Tag Archives: Arizona Board of Regents

ABOR Preview: Legislative advice and the education blame game

Ah, it seems like just yesterday we were all pondering campus issues associated with the state budget crisis, the UA Transformation, graduation rates and the like. Now those issues are going to be addressed by the Arizona Board of Regents during its January meetings this Thursday and Friday from Arizona State University’s West campus. Expect for it to be live-streamed on ABOR’s official website, and, of course, we’ll have all the reaction, recap and analysis here for you following the conclusion of each day’s event.

Let’s go through what’s sure to be riveting material that is slated to be taken up by the Regents:

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Faculty Senate: When the boss is away, the kids will play

University of Arizona President Robert Shelton may have been out of town for an unspecified reason, but that didn’t stop the astute Faculty Senate from their monthly meeting. On the agenda this time around: new school formations, a budget update and uncomfortable relationships. Let’s dive in, shall we?

  • Provost: I have an update; we’re still working… – The administrative report (given by Provost Meredith Hay in Shelton’s absence) was so expeditively accelerated that a tweet would have probably sufficed. Hay stood up just long enough to explain to her faculty leadership colleagues that the UA administration is Continue reading

So, how far are you willing to go? Now with working links!!

Much has been made both on this blog and within faculty meetings both public and private on the internal struggle between the University of Arizona sciences versus social sciences. It seems, from this piece in the Arizona Daily Star, that the fight has spilled out into the streets—the public, that is.

Is the concern done with its isolation policy within the UA community? Is the public really taking notice? Only time will tell, but if so, that can mean much more public support for the programs, departments and colleges that are being gutted at each and every stage of the UA Transformation.

Professors, department heads and deans have been looking for a way to get their stories out. This is definitely a step in the right direction for them. After all, the public can only be spoon-fed so much rhetoric by President Robert Shelton and Provost Meredith Hay in budget meetings, university-wide memos and coded political-speak that dominates Arizona Board of Regents meetings before they decide it’s time to take a closer look.

Also within the Daily Star opinions section (and linked to by the Campus Correspondent) is this guest piece written by UA Eller College of Management professor Shyam Jha.

In the column, Jha presents a novel idea: Instead of opening up the flood gates for just any ol’ high school student aspiring to achieve a mediocre post-high school education (think Shelton’s plan presented at the most recent ABOR meeting), the UA should instead raise admissions standards. Actually becoming a “world-class institution” instead of just strangling the hollow term with unbridled masturbatory obsession and inflating statistics to reflect a made-up reality? It’s so crazy it just may work.

Of course, part of the professor’s plan is to raise tuition by at least a drastic 33 percent. He argues that this would both reduce the number of students coming into the university and create more UA revenue. This is probably true. It’s also probably true that such an act could eliminate certain prospective students’ chances of getting into the university, even if increased financial aid is part of the deal within the equation.

If you’re willinig to pony up the extra money, though, or you are willing to take on thousands of dollars in student loans, this plan may actually work toward bringing academic excellence to the UA campus. That’s not sarcasm; that’s the truth. I know I certainly am willing. The truest thing Jha said is that admitting so many students is severely hurting the university’s ability to make its degrees actually worth anything.

So, the question becomes, how far are you willing to go for a quality education? How much do you want to rock the university boat?

UA faculty leaders: We have no idea what is going on, either

UA Provost Meredith Hay shrugs her shoulders in resignation...just kidding---this is just some random chick.

And in other breaking news, the sky is blue.

University of Arizona Faculty Senate meeting. Snoozefest, right? Well, not today, because when you approve the minutes of the previous meeting 52 minutes into the current meeting, that’s when you know you’ve stumbled into something good.

  • Puzzling dialogue does the impossible, makes UA Transformation even murkier

Breaking off from the traditional UA Faculty Senate meeting format, UA Faculty Chair Wanda Howell asked Strategic Planning and Budget Advisory Committee Chair Lynn Nadel (who is a man) to clear up for the faculty exactly what SPBAC is. (In short, they are the committee who makes advisements to the UA upper administration on what to cut and how to save money throughout the UA Transformation Process, although it’s still unclear how active or effective the group really is.)

Nadel described SPBAC as the “nexis of communication” between the UA central administration and the UA community, including the faculty and colleges, after which he said that SPBAC “is beginning to play its role.”

Finally, Phew. I was starting to get worried. It’s only been a year-and-a-half since the inception of the UA Transformation Process and the creation of SPBAC. Good to know that over a dozen months after its creation, the group is finally “beginning to play its role.”

But what takes the cake is this gem of a dialogue between Howell, Nadel and Secretary of the Faculty J.C. Mutchler:

Howell: “Are we going to tell them what to cut? I think that’s what everyone’s wanting to know.”

Nadel: “No.”

Dammit, we almost had something.

Nadel: “The decision rests with the administrators. Anything else is chaos, as far as I’m concerned.”

What. Just. Happened.?

Howell: “So, if they wouldn’t take our suggestions, they would have to tell us why, right?”

Mutchler: “Well, we’d ask them why, but they wouldn’t have to tell us anything.”

Howell: “Oh, they most definitely would have to tell us why.”

Oops, good to see that these people aren’t the only ones who “have no idea what the hell is going on.”

UA President Robert Shelton: “The wisdom of this group is absolutely at the core” of the UA Transformation.

Jesus, you said it, Mr. President.

Whether or not Shelton was tossing out a hilariously-timed, subtle dig at the faculty leadership, the dialogue speaks volumes about the mass confusion and general lack of insight by anyone into the inner-workings of the UA Transformation Process. Right now, the only thing anyone knows is that no one else knows a damn thing either.

  • Faculty friendships getting in the way of effective leadership?

UA Provost Meredith Hay’s speech to the Faculty Senate started out simple enough, with the provost taking a page out of Shelton’s Day 2-of-the-Regents-meeting book by first commending the presentation given at the Arizona Board of Regents meeting concerning the status of arts and humanities at the UA. (Is anyone buying this “We care about social sciences too” charade anymore?)

She then immediately segwayed into the sadness she surely feels from Nadel leaving soon as the SPBAC chair. Hay made sure to note with importance the immense friendship she and Nadel had discovered with each other.

Now, whether this is typical nice-speak that accompanies the departure of a colleague or Hay actually meant it, this has been a major flaw with the faculty’s involvement in the UA Transformation.

A main concern among the faculty has been the existence of too much of a buddy-buddy relationship going on between faculty leadership and the UA administration. Off-the-record interviews I have had with faculty since the beginning stages of the UA Transformation have shown time and time-again that faculty are concerned that faculty leadership don’t really have their concerns in mind. Wanda Howell has commented on this in past faculty forums, saying that faculty leadership is in a tough position, so the leaders must toe the line between the administrators and the faculty in order to meet both sides, compromisingly.

The faculty seem to want someone in there who will fight tooth-and-nail to scratch their way into the minds and attention of Shelton and Hay. If that’ true, sorry, profs—Howell and Nadel aren’t your guys, although I think you know that already.

  • Shelton downplays any UA wrongdoing in “Climategate” scandal

In one of most under-reported stories that is least talked about in university circles, Shelton defended the UA amidst an email scandal involving whether or not UA and world climatology personnel tried to cover up data pointing against widely-held thoughts on global warming.

If you aren’t familiar with the bizarre story, read this, this and this to catch up. Do it. It’s international. It’s interesting. It’s sexy.

Shelton maintained during a speech to the Faculty Senate that there is “no substance” to the emails, saying that the UA faculty submit themselves to the highest integrity of data. He went on to say that independent research groups have backed up the UA professors’ research data.

The president, naturally, blamed the media for the firestorm, and said that the facts are being distorted by those who do not understand how science research works.

“There may be those who do not fully understand,” Shelton said.

Maybe Shelton has a leg to stand on here, as he is a science man. That being said, it sounds too much like the convincing Shelton has continually tried on the UA community concerning the UA Transformation Process—“You don’t need to understand, because we understand.” (Not an actual quote, but you get the idea.)

Of course, whether it’s a global warming scandal or the dismantling of his university, instead of having open discussions about it, Shelton just wants to sweep it under the rug, just like some of the inner-workings of the Transformation Process.

And, as the faculty have said, don’t be fooled by the “conversations” the provost and president have had with faculty and student leaders. As has been mentioned in comments from faculty in the faculty poll, these conversations are not so much of a two-way communication as they are the provost telling faculty what’s going to be done and how.

Indeed here, Shelton is telling the faculty what to think about the “Climategate” scandal, rather than offer satisfactory explanation, even though the president was the vice provost for research at the University of California system (a decade before his tenure at the UA started), nowhere near the UA professors, when the emails were supposedly circulating among the climatologists in question.

  • Tuition to rise once again

As if you could expect anything else in a year when the state budget is in turmoil, the UA’s budget is cut by about $100 million and the upper administration is working on reshuffling the entire university structure, Shelton announced that tuition will once again rise up to absurd proportions.

“There is no doubt in my mind that tuition will have to go up and go up significantly for next fall and the following year,” he said.

Even after the great tuition increase of 2010 becomes official at March 11 and 12’s ABOR meeting on the UA campus, the university will still be in big trouble financially, Shelton told the Faculty Senate.

However, the president said he has no plans to recoup the $100 million lost via tuition dollars only, as current plans for tuition will only cover “about half of that.”

Shelton added that he doesn’t see the possibility of the UA’s in-state tuition to skyrocket, like the UC school system, in the near future, but does think it would be a good idea to adjust to the median of the UA’s 15 peer institutions, which would put tuition high but manageable, he said.

Surprisingly, Shelton said he meets on a regular basis with students leaders and Student Body President Chris Nagata in particular. What are these meetings, though? When are they going on? We always hear about these meetings, but we never see them, and we never see what I guess are supposed to be the results of them.

  • Other tidbits from the Faculty Senate meeting

-Graduate Student Government Leader David Talenfeld did not bring the UA graduate students’ “Statement of Rights,” downgraded from “Bill of Rights,” to the Faculty Senate for approval, and mentioned that the statement will probably not be ready for the January Faculty Senate meeting, either.

-The spring 2010 Faculty Elections petition process will begin in January, with the elections taking place in March. Those not wanting to run for re-election were encouraged to find a suitable replacement to run instead.

-UA Law Professor Andrew Silverman commended the UA for officially severing ties with Russell Athletics amid a scandal involving international sweatshop labor and union controversies. Apparently, after the UA terminated its contract with Russell, the athletic apparel giant started entering in negotiations for union labor, rehired some workers and provided compensation for others. If all goes well, Silverman said the UA may enter back into a contract with Russell Athletics, information he said he obtained because of his position as the UA chair for the Committee Monitoring Human Rights Issues.

Day 2 sees Regents string random big words together, skip over the interesting parts

Convinced that touching up on thoughts interesting and relevant to students would be too far a stretch from the Arizona Board of Regents’ traditional approach to fixing Arizona’s higher education system, the Board instead chose to skip over the interesting parts of the scheduled agenda (graduation trends, enrollment statistics and plans for enrollment increases, financial aid reports).

The university communities probably would have preferred at least some kind of commentary from the Regents on these issues, but here are some numbers that tell their own story. If you want a rundown of some of those numbers (as well as see what curiously was not talked about on Day 2 of the Regents meeting on the University of Arizona campus, despite being on the agenda), check this out.

  • More evidence that science rules, arts and social sciences drool: UA President Robert Shelton spoke at great length at the beginning of the ABOR meeting about how “collective creativity will show us who we really are”. In a rallying-the-troops-like speech, the president waxed poetic about studying how second languages are acquired, the Phoenix Mars Lander, making advanced strides in medicine.

In fact, the only non-science/research point-of-pride that was expressed by Shelton was that the UA “has a great arts tradition.”

And just in case anyone was still under the illusion that the UA was going to try to excel in instructing its students, rather than pulling in obscene amounts of money from science research, Shelton then turned the floor over to Leslie Tolbert, vice president for research. This, of course, is no surprise, considering the UA Transformation Process has been accused quite heavily of throwing instruction out the window in favor of more financially-advantageous endeavors, like science and research.

It’s just more confirmation that, for better or for worse, the UA is becoming less about instruction and the social sciences, and more about science, research and the funds they create. I guess the UA is slowly seeing “who we really are.”

Do you think it’s just coincidence that the UA’s plan to connect the main campus to downtown with a modern streetcar has the car running from downtown to the UA Health Sciences Center at University Medical Center?

During the presentation on the streetcar plan, it was noted that the UA has, of course, been in constant contact with city leadership to make sure the idea works. I wonder if the Tucson City Council will mention any of this at their meeting on Dec. 7. Let’s check the agenda—nope.

ABOR discovers the next best thing to actually fixing higher education

As penguin suits leaned back in their chairs and crossed their arms while listening to policy speak for three-and-a-half hours, it wasn’t so much the content of the Arizona Board of Regents meeting on the University of Arizona campus that was troubling. It was the tone and the obvious objection of the Board.

If we can’t fix Arizona’s higher education system, then doggone it! We’re at least going to make the numbers look like we can!

That was the message loud and clear reverberating through the North Ballroom of the UA’s Student Union Memorial Center on Thursday. I guess we now know what the Regents meant by Goal #1 of their ironically-named “2020 Vision“.

During the entire meeting, the Regents were so focused on numbers (and the wrong numbers at that) that they’re not thinking about curriculum. After all, improving curriculum is difficult and expensive. It’s much more cost-effective to test out, push students through quicker, get more transfers, give out more degrees and call it “improvement.”

It’s the next best thing to real improvement, right? If you can’t improve quality, you might as well focus on quantity. What our leaders may be forgetting, though, is that intricate graphs and numeric bars mean little when your degree might as well be written in crayon.

A few “plans” to excel Arizona higher education:

– Produce 42 percent more bachelor’s degrees each year than the Arizona university system currently does to meet its goals

-Create a 60 percent increase in community college transfers by 2020

-To stay on track, accept 25,000 more students into the university system each year by 2015

I could name quite a few more numbers, but you can catch the gist of them here.

Currently, 25 percent of Arizona residents hold at least a bachelor’s degree. By allowing more community college transfers, giving out more degrees, taking on more students and pushing those students through the universities’ curriculum quicker, the Board of Regents hopes to increase this number to around 28 percent or so.

That way, other states could look at Arizona and say, “Wow, look at all the people with degrees! They must really have a handle on education.”

Of course, looks can be deceiving.

What the Board is really trying to do is manipulate the statistics with largely meaningless gestures to make themselves and Arizona higher education look more appealing while curriculum continues to slip.

As the Regents focused on individual statistics to help the university system through its current crisis, Arizona State University President Michael Crow warned the universities and the Regents that “stand-alone options are only as good as a university’s core.”

It’s a lesson the Arizona university system may have to figure out the hard way.

ABOR Preview, Part Deux: Numbers games

The second day of the Arizona Board of Regents meeting on the University of Arizona campus will be just as full as Day 1, with some interesting statistics to boot, if you’re into that kind of thing.

  • Financial aid reports – In accordance with the Board’s “2020 Vision” (visited in part one of the WatchCat ABOR Preview), the Regents will be looking at financial aid plans for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011, as well as reflecting on the FY 2009 financial aid situation concerning the Arizona university system.

Since part of the “2020 Vision” is to increase both the number of degrees produced and the total number of students within the university system, naturally, financial aid must be examined to be able to make Arizona’s university more affordable, according to the Regents’ agenda. Basically, the idea is that if college is made more affordable, more people will go to college. Don’t ask me how this fits into ABOR’s plan to “maintain educational excellence,” but it sure should make some money.

Instead of regurgitating info, here are some numbers straight from the horse’s mouth:

-Total financial aid within the state university system for 2008-2009: $1.3 billion, a 19 percent increase from the previous year

-Amount of above figure that accounted for the UA financial aid for 2008-2009: About $430 million

-Amount of debt students typically find themselves in upon graduation: $19,110, a 12 percent increase over the last six years

-The largest source of financial aid awards: Student loans, at 48 percent

-The smallest source of financial aid awards: State funding (no kidding; we knew that even a year ago), at about 1 percent

-Average net tuition paid by full-time undergraduate residents: $2,253

  • Enrollment and graduation trends: The Regents will be discussing plans concerning undergraduate enrollment. Although undergraduate enrollment is 1,400 short of projections, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded is more than 1,500 ahead of projections. Interesting.

Again, the numbers tell the story:

Undergraduates

-Fall 2008 freshmen admitted without academic deficiencies: 72 percent

-Fall 2007 freshmen admitted without academic definciencies: 79 percent

-Average fall 2008 freshmen GPA: 2.9

-Average fall 2007 freshmen GPA: 2.8

-Enrollment increases by university: UA – 1.9 percent; Arizona State University – 1.5 percent; Northern Arizona University – 4.5 percent

-Percentage of Arizona university system students who are out-of-state undergraduates: 24.3 percent

-Percentage of UA students who fall into the above category: 30.3 percent

Graduation

-The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded by the Arizona university system in 2008-2009: 20,106 degrees; ASU awarded 11,229, while the UA awarded 5,915. NAU brought up the rear with 2,963 bachelor’s degrees awarded

-The number of graduate degrees awarded by the Arizona university system during that same timeframe: 8,562; ASU – 4,381, UA – 2,327; NAU – 1,854

-Curiously, undergraduate enrollment is up 3 percent while graduate enrollment is down 1.2 percent.

  • Revising the Student Code of Conduct: The Board of Regents will be revising the universities’ Student Code of Conduct policies to reflect the recent change in Arizona law allowing firearms to be stored in locked compartments within vehicles. It is worth noting that the revised code will allow universities to require that cars carrying firearms be parked in alternate parking lots, if the universities so choose to exercise that requirement.