The Arizona Desert Lamp

How ASA, ASUA, and ABOR worked to preserve discriminatory practices

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

As part of its website overhaul at the beginning of this academic year, the Arizona Students Association included a section of  “Resources.” Along with the fee refund form and governing documents, the site also includes its meeting minutes, dating back to August 2008.

In spite of the meetings’ propensity to go into executive session (which prevents readers like you from ever learning what they discussed  – Lord knows there are “security concerns” when it comes to the powerful students’ lobby), the minutes are as good an example as any of why transparency is so essential in any government.

There are a litany of issues covered in the minutes – so get comfortable this week. But in light of Ward Connerly’s visit to the UA this Wednesday, it’s worth going through ASA’s internal debate over Arizona’s own Connerly initiative, the ultimately failed Proposition 104.

Before getting into the politics of the proposition, please do read the operative clause of the proposition text again. Actually, read it twice – it’s short:

The state shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting.

Supporters of the proposition filed their signatures on July 3, 2008. The pro-affirmative-action group BAMN (once again, really?) had actually filed their lawsuit against the signatures before they were submitted, on June 30, alleging that they were invalid. (source)

This set the stage for ASA’s discussion over the initiative, on August 13 [PDF], which was opened up by Michael Slugocki (all minutes from here on in are sic):

C. Equal Opportunity – Michael Slugocki
– Arizona Civil Rights Initiative- deplete equal opportunity programs at Universities: Women’s in Science and Technology, Native American Student Affairs for example
– Educational and Informational Stand Point from ASA

Somewhat odd to follow up such rhetoric with a seemingly docile message – but perhaps inspired by his impending trip to the Democratic National Convention, it might be easy to blur the line between genuine informing and campaigning. (As we shall later, this diplomatic pas de deux will soon be thrown on the wayside.) At any rate, ASU-West’s Andrew Clark and Ryan Carraciollo (the ASASUW President) are having none of it:

Andrew Clark- Partisan Issue; fall outside of ASA’s bounds. Would like if ASA did no action. Minority students at ASU West are leading the charge to support this issue. Statistics show attendance of minorities rates drop, but graduation rates grow.

Ryan Carraciollo- Seconded Andrews comments. Feels a state wide organization should not take a stance on this partisan issue.

Actually, even that’s too kind to the supporters of discriminatory practices. As this site reported and emphasized, the University of Michigan saw an increase in acceptance of BHNA applicants – the drop in their matriculation rate indicates socioeconomic issues take precedence over racial ones, and suggests even more strongly the need to shift to socioeconomic affirmative action.

Tommy Bruce could care less about your graduation rates:

Tommy Bruce- Views this as a non partisan issue.

This about twelve degrees of crazy, and perhaps helps to explain some of his presidency. As a marketing major, Bruce appears simply tone-deaf when it comes to political issues, ignoring the fact that this specific initiative went so far as to dominate the presidential election coverage for a few days. The fact that opponents of the initiative were organized by Democratic Representative Kristen Sinema (pictured here, amusingly enough, with ACORN, another nonpartisan organization), and that the legislative attempt to pass this clause was led by Republican Russell Pearce – a mere coincidence!

Then, Hilary Clinton delegate David Martinez III chimes in:

David Martinez- Talked with University Presidents, have not taken a stance but are talking about the impact it will have on the students of Arizona. David has asked the senior associates of the Presidents Office, to provide ASA with documents on the programs it will affect on the campuses. Presidents and Regents are looking to see what they can do outside of their duties, to counter the Arizona Civil Rights Initiative. (emphasis added – EML)

A literal reading finds that the last sentence directly contradicts the first. What the secretary and/or Martinez elided was the fact that the University Presidents have not taken an official stance (which, in fact, they never did – although Shelton’s memo on affirmative action from February 2008 certainly comes close). This is probably because such actions are prohibited by state law:

A person acting on behalf of a university or a person who aids another person acting on behalf of a university shall not use university personnel, equipment, materials, buildings or other resources for the purpose of influencing the outcomes of elections. Notwithstanding this section, a university may distribute informational pamphlets on a proposed bond election as provided in section 35-454. Nothing in this section precludes a university from reporting on official actions of the university or the Arizona board of regents.

It certainly shouldn’t be illegal for University officials and ABOR members to express their political proclivities outside of their jobs, but it should be viewed as repugnant and un-befitting of their stature. The universities and the board that governs them are shrouded with a perception of non-partisanship, and Horowitz’s jeremiads have done little to affect this notion. With great honor, however, comes great responsibility – and that involves not acting like a political hack on a proposition that offends one’s sensibilities and has a connection to your job. Vote as you will, but for the sake of the institution don’t publicly tell someone that you’re working to find loopholes in the name of fighting such an initiative – it does a disservice to everyone associated with the university system.

The ASA meeting concluded on what seemed to be a non-intervening note:

Regent Meyer: Suggests asking our constituency if ASA is able to take stances on ballot initiatives, to insure ASA knows its boundaries.
Michael Slugocki- Let the coalition do the heavy work, educational and coordinate with student groups, connect the media with students not ASA.

Slugocki’s last line is somewhat enigmatic – the minutes reference a “Coalition of Student Regents and Trustees” earlier in the meeting, but that seems rather irrelevant to the issue at hand. At any rate, the issue seems fairly moot – the organization would help the media find alternative sources for opinions (in all likelihood, unfavorable ones), and generally stay out the fray.

Instead, a mere five days later, they filed a lawsuit:

The initiative, which is the brainchild of former University of California regent and anti-affirmative action activist Ward Connerly, was submitted for review by the Arizona Secretary of State on July 3 with over 323,000 signatures. 230,047 are required to make it to the ballot.

However, PAF is trying to drive that number down by 105,107 through its lawsuit, which alleges 13 categories of violations committed by petition circulators which invalidate those signatures. Among the most serious charges are instances where PAF accuses paid circulators of using “another individual’s identification to try to prove residency,” and cases where a circulator “misrepresented his or her residential address,” as well as practices such as duplicating signatures on numerous petition sheets.

The lawsuit was technically filed by two college students, Kathleen Templin of Northern Arizona University and Michael Slugoki [sic] of the University of Arizona, does not deal with signatures that are invalidated by problems such as a signer giving a post office box instead of a physical address, non-registered voters and so forth. Rather, it focuses specifically on problems originating with the petition gatherers or notaries who were supposed to certify each petition sheet. Sinema claimed that the Secretary of State and Maricopa County Recorder will also end up throwing some of the signatures out.

Kathleen Templin, current ASNAU president, was a member of ASA’s executive board at the time of suit. Slugocki was the chair of the organization. The inevitable argument that Mr. Slugocki and Ms. Templin were genuinely concerned about signature gathering alone is venal. Forget the fact that Slugocki was openly lobbying against the bill at the meeting – in 2008, two other propositions (authorizing a public transit plan, and preserving land for environmental purposes) were also found to have insufficient signatures. Suffice it to say neither Slugocki nor Templin bothered to look into signature collecting issues for those initiatives; or really, to mention the initiatives at all.

Perhaps, though, it was simply a coincidence that two ASA Executive Board members filed this suit – after all, they might have been acting “outside of their official capacities.” An article from ASU’s State Press makes it clear that this was not the case:

The Arizona Students’ Association, a non-profit, non-partisan student advocacy group, opposed the initiative, board chair Michael Slugocki said.

He said it would have eliminated equal opportunity programs such as Women In Science and Engineering and Hispanic Mother-Daughter programs at ASU.

“ASA took a stance because we saw it would close doors and hurt equal opportunity,” Slugocki said. “It would have harmed people’s access to college and higher education. All students should have the chance to succeed.”

To recap: on August 13, ASA concluded its discussion on the proposition by supporting education initiatives, to “connect the media with students not ASA.” On August 18, two ASA Executive Board members filed a lawsuit contesting the signatures for the proposition. On August 23, Slugocki states to the media that ASA had a public policy of opposing the initiative.

The best part in all of this? Michael Slugocki, earlier in the meeting, mentioned this:

Michael Slugocki- Wants to see ASA move forward after the mishaps with Equal opportunity, Executive Committee will bring forward a set of policies and procedures
– Confidentiality Emails
– Process for outside organization to contact the Board, Ie; Executive Committee

Unfortunately, we can’t tell you exactly what these “mishaps” were, as ASA went into executive committee. At the same time, one must wonder if Slugocki and ASA have pulled off the Platonic ideal of  doublethink, literally believing that “equal opportunity” means “discriminatory policies.”


Principles of Baseless Assertions, Second Edition

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 7 May 2009

Interesting contest over at the Fraser Institute (HT: Radley Balko):

We want to hear from you on what public policy issues you would like to see measured. In particular, we would like your comment on an economic or public policy issue that you feel has not been measured or has not been measured adequately.

We seek to identify issues that matter

Following the Institute’s motto “If it matters, measure it,” we seek to measure topics that matter. We want your ideas on an economic or public policy issue that is of consequence to the residents of a country, region, or city and that could potentially shape their future in a positive way. These should be related to the impact of markets on individuals, or the impact of government interventions on the welfare of individuals.

Here’s a local suggestion – what about the actual effect of Arizona legislation on book prices? This old canard was offered once again in the administrative show of support for their outgoing student satrap:

Over the past two years, President Bruce worked to pass legislation saving students thousands of dollars on textbooks and fought for affordability, accessibility and predictability in tuition.

Like a catechism of the ASUA/ASA faith (in this case, the conflation is justified), the textbook legislation is invariably brought up as somehow justifying the organizations’ existence. Well, as we say in the dark tubes of the Internet, [citation needed]. No numbers have ever been provided regarding comparative price levels, no numbers have been released on the aggregate amount students are spending on textbooks. One is left to assume that the “thousands of dollars” figure is complete and utter bullshit, concocted from thin air.

When one looks at the actual legislation, it becomes apparent how weak the actual bill was. To quote heavily from my own comment on another post:

The provisions of HB 2230/SB 1175 of the 2008 session are as follows:

1. Requires a publisher to provide staff with information about their books.

2. Schools must inform faculty of this policy and “encourage faculty and staff to place course material orders with sufficient lead time for the university or community college bookstore or contracted bookstore to confirm availability of requested material.”

3. ABOR must also tell the faculty and staff about this disclosure policy.

4. Faculty and staff can’t get free things from publishing companies.

5. Book publishers can’t provide free sample copies (essentially, 4 in reverse)

6. “Requires a publisher to comply with the ABOR and community college district policies on course materials.”

But don’t take it from this biased author; instead, read the words of ASA’s Michael Slugocki, one of the signatories of the letter:

Michael Slugocki, a political science senior and vice chair of the Arizona Students’ Association, which helped draft the initial legislation, said the new bill is not nearly aggressive enough with the amendment.

“The bill is essentially meaningless without the price disclosure,” he said.

Slugocki said the bill now is basically a statement from the legislature to publishers that only says they don’t like their practices, but doesn’t do anything about it.

“It loses all power,” he said.

Funny what time can do to a person’s memory.

If you’re going to make such claims about textbook prices, you need numbers to back them up. Especially given recent events, repeating talking points will no longer be taken at face value.

ASA’s ineffective tunnel vision

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

Or, how to lose friends and influence in the halls of Phoenix:

“None of us want to be here tonight. We are all brought here tonight because of the state legislature and clearly this situation is their fault,” Slugocki said.

The graph at the left (source) should be enough to at least question Mr. Slugocki’s claims – even a cut to FY06 levels is far above historical average; the currently bandied number of $363 million is the third-highest appropriation in the last fifteen years (and no, inflation hasn’t gone up that much). It’s also worth remembering ASA’s mission statement here:

ASA works for affordable, accessible higher education in Arizona by advocating to elected officials [emphasis added – EML] and running campaigns on issues important to students.

The Board of Regents is not an elected body, but an appointed one, rather like ASUA’s own appropriations board. The appropriate figure for pushing student interests in ABOR is the student regent, who advocates for students, except when he doesn’t. Rather than attempting to build a coalition involving Republicans that might support less of a cut, ASA seems dedicated to irrelevancy and internships instead. It doesn’t matter what the fee money does, so long as everybody feels like they’re changing the world. It must be exhausting to be so effective, saving the environment with a block party and forcing down textbook prices with a press release.

What’s more, ASA willfully chooses to ignore anything that doesn’t fit into their Manichean worldview of university funding. Take this article from yesterday’s Times (HT: Freakonomics):

Over the last two decades, colleges and universities doubled their full-time support staff while enrollment increased only 40 percent, according to a new analysis of government data by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a nonprofit research center.

During the same period, the staff of full-time instructors, or equivalent personnel, rose about 50 percent, while the number of managers increased slightly more than 50 percent.

The data, based on United States Department of Education filings from more than 2,782 colleges, come from 1987 to 2007, before the current recession prompted many colleges to freeze their hiring.

. . .

Still, the findings raise concerns about administrative bloat, and the increasing focus on the social and residential nature of college life, as opposed to academics.

You mean, like the Dean of Students’ “Ethics and Integrity” staff? Or the increasing of support staff at the expanded Rec Center? Then there’s this piece in the Chronicle:

Increased federal student aid, especially to middle-class families, is contributing to the rising cost of higher education, a report by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity says.

The report concludes that federally backed loans should be offered to only low-income families, not expanded to help more middle-class families, and that “the expanded tuition tax credits in the 2009 stimulus bill are probably a step backward.”

The reason, says Andrew Gillen, the report’s author and the center’s research director, is that colleges are engaged in an “arms race” to outspend one another, and any extra money that comes in from federal student aid only encourages them to spend more. Right now, colleges have access to students’ financial information from Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms, so they know how much each student can afford to pay and can therefore charge each student the highest amount possible without causing that student to have to drop out.

Colleges do this, Mr. Gillen says, because higher spending often helps them raise their prestige through rankings such as U. S. News & World Report ratings that are in part based on spending per student.

This should help to remind us that ASA is in fact a lobbying group like any other, insistent on pushing its own agenda without considering insights that contradict it. In this way they are much like the many race/gender-based campus centers, diverse except when it comes to the world of ideas. What’s worse, ASA also happens to be horrible at its job – if indeed its job is to gin up support of student positions from the state legislature or the governor. They might be better than PIRG, but this advantage is proving itself to be minimal.

Slugocki: PIRG is even more useless than you might think

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 11 March 2009

Certainly, that wasn’t what Mr. Slugocki intended, as one who supports choices at the polls – except when he doesn’t. But his letter to the Wildcat today included the following paragraph:

However, as we enter the last day of ASUA elections, it is important for voters to know that PIRG and ASA have clear differences regarding the issues and work they do for students. It is true that students currently pay a $2 per semester fee to have their voices represented by the Arizona Students’ Association on higher education issues pertaining to college access and affordability. As a result, ASA tackles issues such as the rising cost of tuition and textbooks, the expanding need for financial aid, and the decreasing funds provided by the state legislature for our universities. It is also true that PIRG addresses a number of issues directly affecting university students, but this work is by no means a duplicate of ASA’s efforts. In fact, PIRG undertakes a number of matters important to students outside of the work of ASA, such as warning students about deceptive credit card marketing practices or providing on-campus solutions for addressing the problems of global warming.

Of course, when Mr. Slugocki says that ASA will ‘tackle’ textbook prices, it means that they will exert all of their muscle to get a powerless and “toothless” bill passed. The point, though, is that PIRG won’t be fighting for lower tuition by supporting tuition increases; instead, they’ll be busy cutting out big, scary cardboard monsters to convince students to support increased regulation. They won’t be urging legislators to increase financial aid allocations, but they will exhort them to ensure that books published after 1985 are effectively banned. Inspiring, isn’t it?

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 8 December 2008

That’s the only way to describe the miraculous non-victory that we got at the Arizona Board of Regents this weekend. Connor, of course, was on this way back on Saturday; but the Wildcat‘s Nikolas Seibel gets in some good reporting as well, with some absolutely astounding quotes from your supposed representatives. First, from David Martinez III:

“It was probably one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make in my entire life,” said Martinez, “but I knew that even though the 3.7 (percent tuition raise) was good for students, the motion to reconsider was what was best for students; and I think that was the reason, ultimately, why I put the motion back on the table.”

. . .
“I thought at that moment that, that was what was best for students,” Martinez said.

Immediately following the vote, however, Martinez began to question the outcome of the vote.

Then, from ASUA President Tommy Bruce:

Slugocki and other ASA directors headed to a restaurant in the building for lunch, where the vote was a major topic of conversation, but Bruce, who as ASUA president also serves on ASA, opted to spend his lunchtime in thought, walking around the ASU union.

“This is the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make,” Bruce said. “There is that appearance that a lower percentage (of tuition increase) is what’s best for students, where in actuality it’s not, in this situation. … It was a massive struggle.”

And finally, ASA executive Michael Slugocki:

“From the start, I was very torn about the entire situation. We always want to make sure that students are able to afford a college education, and if this did that, then yes, this is a great thing.” Slugocki said. “On the other side, if hundreds of classes are cut, if 50 faculty are fired because of this and the quality of our degree goes down, is that a good thing for the university? I realized that this wasn’t the right thing, and when I was called up to the table, I did support what David did.”

Personally, though, my favorite section was discussing how David Martinez III gets his ideas:

While Bruce and Slugocki attended the ASA holiday party that evening, Martinez was attending a regents’ dinner hosted by ASU. During dinner, he took the opportunity to survey some of the regents about their feelings.

“I spoke to many of the regents that night, and they felt very uncomfortable with moving forward (after) how the meeting on Thursday took place, and they definitely felt that the U of A was singled out,” Martinez said. “I touched base with several regents, with several of the student leaders, in determining what actions we can take.”

Remember, this is the guy who was “really looking forward to serving students.”

There are so many things to consider with this episode — and sadly, being the last week before finals, so little time. But I find a common theme of smug arrogance resonating throughout the three, an arrogance no different than that of any other administrator. The idea that they “know” what is better for you, that they understand your own interests better than you do, is the apotheosis of paternalism. To implicitly raise your tuition under the guise of watching out for your well-being is incredibly insipid.

Here, though, we’ll let you decide — are those extra Franklins worth it? Have Bruce, Slugocki, and Martinez III saved you from yourself once again?

ASUA’s Potemkin Village Hall Write-Up

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 13 November 2008

ASUA disapprovalGoing into the “First Ever!” ASUA Senate town hall meeting, things were not looking good for the student government. A Daily Wildcat poll found that only 11 percent of readers fully approved of ASUA, while 50 percent were not satisfied at all. Certainly, the poll is unscientific, but it is just as unscientific as the polls that ASUA has used to justify an expensive security apparatus, a Student Nutrition Council, and other such programs. Meanwhile, the Senate and President were busy back-pedaling from their broadsides against the paper over some cartoon.

This town hall did not help.

There were, at best, two people who were completely unassociated with ASUA. Two representatives of NoteHall were present, along with some presumed reporters (they never identified themselves, but used tape recorders and a notepad) who participated in the discussion.

The first three questions were offered by David Martinez III, Michael Slugocki, and Kendal Nystedt (the vice chair of ASA), and were all slow-pitch questions, the type that we’d come to expect from, say, Gwen Ifill.

The first question, from Martinez, concerned safety on campus. Sen. Bryan Baker gave his usual spiel, noting that the much-hyped survey “is kind of caught up in the bureaucracy right now.” What this really means, we can only guess. 

Sen. Jimmy MacKenzie noted that “this was just one part” of improving safety, mostly noting the blue-light system.

Then, interested outsider ASA chair Michael Slugocki wondered about the commuters, finishing his U.S.-Senate-like question-speech with the assertion that, “We should reach out to areas outside of campus.” Ignoring the “we” pronoun, is this something ASUA really should be concerned with? This ties in with the off-campus housing issue, which also took up a good deal of time. Certainly, you can’t just ignore commuting students, but at the same time you can’t buy their house for them; you can’t make sure they lock the door at night. Part of living off-campus is taking on more personal responsibility. Of course, these thoughts don’t play a factor, and instead the Senate agreed with this assertion, hinting that there were plans to extend the blue light system beyond campus.

Yet the most interesting answer by far came from Sen. Andre Rubio, who started off by saying that, “statistically, campus is very safe.” Compared to what? But he goes on: “What we’re really trying to do is to improve the perception of safety [on campus].” So, essentially, all those cameras and desk assistants and blue lights? Yeah, just for show. To be fair, this is a valid position — but it’s one that no Senator, or any ASUA official for that matter, has aired openly, and it’s a position that flies in the face of Sens. Mackenzie and Baker’s efforts. So, which is it?

There was a good suggestion that was half-heartedly brought up, in the form of a question: “Well, where does most crime happen on campus? What areas?” This led to a discussion of the principles of Compstat policing (long-ish article here), without actually using the term. But yes, it’s proven to be a damn effective method, and I’d love to see UAPD to start using it (if they haven’t already). Anecdotally, I’m sure that most of the petty crime on campus happens in the Coronado-AZO corridor. Why not bump up policing there? Or even have an in-house officer at Coronado?

Then, the worst question, in which the Vice Chair of ASA plays dumb and asks about the transformation plan, a question that was either put on, or that shows a shocking ignorance of university issues (I’m betting on the former). President Bruce gives his usual spiel, and then turns it to the audience: “Any suggestions?”

Then, Notehall pops again. You’ll have to forgive me, but any time the founders of a start-up company start hanging around with elected government officials, my Buchanan antennae start going off. Sure enough, one of the founders went on a long discussion that ultimately wound up on the issue of freshman retention. He mentioned that, among other things, students expressed a desire for an “online academic commons.” Oh, gee — I wonder what that might be.

Then, one of the few non-ASUAers (and non-media) asked: “Where is tuition going?” Bruce quickly got to the main point of the matter, which is that the percentage of funds marked for “student priorities” is being used on a variety of things that are being masked as such. Slugocki quickly jumped in, and harped on the fact that more accountability would be needed; to accomplish, he proposed forming a Task Force, which would take a SURVEY of the entire student body. Oh, joy.

Then, last but not least, we get to the undeniable highlight of the night: the grilling of President Bruce. I mentioned in an earlier paragraph that there were two media-like, but unassociated, types. One of them asked, “How does ASUA plan to respond to the allegations from the Wildcat?”

Bruce started to answer, but it quickly devolved into a fierce back-and-forth between him and the possible-journalist. It was, no question, the most exciting part of any ASUA function thus far (and you wonder why we need the weekends — ha!). Because of this, I wasn’t able to jot down everything that they said, but there was this choice line by President Bruce:

“I think that university newspaper needs to not be offensive.”

And yet, he has “no idea” where the idea that ASUA was trying to censor the Wildcat came from. Hmm.

UPDATE: Reading back through this, I realized that I’d missed an entire paragraph when I was copying this post from TextEdit to WordPress. Hopefully, this new version makes more sense.