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.”

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.

Putting the “student” back into the “student regent”

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 13 October 2009

The deadline for submitting your student regent application is less than a week away – have you sent in yours yet? Of course, you haven’t – unless, that is, you’ve been in the thick of student government. Of the last ten regents, nine of them have spent time in student government prior to their appointment (the exception is the current non-voting regent from NAU, Jennifer Githner, who is a Ph.D student).

Perhaps this isn’t that surprising. After all, only the best and brightest are able to scale the lofty heights of student governance. And perhaps it takes a certain type of congress-critter to strive for such offices.

But perhaps it has something to do with the way student regents are selected. In spite of the fact that they represent the entire student body, the nominees for regents are ultimately chosen from a small cabal of high-ranking students. The members of the selection committee are listed here, but this is the breakdown:

Vice President Fritze – ASUA Executive Vice President

Nicole Pasteur – ASA Director

Tyler Quillin – ASUA Senator

Ryan Klenke – ASUA Diversity Director, ASUA Senate Candidate

David Lopez-Negrete – GPSC Vice President

Mary Venezia – Former ASA Director, Former Student Regent

Ruben Aguirre – Staffer for President Shelton

J.C. Mutchler – Token Prof

Frankly, it’s a bit offensive to have a professor sitting on the student regent selection committee. Otherwise, you have:

ASUA – 3

ASA – 2

GPSC – 1

Unaffiliated students – 0.5 (because, really, working for the President’s office hardly counts as any sort of “voice of the people.”)

But as my colleague asked two meetings ago, “Why is ASUA still a middleman when selecting student Regents? How about direct election?” It’s ironic that an institution so fervently holding onto non-representative, campus-wide elections for Senate (defying the standard set at virtually any other campus across the country) is so insistent that approving the student regent – the position that literally is supposed to represent the student body – should be such an oligarchic process, removed entirely from any sort of plebiscite.

Instead, after interviews and reviews of the applications, the regent selection process proceeds as follows:

Thursday, November 5

Selection Committee Meeting-Semi finalists selected

Week of Monday, November 9

UA Student Regent interviews and reception with ASA Board of Directors

Monday, November 16

Selection Committee Meeting-Three finalists selected

Wednesday, November 18

ASUA Senate confirms three finalists

Thursday, November 19

Three finalists sent to Governor’s office for nomination selection

This sort of process is absent of any outside student input. Take something like signature requirements. While this site has argued for reducing such standards for ASUA elections, there’s still a very strong case for their existence. Beyond pragmatic concerns about dealing with hundreds of candidates, making potential candidates collect signatures is a way of demonstrating that they really are serious about reaching out to the student body.

Unfortunately, no such provisions exist for regent applicants. Those student regents who rose to prominence through ASA have quite literally claimed to represent the “student voice” without ever having to reach out to students outside of the student government circle.

Instead of an admissions that resembles the election of a homecoming queen more than the student representative to the Board of Regents, the student government’s sole responsibility would be ensuring that candidates (a) had enough signatures, and (b) had all their paperwork in order. An election would be set (although ideally this would occur at the same time as the other elections), and would proceed as any other campus-wide election. In adherence with currently standing laws, the student government would submit the top three vote-getters to the governor as the three nominees, and the governor would “choose” from these – almost certainly, the one with the most votes.

From a statutory perspective, students can’t directly elect the regent – the Regent is ultimately appointed by the governor from a list of three names. Yet such statutory provisions also exist when it comes to fees, which can only be implemented or modified by the Board of Regents. Nevertheless, this campus has recently held plebiscites relating to KAMP and ASA fees (which passed), and a PIRG fee (which failed). There was nothing that prevented the Board from approving the PIRG fee, while nixing the KAMP and ASA fees – but regents respected the legitimacy and gravity of such a campus-wide election (with the glaring exception of the Student Services Fee).

Such a de facto approval would similarly exist in the governor’s office. The inevitable outcry that would emerge from a governor overriding a student vote would be far more trouble than its worth for such a middling position. For the governor, this is hardly worth more than ten minutes of his or her time.

Yet for students, it is immensely important. The student regent is quite literally the only representative they have in the tuition-setting process. Attention, ASA: here’s a reform you could push for that actually increases student power. Yet given their privileged role in the process, the odds of any push for this are effectively nil.

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.

Twitter politics hit the regency

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

While most of us had football on the mind, Student Regent Ross Meyer fired off a pair of rather curious tweets this past Saturday:

Driving to tucson and wondering what #jasonrosepr would say about my chevy truck -he probably thinks I’m qualified to run for ag bc of my new tires!1:42 PM Sep 12th from txt

. . .

#jasonrosepr – sensible leadership and discretion are better characteristics for ag than the wheels one drives. Please tell your candidate this. Lujan has both! 1:44 PM Sep 12th from txt

A bit of background is necessary here. “jasonrosepr” is in fact the Twitter account of Jason Rose, a PR man who is most famous for representing Joe Arpaio (although his network spreads far and wide). He is also representing Andrew Thomas, the Maricopa County attorney who plans on running for attorney general as a Republican in the 2010 elections. Presumably, this is Mr. Rose’s candidate.

‘Lujan’, meanwhile, refers to David Lujan, a Democratic state representative with an exploratory committee in the Attorney General’s race that Meyer mentions in his first tweet.

It’s not entirely clear whether Meyer’s first comment about tires is some sort of political inside joke, or just a weird schoolyard taunt. It is very clear, however, that his second missive is expressing a very clear preference of one candidate over the other.

This political banter comes in the wake of the Associate Athletics Director Steve Kozachik’s improper – if not illegal – use of his position to politically grandstand. Yet while Kozachik could at least posture concern about the local community, Regent Meyer can hardly say that this has no political implications. According to the “general” division of ABOR’s personnel policies:

6-905 Political Activity

Employees may participate in political activity outside their employment, but shall not allow their interest in a particular party candidate, or political issue to affect the objectivity of their teaching or the performance of their regular university duties.

Regent Meyer could certainly argue that a view on an attorney general’s race won’t affect his performance as a regent, but taking potshots at political figures is generally not indicative of a leader willing to compromise with both sides of the aisle. Similarly, a professor might also argue that wearing a Barack Obama shirt in his math class wouldn’t affect his role as a teacher, but generally it has been decided that this is an undesired outcome. Meyer could try and say that this was a personal comment unrelated to his role as regent, but the absence of a separate “ABORStudentRegent” Twitter account and the listing of “regent” under his Bio section seems to belie this case. He could argue that the provisions don’t apply to the regents themselves, but to their employees, an argument that opens the door for outright advocacy and policy stances from the Board.

Are sanctions merited here? Probably not. But it would be nice if student leadership weren’t so blindingly obvious about their political allegiances – even if they aren’t exactly surprising.

And then there were two.

Posted in Campus, Politics, UA Transformation Plan by Evan Lisull on 10 September 2009
No, not <i>that</i> Oscar Martinez.

No, not that Oscar Martinez.

A second name has come out of the professorial closet, as Regents Professor Oscar Martinez publishes a guest op-ed in the Star denouncing the administration. Money quote:

There is overwhelming dissatisfaction among UA faculty and administrators with the policies and practices of the upper administration. This is tragic because the UA has never needed the strong, positive decision-making that it requires now; yet it is getting mostly ineffective and polarizing leadership.

Provost Meredith Hay, in particular, has become a lightning rod and legions of faculty and administrators would like to see her vacate her post.

“Legions!” you say. Funny, then, that given the chance to actually express their discontent, the total number of professors even attending a forum – let alone dissenting – was “somewhere around 80” according to the Wildcat. Perhaps the true dissenters feared a surprise release of nerve gas in the Kiva Room, or mass detentions followed by forced confessions before the Regents at next month’s meeting.

The main issue with this movement continues to be the wild-eyed secrecy with which it conducts itself – resisters in Iran were more willing to declare their identity than these professors, some of whom are certainly tenured. In spite of his commendable willingness to come into the light, Dr. Martinez exhibits this posture in what should be a relatively innocuous paragraph:

Web classes sacrifice direct contact with students and do little to teach critical thinking skills. And the failure of the UA to monitor Web classes carefully is spawning questionable practices, as in the case of one tenured senior professor on the high end of the pay scale currently teaching small Web-based courses while residing 1,200 miles from Tucson. Such an arrangement is certainly not cost-effective.

Dr. Martinez has already gone ahead and plastered his name all over a very-public column. This example cites a “tenured senior professor,” meaning that s/he has effectively no risk of being removed. Class listings are public information. Yet rather than just stating the name of the professor and the classes at hand, Dr. Martinez instead drops hints like a prosecutor trying to get news coverage – “high end of the payscale,” “1200 miles from Tucson” (is it Portland? Or is it (cue ominous music) Mexico? Perhaps we can get Jolted Joe Arpaio to sign onto this group, arguing against the outsourcing of online classes to ‘illegals’). Contacted by phone, Dr. Martinez declined to say why he opted to word the paragraph as he did – at best, it may have been a matter of respect for his fellow professor. At any rate, the class is HIS 429A/529A, “US History since 1877.” The class is taught by Professor Karen Anderson, who made $111,438 as of 2009 (source: the Wildcat’s nifty salary GoogleDoc). Students within the history department are urged to add their insights in the comments.

Still, it’s not quite clear that this is necessarily a bad thing in of itself (the cost-effectiveness is especially questionable, unless Professor Martinez means to call into question the tenure system as a whole), and the dislike of these classes gets downright bizarre:

Ask any professor if she would like to see her child taking such a class [with 1000+ students in Centennial Hall – EML] and you will elicit a horrified look accompanied by an emphatic “No!”

You will get a similar reaction if you mention online classes, which are on the increase at the UA because the administration wants to boost enrollment.

Perhaps not being a professor’s kid is screwing with my perspective here, but as far as I know my parents did not emphatically scream “No!” when I told them that I was taking an online class this fall. In fact, this online class – SOC/POL 315 – is being taught by a doctoral candidateJessica Epstein – who is currently residing “in a different time zone” where “you’ll likely get my emails after you’ve gone to sleep.” Academic disaster? Hardly. The class is extremely enjoyable (in spite of D2L) and informative; further, it incorporates free online material (examples include NPR and blog posts (!) from Ezra Klein and Baseline Scenario), which could prove to be an actually effective way to cut down on textbook prices (still, the course still ultimately relies on two books). Already it has proven to be better than the average class at the UA, and far better than the average POL course.  Contra Martinez, online education – and other forms of education that don’t involve one-on-one professor contact – can, and will, work.

It should be also pointed out that it is not “the administration” that wants to boost enrollment, but the Arizona Board of Regents, who have explicitly spelled out increased enrollment as a primary goal in their 2020 Plan. If the professors at the UA want less enrollment and more control (which they should), they really should consider whether having a separate Board of Regents might be worth striving after.

Such critiques are secondary as far as internal university politics go – and perhaps, so is this whole discussion. After all, even if the only problem with Provost Hay was, say, her hair, there is nothing preventing the Deans from casting a vote of no-confidence, using the same pabulum to justify themselves as Shelton and Hay currently do. Yet if yesterday’s meeting was any indicator, this groundswell of support is not enough to do anything, until a broader case can be made to win over those who are on the fence. The gesture from Dr. Martinez is striking, but its argument as a whole isn’t quite there yet.

Happy Monday; or, “School? Again?”

Posted in Campus, Education Policy by Evan Lisull on 24 August 2009

Zombies

They‘re here, schedules in one hand and iPhones in the other. While this year’s freshman Horde will no doubt be fawned over even more than last year’s, all is not well at the UA. Some long-term trends to keep an eye on.

1. 38,800 students and rising. It’s weird to hear a university President gush over the “record number” of attendees, as though he were describing a concert or a store opening. The problems that the ever-growing mob brings is the angle taken by KVOA ‘s article, which raises the issues of housing, parking, and classroom space; the respective answers are “we’re building more,” “we’re building more,” and “we’re innovating more.”

(Actually, UA Housing Director Jim Van Arsdel’s quote on dorm shortages is hilarious enough to bear repeating:

“We have filled every single permanent space we have in our system,” said Arsdel. “We’ve assigned 290 students to spaces that we call temporary.”

Uh – what else would you call them?)

Within this state, the UA’s comparative advantage is definitely not in quantity, but rather in quality. Don’t tell that to Arizona’s leaders of higher education, though:

“Pursuing a college degree is one of the very best investments you can make.  I am delighted to know that record numbers of Arizona families are staking their futures on a UA degree,” said UA President Robert N. Shelton. “More enrolled students mean brighter futures for Arizona. On behalf of the entire UA community, we welcome this freshman class and our transfer students with a great deal of pride and anticipation.”

Arizona Board of Regents President Ernest Calderón noted, “I applaud the UA’s efforts in achieving this positive result. Offering more students higher education is what it is all about.”

Is that what it’s all about – pushing units and making cash money? Actually, according to the beloved 2020 plan from ABOR, it is:

The Mission

• To increase the educational attainment of Arizona citizens by producing enough high-quality university degrees for the state to be nationally competitive by the year 2020.

• To increase the prominence of the system’s research enterprise so that it can contribute to the knowledge economy and improve the quality of life in Arizona.

• To provide the educated workforce needed to fill shortages and to stimulate demand for higher paying jobs in Arizona.

In other words: increased production, increased ‘knowledge economy’ gains, increased job training. Perhaps this sort of education is seen as necessary in the eyes of the state, but there is nothing ‘higher’ about it.

2. Short Quickening Painful Decline of the Liberal Arts Education. Given the “job creation” fetishists that run the university system now, it’s not surprising to see that the future of the UA ultimately relies on relegating the humanities and other liberal arts to a superfluous position:

The incoming class of University of Arizona students has boosted enrollments in science and engineering while also contributing to the largest class the Honors College has ever seen.

Preliminary data indicates that between 150 and 180 more freshmen have declared majors in the College of Science while the enrollment in engineering has jumped by about 60 students.

This is encouraging, as science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the STEM fields – are being promoted at the UA and nationally.

. . .

Patricia MacCorquodale, the Honors College dean, said the college was keen on admitting first generation students, those interested in STEM fields and also students from underrepresented states.

This emphasis on “STEM” fields, however, received no mention at all in the transformation plan, which emphasized “synergies” and “reassessments.” MacCorquodale’s report is rather telling in this context. The UA, among other schools, uses “holistic” admissions, a sort of New Age bullshit free-for-all which allows the schools to use effectively any justification for their admissions. Typically, these admissions support certain groups in the name of “diversity” – her examples of underrepresented states and first generation students are common. Yet including “interested in STEM fields” indicates that these students are receiving admissions preference as well.

Yet as this article makes clear, there’s a reason for this:

ASU’s war room, in the fight for stimulus money, is in high gear. Three or four times a week, officials gather here for meetings and plot strategies for grabbing as much stimulus money as possible. They file weekly reports to ASU President Michael Crow.

. . .

Similar scenarios are playing out at universities across the country, although not all have war rooms. Many universities have set up internal Web sites that help faculty track grant opportunities. At the University of Arizona, a 12-member group helps researchers with their grant applications for stimulus aid.

Researchers are rushing to submit proposals in hopes of getting more money for either existing or new research projects.

If, on a day like today, you’re feeling rosy about “higher education” and the comfort of the ivory tower, the article serves as a useful palliative; well worth reading.

3. Still dumber than a brick. OK, that might better fit our neighbors to the north. But for all the cheerleading from President Shelton’s office (Actual lede: “The University of Arizona student body is about to get bigger, smarter and more diverse, as the UA makes final preparations to open its fall semester with big gains in enrollment, diversity and academic quality of its students.” It’s like Brawndo – for your brain!), SAT scores are once again stagnant. Checking it at 1102, we’re back at the average from Fall 2007, but still below the heights achieved by the freshman class of ’06. Ditto for GPA .

Interestingly enough, ACT scores ticked up from years’ past, although I had always written it off as a predominantly Midwestern phenomenon. Any Arizona kids out there that can attest to it’s use in this state?

4. Losing the grads. This site has been vocal in encouraging the university to seek more funds outside of the traditional state sources (a position that seems to have vindicated by Budget Battle, a summer flick that turned into Masterpiece Theatre mini-series). This, from an article on the US News rankings, is not good news:

UA’s rank may have slipped a bit because it reported a drop in the percentage of full-time tenured faculty. Also, average alumni donations declined slightly, from 7 percent to 6 percent. Alumni donations are used as one measure of how satisfied graduates are with their education and make up 5 percent of a college’s score. Other measures, such as graduation rates and freshmen retention, stayed the same or improved at the UA.

So everyone’s broke and only ritually sacrificing Corvettes can help us – I get that – but this is not a great trend-line to ride. While there have been moderate pushes towards alternative sources of funding, the President has involved himself more in the ins-and-outs of legislative action than with doubling down on Campaign Arizona.

Mid-Week Update: Bring Regents, Guns, and Stimulus Funds

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 20 May 2009

Arne Duncan is Watching YouAll on board the omnibus!

1. Mo’ Regents, Less Problems? Via Student Activism, an rather sensible case for more student regents over at the Chronicle [$]:

Public universities now charge undergraduate students substantial tuition and fees because state support has dwindled. Students (or their parents) are required to make up that missing portion of those institutions’ basic operating budgets.

It is only logical and fair, therefore, that the method of selecting regents and trustees for public universities should change to reflect the new financial situation. I propose, following the old slogan of “no taxation without representation,” that the composition of those governing boards be modified in proportion to the new financial reality. If state funds now provide, for example, two-thirds of the core operating budget, with student fees providing one-third, then the composition of the governing board should directly reflect that 2:1 ratio of interests.

At my own University of California, for example, that would mean that six of the 18 seats on the Board of Regents now filled by gubernatorial appointment would be given over to appointees selected by tuition-paying undergraduate students and their families.

As the author Charles Schwartz points out, there is precedent for this in the CaPERS Board, where six of the members are public employee beneficiaries. Were this formula applied to the Arizona system, five of the ten ABOR seats would be tuition-paying representatives. I suspect, however, that this policy will not work out exactly as Dr. Schwartz envisions it. Simply putting students on the board will not change state funding one whit, and as we’ve already seen here, student regents can overcome their tendencies against tuition hikes rather quickly. However, it is likely that tuition-payers would push much harder for cuts and program reforms than those already enmeshed within the system; ironically, this would result in more cuts than we’ve already seen. (And yes, that’s a good thing overall.)

Besides all this, there is the issue of double representation: in-state tuition-payers are already represented (albeit indirectly) in the state legislature. Yet there is one group on campus that is paying a disproportionate amount of tuition revenue, a group that has no such representation – out-of-state students and their families. Forcing out one of the Council of Zion and replacing them with a student regent that specifically represents out-of-state students is an excellent intermediate step.

2. The Cato Institute highlights two more failures of gun-free zones around schools. Again, though, arguing through bizarre instances is no way to go about making this case. The Brady Campaign can run through a list of examples just as well as the NRA can. The broader point is that the number of gun owners within gun-free zones are statistically insignificant, neither posing a threat nor as serving as an effective deterrent. In this country, the presumption is liberty, until a strong case can be made to the contrary. Especially seeing how possession of firearms is listedexplictly between the right to speech and the right against forced quartering of troops, it’s hard to see the overwhelming case justifying these sorts of zones.

3. Every budget you fake, every bill you take. Arne Duncan, bored with kicking around inner-city children in D.C., has decided to turn his attention towards the orphan-children states at his feet:

“If folks are misbehaving, they won’t get Round 2,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said this morning at a Congressional hearing on President Obama’s budget for the 2010 fiscal year.

. . .

“I want to assure you that I will be scrutinizing how states spend their stabilization money to make sure they are focused on education,” he said.

Mr. Duncan also defended the president’s plan to end the guaranteed-student-loan program and said the “marketplace” would ultimately force colleges to hold down rising tuitions.

“This is the wrong market” for colleges to be raising tuition, Mr. Duncan said. Colleges that continue to do so, he predicted, “will pay the price” in enrollment declines.

You got that – if you don’t eat your meat, how can you have pudding? Ignore for your sanity his cognitive dissonance on marketplaces and choice – if Secretary Duncan is oh-so-wise when it comes down to each and every university’s tuition policies, why not just set them himself? Under the logic of Obamanomics, there’s no reason why Duncan can’t refuse to give the money unless states set an artificial tuition freeze. (As to the logic of federalism and the Constitution . . . aye, there’s the rub. But come on,  it’s a goddamned piece of paper – who’s got time for that when our children is not learning?)

Bonus Arne Duncan fun fact of the day: “Some of his childhood friends were John W. Rogers, Jr., CEO of Ariel Capital Management (now Ariel Investments) and founder of the Ariel Community Academy, Illinois Senator Kwame Raoul, actor Michael Clarke Duncan, singer R. Kelly, IBM Fellow Kerrie Holley and martial artist Michelle Gordon. Duncan’s spoken accent at this time led at least one college basketball coach to assume that he was of African-American descent.” [emphasis added – EML]

Arne Duncan AND R. Kelly Are Watching You

Much, much better.

Tuition Surcharge Passes

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

Nothing surprising here:

All in-state University of Arizona students will have to pay a $766 “economic recovery surcharge” to help partially offset roughly $77 million in state budget cuts since last summer. Non-resident students will have to pay $966 per year.

The hike, coupled with a previous $545 increase approved in December, means in-state students will have to pay $6,841 in tuition and mandatory fees next fall.

Non-resident students will have to pay a total of $22,543 in tuition and fees.

The Board voted 7-1 to approve the surcharges, and Regent Martinez must be commended for voting against the proposal. Better late than never, I suppose.

Come on and take a fee ride

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 13 March 2009

Fees at a parking lotSpringtime is upon us, which must mean that the fees have bloomed over at the Arizona Board of Regents. From today’s Wildcat:

“The regents are wrestling with a new era of how you fund quality higher education in Arizona,” Shelton said. “The state is no longer able to, or willing to, invest in higher education as they have in the past.”

. . .

Another solution is raising student fees, he said.

“It’s a question of balance,” Shelton said. “The balance between what the state is willing to invest in the universities and what we have to ask the students and their families to invest.”

Proposed fees include increased utility fees, mandated employee expenses [emphasis added – EML], student health and wellness, academic advising, information technology and library fees.

“How much of this responsibility do we know will be placed on the students and their families?” Shelton said. “And how much of it can we deal with through alternative forms?”

These fees are things that the state is unable or refuses to support, Shelton said.

“We have to find ways to keep up the quality and keep up the accessibility,” he said. “Part of that is going to be higher tuition and fees coupled with financial aid.”

Mandated by whom? Assuming that the state is behind these sorts of requirements, then there’s no reason that the state should not provide for them when it comes to state employees. If the state can’t afford to provide for these mandates, might it not be a good time to consider their effectiveness?  The good news is that ABOR does not appear to be entirely in lockstep with Shelton’s proposals:

Regents Vice President Ernest Calderón said there is a chance that these fees will be decreased or rejected.

“Clearly we have to come up with money some place,” he said. “The question is at some point, when you charge too many fees, you lose the students interest in the course or the major or the university.”

The bad news is that it might have worse options in mind:

He also said there could be other proposals, putting the financial burden further on the backs of the students.

“Clearly the students are going to be carrying more of a burden next year,” he said.

By large, students managed to avoid mandatory fees this year; most of the increases came in the form of differential tuition. However, there is one new mandatory fee in the complete list of fees for 2009-10 [PDF]:

VP Student Affairs – Freshman Fee – Undergraduate – $20

The chart refers the reader to page 197, without indicating what document the number refers to or where it can be accessed. This fee was not included in the supposedly comprehensive list of fees proposed – who pushed this? It also provides no indication as to whether the $20 is per semester or per year (although, curiously, ASU’s approved fees do). It also fails to indicate exactly what a “freshhman fee” entails – do fee revenues pay for freshman-specific services? If so, what are some examples of those? Are the fees paid only by freshmen, or by all undergraduates?

Meanwhile, the administration’s mouthpiece, UANews, has begun a new series just in time for the season:

This week’s edition of “PodCats” is the first in a three-part series profiling current UA student fees and how they have been invested in resources benefiting students. This week’s edition focuses on the technology fee.

Nothing like Pravda-style investigative reporting. Apparently, since print journalism is so twentieth century, the podcast fails to include a transcript. No matter; it’ll just take us awhile to transcribe the important quotes.

Image courtesy of Flickr user greenasian