The Arizona Desert Lamp

Thanksgiving Break

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 26 November 2008

Blogging will be light throughout break, so apologies in advance. However, having taken off for Thanksgiving break a day early (as I’m sure many of you did), I’m considering the annual question of why the UA only has a two-day break. My sister, who attends a small school in Ohio, had the whole week off, as did several friends back home.

However, this isn’t just a small, liberal arts school luxury. Going through the list of the sixty Association of American Universities (AAU) schools, 11 of them offer a full week for the break. More importantly, a full twenty of them, while not offering a full week for break, do have a fall break that takes place in the middle of October.

Of the schools that don’t have either option, six of them are Cal schools, which are all based on the same schedule; this inflates the number of the schools that appear to offer no extra breaks. Furthermore, some of these schools start school much later than usual; Ohio State, for instance, doesn’t start classes until September 24.

The broader point here is that the UA could offer a longer Thanksgiving break, or a fall break, without sacrificing academic integrity. Cutting back on the number of academic days also helps to safe costs. Since Shelton has already decided to punish out-of-state students with another double-digit tutition raise, the least he can do is consider allowing these students an extra day or two to commiserate with their families.

Advertisements

ASUA Senate Meeting X

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 31 October 2008

Sorry this report comes in so long after the fact — it’s incredible how much a disturbance in your home internet can ruin the day (damn you, Cox Communications!). This was also, incidentally, one of the longer meetings this year, although according to President Bruce it was far shorter than the meetings back when there was, y’know, opposing viewpoints.

I. Derelict Fashion

The first contention came over a dispute of funding for the Desert Lamp’s favorite program, Social Justice. This is the usual sort of funding appeal — SJ thought that the appropriations board had unfairly allocated their funds, and that they needed another hearing to receive the proper amount of money.

The program being funded is worth discussing at length. Social Justice, of course, is all about increasing empathy, a vacuous sense of caring and endless guilt for the sin of being bourgeois. This time, the issue of concern is homelessness, which is a “prevalent program” in Tucson in good part because it’s a hell of a lot better to homeless in Tucson than, say, Minneapolis. To establish “emphatic understanding” (their words, not mine), SJ is signing up students to “be homeless” for a day. They would give up their keys, wallets, and other worldly possessions, and play waif for a day — a soup kitchen would even be established in Bear Down Gym.

So, the program is spending $1600 overall, and requesting $800 from the ASUA Clubs fund, to simulate homelessness? It costs money to be homeless? I have a better proposal — sign up the students, take their possessions, and then refuse to return them for 48 hours (provide the usual contract stipulations, etc.). Rather than establishing a false sense of connection with the homeless, students concerned about the issue would actually be waking up on park benches, would actually get harassed by the police, would actually have to go to a real soup kitchen. The best part is, that this would cost all of $2 in copy fees to print off the contracts.

Of course, this is why I don’t run social justice programs. In terms of procedure, however, they seem to be in the right — Sen. Fritze admitted that she was confused at the Board meeting, and confused by the final judgment. Curiously, Sen. MacKenzie dissented, chastising the program for not having the foresight to have raised more money by themselves, and for relying solely on ASUA to bail them out. Ultimately, though, he was the lone dissenter, and the appeal will be sent back to the Board (where it will indubitably be approved).

II. President Shelton Visits

Bringing Shelton in to speak is easily the best thing that the Senate has done this year. He’s not perfect by any measure, but the UA is damn lucky to have a president of his caliber during a time like this.

In his presentation, Shelton was about as lucid as he could possibly be. He spoke on the issue in terms that were easy to understand, yet not condescending.

Basically, the message is a dour one:

1) The state budget’s in shambles this year, but next fiscal year is going to be even worse.

2) Virtually all of the money that comes from the state is spent on staff and employee-related expenses

3) Nobody knows what’s going to happen next year.

You also have to give him props for being candid. When asked by Sen. Baker if he expected class sizes to increase in Fall 2009, President Shelton replied, “Absolutely.” It may seem obvious that this is the case, but if we’ve learned anything this election season, it’s that the obvious answers are the hardest ones for public officials to say.

Shelton made sure to emphasize that the UA is “honoring its commitment” for Spring 2009, and while make no cuts for the upcoming semester, while refinancing some projects and “borrowing from ourselves” (always a scary idea) to fill in the gaps. Thus, the school will dig itself a little bit deeper of a hole, before really cutting offerings in the fall.

What can we expect to see changed? The one idea that Shelton harped on was the concept of “Activities Centered” management, whereby tuition dollars follow the students — the more students a program has, the more funds that the school will get. It’s a little bit ridiculous that this doesn’t already happen (although it is entirely implemented for the summer classes), but it seems

Another idea of Shelton’s was a sort of decentralization of the schools. He cited the University of Michigan, where Deans are responsible for their own funds, and dole them out accordingly. Here, Eller is a perfect example, an entity that could essentially exist on its own. Right now, though, the UA is a highly centralized institution, and many funds to cover teaching costs come through a central office for the University, rather than from the school. By decentralizing the process, Shelton argues, schools will be more responsible for their own costs, and would have a greater incentive to cut the waste when they can’t “come to Uncle Robert or Aunt Meredith for their own money.” This idea works well within the framework of the consolidated Schools that have been proposed in several white papers. The more units that fall under a School’s heading, the more autonomous that School will be.

There was also the idea of having more flexible graduation requirements — for example, if a certain class is required for students to graduate, but that class isn’t offered for Spring semester of a student’s senior year, then that student should be able to take another class that is offered in its stead. I’m sympathetic to the idea, but I’m wondering how much further it can go. Already, requirements are pretty lax for most majors, mostly consisting of various elective units. Still, though, worth looking into.

Finally, the issue of tuition. Shelton admitted that tuition would almost certainly go up. Yet Sen. Baker said that from his perspective, he would be willing to pay $600 more per semester to get all the classes I wanted, while Sen. Rubio said that he would be OK with a tuition increase of he “knew that the UA would be up to par” with “more prestigious schools.”

It’s a nice gesture, but I would like to point out that we cannot know this. Raising tuition does not guarantee class availability, nor does it automatically guarantee higher standing. Look at another way — was class availability an issue three years ago? Ten years ago? You bet. The tuition raise is not to increase quality, but to help maintain the most of what we still have in the wake of decreasing revenues. This is a maintaining cost, not an increasing cost.

While an increase is inevitable, I’m glad Shelton pointed out how disproportional the out-of-state tuition increase was compared to the in-state tuition increase. Obviously, it’s a popular political move (“dump the cost on the out-of-towners!”), and the school ostensibly serves the state of Arizona. Yet this does not mean that in-state tuition has to be as cheap as ASU — if in-state students think that the UA is too expensive, then ASU is always an option; furthermore, ASU should be the place for the least expensive tuition rate.

The UA’s tuition rate is relatively low, a fact that every administrator harps on. But that’s kind of the point — being an out-of-state bargain brings a lot of talented kids here who would otherwise go to the USCs and Michigans and Texas’s of the world; the really low in-state tuition keeps kids from fleeing to New Mexico, California, and elsewhere. This is a reputation that should be maintained.

III. Committee on the Establishment of Committees

I mean, what else can you call the group of three senators who devised a new scheme for committee work on the Senate? The new proposed committees are:

BUDGET & OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE
-tell us how much money we have, and attend Appropriations Board meetings.

STUDENT OUTREACH COMMITTEE
-contacting clubs, organizing town-halls for students, setting up the Senate meeting podcasts.

PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS COMMITTEE
-This one is worth talking about. The committee is new, and establishes, “Guidlines for office and Senate behavior within ASUA; holding Senators accountable for office hours and committee work; and serving as the intermediary between Senate grievances within the office.” But, as I learned in a history class many years ago, legislative establishments are made in reaction to actual events — laws against sodomizing animals in the eighteenth century because people were actually sodomizing animals. So with the Professional Standards Committee — the only reason to establish this committee at all is because there have been problems with adhering to these standards.

RECRUITMENT AND LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
-Get more people to run for office, preferably people from outside of the usual groups.

Ultimately, this proposal was tabled for next week.

Racism at UA and ASU Law Schools?

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 1 October 2008

Troubling allegations via the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

The Center for Equal Opportunity plans to issue today a report accusing the law schools of both Arizona State University and the University of Arizona of systematically rejecting white, Asian, and Hispanic applicants in favor of black applicants with substantially lower grade-point averages and admissions-test scores.

In a statement accompanying the report, Linda Chavez, the center’s chairwoman, says “the degree of discrimination we have found here, at both schools but especially at Arizona State, is off the charts.” The center’s analysis of student data from the law schools concludes that — controlling for year of admission, test scores, grades, state residency, and sex — the odds ratio favoring black applicants over white ones at Arizona State’s law school exceeds 1,100 to 1, while the ratio favoring black applicants over white ones at the University of Arizona’s school exceeds 250 to 1.

. . .

The Center for Equal Opportunity, which has a long history of issuing reports accusing colleges of discriminating against white applicants, said in its latest statement that it also had analyzed undergraduate and medical-school admissions at the University of Arizona “but found less statistical evidence of discrimination there.”

The UA, and specifically President Shelton, need to address these allegations immediately. In light of the failure of the Civil Rights Initiative, the university needs to seriously consider taking action on its own.

ASA hard at work

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 29 September 2008

Or not. From an article on the Wildcat‘s front page (which, curiously, was not uploaded to the online version, but can be found here):

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — The presidents of Arizona’s three public universities have been given wide latitude to decide how much to raise tuition next year.

The Arizona Board of Regents approved a plan on Thursday capping maximum tuition increases at about 13 percent to 15 percent for University of Arizona, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

But they gave leaders at the three campuses discretion on exactly how much to propose to charge next year, setting a range from about $160 to $725 more per year. Presidents will come back to the board by the end of the year with their proposals.

. . .

The plan is a change from past policies, when university presidents, student leaders and other groups would come up with wide-ranging tuition proposals that they brought to the regents for approval.

Current students at NAU and ASU will have only modest increases because of a policy that locks in their payments. The UA did not adopt that plan.

Still, it’s good to know that we got that ASA fee increase approved, so that UA students can engage in meaningless demonstrations in Phoenix make a big difference in their tuition rates.

Expect more from the UA

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 9 September 2008

It’s still a long ways away from a tenable plan, but the vague Shelton memo from a few days back seems to be manifesting itself in the form of streamlining the University’s departments.The Wildcat covered the Faculty Senate meeting where the plan was discussed:

Wanda Howell, chair of the UA faculty, said that the university intends to grow through strategic advancement of its core principals.

“We want to increase the quality of what we do,” Howell said. “Hopefully we can increase revenue (and product)…through a focused reallocation of resources.”

Howell outlined a program in which each university department will work to consolidate itself by analyzing the overall effectiveness of the individual departments.

. . .

A memo from Miranda Joseph, an associate professor in the women’s studies department, on behalf of the Strategic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee, sent to Shelton and Provost Meredith Hay, outlined a guide for the consolidation of academic programs.

The memo stated that UA academic programs would be evaluated based on seven different categories. The points outlined were central to the UA mission: external demand, internal demand, productivity, quality, appropriate size and cost effectiveness.

This plan sounds like a program that takes place at the federal level called Expect More, conducted by the White House’s OMB. Virtually every federal program is analyzed, graded, and determined to be performing or not performing. If you ever feel like getting worked up over your tax dollars at work (or, as is often the case, on leave), this site is the go-to place.

Point being, this is an excellent idea, and is made even better by the fact the separate departments will be doing the analyzing. Of course, this will lead to tribal impulses by each department, and they will heatedly defend every wasteful program under their aegis. But doing it this way accomplishes two things. One, it makes sure that the transition is gradual, rather than a suddenly breakdown. You can imagine my surprise when I saw a reference to this Burkean sense of conservatism in, of all places, the Daily Wildcat editorial board:

It’s always tempting to assume that reducing the size of a large institution is the key to efficiency. But it isn’t always so. Institutions evolve, and slicing and dicing “wasteful” departments and programs in the name of greater efficiency might well leave the institution weaker and less creative than before.

Any attempt to reform the UA should not be approached as a “radical” venture, but as a conservative one. Rather than taking a hatchet to the UA’s supposedly wasteful departments, the university administration should seek to conserve what is valuable in all of them.

Mark this down as the last time you will ever hear the Wildcat call for a “conservative” approach to anything. Yet as far as their concerns about radical cuts go, the self-analysis by the departments will preserve far more programs than a top-down proposal from the provost might. But even the History Department itself is saying that a certain History program should be cut, then it really, really needs to go. Nobody knows more about the institution than the institution itself.

Secondly, this focus on quality goes back to a previous issue of the UA’s role in the broader scheme of things. Howell emphasizes the role of quality, which, in one word, sums up everything that the UA should be striving for.

As a final, somewhat unrelated note, I’m skeptical of the idea that the students, or their representatives in the ASUA, should have any say in this process. Students don’t design classes, don’t write departmental budgets, and have a broad purview of any field outside of their majors. If you throw too many interest groups into a process like this, the odds of coming up with anything worthwhile are increasingly slim.

Shelton on the Amethyst Initiative

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 26 August 2008

A few days ago, the Amethyst Initiative made news by releasing a list of over 100 college presidents and other high-ranking officials who had signed onto their program. As the website states, “These higher education leaders have signed their names to a public statement that the 21 year-old drinking age is not working, and, specifically, that it has created a culture of dangerous binge drinking on their campuses.”

President Shelton, however, did not sign on. Below is the text of the email he sent in response:

Some thoughts on the Amethyst Initiative.

Underage drinking in general and binge drinking specifically are serious
concerns for our society and certainly at universities where so many young
people in the 18-20 age group are present.  It is wise to think about, plan
and execute programs that address these problems.  From my perspective, I do
not believe the issue is sufficiently simple to be solved by lowering the
drinking age.  I have not signed the petition.  The studies with which I am
familiar indicate that starting to drink earlier can lead to more
problematic behavior in later life.  At the UA, we address these issues
through education and programs to inform and assist students.  I offer a
list of some of our interventions below as provided by the VP for Student
Affairs.

-e-CHUG online, educational intervention for incoming UA freshmen,
completed by over 5,500 students in Fall 2007

-U.S. Dept. of Education Model Program status for reducing alcohol
use among UA Greeks

-SAMHSA funded Project CHAT, that screens students for high-risk
drinking and employs motivational interviewing in a one-on-one setting

-SHADE Alcohol Diversion Program for students with alcohol
infractions

-A coordinated social norms marketing campaign that aims to
correct misperceptions about student alcohol use.

-UA staff also serve on the following community groups/coalitions
to address underage alcohol use:

-UA Campus and Community Coalition for Alcohol and Other Drug
Prevention

-Arizona Underage Drinking Prevention Committee

-Pima County – Tucson Commission on Addiction, Prevention and
Treatment

-Pima County – Tucson Task Force to Reduce Underage Drinking

-Arizona Institutions of Higher Education (AZIHE) Network, a
statewide consortium that proactively addresses alcohol and other drug (AOD)
use issues among youth attending colleges and universities in Arizona

-Southern Arizona DUI Task Force

-Community Prevention Coalition – partially funded by the State of
Arizona Office of Health and Human Services

If I am thinking of the same study that President Shelton is, then it should be made clear that when the issue of “drinking earlier” is brought up, it refers to, “early initiation of alcohol use (before the age of 14) as one risk factor for problems with alcohol later in life.” Once in college, it’s already passed. Meanwhile, the Marines have already lowered the drinking age for their service members overseas.

Also notice the absence of the following words and/or phrases: civil liberties; adulthood; consent; Amendments XVIII or XXI; or highway funding.

Until Shelton changes his mind, however, we can continue to enjoy the wonderful results of these many, educational programs.

(The email also mentioned that it was sent to a Wildcat reporter, so expect this to pop up in the paper in the next few days.)