The Arizona Desert Lamp

Read the phrase you wish to quote in the world

Posted in Campus by Connor Mendenhall on 25 March 2009

Evan’s already covered the policy details of ASUA’s first “Be the Change” survey. I have two additional thoughts.

First, the name. Gandhi’s oft quoted, apochryphally sourced admonition to “be the change you wish to see in the world” was once a wise call for revolution on the margin. But endless repetitions by self-help authors, middle school essayists, and advocates for youth conscription have massacred the phrase like a pack of nonviolent protesters.

This survey is only the latest iteration, but it sends my irony meter all the way to eleven. Are we really to believe that taking an online survey that will be passed on to a questionably legitimate student government that will use the results to inform a tuition- and fee-setting process almost entirely beyond their control is a way to “be the change?” Perhaps the section on SurveyMonkey was excised in translation.

Second, though Evan is a fan of the survey’s first question (“Where should the balance lie between Affordability and Quality of Education?”), since it frames “the basic debate on the future of the university,” I’m less enthused. Sure, UA faces some trade-off between price and quality, but putting the two in direct opposition seems too simple. We’ve explored several ideas for increasing quality without affecting price, decreasing price without affecting quality, and doing both with the Michigan model. In the long term, the university may have to choose either excellence or affordability, and I suppose it’s nice to know what students think. But this wasn’t a survey about future vision–it was about current policy. In the short term, there’s plenty of “slack” to pick up on both quality and affordability–that is, to face a real trade-off between price and quality requires a Pareto-optimal distribution of both. Asking for input on the trade-off is asking the wrong question.

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  1. Evan Lisull said, on 25 March 2009 at 2:15 pm

    “But this wasn’t a survey about future vision–it was about current policy. In the short term, there’s plenty of “slack” to pick up on both quality and affordability–that is, to face a real trade-off between price and quality requires a Pareto-optimal distribution of both. Asking for input on the trade-off is asking the wrong question.”

    Current policy, or current perception? Of course it paints in broad strokes (it’s a survey, not a thesis), but there is a definite divide here. The UA is definitely the elite school within the state, but I’d suspect that out-of-staters are far more likely to view it as an “affordable” option. (Another problem: no demographics!) Still, these are my perceptions, and they have nothing – my hope is that the answer to that first question will help to improve that.

    It’s also probably not going to affect current policy, ASUA or otherwise, since the current policy is to fold one’s arms and grumble about the state legislature. Assuming students opt for quality and fees, it will take quite a leap of logic to infer that students relate the two – and that will not be the survey’s fault.

    The question wasn’t purely Manichean, but rather a ranking from “1” being pure quality and “7” pure affordability. I highly doubt that we’ll end up at one extreme, but I also doubt that we’ll end up in the exact middle. (This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the Fee/Tuition question, which only offered two options).

    To close (this should’ve been a post, mea culpa), I have two questions. (1) If the divide regarding the UA’s future isn’t one between more quality and affordability, what is it? (2) How do you think that this will be used to shape current policy?


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