The Arizona Desert Lamp

ASUA Senate Meeting, 4 November 2009

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 5 November 2009

Agenda available here [PDF].

1. Consent Agenda. The American Medical Student Association (AMSA) got $864.95 for a benefit concert – $700 for audio/visual equipment, and $164.95 for “police security.”

More importantly for the author, the consent agenda also included a petition from a Young Americans for Liberty chapter. Unfortunately, they missed the meeting, and had their hearing for start-up funds tabled until they show up. It’s great to see that there’s a nascent YAL group on campus, but it be even better to see an active one.

2. Undergraduate Council. A year and a month ago, Professor George Gehrels came to the ASUA Senate to discuss course availability, GROs, class standing, and general education. Today, Gehrels came to discuss … course availability, GROs, class standing, and general education. Send in the snakes!

Anyways, Gehrels cited a few changes in his presentation [PDF] that have been implemented since then: the new class standing policy, the $25 drop fee after seven days, and extending WebReg through the eighth day of the semester.

Impact is “uncertain” for all these policies except for the class standing policy, which has boosted average semester enrollment for full-time students from 13.1 to 13.4 units – a fairly significant boost. It’s unfortunate, though, that Gehrels continues to sell the measure as a revenue-increasing one. Perhaps more units are being taken per semester, but, assuming that this policy does what it is supposed to, these students will stay in school for a shorter average duration. If the school really wanted to boost state funds, it could increase the total number of credit

Yet while this class standing policy encourages students to take 15 units per semester (rather than 12), another policy being implemented this spring will cap pre-registration enrollment at 16 units (Honors students get 19). Both policies are admirable by themselves, but together they serve to put students in a vise. Students taking a language class (i.e. 4 units) will be trapped into their schedule – anything outside of the most basic class shifts will become perilous.

Course shopping often gets demonized, but it ignores how useful it is as a hedge against uncertainty. The Senate rightly emphasized that this would become less and less of a problem as syllabi and book lists are made available online, but that’s hardly the only reason for a drop. Perhaps the professor rubs you the wrong way, or the 10-10:50 is too far away from your 11-12:15, or the class you really wanted just opened up.

Further, as Sen. D. Wallace pointed out, some kids are perfectly capable of taking more than 16 units. 18 units in particular is a fairly common enrollment trend. In fact, this new policy works against graduating kids in three – so basically, kids will graduate in four if nothing interrupts their “plan”; otherwise, they’ll be on the same five-year track that is the norm.

The UGC acts as a sort of de facto on-campus think tank, so it’d be nice for them to look at historical enrollment trends and drop rates across the university. With the right data, it seems that registration capacity could be inflated beyond enrollment capacity, allowing students a bit of flexibility as they perfect their schedule.

The other possibility, if the 16 unit restriction isn’t going away, would be to permit the buying/selling/trading of class seats. Of course, this effectively gives Honors students a 3-unit trading subsidy.

Gehrels “couldn’t believe” that he was discussing GROs again before the Senate, a surprising statement for a 24 veteran at the UA. The Senate deserves credit for pointing out – and this is the only time, I suspect – that there needs to be more “awareness” of the fact that GROs change nothing when it comes to graduate/professional school. Sen. Weingartner proposed putting an informational box on the GRO form, perhaps cutting down on unnecessary retakes.

Some other random, but very bad, ideas:

-A “general studies degree,” reflecting on the “interdisciplinary world we live in.” (/vomit) It wasn’t at all made clear how this would differ from the Interdisciplinary Majors that are currently offered. Sen. Weingartner offered the best hypothesis, contrasting the effective combining of three minors (ID) with course-by-course selection (GS). Yet Gehrels couldn’t say, saying that it was still in the works. Why this is deemed so necessary remains a mystery.

-Gehrels wondered openly whether the GenEd program should “do away with the writing requirement, and not have a writing component in the GenEd program at all.” One must wonder, if this holds, why we have general education in the first place.

-“Success Courses,” such as ‘how to find a major’ and ‘find a grad school for you’, presumably to be offered for credit.

Random notes:

-President Nagata will start discussions with President Talenfeld next week about the Get REAL initiative. Baseless speculation sez, “Get excited?”

-Without irony, we had back-to-back reports urging us to (a) vote for the homecoming royalty online, and (b) to go to a “mixer” with student regent finalists Friday after next, and then fill out a “survey” to indicate one’s preferences. Which is to say: UA students have a greater say over their homecoming court than they do over their representative on the Board of Regents. Can’t you feel the empowerment?

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.

Registration reform and its unintended consequences

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 23 February 2009

The proposed plans to free up class space at the very least have some merit to them. The details of the plan, with some extra snarky scare quotes to spice it up, from the Wildcat:

Under the proposed policy, undergraduates wishing to attain the next higher classification will need to have completed a minimum of 30 units for sophomore standing, 60 units for junior standing, and 90 units for senior standing.

In the old class standing policy, students needed to have the same numbers of unit “in progress”. The catch with the new policy is that the units need to be “earned” by registration time.

According to the proposal to change class standing and classification submitted last April by Jerry Hogle, interim vice president for instruction, “there is evidence that full-time students are more academically successful when they take 15-18 units per semester than when they take 12-14 units.”

The new policy is focused around this “evidence,” as well as the idea that higher class standing cutoffs will encourage students to enroll in at least 15 units each semester.

As far I can tell, though, this doesn’t really change the system – even if this encourages enrollment in 15 units, a freshman who enters such a system will still have freshman status when they try to enroll in March for their second-year classes, since they will only have 15 units completed – earned, if you will. This student won’t be allowed to register as a sophomore until he or she enrolls for the classes in the second semester of their second year. Meanwhile, a student who sticks to a 12-unit regimen his or her first semester – which, I will point out, was repeatedly encouraged by orientation leaders as the appropriate course load for students to help them “ease into” the college atmosphere and work ethic – will not be able to register with a sophomore standing until they are enrolling for classes for the first semester of their third year; which, under most circumstances, is considered one’s “junior” year.

This seems to deny a long-standing reality that when you register for classes, you aren’t registering as you currently stand – you are registering as you will stand by the time those classes are actually taken. Thus, students taking a prerequisite course (say, Basic Microeconomics) are allowed to register for a course requiring said prerequisite (Intermediate Micro), even if that student hasn’t yet passed the course. If they fail the prerequisite, that fact will ultimately come to light, and the student won’t be allowed to take the advanced course. In summary, we register as we will be, not as we are. It’s an inefficiency, certainly, but it’s far less inefficient than waiting until the end of the year, and then letting the horse-race begin.

While the ostensible reason is to encourage 15-unit consumption (and yes, it would be nice to see this evidence of Mr. Hogle’s), an advisor that actually deals with these sorts of requirements offers a more common-sense justification:

Celia O’Brien, academic advisor for the department of psychology, said that it would be questionable to assume that this policy change would cause students to take longer to earn their degree.

“This policy change is essentially just spreading out the class standing classification more evenly throughout those 120 units,” O’Brien said via email. “What it may do is cut down the time that any student is classified as a senior.”

Very understandable, but I think that there’s a more reasonable approach to encourage this – grant class standing within the major, rather than on the basis of pure credits alone. This solves the strawman problem in which a sixth-year senior has just decided that his communications major just isn’t working out, and that he wants to try political science. Such a student should be considered a freshman as far as registration is concerned. As far as I know, this is not University policy, but I’m willing to be corrected on this point. To implement such a model would require a more decentralized registration system – an approach, I believe, that would be far more efficient and allow for more experimentation, and for regisration systems that take into account the idiosyncracies that plague registration for different majors.

All of this aside, the goal of evening out the status distribution undercuts the other proposal put forth by the administration:

Along with the class standing changes, UA faculty and administrators have recently proposed changes to the Grade Replacement Opportunity policy.

Under the proposed GRO policy, undergraduates may only use the Grade Replacement Opportunity to repeat courses in which they received a D or E. Students will no longer be able to GRO a grade of C.

Also, only freshmen, sophomores, or students who have completed fewer than 60 credits, may GRO a course. Juniors and seniors will still be able to repeat a course but will not be able to replace the grade.

The problem with this, of course, is that more students will have a lower classification because of the earlier policy; the GRO situation has not been solved, but rather has been shifted. A junior who was formerly hogging class space for his grade-changing GRO will now be considered a “sophomore” under this new policy, and will thus be able to do exactly what he would have done under the former regime.

Really, though, the only legitimate reasons for a GRO are extenuating ones – family deaths, serious accidents, and what not. Such circumstances can easily be explained before a committee, who should explain beforehand the higher standard that must be met to engage in a GRO. Right now, according to the Registrar’s site, the only offered reasons for the refusal of a GRO are administrative. To significantly diminish GRO abuse, these standards must be made more stringent.

On a final note, it’s a bit odd to see that an interim official is proposing a rather dramatic change in the university’s administration. Regardless of his merits, this seems like a decision that you would want to hold off on until a full-time hire was made. At the very least, the final proposal should be offered by someone else within the UA’s vast academic bureaucracy.

ASUA Senate Meeting XVI: Sturm und Drang edition

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 22 January 2009

Destruction

The paper is dying! The fees are rising! The school is six feet under! And it’s only the first meeting of the semester. Get your Senate update before it’s liquidated too!

1. Solomon’s Comprise on the Collegiate Readership Program. The Wildcat is dying, according to the new editor-in-chief Nickolas Seibel, who came to introduce himself to the Senate, but mostly to plead with them to please, pretty please, make this evil Collegiate Readership Program go away! Outside of his “philosophical objections to subsidizing the largest news company in the country,” Seibel worries about the impact providing the Daily Star will have on advertising revenue for the Wildcat.

My substantive objections to Mr. Seibel deserve their own posts (because, really, this “corporate subsidy” nonsense has got to stop at some point), but there are a few things I want to point out. One is the absolutely intransigent attitude that the paper has adopted towards the program. Rather than trying to forge some sort of compromising path (which, as you’ll see in a paragraph or two, exists), or seeking reconciliation, Seibel and others have chosen instead to engage in what I can only describe as a temper tantrum. “I just want things to be fair,” Seibel said at one point, passion creeping into his voice. What the Wildcat (through Mr. Seibel) is essentially saying is that even if students decide that they do want the Gannett newspapers at this discounted rate — well, that’s just too bad, because student newspaper interests matter more. Or something.

Yet through the questions and comments of the Senators, it became blindingly obvious what the next step should be: insist that no local papers be provided, but only national ones — be it USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or what have you. Of course, this does require students to not support the Star in the surveys, and it does require them to not pick up the Star from the stands.

I like this path, partly because it provides a path that can provide information and partly appease the “corporate-subsidy-BOO-evil-Gannett” crowd. Yet the real reason I’ve fallen for this approach is because it provides a clear litmus test of the Program’s intentions. If the Program is willing to provide only national papers, then it’s hard to imply evil intentions (outside of the intent to get college kids hooked on newspapers, which really isn’t the worst thing). Yet if the Program refuses to participate without a local paper, then it’s clear that they’re intent on a short-term incursion into the local advertising market, and should be opposed at all costs.

2. Incentives for Dropping. The Undergraduate Council (UGC) is back with some follow-up from their previous presentation. It looks like that, in the near future, students will be charged $25 for each class that they drop after the first week of class. While it’s unclear exactly how many more seats will become “available” with this process (the better measure is the degree to which the number of unoccupied seats is reduced), all funds will go back into providing more seats. Outside of Sen. Jason Mighdoll, who offered an emotional stand against more fees and unfair punishments on students, most of the Senate seemed in favor of such a proposal — a good sign.

However, as the presenting professor made clear, the fee is not their to raise revenue. Nor should this fee be punitive, as Sens. Baker and Mackenzie seemed to imply. The goal here isn’t to punish kids for dropping classes late, but to be as transparent as possible as to the costs of that late drop. Dropping classes late ultimately leads to unfilled seats, which is a dead-weight cost for the university. Of course, the $25 charge is fairly arbitrary, but that’s what happens when you try to determine from the top-down, rather than from the bottom-up.

3. Budget Blues. President Bruce gave a lengthy presentation on the state of the budget, none of which really led me to shift from my earlier take on the matter. I would, however, point out that the obvious agitation in Bruce’s presentation unfortunately coalesces with the morbid black theme of the demonstrations, the “death.” I’m (very oddly) reminded of the response in the wake of 9/11 — more specifically, the lack of rationality in many of those responses. Obviously, it’s hard to think straight after such a catastrophic event — but that’s why it’s all the more important to do so! It is the most perilous times that call for the keenest thought. It also goes without saying that this is no 9/11.

So when President Bruce is flapping his hands back and forth, claiming that “we can hardly guess how many people will be cut . . .”, my immediate response is — Well, start guessing! After all, who knows how long we have our administrative staff for. Start crunching numbers, start making projects, start providing alternatives. Right now, though, there’s this palpable sense of unrestrained fear, a simple “No” mouthed on a bone-white face. If the UA doesn’t want to get absolutely slammed on this, it’d better drop the all-black get-up and start investing in pocket protectors.

Also, while Gannett got bashed earlier, Bruce twice mentioned Raytheon by name in praise of its support for the UA. Boo, news media; hooray, military-industrial complex! These are strange times, indeed.

Addenda:

Jason Kazares must be slightly fed up with ASUA, because I’m slightly fed with having to hear about the many meetings that have been scheduled with him. Cameras got no mention tonight, nor did any other safety initiatives — instead, we’ll have the usual Student Safety Fair, before Spring Break.

ASUA hired a new web development person. Even President Bruce agreed that, “As we’ve all seen, we need some web help.”

According to Sen. Baker, the Senate is bringing back the “Roll with a Senator” program, which combines some combination of golf-carts, petitions, and meet-and-greet. I’m not entirely sure what this program entails, but I’m tickled by the idea of our prestigious student government, 40 in one hand and spliff in the other, cruising around to this ditty while discussing student government policy.