining her post as the head of Arizona.
The story is extremely simple and, with all that’s laid out above, I don’t think there are any questions about intention here. DeVry Education Group was hit with an SEC lawsuit for deceptive advertising in January 2016. In real Burisma fashion, they ran out and tried to hire some legitimate educators to sit on their board in what was surely some hope to influence the case with a, “What do you mean deceptive? Here! Look! We cut a check this week to [legitimate education professional] to sit on our Board! No deception here!”
Hart took the position in February — less than a month after the FTC brought action against DeVry — along with University of California-Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi. By early March, Katehi had resigned her position under scrutiny (and what happened to be a violation of her Davis contract). Hart, on the other hand, answered the criticism that she was doing this job that compensates her $170,000 per year on the side in her free time from her $665,500 per year Arizona obligations. She said she took the position DeVry position “with the full knowledge and support of the Arizona Board of Regents leadership and general counsel.” ABOR says Hart did not seek their permission because permission for such activities is not required.
And that was it. Arizona’s president made $170K per year selling her title with the public university that way overpaid her for her work to a for-profit college legal con on the side. She did not ask to have her contract extended beyond 2018. However, to give the job she half-assed for just half a decade one grand fuck you of fuck yous, Hart managed to swindle from ABOR a sabbatical year she was not eligible for (with full president pay) and tenure in the College of Education (with the first year at full president pay). She took the full presidents pay for the year sabbatical and then did one year in the College of Education. All final perks of her previous position in Old Main exhausted, Hart retired in 2019.
Ann Weaver Hart is the warning of what happens when you hire a
woman to be President self-interested person to a position of public trust. And — remember that we are even discussing this place only because they wanted to do business with the now-Las Vegas Raiders — a community that doesn’t have a voice looking out for them. A city with government leaders that have no spines and business leaders that have no hearts, would be absolutely decimated by entering into any type of negotiations with an NFL franchise. It would make the Simpsons monorail episode look like an episode of Suze Orman. The Raiders would take everything.
That a person as outright wrong for the community as Ann Weaver Hart could defy — not just the university community — but practicality, reason, and general decorum of professionalism and come out only as the president that no one really ever speaks of, is flat wrong. She has set precedent that blossoms self-dealing and other abuses of power. She lowered the office of the presidency and, worse so, has done it in a way that lowered the University of Arizona against its competitors. In fact, since Hart’s presidency, there has been murmurs of having ASU president Michael Crow move up to oversee all three Arizona Universities. In just five years, Ann Weaver Hart took a school that was handily ahead of its in-state rival and turned it into a candidate of pseudo-consolidation to that same rival. The absolute definition of failure in leadership.
Author Note: Never Settle, the title of this chapter, is after the Never Settle Strategic Academic and Business Plan presented by Hart to “guide the University into the future of higher education as a leading teaching, research and service institution,” and “focuses on four strategic priorities: engaging, innovating, partnering and synergy.”
Yes, synergy. Guess I could have just presented that and saved you 4,500 words.