The Arizona Desert Lamp

Reproach from the Regents

Posted in Politics, UA Transformation Plan by Connor Mendenhall on 5 December 2008

In an unexpected vote yesterday, the Arizona Board of Regents rejected President Shelton’s proposed $545 tuition hike for Arizona residents, approving instead a $206 increase for in-state students—the smallest in seven years, according to the Arizona Daily Star. That’s less than a third of the $659 increase Shelton wanted to propose, which he trimmed to $545 before asking the Regents for approval. Unfortunately, out of state students are out of luck: the Regents unanimously approved Shelton’s initial increase of $2,575—a 15 percent increase on last year—without any reductions.

The Board approved tuition submissions from ASU President Michael Crow and NAU President John Haeger without much controversy, but when Shelton’s proposal came before the Board, Regent Anne Mariucci’s deciding vote scuttled the plan. From the Star:

While regents approved the plans of the presidents of both Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University to push their in-state undergraduate tuition past $6,000 annually, the board singled out the UA in what one regent said should serve as a catalyst for it to change how it operates.

UA leaders were visibly upset by the action, which hinged on a vote by Regent Anne Mariucci and set the future total cost of attending the UA, including mandatory fees, at $5,737 — making it the least expensive of all three public universities.

[…]

After voting, Mariucci said she hoped the lower increase would serve as a wake-up call.

“The degree to which the UA has mobilized on the need to fundamentally reinvent itself needs to be accelerated,” she said.

Let me be the first to praise Mariucci. The former Del Webb executive, UA graduate, and part-owner of the Phoenix Mercury deserves credit not just for taking a stand on tuition this year, but for being a consistent voice of common sense and fiscal discipline among the Regents. Last year she rebuked a bloated $185 million project to demolish Hopi lodge and build two new dorms on South Sixth (the same one that almost became an eminent domain dispute), pointing out that private firms and a pinch of modesty could have finished the project for half the price. Ultimately, she was steamrolled by her colleagues and cast the only vote against the plan, but her ruckus did force UA to cut the project’s budget a bit and keep the drab but functional Hopi Lodge for one more year.

Mariucci’s vote yesterday shows that she’s not just a friend of the citizens who fund higher education in Arizona with their tax dollars, but of the students who pay for it from their pocketbooks. It’s a fresh change for a body that often turns into a Supreme Soviet-grade rubber stamp come time to set tuition. And it looks like she’ll keep the common sense coming: according to the Star article, “she hopes to see the cost of maintaining a high-level research institution increasingly borne by the students who directly benefit from it and not necessarily by every student who attends the UA.”

With any luck, Shelton will get the message and make the UA Transformation plan a genuine attempt to minimize costs and come up with new funding models rather than a vapid exercise in memo-shuffling. But for now, our President is in shock and awe mode, threatening job losses and canceled classes without a deus ex machina influx of cash.

On balance, the Regents’ reproach is a good thing, but the there is one significant downside the Board ought to fix. Now that the Regents have allowed ASU and NAU to hike tuition above $6,000, UA is the cheapest school in the state. That’s contrary to the three school system, in which Tempe Normal should be the behemoth churning out cheap degrees, NAU the little guy, and UA the university focused on research and educational excellence. Under the post-meeting prices, that system is backwards. But that’s a minor problem, compared with the major benefits of relief for students and a kick in the pants for Shelton.

Here’s hoping Mariucci continues to bear down.

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  1. […] Ivy FAIL Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on December 10th, 2008 Connor expressed concern over the fact that our tuition is now lower than ASU’s, a divergence from the usual Three […]


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