The Arizona Desert Lamp

Ch-ch-changes

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 9 November 2009

We've Moved!

Well, it’s moving day, and time to say sayonara to these wordpress.com haunts. The new site is at the old URL – desertlamp.com. We’ll keep this site open for another week or so as we move over, but all the new content will be available there.

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Elon College: a student government that cares about its students?!

Posted in Campus, Crime, Politics, Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 28 October 2009
Elon's actual mascot until 1999.

Elon's actual mascot until 1999.

It’s been six days since we urged President Nagata to consider the REAL initiative; so far, we have yet to receive even a cursory response. No matter – how can we responsible expect him to be concerned with silly things like the drinking age when there are concerts to organize? (Perhaps he’s working feverishly on that concert survey, which was supposed to go out last week.) (Also, obliglatory LOLZ at “probes for student support” in the header.)

Over at Elon College, reporter Rebecca Smith interviewed a student government president, Justin Peterson who somehow found time in his busy schedule to sign the petition. His quote, with emphasis added:

The thing that made me make up my mind was realizing (my) role is not to represent the administration, but my role is to represent the students. I feel this is what the students want…I think that alcohol and how to promote smart behavior and a safe environment should always be discussed. Elon is doing a lot in order to encourage smart behavior on campus.”

This attitude presents the perfect foil to the philosophy of ASUA and ASA, who readily will cite their ability to capitulate and accede to all the demands of deal with the administration as one of their chief roles. They are not lying when they say that Arizona students have a greater voice among administrative functions; but they ignore that this influence rarely represents actual student interests and priorities, but rather the interests and priorities of the student governing class – Potemkin students.

As a result, Arizona students get a student regent, but he turns out to be their worst enemy. UA students have control over their student section (quite the anomaly), but their money is used to perpetuate ZonaZoo bureaucracy. Students are rewarded for their ASUA Bookstore loyalty by watching the money go to performing artists in a completely opaque deal, and watch as their fee money is used to fund the disciplinary program they will be forced to attend after they’re caught committing the unconscionable crime of consuming beer at the tender age of twenty.

This is not to say that ASUA should slavishly adhere to the vagaries of the masses (although liquidating the organization’s funds into a week-long kegger might not be the worst thing). Yet it would be nice if they remembered, now and then, that drug and alcohol laws have greater effects – both direct and incidental – than any program that ASUA has ever conjured.

Presidents Nagata and Talenfeld – sign the initiative, already!

Regent supports more focus on three-year degrees?

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 22 October 2009
An example of how to advertise three-year programs (via Mount St. Mary's University, in Maryland)

An example of how to advertise three-year programs (via Mount St. Mary's University, Maryland)

Lamar Alexander, one of the few U.S. Senators with a modicum of respectability, penned an op-ed in Newsweek advocating for greater use of three-year degree programs:

Just as a hybrid car is not for every driver, a three-year degree is not for every student. Expanding the three-year option or year-round schedules may be difficult, but it may be more palatable than asking Congress for additional bailout money, asking legislators for more state support, or asking students for even higher tuition payments. Campuses willing to adopt convenient schedules along with more-focused, less-expensive degrees may find that they have a competitive advantage in attracting bright, motivated students. As George Romney might have put it, these sorts of innovations can help American universities, long the example to the world, avoid the perils of success.

It’s an unfortunate, Friedman-esque metaphor, but that shouldn’t get in the way of a thought-out piece by an elected official, as rare a bird as the vermillion flycatcher. This article caught the eye of Twittertific Regent Ernest Calderon, who sent out this most pithy of enigmas:

RT @silveredu: Senator Lamar Alexander promotes a 3 year degree solution: http://www.newsweek.com/id/… EC: Can do!

“Can do!” what, exactly? No noise has been made about three-year degrees since this summer, when ASU floated the idea of a “network of three-year colleges.” Such a proposal, while novel, ignores the fact that institutions have certain built-in advantages of reputation (a loose term, in light of the school up north) that keep them coming back like Kevin Bacon after each new tuition beating, and that students won’t through away the prestige factor for a mere tuition discount. Far better to simply implement “Graduate in Three” programs within the university, a simpler and (in all likelihood) cheaper process than starting a school from scratch.

That tweet was followed up today with a link to a Newsweek symposium on college education and three-year degrees, featuring none other than ASU’s own Michael Crow. Along with Dr. Robert Zemsky of UPenn, he argues for the three-year degree. Unfortunately, it’s not the most sound of arguments:

CROW: Let’s just assume that the students are prepared to do university-level work. The thing that we’re working on here at a very large public university is not allowing some historic factor of time to dominate. Thomas Jefferson didn’t go to college for four years. It may be that students attain multiple degrees. It may be that some are three years, some are four years, some are six years. It would depend on what they are attempting to achieve.

His overall point stands, but “Thomas Jefferson didn’t need it” is not exactly a compelling point. These quibbles aside, it’s great to see that there is a genuine push in favor of these degrees. It’s also rather disappointing to see Robert Shelton and the entire transformation process sitting on their hands, and Advising Center Director Roxie Catts openly advocating against the idea.

Some further elaboration on the sorts of things that could be looked at, now, within the current existing universities, to make three-year degrees a legitimate possibility:

Add a “Graduate in Three!” section to Honors Advising webpage. This would do nothing to change policy, but would make students aware that this is a policy that the University supports. Rather than making students prod advisers for the three-year degree, advisers should make such a program no more difficult to access than a “graduate in four” plan.

Offer three-year scholarships with more money per year. In other words, $75,000 over the course of three years, rather than $80,000 over four. This provides a direct financial incentive to graduate in three, and saves money for the university’s scholarship fund. Students could still continue to attend after three years will be permitted to do so, just as students on four-year scholarships are allowed to attend if they stay on for a fifth year.

Send out “Graduate in Three” information to those enrolled in pre-professional majors and minors. These are the kinds of students who benefit the most financially from graduating in three years, and who are rather unlikely to simply stop their intellectual exploration.

Offer fee waivers for students taking AP, IB, CLEP, and other placement tests. This is especially pertinent for graduating seniors who may not be inclined to take that extra AP test (senioritis, and what not). It may seem minor, but transfer credit represents a pure infusion to the University, which loses nothing from more students testing out of more classes.

More online classes during the summer/winter. The school already does a good job of having offerings outside of the normal semesters, but streamlining this process and adding more opportunities simply makes things better.

¿Cómo se dice “D2L”?

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 21 October 2009

Spanish InstructionHuge step forward for online education at UNC-Chapel Hill:

After several years of experimenting with “hybrid” Spanish courses that mix online and classroom instruction, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has decided to begin conducting its introductory Spanish course exclusively on the Web.

Spanish 101, which had featured online lessons combined with one classroom session per week, will drop its face-to-face component in an effort to save on teaching costs and campus space in light of rising demand for Spanish instruction and a shrinking departmental budget.

Meanwhile, the department’s budget was slashed by $150,000 this year. It had been planning to shift its introductory courses online even before the recession hit, King said, in hopes of freeing up money to hire another instructor. Instead, the anticipated savings from the move have so far spared his department from personnel cuts.

Even as a partisan of online education, a stance further entrenched by the positive experience with my current online class (of which more will be said after the class is over), this might be going too far. It’s an oft-repeated truism that daily, face-to-face interactions are essential to learning a language, and such accepted facts are used to justify the university’s stringent attendance policies for language courses. Yet according to UNC,

Hosun Kim, director of the college’s Foreign Language Resource Center, said survey data gathered by the department revealed that while students in traditional courses said they thought they mastered the material better than their peers in hybrid courses, a comparative assessment of learning outcomes showed no difference between the two.

That’s not entirely true, if the Daily Tarheel’s report is to be believed: online students did slightly worse overall, but “drastically” worse on pronunciation. But are there any Spanish 101 students who have decent pronunciation?

It’s tempting to turn all defense of relative ineffectiveness to a Hansonian signal (see: health insurance, child care, voting,  and the female orgasm (you mean, coitus?)), but that approach very much seems to apply to occasionally irrational defenses of in-class education. Without a classroom setting, neither teachers nor students are given the opportunity to demonstrate that they care about the material being taught (which has benefits for both, in the form of career improvement and grade improvement, respectively). The prospect of pure, unadulterated information comprehension is imposing. (If there any studies out there on the relative effectiveness of in-class language instruction versus online instruction, I’d be glad to be corrected.)

There are problems, though, beyond actual instruction. Not only are Spanish 101 classes taken primarily by freshmen, but as the most popular language Spanish is also more likely to draw in more academically-struggling students. Such in-person interaction is more necessary for students making the transition to college than for those taking upper-division courses.

At any rate, even if this program might be a step too far, it should highlight even more the ludicrous – and frankly, neo-Luddite – arguments against online education as a whole. If an introductory language course can be delivered effectively over the internet, there’s no reason that any other class (barring, perhaps, lab classes and other location-centric courses) can be done online as well.

NB: Also, only in Cloud-Cuckooland could you find a statement like this:

[Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association] did, however, caution against letting teaching decisions be guided by thrift. “The question of ‘How can we reduce the cost of delivering instruction’ is not what should be driving the decision, even though we all understand that universities are facing hard financial times,” Feal said. “A lot of tough decisions must be made, but those must always be made in thinking about what are the best instructional environment and opportunities for our students.”

So what should the university do – write the budget deficit off to structural oppression imposed by neoliberal, postcolonial hierarchies of patriarchal power, and proceed as though nothing has happened? This might actually be an approach Provost Hay could adopt – simply tell the professors that things like “salaries” and “budgets” are just vestigial structural concepts of the old world order, and that the professariat really needs to get hip and start liberating their consciousness.

ASU prof wins economics honor

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 12 October 2009

Elinor OstromYou thought giving the peace prize to a sitting commander-in-chief was bad? Wait until you hear the winner of the non-Nobel in economics – it’s a Sun Devil!

Arizona State University Research Professor Elinor Ostrom has won this year’s Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, a prize she shares with Oliver E. Williamson of the University of California at Berkeley.

Ostrom, who holds research positions at Arizona State University and Indiana University, is one of three faculty members at ASU to be a Nobel Prize recipient and the second in economics. Edward C. Prescott won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences and Leland “Lee’ Hartwell won the 2001 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine before joining the ASU faculty this fall.

Actually, Ostrom’s work is pretty awesome, Tempe affiliations aside. The summary of her work, from Marginal Revolution:

With her husband, political scientist Vincent Ostrom, she established the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis in 1973 at Indiana University, an extraordinarily productive and evolving association of students and professors which has produced a wealth of theory, empirical studies and experiments in political science and especially collective action.  The Ostrom’s work bridges political science and economics.  Both are well known at GMU since both have been past presidents of the Public Choice society and both have been influenced by the Buchanan-Tullock program.  You can also see elements of Hayekian thought about the importance of local knowledge in the work of both Ostroms (here is a good interview).  My colleague, Peter Boettke has just published a book on the Ostrom’s and the Bloomington School.

Elinor Ostrom’s work culminated in Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action which uses case studies to argue that around the world private associations have often, but not always, managed to avoid the tragedy of the commons and develop efficient uses of resources.  (Ostrom summarizes some of her findings from this research here).  Using game theory she provided theoretical underpinnings for these findings and using experimental methods she put these theories to the test in the lab.

For Ostrom it’s not the tragedy of the commons but the opportunity of the commons.  Not only can a commons be well-governed but the rules which help to provide efficiency in resource use are also those that foster community and engagement.  A formally government protected forest, for example, will fail to protect if the local users do not regard the rules as legitimate.  In Hayekian terms legislation is not the same as law.  Ostrom’s work is about understanding how the laws of common resource governance evolve and how we may better conserve resources by making legislation that does not conflict with law.

Good stuff. Ostrom has also been instrumental in setting up a satellite workshop at ASU, the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity. Econ-geeks – and political nerds (her only degrees are in political science!) – will find plenty of time-killing possibilities in the above links.

Technical Update

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 11 October 2009

Dr. WeirdSo, as many of you have pointed out, desertlamp.com has been replaced with what appears to some to be “a corporate site ” and others “some cute chick w/ vegas connections.”

Have no fear: the site was not the victim of some corporate takeover, nor was it mortgaged to pay for the Chalkers Legal Defense Fund. We’re currently having some work done on a new, supper-snazzy site, which will be making its grand appearance in the coming weeks. You’ll have to wait with bated breath to see whether it resembles a black hole, a time-space continuum, or something completely different.  

For now, though, update your links accordingly – that’s desertlamp.wordpress.com. We’ll be sure to let you know as soon as the old URL is up and running.

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Now, if they had chalked the papers, perhaps we’d have a case.

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 9 October 2009

LOLCat on NewspaperThis is incredible spinelessness shown by Juan Alvarez and the UAPD, in response to the Grand Paper Caper:

However, campus police were hesitant to describe the action as criminal activity.

Sgt. Juan Alvarez, a UAPD spokesman, said it was unclear to him whether or not taking the newspapers constituted a crime.

“What complicates this issue is that (the newspapers) were taken from areas where people can walk up and take issues,” he said.

According to a UAPD report, an officer responding to Spohn’s 9-11 call told him that, “While rude and juvenile, the taking of all items offered at no charge was not criminal in nature.”

The case will be inactive, the police report said.

It’s crazy to assert that simply because a product is priced at $0.00, it somehow is “valueless,” that the price of the product is the sole determinant of its value. Ignoring the fact that this puts every single ‘free’ offering ever at risk of grand pilfering, consider the following scenario: Arizona Revised Statutes set the following benchmarks for theft (13-1802):

G. Theft of property or services with a value of twenty-five thousand dollars or more is a class 2 felony. Theft of property or services with a value of four thousand dollars or more but less than twenty-five thousand dollars is a class 3 felony. Theft of property or services with a value of three thousand dollars or more but less than four thousand dollars is a class 4 felony, except that theft of any vehicle engine or transmission is a class 4 felony regardless of value. Theft of property or services with a value of two thousand dollars or more but less than three thousand dollars is a class 5 felony. Theft of property or services with a value of one thousand dollars or more but less than two thousand dollars is a class 6 felony. Theft of any property or services valued at less than one thousand dollars is a class 1 misdemeanor, unless the property is taken from the person of another, is a firearm or is an animal taken for the purpose of animal fighting in violation of section 13-2910.01, in which case the theft is a class 6 felony.

Now suppose our thief – call him “Frank the Tank” –  steals $3100 worth of clothing from the bookstore (dude, it’s Frank – don’t ask). But there’s a catch – it’s Bear Down Friday, and all clothing items are 25 percent off. Thus, the retail price of Frank’s stolen goods is actually $2,325. Does this mean that Frank only gets charged with a class 5 felony, rather than a class 4? And does it mean that his friend “Blue,” who commits the exact same crime the next Tuesday, should be hit with a bigger penalty?

This isn’t to say that the “value” of a rotting ’75 Camaro is it’s sticker price in 1975. It also isn’t to say that Media Chair Woodhams’ valuation should be accepted at face value. But it also doesn’t mean that the goods are valueless – the $0.00 price simply is a means of market penetration. (Potential competitors, seeing the state and fee subsidies that allow for this pricing system, might call it a “predatory monopoly.”) Does this mean that Microsoft has no rights to the source code of Internet Explorer, simply because it’s offered for free?

At any rate, the Wildcat is not backing down, and a noticeably more hirsute editor-in-chief Dalenberg offers this concluding paragraph in his editorial on the matter:

Stealing newspapers won’t stop the Arizona Daily Wildcat, that’s our promise to you. This only makes us want to dig deeper.

But digger deeper into what? Given the Wildcat‘s not-exactly-staid coverage of itself (“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” on page 1, “UA campus faces major censorship…” as subheader of the news story, “Reluctant police no aid in speech squelch” in same news story on page 3, the devotion of five full-time reporters to the story), this could quickly become little more than a wronged seeking, a theft victim who happens to buy her ink by the barrel. Such onanism will only serve too assuage the bruised dignity of the staffers.

Instead, why not go full bore on the UAPD? This non-investigation is just a microcosm of the general trend of not following up on cases of theft in favor of busting drinkers and pot smokers. The latest report on the department revealed that over half of the department’s arrests involved liquor law violations, and almost three-quarters involved victimless crimes.  Yet the Wildcat didn’t so much as mention the report. Rather than focusing their police beats on the amusing, “ha-ha stupid freshman” stories, they could instead focus on cases with possible Fourth Amendment violations or other such indiscretions.

At any rate, I hope someone at the Wildcat has the chutzpah to go to UAPD headquarters and take all of their “free” brochures, every day for the rest of the year. Then we’ll see what constitutes ‘theft’ at the UA.

ASUA Senate Meeting, 7 October 2009: James Madison crashes the Junior League

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 7 October 2009

The main debate at this week’s meeting (agenda) revolved around funding the Pride Alliance ad in the Daily Wildcat. As a recap: to celebrate Coming Out Week, ASUA Pride Alliance (an administrative division of the executive branch) traditionally sponsors a two-page ad in the Wildcat, listing those staff, faculty,and students who have “come out” of the proverbial closet, along with those allies who support them.

The gesture costs a pretty penny, though (in the neighborhood of $2000 – $2500, although a complete total was never actually stated). As a result, Pride Alliance solicits support from outside sources – including the Senate, which traditionally shells out $500 (the amount requested both this year and last).

Usually, this is a non-controversial issue. Yet this year Pride Alliance stumbled out of the gate, failing to convey that the item before the Senate was an action item (appropriating money) rather than an informational item (thinking about appropriating money) at last week’s meeting. After the meeting, AVP Ziccarelli explained that there were several other reasons for the confusion. While most incoming officials receive transition materials, ex-AVP Patel neglected to do so for the administrative division of the executive. The full-time staffer that is usually involved in the process is a candidate in a job search. Like all divisions, Pride Alliance is facing a huge cut due to the losses from Last Smash Platinum Bash (an increasingly fitting name).

And then, there’s Sen. Daniel Wallace.

Sen. D. Wallace does not oppose the ad, per se. After all, he was one of the 116 listed Allies, and did not hesitate to remind the Senate how much he loved the ad each and every time he had a chance to speak. But once again, he raised the specter of the executive operations funds. Since this is an executive program, and AVP Ziccarelli has an operations budget of $7,000 (half the size of the Senate’s entire budget, why not fund the difference out of that account? Further, he cited the fact that last year’s administrative vice president spent only $1,300 of her account – leaving a surplus of $5,700, more than enough to fund the ad.

Executive attitude towards Senate money was inadvertently revealed when Sen. D. Wallace asked the executives whether the ad was budgeted for by Pride Alliance. As it turns out, the budgeting process is a bit odd: initially, directors submit an “ideal” budget to the respective executive – in effect, a rosy take on last year’s numbers. The executive then informs them how much money is actually available, and the director makes adjustments – without any further approval from the executive!

Yet more interesting than this was Treasurer Harris’ response: since Pride Alliance historically seeks funds from the Senate, this was accounted for when the final budget. In other words, the executive branch was assuming the appropriation of Senate funds.

Wallace the Younger was alone, for the most part, in his argument, although no one – including Ziccarelli – offered a convincing reason for why this couldn’t come out of an operations budget. (The AVP did cite the use of such funds for another event on campus, to indicate that she wasn’t simply hording the money recession-style.) Instead, in the words of Sen. Quillin, this was “a sign of senatorial support.” The ad was “successful” – which is to say, it was “aesthetically pleasing” and was, in fact, printed in the Wildcat. The money was not an issue – after all, Sen. Weingartner did some quick envelope-map to show that it amounted to only $50 of each Senator’s $1,400 budget.

In the end, the motion passed. A compromise position offered by Sen. Atjian II, which would appropriate $125 to the ad while encouraging the other four divisions of ASUA (president, EVP, AVP, and Treasurer) to do the same, failed 3-7 (Atjian, S. Wallace, and Weingartner voted aye). The final vote was 8-1-1, with Sen. D. Wallace voting nay and Sen. Yamaguchi abstaining.

Even if the result may have been the same as last year, this year’s debate sharply diverges from that Senate. Here, in no particular order, is a list of issues that the debate delved into: separation/division of powers; hierarchy of powers (Sen. Atjian asserted that the branches were “equals,” although assuming American republic structure the Senate is in fact superior); transparency of spending; tradition v. reform; funding sources and the budgeting process; and the role of the legislative branch. Few political science courses at the university cover so much, let alone in an hour-long period.

More than anything, this debate – and Wallace’s argument in particular – marks the reentry of politics back into UA undergraduate government. Although ASUA is an incorporated student government, with a constitution and bylaws and constituents and campus-wide elections, the predominant view  is one of a service organization. No one expressed this attitude better than Sen. Sarah Bratt, who objected to Sen. D. Wallace’s depiction of the appropriation as a “burden” by saying, “I see this as a nice donation to a great cause.” Readers are encouraged to apply this quote to the various ‘donations’ that the federal government makes, but the more important point is that such an approach completely ignores the fact that this is not simply another club or house giving money to a “cause.”

Such an attitude used to be ascendant in ASUA, and was almost realized perfectly in the form of former President Bruce, who viewed ASUA as more of a service-providing student firm than a deliberative body. Now, we have a genuine debate in the body – and although even ASUA has seen bodies that have perhaps become too political, for now Wallace’s arguments and research are a necessary infusion.

(As a postscript, one might openly wonder why ASUA didn’t simply force the ad through. For one, it’s not as though there’s huge competition for the equivalent two-page color inserts. Secondly, it’s odd that one fee-funded division of Student Affairs should charge another fee-funded division of Student Affairs full-market rates.)

MISCELLANIA:

-Mark your calendars – the ASUA Election dates are in. Primaries will be held March 2-3, and the generals will be held March 9-10.

-Thankfully, the madness of the Freshman Class Council homecoming float has been stemmed. This year, the FCC will only be requesting $400 from the Senate (by way of comparison, last year they requested $1,200 and received $850.)

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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