Dr. Robert C. Robbins says he will be an accessible 22nd president of the University of Arizona. If his first official day on the job is an accurate preview, then he might overdeliver on that pledge.
Robbins shook hands with nearly everyone in the crowd of a few hundred who came to Old Main on Thursday morning to welcome him to campus. And he insists that what you saw is what you will get from him: approachability.
"I think that's the way I learn who people are," he said in the afternoon at a brief gathering of Tucson media in the Student Union Memorial Center. "Their stories are inspiring to me. As a coach, cheerleader and storyteller of this University, I need to know those stories. ... I want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly. I'll take it all in."
Dressed casually in a red polo shirt with the iconic "block A" along with khaki slacks, Robbins began the day at a reception for faculty and staff near the fountain on the west side of Old Main. That event moved indoors, where he began his own receiving line and never quite made it inside the Silver and Sage Room, as originally planned. Which seemed perfectly fine with him.
He kept his remarks to the crowd brief, notably saluting the administration of outgoing President Ann Weaver Hart, who was out of town but had arranged for flowers to be delivered to him to mark the occasion of his first day.
"We're going to build on the accomplishments of President Hart," Robbins said, "including this building we are in. She took a lot of heat for its renovation, but I'm glad it was done and that I get to come here to work every day."
After a timeout for a dental appointment, he was back on campus later in the morning to meet with students who were studying for their MCAT exams and to have lunch with other students who serve as tour guides. He met with student media later in the day.
Robbins said he had been in Tucson for about 10 days after wrapping up his tenure as president and CEO of Texas Medical Center, the world's largest medical network. He expects his most recent experience, in which he oversaw a massive organization that included 57 different institutions, to inform his approach at the UA.
"The University at this point in time was looking for someone with administrative and leadership experience in bringing groups together," he said. "I think I had a lot of the attributes this University needs. I am thankful, humbled and blessed that I was chosen."
Robbins said his immediate attention will focus on the UA Health Sciences, the University's marketing and communications strategy, and infrastructure needs created by deferred maintenance. He said he expects to begin a strategic planning process shortly.
"What do we think will be the strategic roadmap for the University for the next five to 10 years?" he said. "My hope is that we'll focus on bringing diverse groups together around some common goals."
In the meantime, well, you can expect to see him around. And it appears that you will see him at the UA's home football game on Sept. 9 against the University of Houston. He said he counts that institution's president, Renu Khator, as a friend.
"My friend is a big trash talker," Robbins joked. "We need to win that game. There's a lot riding on it."