The Arizona Desert Lamp

Desert Lamp soon to close down

Posted in Media, Politics by Evan Lisull on 30 April 2009

Not our choice, but Linda Sanchez’s HR 1966 and the PC Police won’t have it any other way (HT: Volokh @ Volokh):

(a) Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

(b) As used in this section–

(1) the term ‘communication’ means the electronic transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received; …

(2) the term ‘electronic means’ means any equipment dependent on electrical power to access an information service, including email, instant messaging, blogs, websites, telephones, and text messages.

As supporters of federalism, we’re already skirting Secretary Napolitano’s fatwa against “right-wing extremists.” As soon as they find our “use of electronic means” to support “severe, repeated, and hostile behavior” towards various administrative and governmental forces – never mind the “distress” that our Fee Protection Pledge brought to several ASUA candidates – we’re toast.

It’s been a good run, folks. Thanks for your support. (In the real world, this bill has nowhere near enough support to get passed. But the fact that something like this could be proposed seriously, under the guise of preventing “cyberbulling,” is itself troubling.)

UPDATE: Sorry, this was a bit too dry – even for me. HR 1966 will not pass, and the Desert Lamp will not cease publication any time soon, deo volente.

Tuition Surcharge Passes

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 30 April 2009

Nothing surprising here:

All in-state University of Arizona students will have to pay a $766 “economic recovery surcharge” to help partially offset roughly $77 million in state budget cuts since last summer. Non-resident students will have to pay $966 per year.

The hike, coupled with a previous $545 increase approved in December, means in-state students will have to pay $6,841 in tuition and mandatory fees next fall.

Non-resident students will have to pay a total of $22,543 in tuition and fees.

The Board voted 7-1 to approve the surcharges, and Regent Martinez must be commended for voting against the proposal. Better late than never, I suppose.

Platinum Bash Reax

Posted in Campus, Media by Evan Lisull on 30 April 2009

Last Smash Platinum BashUnder the Sun’s own Laura Donovan managed to make it to the show:

Pretty much no one sat in their assigned seats, and the man on the loudspeaker said Kelly Clarkson would not come on stage until everyone retreated to the actual seats they bought. And nobody moved, so even though I got the cheapest ticket, I sat in seats worth $200 a month ago, and there was nothing ASUA could do to control this issue. They tried to get everyone to get what they paid for, therefore, move further away from the stage. Everyone stayed put, though, and why would ASUA have a problem with everyone moving forward if those seats weren’t sold, anyway?

Meanwhile, the Wildcat‘s Shain Bergan liveblogged (!) the thing over at the Wildcat‘s house blog (?!), and got in some great lines. First up, on President Bruce:

Revisiting the high five narrative, ASUA President Tommy Bruce is the only person I’ve ever seen high five someone without smiling.

Then, in a post entitled “ASUA’s got 99 problems, and ticket sales are one” (great minds, etc.):

After unsuccessfully trying to track down ASUA officials for some answers (finally), I realized I still needed another quote or two for the next day’s story. Running out of one of the tunnels, I grabbed the only two kids I saw. “Are you guys UA students?” I asked. Turns out they were high school freshmen. I need a new job.

You and me both, Shain.

Ticket sales numbers are still being processed, but already there’s a pretty wide discrepancy. Back to the liveblog:

In the end, estimates ranged from 8,000 to 13,000, so obviously some of us have not yet mastered the art of counting. I went with 12,000, and I’m really hoping I win the pool.

In the full-length article in today’s paper:

About 12,000 spectators flowed into the stadium Wednesday night to watch what Associated Students of the University of Arizona officials are calling one of the best concerts the university has hosted.

. . .

ASUA is expected to at least break even on the concert thanks to revenue generated from ticket sales, merchandise and sponsorships, but it is unclear whether the organization will be able to deliver on its promise to create scholarships from the profits.

The Daily Star‘s estimate was not so high:

About 10,000 fans gave Arizona Stadium a party it hasn’t seen in more than three decades Wednesday night.

. . .

Even with a reduced capacity of 17,000 for the concert, ticket sales had been underwhelming leading up to the show. The people who did show up didn’t seem to mind the extra space, dancing in front of the massive, video-screen-aided stage that faced the west side of the stadium.

The Citizen, curiously, didn’t send a reporter – or if they did, the story missed the cut for today’s issue. Yet an article on Tuesday gives us a good sense of the magnitude of the ticket snafu:

With showtime barely 24 hours away, slow ticket sales continued to plague the first major concert in Arizona Stadium since Jimmy Carter was president and Elvis was a reigning king.

Tuesday morning, Tommy Bruce, president of the Associated Students of University of Arizona, which is sponsoring the Wednesday multigenre show, would say only that more than half of the 17,000 available tickets had sold.

It’s the same thing he said April 12, but organizers still cling to threads of optimism.

“Ticket sales are slow, but they’ve definitely picked up the past few days,” said. [sic]

‘Picked up’ is quite the understatement. If the 12,000 number is correct, it means that ASUA managed to sell 3,500 tickets in a 24 hour time period. In contrast, the unweighted average per-day ticket sales leading up to yesterday works out to around 258 tickets a day (8,500/33). Certainly, students tend to procrastinate when buying concert tickets, but even this seems a bit high for a last minute rush of sales. Unless. . .

The Arizona Daily Star reporter sitting next to me just said that he saw a tweet claiming security is now letting spectators without tickets into the concert free of charge.

Of course, I can’t go investigate, because everyone is being held hostage to their seats right now.

I just talked to a spectator who said he was angry at ASUA for lowering ticket prices after he had paid the original price for his and his friends’ tickets. If this info about letting people in for free is true, this guy’s going to be pissed.

ASUA later denied the allegation, but a 3,500% 1,257% jump in per-day ticket sales deserves at least some scrutiny.

The sun sets on the Bruce era

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 29 April 2009

SunsetEven for a man who has been punching in twenty-two hour days for the past two years, the next few days will be among the most frenetic that President Bruce has ever experienced. Today at 5 PM, the doors to the Last Smash Platinum Bash – the product of hundreds of interviews and years of work – will open. Tomorrow morning, at 9:30 AM, the Arizona Board of Regents will make the final decision on $1,100, a proposal strenuously resisted by ASUA. On Friday, the new president, vice presidents, and senators will be sworn in, and with that the two-year Bruce era will come to an end.

Assuming that expectations are met, I suspect that these few days will serve as a nice microcosm of Bruce’s tenure. Certainly, on aggregate things are much better than they were when the president was being charged with sexual assault; at the same time, this is not exactly the highest bar to pass. Certain aspects of ASUA have gotten worse – and the coming weeks and months are as good a time as any to reflect on the past two years, what they have meant for ASUA, and how the organization can become more worthy of its title as “your student government” in the coming years.

Quote of the day

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 29 April 2009

“I always think of public higher education as one of the last vestiges of socialism; or at least, that’s what we wish it were, as a country. We wish that higher education were socialist and that we could get every good and service without having to pay for it. We want counseling for kids. We want disabilityservices for kids. We get mandated by the federal government and by the state government to provide more and more and more services, and then they turn around and ask us why the costs are going up. They want to pay $8,000 a year, and for that $8,000 a year, they want a similar educational experience to the kind that a student gets at a private residential institution.”

-An unnamed university president, reflecting on “the sauna wars” in ‘The Iron Triangle‘ [PDF], a 2008 report on higher education from Public Agenda.

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What’s free as possible?

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 29 April 2009

“The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible.”

Arizona State Constitution, Art. 11, Sec. 6

This phrase has been stretched far beyond its past-due date, trumpeted as though it were some God-ordained right (even as actual rights – freedom of association, freedom of speech – are chipped away without so much as a pause). It is cited by students like scripture, as they complain on the elliptical machine about the proposed tuition increases. Later, loafing in a leather chair in the air-conditioned lobby of their dorm, they text their friends: “$1100 – WTF?”

You get the point. Perhaps Rep. Pearce is posturing when he calls the universities “country clubs,” but behind that bluster is a kernel of truth: we’re a long way from Cicero by lantern light. The original tuition cap, adjusted for inflation, works out to $1,600. And indeed, with $1,600, you can get a very nice tent and a collection of books. But if we’re already all-in on the modern university thing, then one can’t expect to pay traditional university prices.

Practically, though, there seems to be a bigger issue in the phrase – what exactly is “as nearly free as possible” referring to? The Board of Regents has taken the phrase to be a comparative one – hence, we have to be “as nearly as free as possible” when compared to other equivalent schools. (But what equivalent? Aye, there’s the rub.) Yet it’s odd to assert that the phrase was drafted for the purpose of trumping other states, unless the state constitution was written by a nascent marketing crew. “Cacti? Forget the cacti – education’s free as possible here! You can’t get that in Virginia, now can you?” Rather, the statement was probably intended to be an intrastate guarantee, independent of other considerations.

So as Tom Rex of ASU says, it’s broadly a statement of purpose. But more than that, it doesn’t guarantee a type of education; rather, it’s a statement for the entire system. This “as nearly free as possible” still exists – it’s called Pima Community College. If you want the ritzier, research-based education offered by the UA, you should be prepared to fork over more. Ideally, this would get us back to the Three University Model – and while this would probably make the UA itself much more expensive (especially for out-of-state students), it should also make the school much more elite.

As important as minimizing cost to Arizona students should be, there is also something to be said for diversity in higher education offerings. Increasingly, the UA is becoming ASUSouth; and while this may help the state in adhering to this throwaway phrase, it punishes her best students by forcing them to go elsewhere to get a top-notch education.

In praise of the ivory tower

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 29 April 2009

Ivory TowerMark Taylor’s piece on graduate school was apparently quite the popular column in the Times, but hopefully not for the merit of its ideas. This proposal in particular struck me as wrong-minded:

2. Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs. These constantly evolving programs would have sunset clauses, and every seven years each one should be evaluated and either abolished, continued or significantly changed. It is possible to imagine a broad range of topics around which such zones of inquiry could be organized: Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water.

Consider, for example, a Water program. In the coming decades, water will become a more pressing problem than oil, and the quantity, quality and distribution of water will pose significant scientific, technological and ecological difficulties as well as serious political and economic challenges. These vexing practical problems cannot be adequately addressed without also considering important philosophical, religious and ethical issues. After all, beliefs shape practices as much as practices shape beliefs.

A Water program would bring together people in the humanities, arts, social and natural sciences with representatives from professional schools like medicine, law, business, engineering, social work, theology and architecture. Through the intersection of multiple perspectives and approaches, new theoretical insights will develop and unexpected practical solutions will emerge.

It’s easy to bash the “ivory tower,” but this proposal reminds us why the epithet was originally positive. If you really want to see Horowitz go into a rage, wait until we start having graduate studies on the ethical implications of opposing the stimulus package, or the Lyotardian perspective on the tea party demonstrations of 2009. Do we start reading the Iliad to learn about ancient Greek attitudes towards a single-payer health care system? While the sentiment against parochial departments is nice, the proposed solution – essentially, department formation on the basis of media focus – is even worse. Even today, we see our own university moving towards renaming the architecture college the “College of Sustainable Design.” Had we the same attitudes in the 1950s as we do now, would it be the “The College of Atomic Design”?

This isn’t to say that the university should be completely aloof from the here and now. The ivory tower is a great metaphor here, because it describes exactly what the university, as an institution, should be doing: taking in the bird’s-eye view, looking at things in the long run and considering their place in a broader scheme.

This dovetails nicely with the new public-private education lobby in Arizona, Expect More Arizona, which states in its “Facts” section that:

There is a competitive shift occurring around the globe and in local communities that highlights an increasing need to strengthen education in our state.  Arizona’s students are falling behind their national and international peers in academic achievement, high school graduation rates and postsecondary degree attainment.  And our students who do graduate on time are increasingly unprepared to succeed in college, work or life.

In a world where the best jobs will go to the most knowledgeable and skilled workers regardless of where they live around the world, we cannot afford to let another day go without making education our state’s top priority.  It’s up to all of us to raise the bar, expecting more from ourselves, from our students and from each other.

We shouldn’t be surprised when the private sponsors of education lobbying efforts emphasize the economic aspects, but this has quickly become the only justification for the university. This represents a sort of debased utilitarianism, in which everything is weighted based on the jobs “generated” or the appropriation’s “multiplier effect” (multipliers, animal spirits, and liquidity traps, oh my!). If economic concerns are primary, then the proper legislative action should be to boost support for community colleges, which provide cheaper, professional education, that allows those earning median income ranges and below to acquire the skills necessary to get a new job.

The university at its best, in contrast, is marked by nothing if not its impracticality. Here is the place for reading the Greek philosophers, for pondering theoretical concepts in physics (how would Einstein have managed at a ‘jobs-oriented’ university), for allowing the baroque fantasies of the mind untethered to manifest themselves. This attitude is not inimical to societal contribution – today’s musings on futarchy might be tomorrow’s expositions on legal reform. But it does stand in stark contrast to any form of short-term “stimulus.”

NB: This post is a somewhat haphazard sequel to thoughts in an earlier post.

Student government as a labor union

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 28 April 2009

Labor Union - Unionizing the 'Brain Worker'This first occurred to me a week or so ago, and the more I think about the more it seems to provide a more realistic model for ASUA/GPSC than full-fledged, nation-state governments.

Both organizations are based on groups of people, rather than actual locations. Certainly, ASUA is centered around the UA campus, but as the constitution states it consists “of all students registered at the University of Arizona,” while GPSC contains a similar clause for graduate students. Similarly, the UAW was largely centered around the plants in Detroit near the Big 3, but its constituency is the workers – regardless of where they might work (since its founding, the UAW has expanded into many fields outside of automobile manufacture). Either way, there is no “state” to defend – their jurisdiction only applies to the workers.

Thus, student government is relegated to providing services, as Connor pointed out in his editorial. But rather than viewing these services as akin to the ASUA Department of Transportation (i.e. SafeRide), their closer counterpart are the benefits won by unions in labor negotiations with corporations. If you push any ASUA representative to justify the institution, sooner or later he’ll come back to the organization’s ability to “deal” with the administration, the equivalent of dealing with a corporate board. Labor unions strive to minimize worker contributions (increase vacation time, shorten hours, etc.) and maximize pay-outs (increase wages and benefits), and student government similarly strives to minimize contributions (decrease tuition) and maximize pay-outs (more services, concerts, ‘higher quality education’). The big exception is club funding, but this function has largely been outsourced to a non-elected Board (see this post for more on that).

This also helps to explain the earnestness in ASUA’s being seen as “your student government.” In order to effectively represent the student body in negotiations, ASUA must be the student voice; if there any entities competing to represent the students, ASUA’s power within the UA will be weakened. Further, since consolidating the vox populi makes for a more effective lobby, power tends towards the executive. Should that executive become the face of an organization – see Bruce, Hoffa, et al – then checks on that leader’s power in negotiating with corporate/administrative forces are rendered obsolete.

One might further see similarities between the ASUA-GPSC and the initial tension between the craft-based AFL – often described as a “conservative union” focused primarily on specific modifications to labor rather than political campaigns – and the industrial CIO, whose workers are viewed as a sort of lumpenproletariat that can be swung like a cudgel by union leaders. (Sometimes, however, the cudgel doesn’t measure up to its purported strength, a fact that labor unions and our student government are painfully aware of.) In the end, the two organizations were driven together by necessity.

Viewing ASUA as a union, Connor’s case against it becomes even stronger. For with the allocating of SSF money, along with the mandatory club registration fee, ASUA has effectively become an involuntary union. Advocating against ASUA becomes less about supporting anarchy, and more about giving students the right to not pay union dues.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Tobias Higbie

And I know my rights so you gon’ need a warrant for that

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 28 April 2009

Reminding college students of their Fourth Amendment rights is one of the pet issues here at the Lamp, so naturally we’re glad to see that some kids are reading their Constitution:

Police responded to Navajo Residence Hall in reference to the smell of marijuana coming from one of the rooms. When they arrived, police made contact with the resident assistant and one of the men who lived in the room.

. . .

Police asked the man if they could search his room, but he refused saying that he would prefer not “because of principle.” The man said that his roommate was in the room all night and was sleeping.

Police knocked on the door and the man’s roommate answered. He seemed to be in a daze from waking up, and was asked if there was any marijuana in the room. The roommate said no. Police noticed that there was a strong odor of marijuana coming from the room as soon as the door was opened. They asked the roommate if they could search the room, and he too said no.

Police noted that every time they tried to talk to the first man, he accused them of “bullying” him or “being mean” to him. He would not allow officers to speak and he refused to stop talking when asked to be quiet. Throughout the incident, the man continued to yell at the RA and told his roommate not to speak with officers. Police asked him if there was nothing in the room, why would he not allow them to search it. The man continued to say that it was on principle. Police told the men that they had the right to deny a search, but the more they cooperated the better it would be for them. Both men said that they still did not want police to search the room. The man became so upset at one point he started crying and would not stop for several minutes.

See? It’s that easy. The kids in this case ended up getting cited for disorderly conduct, but if you drop the righteous rage you might just get away scot-free. Contrary to police assertions, the men ended up being in a better position for not cooperating.

Unsettling metaphor of the day

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 27 April 2009

From Joel Valdez, senior VP for business affairs, on the latest bond issue from the UA:

“Anytime you sell bonds you incur debt; it is just like a mortgage on your house,” Valdez said via phone on Sunday.

And we haven’t any problems with mortgages recently, now have we? The bonds, coincidentally, are being sold by CitiGroup Global Markets, an organization that might know a thing or two about the problems of incurring debt.

The UA is in a slightly better condition. After all, the school only has to implement a “Dormitory Construction Bond Retirement Fee” on its students, make sure it lasts into perpetuity, and smile with a shovel for the press conference.