The Arizona Desert Lamp

Column on Get REAL in today’s Wildcat

Posted in Campus, Culture, Politics by Evan Lisull on 3 November 2009

Get REALThe Internet-People declare: All your Paper are belong to us! Ben Kalafut had a piece on Proposition 400 in yesterday’s paper (and if you’re a Tucson voter, take the time to read his excellent breakdowns of the other propositions – 200, 401, and 402); today, Laura was kind enough to find a spot for our tilting at the windmills of Legal Age 21.

Writing the piece also served as a reminder of one of the benefits of blog format – no word limits! Sure, this allows for a lot of run-on and obsessive inquiries to little end, but it also prevents necessary clarification of certain lines.

One that particularly sticks out is the mention of President Shelton’s refusal to sign the Amethyst Initiative, an item that this site first reported in its infancy, over a year ago. Yet reading it through again (older, wiser!), Shelton’s dismissal of the Initiative comes off as even more venal than before. Here is what signatories of the initiative pledge to do:

To support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21 year-old drinking age.

To consider whether the 10% highway fund “incentive” encourages or inhibits that debate.

To invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.

We pledge ourselves and our institutions to playing a vigorous, constructive role as these critical discussions unfold.

Here was President Shelton’s response (with emphasis added):

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.

But there’s nothing in the Initiative which makes any President beholden to any drinking age! All it wants is a critical conversation, with honest airing out of facts. Instead, President Shelton alludes to “studies” with absolutely vague conclusions (so much for scientific rigor), and lists of a list of bureaucratic forms that make other health-ranking bureaucracies happy. He fails to mention the issue of the highway fund, although I suspect he’d drop the drinking age to twelve if it got some money from the state legislature. His response is the antithesis of an “informed and dispassionate debate.”


Dark lining on a silver cloud: the problems with a Code of Conduct hearing

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 29 September 2009

Chalk is Speech (Palm & Second)

A meeting with ASUA Legal Services (a very helpful service, although one that I would have gladly paid for with a user fee) has assured me that now that the case has gone to the intra-university judicial system, I am at liberty to discuss any and all aspects of the case.

For now, I’ll refrain from discussing a full-fledged, factual account of events – that’ll be published on this site later, in the form of a written testimony to the Dean of Student’s conduct officer. For now, though, feel free to peruse the UAPD’s side of the story, spelled out in their police report [PDF]. Instead, I’d like to clarify earlier remarks I made to the Wildcat (among other media outlets) as to why the issue still isn’t entirely resolved.

While deciding to dismiss these charges is a definite blow for liberty, transferring the case to the Code of Conduct hearings unveils new problems that may in fact increase the possibility that sanctions will be handed down for such expression.

The most important issue is the burden of proof. Had this case gone to criminal court, the University would have to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that accused was marking up the base of a statue near the Administration building; and further, that the “base of a statue” is not actually considered the ground, as per A.R.S. Given the fact that the case as detailed by the police depends on the inference – rather than the direct observation – by a witness, it would be rather hard to convince a jury to rule in their favor.

No such standard, however, exists for those charged in a Code of Conduct hearing. Instead, the Dean of Students must merely determine that “it is more likely than not that a violation of a Student Code of Conduct has occurred” (5-403 (C) (6)). Effectively, this equates to a 50+% probability of guilt, and comes down to the flip of the coin in a “he-said, she-said” situation. In a case where the word of an undergraduate is cast against the word of an employee, the prospects look even less promising. In spite of this low standard, the Code of Conduct hearings offer no chance for appeal, unless the sanctions involve suspension or expulsion. Barring such an outcome, the Dean of Students is quite literally the judge, jury, and executioner of all Conduct violations.

When it comes to procedures, the process is further hindered by the lack of the chance to confront the witness. In both “chalking” cases, the informant’s information has been redacted – although perhaps the threat of being “chalked and feathered” by an unhappy populace is reason enough. Yet in justifying the charge , the police report offers this:

While driving in the area, [redacted] saw LISULL writing on the sidewalk near the economics building (1110 E. James E Rogers) and Maricopa Dorm (1031 E. James E Rogers). LISULL noticed [redacted] and began to walk away westbound. [Redacted] had previously cleaned the chalk from the Administration building and therefore felt the writings were consistent with each other.

This is crucial – without [redacted]’s inference, there is no reasonable justification for the citation. Had this case gone to a criminal court, the Sixth Amendment guarantees that [redacted] would be required to un-redact him or herself, were the charge to go through. The accused could raise questions about this inference, wonder openly why there was a five hour gap in chalking incidents, ask how the witness could be so sure that he saw the accused at the Administration building, why the witness didn’t try to stop the suspect before calling the police, and so on. Yet because it is now an intra-university matter, we will never know who [redacted] was, or why chalking was such a noteworthy offensive as to require repeated contact with the UAPD; and it’s not easy to fight Anonymous.

Even beyond the Dean of Students office, the main issue – that of civil liberties – still remains: will a university “committed to defending, celebrating and hosting free expression” continue to issue Code of Conduct violations against students who use chalk on the sidewalk (in other words, does the Code of Conduct prohibit expression in the form of chalk)? Does President Shelton actually believe that he can declare, based a citation that failed to make it to court, that the behavior of the two students was “illegal”  (in other words, is he aware of the concept that the accused is innocent before being proven guilty)? Will any administrator come forward to explain why exactly it is was so essential to clean up a flowering of expression for America’s most lauded liberty, rather than letting the chalk disperse away naturally? While chalking days may be over, this is the same University that attempted to force out Horowitz via “security deposit” fiat – eternal vigilance, unfortunately, is required to ensure against future regressions.

All that having been said, there is still a glimmer of hope – as of publication, no messages regarding Code of Conduct hearings had been received from the Dean of Students’ office. It’s odd to look to the Dean of Students for a victory for freedom, but stranger things have already happened.

Chalk up a win

Posted in Media, Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 29 September 2009

Chalk is speech!By now you’ve probably seen the press release: Under orders from President Shelton, UAPD has dropped all criminal charges against my colleague and co-blogger Evan Lisull, as well as grad student Jacob Miller, last week’s original sidewalk scrawler.

Both will still face code of conduct hearings from the Dean of Students some time in the indefinite future. Evan plans to avoid public comments until the proceedings wrap up, but it’s safe to say that we at the Lamp are pleased that the administration finally did the right thing and dropped charges, and that so many students showed their support for First Amendment rights on campus.

We owe our readers, our colleagues, and the UA community serious thanks for the support they offered Evan and the attention they brought to the Free Chalk for Free Speech protest. We also owe thanks to the many students who helped hand out chalk and the many more who had the courage to scribble their support for free speech on public sidewalks all over campus. It is a rare day when a university policy swings from total idiocy to relative sanity over the course of a few hours, but you made it happen.

For obvious reasons, we didn’t have much spare time to update today, but our peers in the UA blogging community and local media did an excellent job.

The Arizona Daily Wildcat published extensive coverage all day: an article on initial indignance following the Miller arrest, news of Evan’s citation this morning, and, as of the current online issue, a photo gallery of selected scribbles across campus, a detailed writeup of the student response, and an editorial in support of the “UA Chalking Rebellion of 2009”.

Pseudonymous blogger Sally Gradstudent broke the first news of Evan’s arrest, and kept the updates coming, as did the folks at Arizona for Education. A group of faculty and grad students even started Chalk is Speech, a blog of their own in support of the Hopscotch Two.

Meanwhile, Tucson media picked up the story: Matt Lewis at the Daily Star, Jim Nintzel at the Tucson Weekly, and Renee Schafer Horton at the Tucson Citizen, along with TV reports from KOLD and ABC-15, and interviews with local channels KGUN9 and FOX11. Evan even hit the (digital) pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Of course, though today’s events were a victory for freedom of expression, the University of Arizona is still far from “firmly committed to defending, celebrating and hosting free expression” as described in their latest press release. Our campus speech policies merit a red light rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and overbroad restrictions on student speech like a designated “free speech area” at one end of the public Mall, a set of arcane rules for signs and banners, and a tendency to charge onerous fees for controversial speakers are still on the books.

For now, however, we’re chalking up this one as a win. Thanks for all the support.

Combination of the Two

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 24 September 2009

Two Peas in a Pod“Despite claims by some to the contrary, we have approached this budget crisis by listening to input from every imaginable group on campus and off, and any individual who wrote, called or stopped us at a public event.”

-Meredith Hay and Robert Shelton, in this guest editorial.

“Provost Hay would not answer questions about the poll, and referred me to UA VP for External Relations Stephen MacCarthy, who called me from his car on the way to today’s Regents meeting in beautiful Flagstaff.”

-Renee Schafer Horton, blogging for the Tucson Citizen.

Say what you will about the Birchers of the academy: this column is an incredibly stupid move by Shelton and Hay, a passive-aggressive swipe against an anonymous blog. Congrats are due to the Defender and its associates, who have succeeded in bringing heat to the President and Provost in spite of themselves.

Since this is as public as Shelton and Hay have been together since last spring, it is akin to an official statement of purpose, and as such worth a full analysis. Even before getting into the text of the column, even choosing to publish a co-authored guest column in the Star says a great deal. By opting co-author the column, rather than letting Shelton play public figure, Shelton and Hay have indicated that they really are in this together, and the commenters of the Defender who claimed that “you can’t get rid of one without the other” look rather vindicated. At the same time, Regent Calderon may be leaning towards tearing the Terrible Two apart, based on his quotes at Renee Schafer Horton’s blog (which really is the go-to source for all things faculty-revolt-related):

“Ten to 15 percent is angst, but I’ve heard from enough people to make me know it’s not just that people have angst over the budget or economy,” he said. “I’m glad the poll separates questions about the president and the provost, because I’ve heard people say the provost’s style of communication is the problem, not the president’s leadership, and if that is what the poll says, that will give (Shelton and Hay) information and help them make a decision. …

Let’s say hypothetically there was a really negative result around the provost, a result that your average bear could see, then what I would do, is in the review of President Shelton, I would bring that up and have him address it, does he believe it, if not, why? I think (the poll results are) fair game to discuss with him in his review because the buck stops there with him. … The survey could be a very valuable tool to help Robert refine his skills. He’s a smart man and he’s a man of good will. If there’s something for him to improve upon, I bet he’ll be the first to say ‘I want to do this.’ … I really believe in redemption.” [emphasis added – EML]

The ‘bear’ comment is rather enigmatic, but even more important than what is included about separating the president and the provost is what isn’t included about the provost, post-survey. Calderon discusses what these polls might do for President Shelton in the future, but offers no such speculation for Provost Hay. Yet if Hay is voted out/leaves ‘voluntarily’, Shelton is for all intents and purposes broken politically.

It’s also interesting that Shelton and Hay chose to publish their piece in the Star rather than the Daily Wildcat.  Horton’s blogging has been picked up by the Chronicle, but this still remains an intra-university matter. One might be inclined to write this off to the “super-serial people don’t write for student newspapers” sentiment, but the following quote indicates a more important aim:

We stand on a precipice. Now more than ever is the time for the people of Arizona to make their voices heard — not in the dark corners of anonymous blogs, but loudly and clearly and publicly in the corridors of our state Capitol.

This bait-and-switch was in part abetted by today’s protest (on which the Lamp half-heartedly tweeted; better off waiting for tomorrow’s paper for a coherent writeup), which has deliberately obfuscated their purpose. It’s about saving the humanities (and the manatees) and “We are more than Mars and mirrors,” until it suddenly becomes about the state budget, at which point they begin talking about the Cal system and its walkout, which more often than not leads to talk about “the System” and “have you read Alinksy, by chance?”

With this column, Shelton and Hay have stepped in and said, “We couldn’t agree more! Now is the time to take a stand for higher education in Arizona.” When a few protest that this about them, and not the state legislature, Shelton and Hay reply by saying,

It is our hope that in the face of this extraordinary challenge we can unite as a campus and community in preserving the greatness of the University of Arizona; that we can speak with a common voice that calls on state leaders to protect this unique and valuable asset for our state. [emphasis added – EML]

This echoes the Wildcat’s call for ‘unity’ back in February; and just as it was then, this boils down to, “You’re with us, or you’re against us.” This is how Shelton and Hay will cast the debate in the days to come; those opposing them will have to work even harder to keep the focus where they want it.

As a postscript, it should be noted that the column does not address a single critique or assertion made on the Defender.

Tin-medal reporting on tin-hat brigade

Posted in Campus, Media, Politics by Evan Lisull on 4 September 2009

UA Guardian Story on Wildcat front pageThe story pictured on the right – pitched on the Wildcat’s homepage as a developing “exclusive” investigation – packs a pretty strong opening punch. Unfortunately, the article itself doesn’t quite live up to the hype:

UA faculty and staff “concerned about abuses of power at the UA,” have created an anonymous blog as a place to “speak only, without fear of reprisals.”

Juan R. Garcia, a professor of history who posts on the site, “UA Defender,” said he knows the site’s founders, and many faculty, staff, and even a few administrators, who post on the blog.

The site’s author, writing under the pseudonym Evelyn B. Hall, posted that “four month’s (sic) into her tenure as provost, the deans were ready to oust Meredith Hay over her budget over-reaching.”

Among the blog’s most serious allegations: UA department heads gave Hay an unofficial straw vote of “no confidence” last fall semester.

The blog states that although the deans may have been powerful enough at the time to stand up to Hay, they decided to “give her a break,” after which the provost replaced many of them.

The blog also states it is “imperative” that faculty and staff move this semester for a vote of “no confidence” in Hay and Shelton.

How, exactly, is access to a blog that has been publicly available since September 1 “exclusive”? At any rate, the post for the last allegation can be read here. The post makes many assertions, but this one (which the Wildcat somehow missed) is a real doozy:

I have no doubt that they are going to try to go after tenured faculty next, even though that seems to be next to impossible.

Actually, it would be exactly impossible, unless by “go after” the writer is suggesting that Shelton and Hay will launch a counter-blog, designed to harass the faculty to the point of leaving. Suggesting that President Shelton and Provost Hay are planning to systematically take down the tenure system is guano crazy, and should raise some eyebrows with regard to the rest of this site.

Take, for example, the “serious allegation” that the Deans covered up a no-confidence vote against Provost Hay. Here’s that claim in context:

Last fall, four months into her tenure as Provost [August 30, 2008 or later (source) – EML], the Deans were ready to oust Meredith Hay over her budget over-reaching. She swept their lines without consultation and at the time, the Deans were powerful enough to force her to put it all back. They should have done a vote of “no confidence” then, but they gave her a break and she’s been able to replace a lot of them now. Department Heads gave her a straw vote of “no confidence” last year, but they didn’t make it official. She’s now replacing them.

Much of this is water-cooler talk, but there are two assertions of fact: (1) ‘A lot’ of deans have been dismissed and replaced since Fall 2008; (2) a vote of “no confidence” was passed, but ‘was not made official.’ Curiously, the author doesn’t list any names of deans that were removed, even though such information is public and its disclosure would imperil no one’s employment. Dean Donnerstein’s mysterious departure may fit the bill, but the post and article both neglect to mention him, and provide nothing but speculation that his dismissal was driven by political reasons. Further, one dean does not make ‘a lot.’ The new Humanities dean was the interim since July 2008; the law dean departure was announced long before the purported Provostnacht; the Phoenix Medical Center dean’s departure was announced in April; the new nursing dean replaced an interim dean in March 2009, after a nine-month search that started in June 2008; the new College of Medicine dean had served as interim dean since July 2008; etc.

I’m more than willing to be proven wrong on this, and any names of other deans that might qualify should be noted in the comments. The bigger issue, however, is that as the complaint currently stands, it has absolutely no backing evidence. This isn’t so much a problem for the UA Defender, which is more than entitled to be wrong, as it is for the Wildcat, which is also entitled to be wrong but generally prides itself on being the paper of record. Reporting such an unsubstantiated claim, without exercising even a modicum of fact-checking, is unbecoming of quality newspaper reporting.

Tin Foil LOLMeanwhile, the ‘straw vote’ allegation has percolated through the local rumor mills since at least this June (and we certainly weren’t the first to hear about it). Most of the local papers were aware, as they are aware of many things which don’t get published. There is a reason, however, that journalists don’t publish everything they hear, and that this rumor wasn’t published until now. It has nothing to do with LaRouchean cover-up theories, and everything to do with semi-ritualistic adherence to this idea of ‘journalistic integrity’. A distinction exists in the journalist’s mind between reporting and rumor-mongering, and the difference comes down to sources. Information that can’t be confirmed independently should be viewed with distrust.

To further illustrate this point, take an example from the entry from this site on the firing of Juan Garcia, the only named source for the Wildcat article. In the comments of that post, user id “rosalind garcia” wrote the following:

Actually, the emails were leaked all over campus by the President’s office and they were requested by the Star through the Freedom of Information Act. Since Juan’s email is monitored daily by the administration since his dismissal, I am not the least bit suprised [sic] that they sent copies of the emails to Mackey via Juan’s computer to make it appear that he was the source of the leak.

On its face this is absurd – information requested through FOIA isn’t “leaked.” Emails of university administration are subject to public scrutiny, and no ‘leak’ was required to obtain the emails. That aside, though, these allegations make for one hell of a story. HEADER: “Shelton monitors professor emails.” The nut graf: “The source, writing under the user name ‘rosalind garcia’, posted a message stating that, ‘Since Juan’s email is monitored daily by the administration, I’m not the least bit surprised that they sent copies of the emails to [Aaron] Mackey via Juan’s computer to make it appear that he was the source of the leak.'” Hey, that’s another bit: “Administration accessing professor’s computer without permission.”  Wait – “Friend of professor: administration committed identity fraud.” Bonanza!

A lot of allegations make for really good stories, but that doesn’t mean that they’re good journalism – yet. Right now, the allegations on the site amount to little more than the “he said, she said” assertions of dissatisfied faculty. This does not mean that it should be entirely dismissed – in fact, there is almost certainly a kernel of truth to them. For now, though, the story amounts to little more than a breathless writeup of a ‘blog with unknown influence and dubious sources of information. Hopefully, future stories in this vein won’t be based entirely on allegation.

Incidentally, it’s been interesting to observe which blogs get their posts cited, and which ones don’t.

As for the group actually being discussed, whom we’ll dub the Evelyn Hall Society – several members of this coalition have made allegations to this site, as well as to local papers. All of their allegations have been fascinating; none of them have been accompanied with so much as a whit of supporting evidence.

Trust me – if you can provide any outside proof backing those allegations, we’ll break out the red HTML-ink. Honest. If you can provide a substantive lead, we’ll do our best to chase it down (although our time is necessarily limited – seek out one of our colleagues if we take too long).

What we don’t really care about are comments like this one:

I am outraged by the firing and treatment of V.P. Garcia. It was unfounded and disgraceful.
What kind of dictatorship has the U of A become?

Garcia avows that, “we [i.e. the members of UA Defender] will not devolve into personal attacks” – except, of course, for those times when Provost Hay is referred to as the “Ice Queen,” and described as having a “textbook abusive personality.”

If this movement is serious about its cause, it might start by providing evidence for these things that have happened, rather than constructing castles in the air and crying, “Down with feudalism!” Drop the revolutionary rhetoric, and instead start compiling a dossier of information to back up these allegations.

For instance: if non-tenure faculty are being dismissed for their opinions, why aren’t they coming forward? Presumably, if they’ve actually been dismissed, they have no fear of reprisal – after all, they don’t work for President Shelton or Provost Hay any more. Another: if faculty are so unanimously opposed to Provost Hay, why not commission an outside polling company to demonstrate that fact?

In another post, ‘Evelyn B. Hall’ writes that contributors to the site must:

• to stick to the facts (and document them if contestable); and
• to make clear the difference between facts and opinions.

The only documentation that the UA Defender provides on its entire site is the Shelton-Hay-Garcia email exchange that was released several months ago – the rest is an unfortunate muddle of fact, opinion, and panic. Presumably, these professors wouldn’t let their students turn in an argumentative essay without citing sources; the same standards should apply to their arguments as well.

UPDATE: A thousand blessings upon our commentariat! Commenter ‘Word Girl’ points out this story was reported by Tucson Citizen blogger-reporter Renee Schafer Horton on Wednesday. Since she’s an actual journalist, it’s worth reposting her complaints, which very much echo our own:

I take a little offense at one statement in the blog that news of problems with Shelton/Hay weren’t adequately reported by the press. One of my biggest frustrations as the Citizen’s higher ed reporter was that no one would talk on the record about various rumors I heard, including the straw vote of no confidence that apparently occurred last fall in regards to Hay. That vote is detailed on the UA Defender blog here, and I specifically asked Shelton about it when I was first leaked the information. He flat-out denied a vote was ever taken … and since no department head would go on the record saying it WAS taken, I couldn’t report it.

So, before the UA Defender says the media hasn’t done a good job in reporting all sides of the story, people on the blog need to recognize that the press CAN’T report the story with only anonymous sources and rumor. Give me your names, give me information about what has happened, and I’ll be happy to report it on my blog and/or pitch it as a story to the Tucson Weekly, the Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed. If you’re a UA employee and have facts or documents about what is happening in this reorganization that you think need to be reported, I’m ready, willing and able. E-mail me at rshorton08(at)gmail(dot)com.

Achievement by fiat

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 1 September 2009

Baby, rationally drinking in response to a Tom Brokaw comparisonThere are certainly many high achieving members in the class of 2013, and I hope that they take no offense to this belabored defense of the idea that they are not the Greatest Class Ever. Nonetheless, the Admission Czar (Paul Kohn)”s response to the Wildcat‘s response is a rather stunning repudiation of non-UA-based metrics:

This year’s freshman class is in fact the most academically gifted ever, a distinction we base on criteria other than SAT and ACT scores. It is based on the all-time high record number of Honors College students who have enrolled, on the record number of national scholars ­— not just National Merit Scholars — enrolled, and on the highest-ever portion of students who are projected to earn at least a 3.5 GPA in the UA’s rigorous academic environment.

President Bush certainly had his faults, but hopefully his “bigotry of low expectations” will survive through the Obama years. It certainly applies here. The Czar effectively rejects SAT and ACT scores, because they don’t jive with this vision of glory. Or something.

SAT scores and ACT scores are not the be-all and end-all of admissions – nor is any other provision of the admissions process. But to simply ignore an almost continuously downward sloping trend in your national test scores and your academic index is to whistle Dixie past some serious underlying problems.

Even more astonishing is what Dr. Krohn chooses to use for metrics in place of test scores. Rather than high school GPA (which is stagnant), Krohn cites three factors:

  • Record enrollment in the Honors college.

The UA is developing an unhealthy fetish with the largeness of things, whereby more is by definition better, rather than merrier. Why Shelton, Hay, et al think that it’s a good idea to compete on the basis of size with the 67,000, multi-campus ASU monstrosity is a question unanswered. We saw this with the exultation of “7,000, baby!”, while administrators ignored the idea that size has its own problems and that perhaps a 35,000 person campus wasn’t the worst thing in the world. Now Dr. Kohn is exhibiting the same sort of “big is good” mentality on the Honors College.

Now, Dr. Kohn might have a point if Honors admission was based on a certain threshold – say, a certain ACT/SAT score or a given high school GPA, with the option to substitute AP/IB/SAT II scores in their place. If this were true, record Honors enrollment would indicate a record-high number of students in the long-tail of academic achievement – effectively, bifurcating the campus between savants and below-average Joes. As it turns out, Honors admission is entirely holistic:

New freshman and transfer students who submit The University of Arizona admission application are considered for Honors admission and merit based scholarships. Please note that there is an Honors question included with the application. A response to the Honors question must be provided or you will not be able to complete the application and be considered for Honors. Students are invited to join Honors; no separate application is required for Honors College consideration. If you are admissible to The Honors College, you will receive detailed information about Honors in your official Admissions packet.

It would be interesting if Dr. Kohn could produce some of this same statistical information that we’ve seen for campus as a whole for the Honors college in particular. It would be nice to see test scores rising, and a smarter Honors college than in previous years. The current data, however, gives no indication that the Honors college is doing anything other than providing a mirror to campus-wide trends: greater quantity, lower quality.

  • Record number of ‘national scholars’ (not national merit)

The distinction here is crucial. National merit scholars – also known as national merit finalists – are down from previous years. But national scholars are up. So who are the other students are making up the difference?

The college also admitted its largest class of National Hispanic Scholars – 92 students, up from 54 last year.

Nearly 200 of the newest Honors class are transfer students, 78 are also National Merit Scholars and eight are National Achievement Scholars, a competitive program open to African American students.

Perhaps this is unfair, but seeing how the university has a propensity to cite each and every positive record it comes across I’ll go ahead and assume that the eight National Achievement scholars are not a record. Essentially, the Honors college nearly doubled its Hispanic Scholars contingent, and witnessed reduced numbers in all other metrics. This is a shift, certainly, and one could argue that it is a good shift (an argument hinging on demographic trends favoring Hispanics and the promise much federal love with the appropriate designation). But one could equally argue that this is a bad shift, one that replaces pure academic achievement with semi-achievement + culture. Whatever it is, it certainly not a “fact,” as Dr. Kohn insinuates.

(Also, it should be pointed out this this second argument slightly undercuts the first – national scholars are automatically enrolled in the Honors college; thus, maintaining current admission patterns would still result in ‘record enrollment’.)

  • Record projected GPA.

Perhaps this doesn’t even need parsing, but this is rather ridiculous. For one, what could this possibly be based on, if not test scores and GPA? What magic holistic hat are they pulling such projections from? Incidentally, what sort of numbers are kept on ‘projected class GPA’ versus ‘actual class GPA’? More importantly, how does this reflect anything more than grade inflation? Such inflation has been attacked from all sides of the academic debate for a reason – to cite it as an accomplishment worthy of praising is rather odd.

Dr. Kohn proved to be right when it came to the diversity numbers, but this is quite irrelevant to the idea that this class is not as academically successful as preceding classes. He concludes this paragraph by citing the UA’s “rigorous academic environment,” but given what this entire debate has revolved around doesn’t this beg the question? Recall what President Shelton declared in his inaugural address, back in 2006:

This cannot be the future of the UA. Arizona has invested too much in our success to allow us to backslide, or even stagnate. Instead, I am determined to set the UA in the opposite path: We will be a top 10 public research university. And all of the people of Arizona will be the beneficiaries of this achievement.

Three years might not be a lot of time, but trends such as these are hard to reverse. If the UA is still serious about this goal (a question very much up in the air), it should immediately look towards raising standards – and, in effect, lowing admissions – in the coming years.

Meanwhile, President Shelton has also described the admissions system as “not foolproof.” This is greatest unintentional double-entendre – perhaps, even, triple-entendre – of the year.

‘Smartest Class Ever’ hits the front page

Posted in Campus, Education Policy by Evan Lisull on 31 August 2009

Now, your author has done a lot of crazy things with a Dos Equis bottle in hand. But never – except for that one time – has he managed to break into the Wildcat office, turn a snarky post into a page 1 story, and get it to the copy-editors – all on a Sunday night!

We can’t get too miffed if Wilbur-come-lately is finding inspiration in our inchoate utterances – after all, information wants to be free. If Radley Balko is having trouble getting his propers, then we’re way down on the list. Plus, they gots more data – and quotes!

Basically, though, the song remains the same – the class of 2013 is pretty unremarkable in the scheme of things. In addition to GPA and SAT non-records, the Wildcat piece also points out that the UA achieved non-records in National Merit scholars and diversity.

The diversity point bears emphasis, considering the official definition of “diversity” from the school:

Numbers from the Fact Book indicate that this freshman class — which has about 7,000 students, according to the UANews press release — is indeed the largest ever. However, freshman diversity, measured as the percentage of the class that identifies as anything other than “White non-Hispanic,” is not record-breaking, contrary to statements in the release.

So all that talk about different viewpoints, ideas, and cultures? Absolute hogwash – actual diversity pales in contrast to statistical diversity, where the money’s at. Race certainly is important. But to even imply that it is the be-all and end-all of “diversity”-increasing measures is more than a bit insulting to those who actually want a diverse campus, rather than one that looks nice on brochures.

The other important detail that the article brought up is the “academic index” that the UA uses:

President Robert Shelton said the UA uses its own academic index to evaluate incoming students, which encompasses a variety of factors including standardized test scores and a high school’s academic standing and difficulty of curriculum.

Because prospective students are not required to take the SAT, he said, these scores can be an inadequate indicator of students’ academic quality.

Shelton added that the UA’s evaluative system is “not foolproof.”

The “academic index” is an idea originally tried out at the Ivy League schools. From the primer at College Confidential:

The Academic Index may seem like a gross oversimplification – reducing a student’s K – 12 academic record to a single number seems almost ludicrous. However, the AI does provide a quick snapshot to harried college admissions staff members. Any Ivy League admissions officer would certainly explain that applicants get a far more in-depth look than the AI might suggest.

. . .

Without going into the detailed mathematics, the Academic Index combines numeric values based on a student’s SAT I and SAT II scores plus his/her class rank or GPA. Since schools report class rankings in different manners (or sometimes not at all), the last measure can be a bit tricky. Nevertheless, standardized computation procedures have been established to allow Ivy League schools to calculate a consistent Academic Index for all applicants.

According to Hernandez, the AI is converted into a numeric ranking at most Ivies. Some use a 1 to 9 scale, others a 1 to 6, etc. Princeton, she says, uses a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being the best. Dartmouth and University of Pennsylvania use a 1 to 9 scale, where 9 is the best. While acknowledging that many other factors play a role in admissions, Hernandez notes that students with an converted AI ranking of 8 and 9 (i.e., those applicants with the two highest categories of Academic Index) are admitted at much higher rates than lower indices.

It’s not immediately clear how the UA’s own index relates to these sorts of indices – the UA’s numbers come out as triple digit scores. Whatever it may be, though, it’s going down as well (source):

Unfortunately, I don’t yet have access to the 2009 numbers, in spite of being a member of the “UA Community.” I suppose that the index could somehow rise dramatically in spite of decreases in SAT and GPA inputs, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Remember, though, that all of this is irrelevant – as President Shelton said, the SAT and academic index are all “inadequate indicators.” The only rating that does matter comes from the President’s office – and since President Shelton says that this is the smartest, diverse-ist, and most-super-duper class in the history of everything, it obviously must be. QED.

Shelton channels Adam Smith

Posted in Campus, Education Policy by Evan Lisull on 25 August 2009

Somewhere, a distant universe explodes:

What we’ve seen over the years is a shift significantly from public support for education to the students and the families supporting education. And there’s an argument for that. It’s a private good, you’re going to earn more money, you’re going to have horizons lifted and you’re going to live a better life if you get that college education, so you should have to pay for it.

Lest you think that the Rothbardian counterrevolution has planted its roots in Baja Arizona, he immediately follows that up with:

But of course there’s a societal benefit too, right? When you go to school, in cold hard cash you’re paying more taxes into society but you’re also less likely to go to prison, you’re less likely to be a drain on society, you’re going to live a healthier life, you’re going to influence your neighborhood, raise your kids and all these things are societal benefits.

President Shelton makes an entirely honest argument, and not surprisingly it is the weakest possible argument for public funding of state universities. Essentially, university education is a private gain that increases the probability of public benefits for society. This sounds awfully familiar:

But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and shew them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.

So why is land-grant college education different from any other sort of education? With respect to societal gain, a gainfully employed IT technician from the entire private Phoenix University will provide the same societal benefits as a self-employed baker who dropped out of college as a UA graduate selling insurance policies.

In this way, one can argue that the state should encourage education funding, subsidizing the cost of the program to keep tuition down, provide aid for increased access, etc. What is not clear is why subsidizing graduate-emphasizing, research-based institutions is the best way to do this. No matter how much Stimulis the Big Three gorge, they will still be more expensive than their CC brethren. Meanwhile, community colleges continue to receive a dearth of funds from the state, in both total and per-capita senses, when compared to the research universities.

The problem for the state, however, is that it’s very hard to show off with community colleges. The show Community is just a manifestation of a long-held dislike and disdain for community colleges, contrasted with the glory of solar arrays on garages and U.S. News and World Report rankings. Ideally, the state would shift funding away from research universities and toward community colleges. Good luck getting anyone in this game to sign on to that.

Yet at least Shelton is willing to toy with the notion that tertiary education is not a purely public good:

The fundamental question this country has to deal with is, “Do we have the right balance between public support for education and the private support coming from the students and their families themselves?” It should be an interesting discussion that’ll take place in this state and nationally over the next few years

It is, indeed, a very interesting question – a question made more interesting by the fact that no one within the system has been asking it for years. On a primary and secondary level, many have argued that no, the balance has shifted too far to public support – they have been rewarded with scorn from teachers’ unions. On a tertiary level, university officials have been too busy jostling for stimulus funds like dancers following Pac-Man Jones to take time to consider what exactly it is that they’re doing.

President  Shelton is almost certainly right to say that funds need to be secured in the short-run to maintain solvency – much as a junkie needs cash now, man, because I’m totally gonna kick this thing, but I need $20 to get me through the week, but after this I’m gonna change. Just don’t be surprised when the budget battles of 2015 roll around.

A military-industrial education

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

Javelin MissileWe’ve alluded earlier to the odd love of Raytheon exhibited by leaders at the UA. Now, the UA-Raytheon flirtation has gone to the next level, with a coauthored editorial in the Daily Star by President Shelton and Taylor Lawrence, president of the Missile Systems Division of Raytheon. The hundreds of UA jobs that Shelton and Lawrence cite go towards the creation of products like the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), the AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile), and the AGM-65 Maverick.

This isn’t to say that Raytheon, by forging the spears, is guilty of Agamemnon’s crimes. So long as there is active demand for missiles (which, with the Obama administration, there certainly is), there will be an active supply. But for an institution that prides itself on striving to “improve the human condition,” there is a noticeable lack of questioning from the university as to whether UA-Raytheon is really the kind of satellite campus they were looking for. All must be sacrificed on the altar of “job creation,” and that includes educational missions.

One also must wonder at Raytheon’s insatiable appetite for government money. The editorial starts with a slobbering paean to the space program, that sole federal program that a majority of Americans have said they want to cut; it ends with the BioSphere, a monument to the juche of FAIL. A full 80 percent of Raytheon’s sales come courtesy of the federal government, a percentage that doesn’t account for money spent by foreign governments – like Saudia Arabia! – for its goods. Amusingly enough, this makes Raytheon more dependent on government spending than the university; and still, by Lawrence’s measure, this is not enough. So the corporatist wheel turns . . .

The editorial itself would be largely forgettable if it weren’t for this waterboarding of logic in the middle of an argument for more state spending:

The vast majority of the $530 million in funding for research last year at UA came from outside Arizona (primarily from the federal government). These funds from Washington are creating jobs in Arizona. By any measure, that is good for our state. Indeed, the most current data for BIO5 and the College of Optical Sciences show a return on investment from research funding of more than 5 to 1. There are not many investments that offer a greater return than that.

In other words: state funding has very little to do with funding research, the same research responsible for jobs. Seeing how Washington is planning on ramping up its spending on education (among a few other things), there thus is no reason for the state of Arizona to do anything but sit on its hands. I suppose it’s nice for Babylon on the Potomac to shower us with ArneBucks, if you’re into that whole “record deficits” thing. It is, however, an irrelevant aside when it comes to the current debate over the state budget.

This UA-Raytheon alliance, which has gone beyond marriage of convenience and into full-fledged lovefest mode, looks askance at both those who believe that the university is a powerful agent of change in the world, and those who think that the school is a country club of peaceniks. In actuality, it is a quasi-independent arm of the bureaucracy, fighting in a typically Nikansenian way to maximize its budget.

Image of the FGM-148 Javelin courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

Diversity centers remain separate and equal

Posted in Campus, Politics, UA Transformation Plan by Evan Lisull on 17 June 2009

Much the impetus behind the proposed Unity Center, as CSIL’s Michelle Perez readily admits, was to realize cost savings in the form of administrative consolidation. Diversity groups argued that the proposal would unduly centralize the groups, drowning out their independent voices. Unfortunately for both groups, this consolidation apparently already exists:

The directors of the cultural centers either refused to comment on the situation or referred the Daily Wildcat to speak with Kendal Washington White, director of Multicultural Affairs and Student Success.

These centers are so fiercely independent, so full of administrative bloat, that they direct all media contact to the same official, an official that serves directly under the charge of Student Affairs VP Melissa Vito. In truth, this proposal was not as radical as either side’s proponents made it out to be – the savings certainly were not in the millions, and not “all signs of life have been muted.” Yet it was a reform; and just as he did in reneging on his only specified cuts, President Shelton has deferred the opportunity to actual make serious changes. After all, there no doubt was a budget hearing to get to in Phoenix.

Far more important in this debate are the principles underlying it – not the lack of principles from the UA administration (which backed down the moment controversy even began), but the principles driving the opposition to the Unity Center. This quote in particular stood out:

[Carlos Rematoza] said that some important elements of the new center would be whether or not individual groups could maintain their own identities and be able to accommodate their special needs.

“Space is definitely going to be important,” Retamoza said. “Each of the centers have a lot their own programs which are very important to their students. If we’re all in one space it will be difficult for each center to do something particularly for their students.”

For most of this country’s history, minority groups have agitated on behalf of integration – the ability to act in civil society with the privileges accorded to others, to be treated equally – not separately – under the law. Dr. King and his civil dissidents did not fight for higher standards of “Colored Fountains” – they fought to end the practice entirely. Women’s rights groups (well, most of them) agitated on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment. Gay rights’ groups advocate for being able to serve openly in the military (a call that President Obama has found almost as risible as the idea of marijuana legalization).

The advocates for these Centers, however, have taken the opposite tack. They don’t want to be integrated into the broader community, to sit at the proverbial (and possibly literal) table with other groups – they want “space.” Integration of cultural centers is “racist“; segregation of such centers encourages diversity.

If one is seriously concerned about the “silencing of voices” and homogenization of diverse points of view, perhaps they might start their crusade with the extant LGBT Center – which assumes, of course, that only one voice needs exist for the exchangeable gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender identities. Then one might turn the Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs Center, which manages to lump together Puerto-Rican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Haitian-Americans, Venezuelan-Americans, Argentinian-Americans, among many other groups. Don’t even try getting into Asian-Pacific American Student Affairs – an organization covering groups from literally half the globe. Why these groups are comfortable under the same roof, while others are not – well, that’s for them to know, and good luck finding out.

As these various Centers insist on balkanization, ASUA has launched its own diversity initiative – the “Integrating Diversity Council.” As Roget will tell you, “integrate” is a synonym for “unify” and “unite”- exactly what Shelton and Vito’s proposal intended to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long from integration to turn into indoctrination:

The Integrating Diversity Council is a small body of students from various marginalized associations on campus asked to represent their respective constituents. This body of students is responsible for bringing awareness to social justice issues on the university campus . . .

Never has it been considered – not by ASUA, not by Student Affairs, not by any of the Centers themselves – that this insistence on social justice is itself a form of control. Is it so much to ask that “cultural centers” be concerned with, y’know, culture – John Coltrane, say, or David Wojnarowicz – rather than bastardized liberation theology? While crying that an administrative move to a building is somehow “silencing the student voice,” conveniently forgotten is the fact that those opposing to the principle of redistributive justice have already been effective silenced. Potemkin diversity – which looks good on pamphlets – replaces intellectual diversity.

Certainly, Shelton’s move was about money. But the counter-move, led by the Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs Center, is a distinctly segregationist one – you stay out of our Center, and we’ll stay out of yours.