Peter W. Likins had been president of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., for 15 years when he was appointed as the 18th president of the University of Arizona. Previous to his tenure at Lehigh, he was provost at Columbia University, where he had also served as professor and dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Before going to Columbia, Likins spent 12 years at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he progressed through the faculty ranks and was honored several times for distinguished teaching. Likins earned a master’s degree in civil engineering at Stanford University, a master’s degree in civil engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a doctorate in engineering mechanics at Stanford University. He also holds honorary degrees from several institutions.
Likins led the UA during a time of financial difficulties and significant change. Throughout those times, he consulted and communicated broadly with faculty, staff and students through written financial bulletins, town hall meetings, and other means. He led the successful Campaign Arizona fundraising campaign, which raised almost $1.2 billion in gifts — the most ever for the University.
When the Arizona Board of Regents “Changing Directions” initiative allowed the Arizona universities to differentiate their missions, the UA chose to focus on developing excellence in selected areas and better defining the role of UA South. During his tenure, Likins, with Provost George Davis, led the Focused Excellence initiative to identify the areas in which the UA was best positioned, strategically, to maintain or achieve excellence. He participated in the development of the Translational Genomics Research Institute. He was also instrumental in the creation of the BIO5 Institute, which brings together the disciplines of agriculture, medicine, pharmacy, basic science and engineering to solve complex biological problems. Several new research buildings were constructed at the University during his term.
Under his leadership the Arizona Health Sciences Center expanded its Phoenix campus to allow Arizona medical students to attend all four years of medical school in Phoenix.
In April 2006, the Board of Regents designated him President Emeritus effective July 1 and gave him the Regents’ Medal, making him the 11th person to receive it in 41 years.