The Arizona Desert Lamp

ASUA Senate Report, 28 October 2009

Posted in Campus, Politics, Textbooks by Evan Lisull on 29 October 2009

Agenda available here. It’s a long one, so get comfortable:

1. Consent Agenda. We’re working on getting the official document, but there were some interesting issues pertaining to the ever-mysterious club funding process. Mock Trial withdrew their third request of the year, as they didn’t want to endanger their funding requests for next semester. Fostering & Achieving Cultural Equity and Sensitivity (FACES) was denied a request for $39, since the items requested were personal items (i.e. pencils). The Social Justice League (the folks that required $1600 to emulate homelessness) received funds to rent space on the Mall and to market their event, but were denied funding for food. Students for Justice in Palestine received somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,190 to pay for plane tickets to an event in Hampshire College, in Amherst, MA.

2. OASIS Bystanders. Sen. Quillin remarked, “All of my experiences with OASIS have been amazing,” and while my experiences have only been secondary and come word-of-mouth, I have to second this sentiment. Without getting into details, OASIS proved to be a godsend to a close friend facing some serious trouble, and its existence is an overall good for this university.

That having been said, their latest idea threatens to muddle their mission, turning an admirable cause into a nannying arm of Student Health. First, though, their mission statement:

The Oasis Program was established to provide a variety of services to UA students, staff, and faculty (men, women, and transgendered persons) who are impacted by sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking. The Oasis Program is a unit of Campus Health Service and is an active partner with Tucson community service agencies. Together with our campus and community partners we strive to provide coordinated responses to, and work toward the prevention of, all forms of interpersonal violence.

In effect, the program helps women deal with sexual assault, and provides self-defense classes and other similar programs to this end; I suspect that the interpersonal violence line was added to generalize gender. What OASIS does not does not do is deal with other health issues that don’t involve “interpersonal violence” – until today’s introduction of the OASIS Bystander Program. This program, according to the presenter, is based off the STEP UP program run by UA Athletics:

STEP UP! is a prosocial behavior and bystander intervention program that educates students to be proactive in helping others.

A survey at three Universities (The University of Arizona, University of California, Riverside and University of Virginia), revealed that students are encountering multiple situations where bystander intervention would be appropriate including, among other things, alcohol abuse, hazing, eating disorders, sexual assault and discrimination. Almost 90% stated a problem could have been avoided with intervention and up to 85% of the student-athletes indicated they would like to learn skills to intervene. The bottom line is that many, if not most, unfortunate results are PREVENTABLE.

Similarly, OASIS Bystanders will receive 90-minute training sessions, teaching them how to act in the face of such “anti-social” behaviors. In addition to questions like, “Are there things I should be doing to help my friend who was recently raped?”, OASIS Bystanders will also learn how to answer questions like, “What do you do if you see someone really intoxicated? Do you call for help?” They will also offer sixty minute presentations to groups on issues like bullying, hazing, drinking, and eating disorders.

The presentation cited the “success” of STEP UP, but its hard to see any manifestation of this outside of administrative fauxtistics and collection of personal anecdotes (which go so far as to withhold the name of the athletes cited – what is this, Witness Protection?); if I remember correctly, it was one of our more famous athletes that could have used a bit of “intervention” of his own.

Yet worse than this is the effect that the Bystander program will have in distracting OASIS from its more important role in preventing sexual assault, and providing resources for its victims. OASIS has been admirable in honing in on this issue, and there’s absolutely no reason to think that there is need for greater focus elsewhere; Campus Health already caters to that.

There are ways to tailor this program to make it better hew to the mission of OASIS. The basic formula could be kept, but re-tailored with its main focus. In fact, the program could be used to reach out to males, a group traditionally and unfortunately uninvolved in such programs. The formation of a ‘Teal Shirts” division to enforce sexual assault laws might raise up the question of whether “good fascism” exists, but OASIS could train men to watch for examples of sexual assault, and encourage them to intervene. This might lead to more “interpersonal violence” overall, but I hope it is not to controversial to say that old-fashioned fights are preferable to domestic violence.

At any rate, the first information meeting/trial run will take place on November 4, 10 AM, on the third floor of the campus health building. Your author won’t be able to make it, but citizen journalism is always encouraged – so go.

3. Textbook Commitment Resolution. One might think that the ASUA Senate would start a discussion on textbook prices by wondering about the potential conflicts of interest in deriving almost forty percent of their total revenues from the ASUA Bookstore. Instead, the Senate presented a resolution [PDF] of this year’s ineffectual textbook program, led by ASA and based on a letter drafted by President Nagata (so that‘s why he hasn’t responded!):

UNDERSTANDING the rising cost of education at the University of Arizona, the Associated Students of the University of Arizona are asking a commitment from university faculty and department heads in regard to textbooks, with the knowledge that textbooks are a substantial associated cost in relation to attendance;

It’s a bit misguided to focus on textbooks in the context of overall rising costs of college education. Here, for example, is a chart depicting the cost estimates for an in-state student attending the UA, courtesy of the Office of Financial Aid:

Cost of UA Education, In-State

It’s not quite clear why travel is so high for in-state students – in fact, the estimate is almost $1,000 higher than the estimate for out-of-state students. Do in-state kids go back home that often? This is all incidental to the point that books aren’t really that great a cost, relative to other educational inputs (4.9 percent). It’s even less of a factor for out-of-state students:

Cost of UA Education, Out-of-State

The underlying data, with cool interactive graphs, can be had here. Rather than being a “substantial associated cost,” the real problem with textbooks is their relative expense – in layman’s terms, textbooks seem more expensive than they should be. Some of this is also a result of lacking market knowledge – hopefully, all students have bought books before, and know how much a “good” book costs. But for many, paying for housing is the first proper rent payment of their sentient lives, and tuition is a unique event. Not only are textbooks more expensive than average books, but they are also of lower quality (speaking in aggregate) – poorly written, uninformative, and filled with incidental material unrelated to the class.

Even though they don’t properly diagnose the problem, the resolution does hint at a better approach than years’ past:

UNDERSTANDING that it is incontrovertibly within their [the faculty and department heads’] power to aid and alleviate some portion of students’ financial burdens in relation to textbook costs

This site made such an observation in its second post ever, but it’s good to ASA moving in this general direction.  Here is what ASA/ASUA propose to do:

WHEREAS the Associated Students of the University of Arizona implore university faculty members to utilize textbooks for consecutive academic years, and within this commitment will allow said textbook to be enrolled within the textbook rental program.

UNDERSTANDING the faculty member or department head will also enter into said commitment with the agreement that faculty members will also submit textbook titles to the University of Arizona BookStores before the adoption from due dates preventing unnecessary costs of acquisition past that date;

The first clause basically means that instructors have to commit to using textbooks for two academic years in a row, and enroll in the rental program. The second clause is referring to an issue from the bookstore’s perspective: when professors submit their book requests beyond a certain deadline, fees are assessed, and the costs are passed onto purchasing students. There’s another clause asserting that textbooks are a “significant portion” of education costs, and then the operative clause:

THEREFORE this body endorses and advocates this textbook commitment campaign with the ultimate goal of lowering textbook costs for students and alleviate unneeded financial burden.

Sen. Quillin, who introduced and drafted the resolution, described it as “more of an awareness campaign,” but it’s even weaker than that. ASA is still a program under the control of ASUA – President Nagata appoints the entirety of the UA delegation; and in this case, directly inspired the campaign. If ASA were to do something contrary to Senate wishes, presumably they would make this known, and the policy would be modified. This resolution is basically one arm of ASUA endorsing the actions of another, an event that occurs countless times when the Senate offers “support” for ZonaZoo or a percentage night at La Salsa.

The program is a step in the right direction, but ironically enough it tries to do too much by sanctioning the professors. Instead, ASUA should revive that old canard of transparency, and apply it to the problem of textbooks. The program cites the problems caused by professors turning in their book requests too late – why not release a list of the professors who do so? Once that information is out in public, professors will be forced to defend their policies. If the professors have genuine reason for their expensive textbooks, then that will be apparent. If they don’t, such disclosure should serve as the pressure necessary to affect real shifts. In fact, the Associated Students Book Store has enough information to let us know the textbook prices of each and every class offered at the UA. It has historical data, too. There is nothing better that the Associated Students of the UA could do to have a long-term, genuine impact on textbook prices than releasing this information. More information will lead to more informed customers, both with students looking for classes and professors looking for books.

Another issue, relating to information, concerns professor involvement. Sens. Weingartner and Daniel Wallace asked how many faculty members were contacted before drafting this resolution/letter; and while the answers varied between one and three, they were are centered on how many Faculty Senate members were/should be contacted. This is the wrong approach, though – if you want to understand how a market works, you need to start at the bottom. Focusing on quantity, rather than administrative quality, reveals a larger sample of textbook approaches – and it might be argued that the faculty involved in Senate are less likely to pursue unconventional paths.

Instead, we get Sen. Quillin asserting in his report that the resolution is a “”feasible and tangible way to make a difference in the cost of higher education.” Usually, ‘tangible’ is referred to something real, an ill-fitting term for something like textbooks, where exactly no evidence has been presented showing the efficacy of its programs. Amusingly enough, ASA’s page on textbooks includes this excerpt:

In 2008 ASA worked to pass legislation that required textbook publishers to disclose their prices to professors.  Our research showed that this was one of the most effective ways to lower the cost of textbooks for students.

Though covering this beat for over a year (two, if you count the Wildcat), the author had no idea that ASA had a research arm! Perhaps these researchers would care to reveal themselves? Are there other reports, analyses, or even data? Could this specific ‘research’ be presented with the imminent media blitz surrounding the new textbook campaign? We wait in earnest, but on a serious note – if this research exists, please release it now, so we can stop making a joke out of it.

4. Club Triathlon/Senate Project Funding. What is the Club Triathlon? As it turns out, it’s not athletic, and there’s nothing tripartite about it. The program, brought to the Senate floor by Sen. Stephen Wallace the Elder, is a project of ASUA Community Development, and involves providing incentives to clubs to participate in volunteering. Don’t clubs already do a lot of philanthropy work, as Sen. Quillin pointed out? Yes, but let’s not get distracted here. The clubs are given a list of philanthropies that, according to Sen. S. Wallace, “we’d like them to participate in.” Suppose you want to volunteer at a non-listed philanthropy – do those hours count? Sen. S. Wallace doesn’t say, but the prospects aren’t promising.

A competition will commence between the twenty clubs (out of  “near 500” clubs = 4%+ of total clubs), who will keep track of all the hours volunteered by their members at the pre-approved charities. The competition will continue for an indeterminate period of time, at which point winners will be announced. The club with the most “volunteer credits” will receive $1,000; the second-place club will receive a $250 clothing installment from club funding; and the third place club will receive a catered event courtesy of ASUA.

So why is Sen. S. Wallace coming to the Senate for this funding? After all, Community Development is an arm of Programs and Services, and received $4,816 (including stipends) in the budget. Well, according to Sen. S. Wallace, this is a Senate project – even though he’s acting “in collaboration” on a event directly sponsored by an arm of Programs & Services. And according to Administrative Vice President Ziccarelli (the executive in charge of P&S), this was an “unforeseen event,” meaning that it wasn’t budgeted for.

Wait – “unforeseen event” sounds familiar. Isn’t that exactly the sort of expense that was supposed to be covered by the executive operations accounts? Sen. Daniel Wallace the Younger brought this issue up yet again, assuming in vain that the defense was more than a rhetorical trick to scam the Senate out of control over the ASUA purse. Instead, $500 came directly from Club Funding (which is open to all clubs, rather than just the twenty that were able to field a team in this ‘triathlon’); $250 came from Community Development, raised through percentage nights and sponsorships; and the final $250 is supposed to come from the Senate. Exactly $0 are coming from the executive operations accounts.

This is OK, though – the money is going to Sen. Stephen Wallace’s “senate project,” even though the project is being primarily carried out by a division of Programs & Services. Whatever. So what is the money going towards? It’s going to the prize, and it’s also going to running the competition. Unlike Sen. Weingartner, Sen. S. Wallace didn’t itemize the spending request, so it’s unclear exactly where this money will end up. Yet if it is being devoted entirely to the prize, this raises the question – why not just reduce the prize to $750?

Last year, the vote approving this spending would have been unanimous, so there’s solace in that. Unfortunately, the spending still passed, 5-3 with two abstentions. The complete vote breakdown:

ATJIAN – AYE

BRATT – ABSTAIN

BROOKS – NAY

DAVIDSON – AYE

QUILLIN – AYE

RUIZ – NAY

D. WALLACE – NAY

S. WALLACE – AYE

WEINGARTNER – ABSTAIN

YAMAGUCHI – AYE

Other notes (but actually somewhat important this time):

SSFAB Shenanigans. It should come as no surprise that the vice-chair of the SSF Board is Ryan Klenke – Freshman Class Council Alum, former ASUA Senate candidate, and current Diversity Director. It should be somewhat surprising that the board worked on a “program alteration request” relating to the Women’s Resource Center – and rarely are these “alterations” needed to reduce the allocated amount. More on this as soon as we can get information.

Freshman Fee. As if the SSF wasn’t enough anti-democracy for one day, Sen. Yamaguchi had to drop the bombshell that the Freshman Fee allocation process will be run by the Freshman Class Council. Not only does this give allocation power to a body whose previous main role was designing and requesting funding for a Homecoming float, but it also gives the power to the wrong people. The application for the council this year was due September 4 – literally two weeks after the start of classes, and long before any worthwhile understanding of the university was realized. Such a grant of power simply codifies the de facto elite class.

Student Regent Selection. As per student government tradition, the “student regent” is being selected in a manner that completely excludes any student body input. So far, we don’t even know the names of the candidates, but hopefully the pledge for transparency will extend to this process as well.

But, hey, don’t let this report get you down – after all, it’s your student government!

The Oasis Program was established to provide a variety of services to UA students, staff, and faculty (men, women, and transgendered persons) who are impacted by sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking. The Oasis Program is a unit of Campus Health Service and is an active partner with Tucson community service agencies. Together with our campus and community partners we strive to provide coordinated responses to, and work toward the prevention of, all forms of interpersonal violence.

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

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

Elon's actual mascot until 1999.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presidents Nagata and Talenfeld – sign the initiative, already!

Presidents Nagata and Talenfeld: Get REAL

Posted in Campus, Culture, Politics by Evan Lisull on 22 October 2009
Perhaps Sen. Weingartner's bottle initiative could pay for a few of these?

Perhaps Sen. Weingartner's bottle initiative could pay for a few of these?

Apparently, it’s National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week. Yet even if the need for “awareness” is somewhat dubious, the Choose Responsibility folks have used the opportunity to launch a new initiative, Get REAL, aimed at student governments around the country:

In conjunction with National Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week 2009, Choose Responsibility has launched Get REAL, an initiative for student body presidents at college and university campuses nationwide that encourages responsibility, education, and leadership on alcohol issues.

Student body leaders possess the skills and real-world experience necessary to ensure that the debate about binge drinking, the legal drinking age, and campus alcohol policies is allowed to continue unimpeded on their campuses. Over the course of the coming months, Get REAL signatories will work together to foster productive discussions about alcohol that emphasize peer-to-peer accountability and explore all possible alternatives that will make their campuses safer.

In effect, this is an Amethyst Initiative for the student set. The program was just formally launched yesterday, but already has 23 signatories, including the student body presidents from major schools like Florida State, West Virginia, and Oregon State. Although this is often interpreted as some full-throated ‘Repeal!’ battle cry, the aims of the initiative are far more modest (again, like Amethyst):

By signing the statement, what am I committing to do?

When you sign on to Get REAL, you are pledging to engage your fellow students, campus administrators, and public officials in a frank conversation about all of the intended and unintended consequences of Legal Age 21. Additionally, as student body leaders, Get REAL signatories commit themselves to helping students at their schools have a meaningful impact on the direction of campus alcohol policies, and, most importantly, to making responsible decisions about alcohol use.

President Shelton choose craven defense of bad policy and worse remedies; it will probably take a few more alcohol-fueled deaths before he is forced to consider the matter seriously. Hopefully, our own President Nagata is a little wiser, and a little less busy, and will be able to focus on this issue which (to use the parlance of the establishment) affects so many of his constituents.

We hate email campaigns as much as anyone, but if you have a minute or two we’d really appreciate it if you sent an email to President Nagata, urging him to add his name to the list. Heck, we even wrote the email for you! (Just be sure to replace the email and signature with your own name.)

From: yourname@email.arizona.edu

To: asuapres@email.arizona.edu

Subject: Please Sign the Get REAL Initiative

President Nagata,

As a student at the University of Arizona, I am very concerned about binge drinking and the impact that the current drinking age has had on campus and across the country. According to a Choose Responsibility press release, “Recent statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reveal that the problem of toxic drinking is getting worse on campuses across the nation: rates of binge drinking and unintentional alcohol-related deaths among the 18-24 college population increased between 1998 and 2005. Another recent study from researchers at the University of Minnesota identified 18 heavy-drinking schools and tracked survey results of alcohol-related problems on those campuses in 1993 and 2005, with little or no improvement over that 12-year period.” According to a 2007 report by Peggy Glider, heavy drinking was more predominant among those under the age of 21 than among those of legal drinking age. Such statistics do not account for the costs of imposing such an age, which requires police to devote resources to underage drinking that might otherwise be used to combat the perception – and reality- that much of the UA campus is unsafe.

Choose Responsibility has launched a new initiative directed at student body presidents, which aims to put them at the forefront of this national conversation. Signing the statement means that you pledge to do the following:

You call on your fellow students….

  • To make responsible decisions about alcohol.
  • To make sure friends who have consumed too much receive medical attention.
  • To never mix alcohol use and driving.

You call on your campus administrators…

  • To create an on-campus environment that ensures the safety of all students.
  • To provide alcohol education and prevention programs that acknowledge the reality of alcohol use and give students the tools they need to make responsible decisions about alcohol and prevent alcohol-related emergencies.
  • To engage in dialogue about the legal drinking age and its impact on campus life.

You call on your elected officials…

  • To recognize the intended and unintended consequences of Legal Age 21.
  • To acknowledge that 18-20 year-olds are adults in all respects but one—they may vote, serve in the armed forces, marry, adopt children, and sign contracts, but are not able to choose whether or not they would like to drink.
  • To consider alternatives to Legal Age 21 that will create a safer environment on college campuses, and better prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol use.

This initiative has already been signed by student body presidents at major public universities like your own, including West Virginia and Florida State. As the preeminent student leader on campus, I sincerely hope that you will use this position to take a stand on this very important issue. Please sign the Get REAL initiative, and show the students at the University of Arizona that you are genuinely concerned about their well-being as it relates to this important issue.

Sincerely,

YOUR NAME HERE

UPDATE: Title changed to reflect the fact that there’s no reason that the GPSC president shouldn’t be involved as well. Although the overwhelming majority of President Talenfeld’s constituency is over twenty-one years of age, the effects of the current regime ripple through the entire community. His email address is davidt1@email.arizona.edu.

ASUA Senate Meeting, 16 Sep 2009: Cars With Guns

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 16 September 2009

M85 Recoilless Rifle Vehicle1. Student Regent Selections. David Martinez III, former student regent and current UA campus organizer for ASA, presented a PowerPoint presentation on “ASA 101.” The presentation included brief bios of current regents and basic historical info, although it failed to include the slide describing how to re-introduce motions to increase tuition.

EVP Fritze then described the Student Regent Selection Committee, which will choose the UA’s next student regent (who will serve in a non-voting role for 2010-2011, then as voting regent in 2011-12).  The committee consists of three ASUA members, 1 ASA member, 1 GPSC member, 1 at-large graduate student, and 1 at-large undergraduate.  Applications are due October 19.

2. Guns on Campus (in cars, in parking lots). Once again, the Senate item sounds a lot more exciting on paper than it turned in the Senate  – but a bit of background is necessary to explain why. On Tuesday, President Nagata went to the Faculty Senate, where his (admittedly inane) idea to allow students to opt out of offensive course material was greeted with “widespread laughter, grumbles and even boos.” You stay classy, Faculty Senate.

The faculty returned the favor by sending him along to ASUA with a bit of their own inanity – a resolution expressing “safety concerns” about the impact of SB 1168 [PDF], which allows for weapons to be stored in secured vehicles, at parking lots both public and private. We don’t have a copy of the resolution yet (UPDATE: See below), but Wanda Howell’s statement on the resolution makes clear its intent:  “This is not appropriate, and it’s important that we get it on the record that we resolve such.”

Ben Kalafut has addressed the bill at his blog, and as is his wont delivers a sharp take:

A hint: invisible acts do not diminish a property owner’s use rights. Storage of a firearm out of sight in a locked car is an invisible act; in ordinary circumstances the act of parking is no different whether the trunk is empty, contains a firearm, or a toaster. As I understand it, invisible harms, invisible diminishment of use, has $0 value in our legal tradition. We do not consider sin, that is to say, “Invisible Error“, an object of law.

Ben is addressing the Goldwater Institute’s odd desire to issue a tort case on the behalf of parking lot owners, but the argument applies equally to Howell’s feeling of unsafeness. Howell’s argument is even weaker – for where a property owner can at least make a case for some violation of property rights, Howell can only cite the violation of her own perceptions.

It would further be interesting to hear how this bill changes anything, behavior-wise. The bill literally only allows the transportation of non-visible, legal guns in parked cars – something which certainly occurs on a daily basis on this campus anyways. Even if it encourages a few more legal gun owners to not remove their firearm before they go to work, who would know the difference? In the end, the bill is mostly Hansonian signaling. Gun-rights supporters want to show that they love guns, and gun-control want to signal that they’re really, really concerned. The real effects of this bill do not merit the discussion that it’s received. As far as statistics go, it is a null effect – and generally, this country has a tradition of favoring liberty where the effect is nil.

Unfortunately, Nagata didn’t return their inanity with professorial dismissal – instead, he introduced the resolution to the Senate as an “item of discussion,” alluding darkly to the events at Virginia Tech, as well as the UA’s nursing school. To clarify: the item up for discussion is regarding the stance of an intra-university body on a passed law that applies to all public facilities that concerns the possession of weapons that are not visible from the outside in locked vehicles and locked compartments on motorcycles. Resolved: “Virginia Tech” will become for gun-control activists what “9/11” became for anti-terrorism activists.

It should be emphasized that Nagata was not offering the resolution as something for the ASUA Senate to pass. Today’s item was an informational item, so the discussion revolved around what exactly the ASUA Senate should do.  Sen. Quillin was eager to put forth a resolution, although it’s not entirely clear what position such a resolution would take. Other Senators were more wary – Sen. Daniel Wallace urged the Senate to look at the actual law and to discuss the issue with other students, while Sen. Weingartner wondered why exactly such an item was being discussed now, seeing how there are other issues going on at the UA. No mention was made of student referenda, and the idea of refusing to take a stance was not offered openly.

Other notes:

-The ASUA Budget is now online – at ASUA’s website! One small upload for student government, one leap forward for transparency.

-Sen. Davidson alluded to a new Spring 2010 policy of only allowing priority registration of 16 units. This could have been misheard, but if true is worrysome, considering that the Undergraduate Council has been pushing to increase the base freshman course-load from 12 to 15 units.

UPDATE: President Nagata supplied the site with a copy of the Faculty Senate resolution, which reads as follows:

RESOLVED:

The Faculty Senate of the University of Arizona would like to express its grave concern for not only the safety of faculty, but our students and staff with the Revisions to Arizona Board of Regents Policies 5-303 “Prohibited Conduct” and 5-308 “Student Code of Conduct” to allow guns on campus in locked vehicles or in locked containers on motorcycles.

“Grave concern” is even worse than Nagata let on during the meaning.

If you play the video for today’s title allusion, it’ll be stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

RESOLVED:

The Faculty Senate of the University of Arizona would like to express its grave concern for not only the safety of faculty, but our students and staff with the Revisions to Arizona Board of Regents Policies 5-303 “Prohibited Conduct” and 5-308 “Student Code of Conduct” to allow guns on campus in locked vehicles or in locked containers on motorcycles.

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

ASUA Senate Preview 2009

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

Jellyfish

In 2005, a swarm of giant jellyfish flooded Japanese waters, causing damage to the local fishing industry and baffling scientists. Four years later, students at the University of Arizona are about to be overrun by the new “Jellyfish Congress” (although hopefully it won’t do as much damage as the last one!), when the first meeting of the ASUA Senate takes place at 5 PM in the Ventana Room.

Last year’s Senate may have also earned the invertebrate epithet during their tenure, providing the executive branch with a squishy platform on which to step. But this year’s class has proved its spinelessness even before being called to order for the first time. Never mind that none of them thought that protecting students from future fees was worthwhile (and that one of them reneged on her pledge after reading another candidate’s letter to the editor – marking the only time in the course of human history that a letter to the editor has actually done something). Perhaps the combination of force and circumlocution overwhelmed them, although a reply back requesting clarification would have been nice. What was really astounding was the refusal by ten of the thirteen elected officials to take a basic survey on their policy stances, a simple indicator of where they stood on issues on campus. While President Nagata pledged in today’s letter that, “It is my priority to run an open and sincere organization that represents and cares about your issues,” he refused to answer a survey that solicited such openness on campus issues back in February.

Will there be any post-Bruce resistance to executive overreach? Will we hear a “nay” vote before the middle of September? Probably not, but you should go anyways. To brush up on your elected officials, be sure to read the dispatches from the executive and legislative debates, as well as the official campaign platforms at the Elections homepage.

Plus, a game! It’s not quite Battleshots, but ASUA Bingo will have to get you through until we finish our InBev-friendly version of Robert’s Rules.

ASUA Bingo

Image courtesy of Flickr user Thomas Hawk.

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Is smarterer than dumm sophomorez?

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 26 August 2009

It’s less than 350 words, but try reading President Nagata’s letter to the editor in today’s paper without letting your eyes glaze over. Technical entrepreneurs take note: there is much money to be made in an English-Bureaucratese generator. University overhead could be reduced by up to 30 percent!

At any rate, I come not to mock Caesar, but to question him. Nagata’s second paragraph reads (emphasis added):

I’d like to first start off by expressing my excitement to the incoming freshmen. The nearly 7,000 students encompassing the class of 2013 represent the most diverse and academically successful entry class to date. As freshmen, I challenge you to set high academic standards for yourselves, get involved, be spirited and bleed red and blue.

 Here are the SAT scores of classes stretching back to 2005 (2005-2008; 2009):

Here are ACT scores:

Here are average high school GPAs:

You can hardly blame Nagata, though; after all, as part of the administrative apparatus he’s no doubt been reading the latest dispatches out of that great public media source, UANews, channeling Daft Punk in declaring the ’13s “bigger, smarter, diverse-r.” Or perhaps he was skimming arizona.edu as he composed the missive, stumbling across the item that literally called the class of 2013 the “Biggest and Best Freshman Class Ever.” Like car salesmen, every new thing at the university must be the Biggest, Most Spectacular, Awe-inspiring, impressive, raddest event EVER!

ASUA Plum Book 2009-10

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 17 August 2009

Plum BookThe election got a good deal of coverage last semester, but often overlooked – in all levels of governance – is the authority vested to unelected officials. Appropriations Board decisions are rarely challenged by the Senate, and as a result this sort of Council has almost unilateral control over club funding. The Treasurer’s role has recently been expanded, and has as much de facto power as any of the other executives. And of course, the Elections Commissioner ended up playing quite the powerful role in last year’s election.

President Nagata emphasized transparency in his inaugural, and so far he’s off to a good start, having provided this site with a list of all appointed officials for the upcoming year. The list can be viewed as a Word document here, and can also be seen in entirety after the jump.

The federal government’s much longer Plum Book can be accessed here.

(more…)

Students to ASUA: “WTF? Where’s the funding?”

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 4 May 2009

How Not to Get Money in a RecessionThe official Poverty Bash numbers are in, and it’s ugly. From the Star:

The first concert in Arizona Stadium since 1977 lost nearly $1 million.

The Last Smash Platinum Bash, which featured Jay-Z and Kelly Clarkson, ended up $917,000 in the red. The concert cost $1,420,000, and ticket and merchandise sales brought in only $503,502, according to student organizers.

. . .

The ASUA will apply its entire emergency budget reserve — $350,000 — to help cover the shortfall.

The rest will come from the UA BookStores, which has been sharing a portion of its revenues to support the ASUA since the 1930s.

There’s not really any way to spin this, and ASUA doesn’t really try:

Tommy Bruce, outgoing president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, blamed the event’s struggles on the economy.

“Nobody predicted the economy would be the way it is now last May,” he said.

This site can resemble a broken record when it comes to transparency, but here again is a case where more transparency might have helped ASUA. Bruce was insistent on keeping the concert super-secret throughout the planning process, ensuring that by the time the event was actually announced, students were already reeling from the effects of the economy. Had even a broad framework of the plan been released in the fall semester – something like “ASUA to host concert at Arizona Stadium” – students might have been able to anticipate the event, rather than being blindsided post-spring break.

All of this is incidental to Bruce’s main point, which has a bit of merit to it. Yet it’s curious how little sympathy he has had for this argument in the past, when it was coming from the state legislature. After all, they’ve been dealing with the economic downturn a bit themselves:

The Legislature’s budget staff announced Wednesday that its projection for the current $9.9 billion budget’s shortfall is now nearly $1.6 billion, up from $1.2 billion previously.

Budget director Richard Stavneak announced the increase during a briefing for lawmakers on the scope of the state’s budget woes. Legislators are contemplating cuts in most state programs.

When such cuts were proposed, President Bruce replied, “WTF? Where’s the funding?” Now, the tables have been turned:

That means less money for the ASUA over the next five years.

How much less? This year, the BookStores shared about $530,000 of their revenue with the student group. For each of the next five years that amount will be reduced by $114,000.

As a direct result of this master plan it will be the students, whether they be seeking club funding or the services that ASUA provides, who will be wondering where the money has gone. Meanwhile, the crowned Dauphin Nagata serves as a more ideologically agreeable Brewer figure – just as Napolitano spent and spent, leaving Brewer to pay the bills, so Bruce will leave Nagata will a rather neutered ASUA. Perhaps Nagata will be tempted to blame his former master for troubles down the road? Whatever happens, there’s enough irony here that Saraswati might come on down to Tucson and shower goodwill on all of us – and by good will, I mean G&Ts (it’s summertime. . .).

It’s not all bad news, though. From an intra-ASUA perspective, the association won’t be spending as prolifigately as they have, and will instead have to focus on more marginal matters – some of which will be related to good governance. From an external perspective, this snafu might just be enough to spark interest in ASUA that doesn’t relate to becoming part of the Family. Such a reformist movement – ideally, sponsored by a quasi-PAC organization akin to the CCC – would serve as a more moderate distillation of the anarchist fury that arose last year, and possibly bring back elections with competing ideas.

Still, I wouldn’t buy your fall semester books at the UA Bookstore if you don’t like how the profit is being spent.

UPDATE: Laura Donovan beat this site to the punch, and delivers a far pithier judgement. “Stop throwing concerts” is far from the worst policy proposal that I’ve heard.

‘Stead of treated, we get tricked

Posted in Campus, Media by Evan Lisull on 4 May 2009

Jay-Z, confusedThe Last Smash Platinum Bash debuted as a media coup, but now the event is looking to put ASUA in an unfavorable light. Take this scathing Daily Star article from last Friday:

The Last Smash Platinum Bash did not make a profit, nor did it break even. The only question is how much money was lost by the student group that presented it.

A full financial reckoning won’t be available for some time. But ASUA President Tommy Bruce told the Star last month that the concert would break even if about 13,000 tickets were sold at an average cost of about $75.

But most of the seats sold in recent weeks were discounted to below $75, and fewer than 12,000 were sold in all, according to an estimate from ASUA Associate Director Chrissy Lieberman. She said that some of the tickets were given away, but couldn’t say how many.

Why no sales figures? ASUA outsourced ticketing to a company from upstate New York, University Tickets, and the employee with all the numbers spent Thursday on a plane home.

Granted, there is the possibility for some press-release rope-a-dope from ASUA – the numbers could be much better, which will give Bruce the opportunity to gloat at a press conference in his final offical act. Yet assuming that Lieberman isn’t playing games with the Star, one should recall this passage from the Wildcat‘s liveblog:

The Arizona Daily Star reporter sitting next to me just said that he saw a tweet claiming security is now letting spectators without tickets into the concert free of charge.

Followed by this disclaimer:

On another note, it turns out ASUA is not letting people into the concert for free, as previously speculated. They are not offering additional discounts either.

At best, this was simply media speculation in error; at worse, ASUA officials are openly lying about the event. Meanwhile, according to the paper ex-President Bruce isn’t taking any calls, which is never a good sign (although current President Nagata might be worth a shot).

Then there’s the issue of the magic $300,000 reserve that the Star says is ‘gone’ with the projected numbers. The bigger issue, though, is the fact that ASUA has $300,000 on reserve, unaccounted for in the budget, unaccounted for by anyone outside of the executives. To give a sense of perspective, only $90,000 was allocated this year for club funding; and even with the $100,000 from the SSF, ASUA allocated only a total of $180,000 on SafeRide. Is this some local vestige of Al Gore’s lockbox? A hedge fund saved from the vagaries of Subprime Tsunami 2008? Whatever it is, it’d be nice to know exactly why, or how, an amount of money equivalent to 22.5 percent of revenue sources is just sitting, waiting to fill the holes in whatever multiyear project goes awry. We can only hope that these answers will provided under the new era of transparency.