President Robbins' Installation Speech

Nov. 29, 2017

Governor Ducey, Chairman Ridenour, Members of the Arizona Board of Regents, past presidents of the University of Arizona, leaders of Native Nations, elected officials, world-class students, faculty and staff, and our distinguished guests and friends: Good afternoon, and thank you all for being here today.

To Governor Ducey and the members of the Arizona Board of Regents, thank you for placing your trust in me. I am humbled and proud to be part of this university.

To the UA ROTC Joint Color Guard, thank you for bringing honor and tradition to this celebration.

To Regina Siquieros, thank you for bringing grace and meaning to our celebration with the moving blessing that inspired our ceremony today. And thank you for the beautiful beads you bestowed on me today. We are honored to be here today on the traditional territories of the Tohono O'odham people.

To the musicians and performers from the College of Fine Arts, thank you for bringing joy and inspiration to this occasion. And to the speakers who have preceded me this afternoon, thank you for your kind and gracious words.

To our distinguished guests and community leaders, thank you for your support of the university. I look forward to working with you to create a bright future for the UA and for the people of Arizona.

To all the former presidents, thank you for your distinguished service and leadership to the university.

President Hart – thank you for making my transition so smooth and for all you accomplished for the university, including the largest fundraising campaign in university history and establishing the Banner Health partnership.

President Sander – thank you for the straight-talk advice that you gave me before I left Houston.

Presidents Shelton and Pacheco – thank you for your warm and gracious welcome.

President Likins – thank you for your wise and sage guidance; I genuinely enjoy our monthly conversations.

President Koffler – thank you for your warmth and kindness and inspiring me to keep up with your workout routine of Pilates three times a week.

President Schaefer – thank you for your direct advice and for being the “Transformational President” who put this university on the map, especially in the area of science, the Center for Creative Photography and the Poetry Center.

I begin my service with a strong feeling of optimism. Each of you deserves no less. We are the university that established tree-ring science to understand the history of the Earth. We are the university that mapped the moon for the first human landing, and Mars for future human exploration. We are the university that permits humanity to see into the farthest reaches of the universe. We can be the university that solves the burden of cancer, sends humans to Mars and will revolutionize food production for the world.  

Fourth Industrial Revolution: The UA’s moment

The accelerating pace of change in technology, the environment, and society is moving the world toward a technological and economic inflection point in world history, what Professor Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum termed the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Advancement in technology and science has been rapid over the past 50 years and especially over the past two decades. The sequencing of the human genome occurred in 2003, took 13 years and cost $3 billion. Today an individual’s genome can be sequenced in less than 48 hours and costs approximately $1,000. The entire field of cardiac surgery has been developed in my lifetime and the success of cardiac transplantation represents a spectacular medical advancement. Our children will never have to live in a world in which HIV/AIDS or any number of fatal diseases are automatic death sentences. The development of immunotherapy to stimulate one’s own immune cells to fight cancer has transformed the field and will likely be the subject of a Nobel Prize. All of these remarkable advances could only have been achieved with dedicated, collaborative, global team working together.

Advanced robotics, 3D printing and materials science are changing the way we explore space to how we create prototypes and spare parts for everything from machines to replacement joints. Developments in mobile technology and telecommunications are changing the way we relate to one another, making possible more dynamic and democratic social interaction. Make no mistake: change is coming and we must be ready.

The UA community is blessed with talent, expertise, and creativity across all disciplines. While we have an amazing tradition of interdisciplinary collaboration, we must do more together more often, more intensely, and more proactively to further elevate the UA to a place among the world's premier universities. Our common approach will not only benefit our institution, but will help change the world.

We know the kind of results that can emerge when we work together: the UA has brilliant points of collaboration that have created some of our biggest successes. Our unique Graduate Interdisciplinary Programs, like the Arid Lands Resource Sciences program, address critical needs in workforce development. Cross-disciplinary research through programs at the UA are changing the way we understand the universe at all scales of inquiry – from the smallest molecules in cancer diagnosis and treatment with the BIO5 Institute to the formation of our solar system with the multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional OSIRIS-REx mission.

The legendary former NFL football coach Vince Lombardi noted that, "individual commitment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." It is also what makes a university work.

So how does a university of over 10,000 employees and more than 40,000 students anticipate and respond to a complex and ever-changing future?

The short version is we need to be bold in our thinking and in our actions.

We must be a student-centered research university that impacts the student experience.

We must deliver a high-quality, low-cost, world-class education, and the best service possible to our students. This will ensure that they reach graduation ready to succeed in a rapidly changing and highly competitive global workplace. This Fourth Industrial Revolution education must include a strong emphasis on a broad-based experience rich in the humanities, social sciences and the arts. These areas of focus on the development of leadership, communication, creative and critical thinking skills that will be ever important in the new workplace.

We are one of the leading members of the Association of American Universities (AAU) focused on active, collaborative learning to improve the quality of the educational experience. I believe that this method of teaching and learning will better prepare our students for jobs that demand multiple skills and talents. This will be increasingly important as the workplace continues to rapidly evolve. Most of our current graduates will likely have 10-12 jobs in their careers and many of the jobs current kindergartners will do in their lifetimes have not even been invented yet.

The Student Success District that will be developed around Bear Down Gym and the library is a world-class innovative project that will provide resources to prepare our students for the rapidly changing world of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The University of Arizona should receive the designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution in the spring of 2018, making us one of only three AAU universities with this distinction. I am proud of the fact that we have multiple programs to support first-generation students, including a College Academy for Parents.

In every area, our goals must be ambitious enough to accelerate the rise of the UA among the ranks of the leading public research universities of our nation.

This is just the start. By boldly carrying out our mission on behalf of Arizona, we will be in a better position to prepare our students for a world in which the convergence of the physical, biological and digital sciences will guide our lives in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The use of artificial intelligence and machine-learning algorithms will accelerate the development of autonomous vehicles, as well as medical diagnostic and management systems – such as the use of chatbots to manage patients with chronic diseases and drones for the use in agricultural endeavors.

Our potential is evident everywhere I look. The university already serves our state each and every day. For instance, the Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture is conducting innovative research. The use of sensors, satellite imagery, and other digital technologies increases the productivity and sustainability of desert agriculture. Our telemedicine program, which began in 1995, now provides medical services in 20 communities, and it delivers continuing medical education in over 30 communities throughout the state.

We must place greater emphasis on translational research. Fundamental discovery is necessary – it is the lifeblood of our role in society – but it is not sufficient. The UA must be a source of innovation in products and services that benefit the world and drive the economy of Arizona. Tech Launch Arizona has created a clearer and faster path for UA researchers to turn discoveries into products, processes, and goods that will benefit all of us.

But thinking big is more than just about big ideas. Thinking big is being inclusive of ideas from every experience and perspective. As an institution of higher learning, discovery, and service, it is critical that we remain a community that accepts and encourages a diversity of thought, heritage, and tradition. We must continue to be a place that encourages an open exchange of ideas. And, as a public university, our campus is a public space, open to all people of Arizona, where we must support and respect the constitutional rights of students, visitors, faculty, and staff.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution is not just upon us – we are immersed in it. To return to Vince Lombardi, “perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection we can catch excellence."

This is the moment for the University of Arizona. We have the opportunity to raise Arizona into a place of leadership on the global stage. We will not shy away from the challenges but we will charge forward with the confidence that together we can have meaningful impact on the world around us.

We will think big and be bold.

We will pursue our path with purpose and resolve.

We will embrace change and, in some instances, demand it.

We are the University of Arizona, and this is our charge.

Bear Down and Go Cats!