A full house of more than 800 business and community leaders, parents, students and faculty filled the ballroom of the University of Arizona Student Union Memorial Center to voice their concerns about the future of Arizona’s universities—and the state—with proposed legislative budget cuts of $600 million over the next 18 months.

The group attended the public “call to audience” session of the Arizona Board of Regents meeting in Tucson on Thursday.

Regent Fred DuVal led off the session acknowledging the necessity of the universities to share in budget cuts but proclaimed, “This budget is the worst and most severe in our history.”

Citing the state’s history of slow response to issues such as subsidized heath care and early childhood education, DuVal said, “The world is changing, and stagnation is not a strategy. You won’t find a forward vision through a rear-view mirror.”

Budd Corr, of the Northern Arizona University Parents’ Association board, told the regents that no subject is of greater concern to parents than the proposed university budget cuts by the Legislature.

“The prevailing consensus is that these cuts would have disastrous consequences on both the short-term educational goals of the university student body, and they will cripple the long-term vision of the university itself in preparing its students for leadership positions in an ever-changing, demanding, political and social environment,” Corr said.

“To gut the budget would radically change the face of this institution and limit its potential for growth,” he said.

Hank Peck, a certified financial planner and member of the NAU Foundation, noted that not only does NAU have a statewide economic impact but also a statewide educational impact.

“NAU is bringing educational opportunities to students throughout Arizona, from Yuma to the Navajo Nation and from Douglas to Kingman,” Peck said. “NAU is one of the pioneers in distance education. It offers higher education opportunities to people who otherwise would be unable to take advantage of them. NAU has carved progressive partnerships with community colleges across the state, educating thousands of students who are earning degrees without ever setting foot on the Flagstaff campus. I implore the Legislature: Arizona in general and rural Arizona in particular needs an educated populace. Don’t take these opportunities away from them.”

NAU President John Haeger, ASU President Michael Crow and U of A President Robert Shelton discussed the budget crisis on Horizons, on KAET-TV (Channel 8), Wednesday evening. The program can be found on theweb and will be repeated at 6:30 p.m. Thursday night on Arizona Illustrated on KUAT-TV (Channel 6) in Tucson.

“Not only are budget cuts far reaching throughout the university, they extend to the welfare of our communities and our state,” Haeger said last week in a letter to campus. “Our strategy is to deal with necessary cuts while protecting our core educational mission so the university can help speed economic recovery.”