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.”


Subverting Rhodes

Posted in Culture by Evan Lisull on 24 November 2008

Cecil RhodesOne of the genuinely inspiring sports stories this year (i.e. not the usual pabulum about hardship, adjusting to campus celebrity, etc.) is the awarding of a Rhodes Scholarship to Myron Rolle, a black football player at Florida State University.

Why does race matter here? From Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence:

Scholars who called themselves anthropo-sociologists did not hesitate to assert that the “Mediterranean race,” with its brown eyes and round skull, was not disposed toward individual self-reliance and risk-taking. Its nature was to favor socialism — protection by the state; whereas the Nordic type was the pioneer, the individual endowed with courage and originality, who singled-handed achieves great things. On him alone all progress depends. The political implications of this pseudo science were that England, Germany, Scandinavia, and the United States were bound to prosper and lead the world, while the Mediterranean countries (“the Latin nations” would be left trailing farther and farther behind.

That fortunate adventurer in South Africa, Cecil Rhodes, believed this prediction so literally that to help prepare the future rulers of the world he endowed by his will of 1903 the scholarships that bear his name. They were intended for English, German, and American students of high character and ability, who would acquire at Oxford the attitudes and traditions that made Englishmen movers and shakers.

Rhodes was also an ardent colonialist, who once proclaimed that, “If I could, I would annex other planets.” Suffice to say, giving Rolle a scholarship isn’t exactly what Rhodes envisioned, and we can all be grateful in this case that his vision was subverted.

Ta-Nehisi Coates chimes in

Posted in Campus, Media by Evan Lisull on 6 November 2008

Ta-Nehisi CoatesWell, kind of. For those of you who aren’t Atlantic junkies, Coates is one the great bloggers at the magazine’s sites, who has become a de facto expert on race relations in America. As a long shot, I fired off an email to him about the cartoon controversy, not expecting any sort of response. Yet he kindly replied, with the best four word answer that I’ve heard in awhile:

no accounting for irony. [sic]

Well played, sir. I suppose that’s why they pay him the big bucks at the Atlantic.

Cartoon Controversy II: The Farce

Posted in Campus, Media, Politics by Evan Lisull on 5 November 2008

First, sorry for the absence of posting yesterday; Election Day was a bit busy for me, as you can read about here.

Secondly, the Senate report is forthcoming as soon as possible, but only to make sure that every meeting is on record. Nothing of any importance happened, and the meeting was cut short to make sure that the Senate could make it to a 5:30 meeting being held at the MLK Center over a recent “controversial printing in today’s Wildcat.”

So, what is this controversy? The cartoon page has recently started contracting its cartoons from outside sources, and in the WildLife section today the paper printed the following cartoon:

"Racist" Cartoon

Because of the near use of the word “n—-r”, there was instant controversy. According to Sen. Andre Rubio, the printing of the cartoon was a “deliberate action,” because it was printed several days after the cartoon first came out.  “It’s an act of racism,” he said, “that’s trying to destroy the progress that this country has made.”

The meeting oozed with anger, and right off the get-go the person hosting the meeting noticed the Wildcat photographer in the back of the room. “Perhaps the representative from the Wildcat would like to offer a response.” Being the photographer, he doesn’t exactly get to make editorial calls, so he quickly replied that, “I can’t take any questions.”
“Well, I don’t think that you should take any pictures here.”

Some called for the firing of the editor-in-chief, and for creating, “a paper trial that will follow this person everywhere they go.” Others demanded a front-page public apology, along with a statement from President Shelton.

Now, for the facts:

The cartoon is based on an actual news event. As reported by FiveThirtyEight, on October 17:

So a canvasser goes to a woman’s door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she’s planning to vote for. She isn’t sure, has to ask her husband who she’s voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, “We’re votin’ for the n***er!”

Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: “We’re voting for the n***er.”

This served as the inspiration for the K Chronicles comic, which was released four days later. The story was remarkable not for the fact that the word “n—-r” was used, but for the fact that people, in spite of a racism that has been festering in Appalachia and other areas for generations. Is it more racist to vote for a n—-r than to refuse to vote for any African-American? This was a triumph, not a tragedy.

The accusations of racism are made to look utterly ridiculous once we read the biography of the cartoonist behind the controversy:

Cartoonist Keith Knight…

. . .is the “other” black cartoonist. . .

Knight is part of a new generation of talented young African-American artists who infuse their work with urgency, edge, humor, satire, politics and race. His art has appeared in various publications worldwide, including, ESPN the Magazine, L.A. Weekly, MAD Magazine, the  Funny Times and World War 3 Illustrated. Knight also won the 2007 Harvey Award and the 2006 & 2007 Glyph Awards for Best Comic Strip.

. . .

His semi-conscious hip-hop band, the Marginal Prophets, will kick your ass. Their latest disc, Bohemian Rap CD, won the 2004 California Music Award for Outstanding Rap Album, beating out rap heavyweights Paris, Aceyalone, E-40, Too-Short, and Ice Cube’s Westside Connection. Hip-hop music with a punk-rock aesthetic.

Still not convinced? Then check out his cartoon printed today:

Yes We Did Cartoon

Which came with the following message:

Wow. We finally get to experience a positive piece of American history again. It’s about time.
I just wish some of the elders in my fam lived long enough to see a black man elected president.

I figured it would happen in my lifetime, but not this soon.

I asked older family members, and they thought they’d never live to see it.

The strips I did this week were assuming Obama would get in, just like what Garry Trudeau did with Doonesbury. I had only one editor ask,”What if he doesn’t win?”.

And what a joy it was seeing the likes of Jesse Jackson with tears in his eyes.

I coulda watched images of black folks crying all night long ( I also enjoy watching Extreme Home Makeover much more when they have black folks on it, cuz we faint and cry and scream like nobody else).

Bravo, America. We took a big step forward in restoring our reputation in the world.

This, ladies and gentleman, is the face of your new black-hating racist: an African American cartoonist who is ecstatic in the wake on an Obama victory, a progressive columnist strongly critical of the Bush administration.

By making this absurd assertion, all of these organizations risking losing their credibility for when something that is actually offensive occurs. Like the boy who cries, “Wolf!” this reactionary response from the P.C. police can only be effective for so long. At least there was an argument (if an erroneous one) to be made against the “Mitzvah” cartoon from last year; here, there’s no case to be made at all.

I urge the Wildcat to stand strong against this pressures. It’s easy to cave in to such demands, and it’s hard to defend liberty against tyranny of an angry mob — I seriously hope that the powers that be in the Wildcat offices make the right call on this one.


Some other notes:

-As far Sen. Rubio’s conspiracy theory notions go, his basic attack is that the Wildcat is being racist by printing the cartoon the day after Obama’s victory. I would argue that the cartoon in fact serves to illustrate how unlikely, and damn near miraculous (Note: I did not vote for Barack Obama, nor did I vote for John McCain), Obama’s victory was. You tell me which makes more sense, especially given the Wildcat’s historical tendency towards both being behind the news cycle and leaning leftwards. Hmm.

-I haven’t even gotten the broader issue of freedom of the press, which is just as important. However, I will make one point in this vein. Several times during the course of the discussion, I heard many variations of the point that, “There’s free speech, and then there’s hate speech.” Perhaps that would be true if we lived in Canada (a country with notoriously stringent hate speech prohibitions), but sadly we have this thing called the First Amendment, which protects all sorts of noxious speech. In fact, many of the Supreme Court cases upholding the freedom of speech in the First Amendment came in defending what many would consider “hate speech,” whether it be the flag-burning in U.S. v. Johnson, the KKK in Brandenburg v. Ohio, the anti-homosexuality in Boy Scouts v. Dale, or the anti-Semitism in Near v. Minnesota. You do not — I repeat, do NOT — have a right to a politically correct society.

Glenn Greenwald is also worth reading on this issue; but to reiterate, none of these issues really matter, since the comic in question is in no way hate speech.

-Freedom of the press aside, though, I still have trouble believing that the Wildcat still bothers with a full page cartoon section. No one I know still reads it, the cartoon quality has gone drastically downhill (something I would’ve never thought possible back in 2006), and it’s done nothing but given the paper gray hair. The net gain of the section is probably negative.

-Apparently, this will be the second controversy of its sort over this cartoon. Montclair State. Printed, in their entirety, are the letters from the Montclairion (the school’s newspaper), and Keith Knight’s response:

In the October 23, 2008 issue of The Montclarion, a syndicated cartoon entitled “The K Chronicles” was printed. The cartoon featured a satirical reference to a controversial racial slur, obstructing the full word with the edges of the panel.

“The K Chronicles” is provided to The Montclarion by MCT Campus, a service that provides syndicated comics, graphics, crossword puzzles and pictures, among other things, to campus newspapers nationwide.

In this event, The Montclarion relied on others to judge content appropriateness, rather than making this choice as a staff decision.

Many of you have voiced your displeasure with this cartoon, as is your right.

It is never The Montclarion’s intention to offend its readership, and we sincerely apologize to all who were upset with this comic.

The Montclarion recognizes and appreciates the campus community’s diversity and strives to provide a newspaper that respects and honors all viewpoints.

Action has been taken to ensure that all content from this point forward will be sensitive to the diversity of The Montclarion’s readership.

–Bobby Melok
Editor-in-Chief, The Montclarion


Here is my “official statement” that I gave to the Montclarion school paper, and some newscast that contacted me.

To Whom it May Concern,

First off, it’s nice to know people are still reading the paper.

In all seriousness, the strip is based on some true incidents that happened to canvassers in some battleground states.

Is it offensive? Yes. Is it sad? Sure. But that’s the reality of the United States and this very unique election.

We have the first African-American candidate for president who could actually win. And folks of all colors are coming face-to-face with bias and race issues they didn’t know about, have ignored or pretended didn’t exist. Neighbors, co-workers, and family members are learning a little more about the society we live in.

The comic is pointing out one aspect of it. Straight-up racists are prepared to pull the lever for a black man. While some folks out there, who never thought they were prejudiced, aren’t going to vote for him because of his skin color.

Should we ignore stuff like this? I don’t think so.

Should it be in a comic strip? Yes!!

Comic strips aren’t always “ha-ha” funny. They can be peculiar or strange or dark or embarrassing. Some of the most effective cartooning addresses serious issues. I suppose there are still a lot of folks who think comics should all be like “Garfield”.

I think it’s good that people are discussing the strip, whether it be negative or positive. It shows that they care and are willing to confront issues that are often swept under the rug.

This election is the most significant event to happen concerning race in this country since the civil rights movement. It has shown us what makes this country great, and what we still need to work on. I like to think my work shines a light on both the negative and the positive.

If given the opportunity, I would love to do a slide-show on campus about cartooning, politics, race and the media. It would be nice to talk to the readers in person.



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.