The Arizona Desert Lamp

The Porkies are so very important, we can’t possibly let you know who they are

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 2 November 2009

Pig, MaskedThis is Arizona government:

38.421 Stealing, destroying, altering or secreting public record; classification

A. An officer having custody of any record, map or book, or of any paper or proceeding of any court, filed or deposited in any public office, or placed in his hands for any purpose, who steals, or knowingly and without lawful authority destroys, mutilates, defaces, alters, falsifies, removes or secretes the whole or any part thereof, or who permits any other person so to do, is guilty of a class 4 felony.

This is Arizona government on ASUA:

I have checked on your request for the complete lists of ASUA Freshman Class Council members and the lists are not maintained at the ASUA offices.

So we do have not have [sic] any documents responsive to your request.

Best Regards,

Jonny Cruz

Director of Media Relations

The University of Arizona

Part of this is patent nonsense on ASUA’s part: the request included the list for the current Freshman Class, and it’s highly specious to argue that they don’t have a current membership roll. It should also be remembered that ASUA is not in fact governed by A.R.S. – in the eyes of the law, it is a division of Student Affairs (which is not, in fact, yours), and required to adhere to no more disclosure of information than Enrollment Services. Not keeping records is more stupidity than criminality, but “criminal negligence” is not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

Some more fun juxtaposition from the FCC’s own website:

very important people: As you’ll see, there are a lot of people involved in FCC so here are a couple of awesome people that you can approach for anything- questions, concerns, jokes, or inspirational quotes:

if you have questions: We want you to have all your questions answered before you apply so we encourage you to ask all that you want.  You can go visit the ASUA offices, email the director at jsmacken@email.arizona.edu.

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More truth in t-shirts: eco-chic edition

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

American Apparel Sustainability Edition

In case you thought that the green expended on “green” expenditures was anything more than getting excited about eco-chic, allow Family Weekend Director Lauren Carter to correct you:

ASUA also searched for shirts that were made of environmentally friendly material, so they selected the American Apparel “sustainable edition” T-shirt with organic cotton. This was one splurge that they did make, but “you get what you pay for,” she said. The shirts cost a bit more to produce, but Carter said they will last longer because they are better quality than previous Family Weekend shirts.

Still, though, such a gesture might be inspiring to someone less skeptical/cynical. Perhaps another club on campus might want to go “green” – in all senses of that word – as ASUA. Well, that’s too bad – because according to club funding request regulations [doc]:

T-Shirt Funding

Nice little duopoly that they’ve set up, no doubt in order to “help” the students. Perhaps if ASUA itself was forced to hew to the same restrictions that they impose on others, we might have avoided a whole lot of trouble. (Then again, if the government possesses a monopoly on the legitimate use of force, perhaps it should also possess a monopoly on illegitimate hipsterdom.)

ASA’s “Truth in T-Shirts” Campaign

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 19 October 2009

Ever wonder exactly what you’re getting for your $2, semi-voluntary donation to the Arizona Students Association? Thanks to the power of the internets, now you can see your lobbyists at work – making topical fan videos based on Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”!

Yes, the chorus is, “SAFRA is a bill for education.” Everyone gets a good laugh out of the hopelessly out-of-touch efforts by adults to “get hip with the kids,” but forgotten is how student leaders do exactly the same thing. (Good voices, though.)

The video does serve a useful purpose, though, in unintentionally highlighting a few, forgotten truths about the organization.

David Martinez, wearing an ASUA shirt

1. ASA is not independent of ASUA. This myth got its greatest airing during the uproar at the concert loss, when some students advocated a widescale refund of the ASA fee. Some commenters pushed back, arguing that the organization was independent and shouldn’t been penalized for Bruce’s indiscretions. Yet according to the ASA bylaws,

ASA UA shall consist of  six (6) Directors, (1) Director shall be the Graduate and or the Student Council President. The ASUA President shall appoint four directors, one of whish [sic] shall be a graduate or professional student. The graduate student or professional student must be confirmed by the GPSC in addition to the ASUA Senate before taking office.

Similar provisions of appointment exist at ASU and NAU, where ASA directors are part of the executive cabinet and serve at the pleasure of their respective student body presidents. ASA is more financially independent than other offices, thanks to the fee, but in addition to its fee money the group also receives $11,120 directly from ASUA, in the form of stipends and a general budget (like those alloted to other divisions of the president’s cabinet).

Obama Shirt at ASA Meeting

2. ASA is not “non-partisan.” It might be a rule of thumb by now that any self-proclaimed “non-partisan” organization is in fact hellbent on very partisan goals (see: PIRG, the Nonpartisan League, ACORN, etc.). So it should come as no shock that an official video of the “nonpartisan” ASA features a cameo of the Shepard Fairley “HOPE” shirt, highlighted even further by the fact that everyone else in the shot is wearing business casual (“Dress Code: business casual and/or Obamaphenalia.”)

I suspect that ASA would be shocked to learn that some people might take offense to this, that this is actually not OK. Such is the banality of HOPE. After a flowering of structural reforms at the beginning of its existence, the organization now exists solely as one of many lobbying groups interested in more money. These policy goals have been grudgingly tolerated by those that oppose them, due in part to the fact that ASA has cast their goals in an entirely apolitical light – “save the students” and whatnot. Seeing how the organization has been sharpened under the influence of Hilary Clinton delegate David Martinez III, though, a couple of questions emerge:

1) If ASA’s entire ethos involves increasing government spending on higher education (specifically, research-1 universities – community colleges are left by the wayside), can it ever in fact be a “nonpartisan” organization?

2) Even more broadly, for those who view the political process and lobbying with disdain: is the hatred with lobby-fueled government the principle of the matter, or is it simply disappointment that one’s own special interest isn’t getting what s/he thinks it is owed?

Less importantly,

3) What exactly does it mean that the lone comment on the video comes from this guy?

Stalin1938 Comment

Uh, thanks?

More services, more transparency?

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 15 October 2009

Legal ServicesThe content of this Editorial Board piece in the Wildcat is pretty harmless, but the title and conclusion are honestly baffling:

Who said anything about no transparency?Want a free answer to a pressing legal question? ASUA legal adviser Susan Ferrell can tell you whatever you need to know on certain legal issues free of charge.

“One of the biggest problems I see is when students are taken advantage of by their landlords,” she told the Wildcat yesterday. “Students often come to me in regards to getting back a security deposit.”

The security deposit problem is one that many students are familiar with, and it’s a relief to know there’s someone willing to discuss the legality of this issue at no cost. Besides advising on landlords potentially taking advantage of students, Ferrell discusses a myriad of legal issues that students may face, and she makes herself available five days a week.

For providing a necessary and helpful free service to students as well as taking a step toward transparency, ASUA gets a pass.

For starters, the presence of Legal Services hasn’t exactly been a secret – ASUA has advertised the service incessantly on their website for years, and more often than not the only indication of ASUA’s location in the Union is the presence of a Legal Services sandwich board.

The actual services do provide information about certain legal issues. But when transparency is used in context of politics, it generally refers to the releasing of information about the government’s operations. So when ASUA releases its budget and minutes online, it’s becoming more transparent – more open – about its operations. Transparency generally does not apply to the release of details about a service being provided – like the time, date, and location of an upcoming concert. ASUA has in fact made strides towards transparency already this year. Continuing to offer legal services just isn’t one of them.

Really, this isn’t snark – I just have no idea what the use of ‘transparency’ is supposed to indicate in this context. Board members are invited to any insight or clarification in the comments.

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.

More transparency from ASUA (no, really)

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 1 October 2009

As part of ASUA’s overall web revamping, the Senate is preparing a new site, which is already live here. The site doesn’t seem quite ready for public release quite yet – take, for example, the cognitive dissonance on the “Meet the Senators” page. One section that is ready, though, is the Meeting Minutes section. All the minutes for meetings this year – as well as any consent agendas or attached resolutions that may been considered – are currently available for public viewing.

A year and a day ago, this site called for such access to minutes, and it’s always refreshing – and humbling – to see proposed remedies actually put into action. Transparency has been a pet issue here; and while much e-ink has been spilled describing the lack of access, it’s always good to see improvements from the status quo.

ASUA Senate Preview, 23 Sep 09: Don’t bring your gun resolutions to town

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 23 September 2009

There’s a noticeable absence in the agenda for the today’s Senate meeting – any sort of resolution relating to guns-on-campus-in-cars-in-secured-compartments. While we’ll never know what internal politics went on to stymie such a push (or whether the Self-Defense Scholarship is the compromise that emerged), the ASUA Senate comes off as far more mature than their faculty counterparts.

The other items on today’s agenda:

Item # S09222 Consent Agenda     Action Item
Senator Brooks

Item # S09223 Think Tank Presentation    Informational Item
Senator Davidson

Item # S09224 WRC Self Defense Scholarship Proposal  Action Item
Senator Weingartner

The Twittering classes

Posted in Media, Technology by Connor Mendenhall on 1 September 2009
The price of walk-on fame in a Jay-Z video? Somewhere above $750,000

The price of walk-on fame in a Jay-Z video? Somewhere above $750,000.

Though we may be the best Twitter-ers on the University of Arizona campus, we at the Desert Lamp are certainly not the only ones. Social media are the latest technology to take the academy, treading the same trendy path as interactive clickers, online quizzes, and insipid PowerPoint presentations. New student groups, campus policymakers, and university offices start tweeting every day, and it can be tough to keep track of the chatter. So we’ve put together UA Tweets, a directory of UA-affiliated Twitter feeds that displays live updates from across campus on a single page.

For now, there are 56 feeds in the directory (see the following list for details), ranging from UAPD to the Mars rover to a handful of student senators. If you know of someone or some organization we missed, send their username along and we’ll ensure that it’s added to both the directory below and the live feed. And if you’d prefer to view updates on Twitter instead of over the web, simply follow @uatweets to get updates from all UA feeds at once.

Happy tweeting—and make sure you check out the 140-character blatherings of your student government leaders before they wise up and password-protect their accounts.

Offices & Organizations

Athletics

Media

People

Colleges & Schools

Tagged with: , ,

ASUA Meeting, 26 Aug 09: Debtors’ Jailhouse Rock

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 27 August 2009

1. Summer Update – a Monty Python-esque “I’m not dead yet!” reminder. Just about all the programs that you know and love – ASA, club resources, FCC, etc. – will continue operations. A few bullet-point notes of interest:

-The town hall idea still straggles along, striving for relevancy. The first one will be held September 16, 4-5 PM in the Kiva Room.

-ASUA will now be focusing the charity efforts of all its programs and services towards a single institution, which this year will be the Diamond Children’s Medical Center.

-ZonaZoo will be implementing some version of the point-rewards system that Sen. Nick Macchiarolli proposed last year. The details are still in the works, and won’t be revealed until ZonaZoo’s own press conference, but the impression is that rather than determining access on the basis of other events (i.e. students that attend non-major sports events have preferred access), attendance at these ‘Olympic sports’ will simply be entered in a drawing for a prize.

2. “Revolving Door” in 40 different languages. Jason Ernst, former ASUA senator, was unanimously approved as director of Wildcat World Fair.

3. Budget Blues. Treasurer Clifton Harris’ presentation on the budget was the obvious highlight of the meeting, and all the professional sheen in the world couldn’t cover up the damage. ASUA is highly fortunate to have received a $900,000 5-year interest-free loan – again, something to remember when you’re standing in line at the bookstore. The biggest cuts came out of Special Events (83 percent), followed by the operations budget and the executive operations accounts. It may seem obvious that special events should be dramatically reduced (if not eliminated) in light of last year. But common-sense is rare in government, and should be commended when it surfaces.

It should also be noted that ASUA now receives a full 21 percent of its funding from student fees.

Rainy-Day Wars. Most of the debate, however, revolved around the executive operations accounts. These accounts are discretionary stop-gap funds that can be spent or transferred in the event of an “emergency” or funds shortfall – the most commonly cited examples were three separate $1,000 withdrawals from President Bruce’s account, which were used to pay for buses, pizza, and t-shirts at last year’s DETHFEST. (which belies further the myth that ASA is somehow “independent” of ASUA, even though the ASUA President appoints all representatives of the UA, which are cabinet members, etc.) In effect, these function as mini-rainy-day funds.

Even though the operations budgets were reduced from $9,000 to $7,000 for each of the three executives (the treasurer has a $3,000 operations budget, and the Chief of Staff gets $2,000, but it’s unclear how these compares to years past), Sen. Daniel Wallace openly questioned why these accounts existed in the first place, moving to separate them from the rest of the budget. The measure passed unanimously, and the budget sans executive operations passed unanimously as well.

This led us to the War of the Wallaces. In one corner stood Daniel Wallace, strongly opposed to the current accounts. At the very least, he argued, the itemized budgets of these accounts should be looked over, to get a better sense of what the money is being spent on and how much is actually being spent. He was skeptical of “giving one person total control of $7,000, especially with our budget as tight as it is,” and thought that the discretionary funds needed to be more transparent before granting approval.

In the other corner sat Stephen Wallace, grizzled old lion of the Senate floor, offering a full-throated defense of the technocracy. “We’re not taking into account the experience of the treasurer… I’m a physiology major – I don’t feel comfortable making a decision about this. With our credentials, I don’t believe that anyone can do it better than Treasurer Harris.” This sounds familiar. At the end of the meeting, after casting the lone dissenting vote against tabling the debate until next meeting, William Wallace burst through the glass, face covered in blue, screaming “FREEDOM!” and bearing an axe Stephen Wallace expressed his discontent. “I was disappointed … I love you all to death, but I do not agree with what the decision was.”

Joining him in general opposition to Daniel Wallace’s scrutiny were Sen. Yamaguchi (who thought that overly controlling the funds would be inefficient). Meanwhile, Sen. James Brooks cautiously supported looking over expenditures from previous years.

(A lengthy aside here on the use – or should I say, abuse – of the term “checks and balances,” which was inserted throughout the meeting as though the Senate were playing some wonky version of the meow game. The term ‘checks and balances’ refers to a system of government, rather a measurement of powers within a government. For example, when the President has discretion over his operations budget, that’s not “one checks & balances.” If anything, it would be “one check,” but even that misses the point. In such a system, various powers that be are “checked” and “balanced” against each other – it is a system of antagonism, rather than a list of steps. It’s an easy confusion to make, given the “How a Bill Becomes a Law” catechism that is taught, but the primary point of such a system is cast powers against one another, rather than to provide a bureaucratic how-to list. It’s political philosophy, not process.)

Ersatz fiscal conservatism is no new thing to ASUA (see cards, safety), but this could very well be the real deal.

As for the issue: it’s probably a bit risky to entirely void discretionary accounts, although there’s no indication that anyone wants to do this. The bigger issue – which Sen. Atjian started to hint at – was the weird separation of the funds, dividing them in five different zones. In part, this is because they have different jurisdictions; thus, Presidential funds were used to fund ASA’s vacay, because ASA is part of the President’s cabinet. But based on this provided chart, it seems to represent a more bizarre division amongst ASUA:

ASUA Organizational Chart

In most American style democracies, the President is the chief executive, and the vice president(s) is the second-in-command, directly under the President. But this diagram shows the President and the two vice-presidents all serve at the same level, serving “ASUA” as though it were some sort of juche.  This is more reminiscent of a Roman triumvirate, with each executive doled out its zone of influence. (Yet this kind of exposes the absurdity of the non-elected operations budgets – while they have certain needs, there’s no reason those can’t be allocated directly from the President.)

This could just be a bad diagram, but it could also show how exactly ASUA sees itself. So the Senate should be livid – livid! – when it is depicted as a division of “Club Resources,” under the jurisdiction of the Executive Vice President. Any self-respecting branch of government should assert its own control – its own “check” on executive power, if you will – which brings us back to the operations budgets.

Perhaps all of these funds are needed over the course of the year, but at any given time there is no need for more than $2,000, say (again, itemized budgets of years past – and as AVP Ziccarelli was right to point out, for several years past – would help in this regard). The rest of the funds would then be placed in the Senate’s own operations budget – or, at any rate, its general budget. When any of the executives ran low on funds, they would have to come to the Senate to request the transfer.

The purpose of all this is to restore the Senate with that essentially legislative power of the purse. It’s a power that has somewhat been removed from the body, mostly with the institution of the unelected appropriations board (A sort of bizarre synthesis of pre-17th amendment Senate and the Council of Zion, made weirder by the fact that the elected body partly “checks” the decisions of the unelected body, rather than vice versa). If the Senate wants to be a relevant entity, it could do worse than transfer spending authority from the executive branch to itself.

Random Notes:

-The Sustainability Committee presented today, describing an internship with course credit (see Connor for why this is not the best idea), the plan to reduce ZonaZoo’s carbon footprint, and the implementation of “community gardens” at the dorms.

-ZonaZoo will be hosting a “ZonaZoo Power Hour.” In light of recent posts here, I fail to see how such a program doesn’t encourage binge drinking to a greater degree than any colored “fan cans.” Is it unreasonable to suggest that a student previously unaware of the proper ‘power hour’ would be introduced to the idea at the event? And, the idea having been planted, is it unreasonable to suggest that said student would be intrigued by this idea and try an actual power hour?

Which is not to say that this activity should be banned or renamed – in fact, your author’s only disappointment is that it’s somewhat false advertising. Yet if ‘fan cans’ and other such promotions “encourage underage and binge drinking,” then administrators who want to avoid hypocrisy are obligated to stop this event.

-ASUA has a Twitter, opening up a world of hashtag possibilities. We also have a Twitter, which has been utilized to provide information (with a dash of snark) from the scene.

t’s probably a bit risky to entirely void discretionary accounts