The Arizona Desert Lamp

Sometimes, too much paperwork is a good thing.

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 4 November 2009

Drowning In PaperWe might not be able to get the names of the Porkies (we’ll have to find other means for better quantifying the “friend endowment” effect), but thanks to the work of Board Chair Matthew Totlis, there’s plenty of information on how your Student Services Fee is serving you!

The twenty documents that follow below are divided into three parts. Most of them pertain to program alteration requests (PARs – welcome to Bureaucracy). These are submitted by fee-receiving divisions that wish to make changes to how that money is spent – reallocating to hire part-time staffers, transferring money to reflect changes in administrative responsibility, and so on. Included with these requests are the responses from the Board, expressing whether or not they support the alteration. (Dr. Melissa Vito, though, has the ultimate authority – it is the SSF Advisory Board.)

Insight into how these decisions were reached can be found in the “Advising Documents” section. These are effectively memos from the Board expressing their opinions on certain issues, and they date back to April 2009.

Finally, there’s more information on the Freshman Fee, including membership rolls,

There’s much more to say about these, but it’s worth including this bit from Mr. Totlis’ email:

For future years, the board will have 2-3 Fall meetings and 3 Spring so that ALL BOARD BUSINESS CAN BE OPEN. Because I sat the board so late this year I could not have had them trained in Parlipro [parliamentary procedure – EML] quick enough to effectively deliberate on the 3 pars we have seen in this session.

Good stuff. Even though the “age of transparency” may already be fading at ASUA, it’s good to see that the SSFAB is moving towards more genuine openness.

Program Alteration Requests (PARs) and Responses

PAR 10.001 DRC

RE PAR 10.001 DRC

PAR 10.002 DOS

RE PAR 10.002 DOS

PAR 10.003 DOS Heritage Months

RE PAR 10.003 Heritage Months

PAR 10.004 HPPS

RE PAR 10.004 CAPS to HPPS

PAR 10.005 WRC Program Director

RE PAR 10.005 WRC Director

PAR 10.005b WRC Program Director

RE PAR 10.005b WRC Director

Advising Memos from the SSFAB

Advice 9.001 Savvy Student

Advice 9.002 Allocations FY10

Advice 9.003 (PAR 10.001 DRC and PAR 10.002 DOS)

Advice 10.001 (PAR 10.003 and 10.004)

Advice 10.002 WRC

Freshman Fee

Freshman Fee Funding Request Form

Freshman Fee Committee Member Directory, 2009-10

Freshman Fee Funds, 2009-10

The Porkies are so very important, we can’t possibly let you know who they are

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 2 November 2009

Pig, MaskedThis is Arizona government:

38.421 Stealing, destroying, altering or secreting public record; classification

A. An officer having custody of any record, map or book, or of any paper or proceeding of any court, filed or deposited in any public office, or placed in his hands for any purpose, who steals, or knowingly and without lawful authority destroys, mutilates, defaces, alters, falsifies, removes or secretes the whole or any part thereof, or who permits any other person so to do, is guilty of a class 4 felony.

This is Arizona government on ASUA:

I have checked on your request for the complete lists of ASUA Freshman Class Council members and the lists are not maintained at the ASUA offices.

So we do have not have [sic] any documents responsive to your request.

Best Regards,

Jonny Cruz

Director of Media Relations

The University of Arizona

Part of this is patent nonsense on ASUA’s part: the request included the list for the current Freshman Class, and it’s highly specious to argue that they don’t have a current membership roll. It should also be remembered that ASUA is not in fact governed by A.R.S. – in the eyes of the law, it is a division of Student Affairs (which is not, in fact, yours), and required to adhere to no more disclosure of information than Enrollment Services. Not keeping records is more stupidity than criminality, but “criminal negligence” is not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

Some more fun juxtaposition from the FCC’s own website:

very important people: As you’ll see, there are a lot of people involved in FCC so here are a couple of awesome people that you can approach for anything- questions, concerns, jokes, or inspirational quotes:

if you have questions: We want you to have all your questions answered before you apply so we encourage you to ask all that you want.  You can go visit the ASUA offices, email the director at jsmacken@email.arizona.edu.

Ersatz Transparency

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 30 October 2009

Tastes Like Butter!

Two seemingly unrelated stories in yesterday’s Wildcat underline the problems that this university’s administration has with something simple like transparency. First, we have an article on ASUA’s “Safe Ride-Along” program:

In an attempt to reach out to the UA student body, ASUA has launched a campaign to put senators in Safe Ride vehicles to probe for feedback. The Daily Wildcat sent reporter Shannon Maule along for a ride to get the story on this project.

What an awful experience. You’ve just finished studying, getting ready to relax at home, when suddenly you get shanghaied into talking not only with an ASUA Senator, but a Wildcat reporter. Also, the very unofficial “Probe Watch” goes up to two. In explaining the reasoning behind this program, Sen. Hilary Davidson offers the following:

The ride along is part of an overall design to lend transparency to ASUA, Davidson said.

“We want to be out there and meet each student and hear what they want to say because we represent the whole student body,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Dean of Students’ Office is apparently too busy sanctioning underage drinkers to find the time to put a decent sexual assault reporting protocol online. As a remedy for the future, they offer this:

The Dean of Students Office is investing into social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instant Messenger to reach out to students for safety and wellness concerns.

There’s a very important distinction between transparency and outreach. Transparency, in this context, refers to making the shadowy aspects of governance less so. It means making information about internal governing practices more readily available – releasing the budget and Senate minutes are examples of this. It does not mean rehashing campaign drivel in an awkward setting. Early in the article, Davidson states that the ride-alongs help to “reach out” to students, a nice way of describing administrative cheerleading. True transparency is not something that any PR department wants; the goals of full disclosure and a polished image are inherently at odds. Ride-alongs give the appearance of transparency, without actually delivering the goods.

The DoS approach is somehow even worse, exhibiting the weird Twitter fetish endemic in all sorts of inappropriate settings. Banal administrative accounts have sprung up like putrid toadstools, and rather than getting more information we simply find ourselves getting stupider with each and every tweet excreted by, say, the “UACampusRec” account. Yes, we know we are “phat,” but would you care to tell us more about this semi-secret third fee you’ve been striving for?  The Campus Rec expansion might be “Xciting” to some, but is it appropriate for an institution supposedly devoted to academics? State money and tuition dollars were quite literally spent to produce drivel like “Laura Wilder” and “Will Wilder,” a fact that should insult the conscience of anyone intelligent enough to attend the school.

Instead of treating their students like malleable automatons susceptible to the most obvious messaging, these administrative bodies might try a little forthrightness instead. Tell us a bit more about your internal operations, rather than telling us what you’d like us to do.

And really, stop writing like a eighth grader in an attempt to be “hip” with the kids.

ASUA Senate Report, 28 October 2009

Posted in Campus, Politics, Textbooks by Evan Lisull on 29 October 2009

Agenda available here. It’s a long one, so get comfortable:

1. Consent Agenda. We’re working on getting the official document, but there were some interesting issues pertaining to the ever-mysterious club funding process. Mock Trial withdrew their third request of the year, as they didn’t want to endanger their funding requests for next semester. Fostering & Achieving Cultural Equity and Sensitivity (FACES) was denied a request for $39, since the items requested were personal items (i.e. pencils). The Social Justice League (the folks that required $1600 to emulate homelessness) received funds to rent space on the Mall and to market their event, but were denied funding for food. Students for Justice in Palestine received somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,190 to pay for plane tickets to an event in Hampshire College, in Amherst, MA.

2. OASIS Bystanders. Sen. Quillin remarked, “All of my experiences with OASIS have been amazing,” and while my experiences have only been secondary and come word-of-mouth, I have to second this sentiment. Without getting into details, OASIS proved to be a godsend to a close friend facing some serious trouble, and its existence is an overall good for this university.

That having been said, their latest idea threatens to muddle their mission, turning an admirable cause into a nannying arm of Student Health. First, though, their mission statement:

The Oasis Program was established to provide a variety of services to UA students, staff, and faculty (men, women, and transgendered persons) who are impacted by sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking. The Oasis Program is a unit of Campus Health Service and is an active partner with Tucson community service agencies. Together with our campus and community partners we strive to provide coordinated responses to, and work toward the prevention of, all forms of interpersonal violence.

In effect, the program helps women deal with sexual assault, and provides self-defense classes and other similar programs to this end; I suspect that the interpersonal violence line was added to generalize gender. What OASIS does not does not do is deal with other health issues that don’t involve “interpersonal violence” – until today’s introduction of the OASIS Bystander Program. This program, according to the presenter, is based off the STEP UP program run by UA Athletics:

STEP UP! is a prosocial behavior and bystander intervention program that educates students to be proactive in helping others.

A survey at three Universities (The University of Arizona, University of California, Riverside and University of Virginia), revealed that students are encountering multiple situations where bystander intervention would be appropriate including, among other things, alcohol abuse, hazing, eating disorders, sexual assault and discrimination. Almost 90% stated a problem could have been avoided with intervention and up to 85% of the student-athletes indicated they would like to learn skills to intervene. The bottom line is that many, if not most, unfortunate results are PREVENTABLE.

Similarly, OASIS Bystanders will receive 90-minute training sessions, teaching them how to act in the face of such “anti-social” behaviors. In addition to questions like, “Are there things I should be doing to help my friend who was recently raped?”, OASIS Bystanders will also learn how to answer questions like, “What do you do if you see someone really intoxicated? Do you call for help?” They will also offer sixty minute presentations to groups on issues like bullying, hazing, drinking, and eating disorders.

The presentation cited the “success” of STEP UP, but its hard to see any manifestation of this outside of administrative fauxtistics and collection of personal anecdotes (which go so far as to withhold the name of the athletes cited – what is this, Witness Protection?); if I remember correctly, it was one of our more famous athletes that could have used a bit of “intervention” of his own.

Yet worse than this is the effect that the Bystander program will have in distracting OASIS from its more important role in preventing sexual assault, and providing resources for its victims. OASIS has been admirable in honing in on this issue, and there’s absolutely no reason to think that there is need for greater focus elsewhere; Campus Health already caters to that.

There are ways to tailor this program to make it better hew to the mission of OASIS. The basic formula could be kept, but re-tailored with its main focus. In fact, the program could be used to reach out to males, a group traditionally and unfortunately uninvolved in such programs. The formation of a ‘Teal Shirts” division to enforce sexual assault laws might raise up the question of whether “good fascism” exists, but OASIS could train men to watch for examples of sexual assault, and encourage them to intervene. This might lead to more “interpersonal violence” overall, but I hope it is not to controversial to say that old-fashioned fights are preferable to domestic violence.

At any rate, the first information meeting/trial run will take place on November 4, 10 AM, on the third floor of the campus health building. Your author won’t be able to make it, but citizen journalism is always encouraged – so go.

3. Textbook Commitment Resolution. One might think that the ASUA Senate would start a discussion on textbook prices by wondering about the potential conflicts of interest in deriving almost forty percent of their total revenues from the ASUA Bookstore. Instead, the Senate presented a resolution [PDF] of this year’s ineffectual textbook program, led by ASA and based on a letter drafted by President Nagata (so that‘s why he hasn’t responded!):

UNDERSTANDING the rising cost of education at the University of Arizona, the Associated Students of the University of Arizona are asking a commitment from university faculty and department heads in regard to textbooks, with the knowledge that textbooks are a substantial associated cost in relation to attendance;

It’s a bit misguided to focus on textbooks in the context of overall rising costs of college education. Here, for example, is a chart depicting the cost estimates for an in-state student attending the UA, courtesy of the Office of Financial Aid:

Cost of UA Education, In-State

It’s not quite clear why travel is so high for in-state students – in fact, the estimate is almost $1,000 higher than the estimate for out-of-state students. Do in-state kids go back home that often? This is all incidental to the point that books aren’t really that great a cost, relative to other educational inputs (4.9 percent). It’s even less of a factor for out-of-state students:

Cost of UA Education, Out-of-State

The underlying data, with cool interactive graphs, can be had here. Rather than being a “substantial associated cost,” the real problem with textbooks is their relative expense – in layman’s terms, textbooks seem more expensive than they should be. Some of this is also a result of lacking market knowledge – hopefully, all students have bought books before, and know how much a “good” book costs. But for many, paying for housing is the first proper rent payment of their sentient lives, and tuition is a unique event. Not only are textbooks more expensive than average books, but they are also of lower quality (speaking in aggregate) – poorly written, uninformative, and filled with incidental material unrelated to the class.

Even though they don’t properly diagnose the problem, the resolution does hint at a better approach than years’ past:

UNDERSTANDING that it is incontrovertibly within their [the faculty and department heads’] power to aid and alleviate some portion of students’ financial burdens in relation to textbook costs

This site made such an observation in its second post ever, but it’s good to ASA moving in this general direction.  Here is what ASA/ASUA propose to do:

WHEREAS the Associated Students of the University of Arizona implore university faculty members to utilize textbooks for consecutive academic years, and within this commitment will allow said textbook to be enrolled within the textbook rental program.

UNDERSTANDING the faculty member or department head will also enter into said commitment with the agreement that faculty members will also submit textbook titles to the University of Arizona BookStores before the adoption from due dates preventing unnecessary costs of acquisition past that date;

The first clause basically means that instructors have to commit to using textbooks for two academic years in a row, and enroll in the rental program. The second clause is referring to an issue from the bookstore’s perspective: when professors submit their book requests beyond a certain deadline, fees are assessed, and the costs are passed onto purchasing students. There’s another clause asserting that textbooks are a “significant portion” of education costs, and then the operative clause:

THEREFORE this body endorses and advocates this textbook commitment campaign with the ultimate goal of lowering textbook costs for students and alleviate unneeded financial burden.

Sen. Quillin, who introduced and drafted the resolution, described it as “more of an awareness campaign,” but it’s even weaker than that. ASA is still a program under the control of ASUA – President Nagata appoints the entirety of the UA delegation; and in this case, directly inspired the campaign. If ASA were to do something contrary to Senate wishes, presumably they would make this known, and the policy would be modified. This resolution is basically one arm of ASUA endorsing the actions of another, an event that occurs countless times when the Senate offers “support” for ZonaZoo or a percentage night at La Salsa.

The program is a step in the right direction, but ironically enough it tries to do too much by sanctioning the professors. Instead, ASUA should revive that old canard of transparency, and apply it to the problem of textbooks. The program cites the problems caused by professors turning in their book requests too late – why not release a list of the professors who do so? Once that information is out in public, professors will be forced to defend their policies. If the professors have genuine reason for their expensive textbooks, then that will be apparent. If they don’t, such disclosure should serve as the pressure necessary to affect real shifts. In fact, the Associated Students Book Store has enough information to let us know the textbook prices of each and every class offered at the UA. It has historical data, too. There is nothing better that the Associated Students of the UA could do to have a long-term, genuine impact on textbook prices than releasing this information. More information will lead to more informed customers, both with students looking for classes and professors looking for books.

Another issue, relating to information, concerns professor involvement. Sens. Weingartner and Daniel Wallace asked how many faculty members were contacted before drafting this resolution/letter; and while the answers varied between one and three, they were are centered on how many Faculty Senate members were/should be contacted. This is the wrong approach, though – if you want to understand how a market works, you need to start at the bottom. Focusing on quantity, rather than administrative quality, reveals a larger sample of textbook approaches – and it might be argued that the faculty involved in Senate are less likely to pursue unconventional paths.

Instead, we get Sen. Quillin asserting in his report that the resolution is a “”feasible and tangible way to make a difference in the cost of higher education.” Usually, ‘tangible’ is referred to something real, an ill-fitting term for something like textbooks, where exactly no evidence has been presented showing the efficacy of its programs. Amusingly enough, ASA’s page on textbooks includes this excerpt:

In 2008 ASA worked to pass legislation that required textbook publishers to disclose their prices to professors.  Our research showed that this was one of the most effective ways to lower the cost of textbooks for students.

Though covering this beat for over a year (two, if you count the Wildcat), the author had no idea that ASA had a research arm! Perhaps these researchers would care to reveal themselves? Are there other reports, analyses, or even data? Could this specific ‘research’ be presented with the imminent media blitz surrounding the new textbook campaign? We wait in earnest, but on a serious note – if this research exists, please release it now, so we can stop making a joke out of it.

4. Club Triathlon/Senate Project Funding. What is the Club Triathlon? As it turns out, it’s not athletic, and there’s nothing tripartite about it. The program, brought to the Senate floor by Sen. Stephen Wallace the Elder, is a project of ASUA Community Development, and involves providing incentives to clubs to participate in volunteering. Don’t clubs already do a lot of philanthropy work, as Sen. Quillin pointed out? Yes, but let’s not get distracted here. The clubs are given a list of philanthropies that, according to Sen. S. Wallace, “we’d like them to participate in.” Suppose you want to volunteer at a non-listed philanthropy – do those hours count? Sen. S. Wallace doesn’t say, but the prospects aren’t promising.

A competition will commence between the twenty clubs (out of  “near 500” clubs = 4%+ of total clubs), who will keep track of all the hours volunteered by their members at the pre-approved charities. The competition will continue for an indeterminate period of time, at which point winners will be announced. The club with the most “volunteer credits” will receive $1,000; the second-place club will receive a $250 clothing installment from club funding; and the third place club will receive a catered event courtesy of ASUA.

So why is Sen. S. Wallace coming to the Senate for this funding? After all, Community Development is an arm of Programs and Services, and received $4,816 (including stipends) in the budget. Well, according to Sen. S. Wallace, this is a Senate project – even though he’s acting “in collaboration” on a event directly sponsored by an arm of Programs & Services. And according to Administrative Vice President Ziccarelli (the executive in charge of P&S), this was an “unforeseen event,” meaning that it wasn’t budgeted for.

Wait – “unforeseen event” sounds familiar. Isn’t that exactly the sort of expense that was supposed to be covered by the executive operations accounts? Sen. Daniel Wallace the Younger brought this issue up yet again, assuming in vain that the defense was more than a rhetorical trick to scam the Senate out of control over the ASUA purse. Instead, $500 came directly from Club Funding (which is open to all clubs, rather than just the twenty that were able to field a team in this ‘triathlon’); $250 came from Community Development, raised through percentage nights and sponsorships; and the final $250 is supposed to come from the Senate. Exactly $0 are coming from the executive operations accounts.

This is OK, though – the money is going to Sen. Stephen Wallace’s “senate project,” even though the project is being primarily carried out by a division of Programs & Services. Whatever. So what is the money going towards? It’s going to the prize, and it’s also going to running the competition. Unlike Sen. Weingartner, Sen. S. Wallace didn’t itemize the spending request, so it’s unclear exactly where this money will end up. Yet if it is being devoted entirely to the prize, this raises the question – why not just reduce the prize to $750?

Last year, the vote approving this spending would have been unanimous, so there’s solace in that. Unfortunately, the spending still passed, 5-3 with two abstentions. The complete vote breakdown:

ATJIAN – AYE

BRATT – ABSTAIN

BROOKS – NAY

DAVIDSON – AYE

QUILLIN – AYE

RUIZ – NAY

D. WALLACE – NAY

S. WALLACE – AYE

WEINGARTNER – ABSTAIN

YAMAGUCHI – AYE

Other notes (but actually somewhat important this time):

SSFAB Shenanigans. It should come as no surprise that the vice-chair of the SSF Board is Ryan Klenke – Freshman Class Council Alum, former ASUA Senate candidate, and current Diversity Director. It should be somewhat surprising that the board worked on a “program alteration request” relating to the Women’s Resource Center – and rarely are these “alterations” needed to reduce the allocated amount. More on this as soon as we can get information.

Freshman Fee. As if the SSF wasn’t enough anti-democracy for one day, Sen. Yamaguchi had to drop the bombshell that the Freshman Fee allocation process will be run by the Freshman Class Council. Not only does this give allocation power to a body whose previous main role was designing and requesting funding for a Homecoming float, but it also gives the power to the wrong people. The application for the council this year was due September 4 – literally two weeks after the start of classes, and long before any worthwhile understanding of the university was realized. Such a grant of power simply codifies the de facto elite class.

Student Regent Selection. As per student government tradition, the “student regent” is being selected in a manner that completely excludes any student body input. So far, we don’t even know the names of the candidates, but hopefully the pledge for transparency will extend to this process as well.

But, hey, don’t let this report get you down – after all, it’s your student government!

The Oasis Program was established to provide a variety of services to UA students, staff, and faculty (men, women, and transgendered persons) who are impacted by sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking. The Oasis Program is a unit of Campus Health Service and is an active partner with Tucson community service agencies. Together with our campus and community partners we strive to provide coordinated responses to, and work toward the prevention of, all forms of interpersonal violence.

More services, more transparency?

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 15 October 2009

Legal ServicesThe content of this Editorial Board piece in the Wildcat is pretty harmless, but the title and conclusion are honestly baffling:

Who said anything about no transparency?Want a free answer to a pressing legal question? ASUA legal adviser Susan Ferrell can tell you whatever you need to know on certain legal issues free of charge.

“One of the biggest problems I see is when students are taken advantage of by their landlords,” she told the Wildcat yesterday. “Students often come to me in regards to getting back a security deposit.”

The security deposit problem is one that many students are familiar with, and it’s a relief to know there’s someone willing to discuss the legality of this issue at no cost. Besides advising on landlords potentially taking advantage of students, Ferrell discusses a myriad of legal issues that students may face, and she makes herself available five days a week.

For providing a necessary and helpful free service to students as well as taking a step toward transparency, ASUA gets a pass.

For starters, the presence of Legal Services hasn’t exactly been a secret – ASUA has advertised the service incessantly on their website for years, and more often than not the only indication of ASUA’s location in the Union is the presence of a Legal Services sandwich board.

The actual services do provide information about certain legal issues. But when transparency is used in context of politics, it generally refers to the releasing of information about the government’s operations. So when ASUA releases its budget and minutes online, it’s becoming more transparent – more open – about its operations. Transparency generally does not apply to the release of details about a service being provided – like the time, date, and location of an upcoming concert. ASUA has in fact made strides towards transparency already this year. Continuing to offer legal services just isn’t one of them.

Really, this isn’t snark – I just have no idea what the use of ‘transparency’ is supposed to indicate in this context. Board members are invited to any insight or clarification in the comments.

More transparency from ASUA (no, really)

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 1 October 2009

As part of ASUA’s overall web revamping, the Senate is preparing a new site, which is already live here. The site doesn’t seem quite ready for public release quite yet – take, for example, the cognitive dissonance on the “Meet the Senators” page. One section that is ready, though, is the Meeting Minutes section. All the minutes for meetings this year – as well as any consent agendas or attached resolutions that may been considered – are currently available for public viewing.

A year and a day ago, this site called for such access to minutes, and it’s always refreshing – and humbling – to see proposed remedies actually put into action. Transparency has been a pet issue here; and while much e-ink has been spilled describing the lack of access, it’s always good to see improvements from the status quo.

Fearful Educators Redact Public Archives: FERPA creep strikes again

Posted in Media, Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 2 June 2009

The Columbus Dispatch sent requests for athletics-related documents to every Division I-A college in the United States. Easy enough, right? All public records, mostly public schools, and a process so routine that most schools have special offices dedicated to handling them. Turns out, most colleges are going crazy with the CIA highlighters, thanks to varied and creeping interpretations of the federal privacy law that protects student information. From the article:

Across the country, many major-college athletic departments keep their NCAA troubles secret behind a thick veil of black ink or Wite-Out. Alabama. Cincinnati. Florida. Florida State. Ohio State. Oklahoma. Oregon State. Utah. They all censor information in the name of student privacy, invoking a 35-year-old federal law whose author says it has been twisted and misused by the universities.

Former U.S. Sen. James L. Buckley said it’s time for Congress to rein in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which he crafted to keep academic records from public view.

A six-month Dispatch investigation found that FERPA, as it’s commonly called, is a law with many conflicting interpretations. And that makes it virtually impossible to decipher what is going on inside a $5 billion college-sports world that is funded by fans, donors, alumni, television networks and, at most schools, taxpayers.

Read the full investigation here. The University of Arizona isn’t mentioned in the article, but according to the newspaper’s online database, we’re no paragon of transparency. The athletics department ignored a request for team flight manifests, refused to disclose recipients of complimentary plane tickets, blacked out names on student job records, and redacted names and details in a report on NCAA violations.

Of course, UA invokes FERPA outside of athletics, too. UA’s official interpretation of the law is covered in this memo from the Office of General Counsel. It’s pretty strict, defining student records as “any information or data recorded in any medium including but not limited to handwriting, print, tapes, film, e-mail, microfilm, and microfiche, which is directly related to a student and maintained by the University or a person acting for the University.”

Then it carves out a few big exceptions: administrators and support staff with “legitimate educational interest” (there goes a privacy objection to Project Crime STOP), a few exceptions in the case of serious disciplinary violations, especially sex offences, and most controversial, notifying the parents of students caught drinking underage.

As the Ohio investigation shows, it’s not an uncommon interpretation, but it is an overbroad one. In the past, UA has used FERPA to protect student government records and information on crimes committed on campus. The law has interfered with publishing a yearbook, and embroiled UA in serious controversy when they rolled out the first CatCards in 1998.

Protecting the academic records of adult students is a perfectly good goal, but even at UA, FERPA has crept far beyond its original intent. In practice, it is used to privilege some records that would otherwise be public information–things like athletics information and conduct violations–while maintaining exceptions for others, like student surveillance and parental notification. There’s a fair case for strict privacy without consent, and a compelling one for total transparency, but UA’s current interpretation of FERPA–along with those of many of its peer universities–offers the worst of both.

‘Stead of treated, we get tricked

Posted in Campus, Media by Evan Lisull on 4 May 2009

Jay-Z, confusedThe Last Smash Platinum Bash debuted as a media coup, but now the event is looking to put ASUA in an unfavorable light. Take this scathing Daily Star article from last Friday:

The Last Smash Platinum Bash did not make a profit, nor did it break even. The only question is how much money was lost by the student group that presented it.

A full financial reckoning won’t be available for some time. But ASUA President Tommy Bruce told the Star last month that the concert would break even if about 13,000 tickets were sold at an average cost of about $75.

But most of the seats sold in recent weeks were discounted to below $75, and fewer than 12,000 were sold in all, according to an estimate from ASUA Associate Director Chrissy Lieberman. She said that some of the tickets were given away, but couldn’t say how many.

Why no sales figures? ASUA outsourced ticketing to a company from upstate New York, University Tickets, and the employee with all the numbers spent Thursday on a plane home.

Granted, there is the possibility for some press-release rope-a-dope from ASUA – the numbers could be much better, which will give Bruce the opportunity to gloat at a press conference in his final offical act. Yet assuming that Lieberman isn’t playing games with the Star, one should recall this passage from the Wildcat‘s liveblog:

The Arizona Daily Star reporter sitting next to me just said that he saw a tweet claiming security is now letting spectators without tickets into the concert free of charge.

Followed by this disclaimer:

On another note, it turns out ASUA is not letting people into the concert for free, as previously speculated. They are not offering additional discounts either.

At best, this was simply media speculation in error; at worse, ASUA officials are openly lying about the event. Meanwhile, according to the paper ex-President Bruce isn’t taking any calls, which is never a good sign (although current President Nagata might be worth a shot).

Then there’s the issue of the magic $300,000 reserve that the Star says is ‘gone’ with the projected numbers. The bigger issue, though, is the fact that ASUA has $300,000 on reserve, unaccounted for in the budget, unaccounted for by anyone outside of the executives. To give a sense of perspective, only $90,000 was allocated this year for club funding; and even with the $100,000 from the SSF, ASUA allocated only a total of $180,000 on SafeRide. Is this some local vestige of Al Gore’s lockbox? A hedge fund saved from the vagaries of Subprime Tsunami 2008? Whatever it is, it’d be nice to know exactly why, or how, an amount of money equivalent to 22.5 percent of revenue sources is just sitting, waiting to fill the holes in whatever multiyear project goes awry. We can only hope that these answers will provided under the new era of transparency.

Nagata’s Inaugural: “We stress transparency.”

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 2 May 2009

Sunlight Foundation, US FlagAmid the chum-chumminess that is inherent in most ASUA functions, President Nagata did get in a short, but rather well-written inaugural address. While not the most substantive of speeches, it did manage to emphasis one policy goal in transparency. “We hope that we can open communication with the students,” he said. ” . . . Our office is not perched on an ivory tower.” This is excellent news, and the preeminence of “transparency” over the usual canards is promising.

That being said, the hard part is making action line up with rhetoric. After all, neither he nor his administrative vice president, former Senator Gabriella Ziccarelli, bothered to fill out the campus policy survey. Neither did eight of the ten elected Senators. To the executive team’s credit, EVP Emily Fritze not only filled out a survey, but was also the only candidate whose policy preferences didn’t fall under the “Authoritarian” aegis. Still, three out of thirteen elected members isn’t exactly sunlight bursting forth from the fourth floor of the Union. This reflects a broader trend of promising transparency in rhetoric, while ensuring secrecy in action. One only need to look at the failure of President Barack “No More Secrecy” Obama’s transparency promises to find a very modern example.

Yet there seems to be a third path, that brings out some transparency while providing publicity for ASUA, in the form of a Presidential Communications Office. The obvious precedent here is the “Communications” section of President Shelton’s UA website, where his official dispatches are released, and stored for public review. While media figures and other analysts appreciate having an official document from which policy preferences can be derived, the releases also play into Shelton’s hand: it is his official position that dominates conversation, and thus the discussion occurs on his terms. Precedent for student-presidential communications exists over at Oregon State, where ASOSU implemented a “State of the Students” address this past year.

It doesn’t have to stop with Nagata – since we are always being reminded of how many great things ASUA does, why not emphasize that in an “ASUANews” portal, a la UANews? Various “awareness raising” releases (“Get your tickets now!”) would be interspersed among actual news items. Take, for instance, the appointment process. While appointed officials have what some might consider a troubling sway over an ostensibly democratic government, the appointment process is almost entirely a closed circuit. Part of this is a matter of interest; suffice it to say that not even the Lamp is speculating on potential sustainability directors. Yet this interest must in part be driven by ASUA itself, by publicizing these appointments as they happen. Why not publish a release about each nominee, as they are chosen? By making this information available, it brings the services that ASUA often complains students are “unaware” of back into the media spotlight. Certainly, nominees will be subjected to a higher degree of scrutiny – but unless they are truly unqualified, this should hardly be an issue.

Such transparency, it should be emphasized, is somewhat ersatz, and opening up public communications is no substitute for measures like published budgets and Senate meetings. Yet unlike other transparency measures, ratcheting up the press release game is something in which both sides of the transparency battle can benefit from.

Image courtesy of the entirely awesome Sunlight Foundation.

There’s a reason it’s not called the “academic recovery surcharge”

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 11 April 2009

According to the national debt clock, each citizen’s share of the national debt amounts to $36,526.40. Suppose, in an attempt to be all bipartisan chum-chummy, President Obama proposes to pay down half of the debt, “for the children,” by levying a $18,263.20 “national debt reduction surcharge” on every citizen in the country. Families with more children would pay a greater amount, and the only mitigation would be a fund for “debt payment assistance,” derived from NDRS revenue. Such a proposal would be pilloried even by the most rabid Perotistas, and rightly so.

That, however, has not stopped our own president from enacting a similar, top-down, blanket charge on everyone – $1,100, to be exact.

An economic recovery surcharge of $1,100 to base tuition, effective Fall 2009, is approximately half of the identified gap between budget shortfalls and the University’s needed revenues to sustain our quality. This amount allows for a factor for increased need-based student financial aid. The economy recovery surcharge would be double the amount if not for the anticipated infusion of federal dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF)

While the UA should be impressed that President Shelton can divide such big numbers, but one must wonder why this policy was determined by the administration to be the best approach. After all, it was barely a month ago that the President himself was all atwitter about individual fees  – fees that would be transparent, and controlled entirely by the campus. Now, it seems, President Shelton is content to let the money go to Phoenix’s general fund before coming back to Tucson – where, according to GPSC President Bieda III, anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of the money gets lost in a bureaucratic maze. Furthermore, the excuse of financial aid is a poor one – as anyone who has looked over the SSF breakdown [PDF] knows, 15 percent of the fee monies are allocated to need-based financial aid. Wildcat reporter Ian Friedman was essentially right in calling this surcharge a “fee,” although it’s even worse than that – it combines the undiscerning straitjacket of a flat, mandatory fee with the non-transparent nature of tuition.

It is slowly becoming apparent how resistant President Shelton is to any meaningful reform, and not just in the way of raising money. He has refused to even bring up the idea of differential tuition for undergraduates before the regents, a discussion that could go much further now than it did in 2005. General education is as flawed and noneducational as the day he stepped into office. The new Colleges of Letters, Arts, and Sciences is being touted as a great new thing – which it might have been, if were established ninety years ago, and if it weren’t still a confederation, paling in comparison to the equivalent institutions at our “peer” universities (no matter how you define them). Some may point to the “shocking” development of eliminating the physical education major, ignoring the fact that such a proposal has been in the works since 1994. Meanwhile, the school continues to grant a B.A. in Italian, but relegates Mandarin Chinese to a mere elective (although, amusingly enough, you can get a minor in “Chinese Studies”). President Shelton used the word “quality” seven times in his memo, yet under his watch the class of 2012 is larger and dumber than its predecessors.

In this proposal, President Shelton is implying a quid pro quo. And while UA students are very aware of the quid, many – having opted for the UA over more renowned institutions – are having trouble figuring out where the quo fits in.