The Arizona Desert Lamp

Why concealed-carry on campus matters

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

Cannon for Sig EpA few days after Heller Day, the state of Arizona receives some good news from the legislature: the “deadly legal fiction” of the gun-free campus may soon come to an end. From the Sierra Vista Herald:

PHOENIX — Saying it will make people safer, state senators voted Friday to let people with concealed weapons permits carry them onto college and university campuses where they are now forbidden.

The 15-6 vote on the provision in HB 2439 came after backers said they believe that having people who are licensed by the state to have weapons should cut down on the number of massacres that occur on campuses. And Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, said that has happened in Arizona.

While this vote is promising, I am leery of this kind of consequentialist argument. Both sides use black swan events – the VaTechs and Columbines of the world – to draw conclusions that fit their own predetermined views on the issue. Both sides engage in wild rhetoric about stopping or starting crime, when in fact the limited case studies in Utah, Colorado, and Virginia have shown an essentially negligible impact on crime.

This is probably a result of the overall low ownership of guns by college students. According to a 2002 study [PDF], for every thousand college students in the Mountain region (Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Montana) there are an estimated sixteen students that own a gun for personal protection. Assuming this proportion holds for the UA (which is a dubious proposition, as Arizona’s overall gun ownership rate was the lowest in the Mountain region, according to this survey), there would be approximately 609 students – graduate and undergraduate – with firearms. Yet this number is too inflated, for considering it in light of this bill assumes that (a) every student that owns a weapon will carry it on campus; (b) every student that owns a weapon has a concealed-carry permit as well; and (c) none of these students are involved in a ROTC program.

Yet there is a bigger issue at stake at stake here, removed from crime-busting conceit; to steal from Randy Barnett, the presumption of liberty. The amendment that really needs to be discussed is not the second amendment, but the all-too-forgotten Ninth:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

The Arizona Constitution has a nearly equivalent passage in its Declaration of Rights:

Section 33. The enumeration in this Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny others retained by the people.

Underlying these passages is a profound declaration of a very libertarian principle: individuals have more rights than the state can ever possibly list. To institute a ban – be it on access to pornographic materials, the possession on public property of a gun by a concealed-carry permit holder, or marijuana by a patient with a prescription – the state must offer a compelling societal reason to suppress that liberty. Just as the defendant in a court of law is innocent until proven guilty, so an individual right exists until proven not to. (Ideally, such a “case” would be conducted under the same standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” But we’ll take “compelling evidence.”) In this case, the prosecution against liberty has simply failed, resorting to little more than public hand-wringing, devoid of facts.

Even further, the right to bear arms is in fact an enumerated right. Justice Scalia delivered a lexicographical body-slam on the anti-gun “militia” interpretation in Heller v. DC, but more applicable to the state of Arizona is her own constitution, which reads (Art. 2, Sec. 26):

The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the state shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain, or employ an armed body of men.

We should not be surprised that the UA is actually using its lobbyists to fight against this bill, but it is nice to see the UAPD be so forthright about their argument:

University of Arizona lobbyist Greg Fahey said his school opposes allowing anyone to have guns on campus. And Fahey said he’s not convinced that rule should be waived for those with permits to carry concealed weapons even though they have undergone background checks, training in state laws and been shown to be proficient in the use of the gun.

“Our chief of police and the police of all three universities have consistently said that their experience is that having people with guns is just more of an invitation to have accidents, to have problems,’’ Fahey said. “And they don’t want anyone who’s not a sworn officer being armed on campus.’’ [emphasis added – EML]

Never mind that it was this same UAPD – to whom we are supposed to surrender our Section 26 rights – headquartered about 300 feet away from a drive-by shooting, back in 2006. Government is a monopoly, and it hates competition.

NB: This opposition, however, raises an interesting scenario: while the university insists that it needs as much money as possible from the state, it refuses to adhere to the provisions set out by that same state. Like a surly adolescent, it wants all of the parents’ money with none of the responsibility to household rules. A hypothetical then is raised: how much state funding is the university willing to sacrifice in order to maintain its “deadly legal fiction”? $1 million? $5 million?

Previous Lamp coverage of guns on campus can be accessed here, here, and here. Image courtesy of Flickr user SigEp NV Alpha ’03

The People’s Fronts of Arizona

Posted in Education Policy, Politics by Evan Lisull on 27 June 2009

Judean People's FrontThe latest story of education protests against DETH credits the Arizona Education Association with leading the demonstration. Yet the AEA is just the oldest of many organizations that have been formed to lobby on education’s behalf. We’ve already discussed the Arizona Economic Council.  They stand alongside the university-backed Expect More Arizona, as well as the new-media-loving Stand Up for Arizona, the front group of former Arizona Democratic Party chairman Jim Pederson. Then, of course, there’s the Arizona Students Association, the lobbyists on the university’s payroll, and so on. Surely these groups approach education from varied approaches; but at the same time, it doesn’t exactly make for an effective lobbying push. It also doesn’t help that none of the groups seem to recognize the existence of the others, whether on their list of links or their press releases.

But all this underscores the bigger point; namely, that the “education lobby” as a unified force is a fleeting phenomenon. Budget maximalization works as a unifying force, just as the Romans provided a popular common enemy for the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front. (“But I thought we were the Populist Front!”) Even now it’s not apparent why, say, Arizona’s community colleges aren’t lobbying for funding at the expense of other university budgets. In fact, this has already happened in the state of Pennsylvania:

Gov. Ed Rendell removed four state-related universities from Pennsylvania’s application for federal stimulus money to help public higher education, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The preliminary federal-aid application had earmarked nearly $40-million for Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Lincoln University. But a revised application, made public Friday, would cost Penn State $20-million, Temple $11-million, Pitt $10-million, and Lincoln $870,000. The money would instead go to other state universities and community colleges.

Naturally, the universities mentioned oppose this cut. But can they honestly say that they are doing so in the name of ‘education’? In times of decreased funding, such divergences will soon be more, rather than less, apparent.

Also, bonus quote of the day:

Fourth-grade teacher Liza Green held a sign that said: “Sen. Harper: I’m a trough feeder and I vote!”

Ever thus to democracies, Lebowski.

Obligatory Monty Python video can be accessed here.

A military-industrial education

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 23 June 2009

Javelin MissileWe’ve alluded earlier to the odd love of Raytheon exhibited by leaders at the UA. Now, the UA-Raytheon flirtation has gone to the next level, with a coauthored editorial in the Daily Star by President Shelton and Taylor Lawrence, president of the Missile Systems Division of Raytheon. The hundreds of UA jobs that Shelton and Lawrence cite go towards the creation of products like the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), the AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile), and the AGM-65 Maverick.

This isn’t to say that Raytheon, by forging the spears, is guilty of Agamemnon’s crimes. So long as there is active demand for missiles (which, with the Obama administration, there certainly is), there will be an active supply. But for an institution that prides itself on striving to “improve the human condition,” there is a noticeable lack of questioning from the university as to whether UA-Raytheon is really the kind of satellite campus they were looking for. All must be sacrificed on the altar of “job creation,” and that includes educational missions.

One also must wonder at Raytheon’s insatiable appetite for government money. The editorial starts with a slobbering paean to the space program, that sole federal program that a majority of Americans have said they want to cut; it ends with the BioSphere, a monument to the juche of FAIL. A full 80 percent of Raytheon’s sales come courtesy of the federal government, a percentage that doesn’t account for money spent by foreign governments – like Saudia Arabia! – for its goods. Amusingly enough, this makes Raytheon more dependent on government spending than the university; and still, by Lawrence’s measure, this is not enough. So the corporatist wheel turns . . .

The editorial itself would be largely forgettable if it weren’t for this waterboarding of logic in the middle of an argument for more state spending:

The vast majority of the $530 million in funding for research last year at UA came from outside Arizona (primarily from the federal government). These funds from Washington are creating jobs in Arizona. By any measure, that is good for our state. Indeed, the most current data for BIO5 and the College of Optical Sciences show a return on investment from research funding of more than 5 to 1. There are not many investments that offer a greater return than that.

In other words: state funding has very little to do with funding research, the same research responsible for jobs. Seeing how Washington is planning on ramping up its spending on education (among a few other things), there thus is no reason for the state of Arizona to do anything but sit on its hands. I suppose it’s nice for Babylon on the Potomac to shower us with ArneBucks, if you’re into that whole “record deficits” thing. It is, however, an irrelevant aside when it comes to the current debate over the state budget.

This UA-Raytheon alliance, which has gone beyond marriage of convenience and into full-fledged lovefest mode, looks askance at both those who believe that the university is a powerful agent of change in the world, and those who think that the school is a country club of peaceniks. In actuality, it is a quasi-independent arm of the bureaucracy, fighting in a typically Nikansenian way to maximize its budget.

Image of the FGM-148 Javelin courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

College drinking: worse than the war in Iraq?

Posted in Campus, Culture by Evan Lisull on 18 June 2009

Soviet Anti-Alcohol AgitpropThe latest prohibitionist scare comes courtesy of this press release, which was duly reported without critique by both the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed. From the Chronicle:

Despite university campaigns to discourage alcohol abuse, a new study shows that drinking-related activities among college students have increased over the last decade.

. . .

“The fact that we’re not making progress is very concerning,” said Ralph Hingson, the lead researcher and director of the institute’s division of epidemiology and prevention research. “The irony is that during this same time period, our knowledge of what works as far as intervention in this age group has increased. That knowledge isn’t yet being put into place.

The study (which can be obtained for a hefty fee here) concludes with this very professional and scholarly paragraph:

In 2005, among 18- to 24-year-olds both in college and not in college, nearly 12 million consumed five or more drinks on at least one occasion in the past month, and more than 7 million drove under the influence of alcohol in the past year. Among 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States, injuries are the leading cause of death, and alcohol is the leading contributor, being a factor in more than 5,000 deaths in that age group each year. To place that number in perspective, it exceeds the total number of U.S. soldiers who have died in the war in Iraq.

Let’s take a look at some of the graphs from the study (Citation: Hingson, R.W., Zha, W., and Weitzman, E.R. Magnitude of and Trends in Alcohol-Related Mortality and Morbidity Among U.S. College Students Ages 18-24, 1998-2005. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Supplement No. 16: 12-20, July 2009):

Heavy Episodic Drinking Graph

“Heavy episodic drinking” is the latest trendy academese for “binge drinking,” and the biggest gains are 5 percent over the course of six years – not exactly the end of the world. For all the hooplah that is raised over underage drinking, levels of binge drinking by this subset has been more or less flatline – for non-college, underage adults (consider that oxymoron), the number is on a downward trajectory.

It should be pointed out that this is not continuous, perpetual drunkenness (the school week, as we call it down here). The percentage reflects that number of adults that had five or more drinks at one point over the course of the past month – in other words, one bad night, or one celebration at the end of finals. If this is considered “risky behavior,” then the word has lost all meaning.

Drunk Driving Graph

Yet here is the more surprising trend – for all the hand-wringing over drunk driving by young adults, every single category is on a downward trajectory. What’s more, drunk driving occurs at far higher levels among those of legal drinking age. Given these two results, one might be tempted to call this an era of responsible binge drinking. Of course, saying that a problem is actually getting less bad never results in any more funding for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA, the sponsor of the study) – thus, such studies have a tendency to emphasize the negative in their press releases.

The article instead finds a new target for rage: “unintentional, nontraffic injury deaths related to alcohol.” As the report states, “From 1998 to 2001 to 2005, the rate of unintentional alcohol-related nontraffic injury deaths among 18- to 24-year-old college students increased from 3.9 to 4.0 to 4.9 per 100,000 college students, a significant 25.6% increase (relative risk ratio [RR] = 1.23, 95% CI: 1.07-1.42).”

Unintentional Injury Death Graph

Naturally, there’s a caveat:

It should be noted that, relative to other unintentional injury deaths, poisoning deaths increased much more sharply among 18- to 24-year-olds between 1998 and 2005, from 779 to 2,290, nearly tripling during that period. Unintentional injury deaths other than poisonings actually declined slightly about 2%.

This is in reference to all unintentional injury deaths, not alcohol-related – and as the above table states, only 26.6 percent of this increase can be accounted for by alcohol. The proportion of alcohol-related poisoning deaths to total poisoning deaths reminds almost exactly the same. It’s worth reprinting the blustery assertions from the conclusion:

Among 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States, injuries are the leading cause of death, and alcohol is the leading contributor, being a factor in more than 5,000 deaths in that age group each year.

For starters, this last clause is a patent lie, considering their own data:

Injury Deaths Graph

As you can see, the total number of alcohol-related injury deaths for 18-24 year-olds is 4,808 in 1998. Yet more important is what the authors neglect to mention – the fact that the increase in alcohol-related deaths is outweighed by the increase in non-alcohol related deaths. While unintentional injury deaths rose by 25 percent, alcohol related deaths only rose by 15 percent. Non-alcohol related injury deaths (row 4 values –  row 5 values), by way of comparison, rose by 34 percent. (It’s the sober kids in need of intervention!) This is also a fact that can’t be explained away by drunk driving – after all, those deaths went down in relation to the total population, by 3 percent when the rate of population increase was taken into account.

Then there’s the fact that even if alcohol might be “related,” that’s quite a ways away from being directly responsible. After all, these stats don’t account for BAC – for all we know, those who died of hypothermia could’ve been drinking in an attempt to stay warm (which might help to explain the 90 percent figure for “relation”). Yet this reflects the zero-tolerance MADD approach – the moment a drop of demon liquor hits the tongue, it is responsible for all tomfoolery that comes hereafter. The rest of the sane world understands the difference between a glass of wine and a power hour.

Yet for all their skepticism of the current administration, the National Review completely suspends all doubt for the NIAAA, responding to the study with this:

While there is (justifiably) much hand-wringing about these stats, very few people seem to understand the ultimate cause. Colleges say they need more money and resources to educate students as to the consequences of excessive drinking. Commenters blame parents who “demonize” alcohol consumption. (Yes, that’s our problem — excessive parental disapproval of alcohol — when almost any high-school principal can tell you legions of tales of parent-hosted drinking parties.)

The real culprit, of course, is culture. Colleges have developed a culture of nearly unrestrained hedonism. Binge drinking isn’t an accident, it’s the entire point of the Thursday (or is it now Wednesday?) to Sunday party circuit. For the college hedonist, binge drinking facilitates the so-called “hookup culture.” And when it comes to sex, the university message is, shall we say, mixed. Do it! (but safely) is the college theme. One university, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, apparently believes that providing student-fee funding to the Roman Catholic Foundation somehow threatens the Republic, yet will throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at a student group called “Sex Out Loud.”

Do it! (but safely) is a losing message, especially when combined with a concerted effort to demonize those private religious voices that may offer alternatives to a culture that dominates campus. From the more “staid” schools like Harvard to the national champions of the party lifestyle at Florida, “do it” dominates “safely,” and the one ultimate answer — a different moral code — is simply not an option. After all, some of the same people arguing for a better path may — in their heart of hearts — not support same-sex marriage. And we can’t have that kind of voice on campus, can we?

Not only is gaymarriage going to take away your peanut-butter sandwich, but it’s also killing your kids on the road. For all this madness about colleges “creating” culture, the drunk and hedonist campus has existed, on record, since the eleventh century. The article is awesome enough to quote again:

Drinking Notes: Students in the Middle Ages had never heard of tea, coffee, or cigarettes, let alone iced frappuccinos, but alcohol was an integral feature of Oxford life, guzzled continually by students and teachers alike. Statutes even provided that students supply their professors with a decent amount of wine during examinations. At a banquet, adventurous guests might be treated to Hypocras, a supposedly aphrodisiac (and insanely expensive) cocktail of Burgundy, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and cardamom.

This drunken “do it” attitude is 500 years older than the entire Protestant movement and Montaigne’s witnessing of a gay marriage in Rome, 600 years older than the founding of the American colonies, 700 years older than Edmund Burke and the American War of Independence, 800 years older than Abraham Lincoln, 950 years older than the first Women’s Studies Program etc. etc. College drinking is, in fact, what one might call a tradition, or perhaps a “permanent thing.”

(And no, it’s not worse than the war in Iraq. What a stupid comparison.)

Soviet anti-alcohol propaganda courtesy of The Museum of Anti-Alcohol Posters.

Diversity centers remain separate and equal

Posted in Campus, Politics, UA Transformation Plan by Evan Lisull on 17 June 2009

Much the impetus behind the proposed Unity Center, as CSIL’s Michelle Perez readily admits, was to realize cost savings in the form of administrative consolidation. Diversity groups argued that the proposal would unduly centralize the groups, drowning out their independent voices. Unfortunately for both groups, this consolidation apparently already exists:

The directors of the cultural centers either refused to comment on the situation or referred the Daily Wildcat to speak with Kendal Washington White, director of Multicultural Affairs and Student Success.

These centers are so fiercely independent, so full of administrative bloat, that they direct all media contact to the same official, an official that serves directly under the charge of Student Affairs VP Melissa Vito. In truth, this proposal was not as radical as either side’s proponents made it out to be – the savings certainly were not in the millions, and not “all signs of life have been muted.” Yet it was a reform; and just as he did in reneging on his only specified cuts, President Shelton has deferred the opportunity to actual make serious changes. After all, there no doubt was a budget hearing to get to in Phoenix.

Far more important in this debate are the principles underlying it – not the lack of principles from the UA administration (which backed down the moment controversy even began), but the principles driving the opposition to the Unity Center. This quote in particular stood out:

[Carlos Rematoza] said that some important elements of the new center would be whether or not individual groups could maintain their own identities and be able to accommodate their special needs.

“Space is definitely going to be important,” Retamoza said. “Each of the centers have a lot their own programs which are very important to their students. If we’re all in one space it will be difficult for each center to do something particularly for their students.”

For most of this country’s history, minority groups have agitated on behalf of integration – the ability to act in civil society with the privileges accorded to others, to be treated equally – not separately – under the law. Dr. King and his civil dissidents did not fight for higher standards of “Colored Fountains” – they fought to end the practice entirely. Women’s rights groups (well, most of them) agitated on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment. Gay rights’ groups advocate for being able to serve openly in the military (a call that President Obama has found almost as risible as the idea of marijuana legalization).

The advocates for these Centers, however, have taken the opposite tack. They don’t want to be integrated into the broader community, to sit at the proverbial (and possibly literal) table with other groups – they want “space.” Integration of cultural centers is “racist“; segregation of such centers encourages diversity.

If one is seriously concerned about the “silencing of voices” and homogenization of diverse points of view, perhaps they might start their crusade with the extant LGBT Center – which assumes, of course, that only one voice needs exist for the exchangeable gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender identities. Then one might turn the Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs Center, which manages to lump together Puerto-Rican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Haitian-Americans, Venezuelan-Americans, Argentinian-Americans, among many other groups. Don’t even try getting into Asian-Pacific American Student Affairs – an organization covering groups from literally half the globe. Why these groups are comfortable under the same roof, while others are not – well, that’s for them to know, and good luck finding out.

As these various Centers insist on balkanization, ASUA has launched its own diversity initiative – the “Integrating Diversity Council.” As Roget will tell you, “integrate” is a synonym for “unify” and “unite”- exactly what Shelton and Vito’s proposal intended to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long from integration to turn into indoctrination:

The Integrating Diversity Council is a small body of students from various marginalized associations on campus asked to represent their respective constituents. This body of students is responsible for bringing awareness to social justice issues on the university campus . . .

Never has it been considered – not by ASUA, not by Student Affairs, not by any of the Centers themselves – that this insistence on social justice is itself a form of control. Is it so much to ask that “cultural centers” be concerned with, y’know, culture – John Coltrane, say, or David Wojnarowicz – rather than bastardized liberation theology? While crying that an administrative move to a building is somehow “silencing the student voice,” conveniently forgotten is the fact that those opposing to the principle of redistributive justice have already been effective silenced. Potemkin diversity – which looks good on pamphlets – replaces intellectual diversity.

Certainly, Shelton’s move was about money. But the counter-move, led by the Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs Center, is a distinctly segregationist one – you stay out of our Center, and we’ll stay out of yours.

Tyler Cowen’s advice to college administrators

Posted in Campus, Education Policy by Evan Lisull on 10 June 2009

Posted without comment:

1. Many mid-level schools do not yet apply rigorous quantitative analysis in reviewing their fundraising techniques; this should change.

2. Norms will shift toward a greater inequality of rewards for lower-level staff.  Yet any single administrator who tries to bulldoze through a business-like, highly-incentivized solution does so at his or her peril.  The shift of norms will take a long time.

3. Community colleges are in many cases turning out to be stronger competitors than are for-profits.

4. The higher education bubble has burst.  The expiration of stimulus funds in 2011 will be a crushing event for many public sector universities. [see here, here, and here – EML]

5. Faculty governance is essential for tenure and curriculum decisions.  But faculty governance for setting university priorities is a big mistake.

6. The value of face-to-face classroom time (discussed in Create Your Own Economy, by the way) will prove robust.  But the very best teachers of the future will take on an increasing role as editors, collage creators, and DJs.  A brilliant scientist who doesn’t understand YouTube will be crippled as a teacher.  Adjuncts may lead the wave of innovation here.

7. The way to be fiscally responsible is to refuse luxury projects in good times.  If bad times have come it is already too late.

8. Current administrators are using stimulus funds to buy off the old interest groups, under the view that these are temporary bad times.  Relative to what will come, these are “good times,” and much of that surplus ought to be put in reserve funds.  That is not happening.

9. Many mid-level schools underinvest in making incremental improvements to their strong, core departments, because nobody gets much credit for that.

10. Being a good university administrator requires the right mix of idealism and cynicism and that is hard to come by.

You will respect Robert Shelton’s authoritah!

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 8 June 2009

AuthoritahJust over three months ago, history professor Juan Garcia was appointed vice-president of instruction. President Shelton praised Garcia’s “distinguished record of leadership and academic accomplishment,” and looked forward to working with him on improving the “academic experience” for students at the UA. On Friday, President Shelton sent him this email:

Dear Juan,

As you can tell, I was copied on this email exchange. Let me be direct. The wording and tone of your email to Provost Hay – your direct superior – will not be tolerated. With this email, I am formally asking for your resignation from your administrative position. A printed letter will follow.


The background story (and the awesomely bad Comic Sans emails) come courtesy of great research from the Arizona Daily Star‘s Aaron Mackey:

In the fall, Hay asked the veteran administrator to design a set of courses that could be taught in Centennial and to coordinate with several other UA departments to execute the plan.

. . .
Garcia developed a comprehensive plan for the Centennial classes that included providing additional support to students through the UA’s Office of Student Affairs.

In an e-mail from her Blackberry phone on May 20, Hay informed Garcia that the project would be moved to the student affairs’ office with the final stages of the planning headed by Melissa Vito, the vice president of student affairs.

In a terse response, Garcia objected to the change, refused to meet with Vito and said it was wrong to allow a non-academic unit to oversee the program.

Terse is what polite publications use in place of “really pissed off.” The complete text of the reply:

What?!! You are joking, right? If this is not a joke, then I decline to do as you ask. I will not acquiesce to a decision that once again has excluded me from the process. At the very least I should have been consulted on a decision that will profoundly affect and infringe on my main area of responsibility. Second, the decision conveys the wrong message about my leadership on the project and all of the planning and effort that has gone into this complex undertaking thus far. Finally, I am not willing to relinquish responsibility for this project because it clearly and rightfully falls within the domain of instruction and academic affairs. Giving the Centennial Hall project to a non-instructional unit flies in the face of reason and practice. It carries with it grave implications that faculty will oppose. In short, this heavy handed, insensitive, discriminatory, and unilateral decision making on your part is going too far. This is another example of your lack of respect for me and for the office of Instruction. Juan

Juan R. Garcia

Vice President for Instruction &

Dean of University College

Now, we’re not the biggest fans of Dr. Garcia here – after all, not only was he behind the abominable “advisers fee,” but also has been one of the University College‘s biggest defenders. Yet for all of his Brucean tendencies when it comes to punctuation, his core point is actually spot-on – the plan to teach classes in Centennial Hall, regardless how one feels about it, is an academic reorganization, and any “retention” initiatives that might be attached should be secondary in their scope.

At the very least, it’s a legitimate issue to raise. Yet President Shelton refused to even listen to such arguments, or at the very least to say, “Hey, Juan, simmer down, let’s reconsider,” or, “Wow, Dr. Garcia, I didn’t realize you objected so strongly – how could we improve this?” Instead, Garcia was curtly dismissed with a message that could’ve been a Twitter entry – and, what’s more, reminded of where he really stands in the university hierarchy, with the “your direct superior” line. President Shelton and Provost Hay continue the university’s fine tradition of transparency, refusing to comment to any degree with regards to the situation.

Perhaps there’s a bright side to all this though – the university might decide that the $210,000 price-tag [PDF] for a bureaucratic “Vice President for Instruction” might be a bit too pricey. An out-of-state student can dream, right?

Why tertiary education?

Posted in Campus, Education Policy by Evan Lisull on 3 June 2009

“The UA is eager to be part of the solution to our economic crisis, not just a victim. That means taking our fair share of cuts – which we have, and then some. But it also it means preserving our ability get students through school and into the workforce, to find solutions to society’s most pressing problems, and to serve as a powerful attractor of businesses and families to Arizona.”

-President Robert Shelton, endorsing Governor Brewer’s FY2010 budget.

“I commend Governor Jan Brewer for her wisdom and courage in proposing a state budget that both deals with the current budget deficit and ensures Arizona’s economic future. If Arizona is to return to prosperity in the near future, the state’s universities must continue to train workers, attract research funding, develop new industries and spin off start-up companies. Indeed, the state’s research universities are the key to the kind of economic diversification that will moderate future economic downturns in the state.”

-ASU President Michael Crow, also endorsing Gov. Brewer’s budget

“We want to be part of the solution to help this State climb out of the budget crisis with a workforce that is prepared for a diverse economy and high‐wage jobs.”

-NAU President John Haeger, who not only has endorsed [PDF] the budget but has offered his services to help push it through the legislature.

“The Arizona Economic Council believes strong K-12 and university systems are vital to Arizona’s ability to compete for high-tech, high-quality 21st century jobs.”

-The Arizona Economic Council, in a recent post.

“Postsecondary education is the final stage of the education continuum, often continuing throughout the course of an individual’s life. Whether a student chooses a four-year university, two-year community college or a career and technical education program, postsecondary degree completion provides more job opportunities for students and greater economic prosperity for our state.”

-Expect More Arizona, in its post-secondary education facts page.

Remind me what that was about libertarians caring for nothing but big business?

Open-source dissertation defense?

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 3 June 2009

Plagiarism, by JSU President Meehan

This picture is rightly getting the rounds, thanks to the ever popular Boing Boing. A summary of the story from the Chronicle:

Back in April, William A. Meehan, president of Jacksonville State University in Alabama, was accused of plagiarism. According to a lawsuit, Mr. Meehan copied large portions of his dissertation verbatim from a dissertation published three years earlier.

At the time, a university spokesman said there was no substance to the accusations, and the matter has since faded from the news.

But that changed on Monday, when a chart (click on “Download PDF” icon in order to read the document) surfaced online. The chart highlights portions of Mr. Meehan’s dissertation that mirror the work of Carl Boening, chairman of the behavioral-studies division at Shelton State Community College, also in Alabama.

. . .

Patty Hobbs, a spokeswoman for Jacksonville State, said the plagiarism charges had been investigated and refuted by lawyers at both Jacksonville and Alabama. “This is not new,” said Ms. Hobbs. “It’s taken on a life of its own on the blogs. Our stand on it is still the same.””

Mr. Meehan received his doctorate in education from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa in 1999. The university reportedly reviewed the plagiarism charges, though questions have been raised about the thoroughness of that investigation.

Mr. Meehan has run into trouble with allegations of plagiarism before. In 2007 newspaper columns supposedly written by him turned out to have been copied. —Thomas Bartlett

One of the comments brings up the specter of Ward Churchill, and between these cases a common question emerges: “How the hell did these people ever get to be doctors in their field, let alone (in the case of Churchill) gain tenure?” It’s a interesting question. The process for gaining a doctorate is largely buried within the various departments, but the end-tail of the process (after completing core requirements) basically boils to the following steps:

1. Choose a faculty advisor(s)

2. Write a dissertation

3. Defend dissertation before a committee of professors in your field

This process depends based on program and school, and the amount of intra-department politics that go into it are somewhat astounding (or utterly unsurprising). Students aspiring for doctorates must play these power politics as much as they must research, striving to get a more amenable professor on their review board in lieu of someone else. Usually, this is a side effect of a general good; yet the case of Mr. Meehan is a dramatic demonstration of how someone can slip through the system.

Currently, dissertation defenses are open to the public. Students on campus can occasionally espy fliers advertising the defense of the paper, “Design of Multi Modality Fundus Cameras” (Biomedical Engineering). It probably won’t be as bad as Pearl Harbor, but few if any of those with interest will want to, or will find the time to, attend.

Suppose, though, that these papers were published online? Ideally, they would be accessible at a resource center for the department, easily viewable by experts – amateur and otherwise – around the world. The papers would include a commenting section, where viewers could submit questions/concerns. The author could either respond to the comments online, or use the comments to help prepare for questions that s/he might face in an oral defense.

There are two ways to go about implementing such a format. One would be to publish the dissertation two weeks before the actual defense. Google News Alerts would be dinged, RSS feeds would be updated, and those with an interest in the field would have to time to go through the paper. Yet I suspect that those seeking doctorates might find this an unfair amount of scrutiny to be subjected to prior to an oral defense; in that case, papers could be posted after the oral defense had been passed, again for two weeks. The same process would continue, but the approval would only be reconsidered in light of the comments with the approval of half of the professors on the board.

By no means is this a fool-proof plan – in all likelihood, Mr. Meehan would still have gotten away with his plagiarism no matter what sort of system of establish. But by bringing some sunlight – that most effective disinfectant – into the docorate granting process, perhaps there might some chance of combating the system’s worst vagaries.

(Any thoughts from those in graduate school will be greatly appreciated.)

Fearful Educators Redact Public Archives: FERPA creep strikes again

Posted in Media, Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 2 June 2009

The Columbus Dispatch sent requests for athletics-related documents to every Division I-A college in the United States. Easy enough, right? All public records, mostly public schools, and a process so routine that most schools have special offices dedicated to handling them. Turns out, most colleges are going crazy with the CIA highlighters, thanks to varied and creeping interpretations of the federal privacy law that protects student information. From the article:

Across the country, many major-college athletic departments keep their NCAA troubles secret behind a thick veil of black ink or Wite-Out. Alabama. Cincinnati. Florida. Florida State. Ohio State. Oklahoma. Oregon State. Utah. They all censor information in the name of student privacy, invoking a 35-year-old federal law whose author says it has been twisted and misused by the universities.

Former U.S. Sen. James L. Buckley said it’s time for Congress to rein in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which he crafted to keep academic records from public view.

A six-month Dispatch investigation found that FERPA, as it’s commonly called, is a law with many conflicting interpretations. And that makes it virtually impossible to decipher what is going on inside a $5 billion college-sports world that is funded by fans, donors, alumni, television networks and, at most schools, taxpayers.

Read the full investigation here. The University of Arizona isn’t mentioned in the article, but according to the newspaper’s online database, we’re no paragon of transparency. The athletics department ignored a request for team flight manifests, refused to disclose recipients of complimentary plane tickets, blacked out names on student job records, and redacted names and details in a report on NCAA violations.

Of course, UA invokes FERPA outside of athletics, too. UA’s official interpretation of the law is covered in this memo from the Office of General Counsel. It’s pretty strict, defining student records as “any information or data recorded in any medium including but not limited to handwriting, print, tapes, film, e-mail, microfilm, and microfiche, which is directly related to a student and maintained by the University or a person acting for the University.”

Then it carves out a few big exceptions: administrators and support staff with “legitimate educational interest” (there goes a privacy objection to Project Crime STOP), a few exceptions in the case of serious disciplinary violations, especially sex offences, and most controversial, notifying the parents of students caught drinking underage.

As the Ohio investigation shows, it’s not an uncommon interpretation, but it is an overbroad one. In the past, UA has used FERPA to protect student government records and information on crimes committed on campus. The law has interfered with publishing a yearbook, and embroiled UA in serious controversy when they rolled out the first CatCards in 1998.

Protecting the academic records of adult students is a perfectly good goal, but even at UA, FERPA has crept far beyond its original intent. In practice, it is used to privilege some records that would otherwise be public information–things like athletics information and conduct violations–while maintaining exceptions for others, like student surveillance and parental notification. There’s a fair case for strict privacy without consent, and a compelling one for total transparency, but UA’s current interpretation of FERPA–along with those of many of its peer universities–offers the worst of both.