The Arizona Desert Lamp

In a shocking twist, UA does not turn into a bloody shooting gallery.

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

Today marks the end to several restrictions on the right to bear arms in this state (Ben Kalafut has the full roundup), and naturally the administration went into full psycho-freakout mode. Shelton and the Board of Regents joined in with the Faculty Senate hand-wringing, citing “grave concerns about safety” with regards to the new provision allowing guns-in-glove-compartments-in-locked-cars. The ASUA Senate also approved its gun resolution today (more on that in the full Senate report).

This site is eager to hear observations of strange behavior in response to the legislation’s implementation, but so far all of the “concern” seems concocted from thin air, an expression of hypotheticals a la Robert Ludlum’s juvenilia, rather than any serious look at how things actually happen. If we’re in the middle of a game of Jump to Conclusions, one could readily point out that there has been an inverse relation between gun restrictions and gun deaths on campus, a trend depicted in an Yglesian ridiculous-comparison-that-kinda-makes-a-point graph. One could conduct a similar graph for “guns on campus banned” and “guns on campus allowed.”

Gun Deaths GraphInstead, campus seemed to operate more or less the way it does on any given Wednesday. Teachers did not seem particularly oppressed or reluctant to teach on controversial issues; students were not any more reticent to share their opinions on class material; and employees went about their business as they usually do, braving the adverse conditions to perform their duties.

Off-campus, students were also exposed to the prospect of guns in bars. The Wildcat article on the matter opens with this lede, which sums up the issue perfectly:

UA area bartenders aren’t too concerned about a new Arizona law that goes into effect today allowing guns into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol — but they are asking, “What’s the point?”

“What’s your point, Walter?” Here’s my point, Dude – when it comes to an issue with minimal impact, an issue where there seems to be no point, the state must err on the side on the side of liberty. The article describes the provision allowing bar-owners to post signs prohibiting guns as a “loophole,” but it is far more important than that. Requiring  bar owners to admit those bearing arms legally, regardless of their own preferences, poses an undue burden when it comes to admitting patrons. Yet it is an equally undue burden to forbid gun-bearers to enter their premises. This bill allows for owners to make a choice, a point that Buffet bartender Bill Cleveland makes perfectly:

Bill Cleveland, a bartender at The Buffet Bar, said bars should be allowed to set their own policies in general — whether relating to guns, smoking or other behaviors.

“I know alcohol and guns don’t mix … I’m more pissed about smoking regulations,” he said. “This is like our home. We should set the rules.”

Cleveland called the new guns-in-bars law “the most redneck thing I’ve ever heard of,” saying he’d been shot at more than once during his 12-year career as a bouncer and bartender.

Ignoring the irony of the Buffet describing something else as “redneck,” it should be emphasized that Mr. Cleveland’s shooting incident was almost certainly illegal under any regime. Mad props go out for bringing back the issue of Arizona’s stupidly draconian smoking ban. The Lamp, naturally, endorses the Buffet as one of the finer drinking establishments in the UA area.  I suspect that most bar owners will post such signs, although a post-bill survey of establishments might reveal some interesting numbers. Yet some will choose to admit, and even cater, to such arm-bearers – and more power to them for doing so.

Under this new regime, consumers are similarly free to choose. Those who are disturbed by the possibility of drinking next to someone with a concealed weapon are free to go to a different bar, as well to tell the owner why they are leaving in an attempt to change the policy. Those who want to bear arms in bars will express their dissatisfaction with bars that ban guns, and will give their business to those bars that allow for them.

Finally, it is curious to compare the vociferous chorus against restrictions on chalking versus the general support of restrictions banning guns in cars in glove compartments, etc., even as the substantive merits are the same. It is no more rational to fear that guns locked in compartments that are locked in cars will lead to increased hazard than it is to fear that chalking on campus will lead to wanton vandalism and aesthetic destruction. Both actions are legal according to Arizona law. Both changes in policy reflect small shifts towards protecting civil liberties that are enshrined in both the U.S. Constitution (the first two amendments) as well as the Arizona state constitution (Art. 2: secs. 6, 26).

UPDATE: Credit goes out to Wildcat columnist Remy Albillar, who makes many of these same points in his column today.

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Welfare Wednesday Fun Fact No. 8

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

Services FeeIt’s hump-day, so you know what that means – yet another Welfare Wednesday. This year also brings in new numbers – in addition to the $250,000 that has already been spent to subsidize $3 enchilada meals, the SSF Board approved another $320,000 for the 2009-2010 school year. Overall, $570,000 of your money has been spent to pay for the $3 pork parade.

You know what we have to do for this week’s stat, right?

Assuming the $1,000 number covered the cost of cleaning the “80 instances” cited by Sgt. Alvarez, the university could pay to clean up 45,600 chalk markings with the money that has been spent to subsidize $3 meals. If the cost is closer to Chris Kopach’s estimate of $350, students could make 130,285 such markings.

The money could also be used to buy chalk – in which case, students could purchase 7,194,174 chalk pieces from Sam’s Club, more than enough to give one piece of chalk to every resident in the state of Arizona. 

Finally, the money could be used to pay for 13 new UAPD officers (source for salaries: Daily Star), who could fight against theft, patrol campus to increase safety after-hours, or … well, combat chalking.

Quick thoughts on representative polling

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

SurveyIn the wake of a faculty poll showing widespread dissatisfaction of the transformation process, the Provost, and the President, a few soft criticisms have emerged. The most widely aired critique is the fact that “only” a third of faculty responded to the poll. From Renee Schafer Horton, at the Citizen:

So, that’s the explanation of my thinking on yesterday’s post — but here’s today’s question: Why did so few faculty vote? Because, to me, the only percentage that really matters in yesterday’s poll is 31 percent – the percentage of eligible faculty that actually took the time (and put up with the admitted poll problems) to say whether or not they think Shelton and/or Hay are doing a good job. Does that mean that two-thirds of the faculty think Shelton/Hay are just fine? Or, that two-thirds of the faculty are apathetic? If so, are they apathetic because they’ve come to believe – after faculty forums and rah-rah administrative e-mails and the whole White Paper process – that no one in the Admin Building gives a hoot what faculty say? Or, are the faculty so busy they don’t have time to vote?

The second relates to the skewed response rate, mostly relating to the fact that SBS and Humanities faculty – which make up 18.9 percent of the total faculty – were responsible for 32.6 percent of the ballots cast. (There’s also the issue of the votes from “emeriti,” which seems like an important issue to address.) As President Shelton put it in his memo (emphasis added):

While there is variable representation across the colleges, and time will be needed to analyze the many open-ended comments, there are nevertheless some very clear themes that stand out in the answers from those faculty who voted.

These are both legitimate issues to be considered; yet it should be emphasized that both of these critiques apply equally well to the survey used to implement the Student Services Fee. In that survey (discussed at length here), only 16 percent of the student body responded to a similar convenience-sample poll, and freshmen and on-campus students – who benefit disproportionately from the services that the fee provides – were disproportionately over-represented in the poll. Yet for the administration and the Board of Regents, this was enough to indicate the “broad student support” necessary to approve the fee.

Were the Arizona Board of Regents consistent in the way that they viewed these sorts of convenience samples, the results of this poll would be accepted without question as indicative of overwhelming faculty support, and both the President and the Provost would be dismissed in a unanimous vote. This goes beyond the wildest dreams of the Defender set – they only wanted to use the poll to indicate a path for future. Of course, there are different standards when it comes to pilfering the pockets of undergraduates.

Image courtesy of Flickr user roboppy.

Dark lining on a silver cloud: the problems with a Code of Conduct hearing

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

Chalk is Speech (Palm & Second)

A meeting with ASUA Legal Services (a very helpful service, although one that I would have gladly paid for with a user fee) has assured me that now that the case has gone to the intra-university judicial system, I am at liberty to discuss any and all aspects of the case.

For now, I’ll refrain from discussing a full-fledged, factual account of events – that’ll be published on this site later, in the form of a written testimony to the Dean of Student’s conduct officer. For now, though, feel free to peruse the UAPD’s side of the story, spelled out in their police report [PDF]. Instead, I’d like to clarify earlier remarks I made to the Wildcat (among other media outlets) as to why the issue still isn’t entirely resolved.

While deciding to dismiss these charges is a definite blow for liberty, transferring the case to the Code of Conduct hearings unveils new problems that may in fact increase the possibility that sanctions will be handed down for such expression.

The most important issue is the burden of proof. Had this case gone to criminal court, the University would have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that accused was marking up the base of a statue near the Administration building; and further, that the “base of a statue” is not actually considered the ground, as per A.R.S. Given the fact that the case as detailed by the police depends on the inference – rather than the direct observation – by a witness, it would be rather hard to convince a jury to rule in their favor.

No such standard, however, exists for those charged in a Code of Conduct hearing. Instead, the Dean of Students must merely determine that “it is more likely than not that a violation of a Student Code of Conduct has occurred” (5-403 (C) (6)). Effectively, this equates to a 50+% probability of guilt, and comes down to the flip of the coin in a “he-said, she-said” situation. In a case where the word of an undergraduate is cast against the word of an employee, the prospects look even less promising. In spite of this low standard, the Code of Conduct hearings offer no chance for appeal, unless the sanctions involve suspension or expulsion. Barring such an outcome, the Dean of Students is quite literally the judge, jury, and executioner of all Conduct violations.

When it comes to procedures, the process is further hindered by the lack of the chance to confront the witness. In both “chalking” cases, the informant’s information has been redacted – although perhaps the threat of being “chalked and feathered” by an unhappy populace is reason enough. Yet in justifying the charge , the police report offers this:

While driving in the area, [redacted] saw LISULL writing on the sidewalk near the economics building (1110 E. James E Rogers) and Maricopa Dorm (1031 E. James E Rogers). LISULL noticed [redacted] and began to walk away westbound. [Redacted] had previously cleaned the chalk from the Administration building and therefore felt the writings were consistent with each other.

This is crucial – without [redacted]’s inference, there is no reasonable justification for the citation. Had this case gone to a criminal court, the Sixth Amendment guarantees that [redacted] would be required to un-redact him or herself, were the charge to go through. The accused could raise questions about this inference, wonder openly why there was a five hour gap in chalking incidents, ask how the witness could be so sure that he saw the accused at the Administration building, why the witness didn’t try to stop the suspect before calling the police, and so on. Yet because it is now an intra-university matter, we will never know who [redacted] was, or why chalking was such a noteworthy offensive as to require repeated contact with the UAPD; and it’s not easy to fight Anonymous.

Even beyond the Dean of Students office, the main issue – that of civil liberties – still remains: will a university “committed to defending, celebrating and hosting free expression” continue to issue Code of Conduct violations against students who use chalk on the sidewalk (in other words, does the Code of Conduct prohibit expression in the form of chalk)? Does President Shelton actually believe that he can declare, based a citation that failed to make it to court, that the behavior of the two students was “illegal”  (in other words, is he aware of the concept that the accused is innocent before being proven guilty)? Will any administrator come forward to explain why exactly it is was so essential to clean up a flowering of expression for America’s most lauded liberty, rather than letting the chalk disperse away naturally? While chalking days may be over, this is the same University that attempted to force out Horowitz via “security deposit” fiat – eternal vigilance, unfortunately, is required to ensure against future regressions.

All that having been said, there is still a glimmer of hope – as of publication, no messages regarding Code of Conduct hearings had been received from the Dean of Students’ office. It’s odd to look to the Dean of Students for a victory for freedom, but stranger things have already happened.

Chalk up a win

Posted in Media, Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 29 September 2009

Chalk is speech!By now you’ve probably seen the press release: Under orders from President Shelton, UAPD has dropped all criminal charges against my colleague and co-blogger Evan Lisull, as well as grad student Jacob Miller, last week’s original sidewalk scrawler.

Both will still face code of conduct hearings from the Dean of Students some time in the indefinite future. Evan plans to avoid public comments until the proceedings wrap up, but it’s safe to say that we at the Lamp are pleased that the administration finally did the right thing and dropped charges, and that so many students showed their support for First Amendment rights on campus.

We owe our readers, our colleagues, and the UA community serious thanks for the support they offered Evan and the attention they brought to the Free Chalk for Free Speech protest. We also owe thanks to the many students who helped hand out chalk and the many more who had the courage to scribble their support for free speech on public sidewalks all over campus. It is a rare day when a university policy swings from total idiocy to relative sanity over the course of a few hours, but you made it happen.

For obvious reasons, we didn’t have much spare time to update today, but our peers in the UA blogging community and local media did an excellent job.

The Arizona Daily Wildcat published extensive coverage all day: an article on initial indignance following the Miller arrest, news of Evan’s citation this morning, and, as of the current online issue, a photo gallery of selected scribbles across campus, a detailed writeup of the student response, and an editorial in support of the “UA Chalking Rebellion of 2009”.

Pseudonymous blogger Sally Gradstudent broke the first news of Evan’s arrest, and kept the updates coming, as did the folks at Arizona for Education. A group of faculty and grad students even started Chalk is Speech, a blog of their own in support of the Hopscotch Two.

Meanwhile, Tucson media picked up the story: Matt Lewis at the Daily Star, Jim Nintzel at the Tucson Weekly, and Renee Schafer Horton at the Tucson Citizen, along with TV reports from KOLD and ABC-15, and interviews with local channels KGUN9 and FOX11. Evan even hit the (digital) pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Of course, though today’s events were a victory for freedom of expression, the University of Arizona is still far from “firmly committed to defending, celebrating and hosting free expression” as described in their latest press release. Our campus speech policies merit a red light rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and overbroad restrictions on student speech like a designated “free speech area” at one end of the public Mall, a set of arcane rules for signs and banners, and a tendency to charge onerous fees for controversial speakers are still on the books.

For now, however, we’re chalking up this one as a win. Thanks for all the support.

In the News

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 28 September 2009

So this has happened. For legal reasons, I can’t comment on this case as much as I would like to, but I would like to express my sincere thanks for all of the support that has come forth in such a short period of time.

UPDATE: Good news, courtesy of a UA press release:

Monday, September 28, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Statement on follow-up to two incidents of chalk expressions at the University of Arizona

Contact: Paul G. Allvin – (520) 390-3520; pallvin@email.arizona.edu

TUCSON, Ariz. – The University of Arizona stands firmly committed to defending, celebrating and hosting free expression, a value that was tested last week when students rallied on campus to protest cuts to higher education funding.

The protest itself was part of the UA’s tradition of robust freedom of expression, but advertising of that event in the form of chalk messages that appeared on surfaces other than the ground and sidewalks resulted in one student being cited for criminal damage for defacing the sides of structures.

On Monday morning, another student was cited for criminal damage for committing a similar act on campus. Both incidents required university
funding and employee time to clean up. Throughout, UA’s interests have been twofold: ensuring students’ ability to express themselves freely, and ensuring that university property was not damaged.

UAPD was doing its job citing students for illegal behavior, but upon review of the circumstances UA President Robert N. Shelton believes
that the best course of action is to handle these incidents as possible Code of Conduct violations through the Dean of Students Office.

To that end, President Shelton has directed UAPD to avoid citing individuals for criminal damage for similar future incidents, and to refer students who appear to have committed similar acts to the Dean of Students Office. UAPD is in the process of dismissing charges against the two students who were cited, and those students have been referred to the Dean of Students Office.

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Shopping for textbooks at the Creative Commons

Posted in Campus, Textbooks by Evan Lisull on 28 September 2009

Few issues are more seemingly intractable than textbooks, but the state of Florida has come up with something that sounds pretty nifty. From Inside Higher Ed:

The University Press of Florida, partnering with a state-supported digital library called The Orange Grove, is building an online catalog that the two groups hope will dramatically ease the cost burden on students purchasing textbooks. In addition to allowing students to download textbooks in the digital library for free, the system will also permit them to order a custom printed copy of any book for no more than half the cost of the traditionally printed edition.

The library, which now features fewer than 100 titles, includes only those materials licensed through Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that allows authors to grant copyright permission to their works. The textbooks may have been created as open source documents from the start, or they could be books that were once released by a commercial publisher that has ceased printing editions. Under preexisting agreements, authors will collect royalties only for the printed editions of their work — not the downloaded copies.

While the library features 89 titles now, the five-year goal is to supply textbooks suitable for all of the general education courses offered in Florida’s colleges and universities. There is no discussion of mandating that professors use the library’s textbooks, although organizers are already brainstorming ways to make the library more appealing.

The printing option is key here, providing an alternative to 20-hour daily screen exposure. (Perhaps they’ll get an Espresso Machine?) Professors, perhaps not surprisingly, are opposed:

As appealing as reduced textbook costs sound, there are potential red flags for faculty members, according to Jack Mecholsky, chair of the University of Florida’s Faculty Senate. If the state amasses a library of free books selected without faculty input, it may be only a matter of time before some lawmaker with a populist streak tries to mandate that faculty assign only those books in their classes, Mecholsky said.

“That’s the danger, and I could see that happening,” said Mecholsky, a professor of materials science and engineering. “What happens [when lawmakers intrude] is they have just made an academic decision that that textbook is right for all professors and all students taking that course, and that’s wrong.”

These fears shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, but contra Kael, there really is a totemic attachment to books that grants professors more leeway here than elsewhere. Simply waving one’s hands and crying out “Don’t ban books!” is usually enough to prevent even acolytes of the Kingfish from imposing such a requirement. Further, the expanding number (and increasing quality) of books offered through Creative Commons helps to mitigate the fear that this will somehow be extremely limiting and possibly dangerous (only books teaching creationism can be accessed through the library, etc.)

Yet while professors should be able to choose the books that they want to teach, outsiders should also be able to express their doubts in the selection. Deference is certainly due, but consider this hyperbolic hypothetical: an Intro to Physics teacher required her students to purchase five separate textbooks, in order to give them a more “well-rounded” view of the subjects at hand. Readings were assigned from each book, depending on the teacher’s preference. This results in a $750 book cost for the class. Should students, fellow faculty members, administrators, and parents be able to ask the professor to justify their selection? Or are there really no limits on the prerogative to book assignments?

Obviously, this example is a caricature, but I suspect that some professors/instructors opt to use the same textbook year after year, price hikes due to new editions be damned, because it’s the easy way out. Why bother rewriting the test for a new, cheaper book when you’ve already got the old one ready to go? There’s a good side to this, though – the consistency in teaching that derives from this prevents the class from wasting time as the instructor gets acclimatized to the new book.

It’s a reasonable debate – but such a debate does not currently exist. Instead, barrels of pabulum are spent expressing dismay at the “state of textbook prices,” launching diatribes against “Big Textbook,” and generally accomplishing nothing. A general inquiry into textbook usage – to be done on a campus-by-campus basis – is the better approach. It’s not a perfect science, but one could start by looking at the cost of textbooks for each ENG 101, 103, and 109 courses. Since these classes are academically the same, but vary widely in instructors, there are certainly some expensive sections and some inexpensive sections. Instructors – who are second to none in their support of dialogue and free exchange – who require expensive books should justify their decisions publicly, while instructors assigning readings that are inexpensive can offer tips that will hopefully be adopted by others.

For many, the answer is simply, “There’s no other choice.” Florida, however, is offering that choice – and it will be interesting to see what happens to textbook costs in Gainesville as a result.

An incomplete history of chalk at the UA

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 25 September 2009

In light of yesterday’s chalk crackdown, here is a list of other chalk incidents at the UA over the past decade:

May 4, 1999:

An employee called police Thursday morning after discovering graffiti on a wall of a UA parking garage.

The Parking and Transportation Services employee told officers he found the vandalism on a north wall of the Park Garage, 1140 N. Park Ave., at 9:59 a.m.

The graffiti was written in chalk and said “Fear not thyne sheep for he will show us the way,” and “I can still hear you talking to me,” police reports stated.

The employee told police he would clean the vandalism from the wall.

October 30, 2001:

One of the methods used by [Parking & Transportation] enforcement officers to keep track of improperly parked vehicles is chalking tires, then returning later to see if the chalk is still there.

“If you’ve got somebody parked in a load zone, you can chalk the tires and come back,” [John] Prann said.

April 29, 2004 [PDF]:

To celebrate and honor the life of Joseph Johnson, a resident assistant killed in a motorcycle accident two weeks ago, about 120 people attended a memorial service yesterday at Graham-Greenlee Residence Hall.

“Your impact on others is more than you ever imagined,” read one of several messages written on the courtyard ground in chalk. The wall read, “In Loving Memory of Joe.”

September 7, 2006:

You’ve probably seen the signs. You may have seen the chalk graffiti on the sidewalks last week. This morning you’ll see the T-shirts. But you’re lucky if you know much more than that. Banners and flyers around campus proclaiming “I agree with Geoffrey” and “I agree with David” have esoterically haunted major thoroughfares on campus for the past week.

October 4, 2006:

White chalk graffiti was found on the Veterinary Sciences building, 1117 E. Lowell St., and the north side of the Highland tunnel, 1395 E. Speedway Blvd., reports stated.

The word “Repent,” was on the Veterinary Sciences building.

“Give war a chance,” was written on the Highland tunnel.

Police did not find any other matching graffiti and have no suspects.

October 11, 2007:

The [Poetry] center is throwing a housewarming festival Sunday. Starting at noon, guests can listen to readings by poets Alberto Rios, Robert Hass, Billy Collins and Steve Orlen.

The center will also host performances by Flam Chen, Odaiko Sonora and flamenco dancers, as well as local musicians.

Children attending may also partake in chalk art, face-painting booths, bookmaking and a children’s theater run by Stories that Soar.

November 25, 2007:

Two UA employees were caught drawing chalk graffiti on the walls of the Cherry Avenue Parking Garage, 1641 E. Enke Drive, at 10:26 p.m. Wednesday.An officer saw the two men at the top level of the garage drawing on the concrete divider that separates the recently constructed portion of the garage from the existing portion. When the men saw the officer approaching, they immediately stopped and began walking slowly away from the officer.

Both men denied having any identification on them. They said they worked concessions for the UA and had just been working at a basketball game.

The men said they were not doing any harm to the wall, and that all their graffiti would wash off in the rain. They denied being involved with any other graffiti incidents.

Some of the their graffiti read “ANK,” Alone,” “HERS,” “MEOW” and “Aerosol Ninja Krew,” according to reports.

February 9, 2009:

The man in charge told officers he never told his employees to enter the dorms or write on walls with chalk, which police believed the men had done. He told officers that they had used the chalk to make advertisements on the sidewalks around campus. He said he had given them permission to write on the sidewalks, but not to go into dorms or write on walls. The man also told officers there were 15 people on campus promoting the event. Police advised him to call all personnel and tell them to stay out of the UA dorms.

The man called all of the personnel to the dorm. When they arrived, one of the witnesses pointed out another man who she said had been in the dorm trespassing earlier. The man admitted to being in the dorm passing out flyers, but said that he did not write on any walls.

The chalk on walls and elevator doors was cleaned up. The on-duty Resident Assistant did not wish to press charges against the men for criminal damage. The four men were taken to the Pima County Jail where they were booked for criminal trespassing.

March 25, 2009:

A group of 10 UA and Pima Community College students claiming to belong to a group named “Anonymous” were found sketching, drawing and posting signs of protest against Scientology with multicolored chalk inside the North Fremont Avenue underpass at 5 a.m. March 13.

The students were advised they could be subject to arrest for criminal damage if the chalk could not be removed, but the students were able to erase the chalk drawings easily with water and no permanent damage found. The students left the area and the Dean of Students Office was notified.

June 23, 2009:

Graffiti was reported in the Second Street Garage, 1340 E. Second St., at 7:43 a.m. June 23.

An officer met a Parking and Transportation Services official, who showed him the graffiti that had apparently been done over the weekend.

On the main pillar of the third level was a large drawing of a broken heart with an inscription reading “Healing is not an option” and “Heartbreak in ’07.” Below it was an illegible signature.

Nine of the overhead girders nearby each had a single letter in light chalk on them, spelling out “I-N-V-I-S-I-B-L-E.”

Police have no suspects.

None of these cases have resulted in an arrest. Anecdotally, I can attest to use of chalk to advertise Mass being held on the Mall; also, the “$1,000 clean up” that was reverenced in several articles consisted mostly of using wet mops on the drawings. Commenters are urged to add their own chalk observations, including any early cases in which someone was arrested for chalk “vandalism.”

Combination of the Two

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 24 September 2009

Two Peas in a Pod“Despite claims by some to the contrary, we have approached this budget crisis by listening to input from every imaginable group on campus and off, and any individual who wrote, called or stopped us at a public event.”

-Meredith Hay and Robert Shelton, in this guest editorial.

“Provost Hay would not answer questions about the poll, and referred me to UA VP for External Relations Stephen MacCarthy, who called me from his car on the way to today’s Regents meeting in beautiful Flagstaff.”

-Renee Schafer Horton, blogging for the Tucson Citizen.

Say what you will about the Birchers of the academy: this column is an incredibly stupid move by Shelton and Hay, a passive-aggressive swipe against an anonymous blog. Congrats are due to the Defender and its associates, who have succeeded in bringing heat to the President and Provost in spite of themselves.

Since this is as public as Shelton and Hay have been together since last spring, it is akin to an official statement of purpose, and as such worth a full analysis. Even before getting into the text of the column, even choosing to publish a co-authored guest column in the Star says a great deal. By opting co-author the column, rather than letting Shelton play public figure, Shelton and Hay have indicated that they really are in this together, and the commenters of the Defender who claimed that “you can’t get rid of one without the other” look rather vindicated. At the same time, Regent Calderon may be leaning towards tearing the Terrible Two apart, based on his quotes at Renee Schafer Horton’s blog (which really is the go-to source for all things faculty-revolt-related):

“Ten to 15 percent is angst, but I’ve heard from enough people to make me know it’s not just that people have angst over the budget or economy,” he said. “I’m glad the poll separates questions about the president and the provost, because I’ve heard people say the provost’s style of communication is the problem, not the president’s leadership, and if that is what the poll says, that will give (Shelton and Hay) information and help them make a decision. …

Let’s say hypothetically there was a really negative result around the provost, a result that your average bear could see, then what I would do, is in the review of President Shelton, I would bring that up and have him address it, does he believe it, if not, why? I think (the poll results are) fair game to discuss with him in his review because the buck stops there with him. … The survey could be a very valuable tool to help Robert refine his skills. He’s a smart man and he’s a man of good will. If there’s something for him to improve upon, I bet he’ll be the first to say ‘I want to do this.’ … I really believe in redemption.” [emphasis added – EML]

The ‘bear’ comment is rather enigmatic, but even more important than what is included about separating the president and the provost is what isn’t included about the provost, post-survey. Calderon discusses what these polls might do for President Shelton in the future, but offers no such speculation for Provost Hay. Yet if Hay is voted out/leaves ‘voluntarily’, Shelton is for all intents and purposes broken politically.

It’s also interesting that Shelton and Hay chose to publish their piece in the Star rather than the Daily Wildcat.  Horton’s blogging has been picked up by the Chronicle, but this still remains an intra-university matter. One might be inclined to write this off to the “super-serial people don’t write for student newspapers” sentiment, but the following quote indicates a more important aim:

We stand on a precipice. Now more than ever is the time for the people of Arizona to make their voices heard — not in the dark corners of anonymous blogs, but loudly and clearly and publicly in the corridors of our state Capitol.

This bait-and-switch was in part abetted by today’s protest (on which the Lamp half-heartedly tweeted; better off waiting for tomorrow’s paper for a coherent writeup), which has deliberately obfuscated their purpose. It’s about saving the humanities (and the manatees) and “We are more than Mars and mirrors,” until it suddenly becomes about the state budget, at which point they begin talking about the Cal system and its walkout, which more often than not leads to talk about “the System” and “have you read Alinksy, by chance?”

With this column, Shelton and Hay have stepped in and said, “We couldn’t agree more! Now is the time to take a stand for higher education in Arizona.” When a few protest that this about them, and not the state legislature, Shelton and Hay reply by saying,

It is our hope that in the face of this extraordinary challenge we can unite as a campus and community in preserving the greatness of the University of Arizona; that we can speak with a common voice that calls on state leaders to protect this unique and valuable asset for our state. [emphasis added – EML]

This echoes the Wildcat’s call for ‘unity’ back in February; and just as it was then, this boils down to, “You’re with us, or you’re against us.” This is how Shelton and Hay will cast the debate in the days to come; those opposing them will have to work even harder to keep the focus where they want it.

As a postscript, it should be noted that the column does not address a single critique or assertion made on the Defender.

ASUA Senate Meeting, 24 Sep 09

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 24 September 2009

1. Consent Agenda. Continuing ASUA’s long slog from opacity, Sen. Brooks made a nice gesture in actually describing some of the items listed on the consent agenda before the Senate passed. The items – which come for a rubber-stamp from the Appropriations Board – are generally uncontroversial. At the same time, only the Senate members actually see the agenda being approved, a motion which in most cases happens within 15 seconds. Just by stating the club name, along with the amount requested and the amount approved, the Senate gives the audience a sense not only of what kind of money ASUA is spending, but what groups on campus are doing. It’s a small thing, but a nice touch.

2. Think Tank. In what seems to be a continuous parading of SSF-funded organizations to wow the Senate, today’s meeting witnessed a presentation from Think Tank executive director Jeff Orgera.

For all the faults with the Student Services Fee and the Transformation plan, the Think Tank will in all likelihood go down as one of the genuinely good things to come out of it. Unlike the claustrophobia exhibited by other groups on campus, the tutors from the Writing Center and the MASTR (math & science) tutors from the University Learning Center have no difficulty rooming together. Tutoring has expanded to a wide variety of classes (although mostly classes catering to underclassmen).

Yet at the same time, there’s no reason that fee money needs to be used to fund this. Tutoring is a service good, and there are no collective action problems, since the transaction is effectively one-to-one. The Think Tank recognizes this, and some of its services are paid for via one’s Bursar’s account. Yet most services are not, and this UANews article explains why user fees are the exception rather than the rule:

The SALT Center served as a model of the Think Tank, but while the center offers services to students with learning or attention deficits for a fee, most of the services offered through the Think Tank are free.

For starters, uh, TANSTAAFL. Seeing how each and every student pays the SSF, it’s hard to see how exactly this is ‘free’ to anyone. More importantly, though, is the idea that its OK for SALT Center users – those students with learning disabilities – to pay up to $2200 per semester for their tutoring, while students without such LDs can expect free services. Amo libertatem odi aequalitatem, but anyone with the slightest of egalitarian impulses should be a little offended by this disparity.

Yet this doesn’t mean that the University should be mucking around with the SALT Center, which continues its nationally renowned reputation despite being “completely funded by private donations.” Rather, the university and Student Affairs should move towards making more self-sustaining, or at least independent from the SSF. There’s no reason that drop-in advising students shouldn’t pay $10 or $15 for their tutoring, as they did during MASTR’s review sessions [PDF, page 6] last spring. There’s definitely no reason why visits to the Writing Center – in which a student’s essay is broken down in a one-on-one session – should be free. Orgera himself cited a survey in which 30 percent of the 4,000 respondents said they would be willing to pay for tutoring – and if surveys are taken as literally here as they are for the SSF, that means that over half of the 2,200 total visits (not visitors) should involve payment. Orgera cited further demographic information which could be used to implement some differential pricing – discounts could be offered for late-night appointments (the slow hour). Per-head discounts could be offered for large groups – $10-per-person for a group of 3, $5-per-person for a group of 8, etc.

There’s a lot of possibilities here, none of which involve going to the completely unresponsive SSF, in which students who don’t choose to utilize tutoring services are forced to subsidize those that do. But this might be overwhelming for a division of Student Affairs: “You mean, we have to actually draw student in? We can’t just take funds from the SSF cookie jar and cite ‘student priorities’?” A compromise proposal would involve a simultaneous fee switch: reducing the SSF from $40 to $30 per semester, with the addition of a $10-per-semester, fully refundable ‘tutoring fee’. Although many students who glance over their tuition bill will be caught in the snare, this provides an exit option for those who don’t want to use the Think Tank – or those who use other services, like SALT.

3. WRC wants (more) funding. The Women’s Resource Center director, Malia Utahafe, came to solicit “up to $800” from the ASUA Senate, to fund the training of four instructors (two females, two male ‘aggressors’) for their popular self-defense classes. The total cost is $1,440 ($360 per student), and according to Utahafe, once these students received the training they could in turn train more trainers, etc. etc. By all accounts, these classes are extremely popular, in high demand, and one of the definitively good things that the WRC does.

At the same time, this is the same WRC that made off with $129,300 at the last SSF Board hearing. It’s also the same organization that still receives $6,000 from ASUA, even though it is the only professional WRC that remains housed within the student government. If this indeed such an important, long-lasting investment, isn’t in the organization’s interest to fund the training themselves? And, further, if funds run low, isn’t that the whole reason that these executive operations accounts were kept in the first place?