The Arizona Desert Lamp

ASUA 2008-09 Budget Released

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

Creative Cooking on a Budget ASUAWhat’s more, it’s only a 604K document, meaning that there’s no reason that the ASUA website can’t host its own budget. For now, though, we’re the only game in town; the budget can be accessed here. [PDF]

We’ll have more on this in the coming days, but a few quick hits:

1. Notehall, again. On September 17 last year, I wrote the following regarding the Notehall startup:

All in all, it has potential. I have a few issues with some of their hypotheses (”We don’t go to college to hear the professor lecture. . . [college] is more than pure academics,” for one), but my main issue comes with ASUA’s role in the start-up company (they plan on expanding to fifteen more campuses this coming spring). I’ll say again, this is a start-up firm, seeking to expand their market share. I wish them the best of luck. But is it responsible for ASUA — your student dollars — to be engaged in what is essentially small-scale corporate welfare?

The guys behind the company were kind enough to write back, and declared the following:

“We are not asking for ASUA to subsidize us in any way and at no place in our resolution do we ever mention receiving any monetary support from them.  For the future reference, we will never ask for any monetary support from ASUA [emphasis added– EML].”

Unfortunately, this seems to have not been the case. From page 7 of the budget:

In addition, the Academic Affairs Director will work to implement academic programs for students to boost academic awareness to boost academic awareness. For example, the director will provide several academic grants that will fund specific academic project as well as launch the Advising Mentorship Program and the Notehall Service.

The current director of Academic Affairs is Sam Ellis, a former Notehall member. There’s a plausible argument to be made that Notehall decided in the end not to ask for money; but at this point, it’s hard to argue that ASUA did not at one point in time seek to fund Notehall directly.

2. Big Book’s student government. A full 45 percent of ASUA’s revenue comes from the money that you spend at the bookstore. Interestingly, this percentage is down from 2003, when half of ASUA’s funds came from the bookstore. One would have to assume that this reflects increased sources of revenue from elsewhere – in fact, when you take out the $150,000 that come from the wonderful Student Services Fee (referred to in the budget as the ‘Student Affairs Fee’), the money from the bookstore makes up 50.9% of revenue.

3. Freedom of Association Fee. From the EVP’s budget breakdown:

A $30 fee will be collected for each club’s recognition for the 2008-09 year. The fee will support leadership workshops, printed handbooks & other resources, implementation of club interface software, and all things clubs and organizations!

Whatever it is, I fear exclamation points, especially bearing fees. Remember that without club recognition, a club cannot reserve space on the Mall, cannot seek funding from the Appropriations Board, and cannot use rooms in the Student Union.


ASUA Senate Meeting XXI: Rewriting the Rules

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 25 February 2009

Johnson Impeachment Trial

1. The Continuing Saga of the Impeachment By-Laws. The vote was tabled again today, after a somewhat intense discussion. Today, the Senate pointed out the essential aspect that the impeached figure needs to hear the charges being brought against him or her, a definite step forward.

We’ll table it here as well, but for now it’s worth wondering about an impeachment proceeding that effectively takes place behind closed doors in an executive session. Even when the official vote takes place, article charges are identified only by number “for confidentiality purposes . . . without reading the specific charges in public.” This is quite a deviation from the norm, even on the level of college governance.

2. Consent agenda. Sorry, nothing fun today.

3. Tabulation Room (Elections Code, part i). The Code requires the ASUA Senate to approve all members present at the tabulation of the votes (2-4.01). This really is a nominal thing, and in actuality it seems to consist of little more than designing the spreadsheet for the results presentation later on in the day. This should lead us to wonder why anybody needs to be in the room at all, except for the systems analyst techie responsible for “tabulating” (i.e. copying and pasting from WebReg) the results.

Of course, such a lone figure offers the possibility of fraud, and thus we need observers. The list offered by Commissioner Ho includes the entirety of the Elections Commission, the ASUA President, the ASUA Administrative Vice President, the aforementioned systems analyst, and two “ASUA Advisors.”

A few questions naturally emerge: Why does the presence of the Administrative Vice President required, but not that of the Executive Vice President? Was Tommy Bruce present in the room when he was running for reelection? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had actually established parties, so that each party could send monitors? Why are there no officials present that aren’t affiliated with ASUA – UA Law students, say?

Now, it may seem like I’m nitpicking here – but this is kind of the point, especially when taken in light of the first topic of conversation at today’s meeting. Right now, ASUA is borderline paranoid when it comes to impeachment proceedings, fueled in large part by the situations surrounding Cade Bernsen (who, incidentally, had the charges against him dismissed by the Dean of Students) and David Reece.

Events certainly should help to shape policy; but shaping policy is not a purely reactive process. One should be concerned about these sorts of issues now, before they turn into serious snafus. As it currently stands, ASUA would rather insist that everything is going to be OK, because everyone is just so nifty and swell, and wait until some no-good, very bad official gets into power and mucks it all up.

4. “Smooth” Elections in Action. Elections at the UA, as we all know, are not run by the rule of law but by diktat. Today, the Commissioner was fortunate enough to share one with us, concerning the referendum process:

With the prospect of one referendum appearing on the ASUA General Elections ballot on March 10 and 11th, here is an updated version of the current procedures as established by former Elections Commissioner [Amy] Adamcin.

Currently, as it stands, the referendum process is defined as “The Elections Commissioner will refer to the ASUA Elections Code, ASUA Constitution, and By-Laws, the Code of Conduct for Students, and the Arizona Revised Statutes for all matters concerned referendum campaigns in ASUA Elections.”

Translation: if you want to put something on the ballot, you serve without any recourse under the rule of the Commissioner. Yet this is probably one regulation that should be in the elections code, rather than buried in Article VII of the Constitution, which only describes how many signatures are needed to place a petition on the ballot (5 percent of the electorate during an election, 10 percent to call a special election). The memorandum goes on to spell out new additions to the process:

To further clarify the process, those wishing to appear on the ballot must first ask for nominating petitions. The number of petition signatures required shall be set by the ASUA constitution. Within obtaining the nominating petitions, those interested in appearing on the ballot shall have a two week period until the petitions are due. This two (2) week timeline must fit within a week from the dates of the General Election to ensure time to verify signatures.

So, forgive me for being brusque, but couldn’t it just be said that, “Nominating petitions will be available for access three weeks from the general election date. Petitions will be due no later than one week before the election date?”

This paragraph alters the former policy – again, not spelled out, because regulations matter only when it comes to Facebook and MySpace – in which referendums, like candidates, had to have their signatures in no later than two weeks before the general election date.

What was the problem with that policy? Well, according to Commissioner Ho, because the two-week deadline has already passed, “I have extended the deadline until one week before [the general election].” So, what’s wrong with letting the old deadline pass?

Because there is one organization out seeking signatures for a referendum – PIRG. For some time now, they have been soliciting signatures in an attempt to add a $3-per-year fee to UA tuition. If they had the adequate signatures, this would not be an issue. However, they apparently do not; and rather than accepting the failure of their campaign, they have instead chosen to modify the preexisting standard.

Let us not mince words about what has happened. PIRG, an organization with offices within ASUA, is seeking to implement by referendum a ballot initiative to grant themselves a $4-per-year fee. When they did not get the necessary amount of signatures in by the de facto deadline, the Elections Commissioner instead chose to change the deadline. What’s more, when Sen. Andre Rubio asked if this change to a one-week period was just for this election, Commissioner Ho responded in the affirmative. This is a one-time deal, with a very specific objective: get PIRG on the ballot, by any means necessary. Mr. Ho also affirmed that referendum groups cannot campaign until the signatures have been verified by the Commission, which would make this email highly suspect. The email, which we received on February 14 (some valentine that was), also mentioned that, “[PIRG is] working to get funding on campus by adding $2.00 per student per semester to the election ballot.” This would seem to indicate solicitation for far longer than the two weeks specified by this memorandum.

Thank goodness for Sen. Seastone, the ex officio Faculty member of the body, who called this out for what it is: “You’re changing the rules in the middle of the game. Rules were made in advance.” Yet his wisdom was not heeded, except by Sen. Nick Macchiaroli, the lone dissenter against the rest of the Senate.

5. Erevnocracy 2.0. What, you actually thought that rule-by-survey was over? Former Notehall-er and current Academic Affairs Director Sam Ellis presented a new scheme for making it your government: more surveys! This reincarnated corpse of ASUA Pulse goes by the name of “Be Heard.” Assuming that this program gets put into place, as a candidate Kristen Godfrey will already be more successful in her campaign promises than most of the current Senate.

The surveys will be conducted through the boy-howdy-that’s-nifty Academic Affairs site, and the first survey is scheduled to be released on March 15 – right in the middle of spring break. As an incentive to encourage participation, weekly prizes will be offered in the form of bookstore gift cards. Furthermore, a “Be the Change” scholarship (ugh) of $750 will be offered to those who provide the most useful information in the offered field-box.

Well, hey now — we’ve offered quite a few (hopefully) useful suggestions in our time here. . . and right now, we’re operating on a budget of somewhere between $15 and $150, depending on whether or not malt liquor can be deducted as a business expense. . .

/end shameless rent-seeking

Unfortunately, ASUA seems to determined to make the SSF process look scientific in comparison. When several Senators proposed that this survey be merged with the mildly-amusing and 100%-unscientific Wildcat survey, Mr. Ellis did not rule out the option. Sen. Mackenzie, meanwhile, brilliantly summed up the zeitgeist when he wondered out loud if a fifteen minute survey might not be too long, and lose student attention. The survey, as it currently stands, can only be accessed by people who come to the website, setting up an inherent selection bias. At the very least, we hope that the site will display the total number of respondents, along with basic demographic information.

Incidentally, the NoteHall site has ditched the ASUA endorsement logo.

Other Notes:

-Three candidates were in attendance, according to EVP Anderson. I managed to catch sight of Nick Jones and Ryan Klenke, but I missed the third. If you wouldn’t mind identifying yourself in the comments (as you should get credit for caring about the institution), we’d appreciate it.

-The Senate is still Rolling.

UPDATE: I’ve been reminded that PIRG is in fact seeking a $2-per-semester fee, the same amount that student lobbying group ASA currently receives. Corrections have been added where necessary.

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.


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.

ASUA Senate Meeting XIV

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 3 December 2008

1. Freshman Survival Guide — Sen. Steven Wallace’s Grand Project of his Senate term is creating this booklet, which, as the title suggests, aims to provide Freshmen with all of the knowledge that they might need, whether it be advisors, academic calendars, off-campus housing, night-life opportunities for 21+ students, or the “pros and cons of each dorm.” Hopefully, this last part relies on campus reputation; for instance,


Pro: Nine floors of whores.

Con: Nine floors of whores.

But I digress. This guide sounds nice . . . but it also sounds very familiar. I (thankfully) haven’t had to go orientation in a long time, but I still have the “Resource Guide” that they handed out way back in 2006. The resource guide includes a four year academic calendar, the colleges within the UA, campus resources & off-campus partners, contact information for various places on campus, and a campus map.Yet this resource guide also has features that Sen. Wallace failed to include, such as a basic FAQ on CatCards, as well as information on how to fill out a change of schedule form. Even all of this information just represents the Resource Guide itself; much of orientation is spent collecting pamphlets and papers on everything from religious groups on campus to the structure of the Gen Ed program.

The points here are that (a) this already exists; (b) there’s no groundswell of demand for it; and (c) there’s no need for it. Much of Sen. Wallace’s presentation was based on personal experience of being confused, but that is inherently a part of being a freshman, an experience that no guidebook can overturn. Don’t know how to use the washing machine? Ask for help — it’ll help you to reach out and meet new people (/vomit). Need to reference an academic calendar? Go to the UA’s homepage; and if you can’t find it from there, then you have bigger issues than just being a freshman.

. . .and A Scholarship! Here in journalism-land, this is what we call burying the lede. Bizarrely, part of this proposal entails forming a new “Senate scholarship,” which by Sen. Wallace’s estimation will be paid with the sponsorship money that is “left over” after paying for the book.

What is unclear is whether or not Notehall will be paying for their mention in the guide. In the outline of the guide, one section of the “Academics” heading would include “a brief description.” It would appear, in spite of their denials, that my Buchanantennae (thanks, Connor) were on to something. I don’t doubt that Notehall is a good resource worth considering, but I also don’t doubt that Subway is a really good place to get food. But that doesn’t mean that Subway should get an endorsement from ASUA without paying a dime, and neither should Notehall. If they want to be included in this guide, then they should pay for their advertising as any legitimate, non-rent-seeking business would.

2. Who is the team that’s watching your calorie count? SNC! You’re damn right. The Student Nutritional Council had their first presentation today, along with their first proposed measure, The Jump Start Breakfast Card. But instead of some revolutionary, new way to encourage healthy eating on campus, they instead offer a punch-card — buy nine approved breakfast items, get the tenth free. I have to say, this doesn’t quite inspire me to go out and seize the bran muffin. I think I’ll take Paul Fussell’s Milk Punch instead.

If you’ll allow me to get up on a soapbox for a bit, I think the bigger issue here is a growing paternalism from our own student government. It’s one thing for the usual Nanny State forces prate about “a safe society”; but to listen to one of my peers lecture about “substituting that coffee for a juice” is especially grating (you’ll get my coffee the same way you’ll get my gun).

Tarnation, I didn’t come to college to start eating like a 45 year old woman from South Beach. College is about drinking copious amounts of beer and coffee, eating instant noodles and Los Betos, and generally being not healthy. This is a degree-granting institution, not a health spa.

This means that, when it comes to providing food on campus, the first priority of administrators should be concerns of affordability. Health certainly must play a factor, and there must be healthy options available. But as SNC’s own presentation pointed out, there are plenty of options already existing on campus, options that don’t even include the as-of-now-unnamed Cellar Bistro.

So I’m sick of the motherf—
(Shut yo mouth)
But I’m talking about SNC!
(Then we can dig it)

3. Women’s Resource Center. It’s an old issue, but the WRC really wants to be independent.

However, I’m skeptical of how important their “comprehensive sexual education program” really is. In a post-Internet age, it’s ludicrous to pretend that college students don’t know how to use a condom. If you Google “how to use a condom” (a search that’ll mar my Google Trends for ages), you get not only a litany of helpful diagrams, but a series of demonstrative videos. Why should UA students who already know how to use prophylactics, or students who have no desire in being sexual active, be forced to subsidize the education of those that do? Incidentally, could someone spell a good argument for sex ed existing at all? I find it as ludicrous as D.A.R.E. in its impact.

Going back to an older post, I don’t see why this couldn’t be an arm of a newly formed Women’s Center on campus. Even though they claim to have raised $60,000 in outside funds, it takes a lot of chutzpah in the current environment to ask for a new, full-time staffer on the payroll.

PS: The new Elections Code is up. More on that by tomorrow, but it’s not too promising. In the meantime, peruse it here [PDF].

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. 

“3 swords, 3 helmets, 2 shoes. Will all of these be in the Tornado?” — ASUA Meeting 7

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 9 October 2008

So of course, the main story from yesterday’s ASUA meeting was the painfully vapid dispute over expenses for ASUA’s Homecoming float, produced by the Freshman Class Council. And while the issue in of itself is “full of sound and fury/signifying nothing,” it helps to illustrate some basic principles of how ASUA actually operates.

First, though, a brief summary of the issue. Traditionally, the FCC has traditionally been assigned the role of designing the ASUA float for the homecoming parade, which  manages to teach the essential skills of leadership and exterior design. The FCC presents the budget for the float before the ASUA Senate, who then decide how much to ultimately allocate. This year, the FCC requested $1200 for the float, and “only” received $850. Here’s what we learned:

1. The Ruling Class: There is no better display of the incestuousness of ASUA than the freshman class council. Six out of the ten sitting Senators are FCC alumni. VPs Anderson and Patel were both members as well. President Tommy Bruce waxed nostalgic about his FCC presentation, so many years ago. The Elections Commissioner who composed last year’s draconian Election Code, Amy Adamcin, is the current FCC director.

Folks, the revolving door doesn’t simply apply to the government in Washington; it also happens right here in Tucson. This is why the motto of “YOUR student government” rings so falsely; it is in fact the government of a striving pseudo-ruling class, colluding for the  purpose of padding resumes and allocating funds, many of which go right back to these selfsame individuals.

2. Porkies! In his seminal anti-ASUA piece, Connor Mendenhall noted that, “Many students interested in future political careers are involved in ASUA. Unfortunately, our student government sends them a terrible message: government is about creating programs and allocating other people’s money.” And while ASUA cements these principals, you can see it in foetus  as the FCC prepares to dole out YOUR student money for a pair of fog machines, and allocates $275 of your student dollars for T-shirts. . . for the FCC itself.

There were some paeans given to fiscal responsibility, and it should be noted that the Senate did force the funding. But there were also some very bad ideas that need to be highlighted. Primary among these was the defense of a $1,000 spending cap, offered by Sen. MacKenzie: “Whatever is not spent, will be given back. . . . Don’t be afraid to give them more money.” This argument has actually been used verbatim by earmark kings and queens in the Beltway, who claim that, “That amount is the money authorized, not the money spent.” This naturally begs the question — where does the other money go? Contra MacKenzie, I don’t this money will “just come back”, and certain expenses will “arise” (another point brought up by the Senate), such as brand name clothing or paint. Furthermore, suppose the FCC goes hog-wild with the rest of the funds. What then? “Shame on you?” It’s a little late at that point.

(The title is in reference to the sickly-sweet nickname for FCC members. Your author humbly offers this nickname as an alternative.)

3. Journalism 101. I’ve tried to avoid discussing issues involving the Wildcat, for reasons both personal and aesthetic. However, the paper’s article on the ASUA meeting offers a nice example of how not to write objectively:

After more disagreement, Sen. Emily Fritze entered the conversation as the voice of reason.

4. Abolish the FCC? I know anarchism is almost becoming clichè (that’s an odd phrase to write), but not only is it more feasible than a complete ASUA shutdown, it will probably result in a lot more instantaneous good. This is the training ground for the kind of ASUA members we’ve had; this is why UA doesn’t see a whole lot of variety in ASUA representation. Eliminating the FCC, in my humble opinion, would lead to a far greater variety of Senate and executive candidates — because no one would get a bump from being on the ASUA fast-track, the nominees would come from all sorts of different places; more importantly, the winners would as well.

It’s also worth considering the ostensible reason for the FCC’s existence: to represent the freshman class. But wait — ASUA represents the entire student body. Why isn’t there, say, a Sophomore Class Council? One may argue that freshman aren’t able to walk onto the University as Senate members, and thus are denied representation. Yet if being condescended to by overly nostalgic higher-ups (VP Anderson’s fawning was particularly grating) and designing floats counts as “representation”, perhaps it’s time for an (freshman) class uprising.

-The Notehall resolution passed, declaring that: “RESOLVED: ASUA supports NoteHall.” This is, in short, a statement of sentiment, kind of like the absurd resolutions Congress will pass from time to time condemning so and so or praising the Heroic Six-Pack of the week. This clearly wasn’t the subsidy that I feared, but I still question the motive behind it. But hey, it’s their business, and I wish them the best of luck, even with the anchor of the ASUA logo tied around their neck.

–News Flash: Apparently the “B” in LGBTQA stands for “bi-affectionate”, not bisexual. If you want pointers on how to turn a legitimate social movement into a parody of itself, this is a good place to start.

– UA Votes is still waiting on numbers, but it sounds like it’ll be around 4,000. The “Education Phase” is coming up next, so this blog will be on the lookout for that.

Notehall Followup

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 22 September 2008

Some good news from Notehall: a followup email from the three guys behind the start-up reiterated that they are not, in any way, shape, or form, seeking funding from ASUA, as I feared in this post. “We are not asking for ASUA to subsidize us in any way and at no place in our resolution do we ever mention receiving any monetary support from them.  For the future reference, we will never ask for any monetary support from ASUA [emphasis added– EML].”

Suffice to say, this is excellent news. The meeting, explained Ellis, was largely to ensure the support of ASUA, to “add to the legitimacy of the student service.” While one may question whether or not this is a good move (last I checked, ASUA wasn’t exactly the most popular institution on campus), it is harmless nevertheless.

Also, as an additional clarification, only one of the founders of Notehall has actually graduated from Eller; the other two founders are still currently enrolled at the UA.

ASUA Meeting #4 Wrap-Up

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 17 September 2008

I. First Non-Unanimous Vote!

Ladies and gentlemen, the first semi-vaguely-controversial issue of the year. The issue is essentially one of bookkeeping and appropriations. Camp Wildcat, led by their current chair Casey Edwards, argued that they had, essentially, been stiffed with this year’s appropriations. Their argument? The Appropriations Board said that the club had received $2,081 last year; Edwards, however, argued that this was in fact the funds allocated for the fall only, and demanded that Camp Wildcat receive a second shot at the appropriations process.

The chair of the appropriations board, Sen. Emily Fritze, and executive VP Jessica Anderson stood strong. Anderson was most vehement in disagreeing with Camp Wildcat, citing records from their past business manager, as well as chiding Camp Wildcat on ASUA payments that were ultimately not processed– “So be careful!” she said. Fritze, meanwhile, stated that she stood by the amount that her the board had allocated, but that she would be willing to hear their requests again.

The rest of Senate mostly rattled off a bunch of drivel about ‘fairness’ and ‘the voice of the students’, urging for a second chance. The exception was Sen. Steven Wallace, who was willing to send it back but chided Camp Wildcat on not bringing up their arguments at the actual appropriations board meeting. Still, this ultimately led the first (and, given the state of things now, perhaps the only) split vote of the year, 8-1, with Fritze voting against. Furthermore, given the icy tone those in charge took, I’d be surprised if Camp Wildcat received any more than a bit raise in funding.

II. Common Sense — Composted!

It would seem that having an “exemplary” rating for sustainability from the National Wildlife Federation (which also singled out the UA with five other universities as having the largest number of sustainability based programs) is simply not enough: we will not rest until every dorm is converted into a saguaro-house, and the Union is replaced with a natural watering hole!

Jesting (I hope) aside, the ASUA sustainability director Lesley Ash presented on efforts to further expand sustainability efforts. The latest? In-vessel composting. Essentially, this is like the compost that might have been in your backyard, except that it takes place within a massive machine, thus taking up less land area and smelling far better.

Of course, this comes with a cost — a huge cost. On this point, Ash was open, saying that the start up cost would be “in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Somehow, I have a feeling that this isn’t exactly a realistic proposal, given other happenings around campus.

But wait, there’s savings! According to Ash, we will save in the long-term of the cost of getting rid of waste. Currently, she said, we spend $30 a ton to dispose of waste; with the composter, however, we won’t have to pay to dispose at the composter.

Syntactically, this is true: we won’t have to pay a dumping fee to deposit waste at our own dumpster. But the use of this composter has costs, and, according to this EPA report [PDF], very high costs:

Annual operation and maintenance costs as low as $61 and as high as  $534 per dry ton of biosolids composted were cited  in a 1989 survey (Alpert et. al., 1989.)  A more recent assessment estimated costs for composting between $100 and $280 per dry ton of biosolids processed. In-vessel systems generally represent the high end of such cost ranges (O’Dette, 1996).

Ash said that start-up costs would be covered “entirely” with grants from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the EPA. However, not only is this scenario highly unlikely (the university’s budgetary issues are a symptom of the state’s), but even after start-up costs are accounted for, there is still the specter of maintenance costs. In-vessel aside, this compost boondoggle still reeks.

As if this weren’t enough, Ash left a grenade of a proposal at the end of her presentation. The obsession with opinion polls still runs much of ASUA, and so Ash proposed polling students on sustainability efforts, but with a twist: Students would be required to fill out these polls to access required class materials and quizzes on D2L.

Suffice to say, this violates all sorts of academic policy and basic sensibilities about student rights. I’m hoping that this policy dies miserably in whatever desert it was born, but it is a development worth monitoring.

III. NoteHall — Subsidized?

An interesting business proposal from three Eller graduates. NoteHall is a class resource that aims to create a “class community”, where students can buy and sell class notes (for pennies: 15 cents every time your notes get downloaded, and varying amounts for each set of notes/study guides you download), discuss class activities, and form study groups.

All in all, it has potential. I have a few issues with some of their hypotheses (“We don’t go to college to hear the professor lecture. . . [college] is more than pure academics,” for one), but my main issue comes with ASUA’s role in the start-up company (they plan on expanding to fifteen more campuses this coming spring). I’ll say again, this is a start-up firm, seeking to expand their market share. I wish them the best of luck. But is it responsible for ASUA — your student dollars — to be engaged in what is essentially small-scale corporate welfare?

As of now, the current resolution was simply one of support. Yet it is troubling to see the ASUA logo emblazoned on the left-hand bar, even as the disclaimer on the bottom declares that, “Notehall is not affiliated with the university.”

IV.  SHAC — Core is Not Enough!

Lastly (trust me, it was a long meeting), the Student Nutrition Coalition (SNC). Since this cute little acronym is quickly becoming a reality, Sen. Gabby Ziccarelli (who came up with the committee idea) and Joseph Morano (SHAC director) went through some of the coalition’s initiatives. It was filled with the usual suspects, but with one odd-ball proposal: the Jump Start Breakfast Card, which is aimed to encourage those who don’t currently eat breakfast with discount cards. Yes, the SNC is encouraging eating when it normally doesn’t occur.

I can understand some sort of argument, but I was struck by how such a policy was enacted. “I love breakfast,” the speaker started, and unwittingly betrayed the whole philosophy underlying the “healthy eating” activism. These committees are not formed by burger-lovers, fast-food-junkies, or even people who don’t count calories — they are formed by those who already love eating healthy, green, vegan, whatever. But they are unsatisfied with the options available to them; thus, via ASUA, they find a way to mandate their preferences upon the whole.

I also found this closing quote precious: “The first wealth is health.” Except when it isn’t. In fact, looking through history, there are proportionally few successes who are genuinely healthy.