The Arizona Desert Lamp

Writing Elsewhere (or, Shameless Self-Promotion)

Posted in Media, Politics by Evan Lisull on 28 July 2009

Along with some fellow AFF contestants, I’ve begun writing a column for the D.C. Writeup. It’s good, new-fashioned media fun – and it allows for a stretching of those national/international brain muscles, which have atrophied under the tyranny of Bizarroland. The first piece is on the walking, talking Hair-Plug 3000. Tweet it, Diggit, Reddit, comment on it.

The changes for this site are still in works – lot of ins, lot of outs, lot of what-have-yous. If any readers out there are interested in getting involved, please don’t hesitate to shoot us an email.

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Encouraging three year degrees

Posted in Campus, Education Policy by Evan Lisull on 15 July 2009

Graduating EarlyThe AP has a story on the three-year degree, and unfortunately the UA’s own Roxie Catts speaks out against the idea:

But critics say shaving the fourth year off college could limit a student’s social experience and provide a narrower education.

“From a financial standpoint, particularly in these economic times, it’s a great deal,” said Roxie Catts, an academic adviser at the University of Arizona. But that would mean sacrificing some general education courses, she said — “the things that get you out of your comfort zone and stick with you for life.”

As director of advising, Ms. Catts should know that no matter how soon you graduate, everyone is required to conquer the INDV-TRAD-NATS Chimera, fulfilling the same minimum of 35 units. The only way a student takes less gen-ed courses than the given amount is if they test out of them, via an AP test in high school. It would be surprising if Ms. Catts were advocating towards more mediocrity in Arizona’s already abysmal high schools. Unfortunately, this attitude seems to be shared by university administrators elsewhere:

Another student at a four-year college who figured out how finish in three was Charles Jacobson, 20, who graduated this year in business at Skidmore College. He credits good planning and not AP courses. “Halfway through my freshman year, I had all my courses planned out,” Jacobson said.

He was motivated to get a business degree after a summer job with a pet store in high school. He recalls going to the Skidmore registrar’s office and posing the idea of a degree in three years.

“The first thing they asked me was, are you sure you want to do that? I said yes, and here is my plan.”

In fact, universities have gone further in normalizing “out-in-five” than they have “out-in-three.” As the piece points out:

Only 4.2 percent of U.S. undergraduates earned bachelor’s degrees in three years, according to the most recent statistics from the Education Department. The average student spends six years to get a degree at a public university and 5.3 years at a private institution, according to the College Board.

These stats indicate the unfortunate tendency towards over-consumption, rather than under-consumption. One might cynically remark that this is a profit-maximizing tendency on the part of the university – “milk ’em for as much as they got” – but the unnecessary retention of students also leads to overly crowded classes and other resources, reducing spots available for underclassmen and the overall quality of the school. There’s a reason that the university has penalties for exceeding the 145 unit limit – where 120 units is the bare minimum for a BA.

Yet excess fees alone serve only to punish students that take up Ms. Catts offer and explore something outside of one’s comfort zone, and on a small scale encourage students who have switched majors multiple times to simply drop out rather than incurring the hefty $60+ per-unit fee ($115+ for out-of-state students). In concert with these charges, the UA should be proactive in proposing three year offerings, especially to students in Honors and on scholarship. Rather than questioning the decision-making ability of students like Jacobson, advisers should encourage these sorts of plans – after all, even if things don’t work out, the student still will probably graduate in four. This is a far preferable path than lackadaisically shooting for four years, only to be stuck for an additional semester after forgetting a GenEd.

The school could also restructure scholarships and financial aid to be delivered over the course of three years, rather than four. Keeping funds constant, this would serve to either make annual offerings more generous (full-ride and books, for instance), or to expand the total number of students receiving the aid. Students who are given four year scholarships tend to stay for a full four years.

Further, the school should exempt from the excess fee units that were earned elsewhere – community college, placement tests, or other transfers. Given the UA’s comparatively lenient transfer credit policies, these policies together could actually be a selling point for prospective students with an eye on post-baccalaureate studies. “Come to the UA: Save Money, and get a Research 1 degree in Three!” Perhaps this casts the UA undergraduate as a stepping stone – but sacrificing a little bit of pride could go a long way in allowing the UA to compete with top schools around the country

NB: One last, semi-related note – this “soak the out-of-staters” strategy is getting out of control [but switch the labels – it’s $1,500 for 12+ units, not $12+ for 1,500 units. Apologies – EML]:

There’s absolutely no reason for this. If the goal is to discourage super-seniors, an in-state student takes up exactly as much room in a class as an out-of-state student. As if that weren’t enough, the out-of-state surcharge for taking 7 units is inexplicably less than that for taking 6 units.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Ethan Hurd

UA messes with FIRE, gets burned

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 6 July 2009

While the university has long cried foul to David Horowitz’s jeremiads (not, as Ben Kalafut points out, entirely without cause), the school apparently engaged in quite a bit of chicanery of its own behind the scenes of his Tucson visit. From the blog of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

Horowitz spoke on April 7 at an event sponsored by the College Republicans. A few days before the event, the Dean of Students Office contacted the University of Arizona Police Department (UAPD) regarding security for the event. On April 3, UAPD Commander Robert Sommerfeld informed College Republicans President Ryan Ellison that if the group did not request two UAPD officers for security at the event, he would recommend that the event be shut down. In order to avoid having the event canceled, the College Republicans acceded to the UAPD’s demand.

The event proceeded without any problems, and on April 19 the group received an invoice of $384.72 for the security. A June 8 e-mail from Anjelica Yrigoyen, Special Event Coordinator for the UAPD, specifically linked the security fee to the controversial nature of the event.

After being pressured to pay the bill, the College Republicans turned to FIRE for help. On June 10, FIRE wrote University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton, pointing out that any requirement that student organizations hosting controversial events pay for extra security is unconstitutional because it affixes a price tag to events on the basis of their expressive content. FIRE cited the Supreme Court’s decision in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992), which states, “Listeners’ reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation. … Speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.”

FIRE’s letter to President Shelton (among others) offers a comprehensive summary of the problem, as well as an overview of the legal precedent . Thankfully, FIRE’s legal threats prevailed, and the UAPD decided to “absorb the charges.” Lest you think that the UA is a stalwart of civil liberties, the release reminds us that the school is simply following in the footsteps of its predecessors:

The University of Arizona therefore joins the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and the University of California, Berkeley, each of which this year has recognized the Forsyth precedent and has refunded excessive security fees after intervention by FIRE.

Still, it’s nice to know that in this case, the UA adheres to the rules, rather than defying them. Kudos to the CRs for challenging the charge.

The sacred fire of liberty: a message for the Fourth

Posted in Politics by Evan Lisull on 3 July 2009

Firework PostcardThis Saturday marks the 233rd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, a day that John Adams declared:

. . . ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Unfortunately, Arizonans will not be fully joining in such “pomp and parade.” Arizona is the only state West of the Mississippi that bans all pyrotechnic fireworks to her citizens; it joins Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island as the only states to do so in the nation.

Why does Arizona think her citizens so much weaker and in need of paternal protection than those in New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California, Colorado, and 40 other states? Why did Govs. Symington and Hull (both Republicans) both veto legislation that would have restored this liberty to her citizens?

The answer, inevitably, is safety. Benjamin Franklin’s famous edict has all but been forgotten in the urge to protect Arizona citizens from themselves. Their hand-wringing is made difficult by the paucity of finding an actual fireworks menace, when the annual number of fireworks injuries in the United States is barely higher 9,200, and related deaths only 11. In comparison, more people have died from “contact with powered lawn mower,” “fall involving bed,” or falls involving “ice-skates, skis, roller-skates, or skateboards.” So far, this has not led to bans on power lawn mowers, bunk beds, or skate parks. In desperation, the Forces That Be have brought out one Matt Crosbie as the poster child for maintaining the ban:

After the series of explosions, Matt Crosbie forced his way out of the car. When he looked down, he saw the skin peeling from his arms.

Flashes of smoke, flames and burned flesh were the result of Crosbie’s attempt to launch mortar-like fireworks out the window of a moving car days before his high-school graduation. One of the explosives he fired from a cardboard tube bounced back into the vehicle, igniting more fireworks and leaving the car engulfed in flames. [emphasis added]

. . .

Crosbie, who recently joined firefighters to speak out against the bill, said he was inspired to serve as a burn-victim advocate after his rehabilitation.

“I’ve had 30 surgeries, plenty of skin grafts,” said Crosbie, now 23. “I guess you could say I’m scarred for life because of this.”

In other words – because Mr. Crosbie has proven himself incapable of using fireworks properly, it therefore follows that no one in the state can use fireworks properly. If we allow for fireworks in this state, everyone will start firing mortars out of their moving vehicles. Not discussed is the inconvenient fact that Mr. Crosbie managed to obtain “mortar-like fireworks” in spite of the state’s stringent ban. Meanwhile, as stringent budget cuts are debated in Phoenix, law enforcement officers will be on high alert this weekend for fireworks smugglers.

You should be careful – which is a nice way of saying don’t be stupid. Don’t fire mortars out of a moving vehicle. Don’t give your three-year-old a burning sparkler and walk inside. Don’t start bottle rocket fights with the neighbors. Don’t try lighting an M-80 on your kitchen stove.

But it is a distinctly un-American approach to argue, as the CDC does, that “fireworks should be left to the professionals.” This is exactly the same impulse that has been used against democratic impulses and individual liberty for eons – it is no accident that President George Washington, describing government, said that, “[l]ike fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Just as British considered the colonists too immature to handle self-government, so our current government – ostensibly, the one still based in part on the Ninth Amendment – finds us too incompetent to handle sparklers and bottle rockets. In attempting to protect ourselves from the fearsome burn of the sparkler, we find ourselves scorched with mandarin diktats.

Thankfully, HB 2258 – sponsored by Rep. Andy Biggs (R) – has made it through the Legislature and onto Governor Brewer’s desk; seeing how she played with sparklers as a child, she will probably have the good sense to sign the bill. This bill allows for the legal possession of sparklers and other small fireworks. It won’t, unfortunately, go into effect in time for this year’s festivities. But it is a good start, hopefully one towards restoring the liberties that most Americans – and all Westerners – enjoy.

The only thing more impressive, more amazing, and more praiseworthy than the epic shows of Disneyland and DC are the small shows staged in backyards and back roads across the country. Far better to celebrate the Fourth by exercising those liberties so painfully won, rather than slavishly following the concern-mongering of the state. Bureaucrats may find such a celebration petty and worthy of scorn; thus have they always viewed the accomplishments of individuals.

This Saturday, the Desert Lamp urges you to follow in the footsteps of those that fought for these liberties. Get drunk, blow things up, and openly question the “swarm of Officers” that tell you otherwise. (Although, really, why just Saturday?)

Fireworks 2

Privately Funded, Publicly Provided: The Mineral Museum

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 1 July 2009

Remember when President Shelton singled out the UA Mineral Museum for cuts in this press release? Thanks to private industry, the gem of the UA’s museum outreach efforts will remain for now:

The University of Arizona Mineral Museum will continue to be open to the public due to the generous financial assistance of the Freeport-McMoRan Foundation and an anonymous donor. The museum, located inside Flandrau: The UA Science Center, will be open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and on Tuesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. for field trips by reservation only.

. . .

Former president and chief operating officer of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Timothy R. Snider, said, “Our relationship with the UA goes back a long, long time – back to the origins of both our institutions – and we are honored to provide support in several ways. This gift will help to create an environment for the public to become more informed about natural resources.”

To elaborate on Snider’s point, here’s a passage from The Lamp in the Desert on the first time Big Mineral gave the university a helping hand, back around the turn of the twentieth century:

Probably to Barnsfeld’s surprise, the shot paid off a year later when Dr. James Douglas, on behalf of the Copper Queen Company, gave the University $10,000 with instructions to use the income in the purchase of instruments for scientific research of special equipment necessary for the proper instruction of students in the department of mineralogy and the School of Mines. So far as available records show, this was the first research grant made to the University. [emphasis added – EML]