The Arizona Desert Lamp

How ASA, ASUA, and ABOR worked to preserve discriminatory practices

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 26 October 2009

As part of its website overhaul at the beginning of this academic year, the Arizona Students Association included a section of  “Resources.” Along with the fee refund form and governing documents, the site also includes its meeting minutes, dating back to August 2008.

In spite of the meetings’ propensity to go into executive session (which prevents readers like you from ever learning what they discussed  – Lord knows there are “security concerns” when it comes to the powerful students’ lobby), the minutes are as good an example as any of why transparency is so essential in any government.

There are a litany of issues covered in the minutes – so get comfortable this week. But in light of Ward Connerly’s visit to the UA this Wednesday, it’s worth going through ASA’s internal debate over Arizona’s own Connerly initiative, the ultimately failed Proposition 104.

Before getting into the politics of the proposition, please do read the operative clause of the proposition text again. Actually, read it twice – it’s short:

The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.

Supporters of the proposition filed their signatures on July 3, 2008. The pro-affirmative-action group BAMN (once again, really?) had actually filed their lawsuit against the signatures before they were submitted, on June 30, alleging that they were invalid. (source)

This set the stage for ASA’s discussion over the initiative, on August 13 [PDF], which was opened up by Michael Slugocki (all minutes from here on in are sic):

C. Equal Opportunity – Michael Slugocki
– Arizona Civil Rights Initiative- deplete equal opportunity programs at Universities: Women’s in Science and Technology, Native American Student Affairs for example
– Educational and Informational Stand Point from ASA

Somewhat odd to follow up such rhetoric with a seemingly docile message – but perhaps inspired by his impending trip to the Democratic National Convention, it might be easy to blur the line between genuine informing and campaigning. (As we shall later, this diplomatic pas de deux will soon be thrown on the wayside.) At any rate, ASU-West’s Andrew Clark and Ryan Carraciollo (the ASASUW President) are having none of it:

Andrew Clark- Partisan Issue; fall outside of ASA’s bounds. Would like if ASA did no action. Minority students at ASU West are leading the charge to support this issue. Statistics show attendance of minorities rates drop, but graduation rates grow.

Ryan Carraciollo- Seconded Andrews comments. Feels a state wide organization should not take a stance on this partisan issue.

Actually, even that’s too kind to the supporters of discriminatory practices. As this site reported and emphasized, the University of Michigan saw an increase in acceptance of BHNA applicants – the drop in their matriculation rate indicates socioeconomic issues take precedence over racial ones, and suggests even more strongly the need to shift to socioeconomic affirmative action.

Tommy Bruce could care less about your graduation rates:

Tommy Bruce- Views this as a non partisan issue.

This about twelve degrees of crazy, and perhaps helps to explain some of his presidency. As a marketing major, Bruce appears simply tone-deaf when it comes to political issues, ignoring the fact that this specific initiative went so far as to dominate the presidential election coverage for a few days. The fact that opponents of the initiative were organized by Democratic Representative Kristen Sinema (pictured here, amusingly enough, with ACORN, another nonpartisan organization), and that the legislative attempt to pass this clause was led by Republican Russell Pearce – a mere coincidence!

Then, Hilary Clinton delegate David Martinez III chimes in:

David Martinez- Talked with University Presidents, have not taken a stance but are talking about the impact it will have on the students of Arizona. David has asked the senior associates of the Presidents Office, to provide ASA with documents on the programs it will affect on the campuses. Presidents and Regents are looking to see what they can do outside of their duties, to counter the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative. (emphasis added – EML)

A literal reading finds that the last sentence directly contradicts the first. What the secretary and/or Martinez elided was the fact that the University Presidents have not taken an official stance (which, in fact, they never did – although Shelton’s memo on affirmative action from February 2008 certainly comes close). This is probably because such actions are prohibited by state law:

A person acting on behalf of a university or a person who aids another person acting on behalf of a university shall not use university personnel, equipment, materials, buildings or other resources for the purpose of influencing the outcomes of elections. Notwithstanding this section, a university may distribute informational pamphlets on a proposed bond election as provided in section 35-454. Nothing in this section precludes a university from reporting on official actions of the university or the Arizona board of regents.

It certainly shouldn’t be illegal for University officials and ABOR members to express their political proclivities outside of their jobs, but it should be viewed as repugnant and un-befitting of their stature. The universities and the board that governs them are shrouded with a perception of non-partisanship, and Horowitz’s jeremiads have done little to affect this notion. With great honor, however, comes great responsibility – and that involves not acting like a political hack on a proposition that offends one’s sensibilities and has a connection to your job. Vote as you will, but for the sake of the institution don’t publicly tell someone that you’re working to find loopholes in the name of fighting such an initiative – it does a disservice to everyone associated with the university system.

The ASA meeting concluded on what seemed to be a non-intervening note:

Regent Meyer: Suggests asking our constituency if ASA is able to take stances on ballot initiatives, to insure ASA knows its boundaries.
Michael Slugocki- Let the coalition do the heavy work, educational and coordinate with student groups, connect the media with students not ASA.

Slugocki’s last line is somewhat enigmatic – the minutes reference a “Coalition of Student Regents and Trustees” earlier in the meeting, but that seems rather irrelevant to the issue at hand. At any rate, the issue seems fairly moot – the organization would help the media find alternative sources for opinions (in all likelihood, unfavorable ones), and generally stay out the fray.

Instead, a mere five days later, they filed a lawsuit:

The initiative, which is the brainchild of former University of California regent and anti-affirmative action activist Ward Connerly, was submitted for review by the Arizona Secretary of State on July 3 with over 323,000 signatures. 230,047 are required to make it to the ballot.

However, PAF is trying to drive that number down by 105,107 through its lawsuit, which alleges 13 categories of violations committed by petition circulators which invalidate those signatures. Among the most serious charges are instances where PAF accuses paid circulators of using “another individual’s identification to try to prove residency,” and cases where a circulator “misrepresented his or her residential address,” as well as practices such as duplicating signatures on numerous petition sheets.

The lawsuit was technically filed by two college students, Kathleen Templin of Northern Arizona University and Michael Slugoki [sic] of the University of Arizona, does not deal with signatures that are invalidated by problems such as a signer giving a post office box instead of a physical address, non-registered voters and so forth. Rather, it focuses specifically on problems originating with the petition gatherers or notaries who were supposed to certify each petition sheet. Sinema claimed that the Secretary of State and Maricopa County Recorder will also end up throwing some of the signatures out.

Kathleen Templin, current ASNAU president, was a member of ASA’s executive board at the time of suit. Slugocki was the chair of the organization. The inevitable argument that Mr. Slugocki and Ms. Templin were genuinely concerned about signature gathering alone is venal. Forget the fact that Slugocki was openly lobbying against the bill at the meeting – in 2008, two other propositions (authorizing a public transit plan, and preserving land for environmental purposes) were also found to have insufficient signatures. Suffice it to say neither Slugocki nor Templin bothered to look into signature collecting issues for those initiatives; or really, to mention the initiatives at all.

Perhaps, though, it was simply a coincidence that two ASA Executive Board members filed this suit – after all, they might have been acting “outside of their official capacities.” An article from ASU’s State Press makes it clear that this was not the case:

The Arizona Students’ Association, a non-profit, non-partisan student advocacy group, opposed the initiative, board chair Michael Slugocki said.

He said it would have eliminated equal opportunity programs such as Women In Science and Engineering and Hispanic Mother-Daughter programs at ASU.

“ASA took a stance because we saw it would close doors and hurt equal opportunity,” Slugocki said. “It would have harmed people’s access to college and higher education. All students should have the chance to succeed.”

To recap: on August 13, ASA concluded its discussion on the proposition by supporting education initiatives, to “connect the media with students not ASA.” On August 18, two ASA Executive Board members filed a lawsuit contesting the signatures for the proposition. On August 23, Slugocki states to the media that ASA had a public policy of opposing the initiative.

The best part in all of this? Michael Slugocki, earlier in the meeting, mentioned this:

Michael Slugocki- Wants to see ASA move forward after the mishaps with Equal opportunity, Executive Committee will bring forward a set of policies and procedures
– Confidentiality Emails
– Process for outside organization to contact the Board, Ie; Executive Committee

Unfortunately, we can’t tell you exactly what these “mishaps” were, as ASA went into executive committee. At the same time, one must wonder if Slugocki and ASA have pulled off the Platonic ideal of  doublethink, literally believing that “equal opportunity” means “discriminatory policies.”


U. Michigan accepts more minority applicants, but no one seems to care.

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 14 October 2009

On the heels of Connerly’s impending visit to the UA, Inside Higher Ed cites a story that will send groups like BAMN (still bizarre) into a tizzy:

While the University of Michigan saw record numbers of applications and enrolled students this year, it also saw an 11 percent drop in the number of black, Latino and Native American freshmen, The Detroit News reported. Michigan has been the center of much public discussion about affirmative action in higher education — both because the university led a national effort to defend affirmative action before the U.S. Supreme Court and because the state’s voters in 2006 barred state entities from considering race and ethnicity in admissions decisions. With this year’s decline, under-represented minority students make up 9.1 percent of the freshman class, compared to 10.4 percent last year and 12.6 percent for the last class admitted prior to the 2006 ban.

Of course, it would be nice if the Detroit News actually read the university’s entire press release (emphasis added):

Among freshmen, underrepresented minority applications rose 3.7 percent and offers of admission rose 8.2 percent, yet freshman underrepresented minority enrollment fell 11.4 percent, reducing the percentage of underrepresented minority freshmen from 10.4 percent in fall 2008 to 9.1 percent in fall 2009—a drop of 69 students.

So let’s try interpreting this story again. The University of Michigan institutes policies that discriminate on the basis of race; such policies are overturned by a solid majority of voters via ballot initiative. Nevertheless, “underrepresented minority” (Black, Hispanic, and Native American = BHNA) applications increased, and the BHNA acceptance rate increased by an even greater proportion.

There are many reasons why BHNA applicants might ultimately decline an offer to attend the school. Considering the trend of relative poverty among these groups, along with the increase in tuition, students might opt for community college, or perhaps even another one of the UM’s branches (the press release only refers to UM-Ann Arbor numbers). Since the drop in BHNA freshman enrollment from last year is a total decrease by 69 students, even more microcosmic factors may play a role. Now that the UM’s enrollment is nearly 42,000, a smaller state school might have been a better fit. Have enrollment numbers of BHNA students declined across the board in the state, or are they just declining at the top research university? And what about the socioeconomic status of incoming freshmen? Inquiring minds want to know; those insistent on reliving the race wars of the 1960s don’t care.

Meanwhile, it’s still baffling how much implied disdain exists for Asian-Americans and Middle-Eastern-Americans, among other minority groups. The latter isn’t so much of an issue at other schools, but Dearborn – a half-hour away, and home to a UM satellite campus – is one of the largest Arab communities in the country. Yet according to census classification, they are white; as a result, they were seen as enduring no different obstacles than the WASPiest of WASPs by the thankfully-voided race-based admission policy at the school.

Ward Connerly to visit the UA

Posted in Politics by Evan Lisull on 13 October 2009

Ward ConnerlyThe press release, courtesy of the Arizona Association of Scholars:

For Immediate Release:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What: Ward Connerly speaks about the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative

When: Wednesday, October 28; 4-5:30 PM

Where: Holsclaw Hall, UA School of Music building, southeast corner of Park and Speedway

Cost/Admission: Free

Presented by the Arizona Association of Scholars, an affiliate of the National Association of Scholars

Contact: Daniel Asia, President, 520-203-1660

For previous Lamp dispatches on affirmative action and the eponymous “Connerly initative”, read herehere and here. The author also wrote a column about the issue during his salad days at the Wildcat, available here.

Pima County Young Republicans support affirmative action, unaware of what the term means

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 14 September 2009

The file labeled “GOP FAIL” is bursting at the seams, but this epic intellectual ineptitude needs to be preserved for posterity:

Mike Cole, chairman of the Pima County Young Republicans, said the numbers [of political science professors registered as Democrats – EML] are proof of the university’s liberal bias.“The students are getting indoctrinated by their liberal professors,” Cole said.

Cole said he believes the university should change its policies, including adding a professor’s political affiliation to the course schedule so students will know beforehand if their professor is a liberal or conservative.

Though he doesn’t support hiring on the basis of political affiliation, Cole said he would like the university to try to balance the number of Democrats and Republicans by making a conscious effort to hire conservatives as some of the older professors retire.

A mandate to balance the political science department isn’t like a Republican professor affirmative action plan, he said. “It’s just fair.” [emphasis added – EML]

It almost sounds like Mr. Cole is trying to redistribute seats from groups that have had historic privilege in the university system, and give it to those who have been systematically discriminated against to maximize diversity within professorial ranks. It’s not socialism; it’s just fair.

At the same time, I would be interested in hearing the traditional defenders of affirmative action provide reasons why their logic wouldn’t apply equally well to these professors.

Quotas Without Solace

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 7 January 2009

Via UANews (which started its daily updates a full week and a half before school started), it appears that identity politics continue through the doctoral level:

A new report says that The University of Arizona is one of the leading universities in the country when it comes to granting doctoral degrees to Hispanic and Native American students.

. . .

From 2003-2007, the UA granted 121 doctoral degrees to Hispanic students, tied with the University of Michigan. During that time, they granted 18 doctoral degrees to Native American students, two more than the University of Michigan and the Fielding Graduate Institute.

Is this actually great news? Michigan, of course, has a historical reputation for its diversity; however, Arizona not only is entrenched in one of the most Hispanic areas in the country, but also offers superior programs in fields such as Bilingual Education, Indigenous Law, Mexican American Studies — fields that minority students are far more likely to be interested in. The fact that we’re merely tied with the UM isn’t exactly rousing.

Of course, the real story for the university isn’t about the success of minorities:

The Survey of Earned Doctorates is conducted for the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of the Education, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NASA by the National Opinion Research Center.

Translation: It’s all about the federal benjamins, baby.

Velez credits several recruitment initiatives by the UA Graduate College, increased Hispanic and Native American undergraduate enrollment and retention of undergraduate students from Arizona to record doctoral degree production at the UA.

While Velez is pleased that the UA ranks among the nation’s leading universities in granting advanced degrees to minority students, she is “saddened that the numbers nationwide don’t reflect the numbers of minorities in this country.”

This is that “fairness by demographics” approach which goes without question in many circles. Furthermore, focusing on race demographics ignores the real problem — economic demographics. The reason that blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans are “underrepresented minorities” on campus is mostly a result of their disproportionate representation among lower-income groups. The issue is poverty, not melatonin concentration. The praised diversity programs for underrepresented minorities on the graduate school website are far more necessary for a poor white student than they are for an upper-middle-class, legacy Hispanic student.

It is the effect of poverty on early education that is so destructive. Focusing on remedying these effects are not only fairer, but will prove to be more effective as well.

Secondly, going back to Velez’s statement, there’s also the dubious assertion that these students should be going to college. Oftentimes, it really doesn’t make sense for a student coming from an impoverished background to rack up debt in college, when they could go to a field without such requirements. Here, they can build a financial base, establish a family, and then perhaps later go on to school as a personal goal. You can be quite successful in this world without a college degree in your 20s; but of course, it’s not in the UA’s best interest to let these truths come out.

Are legacy admissions unconstitutional?

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 30 November 2008

An article from Inside Higher Ed discusses two law articles that make the legal case against legacy admissions. The first article focuses on the Civil Rights Act of 1866, targeted against the former slave-owner aristocracy of the South, while the second uses the nobility clause of the constitution:

Because his paper focuses on titles of nobility — banned by the Constitution for use by federal or state governments — his argument applies only to public colleges and universities. Lawson argues that the nobility clauses, largely understood to ban the awarding of titles like “duke” or “earl,” actually ban any hereditary privilege.

I think this overstates the case, and in the process makes the Constitution far too flexible. This clause is literally talking about titles of nobility, not a (somewhat) natural aristocracy. Were the House of Clinton entitled to twelve admissions at Harvard, it’d be worthy of protest. Yet a form of aristocracy is natural, and will occur in all but the most dystopic societies. Even the Soviet Union, ostensibly the great socialist hope, quickly developed a ruling class. The key is to avoid a codification of these interests, which makes the aristocracy more artificial than natural.

The second article is focused largely on public universities, which use legacy admissions to a far lower extent than the private Ivies and other elite, private institutions. For instance, I don’t think that legacy plays anything but a negligible role in determining who gets in to the UA or ASU.

Yet I’m optimistic that it the long term, it doesn’t really matter. As elite universities rely too heavily on legacy admissions, more and more talented kids from non-entrenched families are left out. Yet these kids are often the most striving and hard-working (given their environment), and many will succeed even at a state school. As this occurs more and more often, and the alumni of less prestigious schools become more prominent, these schools gain prestige, and become less of a second or third best option. What we’ve seen in the past few years is the rise of schools which weren’t considered. Remember, there was once a time when the Ivies were the only option, and schools like the University of Chicago were backwater honor high schools with 20 students. As time has progressed, overall quality has gone up.

The fairness issue is a problem, and akin to the affirmative action issue — you have no control over the family you’re born into, nor over the amount of melanin that you’re born with. Yet I’m getting increasingly pessimistic over the fact that it’s nearly impossible to tell whether or not a school is discriminating, be it on the basis of race or family. Outside of a flagrantly discriminatory policy, like the previous point system at the University of Michigan, the admissions process is very opaque, with a litany of factors at play. Wide-spread policies of discrimination could occur without anyone knowing, even with the passage of the Ward Connerly sponsored bills or bans on legacy admissions.

The best way to solve this problem is to start cutting state and federal funding to schools that exercise such discriminating preferences. As far as I know, Hillsdale College in Michigan is the only non-profit school that does not take federal or state dollars. The fact that Harvard, with a $36.9 billion endowment, receives any government funding is fairly repugnant.

The Reason Foundation was on this case many months ago, and pointed out an interesting twist to the problem:

If there is any doubt about this, consider Caltech in Southern California. Its admission standards are the toughest among elite colleges. Its endowment is a “mere” $2.38 billion – yet it ranks an impressive 13th on economic diversity. Its financial aid package is no more generous than that of Stanford or other elite schools. So what’s the difference? It applies the same standards to everyone, refusing to give legacies a leg up.

The big difference here is between technical schools and non-technical schools. For a technical institute, you have to know your math and science — even if your dad is Bill Gates. With liberal arts studies, however, the incoming knowledge is less quantifiable — thus an ability to use “outside factors” to a far greater degree.

With this in mind, I’m almost left wondering whether there isn’t a case to be made for legacies. Since the sons and daughters of famous alumni are bound to be major players wherever they end up, it’s best to ensure that they are as informed as possible when they step into these positions. The real responsibility ultimately lies with the parents of these potential legacies, as to whether they use their influence to coddle their children, or force them to earn their admission to Harvard.

Incidentally, the institution which offers the best chances at advancement on merit, with virtually no undue legacy corruption, is the military. There are downsides, though.

Civil rights initiative killed

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 2 September 2008

Bad news from Seeing Red AZ:

The Arizona Civil Rights Initiative campaign led by former California educator Ward Connerly announced it was abandoning its lawsuit to overturn the state’s decertification of Proposition 104.

The campaign issued a statement saying it still believed it collected enough valid petition signatures to put the initiative on the November 4, 2008 ballot but said it couldn’t review all the signatures rejected by election officials in time, according to a report in the daily.

The fight over Prop 104 has gone back and forth; it’s a shame that it ultimately went down in flames. While I found most arguments against the measure reprehensible, one of the worst was the idea that the text was confusing. The best manifestation of this comes from the previously-linked-to Ballotpedia site:

[Shanta] Driver [nation chair of BAMN] said it is improper to push the measure as a “civil rights” initiative, because she believes that term connotes something to help minorities.

Wow. For the record, the full text of the initiative follows below:

“The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting. “

Seeing Red AZ put it best when he called it “classic in its simplicity.”

Another interesting note about the proposition: among the named plaintiffs who filed a suit claiming the invalidity of 100,000 signatures was Michael Slugocki. Mr. Slugocki, of course, was not only one of the three students to attend the Democratic National Convention, but is also one of the directors of the UA Votes 2008 program. There’s a bit of irony here, encouraging students to register to vote while at the same time making sure that they won’t be able to cast a ballot on the issues that actually affect them.