UA President Finalist Visits Campus

Doug Carroll, Jacob Chinn photo

Dr. Robert Clayton Robbins has been named as the finalist to become the 22nd president of the University of Arizona by the Arizona Board of Regents.

In an open campus forum during his first official visit to campus in March, Robbins told the audience he would be transparent, accountable and accessible as the UA’s president. He touched on the need to elevate the University’s profile, the convergence of technologies as part of a “fourth Industrial Revolution,” the partnership with Banner Health and other subjects.

“This is a great American university,” Robbins said, “something we should all be proud of. One of my objectives is to better tell the great story we have here at the UA. We don’t get the coverage and attention we deserve.”

Describing himself as “high energy,” Robbins said, “I’ll be active and engaged. ... I’ll go for as long as (the regents) will have me. I’d hope that would be at least 10 years and maybe 15.”

Robbins noted that his road to success had humble beginnings at a small liberal-arts school in southern Mississippi — Millsaps College, where he saw live theater for the first time and realized the importance of the humanities to a well-rounded education. 

He said that exposure to the arts “changed my life and how I viewed the world.”

His path took him to the University of Mississippi, Stanford University, Columbia University and the National Institutes of Health as he built a career as a cardiac surgeon, focusing his clinical efforts on acquired cardiac diseases with expertise in the surgical treatment of congestive heart failure and cardiothoracic transplantation. In his last four years as president and CEO at Texas Medical Center in Houston, he has built partnerships in biotech and the life sciences with Johnson and Johnson, AT&T and various imaging companies.

He said the UA’s strengths in fields such as agriculture, space science and cybersecurity are ripe to be exploited in a similar fashion. 

“There are opportunities to bring in companies and embed them in the daily activities of the University,” Robbins said.

For those wondering how he could leave a position that pays him well over $1 million a year, he said: “I would be shocked if I didn’t take a major pay cut (as UA president). I’ve never really been motivated by money. I’m motivated by mission. ... My expectations (of the UA) were exceeded today. I’m even more enthusiastic and excited about this role than I was before.”