The Arizona Desert Lamp

Privately Funded, Publicly Provided

Posted in Campus, UA Transformation Plan by Evan Lisull on 31 October 2008

Speaking of the funding issues of the University (overheard at a coffee shop today: “Administration can’t write the check because the school has no money!”), this three-year-old editorial by the Goldwater Institute is more relevant than ever:

What you might not know is that the University of Michigan is a largely privately financed public university. As of 2003, state funding constituted less than 10 percent of its general revenue, and it was the first public university to top Wall Street rankings with an Aa1 credit rating and its bonds trading at Aaa levels. Today, the University of Michigan offers an education rivaling the best private universities at about one-third the price.

Things were very different 40 years ago. In 1965, the state of Michigan provided 70 percent of the University’s revenue. After peaking at this level, the state economy declined and competition among Michigan’s 15 public campuses for limited public funding intensified. Over the years, Michigan went from being a top-ranked state for higher education appropriations to one of the lowest nationwide. It was clear that state appropriations would not sustain the University of Michigan as a world-class research institution.

So the University of Michigan went where most public universities feared to tread: the private sector. It began aggressively raising private funding and decentralizing management of those resources to be more financially independent.

The strategy paid off. By 1997, the University of Michigan completed one of the most ambitious private fundraising efforts by any university at that time, raising more than $1.4 billion through its five-year Campaign for Michigan. From 1992 to 1997, annual private giving to the University nearly tripled, from $60 to $165 million. Its endowment grew from $250 million to $2 billion, yielding $90 million in annual endowment income.

The University of Michigan, along with California-Berkeley and the University of Virginia, is the goal to which all large public universities strive. When the article was printed, endowments made up 32 percent of the UA’s funding; this certainly has gone up, in wake of a record fundraising year and diminished state funding, but it is still not high enough. The best way to avoid the problem of fickle funding from the legislators in Phoenix is to become more self-reliant as a school.

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ASUA Senate Meeting X

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 31 October 2008

Sorry this report comes in so long after the fact — it’s incredible how much a disturbance in your home internet can ruin the day (damn you, Cox Communications!). This was also, incidentally, one of the longer meetings this year, although according to President Bruce it was far shorter than the meetings back when there was, y’know, opposing viewpoints.

I. Derelict Fashion

The first contention came over a dispute of funding for the Desert Lamp’s favorite program, Social Justice. This is the usual sort of funding appeal — SJ thought that the appropriations board had unfairly allocated their funds, and that they needed another hearing to receive the proper amount of money.

The program being funded is worth discussing at length. Social Justice, of course, is all about increasing empathy, a vacuous sense of caring and endless guilt for the sin of being bourgeois. This time, the issue of concern is homelessness, which is a “prevalent program” in Tucson in good part because it’s a hell of a lot better to homeless in Tucson than, say, Minneapolis. To establish “emphatic understanding” (their words, not mine), SJ is signing up students to “be homeless” for a day. They would give up their keys, wallets, and other worldly possessions, and play waif for a day — a soup kitchen would even be established in Bear Down Gym.

So, the program is spending $1600 overall, and requesting $800 from the ASUA Clubs fund, to simulate homelessness? It costs money to be homeless? I have a better proposal — sign up the students, take their possessions, and then refuse to return them for 48 hours (provide the usual contract stipulations, etc.). Rather than establishing a false sense of connection with the homeless, students concerned about the issue would actually be waking up on park benches, would actually get harassed by the police, would actually have to go to a real soup kitchen. The best part is, that this would cost all of $2 in copy fees to print off the contracts.

Of course, this is why I don’t run social justice programs. In terms of procedure, however, they seem to be in the right — Sen. Fritze admitted that she was confused at the Board meeting, and confused by the final judgment. Curiously, Sen. MacKenzie dissented, chastising the program for not having the foresight to have raised more money by themselves, and for relying solely on ASUA to bail them out. Ultimately, though, he was the lone dissenter, and the appeal will be sent back to the Board (where it will indubitably be approved).

II. President Shelton Visits

Bringing Shelton in to speak is easily the best thing that the Senate has done this year. He’s not perfect by any measure, but the UA is damn lucky to have a president of his caliber during a time like this.

In his presentation, Shelton was about as lucid as he could possibly be. He spoke on the issue in terms that were easy to understand, yet not condescending.

Basically, the message is a dour one:

1) The state budget’s in shambles this year, but next fiscal year is going to be even worse.

2) Virtually all of the money that comes from the state is spent on staff and employee-related expenses

3) Nobody knows what’s going to happen next year.

You also have to give him props for being candid. When asked by Sen. Baker if he expected class sizes to increase in Fall 2009, President Shelton replied, “Absolutely.” It may seem obvious that this is the case, but if we’ve learned anything this election season, it’s that the obvious answers are the hardest ones for public officials to say.

Shelton made sure to emphasize that the UA is “honoring its commitment” for Spring 2009, and while make no cuts for the upcoming semester, while refinancing some projects and “borrowing from ourselves” (always a scary idea) to fill in the gaps. Thus, the school will dig itself a little bit deeper of a hole, before really cutting offerings in the fall.

What can we expect to see changed? The one idea that Shelton harped on was the concept of “Activities Centered” management, whereby tuition dollars follow the students — the more students a program has, the more funds that the school will get. It’s a little bit ridiculous that this doesn’t already happen (although it is entirely implemented for the summer classes), but it seems

Another idea of Shelton’s was a sort of decentralization of the schools. He cited the University of Michigan, where Deans are responsible for their own funds, and dole them out accordingly. Here, Eller is a perfect example, an entity that could essentially exist on its own. Right now, though, the UA is a highly centralized institution, and many funds to cover teaching costs come through a central office for the University, rather than from the school. By decentralizing the process, Shelton argues, schools will be more responsible for their own costs, and would have a greater incentive to cut the waste when they can’t “come to Uncle Robert or Aunt Meredith for their own money.” This idea works well within the framework of the consolidated Schools that have been proposed in several white papers. The more units that fall under a School’s heading, the more autonomous that School will be.

There was also the idea of having more flexible graduation requirements — for example, if a certain class is required for students to graduate, but that class isn’t offered for Spring semester of a student’s senior year, then that student should be able to take another class that is offered in its stead. I’m sympathetic to the idea, but I’m wondering how much further it can go. Already, requirements are pretty lax for most majors, mostly consisting of various elective units. Still, though, worth looking into.

Finally, the issue of tuition. Shelton admitted that tuition would almost certainly go up. Yet Sen. Baker said that from his perspective, he would be willing to pay $600 more per semester to get all the classes I wanted, while Sen. Rubio said that he would be OK with a tuition increase of he “knew that the UA would be up to par” with “more prestigious schools.”

It’s a nice gesture, but I would like to point out that we cannot know this. Raising tuition does not guarantee class availability, nor does it automatically guarantee higher standing. Look at another way — was class availability an issue three years ago? Ten years ago? You bet. The tuition raise is not to increase quality, but to help maintain the most of what we still have in the wake of decreasing revenues. This is a maintaining cost, not an increasing cost.

While an increase is inevitable, I’m glad Shelton pointed out how disproportional the out-of-state tuition increase was compared to the in-state tuition increase. Obviously, it’s a popular political move (“dump the cost on the out-of-towners!”), and the school ostensibly serves the state of Arizona. Yet this does not mean that in-state tuition has to be as cheap as ASU — if in-state students think that the UA is too expensive, then ASU is always an option; furthermore, ASU should be the place for the least expensive tuition rate.

The UA’s tuition rate is relatively low, a fact that every administrator harps on. But that’s kind of the point — being an out-of-state bargain brings a lot of talented kids here who would otherwise go to the USCs and Michigans and Texas’s of the world; the really low in-state tuition keeps kids from fleeing to New Mexico, California, and elsewhere. This is a reputation that should be maintained.

III. Committee on the Establishment of Committees

I mean, what else can you call the group of three senators who devised a new scheme for committee work on the Senate? The new proposed committees are:

BUDGET & OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE
-tell us how much money we have, and attend Appropriations Board meetings.

STUDENT OUTREACH COMMITTEE
-contacting clubs, organizing town-halls for students, setting up the Senate meeting podcasts.

PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS COMMITTEE
-This one is worth talking about. The committee is new, and establishes, “Guidlines for office and Senate behavior within ASUA; holding Senators accountable for office hours and committee work; and serving as the intermediary between Senate grievances within the office.” But, as I learned in a history class many years ago, legislative establishments are made in reaction to actual events — laws against sodomizing animals in the eighteenth century because people were actually sodomizing animals. So with the Professional Standards Committee — the only reason to establish this committee at all is because there have been problems with adhering to these standards.

RECRUITMENT AND LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
-Get more people to run for office, preferably people from outside of the usual groups.

Ultimately, this proposal was tabled for next week.

Quote of the Day

Posted in Campus, Culture by Evan Lisull on 31 October 2008

From the Wildcat‘s article on ‘slut-o-ween’:

“We are very slowly moving toward more open view of sexuality, especially in America,” Letsom said. “America has always been more closed off to sexuality than most other cultures, so we are starting to see sex as something you do not have the shun and be afraid of.”

Next thing you know, those damn kids’ll be publishing feature stories on strange sexual fetishes, or even using sex as a medium of exchange!

Happy Halloween, everybody. If I see so much as an exposed ankle, I’m calling the cops.

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White Paper: Sarver Heart Center

Posted in UA Transformation Plan by Evan Lisull on 30 October 2008

One argument, and one proposal in this paper.

First, the argument, as spelled out in the best American English that the UA bureaucracy can buy:

The first is to present cogent reasons why the Arizona Regents approved Center of Excellence, the Sarver Heart Center, like the Arizona Cancer Center, and the Steel Memorial Children’s Center should not be included in the suggested placement of many of the centers into a proposed, “Institute.”

If this is what we can expect from “more-specified” English requirements, then this offers all the more reason to fight against such a proposal. Fortunately, the paper goes into a few more details about this argument:

It is obvious that with the increasing number of units within the Arizona Health Sciences Center, there is a significant problem with name recognition that interferes with fund raising efforts for the University of Arizona Foundation.  For example, many patients give money to University Medical Center, thinking it is supporting Cardiovascular Disease.  They do not know the difference between UMC, UPH and the other units within the University of Arizona.  Adding another institute will add to the confusion, and could harm rather than help our fund raising efforts.

This, however, seems like a very easy problem to remedy. When donations are being solicited, or a donor says that they want to help cardiovascular disease research, then the Foundation can mention the Sarver Center, even if it is under the aegis of this unnamed “Institute.” But if the patient doesn’t specifically mention cardiovascular health, it’s a bit presumptuous to assume that that’s where they wanted their money to go.

Yet, as the Sarver Center exhibits fears about being lost in a consolidated machine, it conveniently forgets these concerns when it comes to absorbing other entities. The second part of the paper proposes that the Molecular Cardiovascular Research Program (MCRP) be absorbed into Sarver.

The paper continues its trend of counseling against ideas, urging against any proposals to absorb the MCRP into any academic department, citing concerns compromising “expectations to former donations. . .and future fund raising efforts.”

The budget paragraph:

Budget:
The amount of state support to the Sarver Heart Center is minimal and appropriately used.  The Molecular Cardiovascular Research Program does not receive any direct state dollars.  Therefore, consolidation of the two programs has no financial penalty.  This proposal is focused on maintaining and excelling in fund-raising (e.g., Endowment) efforts that have and will continue to benefit The University of Arizona as a whole.

Odd Police Beat

Posted in Campus, Technology by Evan Lisull on 29 October 2008

In light of a friend’s post on the rise of cyberbullying laws, I couldn’t help but to think of a police beat story I’ve been puzzling over since yesterday:

Police responded to Pueblo de la Cienega Residence Hall after receiving a call that a man was sending a woman unwelcome sexual advances.

Police made contact with the woman, who told them that earlier that day she had received a text message that told her to check the man’s Facebook profile. When she did, she saw that he had posted a picture of her that he had Photoshopped to make her look like a vampire.

The woman was upset by the picture and sent him a text message asking him to take it down. The man replied that he would “consider taking it down if she put out.” The woman told officers that she felt very uncomfortable by the unwelcome sexual remarks.

She received nine text messages from the man, some of them containing sexual content.

The woman did not want to press charges, but told officers that she wanted him to stop contacting her and take down the picture.

Here’s the thing regarding Facebook — can she do that? More importantly, can the officers or the school do that? This seems like a thing where the woman in question would have to contact Facebook itself, and demand that they remove it as harassing material. Otherwise, you do have speech issues, which the man in question gets at:

Police called the man to discuss the issue. He told officers that he felt it was his right to post whatever pictures he wanted online. The man said that he posted the picture as an online joke between he and his friends, and he thought it was funny. He said he knew it was malicious, but the Internet was a public place where he was free to express himself.

Even assholes have a right to freedom of expression. This isn’t an obscene picture, and is clearly parody (i.e. he’s not actually implying that she is literally a fictional creature)

The man also said that he was unaware that the woman did not want him to contact her. Police warned him that any further contact would be considered harassment. The man told officers that he would not contact her, and he would take down the picture. Police checked the next day, and the picture was still online.

A Dean of Students referral was issued for a code of conduct violation for violation of the UA sexual harassment policy.

To reiterate: the man sent no messages after being informed that sending messages would be harassment. Perhaps he told the officers that the picture would be removed, but the officers did not specify that keeping the picture up would be a violation. If they justify this citation by saying that the Facebook picture is a “message,” that’s just bogus. The woman can simply de-friend or block the man in question.

Looking at the Sexual Harassment Code, we have three types of sexual harassment:

• Submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, education, or participation in a University sponsored activity; or

• Submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions, education decisions, or other decisions affecting an individual’s participation in a University activity;

As far as we know, neither of these are applicable. The third, and broadest platform, reads:

• Such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance, education, or participation in a University sponsored activity or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or educational environment.

This occurred through Facebook, and through her cell phone, neither of which are connected to any “educational environment”; in fact, Facebook itself is probably a net detriment on any educational environment. How does this presumed spat between two people involve the University in anyway. The school wouldn’t be involved at all if one or both of these people were not on campus — why now?

To reiterate, this guy is an asshole, and sexual harassment is a crime. I wouldn’t be at all upset if he got roughed up by some of the woman’s guy friends. However, I seriously wonder whether police should be involved, or why the university is involved at all. If anyone out there could help me out on this, I’d be most appreciative.

UA Votes, the “Education Phase”

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 29 October 2008

UA Votes — remember that? — is now in the midst of the second phase of the operation, “Education.”  This consists of several strategies:

-Random posters on the various state propositions, posted around campus

-Two debates (The latter, hosted by UA Votes; the former, by the African-Americans in Life Sciences Club and ASUA)

-“Before You Vote” walls, where presumably anyone can post information relating to the election.

– A website, with a ton of YouTubes (can college students not read anymore?)

The program deserves praise for two aspects of this phase. First, they’ve done a good job of emphasizing the state propositions. Because voters are essentially playing the role of legislators, it is essential that they know exactly what it is that they are voting before they go into the booth. Secondly, they were willing to invite the (newly formed!) Young Libertarians and the Campus Greens to the UA Votes-hosted debate — and while the representatives for these organizations proved to be fairly disappointing, it was good to see that their views were brought up.

However, it’s still not enough. The first debate had no more than 60 attendees; the second, perhaps 80. As Michael Slugocki announced before the second debate, UA Votes has registered 4400 people — you do the math. Of course, you can’t expect miraculous hordes of public-policy-hungry first-time voters to come out of the clouds of the City on the Hill to save the country. But this is why I am even more disappointed that UA Votes didn’t attempt to supply anything but the most facile information at the Voter Block Party (you can read all the sordid details here). It was at this event that UA Votes had its most captive audience, a throng of young people excited about voting, standing around for literally hours. I’m sure they would’ve at least skimmed a sheet comparing the candidates’ health care policies. Instead, I learned what John McCain’s nickname supposedly is, and what kind of car Barack Obama drives.

Furthermore, all the while this is happening, the program is pushing for “early voting.” Which is confusing, of course, because their education program has just finally had its main event. So while they’re telling people kindly to research positions, they’re practically (and, sometimes on the Mall, literally) screaming at people to go vote early to beat the crowds. It would be nice if everyone did their homework before they voted, but we live in reality, and many students registered by UA Votes will cast their vote without having read one policy paper by either of the candidates.

(Also, some Republican baiting: one of the taglines on the posters calling for early voting exclaims, “NO ID REQUIRED!” Umm, good news?)

Ultimately, then, we may have literally hundreds, if not thousands, of voters on campus who are casting their ballot without any information outside of what they see on T-shirts and on the TV. UA Votes had a chance to ensure an informed voting populace; instead, these few researched votes will be washed away in a tide of instinct and prejudice.

White Paper: College of World Cultures, Literatures, and Languages

Posted in UA Transformation Plan by Connor Mendenhall on 27 October 2008

The chart below describes the structure of a “College of World Cultures, Literatures, and Languages,” proposed in this white paper. According to the paper, such a college will “consolidate in a single college UA’s many strengths in research, teaching, and outreach related to languages, cultures, and societies” and “strengthen existing intellectual collaborations and streamline the formation of interdisciplinary and interdepartmental working groups and cluster hires.”

In the spirit of Matt Yglesias, I have annotated the above chart with bright red scribbles. A big red “X” indicates a department that is already a member of the College of Humanities. A big red question mark indicates a department that has not agreed to be part of World Cultures, but “would be welcome” if its faculty wanted to join.

That leaves only four departments to be gobbled up by the new college: Judaic Studies (currently in SBS), Late Medieval and Reformation Studies (currently in History), a graduate program in Translation and Interpretation, and the Center for Education and Research in Cultures, Languages, and Literacies. 

Beyond these new conquests, this proposal would merely rearrange the College of Humanities and add another layer of bureaucracy—a set of “divisions,” represented above by the line of black boxes. The proposal correctly notes that this plan would “reduce the number of administrators who report directly to the Provost,” but it does so by creating more administrators. Am I missing something? How is grabbing four obscure departments and shuffling up the college supposed to save money or consolidate strengths? Unfortunately, the four pages of blather in this report offer few answers—file this one under W, for “WTF.”

White Paper: Pest Management

Posted in UA Transformation Plan by Connor Mendenhall on 27 October 2008

The 2008 farm bill was a bloated disgrace to democracy in America, but the Arizona Pest Management Center’s white paper describes a little abnormal polyp of hope deep within its porky bowels: 

In federal FY08-09, the national Extension IPM (EIPM) program announced the discontinuation of the federal 3(d) IPM program, which formerly allocated Extension IPM funds according to a fixed formula established in the 1970’s. In its place, as mandated by the 2008 Farm Bill, EIPM will implement a nationally competitive program for this IPM resource estimated to be ca. $9.5 million. 

Take heart, taxpayers—your money will no longer be automatically doled out to support research in Integrated Pest Management, “a long-standing, science-based, decision-making process that identifies and reduces risks from pests and pest management related strategies” (read:”killing bugs without pesticide”). Instead, it’ll be automatically doled out as part of a nationally competitive program.

The majority of this proposal describes our intrepid exterminators’ suggestions for grabbing a greater share of government cheese. Some of these come at no cost, like asking the university to recognize Pest Management as UA’s “interdisciplinary center for IPM” (is there another one?), and making sure that the center gets to draft pest management grant proposals for the program. Others are more expensive, like hiring four new faculty to “synergize an academic program of distinction” and quadrupling the salary of the Center’s director, Dr. Al Fournier. The latter is described in terms so oblique they must be shared:

We expect to triple, at least, the amount of money from this program, i.e., to $300,000 per year. This will require a show of significant and symbolic leverage of Dr. Fournier’s salary. Thus, we will need to invest an additional 0.8 FTE in the Fournier line (with ERE) or: $72,000. 

I’m never asking for a “raise” again—just “additional investment in the Mendenhall line.” 

As for the budget, there are no cuts offered, but plenty of hope that an additional $676,000 of university spending will “leverage” about $1.3 million in government subsidies and private grants. This is a common theme among many of the white paper proposals—spending begets spending. I don’t doubt that there are many ways that UA could invest its resources more wisely, but without any ideas for saving, there’s not a whole lot here.

Mob Rule and ZonaZoo

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 27 October 2008

The Wildcat rightly highlights the madness that was last Saturday’s ZonaZoo in today’s paper:

The ZonaZoo rush may need another look by stadium officials to ensure safety as fans enter. It was a firsthand look for many students as to what can happen in such a high-intensity environment when a large number of people fail to comply with rules.

Wait, they publish opinions on the first page nowadays? The article contains a first-hand anecdote, but I prefer the write-up from The Jealous Athlete:

I tried my best to attend the 7 o’clock game, and I can safely say this: the U of A’s student body was, in a word, terrifying. A late start time for a football game allows for excessive drinking in preparation for kickoff, and this partially explains why, in a remarkable feat of humanity, a wrought-iron fence protecting mass entrance into the stadium was literally toppled by those unlucky ones, myself included, who were turned away (due to a sold out student section). This victory was an illusion, however, because we were then subjected to removal by mad-eyed bouncers cops, who had no qualms about literally throwing us in whichever direction they deemed appropriate. I emerged from battle without having gained entrance to the game (my lucky roommates, who I lost amidst the crowds, somehow made it in successfully), shoes covered with vomit, and slight bruises on my left temple and right forearm. Others were less lucky, however – I witnessed at least three unfortunate souls trip and fall during the mass stampede, only to be trampled by the wildebeasts communication majors behind them

I personally saw fences torn down, metal grates scaled in a fashion that would impress Spiderman (after all, he always did his work sober). My CatCard was never scanned, and I never saw any security until I was safely inside the section. Others reported Taser use.

Contra the opinion-article in the Wildcat and the first-hand anecdote, I don’t think that the students are entirely to blame for the collapse of order. Students have always gotten drunk and wild before football games, and Homecoming is most popular game — this should have been anticipated by the local authorities and the ZonaZoo. Check-in points should have been shifted further into the street to minimize crowding within the stadium. Extra check-off points could have been added to control the flow of the crowd. Authorities in hundreds of different college towns have dealt with crowds of even greater sizes than the ZonaZoo’s — rather than blaming the students (who, let’s be frank, aren’t exactly about to change their behavior after 750 years), the various authorities involved should learn from this year’s fiasco to prepare for next year’s Homecoming.

Also, let this serve as a lesson to those considering purchasing a ZonaZoo next year: admission is not guaranteed.

Thanks to the CollegeOTR for the picture.

White Paper: School of Animal Systems

Posted in UA Transformation Plan by Evan Lisull on 27 October 2008

This paper proposes a merger of the Department of Animal Sciences and the Department of Veterinary Science and Microbiology into the School of Animal Systems. This is akin to the merger of the women’s studies centers, in the sense that it just simply makes sense for the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea to join forces.

Naturally, there’s some meat (pun fully intended) in here for the PETA people:

The Parker Agricultural Research Complex is a powerful and unique facility with experimental chambers large enough for 6 adult cows in which investigators can re-create any day of the year in Southern Arizona or similar environments around the world, with respect to temperature, humidity and solar radiation.  In stressful environments animal health and physiology cannot be separated, and a team that can comprehensively study biological responses to hot, arid environments will be pulled together in a single academic unit in the proposed School.

Any chance of expanding “synergies” between the Parker Complex and Cactus Grill?

As far as the Budget goes, it’s a small effect:

Marginal savings will occur.  Possible consolidation of support staff could result in small savings, but the new school cannot be consolidated into a common space, thus some duplication of support staff will continue to exist.  Potential annual savings are estimated at $49,000.