More than 800 students, parents and business leaders packed the Arizona Board of Regents meeting at the UA student union Thursday afternoon to protest potential university budget cuts.
Tucson community leaders such as Don Diamond spoke out against an initial proposal by Republican lawmakers that would cut more than $300 million from the state's three public universities over the next 18 months.
Speakers addressing the board underscored the grave economic situation facing the state as it seeks to climb out of an estimated $1.6 billion shortfall, but said that cuts shouldn't debilitate the institutions.
Many said that the proposal represents a fundamental misunderstanding in economic development, arguing that economic recessions require investments and not large cuts.
Dr. Thomas Grogan, a UA pathologist who founded Ventana Medical Systems, likened the lack of legislative support for higher education to apathetic fans unwilling to cheer for a championship-caliber basketball team.
"We have one of the top 20 universities in the country," he said, "and I'm asking you, who is in the stands?"
More than 20 people addressed the board at the Student Union Memorial Center as an estimated 800 students and faculty looked on, often cheering and waving signs such as "Don't abandon us" and "Invest in students."
The crowd began gathering nearly a half-hour before the meeting began, with UA staff members scrambling to bring in enough chairs to seat them. Regent Fred DuVal said during the meeting that conservative lawmakers are relishing the opportunity to cut higher education, as it would undo the work of recently departed Gov. Janet Napolitano.
"This debate could not honestly be about our productivity," he said. "It is about our fundamental mission. This is, in short, budget retaliation."