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Budget cuts, shakeup spur UA arts dean to retire



Legislative budget cuts and the University of Arizona’s massive reorganization has led the dean of one of its colleges to announce his retirement.

Maurice J. Sevigny, dean of the College of Fine Arts for the past 18 years, told his faculty Monday that he will retire in June.

Sevigny, 65, said Tuesday that he had planned to retire next year, but this is his fourth decade in higher education and his 30th year in administration “and in this lousy economy, it’s not as much fun.”

One result of the Transformation Plan, launched by UA President Robert N. Shelton last summer and implemented primarily by Provost Meredith Hay, was the announcement in February that the College of Fine Arts would be absorbed into the newly created Colleges of Letters and Sciences.

The superunit was then renamed the Colleges of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and university leaders said the move would save at least $1.5 million through consolidation of administrative and business functions.

Though that action was not the primary reason he is stepping down, Sevigny said it was a strong contributing factor.

“I built this college into five professional schools with excellent reputations and, well, after this year, my optimism is a little bit tarnished,” he said. “I just decided it was time for someone else to try to get through this tough time.”

In a letter to the College of Arts faculty, Sevigny said “serious reflection on a variety of economic conditions, transformation initiatives, leadership variables and personal needs” combined to make a choice for retirement now right for him.

“It is time for a fresh leader who might negotiate resources or strategic conditions to rekindle optimism within this exceptional fine arts family,” Sevigny wrote.

Hay was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but Gail Burd, vice provost for academic affairs, said Sevigny was “excellent” in his role as dean.

“I don’t know why he decided to step down this year, but budgets are a challenge, I imagine,” she said.

Dennis L. Jones, director of UA’s School of Art, said the news of Sevigny’s retirement was unexpected.

“Maurice is a great visionary,” Jones said. “We are all nearing retirement age, so we’ve talked about it, but to finally see it in writing, it was a shock. . . . I am sure all of (the transformation) had something to do with it, but it isn’t all of it. At some point though, you just wonder, ‘Do I want to fight this battle anymore?’ ”

The battle, Jones said, is one of increasingly smaller budgets in a growing college.

“The question is not if you are being picked on – everyone is having a hard time with the economy – but how do you keep piecing everything together? One of the great strengths of Maurice has been that he’s shown us how to live with (cuts) and put us to the test to come up with solutions,” Jones said.

Sevigny said UA leadership has indicated academic units may have to take another 10 percent budget cut after July 1.

“That’s another $1.5 million for us,” he said. “I just can’t see that.

“But it has been a good ride and I’m proud of our accomplishments.”

Under Sevigny’s tenure, UA went from having a “faculty of fine arts” to a nationally recognized college with five distinctive schools – art, music, dance, theatre arts and media arts – that draw students from across the country in a competitive admissions process.

In addition, Sevigny spearheaded fundraising efforts that resulted in the construction of art galleries, performance halls, theaters, graduate studio research facilities and classrooms.

A search for a new dean will be internal, as required by the Transformation Plan, Sevigny said in his letter to faculty.

The dean said his primary focus in retirement will be pursuing his own art in the studio he has in the Downtown Arts District on Seventh Avenue.

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