The Arizona Desert Lamp

ASUA Senate Meeting XV

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 11 December 2008

One of the better meetings this semester. For starters, there were extra copies of the agenda, which means that non-ASUA attendees got copies for themselves.  Again, it’s small stuff like this — and the recently lost podcast idea — that represent important steps in improving ASUA transparency. More, please!

1. Parking & Transportation Services Presentation. The folks behind the recent parking rate increases ($50 increase next year, with large percentage increases for the next two academic years afterward) came in to justify themselves to the Senate. They also had a nifty handout, filled with super-swanky graphs and pro-PTS agitprop.

First, though, on the rate increase itself. Naturally, this is being cast as one of those “we need new revenue things,” but their justification for the increase conveniently provides an illustration of the problems in environmentally-friendly policy discussed here:

Our goal of educing the number of single occupancy cars on campus, reducing traffic congestion and providing more sustainable transportation choices will dramatically improve our environment and reduce our carbon footprint.

So, here, again, we have the students on campus being punished with what amounts to a Pigovian tax. I agree that the traffic congestion problem is worth improving as a service to the campus. There is an argument to be made here for increasing “sustainable” transit options on campus — providing services to students that make a car less of a necessity to attend the UA. Contra this column, it is very hard to fully appreciate everything that the UA and Tucson have to offer without a vehicle. Using this justification — “help the students” — is far more convincing than “reducing the carbon footprint,” which is specious as all hell. Remember, it’s P&T Services.

You also have to love this tidbit:

Due to the current economic and campus environments, the President has authorized a change in the recently approved parking program. PTS will modify next year’s rate increase and will implement approximately a $50 increase instead of the $116.

Oh, Great Shelton — how kind you are to us lowly serfs! Shelton, indeed, is so concerned about students in this current environment that he’ll go out of his way to make sure that tuition can be as affordable as. . .oh, right.

The programs that the fee increase is intended to provide also are under-whelming:

1) Car Sharing Program — The idea here is that students will have access to a car renting company that will allow them to take cars out for a couple of hours at a time to run errands. But what niche is being filled here? Most errands that require a ride can be accomplished with less paper work (and, in all likelihood, more convenient hours) through SafeRide. Also, the insurance costs of providing cars for hourly rent to college students cannot be cheap. Then there’s that whole “bumming a ride” thing, as well as SunTran. I can see this being marginally more convenient for some things, but I can’t envision a scenario in which the provides anything necessary at a cost-effective rate.

2) Bike Sharing Program — Perhaps there’s some hope here. Right now, it sounds as blasé as the other sharing program — mostly, it entails allowing students to rent bikes for a semester or a year. But if implemented correctly, and in conjunction with the UAPD, this could be used to cut down on bike theft. Such a program would automatically register all of its bikes with UAPD, and would give them an atrocious, unique color — yellow was proposed by VP Patel in her campaign bike proposal, but orange and teal also work — to make them very obvious. The bikes would be backed with an insurance policy, which would allow anyone who did have their bike stolen to get a new one at no cost. The plan could be hawked as the “safe bike option” to incoming students, which would raise the popularity of the program, and thus decrease the number of unregistered, uncolored bikes for thieves to choose from. And yes, students would pay a fee to use these bikes. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

3) SunTran Bus Pass Subsidy Program — It’s not clear at all what will happen here, since negotiations are “on-going.” But I can’t think of another major university that simply shunts its students off to the city bus for transportation.

4) Park & Ride Lots — This is an especially curious thing for PTS to propose when you look at the fare increases. Next year, everything goes up by the flat $50. Afterwards, the rates go up at varying percentages. But the Off-campus Park & Ride rates go up the highest, percentage-wise, from $153 this year to $300 in 2011, a nearly 100 percent increase.

What you should in fact be doing is maintaining, or even lowering the cost of these lots, to make them an especially appealing deal in the wake. Also, it provides an affordable option for the students, who are getting their pockets picked by just about every university administrator these days.

5) Streetcar! — Read here. This is, clearly, a long term project.

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Finally, PTS states that about 45 percent of the fee will go towards garage spending. What would have stopped the directors of PTS from instituting a lower fee increase, and having a greater proportion of the money (and the same amount of funds) go to garage spending?

Oh, right, it’s not about us — it’s about our carbon footprint.

2. Consent Agenda. Another nice thing about having a copy of the agenda is that we can actually look at the consent agenda — hooray! Turns out, approving the consent agenda is essentially an approval of the decisions of the Appropriations Board meeting the preceding Monday. The agenda also provides a nice summation of the activities of the Board — each item includes a paragraph describing what funding is being requesting, who is requesting, how much was ultimately allocated, and some description of why the board decided the way that it did. If you want a copy, I can retype it up upon request, but nothing in here is controversial enough to merit reproduction here.

What would be really nice would be if these consent agendas (and the meeting agendas that they were attached to) could be made available for download from the ASUA website. The document’s already ready, so all that would be required would be an upload to the (sparse) Senate site.

3. Gen-Ed Reform. Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Gail Burd came in to discuss a new plan that she’s come up with for reforming General Education here.

There’s a lot to say about it, but enough for a separate post — this Senate report is getting long enough as it is. For now, a brief summary of the plan: instead of the current six Tier 1 Gen Ed courses, we would now have four Tier 1 courses (NATS, TRAD, INDV, and a wildcard). In addition, these units would also contain a separate, unrelated online unit — your 3-unit class might be on astronomy, but the 1-unit might be on biology. This online unit would have weekly readings, quizzes, etc. etc., and would be administered by a grad student. A bad chart (with changes in bold):

NATS        TRAD        INDIV                         ARTS
1    6 units    6 units    6 units
3+1        3+1        3+1        3+1 = either NATS or INDV or TRAD
—————————
2    3 units    3 units    3 units    Assessment Phase = 1 unit 3 units

The assessment unit is placed to a) ensure that the student has met the goals of the Gen Ed program; b) provides a cheap alternative to a system-wide test to monitor improvement, something that the university currently lacks.

The highlight in her presentation came, however, when she said “off the record” that, “Our system for General Education is strange. No one else in the world does something like this . . . it’s really off the wall.” Good to hear that even the highest administrators are as baffled by the system as the students that are forced to go through it.

4. New appointees. We have a new Diversity Director, a new Deputy Elections Commissioner, and a new Academic Affairs director. The only one worth mentioning is the last, since it is none other than Sam Ellis, who previously worked for NoteHall. Buchanttenae, naturally, are ringing — this would be a bit like appointing the former head of Goldman Sachs to head the “regulation” of Wall Street. Oh, wait.

5. Supreme Court Bylaws Revision. What do you know, these are attached to the agenda too! From the sound of it, these bylaws haven’t been updated for quite some time, and the new changes reflect changes in behavior since then. Pretty innocuous, especially given the impotency of the Court. How I would love to see the Court rule its own Marbury v. Madison, and declare the ability to review ASUA proposals for their constitutionality.

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Environmentalism without the environment

Posted in Politics by Evan Lisull on 9 December 2008

It started with Matt’s post — which I mostly agreed with, but left me with uneasy feeling. Then, over at the New York Time’s Lede blog, the paper highlighted a story on the environmental impact of the conflict in Darfur. Finally, in Thursday’s paper, there was this editorial on how “holiday dinners worsen global warming.” Combined, these arguments left me with a reaction that I’m usually at the receiving end of: “You callous bastard, people are losing their jobs!”

To clarify: it’s no accident that the rhetoric over global warming and other environmental issues were largely ignored over the last few months of the campaign. It is a luxury good to be able to worry about the environment, and thus it was ignored in wake of bigger issues, like the economy and the war.

The key for environmentalists is to remember that environmentalism is not about the environment. Nature for nature’s sake is not a cause that humans should ever fight for — nature, for all intents and purposes, has waged a no-holds-barred war against Man for its entire existence. As anyone who lives outside of society’s comforts knows, Mother Earth is not a docile beauty being raped, but a vicious she-monster, barely contained. Instead, they must fight for the environment insofar as it is an element of human society — an environment beholden to man, and not the other way around. You can already see these sorts of activists getting away from the tree hugging with the overwhelming replacement of “sustainable” for “environmental,” the former channeling a socially conservative message that the latter never had.

Thus, in arguments about public transportation, you need to talk about providing a superior transportation option for workers and students, not about “cutting down on emissions.” We can see this already in posts by Matt Yglesias and Ryan Avent, who emphasize the role that transit can play in helping struggling economies, as opposed to their environmental impact.

This applies to campus environmental/sustainable efforts as well. I can see an argument for a campus-wide bike program on the basis of (hypothetically) reducing bike theft, but not on the basis of reducing the UA’s “carbon footprint.” Sustainability for sustainability’s sake, at the expense of taxpayers and families, is never enough of a justification.