The Arizona Desert Lamp

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:

-tell us how much money we have, and attend Appropriations Board meetings.

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

-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.

-Get more people to run for office, preferably people from outside of the usual groups.

Ultimately, this proposal was tabled for next week.


2 Responses

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  1. […] committees are dead. Professional Standards Committee, we hardly knew […]

  2. […] were personal items (i.e. pencils). The Social Justice League (the folks that required $1600 to emulate homelessness) received funds to rent space on the Mall and to market their event, but were denied funding for […]

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