The Arizona Desert Lamp

ASUA Senate Meeting, 4 November 2009

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 5 November 2009

Agenda available here [PDF].

1. Consent Agenda. The American Medical Student Association (AMSA) got $864.95 for a benefit concert – $700 for audio/visual equipment, and $164.95 for “police security.”

More importantly for the author, the consent agenda also included a petition from a Young Americans for Liberty chapter. Unfortunately, they missed the meeting, and had their hearing for start-up funds tabled until they show up. It’s great to see that there’s a nascent YAL group on campus, but it be even better to see an active one.

2. Undergraduate Council. A year and a month ago, Professor George Gehrels came to the ASUA Senate to discuss course availability, GROs, class standing, and general education. Today, Gehrels came to discuss … course availability, GROs, class standing, and general education. Send in the snakes!

Anyways, Gehrels cited a few changes in his presentation [PDF] that have been implemented since then: the new class standing policy, the $25 drop fee after seven days, and extending WebReg through the eighth day of the semester.

Impact is “uncertain” for all these policies except for the class standing policy, which has boosted average semester enrollment for full-time students from 13.1 to 13.4 units – a fairly significant boost. It’s unfortunate, though, that Gehrels continues to sell the measure as a revenue-increasing one. Perhaps more units are being taken per semester, but, assuming that this policy does what it is supposed to, these students will stay in school for a shorter average duration. If the school really wanted to boost state funds, it could increase the total number of credit

Yet while this class standing policy encourages students to take 15 units per semester (rather than 12), another policy being implemented this spring will cap pre-registration enrollment at 16 units (Honors students get 19). Both policies are admirable by themselves, but together they serve to put students in a vise. Students taking a language class (i.e. 4 units) will be trapped into their schedule – anything outside of the most basic class shifts will become perilous.

Course shopping often gets demonized, but it ignores how useful it is as a hedge against uncertainty. The Senate rightly emphasized that this would become less and less of a problem as syllabi and book lists are made available online, but that’s hardly the only reason for a drop. Perhaps the professor rubs you the wrong way, or the 10-10:50 is too far away from your 11-12:15, or the class you really wanted just opened up.

Further, as Sen. D. Wallace pointed out, some kids are perfectly capable of taking more than 16 units. 18 units in particular is a fairly common enrollment trend. In fact, this new policy works against graduating kids in three – so basically, kids will graduate in four if nothing interrupts their “plan”; otherwise, they’ll be on the same five-year track that is the norm.

The UGC acts as a sort of de facto on-campus think tank, so it’d be nice for them to look at historical enrollment trends and drop rates across the university. With the right data, it seems that registration capacity could be inflated beyond enrollment capacity, allowing students a bit of flexibility as they perfect their schedule.

The other possibility, if the 16 unit restriction isn’t going away, would be to permit the buying/selling/trading of class seats. Of course, this effectively gives Honors students a 3-unit trading subsidy.

Gehrels “couldn’t believe” that he was discussing GROs again before the Senate, a surprising statement for a 24 veteran at the UA. The Senate deserves credit for pointing out – and this is the only time, I suspect – that there needs to be more “awareness” of the fact that GROs change nothing when it comes to graduate/professional school. Sen. Weingartner proposed putting an informational box on the GRO form, perhaps cutting down on unnecessary retakes.

Some other random, but very bad, ideas:

-A “general studies degree,” reflecting on the “interdisciplinary world we live in.” (/vomit) It wasn’t at all made clear how this would differ from the Interdisciplinary Majors that are currently offered. Sen. Weingartner offered the best hypothesis, contrasting the effective combining of three minors (ID) with course-by-course selection (GS). Yet Gehrels couldn’t say, saying that it was still in the works. Why this is deemed so necessary remains a mystery.

-Gehrels wondered openly whether the GenEd program should “do away with the writing requirement, and not have a writing component in the GenEd program at all.” One must wonder, if this holds, why we have general education in the first place.

-“Success Courses,” such as ‘how to find a major’ and ‘find a grad school for you’, presumably to be offered for credit.

Random notes:

-President Nagata will start discussions with President Talenfeld next week about the Get REAL initiative. Baseless speculation sez, “Get excited?”

-Without irony, we had back-to-back reports urging us to (a) vote for the homecoming royalty online, and (b) to go to a “mixer” with student regent finalists Friday after next, and then fill out a “survey” to indicate one’s preferences. Which is to say: UA students have a greater say over their homecoming court than they do over their representative on the Board of Regents. Can’t you feel the empowerment?

ASUA Senate Meeting, 21 October: Stayin’ Green

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 22 October 2009

Sustainability funding for the Senate. The main action item for yesterday’s Senate meeting was the approval of $895 from the Senate kitty for Sen. Katherine Weingartner’s project. The money will be used to further her campaign’s focus on sustainability and other “green” measures – in this case, providing non-disposable water bottles for the Tucson community.

Except, of course, that none of the $895 will actually be used to purchase water bottles. Instead, the money will be used to “raise awareness” of a fund-raising effort to purchase the water bottles. This includes a $300 ad in the Green Times (the latest issue of which has a page 1 article on ASUA’s sustainability program), $200 for a table on the Mall, $175 for one week of table toppers, and $120 for fliers. Sen. Weingartner mentioned that she had set up a PayPal account for donations to the project.

As far as sustainability goes, this is far from the most repulsive of measures (see some nominees here and here), although it would be nice if the money were spent actually purchasing bottles. Also, what groups exactly are being targeted for an ASUA Nalgene?

While sustainability measures are certainly more popular among The Youth than they are for the writers at this site, there is a case to be made that sustainability is second only to concerts when it comes to bureaucratic fervor. For the UA as a whole, it is probably first. Does this really reflect the preferences of ASUA’s – or the UA’s – constituency? There’s a paucity of polls (and a near absence of well-conducted polls) on student views on the matter, but there are certainly other issues – General Education, police enforcement priorities, ZonaZoo availability – that perhaps merit more focus.

Part of this reflects the difficulty entailed in making even the slightest modifications to the GenEd program, and the inability to have anything to show for one’s efforts at the end of the term. Thus, the Senate tends to move towards the provision of new products – be it the “SAPR scholarship” of Sen. Andre Rubio, the analog breathalyzers (HT: Connor) of Sen. James MacKenzie , or Sen. Fritze’s USA Today readership program – rather than focusing on structural changes in policy. This leads to the problem that Sen. Brooks alluded to when he asked, “Will the project continue past this year?”

Sen. Weingartner, slightly caught off guard, replied, “It depends,” but that of course isn’t the point. In some cases, this is a good thing: the one-year experiment of safety cards was more than enough. Yet in aggregate this leads to a sort of attention-deficit Congress, flitting from one focus to the other from year to year, marking off their resumes without setting any main direction for the university. Scholarships rise, readership programs fall, and only the provision of concerts maintains through the years.

Committee Reports. These committee reports used to come from internal committees, but in the past couple of weeks the Senate has shifted their focus towards reporting of the campus-wide committees on which they sit – the Undergraduate Council, the Campus Recreation Center Committee, etc. This is a rather underrated role of the Senate, and reflects the majority of their policy-making capabilities. A few notes:

-Sen. D. Wallace reported that the Undergraduate Council (UGC) just added eight more classes for Tier 2 GenEd eligibility.

-Sen. Atjian has urged the Health/Rec Center Fee Proposal Committee to present their proposal of “one big fee” before the Senate as whole.

Other Items of Note

-The Elections Code will be presented before the Senate on November 4. Also, the November 18 meeting will be held in the Rec Center, to unveil the new Gardens of Babylon Rec Center Expansion.

-Club Advocate Kenny Ho is now Chief Club Advocate Kenny Ho. You know what? That makes sense.

-President Nagata emphasized, perhaps in oblique response to this editorial, that the forthcoming Special Events survey would contain a question asking whether bringing a concert to campus is, in fact, a campus priority.

ASUA Senate Meeting XVI: Sturm und Drang edition

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 22 January 2009

Destruction

The paper is dying! The fees are rising! The school is six feet under! And it’s only the first meeting of the semester. Get your Senate update before it’s liquidated too!

1. Solomon’s Comprise on the Collegiate Readership Program. The Wildcat is dying, according to the new editor-in-chief Nickolas Seibel, who came to introduce himself to the Senate, but mostly to plead with them to please, pretty please, make this evil Collegiate Readership Program go away! Outside of his “philosophical objections to subsidizing the largest news company in the country,” Seibel worries about the impact providing the Daily Star will have on advertising revenue for the Wildcat.

My substantive objections to Mr. Seibel deserve their own posts (because, really, this “corporate subsidy” nonsense has got to stop at some point), but there are a few things I want to point out. One is the absolutely intransigent attitude that the paper has adopted towards the program. Rather than trying to forge some sort of compromising path (which, as you’ll see in a paragraph or two, exists), or seeking reconciliation, Seibel and others have chosen instead to engage in what I can only describe as a temper tantrum. “I just want things to be fair,” Seibel said at one point, passion creeping into his voice. What the Wildcat (through Mr. Seibel) is essentially saying is that even if students decide that they do want the Gannett newspapers at this discounted rate — well, that’s just too bad, because student newspaper interests matter more. Or something.

Yet through the questions and comments of the Senators, it became blindingly obvious what the next step should be: insist that no local papers be provided, but only national ones — be it USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, or what have you. Of course, this does require students to not support the Star in the surveys, and it does require them to not pick up the Star from the stands.

I like this path, partly because it provides a path that can provide information and partly appease the “corporate-subsidy-BOO-evil-Gannett” crowd. Yet the real reason I’ve fallen for this approach is because it provides a clear litmus test of the Program’s intentions. If the Program is willing to provide only national papers, then it’s hard to imply evil intentions (outside of the intent to get college kids hooked on newspapers, which really isn’t the worst thing). Yet if the Program refuses to participate without a local paper, then it’s clear that they’re intent on a short-term incursion into the local advertising market, and should be opposed at all costs.

2. Incentives for Dropping. The Undergraduate Council (UGC) is back with some follow-up from their previous presentation. It looks like that, in the near future, students will be charged $25 for each class that they drop after the first week of class. While it’s unclear exactly how many more seats will become “available” with this process (the better measure is the degree to which the number of unoccupied seats is reduced), all funds will go back into providing more seats. Outside of Sen. Jason Mighdoll, who offered an emotional stand against more fees and unfair punishments on students, most of the Senate seemed in favor of such a proposal — a good sign.

However, as the presenting professor made clear, the fee is not their to raise revenue. Nor should this fee be punitive, as Sens. Baker and Mackenzie seemed to imply. The goal here isn’t to punish kids for dropping classes late, but to be as transparent as possible as to the costs of that late drop. Dropping classes late ultimately leads to unfilled seats, which is a dead-weight cost for the university. Of course, the $25 charge is fairly arbitrary, but that’s what happens when you try to determine from the top-down, rather than from the bottom-up.

3. Budget Blues. President Bruce gave a lengthy presentation on the state of the budget, none of which really led me to shift from my earlier take on the matter. I would, however, point out that the obvious agitation in Bruce’s presentation unfortunately coalesces with the morbid black theme of the demonstrations, the “death.” I’m (very oddly) reminded of the response in the wake of 9/11 — more specifically, the lack of rationality in many of those responses. Obviously, it’s hard to think straight after such a catastrophic event — but that’s why it’s all the more important to do so! It is the most perilous times that call for the keenest thought. It also goes without saying that this is no 9/11.

So when President Bruce is flapping his hands back and forth, claiming that “we can hardly guess how many people will be cut . . .”, my immediate response is — Well, start guessing! After all, who knows how long we have our administrative staff for. Start crunching numbers, start making projects, start providing alternatives. Right now, though, there’s this palpable sense of unrestrained fear, a simple “No” mouthed on a bone-white face. If the UA doesn’t want to get absolutely slammed on this, it’d better drop the all-black get-up and start investing in pocket protectors.

Also, while Gannett got bashed earlier, Bruce twice mentioned Raytheon by name in praise of its support for the UA. Boo, news media; hooray, military-industrial complex! These are strange times, indeed.

Addenda:

Jason Kazares must be slightly fed up with ASUA, because I’m slightly fed with having to hear about the many meetings that have been scheduled with him. Cameras got no mention tonight, nor did any other safety initiatives — instead, we’ll have the usual Student Safety Fair, before Spring Break.

ASUA hired a new web development person. Even President Bruce agreed that, “As we’ve all seen, we need some web help.”

According to Sen. Baker, the Senate is bringing back the “Roll with a Senator” program, which combines some combination of golf-carts, petitions, and meet-and-greet. I’m not entirely sure what this program entails, but I’m tickled by the idea of our prestigious student government, 40 in one hand and spliff in the other, cruising around to this ditty while discussing student government policy.

ASUA Meeting Wrap-Up: The Bob Dylan Edition

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 2 October 2008

I. Appropriations Board War #2

Yet another call for reconsideration, this time from the Filipino Students Association. Their spokesman, Scott Francisco, argued that the Appropriations Board did not allocate enough funds for the “Friendship Games”; unfortunately, the rest of his plea was a Palin-esque mishmash of phrases such as “freshman retention,” “stresses leadership — there are captains,” and “stresses teamwork.”

Naturally, the bleeding hearts won the day, and the reassessment was agreed to by a vote of 7-2, with Sens. Fritze and Patrick voting against.

It was Sen. Fritze, however, that made the event noteworthy. Addressing the issue, she reminded the Senate that with Club Recognition now under ASUA’s aegis, more clubs than ever are requesting funds; “but there are still only $100,000 for funding.” Every club will want more, she said, “and we can give them what we can give. But there comes a certain point when you have to say, ‘I’m sorry.’ ” Still my beating heart — is this. . . fiscal responsibility coming out of ASUA? It’s not clear how Senators are chosen to chair the Approp. Board, but whoever selected Sen. Fritze made an excellent choice.

II. Talkin’ Class Enrollment Blues

Some genuinely interesting proposals from the Undergraduate Council, who were represented by the chair Professor George Gehrels. The Council is addressing the issue of class enrollment, an issue most of us have had a first-hand encounter with. The proposals are as follows:

Grade Replacement Opportunities
-Allow GRO only for D and E grades (not C)
-Restrict GRO opportunities to first two years at UA.
-Create a “what-if” GRO calculator on WebReg.

Course Repeats
-Allow only two attempts of each course (some students have actually repeated a course 11 times, which sounds like a modern form of purgatory)

Course Shopping
-Move W date earlier in the semester
-Keep WebReg open longer
-Charge fee for each drop

Change in Class Standing
-Streamline the university, so that 30 units = completed freshman, 60 units for sophomore, etc.

I was somewhat disappointed, if not entirely surprised, that a good portion of Senate questioning seemed to be ass-covering — they worried about bad grades showing up on their transcript when applying to professional schools (which is a bit absurd, since for GROs the original grades show up anyways), about needing more time “to figure out what a class is really like (aka “Let me get a grade on a test so I can see whether or not I should drop it”).

In their defense, they did bring up the implementation of a university-wide waiting list system on WebReg — which, as President Bruce pointed out, is ready-made in the structure of WebReg, and will soon be implemented — and noted that it should include the number of students waiting ahead of them (to give a sense of whether or not they will be able to get in).

This seems a good a time as any to rehash Connor’s old column calling for online auctioning of class seats. While good in theory, I worry that this is far too complicated for anyone outside of upper-level economics course to handle properly; students will most likely get caught up bidding wars, and squander all of their credit for the last seat in a class that they don’t really need. I have to say, I like the idea proposed in the comments of the article, calling for gladiatorial battles for seats. This could at least be implemented for students attempting to add the class — “There are 12 of you fighting for 3 seats. Last three standing win!”
Morituri te salutant!

As far as course shopping goes, I would like to see a sort of course shopping period, as is done at Harvard and Yale (and, if I remember correctly, Michigan as well). For a week period, students are free to wander in and out of classes, to get a sampling of classes and anything that they may want to sign up for. If this were encouraged, and combined with an expansion of the classes that can be taken for Gen Ed credit, I would suspect that we’d see more SBS students taking bizarre Math Theory courses, and vice versa.

Lastly, on the class standing situation: I’m a bit worried with Professor Gehrels assertion that this will encourage students to take 15 units a semester, which will lead to more overall units and thus more state funding — $14.4 million, by the UGC’s calculations. This seems too sly for its own good; instead, with the budget where it is, I’d worry that the state would decide that the 22-1 funding format (22 students (in terms of credit hours) leads to the funding requisite for one professor) is too handsome, and would simply break that off. This is not the best time to be focused on scheming more money out of the state.

Overall, though, it’s really good to see some genuinely new and useful ideas making the rounds. Hopefully, these proposals can get implemented in the near future.

III. Coming Out (Of My Wallet)

So it’s National Coming Out Week, which apparently means massively subsidizing the Wildcat’s ad revenue printing a two-page color advertisement with the names of campus members who have “come out.” While I’d never considered the motives until Seema Patel (Ad. VP)  brought them up, Patel justified the funding by saying that sponsoring the ad, “. . .encourages students to be comfortable with their choices.”

Hmm. I see; apparently, gay and lesbian (excuse me — LGBTQQA (I think. . .)) students, having faced a litany of societal pressures from family members, peers, religious groups, and so forth, are not truly comfortable with their choice until ASUA validates it? They do not feel like a part of everyday society until their name is published in a college newspaper ad? You’ll have to excuse my skepticism.

The use of Senate funding for this project has been justified by the fact that it’s “for the behalf of students.” This displays an inherent flawed sense of “representing the students” — this does not help all students, but only those who are having their names printed. Students may flourish in a more diverse society, but a newspaper ad does not a nuanced culture make. Would the ASUA approve of a two-page listing the names of faculty members and students who recently became members  of a religious community? Somehow, I’m skeptical that their sense of diversity goes that far.

ASUA voted unanimously to approve $500 for the ad, which actually doesn’t cover the entire cost — funds are being raised from other groups, such as the Womens’ Resource Center and the LGBTQQA community. This raises an unavoidable question: why not rely solely on these groups, since this is an actual part of their mission?

IV. Ballad of UA Votes, Part Two

An interesting non-story regarding UA Votes’ Block Party this weekend. I expected the Senate Reports to be filled with self-congratulatory praise, which it was in part. What was absent, however, were any numbers or stats. There was no crowing about newly registered voters, as there usually was. The response, given ASUA’s usual giddy demeanor, was somewhat subdued.

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Also, as far as transparency goes, it appears that the minutes are recorded on Garage Band. Any reason why these couldn’t be broadcast via ITunes, in podcast form?